Friday, September 30, 2005

Crazy banaya isne

I don't know what it is with this song, but it's everywhere. The movie's a resounding flop but 'Aashiq banaya aapne' is a major hit. It is in fact the top selling Hindi film soundtrack at the moment.

And I am sick of it.

There's this new trend of song-hits from flop-films. Woh Lamhe was one such example -but that was a catchy tune.

My personal favourite right now is Aashayein from Iqbal.
Kuch karne ki ho aas aas
Kuch armaan dil ke paas paas
Aashayein, aashayein.

Both the lyrics and the tune are fantastic. Of course, so was the film.

No escape
The reason why songs like Aashiq banaya aapne are inescapable is that not only do you hear it being played over and over on FM radio, there are folks who inflict it on you as their 'caller tune'. (What is known as a 'ringback' tone in many markets)

I never thought people would pay 30 bucks a month for the pleasure of playing music instead of the regular 'tring tring' but who knew? Logic and reason don't operate in the mobile market, we otherwise kanjoos Indians will fork out small bits of cash for just about anything.

According to a report on the BSNL website
It is estimated that 20-25 per cent of the 56-million mobile subscribers in India are paying for ring-back tones and downloading ring tones. The 20-25 per cent growth every month again shows how popular such applications have become. People are willing to shell out nearly Rs 30 a month for ring-back tones, with Rs 15 for the initial download and Rs 9 for each ring tone download!

This explosive growth has contributed to the bottomline of operators in India, who are targeting 7 per cent of their total revenue from downloads in the next two to three years.

And now, Orange has introduced sms tones.

While some may believe 'phone sirf baat karne ke liye hota hai', others obviously believe it's a jukebox. And aashiq banaya aapne is what gets their booty shakin'... Sigh!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The 'Women Behind ICICI'

The 'women behind ICICI' have won this year's Economic Times award for Corporate Excellence under the category Businessman/ Businesswoman of the Year.

I have mixed feelings about this. No doubt Chanda Kochhar (executive director, retail), Kalpana Morparia (deputy MD) and Lalita Gupte (joint MD) deserve to be honoured. But, collectively?

The paper's logic: "These three I bankers complement each other and very often in tandem. Given this all-for-one and one-for-all stance, it was deemed fit to club the three into a single candidate."

If all 3 women genuinely agree with the one-for-all and all-for-one theory - great. But at some point, don't their personal identitites come into the picture?

I for one have had the experience of working at a place where I was part of such a 'team'. And it got pretty sickening. My boss referred to the two of us as 'Me 1' and 'Me 2'. Anything we did was attributed to collective effort.

Of course I was an immature 22 years old at the time and it was my first real job. Maybe with age, you achieve wisdom along with that white hair and such things cease to matter.

Smokey Signals
Speaking to ET about the decision, Harish Manwani said that recognising the Women Behind ICICI could send out a signal that they are role models. "It shows that it's not just the odd person who can make it but a group of women. Recognising their contribution makes a huge statement for all professional women."

Yes and no. It also makes the statement that maybe you can succeed at ICICI Bank, which is believed to be 'gender neutral' or 'woman friendly' - depending which sex you belong to. But if you are somewhere out there in a more hostile, traditionally male dominated company - don't count on it.

I now look forward to more such 'signals' from ET - maybe an award to 'The Men who Made it Big Even Though They Never Wore Ties'. Or 'Brothers Who Fought in Public but Still Air-kiss at Parties'!

Rules of coverage
I don't want to crib too much about it, but clearly the rules of engagement - and coverage - differ for men and women. For example, in a fluff piece ("Coffee, Croissants and Chop Talk") on what the jurors ate while deliberating on who should get the award, there's this illuminating para:

"Among the first to arrive was Kumarmangalam Birla and Sanjay Nayar, who were joined by Anu Aga, looking very elegant in her block printed white tussar sari, the black paisleys standing out against the bright orange and yellow border".

No idea why such a detailed description of the lady's sari is required. I mean paisleys and borders is taking it too too far!

A very senior female manager whom I met at a party narrated another story on this theme - she was featured by ET in an article on Women Bankers. "They interviewed me for 1.5 hours and in the end wrote more about my husband, kids and the clothes I was wearing than my work. I was really embarassed... Would they do the same for a profile on a male banker?"

Bottomline: The 3-in-1 award was the most politically correct thing to do. If it had to be ICICI there was no other way out.

Incidentally, Renuka Ramnath of ICICI Venture Fund and Shikha Sharma of ICICI Prudential were also nominees in the 'Businesswoman of the Year' category. But as those are separate companies, we didn't have a '5-in'1' situation. So those two lovely ladies can still hope to qualify for a solo award - someday!

Footnote: Two can tango
I'm not saying two or three people can't be jointly awarded - Lakshmi Narayanan and Francisco D'Souza of Cognizant Technologies receiving the award for 'Entrepreneur of the year' makes sense. It's like Larry Page and Sergey Brin @ Google - both took the risk of starting the company.

What was really impressive, however, was that Cognizant was recognised as the 'fastest growing company in the IT sector' even though Narayan Murty happened to be the jury chairman. I mean it's only what we'd expect from NRN, but still.

It takes a real sense of fairplay and 'greater common good' to acknowledge the success of others in one's own industry. There were, after all, other worthy nominees such as Capt Gopinath of Air Deccan and Kishore Biyani of Pantaloon! A lesser juror could easily have nudged a decision their way.

Human error II

It's my mistake, and mine alone. Last week I could blame the spell-check. This week, it's my own muddled brain.

In my story for Businessworld's b school issue titled "Faculty Dilemma" I've mentioned that Jim Collins was a 'Distinguished Teacher' at Stanford University before he authored the classic 'In Search of Excellence'.

I have no idea what I was thinking. I mean who doesn't know that Tom Peters authored that book? The only explanantion I can offer is that Jim Collins' books" 'Good to Great' and 'Built to Last' are kind of similar in theme. "Let's identify the x, y and z factors which make companies excellent..."

Sorry, Tom. That is a really lame excuse. Whatever amends are posssible, will be made. The online version has been corrected already.

The PM recently gave a bhaashan about the need for journalists to be more careful with the facts. Well, I humbly agree.

Except to say that even worse than carelessness is deliberate misrepresentation of facts. And on that count at least I plead "not guilty".

Monday, September 26, 2005

Businessworld B school rankings 2005

The Businessworld B school rankings are out. Again, when several prominent institutes choose to stay away there is a big problem. What to do about the missing institutes?

BW tries to get around this problem by not ranking the top 10 at all and just presenting the list in alphabetical order (like Outlook, secondary data has been used to include IIM A, B and C).

This is obviously a letdown as the 'rankings' start only from # 11 onwards. But the only other alternative would have been to rank MDI as # 1 and we know what a stir that would have caused - besides not reflecting the reality at all.

On a lighter note, Fore School must be glad for choosing to name itself by a letter of the alphabet before 'I' - in the alphabetical listing it comes out right on top!

My contribution
As you may have noticed, I have contributed a few stories to the BW B school issue - the main one is on the 'Faculty Dilemma' (my huge serious looking picture is next to the article :).

I've also done a small profile of Allwin ( 'cause I think his forum has made a huge impact on the information flow in the b school admission process.

I've also written a small piece on the whole idea of B schools with multiple branches (I have mixed feelings about that - but I guess the demand for MBA is so high that it seems to make sense for established mid tier schools to 'scale up' - just like a coaching class would).

Lastly is a small note on placements - the fact that a student from IIM B has already got a pre placement offer of 105,000 pounds (Rs 84 lakhs) which is of course CTC and all that but I am fully expecting "IIM students gets Rs 1 crore salary" to be a headline next March. It's just a question of someone offering 15,000 pounds more.

Net: net I wish B schools could set aside the past and all come together for a comprehensive ranking exercise. Their concerns and problems should be addressed, of course. But staying away year after year is not really the answer.

I personally think rankings should be done every 2 or even 3 years. Because then there would be scope for real improvement or change in the status at a B school on the various parameters.

As they say in MBA classrooms it's time to think 'out of the box'.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Gizmos ki pyaas hai badi

Pepsi has hitched its brand to the 'gizmofy yourself' bandwagon. Their new sales promo features advertising on FM radio that goes something like this:

"That new girl in my class Jessica, she's taken the entire hard disk of my heart. When she speaks, lagta hai Ipod baj raha hai... " etc etc.

I am sure some complex research would have thrown up that technology is the coolest thing going for teens. Especially boys.

The promo asks you to peel off the wrapper from the PET bottle and sms the number printed there to a short code service like 8243. Everyone gets free wallpapers and ringtones (I'm guessing 'Oye Bubbly' and Pepsi theme wallpapers). Once you collect 100 points you get to download mobile games ; the lucky ones may win iPods, PS2s and so on.

That's what I call 'piggyback marketing'. Instead of these gizmo wallahs having to spend money on developing the market, megabrands seeking to associate themselves with what's cool' are doing the job for them!

Good buy
I am in fact amazed at the number of companies giving away free iPods - there's McDonalds and the newspaper DNA I can recall offhand but there are more. On the other hand, I dropped by at 'Vijay Sales' - one of the largest electronics retailers in the city (housed in a 4 storey building opposite Siddhi Vinayak temple) and they were 'out' of iPods.

Is it selling like hotcakes? Or is Vijay Sales just too busy selling 'white goods' - TVs, fridges and microwaves - to the Great Indian Upper Middle Class?

Frankly, their range of gizmos is woeful - abt 15 models of digicams and handycams, two dozen mobile phones, a dozen MP3 players. None of the buzz you get when you go to Singapore or Tokyo or even Malaysia where electronic outlets offer you a veritable feast of goodies. In everywhich colour, shape, style and known/ unknown brand.

In digicams for instance Vijay Sales does not even stock brands such as Fuji and Nikon. Only Canon, Kodak and Samsung - with a single model of Sony thrown in for good effect. It's like going to a saree shop where you have maal in just 5 prints and 6 colours!

The grey market remains far more exciting to buy from (the dealers there may not wear ties but they know their stuff inside out and have a far wider range).

Guess it will take a few years before we as a country are well and truly gizmofied as far as real world retailing goes. Meanwhile gizmo-lovers are busy shopping for bargains online.

According to a survey done by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) 74% of those who bought gadgets online were between 18 and 35 years. The biggest buyers were in the 26-35 age groups which accounted for 48 per cent of buys.

Clearly these are the folks stuck to their office computers for the most part of the day. The kind of folks who may never have gone out into the real world to shop in the first place!

According the the report, Rs 48.4 crores worth of Electronic Gadgets was sold online in 2004-5 with Rs 119 crores expected to be sold in 2005-6.

Technology products like laptops, MP3 players, mobile phones, digital cameras and pen drives are very popular with online shoppers primarily because of multiple promotions via multiple sellers offering similar products. This enables buyers to comparison-shop and get the best product at the least price.

Internet ki jai ho! Now stop goofing and get back to work.

A novel idea

There are more newspapers now in Bombay than anyone can possibly read. All report pretty much the same news - and even the features are not spectacularly different. What every publisher must be in search of is a USP so here's an idea : a serialised novel.

Works by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Alexander Dumas, William Thackeray and Thomas Hardy originally made their debut in this manner. As did Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

More recently the San Fransisco Chronicle ran Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin in serialised form. That's what led to 44, Scotland Street actually. After bumping into Maupin at a party author Alexander McCall Smith wrote an article for The Herald about "what a pity it was that newspapers didn't do serial novels any more".

The response from the paper's main rival, The Scotsman, was - "You're on". When McCall Smith suggested that a chapter every week was quite a tall order, the reply was "no, not weekly, daily". The author was so flabbergasted that he agreed.

The daily column that came out of that exchange has now been compiled and published as a book - "44 Scotland Steet". It comprises of 109 short chapters of 850 odd words - as dictated by the need to publish a daily installment.

So it's a little different from novels in general and also McCall's own previous books (if you have not read his No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series - you're really missing something!).

The great thing is that once again the amazing Alexander McCall Smith has created a little world populated with characters that come alive and that you can relate to. They just happen to live in Botswana or Edinburgh - but they represent some very universal human traits.

He reminds you of R K Narayan - although his writing is even better in terms of the wry humour or observations made. For example:

"It was a long narrow room , decorated in the obligatory Danish minimalist style, which meant there was no furniture. She had always thought that Danish minimalism should have been the cheapest style available, because it involved nothing, but in fact it was the most expensive. The empty spaces in Danish minimalism were what cost the money". :)

44 Scotland Street's cast includes, among others:
Pat - a confused young woman taking her second gap year
Bruce - her narcissistic flatmate who applies hairgel that smells of clove and thinks he is God's gift to the world
Irene - a pushy mom who forces her 5 year old son to learn Italian and play the saxophone.

There are Pats, Bruces and Irenes amidst us, here in Mumbai too!

I do hope some newspaper editor and some imaginative writer rise to the challenge and publish a similar series in India. The important thing is that no one with literary pretensions should be allowed near the project!

The idea, after all, is to keep junta hooked to a rivetting story. Not scratching their heads, wondering what the hell the author meant when he wrote his sentences.

Magic realism is all very well but the best kind of magic is realism - deftly and definitively written!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Spellcheck be damned

In case you happened to read my article "The Blog Biz" published in the latest Businessworld, you may be puzzled by the opening line:

"Is the office the best place to practise Buddha Satan"?

Um. That was supposed to be Bodhisattva - and a correction to that effect will be appearing in the next issue.

How did the mistake occur anyways? Well, part of the blame goes to the spell check feature that is inbuilt into all publishing software. Given that few of us update its limited vocabulary (designed for American use), any page you try to spell check inevitably throws up 50 + errors. Most of these are Hindi words or proper nouns.

It's not that hard to click 'replace' and end up with a Buddha Satan from the list of 'suggested alternatives' :)

A software may be intelligent but it never has the contextual awareness a human brain has. Well, at least not yet.

Anyways, the article features three Indian bloggers - astrologer G Kennedi (), Dr Anirudh Malpani and Anouradha Bakshi .

I picked these people because they are blogging not just for love, but money.

You might think Kennedi is just another office-goer flaunting his creativity online. But Kennedi is no Dilbert sneaking in a blog entry or two from the office computer during lunch hour. He is actually writing his blog to make a living. Kennedi is probably the only astrologer in India with a personal blog - one which not only sells his Vedic astrology services, but also his thoughts on the legalisation of prostitution, and on the recent Tamil film, Anniyan.

Kennedi's blog directly gets him clients, Dr Malpani's connects him with potential patients and Anouradha's is being used to raise funds for Project Why (benefitting children in the slums of Delhi).

A blog being more personal (and more frequently updated than a website) offers a unique opportunity to anyone with a great service to sell. People are inclined to buy from someone they feel they know and can trust.

Of course, you have to maintain a blog with passion - and not as a pure sales pitch -to generate that warmth and trust.

You can read the story here or pick up a copy of the latest Businessworld for more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A tale of two Niveditas

It's 9 45 and I am beat. Nivedita is tugging my hair and asking for a story to be read to her. I reach out for a book from the drawer and quickly scan it to see the shortest one possible.

Terrible, but true. Quality time is a fine concept but much of what a working parent ends up spending is low quality time.

Still, Nivedita - at six years of age - thinks her mom rocks. And so she shares with me the little details of her life. Some of which are inane, and some rather startling.

This evening I learnt that V Shreya and Aman Lal 'kissed' each other. "They kissed their desk and chair also." So they were playing a game? "No they kissed like real," I was told. On the cheek.

Where was Heena ma'am of class I B at the time? "She did not see".

The important thing is Nivedita is sharing. I am important enough in her life. But that won't last forever....

Scenario no 2
Nivedita is 17 and in college. She has a boyfriend. The boy makes her life hell. Nivedita ends her life by hanging herself from the ceiling of her bedroom...

Just writing these words sent a horrible chill down my spine. Even though this is not my beloved daughter but a 17 year old girl by the same name. I read this news report two days ago but it refuses to leave my thoughts...

'Cause I was thinking - God forbid - could something like this happen to my child 10 years from now??

Nivedita Hosbetkar, a student of St Andrew's college committed suicide on September 15. This is what her shocked father had to say in his letter to the police:

"I belong to a middle-class family and my wife Stella and I have been very, very close to Nivedita. We have looked after all her needs and we were a close-knit family. To the best of our knowledge, our daughter was a very content and a happy child..."

To the best of my knowledge - such an apt choice of words. There comes a stage when the knowledge parents have about what their kids are upto is extremely limited. Of course, most of the time, things turn out OK. But what happens when there is a real problem - like in this case.

Was Nivedita a very good actor or were her parents just too wrapped up in their own world, their own problems to notice what was going on with her? A little of both, perhaps.

Her best friend, Kareena Machado has given the police graphic details of the physical and mental harassment Nivedita had gone through at the hands of the boyfriend - George Paul.

But to what avail now? What is the duty of a best friend anyways... To turn a blind eye or to inform someone?? And who would that someone be - most friends would shy of telling a parent. Perhaps a counsellor or empathetic professor. Not that most colleges possess such individuals!

This suicide coincided with reports of model and VJ Nafisa Joseph's parents vowing to pursue the case against their daughter's ex-fiance Gautam Khanduja. They still believe he drove their daughter to suicide.

I wonder why it is that women take such extreme steps. Why does love (or failure in it) hurt so much that life itself becomes unbearable? I really can't recall reports of a man doing the same.

Jilted men throw acid at the women who spurned them. At times they do try to end their lives but that's usually after killing the object of their affection.

In fact, as far as I can tell men who commit suicide are generally either bankrupt or deeply in debt. Is money then the one thing men really love the most?

Depression is not a 'bad mood'
I wish Nivedita - who, like Nafisa was obviously suffering from depression - had been recognised as a very sick girl in need of serious medical attention. Not emotional or high strung or suffering from mere teenage angst.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students in the US and the third-leading cause of death among youth overall (ages 15-24).

In India, suicide is the fourth largest killer among children in the ages of 10-15 and among the 15-19 year-olds where it is third largest killer, the numbers have quadrupled over the last few decades.

In fact, depression is set to become the world's second most widespread affliction by 2010. But do you see any campaigns educating the public about it?

We need a concerted effort -like AIDS awareness. We need more mental health professionals. And above all, we need to spend not just quality time but quantity time with our families, friends and loved ones.

So that if and when we have a problem, someone notices and reaches out - even if we are unable to articulate the need ourselves.

I need to log out and hug Nivedita. You go hug someone you love too!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Give the girl a break!

The Hindustan Times is being touted as a sensible alternative in the current Mumbai newspaper market. However, this report published prominently at the bottom of page 1 today shows that sense - and sensitivity - is a commodity still in short supply.

'LSE freshers on Lewinsky alert' says the headline of a story from London filed by one Vijay Dutt.

Monica Lewinsky is joining the London School of Economics for a Master's in social psychology. And she is in all likelihood attending the freshers' foam party on September 27. The freshers are excited and, at the same time bracing themselves to deal with the prospect of living in the vicinity of the former White House intern - whose cigar sharing habits with Bill Clinton made headlines in 1998.

There's more crap to follow:
Ever since the news of Lewinsky joining LSE broke, many male students at the institute's compact campus are reportedly claiming to be 'married', 'handcuffed' or 'attached'.

The picture being painted - that of a nymphomaniac, man-eater. Why? Because at an impressionable 22 years of age she had a brief affair with the most powerful man in the world. A man with the solid reputation of having a roving eye, one who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than one woman.

But do you see headlines like 'Clinton visiting Oxford - undergraduate girls beware?'. No sir. Whereas poor Monica Lewinsky, 10 years after her little liaison, is unable to live down the pervy image.

In the interim she suffered by losing her privacy - and self esteem. She put on over 75 pounds ( although that helped her in a way - she became a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, the weight loss company).

Then she tried selling her own line of purses and accessories ( and yeah, she also released a biography called 'Monica's Story'. But it didn't exactly set the bookshops on fire - who wanted to hear her story? The cigar and the 'blue dress' are what sum up Monica to most people. How many really want to give her a chance to move on in life?

Who's looking at you, kid?
A student of Indian-origin told HT he was hoping she would concentrate on his white male contemporaries. "Anyway I am only 23," he said. "Most students here are much younger to her. She should be looking for suitors outside the campus." Maybe at the diplomats at the Australian High Commission, opposite the LSE, he added helpfully.

Really! The most hilarious bit is our desi dhakkans reeling under the misconception that Monica would be looking forward to dating them. I mean, who's interested anyways? Not even women their own age.

Just because Monica gave Bill Clinton a blow job, doesn't mean she'll do it for the guy who sits next to her in class. But will that guy understand that and treat her with the respect that any fellow-student deserves? To judge her based on her class participation and not what she said or did 10 years ago in the White House? I very much doubt it.

And yes, she was given a tin of English spotted dick pudding as a farewell gift by friends (thankfully, HT clarifies that spotted dick pudding is made from boiled hard fatty tissues around kidneys of sheep mixed with dry fruits). Well, it's the kind of thing friends do - no deeper meaning needs to be attached to it.

"Maybe I'll meet my husband there (in London) and have kids, " she says. But any 32 year old single woman could have made a statement like that.

Net: net - Monica joining LSE is news but I think it needed to be reported simply and with minimum innuendo. Like this.

And I sincerely hope desi LSE students realise, humming "Monica - oh my darling" when she passes by is really not cool. Letting her just be, is.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Kya Bath Hai!

And this is JAM's take on the Shahrukh-soaping-himself-with-Lux ad. It was just begging to be spoofed wasn't it? For the full mazaa though you'll have to buy a copy.

Incidentally, we've made some changes in the magazine - if you happen to notice and have something to say about it, please feel free to do so!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Kal ho na ho - aaj Shahrukh Lux star hai

Lots of bloggers have commented on the Shahrukh Khan Lux ad. I think it's a good PR gimmick (how else will something as taken-for-granted as a soap make headline news, even if it's celebrating its 75th birthday!) Besides, I don't think it's a long term campaign. Lux will go back to actresses in bathtubs soon enough.

Meanwhile, the women of India can stare at a bare-chested man - and no one will be the worse for it.

However, since a friend at the TOI asked me to do a 'slightly wider story on the SRK Lux ad' for their Consumer Edge page, I applied my mind to it and this is what I came up with. It's been published on pg 31 of 'Times International' in the Mumbai edition.

I am a little doubtful how many people pick up that supplement - although it's my favourite bit in the paper. Here goes the article.

Reinventing brand from a commodity pile

Will consumers accept the HLL gamble of presenting a bare-chested SRK in the new Lux ad, asks Rashmi Bansal (Their words, not mine but ok... that's the kind of stuff intro paras are made of. No cribs!)

Bahaaron phool barasao… Shahrukh Khan tub mein naha raha hai. A new Lux ad featuring the Bollywood superstar immersed in a tub strewn with rose petals is raising quite a media lather. The easy-pleasy explanation that comes to mind when you see that image of King Khan - hairless chest, I'm-so-sensitive-smirk et al - is aha! The brand's gone "metrosexual".

Trouble is, this new sub-species of man that thrives in the pages of glossy magazines is - like the legendary Bigfoot - yet to be captured in the wild. A team from National Geographic will perhaps be called in to assist Lever's legendary in-house research division in accomplishing this difficult task. In the meanwhile, the brand team appears to have taken a simple leap of faith.

Following the principles laid down by soap queen Ekta Kapoor, the company has added on a new and intriguing character to its own 75 year old soap opera. Yes, Levers is desperate for increased TRPs - Trials and Repeat Purchase. As former HLL Chairman Vindi Banga candidly declared at the company AGM in June this year, the company has been hit by “the crisis of declining markets.'”

It isn't that Indians “bathed less often or brushed their teeth less often or indeed washed their clothes less often,'' Banga explained, “but they did down-trade to lower-priced substitutes from higher-quality brands…A consumer buying six tablets of Lux in a month went to buying three of Lux and three cheaper brands".

Aisa kyun? Well, the theory goes that Indians are pinching pennies so they can pay up their installments on cars, bikes, homes, computers and what have you. But that's only half the story. The scarier bit is that consumers are slowly losing faith in brands. "A soap is a soap is a soap" is the attitude – give me the best possible deal. Aishwarya makes a pretty picture on the wrapper but there is nothing quite as beautiful as a “buy one, get one free” offer.

The commoditification of FMCG brands is inescapable. The fact is that except for a brand like Pears– which is manufactured in a separate factory and uses actual glycerine – there isn’t much real difference between one soap and the next. Besides the superficial trappings like colour, fragrance and wrappers. The consumer has simply wisened up to that fact and is happy to experiment - given the explosion of choices.

Speaking of choices, there were two possible paths before the Lux brand team: cling to the Old way; or go the radical, different, bold way. The “Big Idea” of 1929 – a beauty soap endorsed by beautiful people – no longer packs that punch. The movie star of the moment is busy appearing in ads for noodles, chocolates, dandruff shampoos and what have you. So signing on a Preity or Rani would scarcely create ripples.

The brand ‘s ‘advertising identity’ crisis has been brewing for a while now. In the mid 90s, Lux received its first major shock when the actress ruling the roost at the time refused to be part of its campaign. The feisty Kajol “did not believe” in advertising (back then – now it’s a different story!). Consequently Lux was stuck with the nice-but-never-number-one Juhi Chawla until the likes of Aishwarya and Kareena became big enough to sign on.

The bigger crisis, however, was that the communication was itself losing relevance - consumers were beginning to question if the film star actually used the brand. So Lux moved out of fantasy and into a ‘reality’ phase: The film star was taken out of the tub and used purely as a communication device to portray star quality in every Lux user. Remember the “We bring out the star in you” series? No? Well, nobody really does.

Seen in that light the SRK-in-a-tub gambit makes perfect sense – after eons the public is sitting up and taking notice. Is the soap now aimed at the man or the woman? Well, as long as that image of Shahrukh surrounded by rose petals isn’t repulsive it really shouldn’t hurt the brand. The women – who are the ghar ka decisionmakers in soap matters – may well warm to the image of a good looking, bare-chested man while soaping themselves. Just like their husbands have been happy enough to use an ‘auraton ka product’ all this while – with a picture of those gorgeous actresses - at some sub conscious level – playing back n their heads.

There’s complex ‘semiotics’ involved, you see. As a researcher on Lever brands conjectures:”They’ve chosen the star very carefully – it’s not macho Sunny Deol. Note how all throughout SRK’s maleness is submerged under water and how in the end, the four Lux heroines – Hema, Sridevi, Juhi and Kareena – gang up and playfully attempt to drown him in the tub.” So it’s the women retaining the upper hand, really!

Net:net will the ad produce mere talkshow chatter, or the sales spike that matters? Well, there’s only that much which advertising can really do in such a mature category. In the last 3 years Lux has gained close to a 4% share -despite insipid communication – chiefly due to the launch of “Mini Lux” – an offering strategically priced at Rs. 5 to bring it within the reach of 300 million rural consumers.

It’s pricing and product innovation, distribution and dedicated dustbowl marketing that is likely to produce the real results. Shampoo penetration and sales jumped manifold through sachets, could a similar revolution be in the offing for soaps? Some time ago Levers test-marketed the idea of ‘Lux flakes’ a powder form of the soap which would retail for under a rupee. That’s a wheel turning full circle – Lux started its life as a soap in ‘flake’ form – although to wash clothes, not skin!

Times change, people change, so must brands. You win some, you lose some – but you never know until you try. And Lever’s deserves full marks for trying!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pregnancy ain't so preity

Pregnant women are crazy women is what most men are gonna conclude after watching Preity Zinta in Salaam Namaste. Will I be running around the countryside at midnight - with a wife whose bump is the size of a baby asteroid - in search of Ben & Jerry's Dark Belgian Chocolate icecream? Or Haldiram's dahi papri chaat, or whatever else mere bachche ki maa craves at the moment??

Well, I guess it happens to some - but not everybody. I can't remember having any particular food fetishes when I was pregnant. I just ate a lot more of everything than I should have, then took two whole years to shed the resulting flab. Unlike Preity, who just coolly disengaged the asteroid from her regular tummy and went back to her normal sexy self.

But yes, I guess pregnant women are a special breed who need to use the loo way too often. They laugh, and cry, for no reason at all - thanks to the hormones surging through their system. It's no cake walk, for sure and I'm wondering what is this filmi fascination with having a baby - whether it makes sense for the mother or not?

You can argue the baby is a 'life' from the time of conception or argue otherwise. Salaam Namaste is a movie, so we know Saif and Preity will get together in the end. Otherwise? How was Preity planning to support the baby??

I for one am firmly on the side of women having the right to abortion. It's no big deal in India, of course. Ads for "Pearl Centre" abound in local trains - offering to do the job for as little as Rs 100. Prevention is always better than abortion but abortion is better than bringing an unwanted life into this world.

Why it makes sense
Steven Levitt of 'Freakonomics' fame has explained the drop in US crime rates over the last 10 years by linking it with the historic Roe vs Wade judgement in 1973, which legalised abortion in that country. His argument - supported by intuition and then statistics - is that the drop came about because a large number of unwanted babies (of poor, young, black mothers) were never born. And hence a whole generation of potential criminals never came into existence.

Not everyone agrees with the argument but, anticipating the emotions his theory would arouse, Levitt points out that "economics is about what is true, not what ought to be true".

Kya kehna
And here I have my own strange little experience to recount. Six - well almost seven years ago - home pregnancy kits were not easily available. Jab mujhe laga kuh gadbad hai, I decided to visit a gynaec. She gave me a urine test and a few minutes later pronounced, "Congratulations".

Then, she added, "Aage kya karna hai?" I was a bit perpelexed but then it dawned on me what she was alluding to. I'd come for the test alone - no mother, mother in law or husband in tow (dunno what he was busy with that day but well, he wasn't with me!).

Then she scanned me for signs of 'marriage' - no mangalsutra, no sindoor, jeans and t shirt. And put me down in the 'unwed mother' category.

Well, I clarified things and we fixed the next appointment. But looking back I think she was pretty cool, practical and non-moralistic about the whole thing. No allusions to paap or lectures on sin.

And no, seeing a sonograph of a baby would not be cho-chweet enough to move me - or most Indian women - to keep a baby conceived outside marriage. That's just plain stupid - and unfair - for both mother and baby. Better think a million times before you welcome into this world a baby, whether with a salaam or a namaste!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tech it or leave it

"For most engineering grads first job's a passing phase of less than two years"proclaims a headline in today's Economic Times

A C Nielsen ORG Marg's T Schools '05 Campus Recruiters Index has made the less than startling discovery that 64% of engineering grads who join tech companies intend to leave within the first two years or less. This number is apparently up from 47% in 04 and 59% in 05.

Fact is, few engineering grads seem really enthused about joining Infosys, TCS, Wipro and the like - especially if they happen to be from tier 1 institutes or God forbid, IIT. Company aa rahi hai, to chalo job le lete hain.

And serve the companies right too in a way, if they're willing to snap up any which engineering graduate - civil, mechanical, metallurgical - just because they need to add 10,000 bakras at a time.

Although their HR depts claim that they have systems which ensure a smooth induction, training and deployment onto projects that isn't quite the case for everyone.

A 2004 graduate from a premier institute in Mumbai who was working with Mastek had this to say: "Since IT companies conform to CMM level 5 they have to keep a certain % of the workforce on the bench ie idle. And it can get damn frustating."

There are enough cases of freshers who complete their training and then just cool their heels for a while: come to office everyday, send email forwards to each other (the only timepass available in the absence of internet access) and somehow get through till the end of the day.

Sounds like fun, doing nothing - but try doing it over a period of time. Sucks bigtime!

Another complaint is "I asked to work on X technology but was put onto a project using Z technology." Z is apparently getting 'obsolete' but still a current business requirement. But that argument doesn't cut ice with apna 'I-want-technologies-that-look-good-on-my-resume' engineer.

The Long, Steep Climb
Although the 15,000 bucks you get in hand as a fresher seem decent enough at the time of joining the really long ladder ahead is soon evident.

In most companies it takes 18 months-2 years to get sent on an offshore project and earn that precious dollar allowance (which is the carrot dangling in every techie head). And though that's not really a long time many don't have the patience.

Besides, they soon learn, the job is not really about programming at all... One such dude sums up the average IT career path on a Pagalguy forum:

There is not much of a ladder is S/W industry as such. For most life is quite typical. One or two years in a company. Then a chance to go onsite and see some money. Then back home. Another 2 years and then one becomes an analyst and after 5-6 years, a manager. And your engineering branch is the last thing that would matter here.

The work in S/w company is quite mundane and does not involve too much programming skills. If you have good talking skills and project yourself well to your managers, you would grow.

Given that scenario - and the fact that there is no inherent interest in software as a career - getting into an MBA or MS program is a good escape route. And seems like a faster way "up".

Basically, managing the aspirations of thousands of above average intelligence 20somethings is no joke. Yes they have fantastic campuses, working culture, and future prospects as well but when all that becomes the norm, dil still maange more and that's where the trouble lies.

Above average folks eventually hear voice whispering in their heads: " Is what I am doing meaningful?" Here's one techie's answer, again posted on the PG forum:

"Hmm, so you thought Windows XP was written in India? nops, but the typing of all the HELP doc was done in India. You do not do much programmin. If you are in Mainframe stuff, whereever you work it's going to dig into some code written in 1970 and you'll be wondering half the time "how could ppl write such hopeless code?" and you would need to add one or two lines into that code. Yes not more than 20 lines!

If you are in any of those open system projects, Java, .NET half the time is documentation stuff or changing and test some crap stuff. But few projects have something good.

Remember software industry is not about creating new things. Its all about client giving you work. Work that their IT team is NOT interested in doing.

But you get money $$$$ and of course work exp and a life called "White collar job".

Not very inspiring, especially in light of the fact that those with MBA degree from premier institutes in the same company clearly seem to earn more and rise faster. As well as enjoy greater mobility - they have the option of leaving the software industry altogether if they wish.

So the answer to 'how to stop attrition' is : you can't. Whether you make people sign bonds or chart out detailed career paths - if they join your industry because it's the easiest job available to them and not out of inherent aptitude or interest, they're always going to be difficult to hold onto.

And companies are accepting that and just taking in more and more people to begin with (luckily we seem to have a large enough population of B.E.s to draw on!).

Of course one could argue why single out engineering grads - 2 years is the average time most young people spend in their first jobs. Whether in media or BPO or KPO or whatever. And even after an MBA.

The country is awash with jobs - it's easier to leave and more tempting to do so than ever before. Let's see how long the party lasts!

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Outlook B school rankings 2005

The Outlook-C Fore B school rankings are out. Should you believe the reams of data and tables that have been printed? Well, it's what has NOT been printed that has me more worried...

To begin with, here is their list of the top 10 institutes:

1) IIM A
2) IIM B
3) IIM C
4) MDI Gurgaon
5) S P Jain
6) IIFT New Delhi
7) NMIMS, Mumbai
8) XIM B
8) IMT Ghaziabad
9) ICFAI Hyderabad
10) IMI Delhi

Ranks 6-10 have benefitted hugely by the absence of several key institutes:
* XLRI, IIM Lucknow - absolutely glaring omissions
* FMS Delhi, JBIMS Mumbai - still top choices, very high brand value
* IIM Kozhikode, IIM Indore - the institutes any student would prefer over an ICFAI / IMI/ IMT!
* Symbiosis - SIBM, SCMHRD

That's 8 whole institutes which should have been ranked somewhere between 4-15 not accounted for at all. And by glossing over this fact the credibility of the survey gets severely dented.

Furthermore, the methodology section of the survey explains: Invitations were sent out to 950 b schools, of which 234 responded. However, "information on some institutes which did not participate directly was obtained from secondary sources available to us"

I'm guessing this means IIM A, B and C - as the IIMs had refused to participate in all B school surveys. Well then why not do the same for the other missing B schools??

The smart thing to do is include box which at least gives a qualitative opinion on "B schools which have opted out of rankings but remain popular with students". And perhaps assign a letter grade to these schools.

It appears to be a clash of egos - B school is miffed by last year's results, says "we won't participate". Magazine says "fine - hum bhi dekh lenge. We'll blank you out".

So even in the accompanying stories there is no mention of the institutes which opted out of the survey - as if they don't exist on the planet!

As for IIM A, B, C - again because they did not officially participate in the survey none of their initiatives are featured. At IIM A for example a new course called PGP X has been started - a 1 year course for executives with 8-15 years experience. This is the institute's response to ISB Hyderabad.

Oh, by the way ISB is completely missing too!

To B or not to B
Why do institutes opt out anyways? Well, there are parameters on which some are completely deficient. For example - full time faculty. The Symbiosis group of institutes for examples employs just about 5-6 full time faculty in SIBM, SCMHRD, SIIB - they have abt 20-30 visiting professors managing the rest of the coursework per term.

Neither does the faculty have any pressure to conduct research, publish papers, attend conferences or do consulting.

From the student's point of view the visiting vs full time debate does not really matter. As long as the institute's reputation and past performance generates good placements, their objective is met.

At this point it's important to understand the difference between a B school and a Management Institute.
A management institute imparts business education, but also seeks to add onto the body of knowledge that exists in the subject as a whole.
A b school on the other hand has a single point objective: teaching the subject of business management.

The trouble with the surveys is that it lumps both categories together. Not all b schools seek to be management institutes - they simply wish to churn out competent graduates. And these graduates join the B school in quest of enhanced job prospects ie placements.

A survey titled 'India's top B schools' must take this dichotomy into account. Maybe the survey should gave two parts:
a) For the students, who have a short term view: Will X or Y b school benefit me?
b) For the academics/ thinktanks who take a longer term view: Are we getting closer to making an impact in management thinking and practice on a national/ global scale?

All institutes may choose not to participate in the second bit because they don't see themselves stretching the boundaries of management thinking - or making global impact - anyways.

Yes, traditionally, management institutes have tended to also be the best B schools. But in the last decade the 'pure B school' model has also come up and needs to be evaluated simply for what it is.

'Sectoral schools'
Another bit that makes no sense to me is a separate table on 'Sectoral B schools' ie the ones which offer specialised courses not general management degrees. Here's the ranking of top sectoral schools:

3) DMS, IIT Delhi
6) IIFM Bhopal
7) NIAEM, Hyd
8) IHMR, Jaipur
9) Delhi School of Economics
10) DMS, NIT Trichy

One glaring omission is Shailesh J Mehta SOM, IIT Bombay. But besides that - why separate these schools from the mainstream? It's not like students decide "I will join only NITIE or IIT-D DMS". They give CAT, XAT etc and then see which is the 'best b school' in the prevailing pecking order they can get into.

At MICA for example only a small percentage would have applied only to MICA. Most MICAns were aiming for an IIM but didn't get in and decided MICA was a better option than say NMIMS.

Yes, some of these schools like the IITs and NITIE take only engineers. But then all IIMs comprise (at least) 70% engineers anyways.

The Way ahead
The fact that these rankings produce a lot of hoo-ha every year has been tackled head on by Outlook in a 3 page article titled 'The Bitter Truth'. The magazine's assertions:
- The rankings are not subjective but objective
- They are transparent - detailed scores are posted at their website
- There is no linkage between the ads you see in the issue and the ranking of B schools (a claim which many still refuse to accept :)
- And lastly, that B school rankings do 'make a difference'.

For example, several Mumbai based institutes which earlied managed fine with visiting faculty are recruiting permanent staff because that improves their rankings. An example provided is that of SIES - its faculty strength has shot up from 8 to 30.

In an era of outsourcing one does not know if this is necessarily the best management practice. You can't attract the best in the business because teaching pays less (and practitioners can add a different kind of value to the classroom!). So the emphasis on 'full time faculty' needs to be debated at some point...

Global debate
The impact of B school rankings on business education is currently the subject of hot debate even in the US. Businessweek magazine reports: In a soon-to-be published article, "What's Really Wrong With U.S. Business Schools," husband and wife USC B-school profs Harry and Linda DeAngelo and the University of Rochester's Jerold Zimmerman lay the blame for B-schools' woes squarely at the doorstep of media rankings -- like those produced by BusinessWeek -- and the B-school deans who pander to them.

The authors maintain that U.S. business schools are in thrall to the rankings, so much so that they're abandoning the "rigorous, conceptual framework" that students need in favor of "quick fixes" to improve their place in the rankings, but do little to help students.

"We're advertising ourselves to the world as experts in managerial techniques, and we're managing our business schools 180 degrees away from what we're teaching -- we're managing for the short term," DeAngelo said in an interview.

The authors maintain that the rankings do a poor job of examining complex academic institutions, and that they lack the kind of statistical precision needed to accurately rank individual schools, arguments that BusinessWeek disputes.

So what's his fix? They suggest increasing the importance of faculty research in the rankings, surveying alumni who graduated between 10 years and 15 years earlier on the long-term impact of their education, and replacing the rankings with letter grades shared by groups of schools deemed to be roughly equal in stature.

In the Indian context I wonder whether any of these would really work... Surveying students who graduated 10-15 years earlier for example would disqualify a huge no of schools which have started only in the last decade! And ratings or letter grades is a good idea but would not sell many copies of these magazines.

Research vs practice
Not all agree with the need to become more research based. "The point DeAngelo is missing is that a business school is a professional school," USC's Warren Bennis said in an interview. "It creates knowledge not just for the [academic] priesthood, but for the wide general public. The work of a businessman is to be a generalist -- to deal with messy data, ambiguities, and uncertainties."

Ted Snyder, the dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business agrees with the Outlook assertion that surveys provide deans with important intelligence about their programs that they can use to make much-needed changes to keep their programs relevant. "Rankings are part of the competitive terrain. Ranks are feedback. Rankings are not our identity."

The article concludes with the question: The media B-school rankings are the tail that wags the dog. Who's to blame for the problems of B-schools today - the tail or the dog?

That's a question we too have to answer here in India. But honestly the least mags can do is avoid statements like this one by Outlook: The IIM citadel may be under threat. New schools have a lesson or two to teach.

Yeah right. And I'm not saying that's ridiculous just because IIM A is my alma mater. You can make 'trend statements' if your surveys are published once every 5 years. Nothing really changes on a year to year basis.

Yes, it does get boring for the magazine and its editors to tom-tom the 'IIMs' year after year but if that's reality - we'll live with the boredom.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Look mom, I'm on television!

It's an emotional moment for me and Yatin as JAM just celebrated its 10th anniversary. We've been partners in this journey - both professionally and personally - and yes it's been interesting and fun, but certainly not been a smooth ride all the way.

But then nothing that's really worth it ever is!

It feels like just yesterday that we stood outside St Xavier's actually selling the first copy of a magazine with the strange headline : "We don't print headlines."

We've lived a lot, learnt a lot. Survived the dotcom boom and bust, been a part of the journey of young India from PPO to BPO.

Cool used to be Pink Floyd, now it's Rabbi Shergill and Preity-Saif as well. But at the heart of it youth is still about the struggle for identity, of wanting to stand out in the crowd and yet belong. And JAM continues to provide that sense of belonging.

We have many plans for the future, including expanding JAM to the other large metros (print media being 'hot' now, we are now actively seeking out funding! We're also looking to leverage the JAM content onto mobile phones.

To the many, many of you who helped JAM in different ways over these 10 years - with moral and material support - a personal thank you! JAM is an Entity that feeds off the primal passion and youthful energy of its young audience.

Each one of you has made a difference and we hope in return the magazine has, as well!

You can catch an interview with Yatin and me on CNBC's 'Young Turks' at these times today and tomorrow:
Sat Sep 10 at 9.30 pm
Sun Sep 11 12.30 noon

They say each of us gets our 15 seconds of fame. Well, we've got about 8 minutes of it - which should keep us energised for some time :)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Just say no - to food!

'Thin epidemic strikes SNDT' reports today's Mumbai Mirror. A shocking 60% of students are underweight, a 2004-5 report of the University's dept of Student Welfare says.

I am not surprised. The wanna-be-thin-at-any-cost mania is quite visible all around us. Try shopping at any of the 'happening' boutiques in Bandra or a store like Mango and the message is clear - If you're a size 'S', the whole shop is your oyster. An 'M' has some hope. Beyond that - forget it absolutely.

Thing is, the boutiques import clothes from Thailand and Hong Kong where women are generally petite. And Mango is a European brand. Whereas Indian women - even at their absolutely correct body weight in medical terms - are more curvy. Which is why to carry off clingy Western clothing, underweight is the way to go!

Now some girls may be born skinny, but others achieve skinniness and yet others will do anything to get that way. 'Anything' includes not just saying no to pakodas but skipping meals, or consuming the bare minimum.

And some of these 'girls' really should know better.

Ms Shobhaa De, columnist, commentator on every which issue, marriage and family expert and mother to 4 young ladies in their teens and twenties weighs 52 kilos. At 5 ft 5 1/2 inches that's not exactly 'ideal weight range'. 58 kilos is more like what the doctor ordered.

Shobha De's 'diet'
(as told to Saturday Times):
Breakfast: 5 almonds 1 glass of warm water with tulsi leaves and honey.
1 whole-wheat toast.
1 cup of black tea.

Lunch: 1 glass of fruit lassi OR 1 boiled egg.
WOW - that must be filling!

Evening: 2 Marie biscuits with 1 cup of black tea.

Dinner: 1 portion of fish or mutton curry in Bengali preparation, a small portion of green leafy vegetables, 2 chapattis made from whole wheat Punjabi atta.

Calories consumed: Approximately 915 calories
Normal intake for adult female: 1800-2000 calories

Dietician Naini comments: “Shobhaa’s calorie intake is very low for a person who has such an active lifestyle. She needs to add more fruits to her diet and have a bowl of salad and some curd besides the lassi for lunch. Or maybe, she could do with an egg, a whole wheat toast and a bowl of salad.”

If a 50 + (almost 60 year old!) woman can be so paranoid about her weight as to skip lunch and practically starve herself, can you blame 16 year olds?

Talk about role models.

Men have stomachs, women eat air
The director of a Delhi-based management institute which I happened to visit recently remarked there is a big problem when it comes to deciding what food should be cooked in the hostel mess. "The boys want parathas, cutlets, pakodas - the girls just won't eat that stuff... In fact they eat little, if anything at all!"

Actually, if you check out the canteen menus of most colleges, you'll find it hardly reflects the current obsession with thinness. The menus are stuck in the 1950s!

Counselling and educating girls, as SNDT plans to do, is fine. But, you can't fight a global trend. So making healthy eats more easily available is also important.

College managements need to take a fresh look at the food they're dishing out. Keep the samosas but also include some fruits, salads, fresh juices and even healthy alternatives to junk food like sprout bhel, chapati rolls and butter-free sandwiches.

The menu could even specify how many calories each item has to make it easier for the weight-conscious to stick to their diets.

Enough food for thought... my lunch is waiting!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

.'More than friends'

Salaam Namaste gets released tomorrow. When I first heard the title I thought it might be a Hindu boy-Muslim girl kind of story in a modern context (although Preity's clothes were a little too tiny for that!). Then, the buzz was it's about a 'live in' relationship.

And now we know for sure - they do live in, but only as roommates.

They live together, but as friends, in different rooms. They're in a relationship… but then again they're not.

It is a Yash raj film after all - even if it is shot in Australia! But of course, it's very hip, New Age and all that:

He's a Chef; she's a Radio Jockey. They're young, they're cool, they're independent –and together they make the BEST pair! Or do they?

My point is - of course they are going to realise it's true love at the end of it all. So the fun lies only in the meandering journey towards that end. Unfortunately, in real life it's far more complex

Dost dost na raha...
One of the biggest dilemmas in life is realising that someone who is a friend, is also 'more than a friend'. It usually happens quite sneakily and unexpectedly and there - life is never quite the same again.

Now if this happens when you and 'more than a friend' are both single, it's bad enough. But if either one of you - or both - is actually committed to someone else (at least in theory, if not practice) you find yourself in a heart rending hieroglyphic.

The thing is, love - or lust/ attraction/ gosh-I-want-to-know-that-person-intimately can happen to anyone, at any age. Not just at a convenient 23 - 26(for girls) and 25-30 (for boys) as all Indian parents would wish.

At which time they can offer their blessings along with gold sets and Kala Niketan sarees which they know you aren't going to wear anytime in the next decade.

Dil vil pyaar vyaar
Last night I saw a re-run of 'Love Actually'; a cheesy film on the whole but one with several poignant scenes, like this one:

10 year old Sam has just lost his mother, and his stepfather is worried - he's looking really bad.
Dad: "Sam - what's on your mind?"
Sam: "If I tell you and you can't do anything about it - is it OK?"
Dad: "Yes, of course".
Sam: "Dad I'm in love and she doesn't even know I exist."
Dad (taken aback): "Aren't you a little young to be in love?"
Sam: (glares): "No!"
Dad: "Well, Ok ... uh.. anyways I'm glad you told me. I thought it was something worse."
Sam: "Worse? What can be worse than the agony of being in love?"

So there you have it. Nothing can be worse. Or better.

And even if you do find 'The One' and make him/ her yours for life, be prepared for 'more than friends' feelings to arise with someone else, at some point.

The days when women met only dhobis and sabziwallahs and men sat with fat munshis behind the counters of shops are completely over.Temptation and interesting conversation lurks around every office corner!

As Psychology Today magazine notes:
Like every other kind of intimacy, the workplace variety brings with it the likelihood of sexual attraction. It is natural. It is inevitable, hard-wired as we are to respond to certain kinds of stimuli, although it sometimes comes as a surprise to those it strikes. But sexual attraction in the office is virtually inevitable for other reasons as well: The workplace is an ideal pre-screener, likely to throw us together with others our own age having similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, similar sets of values, and similar aspirations.

It also offers countless opportunities for working friendships to develop. As teams come to dominate the structure of the business world, the other half of a business team is increasingly likely to be not only a colleague with complementary skills and interests, but an attractive member of the opposite sex. As close as the collaboration between men and women workers can get at the office, it may be even more so outside it, as workers today function in an extended workplace of irregular hours and non-office settings. We are now more likely than ever, for example, to share the intimate isolation of business travel.

However, the article goes on to say:
"Sexual attraction can be managed. It is not only possible to acknowledge sexual attraction, but also to enjoy the energy generated by it--and without acting on it sexually."

Hmm. Right. Don't have your cake just look at it, imagine what it might taste like and channelise the imaginary calories into imaginary sex...

But seriously, of course we don't act on every impulse we get. And many attractions remain, known to both parties but not formally acknowledged. They just make life a little more interesting, but have the potential to make it all too complicated.

Best to let sleeping passions lie, than stare into each other's eyes and unravel the naked, boring truth.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

ABCD - Apna Bhartiya Chinese Dish

There are two kinds of office complexes in Bombay - the fab and the drab.

The first kind consist of steel, chrome and glass. Blue and orange carpeting, Nescafe machines near the elevators - the kind of offices you see in interior design magazines.

The second are situated in drab 'industrial estates' which haven't been whitewashed since the last time Rajesh Khanna made a girl swoon... Which was, ahem, quite a while ago.

The one bright spot in these kind of office complexes is the canteen boy from the mandatory Udipi restaurant on the premises.

These grubby but ever-cheerful young fellas ferry coffees and dosas and samosas stuffed with the alu bhaji left over from lunchtime. Last week, our canteen boy Ramesh proudly came and announced -'Ab Chainis start ho gaya hai'. Promptly, we all placed inaugural orders.

Be Indian, Eat Indian
Udipi 'Chainis' is a unique brand of cuisine, an advanced version of the Indian family of Chinese khaana peculiar to this part of the world.

Vir Sanghvi, writing in his 'Rude Food' column credits Nelson Wang of China Garden with 'inventing' Indian Chinese. That was in the early '70s. Before that a few fancy restaurants served 'authentic Chinese'. And it found hardly any takers.

Then, one day Wang deep fried some gobi florets, dunked them in a hot n spicy Indian style sauce and came up with the exotic sounding name 'Manchurian'. And Chinese was permanently de-chinkified and took on Indian culinary citizenship.

Well, Udipi Chanis is the baap of even Indian Chainis. It consists of noodles or rice with finely diced carrot and French beans, cooked in an oily kadhai with generous slatherings of soya sauce. Then there are 'gravy items' with either chicken or veg fried something-or-the-others. Here the sauce is more viscous, garlicky and generally either dark brown or bright red.

And remember, Udipi Chinees is most compatible with that industrial strength Indian cola : 'Thums Up'. Enjoy the satisfying burp!

Bottomline: Indian food - especially curry and naan - has become hugely popular in many parts of the world. From there, it may just be a short step to 'Indianised' world cuisine - like Indian Chainis. Then maybe a further specialisation: 'Gujju Chinese'.

And thus, will India bring mighty China to its knees - begging for mercy!

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth