Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Mirchification of Go 92.5 FM

We've all heard of behenjis turned mod. But now, you have the mod turning behenji. Go 92.5 FM - the only one of 4 private radio stations in Mumbai which played a mix of Hindi and English music - has gone 100% desi.

As the popular old Hindi number goes... Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua? Aur kyon?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You build a brand for 10 years, a brand that actually had an identity because it was 'different'. Go 92.5 started out playing primarily English music. A couple of years ago they tweaked the station in an attempt to widen the listenership base.

So the RJs switched from playing 'mostly English' to 'a lot of Hindi, peppered with English' and you know what, it worked just fine. The Hindi songs they chose to air were the 'acceptable in a disco' variety - 'Woh Lamhe', A R Rahman, Raghav, Jay Sean, Rabbi Shergill, Kailash Kher.

The chatter was still in English, and different from the chatter on other stations. Jaggu and Tarana in particular excelled at talking about nothing at all and still keeping you entertained. The USP of this duo was they sounded completely at ease with each other, completely natural. Nothing was scripted or staged. The accents weren't put on and neither were the 'personalities'.

Even something as mundane as the 'traffic update' was more interesting because of Jaggu's inane comments which would generally start with, "See, what I don't understand is..."

Jaggu and Tarana reflected the attitude of so many of us who 'think primarily in English'. But, we're no longer enslaved by Western music - many of us prefer all manner of item numbers to the Billboard top 20. Which is why the first shift by Go 92.5 went down all right.

It's like Indians who call themselves 'non-veg'. Except for some of the hard core meat eaters, most are OK with vegetarian food forming 80% of the menu. But the occassional chicken or fish sure brightens up their day.

Go 92.5 gaya...
But now, everything has changed. Some smart alec has studied the market and decreed: "The numbers are in the Hindi market. Hindi gaane hi bajaiye please. Hindi mein hbi baat kijiye please."

The result is a sad and soulless transition from a vibrant station with a small but loyal listener base to a me-too product willing to forgo all its old listeners, in the faint hope of attracting a few new ones.

I realised something had 'changed' when I told my driver, "hamara station laga dijiye" and he said - that's what's playing. And it sounded just like Mirchi!

Bombay Addict has a heartfelt blogpost on the 'makeover':

Eventually, Go also increased its Hindi content... yet, English songs were still played often... Go92.5FM still smoked competition on all counts - quality of music, quality of RJs, everything. You just have to listen to the shrilly, loud, accented RJs of the other stations to appreciate Go. I didn't even waste my time doing that comparison.

Cut to the present. Sometime last week, Tarana started to speak Hindi more than usual and I thought I was hearing a tad too many Hindi songs. And today, Sunday, 9th April, I woke up to "Chura liya hai tumne" instead of T-Man's Old English songs on his Sunday Brunch show. So I'm guessing Go has gone full Hindi.

Yep. Not only do they go "full Hindi" they now run contests where you can win merchandise for films like "Aryan - the Unbreakable" starring Sohail Khan. A film which has flop written all over its brawny forehead.

In fact, the first thing that Go did when it decided to 'change over' was interview Himesh Reshammiya. Nothing wrong with that (I shall need an entire post to do justice to the Himesh phenomenon), except they did one of those 'tussi-great-ho' interviews... where they were so very careful not to 'offend' their super sized ego guest.

Very forced and unnnatural - and that has been the tone of the J & T banter ever since.

For one, Jaggu has limited Hindi capabilities and even Taraana doesn't sound like Taraaana when she talks now. It's like she's translating the voice in her head when she speaks and something is lost in the process.

You know what they say about wannabes... When you see a behenji turned mod, even though she may be wearing the hep brand of jeans and get the hep 1000 buck haircut - you can still tell she's a behenji? Well, it's the same with the mod going the behenji way.

If I want to listen to Mirchi, I'll tune into Mirchi. Or Radio City 91 FM or even Red 93.5. A better strategy might have been to simply steal a couple of star radio jockeys from other stations!

I'm guessing Jaggu & Tarana will soon bow out, like Malini and Glenn have. Maybe Shruti will take over and people like me will carry CDs for 'drive time'. But will ratings drastically rise? I see no reason for Mirchi or City listeners to switch...

And if that is the case, 3 months from now, Go will probably sigh, "We should've stayed true to ourselves". Ab na ghar ke rahe, na ghaat ke.

It's all about money but...
At the end of the day, yes it is about making money, but money can be made out of selling a smaller but more premium audience. English newspapers in India, which have far smaller audiences than regional papers, operate on that principle. There are successful examples on TV as well - CNBC, NDTV but yes, MTV did go behenji and achieve more commercial success.

The need for Go 92.5 to go 'mass' can be traced to the fact that it's recently got a large amount of funding. BBC Worldwide Holdings recently invested Rs 31.8 crores in Radio Midday. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has also invested 10 crores.

So now the station obviously wants to go 'national' and hence made several bids under 'phase 2' of FM licensing. Go now has licenses for Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chennai.

Radio Mirchi has emerged as a successful multi-city radio station model - both in terms of listenership and revenues. But marketing theory and common sense say that challengers to Mirchi cannot adopt the exact same model. Mirchi's strength - and weakness - is its mass base.

As Nisha Narayanan, former Head-Programming of Radio City, Bangalore, observed on

When you offer 10 channels in a metro, and four in smaller towns, the only way to survive will be through channel differentiation. Research shows that 70 per cent of listeners can’t differentiate between one FM channel and another based on content. This definitely will have to change...

And it's not like the Bollywood formula will work everywhere:

FM is a local medium and it has to have a local flavour. It’s really not a good thing for the larger networks to go in for the same -- or similar -- content across the country. It may sound like a cheaper option in the short run, but if you don’t talk about local issues in the local idiom, you can’t engage your listeners and you’ll lose their loyalty. You will end up with bland, mass-market cookie cutter programming, which turns people off FM altogether.

I think the original Go formula could have worked in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and even Delhi. All these cities have a fairly large audience of young people - students and professionals - who would relate to a station that spoke their language and aired more diverse music.

As a friend who works in Radio Mirchi commented on the Go strategy,"In the obsession for greater revenues, they didn't realise they had a winner..."

Ah well. Coke once tried to be a Pepsi and then returned to its original formula. The same just might happen with Go. Until then, they're gone, as far as my patronage is concerned!

P.S. Over 1500 listeners have signed this petition. If you feel strongly, so can you. I don't think anything will change, however, until the ratings come in and there's no significant improvement. Or, advertisers give Go 92.5 a thumbs down!

Monday, April 24, 2006

They kem, they saw, they rapped

The idea of a Gujarati rap song might seem as unlikely as Tarla Dalal coming up with a recipe for fish flavoured dhokla. But the Karmacy Brothers have done it and what's they've come up with is actually very cool. Their album "The Movement" was released in 2005 but only now is it getting airplay on Indian music channels. Sony BMG is releasing the album in India.

The most inspired song by the group is Blood Brothers, which they describe as "one of our most important pieces, both emotionally and sociologically".

Says Swapnil Shah aka 'Swap': It utilizes two languages, Gujarati and English, to paint an honest picture of the often overlooked hardships involved in leaving one’s motherland. This story of two brothers, one who emigrates to America and the other who prefers to remain in his native land, is presented as a dialogue that spans both time and place.

The initial portion of the song is mostly in Gujarati, but you get a sense of it from these two lines...

Mare tho America javuche ne millionaire thavuche...
Thane kabar nathi pardthi, India maa kasu nathi...

The brother who goes to America reports:

dear bro its been a long time since we talked,
four years since I stepped off that plane, how’s mom and pops
as for me I’m workin’ hard learnin’ the ropes of the game
I went from a nobody to lots of fortune and some fame

Later, the brothers have a pretty interesting 'conversation'.

Hello my brother how are you
Bhai kem che
You like my new suit just got it tailored Sergio Valente
Ah mari vow meena ne apri baby chivani, besija kasu kah, cha, nasto ke pani
Here’s a gift for your wife, a baby doll for your girl,
I can’t wait till its my turn to bring a new life into this world...
Tho lagan kyare karis, threes varus pathigaya
There’s no time for all that and I refuse to do a biodata..

But the crux of the song lies in the chorus:

Maru dil, my heart, maru loi, my blood from the start
Mari nath, my family two worlds apart,
How do I move on bhai,
Kevirithe jais, cuz no matter where I go,
My soul is in the same place

It does not really matter if you don't understand Gujarati, because like all good music - the track speaks for itself.

A Brief History in Rhyme
I think 'Blood Brothers' is a very heartfelt and genuine attempt at rap with an Indian flavour. A couple of years ago there was a really sad effort by a guy called Sameer Dada. This guy released what he called "the country's first gangster rap" music album called Salaam.

The idea was not bad but Sameer Dada forgot one important thing. Rap may contain expletives but it's also about Rhythm and Poetry. I heard that album once (as part of my job!) and it was absolute torture. Sameer, incidentally, is the son of 'beauty queen' Shahnaz Hussain - which kind of solves the mystery of who would be senseless enough to fund the release of this ear splitting piece of work.

Mummies can be blind to the faults of their children, and deaf as well!

The more successful attempt at rapping after that came from the Big B + Blaaze collaboration on Bunty aur Babli. The idea there was to do something 'different' and it worked. Both the rhythm and the storytelling element were up to the mark but I think the 'Blood Brothers' track has has a lot more soul in it.

The crux of the matter: Delivery and wordplay can be indicative of a rapper's skill, but the subject of a rap is equally, if not more important. A rapper who has an excellent delivery but lacks substance is frequently perceived as less skillful than a mediocre rapper who has a message or story.

And the message is where 'Blood Brothers' definitely scores.

Look, it's not a Punjab ka puttar!
Another interesting point is that so far the Punjabi immigrant community has so far dominated the East-meets-West music scene.

From Apache Indian (real name: Steven Kapur) and Bally Sagoo (" Punjabi-Sikh, Anglo-Indian raised in Birmingham, England) to Jay Sean (real name: Kamaljit) , it's the Punjabi NRI who's mixed bhangra rhythms with hip-hop and reggae to create new genres of music altogether.

Like Punjabis, Gujaratis have spread out all over the globe. But we haven't seen them influence India or Indians on the musical or cultural front. One might argue they don't have music and dance in their 'blood' the way Punjabis do. Er, then, what about dandiya?

I think the reasons are more mundane.

Gujaratis have excelled in running businesses from Uganda to UK to America. They're famous as owners of cornershops and motels - trades which require a great deal of time and commitment. That very work ethic may have prevented second generation Gujaratis from getting into 'faltu' things like making music.

But looks like that's changing!

The future of 'Indian rap'
Of course no one knows whether Karmacy will be just a flash in a pan or attract more young people into an 'Indirap' genre. There is something called "Mallu rap" by MC Vikram and Luda Krishna

Then we have 'Madras Crew'. I am yet to download and hear their songs but these are some of their lyrics. And here, perhaps, lies the problem:

I'm not trying to take
an african american image n be fake
I never felt the struggle
never lived in a ghetto
never sold drugs n never got into trouble
I represent the big Indian dream
a salaried class guy who eats ice cream

With lyrics about salaried guys eating ice cream, this is never going to be rap in the real sense. Rap, after all, is an art form that originated from the pain of inner-city black youth.

A paper submitted at Gannon University notes :

From the beginning of the century Black music has been a form of expression that has impacted not only the Black community but America as a whole. Negro spirituals laid the foundation for what has continued to be a way for its people to express the pain and hurt that could not other wise be expressed without physical violence. These songs played a crucial role in the development of the blues and soul music which continued to voice the social problems, personal problems, and injustice of their times.

Rap thus grew out of an ongoing musical tradition. That it is more violent and explicit reflects the society in which rappers were born and bred. The paper goes on to say:

"Rap music is not only a black expressive cultural phenomenon; it is, at the same time, a resisting discourse, a set of communicative practices that constitute a text of resistance against white America’s racism and its Eurocentric cultural dominance."

Of course in time the music caught the fancy of white youth (who buy 70% of such records!). Rap started being seen more in terms of 'entertainment' and the clothes worn by rappers, and their vocabulary became cool as well.

So I guess as entertainment, any culture can mash up with the rap 'style'. But pain and angst - whether real or manufactured - appears to be integral to the appeal of rap music. Karmacy seems to have got that bit right but what of other Indian rappers?

If they're going to be well fed and rap about the pain of standing in line for an H 1 B visa... I don't know if it will have quite the same impact.

The true inheritors of a rap tradition may actually be found in the SC/ ST segment of Indian society whose lot has a lot of parallels with struggles of the blacks in America. But a rap song on reservation? Now that's an idea!

Of course, there seems to be an equal amount of angst on both sides, so tremendous possibilities...

P.S> Is anyone having trouble with publishing on blogger? Because I have been going nuts today :)

Update: There is a major problem.. lots of people are having trouble posting. It just shows 0% "publishing in progress". Indefinitely. If you are reading this, the problem has been fixed.

As a lot of people have noted on the blogger-help forum on google groups, it's OK if there is a problem - on the whole Blogger has been providing very good service. But admitting there is a problem would save a lot of us from worrying, "Is it just me? Or my broadband connection?"

Even for a free service, you owe us that courtesy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

George Bush vs the Graduate Student

Every once in a while you read a piece of news that makes you blink and go,"This can't be true!" Well today was one such day for me. As I scanned through the TOI after lunch (yes I know it's a morning paper but I get 4 of them, so...) there was this report on page 1 which briefly caught my attention:

'Kill Bush' call lands Indian in US jail
WASHINGTON: An Indian graduate student in the US who posted inflammatory messages on an internet bulletin board has been arrested and charged with threatening to kill President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, Vice-president Dick Cheney and top Republican leaders.

Hoga koi bewakoof, I thought and that would have been that except the next line read...

Vikram Buddhi, a Purdue University graduate student, allegedly posted the detailed and threatening messages on a Yahoo finance board.

This couldn't be. Vikram Kapoor or Vikram Shah or Vikram Agarwal there can be hundreds. But Vikram Buddhi I know only one. He studied in school with me.

The maths whiz
Vikram Buddhi was a short, dark, quiet boy. I must have exchanged less than 5 words in the 6 years we spent in St Joseph's High School, Colaba. But we had a connection. I was the 'girl who always came first'. He was the 'boy who came second'.

But we didn't really compete. There was never any danger of Vikram taking over my place because while he was brilliant at Maths and Science his Hindi absolutely sucked. And he didn't care to improve it so he could improve his rank. It simply did not matter to him.

Anyhow, we passed out of school and lost touch with Vikram but a couple of years later, there was a shocking bit of news. Vikram's father, Capt B K Subbarao, was arrested at Mumbai airport for allegedly smuggling out sensitive defence documents.

It was really a tale of jealousy and intrigue - Capt Subbarao was falsely implicated but it took many many years for him to prove his innocence. The sad story is extremely well documented here.

Subbarao was charged with trying to smuggle secret documents out of the country under the Official Secrets Act and the Atomic Energy Act. A vicious propaganda campaign was launched against him through the national and vernacular press to build a case, suggesting that he was caught at the airport carrying atomic and defence secrets of the country on board a foreign flight.

But all that Subbarao was carrying with him was his Ph.D thesis approved by IIT Bombay, and other literature on nuclear technology which is freely available and can be readily accessed from various universities and research centres in the world. In fact, Subbarao had not violated any law.

The scientists of BARC and DAE, who had failed to match Subbarao's ingenuity in nuclear science and technology, were immensely successful in causing harm to his body, mind and reputation. They used the legal system and state authority to fulfil their ends. Neither the Constitution of India nor the Courts were of any help to him....

The court case dragged on for five years. It was placed before three Magistrates, five Sessions judges, 21 High Court judges and 13 Supreme Court judges. In the meantime, Subbarao had spent time in the jail studying law and appeared-in-person in the Sessions Court, Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court where the case reached for a second time. Finally, in October 1991, the Bombay High Court passed Subbarao's acquittal orders. The appeal against the acquittal was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 1993.

What happened to Vikram, we wondered? We learnt he too ran from pillar to post during this period. "So sad," people whispered."Such a bright boy, he was".

Frankly, it's hard to comprehend the kind of stress he must've been through at this point. But eventually, he returned to his studies and went off to the US. I bumped into his mother once, a few years ago, and asked about him. She said he was "OK"...

And so, it's really sad and surreal to read this new piece of news. I searched for 'proof' that this is the same guy. No pictures turned up on the net. But this was enough:

Vikram wrote his M.Sc. dissertation on Affine and Projective Varieties, which was completed in 1994. Currently he is doing Ph.D. in Algebraic Geometry at Purdue University, USA.

I just know it's him. There can't be two Maths geniuses with this name. And although I am sure even today he must appear to be a kind and gentle soul in the way most 'lost in their own world' mathematical types are, there must have been rage inside him. Simmering there, waiting to explode.

Sadly, misdirected at George Bush. And in a country paranoid enough to mistake just about anyone for a terrorist today.

I'm not justifying his rantings - it is kind of thing you do not do in a post 9/ 11 America. That you should not do if you have chosen to make your home in that country. But now that the deed is done, I hope he is able to come out of it with dignity.

May God give his family strength, after all they've been through. And the lesson is: think about what you want to say, before you say it. Even on the internet.

Especially on the internet!

Online, on record
What you post can and will be used against you - if not by Uncle Sam or Aunty Sonia -by your current or prospective employer. New York Daily News reports

An increasing number of employers are investigating potential hires online to find out more about an applicant than what's on their résumé...

Sure, you may not have intentionally posted something controversial about yourself online, but from blogs to dating profiles, the Web has become a place where people air dirty laundry without a thought, making it a dangerous place to mix business with pleasure.

Just ask 27-year-old Colleen Kluttz. Type the freelance television producer's name into Google and the second item that comes up is her popular My Space profile. This online social network has become an outpost for photographic and written self-expression, but it's not always an asset in landing a job. "A friend of mine posted a picture of me on My Space with my eyes half closed and a caption that suggests I've smoked something illegal," says Kluttz.

While the caption was a joke, Kluttz now wonders whether the past two employers she interviewed with thought it was so funny. Both expressed interest in hiring Kluttz, but at the 11th hour went with someone else

And yeah, blogging can be equally 'dangerous'. The same article recounts the tale of Ciara Healy, who applied for a job at a university.
When a member of the search committee Googled her, he found she had called him a "belligerent jerk," though not by name, and canceled the interview.


Coincidentally, just today I received a phone call from a guy who is an HR manager with a company in Bangalore who wants me to delete certain comments he made on my blog. Because he got carried away and used unparliamentary language and now when he googles his name, this comment appears on the very first page thrown up.

A wicked part of me says, let him suffer but sigh! the noble part wrests back control and I do try to do the needful. But the trashcan icon just does not appear next to his comment and I am clueless how else one can delete in blogger...

Life is strange, the virtual world stranger!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Actor to activist?

Do movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan need celebrities to make their case? Evidently they do, because a day after Aamir Khan spoke out the issue has moved centrestage.

Narmada, SC verdict, Medha's fast, Modi's fast - suddenly yesterday's 'who wants to hear gaon waalon ka dukhda' story becomes a cool news opera with characters, drama, action.

Now of course it would not have been the same had someone like say, Akshay Kumar come out and said "I support Narmada". You could easily dismiss him as "Chha - publicity seeker."

It's the perfect fit of Aamir - the guy who generally cultivates a private persona - coming out and making a strong statement for a cause, in a reasonably well informed manner that has caught attention. Rang de Basanti effect? Well, he says, maybe. But it's not that simple.

Yes celebrities are human beings and may feel strongly about any issue. But most would prefer to air their views privately, or keep quiet.

Actors rarely get involved in causes that involve any kind of lafda. It's one thing to exhort parents to ask their kids to take polio drops or 'donate eyes after death'. Quite another to take up for something which will ruffle feathers in the government and political circles.

So Aamir Khan is either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. This action cements his "I'm different from the rest of Bollywood" persona. And what's the worst that can happen - people threaten to boycott his films?

The next one - Fanaa - was destined to be a hit from the day it went on the floor. Who wouldn't want to see Kajol making her comeback - and the first time on-screen with Aamir. In a Yashraj production.

Considering the care that Aamir takes to pick and choose his film roles, I'm pretty sure the same applies to anything else he chooses to do. Including supporting the NBA cause.

Why Aamir makes sense
The reason Aamir's line will find support is that he isn't opposing the dam per se. He admits, Kutch has a water problem (that's where he spent 6 months shooting Lagaan). So a dam is required. And it will displace some villages and families.

Aamir's appeal is "rehabilitate them properly". Which is what the Supreme Court has decreed. It is what the NBA of 2006 is also asking for, although in the past it opposed big dams on principle. Now perhaps this opposition was based on sound reasons but as far as the thirsty people of 4 Gujarat and city dwellers like me were concerned, NBA appeared to be 'anti progress'.

And therefore, as time went by, Medha Patkar got embedded into our consciousness as a 'troublemaker'. What she was making trouble about - exactly - was never completely clear. Again it could be the complexity of the issue or my lack of receptiveness or the inability of NBA to communicate it effectively.

Then, Arundhati Roy came on the scene and although she did raise the profile of the cause significantly, she was again a 'leftist' type as far as I was concerned. By leftist type I mean people who raise question marks but do not provide alternative solutions. People who seem to be principally against change and 'progress' of any sort.

So Aamir Khan may be less committed and less well informed than Roy but his words echo a stand that any citizen of this country would agree with. Resettle the affected families. Not just with cash but by giving them 'land for land'.

If there is not enough land, I say we should look for out-of-the-box solutions. Retrain and reskill the oustees to set up cottage industries. Or team up with industrial houses to set up new townships. Yes, some may lose their traditional way of life but this could be a new way of life. Not necessarily worse than the old one.

Ground realities
That's the 'let's be positive about this' side of the story. But it doesn't really work given that the government's intentions appear far from honourable. All available reports so far suggest it's an utter and complete mess out there.

Due to this hue and cry, a lone TV camera finally made its way to a 'rehabilitated village' in Madhya Pradesh. There, NDTV found 62 plots of land carved out for a proposed resettlement of 800 families.

The Supreme Court has asked all 4 governments to submit a report on the rehabilitation status within a week. But who knows if anyone will care about this issue in a week's time? Last week this time it was 'reservation', now it's rehabilitation. By next week, there will be something new.

So it looks like Aamir can't just 'voice his opinion' and step back. He will have to keep the issue alive.

Now that a large enough number of people have accepted Aamir speaking out as 'sincere' they're going to expect him to carry on the fight. Maybe this is unfair. After all, so many of us sent an sms to 'fight for Jessica' or simply signed an online petition against reservation and felt we had 'done our bit'.

In that sense Aamir has done enough. It's unfair to expect him to be like Bono. The rocker who "charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world’s richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest".

But as they keep on saying - "Rang de Basanti effect". Once the characters made certain choices the film had to lead to a certain logical end. Although it kept emphasising that violence is not the answer. "We all must do something to make this country a better place."

Is 'doing' restricted to voicing our opinions? Or is there some more concrete way for those who "feel" to participate? Whether celebrity or ordinary citizen - that is the question.

Monday, April 17, 2006

We buy headlines!

Sunday afternoon and I'm flipping channels when I spot this on the ticker of CNN IBN: Nobel Laureate Kroto visits Amity campus: says Amity students most exciting he has ever met.

Yeah, right. I mean sure Kroto must have visited Amity and made some pleasant remarks about the students but to see this flashed on national television under the heading "Edu News" is a bit much. And this, on a channel that says it is serious about journalism and will do 'whatever it takes.'

Of course, it's an advertisement - just like Medianet articles in Bombay Times - but surely you can't put such information out on a ticker under the heading "Edu News". Imagine a ticker ad bought by Narendra Modi or Uma Bharti. If you wouldn't book misleading "ads" issued by politicians why are educational institutes exempt? Because they should not be.

Especially in the light of:
1) Students sue Amity
2) This site recently put up by folks claiming to be Amity's own students

But the issue is not even how genuine Amity is. The issue is that advertisements must clearly APPEAR to be advertisements on a news ticker. Otherwise they will be mistaken for news - and that would tarnish the reputation of the channel as a whole.

And oh, the same 'news' was running on Star News as well. But then, one doesn't really have very high expectations from that channel!

Lastly, for all I know Google Adsense is going to deliver an Amity ad in the space right above this post. Such is the irony of life... But you clearly know it's an ad, right? That's all I am asking the powers that be in television to ensure.

Correction: I saw the ad again and it does say "advertisement" on the right hand corner. However "Edu News" is far more prominent on the left hand corner and this apparently is the handiwork of the advertiser and not the channel.

However, as a viewer I still feel misled. As a publisher and media owner I am the last one on the planet to suggest channels should not make money from ads. But in certain cases one does have to intervene and specify what is acceptable and what is not.

It's a classic marketing vs editorial disagreement and I've had more than a few in my own organisation and others I've worked at. Like I said, it's a question of expectation. I trust CNN IBN more than most other news channels and hence feel the need to point this out!

Lastly, education has to be treated in a manner different from other 'consumer products'. It's one thing to see an exaggerated claim from a cosmetic product (at worst you lose a hundred bucks when the cream does not make you thinner, fairer or Miss India). But an investment in education is time, money and one's future.

Of course, it's upto students and parents to do the due diligence before joining any course. But some amount of responsibility falls on the media as well because despite what a few bloggers may think, people do believe what they perceive to be 'news'.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Caste vs community

I must've been 10 or 11 when I first remember some distant relative remarking, "Woh apne casht ka nahin hai".

It wasn't a derogatory remark, just a matter of fact one. Pointing to the fact that here was someone with different customs with respect to food or marriage or just the way a certain festival was to be celebrated.

So perhaps I should qualify my earlier remark about having grown up without the concept of caste. I did grow up without the concept of caste as some kind of rigid system which you're born into, that determines your entire existence.

But of course I was aware of 'caste' in terms of the way it is more often and casually used in India - as community. As V G Julie Rajan points out in an article in Hinduism Today:

Today, most Hindus do not abide by the chatur varna (four caste) system but classify themselves according to the more specific colloquial form of caste known as the jati system. Jati are horizontal divisions within the four castes, and there are thousands of them, segregated according to occupational, sectarian, regional and linguistic distinctions.

So when a Dalit leader lamented on NDTV,"They (as in upper castes) don't wish to marry us!" I wanted to point out to him that it's a much more complex issue than what he's suggesting. In a country where arranged marriages are still the norm, parents prefer to get the children married into families very similar to their own. So it's not caste per se they look at but 'community'.

As Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi magazine explains, "The operative unit even today for social and marriage purposes is not caste but jati. You talk of brahmins as a caste, which is pan-Indian, but the fact is that a Tamilian brahmin would rarely have a marriage alliance with a Punjabi brahmin. They are as far apart from each other culturally as could possibly be. It's really not the operative and, yet, we have the whole notion of Brahmin domination, Brahmins as a caste, whereas the regional differences matter much more."

I think this is an important point which is getting lost in the entire crusade against caste as a social system. I am not defending caste (in the classical sense) here. Although there are enough thinkers and historians who've pointed out that the system had its merits, but degenerated over a period of time.

The point is that degeneration (the practice of untouchability, specifically) is completely unacceptable in modern society. Neither do we, in a modern society, wish to be born in and be tied to a particular occupation.

The new interpretation of 'caste' is more in terms of a community of people who share ancestry, and certain social and cultural rituals. Again, this can be a bad thing if I feel my community is superior to yours. Or my allegiance to my community comes first. (Which is a sentiment politicians exploit when communities choose to see themselves as 'votebanks')

But there are positives as well!

Why community matters
The ideal state is if we can engineer a society where community is not our primary identity, but merely a part of it. But its existence makes us more interesting people than a country like America where within 2 generations, a person from Poland or Sweden or Russia simply became a standard issue 'American'.

In India it comes naturally to most people to identify the region from where a person originates, based on his surname. I think that's a cool skill to have - as long as you don't oppress, suppress or write off a person based on this information. That is the vision the nation-state must put forward.

Secondly, community serves as a kind of social security network for millions of people. And, according R Vaidyanathan, a professor of Finance at IIM Bangalore, it is also a form of social capital.

“Since 1985,” says the World Bank’s World Development report, “Tirupur has become a hotbed of economic activity in the production of knitted garments... The success of this industry is striking. This is particularly so as the production of knitted garments is capital-intensive, and the state banking monopoly had been ineffective at targeting capital funds to efficient entrepreneurs, especially at the levels necessary to sustain Tirupur’s high growth rates.”

"What is behind this story of development? The needed capital was raised within the Gounder community, a caste relegated to land-based activities, relying on community and family network. Those with capital in the Gounder community transfer it to others in the community through long-established informal credit institutions and rotating savings and credit associations. These networks were viewed as more reliable in transmitting information and enforcing contracts than the banking and legal systems that offered weak protection of creditor rights.”

Prof Vaidyanathan believes the amount of networking and contract enforcement mechanisms available with caste institutions has not been fully studied, despite the striking success of Tirupur. He observes, "Large amounts of literature are available on Marwaris, Sindhis, Katchis, Patels, etc, and the global networks they have created. But the point that is often still missed is that, in a financial sense, caste provides the edge in risk taking, since failure is recognised, condoned, and sometimes even encouraged by the caste group.

He concludes: The 1998 economic census ...revealed that eighty per cent of all the enterprises in the country (24.39 million) were self-financing. Much of it would have come from informal caste networks. Attention should, therefore, focus on enhancing credit systems for such enterprises, especially those owned by SC/ ST and other backward communities.

Incidentally, the census data showed that as much as half of all enterprises were owned by SCs/ STs/ OBCs in the rural areas and nearly 38% per cent in the urban areas. Of this a large chunk is owned by OBCs.

Our tribal minds

This division of mankind into "Us" and "Them" is a universal human trait. David Berreby has written an amazing book called exactly that - 'Us and Them: Understanding your Tribal Mind' which goes into the science behind why we behave as we do. It's not easy to read (I am stuck on page 103) but may be worth picking up!

He writes: "A category of person starts out as an idea in someone's mind. That person convinces others that he or she is onto something, nd the idea spreads. The people who belong to the newly minted human kind start using the concept to giuide their behaviour and understand themselves."

In recent times, new communities have emerged in India, based on shared beliefs and experiences. So for example, if a guy working in an advertising agency were to marry his colleague, both families may be quite OK with that because they perceive there is enough commonality between the two young people in terms of lifestyle and education to transcend differences like language or community in the traditional sense.

This new community now refers to itself in matrimonial columns as 'cosmopolitan'. But it's still, essentially looking for People Like Us. People who've been through similar schools/ colleges and work at certain kinds of places. People who share similar views on how life should be lived.

The point of what I'm writing is this: what makes this new community superior to the traditional ones? A cosmopolitan person would not marry someone who does not speak English or chews paan. Or exhibits any of a million other 'People Like Them' traits. How different is that from Agrawals saying we don't want our daughters to marry Jats?

To conclude: Caste - with its baggage of untouchability and occupational rigidity must be eliminated from our social system. But caste - as community is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes our country a richer and more interesting place to live in. Except when we use it to trample over each other. When we make it our sole badge of identity.

The idea of reservation for more and more castes - rather, communities - is a step in that very undesirable direction.

And with that I've said just about everything I could possibly say on this issue! It's back to the pavilion for now...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Quotas vs affirmative action

CAT results are out. Business Standard reports

IIM-Ahmedabad has offered 273 seats for its Post Graduate Programme (PGP) in Management and PGP in Agri Business Management (ABM). Of these, 48 are girls, 57 belong to the SC/ST and six are physically challenged students.

Wonder if such detailed details were given out by the institute in previous years. I think the statistics are quite heartening. IIM A has come close to fulfilling the 22.5% SC/ ST reservation with 20.5% of seats offered going to such candidates.

(Although I'd like to know how many of the SC/ STs are first generation college goers and how many fall under the 'creamy layer' - which, incidentally does not apply to SC/ STs. Because I think such information is required to help provide a direction to the ongoing reservations debate).

Another point is that while the sheer number of girls has increased to 48, in % terms it's not much different from what it was when I studied there. 17.5% of offers to IIM A's class of 2008 were made to girls.

The class of 1993 had 16.66% girls ie 30 of a class of 180. However, this was twice as many as the class of 1992. So, what happened?

To me, it definitely looks like some affirmative action took place the year I gave the CAT. This, I feel is much more desirable than an official quota system.

If there are two candidates who are equally good (acceptable CAT percentile, strong academic record and interview performance), you then look at other criteria. You give preference to the woman or the person from a underprivileged background, or someone who's studied English Literature, not Engineering.

Because greater diversity is desirable - it adds an extra dimension to the institution. And the 'education' it imparts.

Affirmative reaction
There was, in the initial period, a great deal of excitement and more than a little sniggering about why there were 'suddenly so many girls'. But I think our presence in increased numbers definitely made the campus a better place.

There used to be a single girls hostel. The entry of more girls necessitated a second one. Traditionally, the girls hostel was D1, which was secluded from the other hostels. We were alloted D5, which was perpendicular to D4 and the seniors gasped, "Boys will peek into our rooms" and refused to move.

So we became an all girl, all fresher hostel and I think that was in fact an advantage. We established our own rules and norms of behaviour. eg. When the boys put up silly ragmags mainly consisting of gossip about girls, we created our own counter-mag which was humourous but far more decent.

As a whole, our batch was far more active than reactive, compared to our seniors - and in this we were aided by the strength in numbers.

Since many of the girls were from non-engineering backgrounds, we brought in a different perspective to the classroom. Exposure to more bright and articulate young women did impact the boys. Grudgingly, perhaps, they did have to start giving women as a whole more respect and more credit. Which I hope made them more well rounded professionals in their subsequent careers.

Incidentally, according to the Mandal commission report all women in the country are classified as "backward". But there's no talk so far about reservations for women, And I'm glad there isn't!

Social change is a slow phenomenon and women are patient.

What Mandal actually wanted
Now of course you will argue that affirmative actions work only when a level playing field of sorts has been created. That, is exactly what Mr Mandal was apparently trying to achieve in the first place.

SS Gill was secretary, Mandal Commission and he writes in today's Indian Express

Arjun Singh’s proposal has been derisively described as Mandal-II... As the former secretary of the Commission I would like to point out how unfair various governments have been to the Commission’s recommendations.

During its discussions the Commission was fully aware that reservations were only a palliative, and 27 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs was only one of several recommendations. Briefly, other important recommendations were:
- the radical alteration in production relations through progressive land reforms;
- special educational facilities to upgrade the cultural environment of the students, with special emphasis on vocational training;
- separate coaching facilities for students aspiring to enter technical and professional institutions;
- creation of adequate facilities for improving the skills of village artisans;
- subsidised loans for setting up small-scale industries;
- setting up of a separate chain of financial and technical bodies to assist OBC enterpreneurs.

None of these measures were even casually examined by the government, and then prime minister V.P. Singh adopted the facile and populist route of issuing a one-para order conferring the boon of 27 per cent reservation on OBCs. To this day no serious effort has been made to lay the foundations of structures to enable the deprived classes which will compete with the non-reserved categories on an equal footing.

Poor Mr Mandal - unke naam par kya kya yeh politicians kar rahe hain. May his soul rest in peace!

Update: Just learnt from Manish at Sepia Mutiny that Americans are pretty cool with misusing 'quotas' too. White students are now undertaking DNA tests to prove they 2-3% black or Native American ancestry so they can claim to be minorities during college admissions. He quotes NYT:

Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights… Americans of every shade are staking a DNA claim to Indian scholarships, health services and casino money… “It’s about access to money and power…”

“If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven’t experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy…” Ashley Klett’s younger sister marked the “Asian” box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European… she did get into the college of her choice. “And they gave her a scholarship…”

Stupid college, I say! Or, were they just being hypocrites and playing along.. ? As in if we admit these 'fake minorities' we can be saved the trouble of letting in the real ones? Your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Caste vs Class

Maybe I had one of those rare childhoods but I grew up not quite realising the importance of 'caste'. At some point I figured I was a bania or 'vaishya' but it did not seem very relevant because my father was a scientist. So I never made the connection between caste and profession.

When I set up JAM a few people commented that being a 'bania' I had business in my blood. I found that hard to believe. Yes, my grandfather ran a small shop and many of my uncles and cousins were traders. But for all practical purposes I was a first generation entrepreneur. The only thing I was 'natural ' at was doing well in exams, which is hardly relevant!

What I'm saying is, in a single generation you can flip from flop or flop from flip. My father studied under kerosene lamps, on a meagre scholarship. Effort combined with luck and ability, led to social mobility. A government job which took him to the four corners of the world. And to a universe of x rays and gamma rays beyond that.

My brother and I were incessantly drilled on the 'value of education'. It was held up as our only passport for the future. So we grew up striving for it, yearning for it. And that, I think, is the crucial X factor due to which certain kinds of young people make it through competitive exams. And others don't.

If it was merely a question of access to resources surely we'd be seeing more rich kids than middle class ones in what are considered the 'best colleges'. Of course, poverty is a major constraining factor for the rest - it's hard to sustain a fire in a an empty belly. Although a few exceptional individuals do.

But, I believe class is not necessarily linked to caste. Now you may disagree with my view of the world and say no, caste is still a major impediment in social progress for a large number of Indians. And therefore, we need reservations. And I am ready to accept that argument - but on the basis of facts and statistics!

As we all know, reservations were initially recommended for a period of 10 years.Now they are in force for close to 50. Has any social scientist tracked the results of this policy? And I am talking purely of a sociologist or economist doing their job - uncoloured by any ideological agenda.

To begin with, can we have statistics from all educational institutions currently following 22.5% reservation on the profile of candidates being admitted? How many under the SC/ ST quota are first generation college goers or from households where income is below Rs 1 lakh a year? How many from rural and how many from urban areas?

Such data surely exists, but it is nowhere to be found in the current debate. 'Reservation and Private Sector: Quest for Equal Opportunity and Growth' seems to be a good, and recent, compilation of various papers on the subject. (If anyone has accessed the book - please do share some gyaan!)

A Flawed Figure
Secondly, the entire reservation argument is built on 52% of the population being "OBC". An article titled ABC of OBC in the Indian Express observed..

Using 11 criteria , the Commission identified 3,743 caste groups as OBCs. Since population figures along caste lines were not available beyond 1931, the Commission used the 1931 census data to calculate the number of OBCs. The population of Hindu and non-Hindu OBCs worked out to about 52 per cent of the total population.

I simply cannot understand this! How can 60 year old data be used to arrive at such an important figure. And why wasn't a census along caste lines conducted in 2001 if this policy was to be properly implemented?

The 2001 census provides data by variables like age, sex, religion, marital status, educational status and disability. But as far as caste goes it only tracks SCs and STs. This really blows my mind... !

However we have something called a National Commission for Backward Classes Note the use of the word CLASSES not CASTES. Class need not necessarily mean caste.

NCBC could have taken the initiative to define backward classes in a new way (eg people living in kachcha houses, not owning land, no access to drinking water = 1 disadvantaged class, across caste lines). But no, it insists on naming specific castes' as backward CLASS.

Take a list at the castes included for the state of Gujarat. Folks with surnames like Thakore, Nayak, Puri and Goswami are 'backward' in that state (if I have understood correctly...). Did NCBC duplicate an exercise as gigantic as the census to arrive at this list? How much science goes into making such lists, and how much politics??

Here is an interesting paper by JNU professor Pradipta Chaudhury which highlights the enormous complexity of the issue. The observation is for UP, based on data available at the turn of the century (not this one - the last one!)

With respect to literacy rate, three OBCs, namely, Sonar, Halwai and Kalwar, were ahead of four high castes, namely, Rajput, Taga, Bhat and Kandu. Similarly, with respect to economic status, five OBCs, namely, Sonar, Jat, Gujar, Kisan and Mali, were better off than Brahman and Rajput, the two most numerous high castes, which accounted for one-fifth of the Hindu population. Two SCs, namely, Khatik and Dusadh, had higher literacy rates than many OBCs.

The writer concludes that:

Even in a backward region like U.P. at the beginning of the 20th century, there were large variations in the literacy rates and economic conditions of castes that were later pooled together and treated as homogeneous categories...High ritual rank could not secure some of the upper castes against low economic status. Similarly, low ritual status did not prevent large sections of Jat, Gujar, Sonar, Kisan and Mali from attaining prosperity.

Caste did not preclude the upward economic mobility of a section of the untouchables. Even with ‘5000 years old tradition of learning’, the Brahman population of U.P. could not reach an average of 12% literacy by 1911; they were not the most literate of castes.

I really wish academicians like these, who can offer solid facts and not just emotional arguments were invited for TV debates Last night there were two JNU professors on Karan Thapar's show on CNBC but the lady who was pro reservation was speaking more from the ideological platform than a scientific one.

Perhaps facts don't make for good television in which case I wish Prof Chaudhuri makes his case in the edit pages. His paper points out...

Advocates of caste politics argue that the problem will be solved if the OBCs or SCs are arranged according to the degree of backwardness and split into subgroups such as ‘more-backward’and ‘most-backward’ and sub-quotas created within the total quota. However, the economic status of households varies a great deal within each caste. In a caste, several economic classes exist.

Marginal and small peasants, and landless labourers constitute the bulk of the population in each caste. At the same time, every caste contains a section, varying in size, of well-to-do families.

Did all the lower castes suffer from an equal degree of ritual handicap? Actually, there was an elaborate gradation and hierarchy among the intermediate or shudra and even the untouchable castes, which governed interaction between them and kept inter-caste socialisation to a minimum. The rich households belonging to a low caste tried to imitate the customs and rituals of the upper castes such as child marriage, prevention of widow remarriage and payment of dowry for marriage.

So there you have it - a whole new perspective!

Our vision for ourselves
JNU professor Dipankar Gupta rightly pointed out on TV that at the end of the day it boils down to what how we wish to shape the idea of India. Is it going to be an India dominated by caste, or do we look at 'capacity building' of weaker sections of society?

50 years ago the 'idea of India' as unity in diversity was shaky. The south protested against imposition of Hindi as a national language. Today, thanks to Bollywood and bhangra, Hindi is not seen as 'alien' by young people anywhere in India. It may be dominant but is not necessarily 'dominating'. Today dosas are available in South Ex and chana bhatura in Chennai. Food has become a great unifying facor in the idea of 'India'.

Similarly, I feel, caste had become irrelevant to a significant number of young people. But now it may once again become top of the mind... And that, I think will ultimately damage the idea of India. Things are far from perfect today but we should be working towards making caste a non issue. Not the issue.

Lastly, we need to shake off the guilty feeling that we are the first and only society in the world to devise this 'abominable' social practice. Caste based discrimination has existed in varying forms in varied places. And been successfully eradicated. As I observed in my column on

Few would know this, but France once had a group of people known as ‘cagots’. “These people lived separately from others, on the edge of towns and cities,” writes David Berreby in Us and Them. “They entered churches by separate entrances, and they could not touch an ordinary Christian, let alone marry one.” Cagots were the Dalits of French society—they no longer exist. They were absorbed into the mainstream.

Similarly, Korea had its own group of outcasts called the paekchong, who lived apart from the rest of society and worked in special occupations—butchery, leatherworking, shoemaking and related trades. Berreby writes that paekchong and prejudice against them was alive in the memories of Koreans of 50 years ago, even though the legal status had been abolished since 1894.

But today, they have ‘vanished without a trace into the mainstream of Korean society’. It took a Japanese occupation, a war and post-war economic growth to achieve that. Not reservation.

One can only hope that the economist in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prevails over the politician! And reservation is not perpetuated, even as opportunities are created for all...

Friday, April 07, 2006

ISB placements - an update

So it's Bangalore based ITC Infotech that's forked out $233,000 to an ISB grad. And it's to a chap with 10 years experience.

Further, one of the 2 women who got placed at what the media calls a "1 crore" plus package is Swati Singh. An exceptional individual who was, in fact, the first woman officer to join the merchant navy way back in 1996. She joins real estate consultants Tishman Speyer in London.

Sadly this information was missing on the day that the 'one crore' salary figure was first announced.

I honestly feel it must be made mandatory for b schools to qualify salary figures with the age and experience of the placed candidate so that Chunnus and Munnus seeing MBA ke sapne across India get the right perspective!

Another interesting point from the article in today's ET on ISB placements:

These women super-achievers also share a great sense of work-life balance. In their mid-to-late 20s, they are open to the idea of marriage and seek spouses “who will understand” their career choices.

I sure would like to hear from these women when they find those understanding men... Coz my understanding is that as women scale further heights on the achievement ladder, it gets tougher to connect with a suitable spouse.

Secondly, you ain't seen nothing of work-life balance until you've balanced work with a wailing kid. Women who've completed their MBAs in their early 20s generally finish with the 'kid thing' by their early 30s and then struggle with balancing a middle/ senior management role and bringing up a child or two. Many, of course, give up working for a while. Some bow out altogether.

It would therefore be interesting to track the careers of the ISB women - many of whom are in their late 20s now - and see if they make different choices. Or evolve new means of 'having it all'.

Not for a moment do I suggest that all women must have children. But, if you do want them, biology demands you do so by around the age of 35. And for women who are in the 'super achiever' league, just 4-5 years into their dream jobs, that may be a tough call.

I would love to hear from women - MBAs and otherwise - on this issue.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Three letter words

With ISB grads in the news for crossing the one crore salary mark a whole bunch of you are gonna be asking: ISB jaaoon ya IIM?

My one line answer:
If you want an MBA within 2-3 years of graduating, IIMs remain your best bet.

If on the other hand, you wake at age 28 and then decide to do an MBA you should definitely consider ISB. Or an MBA abroad.

From April 1, IIM Ahmedabad has also introduced a 1 year MBA - the PGP X program targetted at executives with 7-15 years experience. As it is the first ever batch it's difficult to say how well that program will fare. Guess we will know by this time next year. However, I think in the 1 year space ISB will have the advantage for some time to come.

But given the surge in demand for MBAs from those with substantial experience, all the top tier b schools will have to introduce 1 year programs. And B school rankings will have to reflect that by slotting MBA programs into separate categories eg 2 year programs, 1 year programs, Family Business programs - and so on.

A couple of other thoughts re: ISB
a) The official press release has not given out enough details. It's fine to not quote names of specific companies or withhold names of students who have become 'crorepatis'. But broad profiles of those who bagged top jobs should be released so prospective students can make more informed choices.

b) From the ISB placement factsheet it appears that the bschool (as of now) is becoming a favoured hunting ground for Indian companies looking for middle and senior level talent. The number of foreign offers is 42, compared to 383 domestic offers. The Dean in fact commented that the 'one crore' salary was offered for a global position in an Indian company. Which I think is quite cool!

c) 19% women in a batch of 345 is a very impressive statistic. What's more 2 women have actually bagged salaries in excess of $200,000. But I am a little intrigued by the fact that the average domestic salary for women is 9.89 lakhs vs the overall average of 11.77 lakhs. There might be a story there.

Lastly, the ISB course costs Rs 15 lakhs (tuition + boarding/ lodging). Plus all participants would have foregone 1 year of income - let's assume Rs 5 lakhs.

I would be curious to know how the bottom half of the class (in terms of salaries bagged) feels. If you leave a Rs 5 lakh job, spend 15 lakhs and then bag a job with a salary of Rs 10 lakhs - is it still 'worth it'?

Vijay K Mulbagal of ISB's class of 2006 has worked out an 'NPV' formula and concludes that yes - the investment is worth it. Although he rightly observes at the end of it, "The benefits of an MBA are far greater than financial..."

The bigger picture
I think the more institutions of excellence we have in India, the better. We are a country of a billion people which means that millions are thirsting for quality education.

So it's not about ISB vs IIMs. Competition always brings out the best and the consumer - in this case student - will benefit. But can the IIMs compete effectively if the government keeps throwing in some new clause or spanner in their functioning?

Like the 27% additional reservation now being mooted for OBCs, applicable from the year 2007.

In his take on the ISB vs IIM story Govind observes: The ISB grads.. even look at the ISBs shortcomings as temporary glitches rather than as a sign of decline or decay.

The reason why ISB students can use a word like 'glitch' is that they are in complete control of their own destiny. For the IIMs, 27% OBC reservation - if implemented - will not a temporary setback. It will mark a permanent alteration in the character, the texture and the very foundation of an institution.

I certainly don't think reservation at PG level is an answer to uplifting backward castes. Access to quality education at the primary level is far more important. As are other factors such as personal drive and ambition, role models and family support.

An article in Frontline The IIT Story: Issues and Concerns provides one such shining example:

Patwatoli ... (is) a weavers' village of 10,000 families, belonging predominantly to Other Backward Classes (OBC), in Bihar's Gaya district. Since 1990, the village has produced 25 IITians. Many of those who enter the IIT system from this village are first generation learners.

While families in the village can hardly afford tutorial courses, many Patwatoli IITians have benefited from a strong village support network where those who make it to the IITs often return to counsel and coach younger aspirants.

Wish these IITians would come forward and speak up about what they feel on the reservation issue...

Of quality and standards
The affirmative action policy in the US is often cited as a parallel to reservation. I think this kind of effort by IITs falls under the American definition more than the Indian one. And is a laudable one.

"SC/ST candidates failing to qualify with relaxed admission norms but satisfying certain minimum requirements may be offered admission to a preparatory course of one year duration. Candidates successfully completing the preparatory ourse may be offered admission to the first year in the next academic year without going through JEE again".

There is no point in relaxing norms for entry to the extent that you create a new kind of caste system within an IIT or IIM! Because if 50% of the class is taken through what we call "merit" and the remaining 50% has to be filled in by quotas - no matter what their merit - that is what is likely to happen.

So far it's not been that bad because at an unofficial level, IITs and IIMs do not actually fill up the entire 22.5% quota. Unless they get enough candidates who meet with their (to an extent relaxed) eligibility criteria.

Who is an OBC anyways?
A professor at an IIM recently told me that he is classified as "OBC" in 7 states of India. Incidentally, he is strongly opposed to any such reservation himself.

OBCs, in any case, do not deserve reservations, he says. They are the dominant castes in Bihar and UP - the landowners. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Uma Bharti - almost the entire political class comprises OBCs.

No doubt they feel upset at not getting their 'share' of seats in higher education despite being the ruling class. It's not about lack of opportunity but getting the easy way out. What they cannot get through legitimate means (slog and struggle like everyone else) they wish to acquire through this kind of zor-zabardasti.

I think the time has come to do away with caste based reservations and look purely at economic criteria.

Yes, caste based discrimination prevails in villages till today but these reservations do nothing for such unfortunates. Today, the SC/ STs who make it to elite institutes are generally children of privilege (I had one such classmate whose dad was the police commissioner of Bangalore). If her kids can once again avail of reservation - that will be the real travesty.

So before implementing any further reservations the government must clarify how far it has reached in implementing the Supreme Court order barring reservations for the 'creamy layer'.

In fact, I say, the creamy layer should stand up and say - "We don't want reservation anymore. Give it to our less deserving bretheren - whatever their caste or creed".

When that day comes I do not know... but it is certainly a day to hold out hope for!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sell me something!

There are two kinds of salesmen in the world - sorry salesmen and sari salesmen. The sorry variety diffidently walk upto a customer and enquire - just for the sake of enquiring - "Madam, can I help you?" Madam glares at the salesperson and he/ she beats a hasty retreat.

The second kind of salesman sizes up his prey and then moves in for the kill. "Aaiye na sister, baithiye na... " He then proceeds to pull out some 'latest stuffs' and even as 'sister' protests "mat kholiye" he grins and declares,"Dekhne ka koi daam nahi lagta." Or so you think.

The fact is once this sales fellow has dug his claws into sister's skin she will never leave the shop without buying something. "Kya mangaoon, chai, thanda..." And he proceeds to open a few hundred saris more without a care in the world about who will fold them.

But 'sari salesman' is just a metaphor. He could be selling you nighties or salwar kameezes, jeans or jewellery.

The difference between a good salesman and a great one is that the latter exhibits an infecious enthusiasm and knows exactly which buttons to push on which customers. Like in the first 3 minutes he has figured out what the buyer's 'taste' is - Gujarati-Marwari or sober-simple.

The second hallmark of the sari salesman is his adjective-rich vocabulary. Coupled with cleverly spaced positive strokes. "Yeh dekhiye, ekdum fine concept hai... aap ke upar royal lagega." Customer is finicky, or unsure. "Aapko fitting chahiye? Sister, ek minute... clip lagakar dekhiye. Alteration ho jaayega".

Now of course even the best salesman in the world can't sell a car without wheels. So the shop should have a vast and varied stock to begin with. But a great salesman can help that stock fly off the shelves. Because he can anticipate the customer's needs, wants and also her apprehensions.

So it was that last evening when I joined a friend who is shopping for her sister-in-law in the US (and in the process going berserk herself), we ended up spending:
- 1 hour at Centerone, the local mall.
- 2 1/2 hours at 'Princess', a mere shop in the Vashi, sector 17 market.

After much deliberation, she bought one outfit from the Pantaloon store in the mall. Phatka: Rs 2000.

At Princess, the same shopper picked up 8 items and spent 6 times as much. All because of a Super Salesman. Hell, even I, who had just gone to provide company picked up 2 really nice skirts. Although what I need is a new pair of jeans!

So what am I trying to say? That the small guy is not going to get wiped out all that easily - if he operates from the 'sari salesman' platform. While the big guy could learn a thing or two from these chaps.

Yes, many shoppers at department stores would rather not be 'bothered' by salesmen. But the reason the staff is seen as a bother at these stores is they are so perfunctory in their 'May I help yous'. It's like, we have to ask you so we do. Ritual over, we can recede into the background. They don't genuinely wish to interact with you.

Perhaps they are paid a fixed sum while the sari guy gets a commission. Perhaps they're told their main role is to ensure no one is shoplifting. You can't play policeman and persuader simultaneously.

Oddly enough, the same attitude applies to designer stores. When you walk in, the salesgirl will usually be on the phone. She will look up, size whether you are a buyer or a gawker and then decide whether to get up and serve you.

The irony is that a lot of the people who enter designer stores might not be as well turned out as you'd expect. Maybe that's why they are at a designer store - in need of urgent wardrobe advice. Deciding who are the freeloaders and who the potential big bucks but you-would-not-know-it-if-you-looked-at-me is where a true salesman's instincts kick in.

Remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is turned away from one such store? . Only to return the next day and snub the same saleslady after having bought out half the neighbouring shop. Here's a similar, real life story!

In fact, I think every marketing student must spend some time selling women clothes and men, cars. One month of such an experience will provide more insight into consumers and their psychology than any lecture, seminar or project.

And yeah, that goes for our ooh-I'm-so-creative-designers as well. The government want to 'investigate' the recent wardrobe malfunction at Lakme Fashion Week.

What I'd like to investigate is who would consider buying the hideous outfit Carol was modelling in the first place... Not even Rakhi Sawant I think!

On an unrelated note I very much doubt the malfunction could be a publicity stunt. Imagine telling someone the outfit you're wearing is by that designer jiske kapde pheshun week mein model ke badan se gir gaye the. Shudder...!

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth