Friday, March 28, 2008

Song and dance shows: the next level

How many can we take? The answer is -more than you'd think. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

Rock n Roll Family on Zee TV is one fine example. It's the same 'doll up and put your best foot forward' variety of show. The difference is this is a family show. I don't mean family viewing but family performing. And the most interesting thing is it's THREE generations on stage together.

So we have the Bhalke family from Indore where dada sports hairgel and a Metallica tshirt while dadi wears a skirt (ankle length, but still!). And the Patel family from Ahmedabad whose performance is on the theme of being able to exchange your wife for a new one. Nothing perverted, just the real life wife walking out of a cupboard in a shiny silver costume showing off 6 inches of her midriff.

You would not wear that and walk down C G Road but all is fair on national television.

It's amazing how we seem to have loosened up as a country. These are all regular, not-so-Westernised families from Jaipur, Indore, UP and so on. But they lose their inhibitions on stage. They flirt shamelessly with the judges, and debate on saali being aadhi or poori gharwali. All scripted for sure but there is no sharam or lihaaj in either the banter or the matkas and jhatkas.

Another nice touch is having a 'family' as the judges - Ajay Devgan, Kajol and Tanuja. And before the judges award points each family must decide where it stands by climbing up a series of steps labelled 1-10. Meaning agar aapko apni kabiliyat ka andaaz hai tabhi to doosre bhi aapko appreciate karenge!

Enough said. I don't know if the 'best' family will win because the one of the few who got 9 points today bagged honours not for dancing well but a Taare Zameen Par tearjerker moment. The overall tone of this show is TZP actually, as against other reality shows where bitching and backbiting is used to retain viewer interest.

At least we know these judges won't be giving press conferences badmouthing each other :)

On the other end of the spectrum is song and dance shows using professionals - like Nach Baliye and Jhalak Dikhla Ja. Now there's Dhoom Macha De, which is also very watchable. This show features a bunch of semi forgotten stars competing to be crowned the best live performer in India.

And the mix of interesting themes, enthusiastic and well put together performances and endearing judges makes for good television. Devang Patel's humorous version of 'Chalte Chalte, mujhe koi mil gaya tha' and Richa Sharma's rendition of the ghazal 'Aaj jaane ki zid na karo' were both outstanding.

When we were kids there was a tradition of holding a variety entertainment show in our building basement on a makeshift stage, every 26th Jan and 15th August. Now it seems all the world's a stage and anyone can be a player.

No basements anymore, only living rooms.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Race - brainless, good fun

From the first two minutes of Race - where an expensive car is blown up in a pretty impressive stunt you realise one thing.

This is one slick production. This is Dhoom ka chhota bhai (because the stars are chhota in comparison) but it's the same family of films. The hum Hollywood ke baap hain genre.

You have hot girls, ours are hotter
You have car chase, ours is faster.
And so on.

Abbas Mastan have built a rep as 'thriller' specialists. This one is set against the backdrop of the world of horse racing. The real race, however, is between Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan) and Rajiv (Akshaye Khanna).

The film is being battered by some for making no sense. But two points in Abbas-Mastan's defence. Things happen quickly, so you can overlook the implausible bits while in the theatre (later of course you will say yeh kyun aur woh kyun). Secondly, if you have seen 'Cash', which had NO STORY at all, you will appreciate how intelligent this film is!

Of course there are unnecessary item numbers galore. The only good song being Pehli Nazar by Atif Aslam. And Katrina Kaif can't act, or dance, to save her life. Neither can Sameera Reddy but hey. We know what they're in the film for!

The comedy track by Anil Kapoor (playing Inspector RD) is inane beyond imagination. But I laughed anyways. Johnny Lever, in a very brief appearance, also provides some ha has.

And, the makers of the film leave enough clues hanging here and there for you to guess the suspense. The biggest one being: can a hero ever really die before the interval?

Still I would say it's a good timepass film. I give it 3.5 stars. And just to clarify, this is my movie rating system:

5 stars: Amazing - wouldn't watching again
4 stars: Great - definitely should be watched, once
3 stars: Good, if looking for timepass
2 stars: Sad, catch it on TV sometime
1 star: Do not watch, even if someone pays you to!

Race is a 3 star film. But just because they tried to wrap up the loose ends and for the stunning beaches of Cape Town (which I am dying to visit, in this lifetime!) I give it .5 stars extra. Watch it and decide if I was too generous!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Young Entrepreneur Series IV

This year 11 IIM A grads and one from IIM Calcutta have opted out of placement to start their own companies. This is now a yearly phenomenon. In the spirit of the season then, here's the dope on a company started by bschool grads of 2004 vintage.

No, it's not a dotcom, tech or consulting start up but a real, live sweat and blood business. But stress is something they probably don't worry about. Or at least have a way to deal with :)

Company: CMYK Health Boutique Private Limited, operating the'Four Fountains' spas.

Started in: Jan 2007

Anurag Kedia (IIT B ,IIM A (2004)
Saurabh Garg (IITB, IIMA)
Sunil Rao (Sydenhem, SP Jain)
Arnab Mitra (IITD, IIMC) *
* was part of original team but recently quit for family reasons.

The business: Four Fountains is chain spa. Therapies are priced very reasonably - from 199 to 1349 (at most spas prices begin at Rs 2000 upwards).

Four Fountains aims to set up day spas in the top 20 towns of the country. The first two are already operational in Pune in Koregaon park and Aundh.

I met Anurag and Sunil in Pune last month. They gamely agreed to come see me at 11 pm, and share the journey so far. This is a long post - not because I can't edit it but because I think details matter. And they inspire/ guide those of you who may be thinking of taking the plunge into entrepreneurship yourselves.

So sit back and relax. Imagine yourself at the Four Fountains!

Sunil, Saurabh and Arnab were all at HLL, I was at KPMG. Saurabh and I were batchmates at IIM A and through him I met them 2. Saurabh and I were exploring something, the two of them were exploring something. We hit upon the idea of health spas and both teams were excited it. So we decided to join hands and work on it together.

Were you familar with spas before you started Four Fountains?
Anurag: All 4 of us had been to Ayush or ayurvedic health centres at some time.. But none of us in HLL were associated with Ayush as a business.

Sunil: And at work every once in a while you have a getaway where you are supposed to indulge yourself with company money, so at one of those occassions we would have gone to a spa.

Also our international stint in HLL was in Bangkok so we had seen the spa market is huge and that there are good quality, affordable spas. It all came together - the idea that spas need not be expensive in order to provide a good service

All of you were based in Pune?
Sunil: None of us, actually. Pune was a business decision. Three of us worked in Bombay, Anurag was in Chennai.

So how many months went into thinking and researching the business and how & when did you exit your jobs?
Anurag: Saurabh and I left together Dec 2006, Jan 2007. I got released a bit earlier. Sunil and Anurag were still in jobs. We wanted to make sure we had things in place before we quit. They left in April & May 2007.

While we two were brainstorming on ideas they had been researching on spas for quite a while. In Feb-March 2007 we decided to join hands. By then, they had spent 6 months researching the project.

Earlier we were working on a discount retail chain for rural India (similar to Subhiksha, but we had our own ideas how to make it work). Unfortunately. hype created by bigger players did not allow us to get support for that project.

On campus had you thought about entrepreneurship?
Anurag: I had not thought of it.. In fact I was a guy who dropped out of the LEM course (much sought after course @ IIM A on entrepreneurship) because I heard Prof Handa occupies all your weekends. He takes you to all interesting places but Saturday, Sunday khatam ho jayega.

And I was the cultural secretary. Mujhe kaam karna hai, Chaos ka paisa ikattha karna hai so I wriggled out. Later on Prof Handa has been quite helpful.. we have been in touch.

Then how did you end up starting a company?
Anurag: The job was doing ok - not so good, not so bad. I was a management consultant, with projects across companies. One day I got a call from Saurabh and he said 'kuch karte hain'. I said sounds interesting...

What about S P Jain? Is it common to take up entrepreneurship?
Sunil: Not very common. My junior batch there was one guy who started a financial advisory service, my batch I am the first one.

So tell me about the first idea you guys had.. the discount retail chain.
Anurag: We looked for funding, because usme jab tak scale nahin hota hai kuch nahin hota.

So who all did u meet for funding?
Anurag: We met anybody and everybody we thought could give us money including marwari seths, VCs, pvt equity funds, corporates - almost everybody. We thought we had firm commitment from 2-3 of them but then it did not materialise. We had started pitching in Aug 2006, worked 6 months before that on the plan. By December we realised ki no matter what kuch karna hai. If not discount retail, then something else.

You had saved up money?
Anurag: A little 6-8 months, or even 10 months stretch kar ke we could sustain ourselves.

What was the need gap in the spa market which you spotted when you started researching the idea?
Sunil: We talked to people and asked them, what do you understand by 'spa'. Some thought it's a gym, others thought it's a salon. We figured there is no one person who owns spas as they stand for. Spas are associated with 5 star hotels and seen as expensive while some think ok, they're massage parlours.

We saw an opportunity to bring in genuine spa service in a great ambience but affordable prices.

Next stage? How did you raise money??
Sunil:After the concept was in place, we formulated with evidence, tested on 30-40 people and refined the concept. We then pitched for money.

Who gave the money?Anurag: A quasi V C fund - they have a couple of businesses of their own and will soon become a professional VC fund. But Four Fountains is their first external investment.

How many people did you go to before securing funding?
Anurag: This time we pitched to 5-6 people. But for the retail project we had pitched to a countless number and hence knew the people who did not invest in the project but had shown interest in us. They said ok agar tum kuch aur bhi karna chahte ho let us know. Hence it was quicker, when we went back to them with the spa idea.

How do go and pitch? Cold call or through people you knew?

Anurag: We went to all routes. More of people we did not know... Band of Angels, Mumbai Angels etc etc

Sunil: They would have done more cold calls than anything else.

What is the size of the project?
The current investment is a little above Rs 1 cr.

You have two spas right now. What next?
Immediately, Bombay, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore are on the horizon. We're just waiting for these two to stabilise and processes being completely in place. Then we can move out of Pune and leave these spas to function on their own. We have done some ground work in Mumbai and Delhi and hope to open the next set of spas around May-June 2007

How do you do that? I mean 'stablise'? And where do you get spa professionals from? In Mumbai, some spas have therapists from Thailand, Bali etc.

There is huge shortage of skileld manpower in this industry - like in every other industry today but here there seems to be an even greater shortage because there are no good training instututes except in Kerala where they impart training in panchkarma.

There also not all panchkarma schools are producing ther right quality and attitude. Another problem is language. Very few can converse in Hindi or English, they speak only Malayalam.

In the first phase we have hired ppl with some background - people with diploma in ayurveda and diploma in naturopathy - just to make sure they are comfortable with he idea of working in a spa. For them the idea of giving a massage is not taboo, it's not lowly work, they accept it as a profession and find it a respectable thing to do.

But there are not enough people who have that attitude to massage in the first place...

So then how do they become experts in say, 'Invigorating Swedish therapy'?
We have an expert on board as a consultant who looked into the menu of products, service sequence, guest handling, phone etiquette etc. We also hired external trainers who do training for 5 stars and are now freelancing. Now we have an in house expert to handle future training needs.

How much do therapists get paid?
CtoC is 10k per month for therapist. Outside they get paid 4-5k, we pay on the higher side.

How many employees do you have right now?
22 therapists in all + each spa has 2 guest relation executives and a manager. The two trainers are a common resource.

Why the name Four Fountains?The four fountains represent the four faculties... Fountain of youth, tranquility, abundance and joy.

And what's special about your spa?
Some of the facilities we have are not in 5 stars also. Indivudal showers in all rooms, all disposable matterial, 100% natural products. For facials we use high end products like Artistry from Amway.

How many customers come to Four Fountains in a week?
100-150 people. The average amount they spend currently is Rs 700 which is higher than we had expected. We have found that when you offer good value, people tend to spend more.

Also there are more men right now than women which is also a surprise. The ratio is 60: 40. Most are not regular spa goers - Pune has spas only in 5 stars and catering mainly to foreigners.

Popular therapies are Ayurvedic and invigorating Swedish massage for men and Harmonising aromatherapy for women. Also the destressing head, neck and shoulder therapy.

We can do 70 therapies a day at each centre. There are 'happy hours' between 10 am to 4pm, Mon-Fri.

What have you done to promote the spas?
Above the line and below the line. We have put ads in TOI Pune and also tied up with Lifestyle store, restaurants, multiplexes, gym. We access their database by providing discount offers to their members and users.

And what's the break even level for each spa?
Cash Break even is 3-6 months, payback is 2.5-3 years.

Do you take a salary for yourselves?
Yes, a modest one but enough to cover living expenses.

And how will you raise more money for expansion?
The same investors have committed more money for the next 15-20 spas. Post that we will be looking for more money, if they are not interested then maybe from external sources.

It's a very capital intensive business...
That's the difference between a tech business and non-tech business. You were asking about VCs. Most of the VCs fund tech businesses because there it is theoretically possible for Re 1 Rs 10, Rs 500 or even Rs 1000. Here 1 rupee can make 5 or 10 rupees, at most 20 rupees

You have to keep selling equity and raising money - how much equity are you left with? I ask this because you are many partners and taking a relatively low salary. The attraction is really the long term value of your equity stake...
Ours is a performance linked equity structure. There is a rate of growth defined and a complex formula by which we will value the firm 2 years down the line. There is a strong incentive to do well. If we don't do well most of it belongs to them, if we do well then most will belong to us.

They suggested and we found it fair. The investors have been very supportive.

Is 4 partners a good thing? Do you compartmentalise the work?
Arnab has recently quit for personal reasons, so that leaves 3 of us. We are too small to work in silos but we do divide the responsibility for ease of execution - Sunil handles marketing while I handled the projects part (finding real estate, setting up the spa etc). Saurabh handles training and rollout. Now the project is up and running so all of us are working on the marketing.

Is there an Ayush centre in Pune?
There was one in Koregaon Park, it's shut down.

I went to Ayush once and found the place ok... I would not go back again.Anurag: Actually many aspects of Ayurvedic therapy are currently being debated. Is massage on wooden bed necessary? It's so uncomfortable! If you have a medical condition it's ok stick to the authentic version because it's a treatment but when you go for relaxation is it necessary? Also there are 7 classical positions, 4 of which are not comfortable at all...

Sunil: People go to Ayush for some problem. If you have a backache, come to us; if you have a knee problem come to us... Whereas at our place we are not saying come to us if you have a problem, come if you want to relax..

How important is it for therapists to build personal relationships with clients?
Our effort is to standardise, not add one more complication but if people ask for a particular therapist, we do provide. There is no direct 'cut' to therapists but there is an incentive for doing certain number of therapies, coming on time etc

You thing it's a service business but it can be totally systematised?
It's happening in salons so why not...

I have a small problem with this approach... I visit salons and spas; personal relationships do matter I think!
Anurag: Setting process does not mean people should lose out on warmth. This depends on the people you hire. Skill can be developed but not attitude

What is it about this business that keeps you excited? How will you keep learning and growing?
We figured out that we will do something which is going to be appreciated by people, so there was that kick. But rationally, there was also this whole thing of getting into the wellness space. We can branch into other things eg salon, health food, spa product retailing - there are many opportunities. We have tied up for example with Jawed Habib and started a salon at one of the spas.

Where do you see the company 3-5 years from now?
Four Fountains will be present in top 20 towns with 100 spas in 5 years. Estimated turnover: Rs 100 crores.

It all sounds very easy... You got the idea, investors, set up the spas..any problems?
Anurag: Paperwork is important but ho jaata hai. Execution is the real challenge. Take the small example of getting a press. Is the tagline right, is the message coming across? Should I put 4 lines describing the spa or have 20 lines? If one press ad does not work you bleed... We have made a lot of mistakes.

Then dealing with employees. For example, someone falls sick or their parents fall sick... If 2 out of 10 people can't come in a day it's a 20% hit to our capacity and our revenues directly get impacted. Or if someone is not happy for some reason, or gets food poisonong, we are responsible for them.

There has been a time when we have spent the night at the hospital, because of worry that an employee's fever is dengue. Thankfully, it was not but we spent Rs 5000 in 2 days and then realised medical insurance is required for all.

Has he MBA helped you in being an entrepreneur?
Anurag: Definitely in planning and marketing yes.

Sunil: The job after MBA was a big learning experience. I was handling the Modern bread channel. On paper, everything is fantastic! When you go to the store there is chaos. You find the POP you designed looks crap in the shop...

No regrets??
At times you do miss the comforts, like we can't go to 5 stars etc.

Many entrepreneurs don't take a salary at all for some years.. You guys aren't in that boat. If you had a salary issue it would be more difficult?
Sunil: Yes, because of EMIs.

Anurag: We would have to look at some source of revenue, coaching teaching etc. Also had we planned that we'll become entrepreneurs after 2 years we would have saved accordingly. People who have it in mind should do so.

Finally, if you had not gotten funding would you have given up?
If you have something to show, it's easier to raise money. We would have borrowed money and started one spa... and kept looking for investors!

So when people really really want to do something they find a way, right?
Anurag: It's not that big and bad world out there.

Nahin karne ke liye bahut excuses hote hain
Sabse pehle naukri chhodo, to phir sab kuch ho jaata hai...!.

Wise words those.. as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What I liked about these guys: They are so matter of fact, ki bhai kisi na kisi tarah karna hi tha. The first idea did not seem feasible, they shifted to a second. And they aren't letting the obstacles along the way bog them down.

For example, the basic issue of spa therapists. They're not available, so you create your own talent pool. This is something all entrepreneurs have to do - train and upgrade people who can work for them instead of looking for ready-made talent (you generally can't afford or attract that kind when you're small and/or in a rapidly growing industry).

They also seem to have a very well thought out expansion strategy. But realise the real challenge is execution (which is where many MBAs in particular stumble). Will be interesting to see what systems they are able to put in place to expand rapidly across geographies.

Lastly, an affordable spa is a Big Idea but not a new one. It addresses a valid customer need and latent desire. We need more such ideas and they are actually all around us, just waiting to be spotted... By would-be entrepreneurs!

P.S. I have not personally tried the Four Fountains spa but if any of you have, do share your experience!

Previous posts in the Young Entrepreneur series:
Prakash Mundhra

Mom's Kitchen


Monday, March 17, 2008

Southern charm

This sounds terribly elitist but last night I was in a train, after a long long time. An overnight train.

I boarded the Rockfort express for Trichy from Tambaram station (which is equivalent to hopping in at 'Borivili' I suppose, the train stops just 2 mins). The station was surprisingly clean - the usual stench of you-know-what from the tracks was completely missing.

But the real shocker was that at 11 pm, when I got in, everyone was nicely, quietly and soundly asleep. Now if you have travelled on a train in Delhi-UP side or even Gujarat you'll know how rare this is. Maybe around 1 am... But at 11 there's always plenty of chatter (loudly), folks who want to leave their light on and on Gujarat Mail, the ones who must have their midnight thepla & 'snakes'.

The a/c was also at human, not polar bear levels (a problem I have often faced in Rajdhani!).

Anyhow, I am in Chennai in Tuesday (18th March) and have half a mind to visit Great Lakes Institute of Management. If any reader of this blog studies there and would like to meet up, do drop me a line at rashmi_b at

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Long March to Tibet

We are standing outside the 37th Esplanade court in Mumbai. They seem so out of place, these young boys with their hair gelled back and bright 'Free Tibet' t shirts. The court clerk had difficulty reading out the names.

They are Indian in a sense, and yet 'foreigner'.

So what is their offence, anyways, I ask. Dorji takes it upon himeself to explain. He is the de facto 'leader' of the gang and speaks on their behalf. And on behalf of all Tibetan people.

There is so much passion, so much pain in the struggle these young men have undertaken, that you cannot help being moved. Here is the story, in their own words:

"My name is Dorji, I am studying in MS University Baroda. On 26th November 2006 we gathered here, around 50 Tibetan students from Baroda, few from Pune and Bangalore, to protest against the Chinese leader Hu Jintao who had come to Mumbai, at the Taj hotel.

We came here specially to protest against him as he was in charge of the Tibetan Autonomous region in 1989. There was a huge protest at that time for independence and he imposed martial law. Thousands of Tibetan people were killed .. and he was promoted as President after a few years.

So we wanted to convey our message that he is the killer of Tibetan people. In September of that year 70 Tibetan people were shot down while crossing the border at Nangpala in Nepal. The Chinese claimed the reason was security but no Tibetans had weapons at that time. These are violations of human rights... we would like to be a voice for those without a voice in Tibet.

I don't know how much we helped the Tibetans. But it was a satisfaction that we are doing something. We have not forgotten even after 50 years have passed. And to convey mesaage to the Chinese that we won't stop... whatever they do we will continue until Tibet is free.

So we protested. One of our friends from Bangalore - President of Bangalore Tibetan Students -he burnt himself to get attraction of media, to let them know more. All Bombay newspapers covered the protest. His leg was fully burnt, he was in hospital for 2 months. So there is a case against us by the government. And because he tried to commit suicide, the case becomes serious. We have been coming to court for 2 years every 2-3 months.. We don't know how far it will go."

But, I ask, you were born and brought up in India and have never visited Tibet. 50 years have passed but you are still hopeful that something will change? By burning your leg you got publicity for 1 day... but day after day it's v difficult to carry on this struggle. What keeps you going?

"Feeling of refugee will only be known by a refugee. We born here, but this is not our home.. although this is our home. His Holiness Dalai Lama once said we feel more Indian than Tibetan. I also feel.. I like everything Indian, Hindi films, I love Indian food but still there is something inside I can't explain.

Our parents have told us what's it like in Tibet. And we live in a group we went to school together, we are brought up in Tibetan culture. Inside... we feel Tibetan.

We are not fighting for ourselves ..We have everything in India. Good standard of education, good standard of life. We are fighting for those who are under Chinese. If they are unhappy life has no meaning for us. Main thing is Security for everyone and those Tibetans who are dying, who are political prisoners... what about them.

There are a lot of prisons in Tibet. In Lhasa - everywhere there is a brothel, there is a bar. They are exploiting our race, they want to finish off our race and these things make us continue our struggle."

Even if it takes another 50 years, the next generation and and next generation after that? The struggle started in 1959 and now it is 2008. How long will it take and will you continue however long it takes?

"That is sure it is not struggle of a generation. My father had struggled, grandfather had struggled, my great grand father was killed because of the Chinese invasion. If I die in India my son will continue the struggle."

And you are not concerned about your career and having fun, like other people of your age?

"These things come second. We are studying but this is second. First thing is our struggle to show we still exist, as a race. If we lose our identity, there is nothing.

They are resettling Chinese people in Tibet area. We also have a lot of uranium. And Tibet is the roof of the world, the source of water for millions of people. They are taking our resources and exploiting them, like the British did to India."

Have you met the Dalai Lama?
"Yes, many times."

I turn to Lhakpa, the boy who had set fire to his leg. Two years later he is fully healed. At least from the outside...

When you burnt your leg, was it a spur of the moment decision or all carefully planned?

"I planned only 1 day before," he explains in halting English. "When I came from Bangalore I thought 200-300 Tibetans will come and we will have a big protest. But police had already warned all the Tibetans selling sweaters here that if you take part we will not let you do business. So they did not join us.

So out of a feeling of desperation I did this, I set fire to myself."

So how did it feel... do you think you achieved your goal?

"This is only a small thing for me. Just my leg was burnt, But inside Tibet thousands are dying, hundereds are suffering in prisons they are being tortured with electric shocks, some iron is being put in women's vagina.. compared to these things my suffering is nothing".

Have you ever been to Tibet?

"I came from Tibet in 1993. I want to add that our strufgle will not end. Now we qare planning to go back to Tibet on March 10. The Chinese government is always telling Tibetans living outside to return.. We want to test that how will they treat us if we return.

Our plan is to go to Tibet, 500-600 of us. We will march back to Tibet by road, it will take 8 months. We will start from Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala and go thru Nathu la pass. We will surrender our Indian identity cards to the govt, thank Indian govt. We may die, we may not die I don't know but that is our plan.

So no more hearings over here.. If things not ok there we will struggle and die there. We will fight for freedom that is our main objective".

I ask Dorji if he too will be going. He answers in the negative, he has exams...

He adds hastily,"All of us can't go back at the same time. 5 NGOs - Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Students Association and some others have gotten together for this. 10 March 1959 is considered Tibetan Independence day by us. Every year we commemorate the day, this year we are planning this return...

This is first trip, if it succeeds we will continue. But we can't predict what happens. Those who are going will sacrifice everything.."

For 50 years the struggle has remained peaceful. But you can see patience is running thin now.. You can see it in the eyes of these young men.

"It is because of Dalai Lama, we are all following him. The Chinese government is waiting for his death".

And after that?

"Buddhist philosophy is against violence. That's why we have stayed like this, 50 years. But I am not a Buddha... Non violence does not mean you cannot defend".

But errorism is not 'self defence'....

"What Bhagat Singh did? He killed the General, he did not kill civilians. So we may attack those who directly killed Tibetans... Not saying we will do but it may happen. The young generation is getting tired. We are losing our Tibetan culture staying outside our country for so many years..."

And yet they go to sleep every night, dreaming of free Tibet. Or at the very least an 'autonomous region' in the true sense - where Tibetans come first.

Today is the 10th of March. I call Dorji to ask him about Lhakpa. Is he really going back to Tibet?

"Yes, they are going...I don't know how many of them.. but they are leaving today, that's for sure."

And someday I hope to visit Lhasa and share another cup of tea with that young man. A young man whose leg may have healed but whose heart will remain on fire. As long as his country and his people burn for freedom.

If we in India had even a fraction of that passion for a country which is already free, now that would be something!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Worked for a cruise liner?

Or know someone who has? Would love to speak to you - please get in touch with me at rashmi_b at

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kisko Milega Cash?

Jiski hogi sab se badi sob story.

Yup, you no longer have to sing, dance, tell jokes, answer GK questions or even perform mindless tasks on TV to earn cash. All you have to do is convince the nation that your kahani is more dukhbhari than the two other contestants. Get enough sms votes, Rs 5 lakhs is yours!

Standard Chartered 'Kisko Milega Cash' is a new daily show on Star One. Tonight's episode featured one Good Samaritan who is supporting his rakhi sister and wants to use the money to buy a house for her. One Close-to-Tears-All-The-Time young lady who wants to buy her parents a house because ek din meri shaadi ho jayegi aur phir unka kya hoga. And a third gentleman whose story I missed but who looked dukhi as hell.

Each contestants pleads the merits of his/ her case for 60 seconds. Then an a/v is screened where all their friends and relatives talk about how selfless, helpful and needy the person is. The 'opinionmakers' (Neena Gupta, Jaya Bhattacharjee and Anil Dharker) mildly quiz them.

The real fun begins when the contestants start cross questioning each other. They're certainly don't seem too nice (or too bechara (anymore. "Aapke pitaji abhi jis ghar mein rehte hain wo kiske naam hai," asks the rakhi brother. "Lekin woto aapki asli behen nahin hai phir aap unke yeh sab kyun karna chahte hain?", Close-to-Tears counters.

Two out of three in the expert panel say they're not very convinced that any of the three are truly that needy or deserving (neither am I). But based on audience votes, one will get the paanch lakh ka cheque. And the premium rates charged for those smses will partly fund the prize won't it? Yeh to hua ek bheekh maangne ka naya, hi tech tareeka!
Star One can look forward to a LOOOOOONG line outside its office to participate. And the show just might catch on. Not with the kind of people who read or write blogs but what the channels like to call 'janta Janardhan'.

Speaking of which Ramayan seems to hit the sweet spot with the public. I guess we Indians can never tire of the story, no matter how slowly it unfolds. In fact, slower the better because unlike saas bahu serials you can't mess with the storyline - randdomly kill off characters, wipe out their memory etc.

My initial impression of Ramayan was that the only update to the 80s version was more make up and more faux gold ornaments. But when I tuned in yesterday after many weeks I realised it's a little more than that...

Bharat is asking bhraata Ram: "Mujhe kaise pata chalega ki mujhe pyaar ho gaya hai?" And Shri Ram replies:"Jab tumhara dil tumhara hote hue bhi paraya lagne lage." Or something to that effect. And he proceeds to give a long lecture on the merits of 'love'. How it is divine and natural and wonderful.

Of course he has already won Sita in the swayamvar by this time. But still. Duty, sacrifice, good son, good husband/ wife, good brother are the words you associate with Ramayan (the Valmiki version). The Sagar version is adding some whole new dimensions...

And another 'update' on the 80s Ramayan - a small thing but I find it interesting. In the original series Ram, played by Arun Govil had a red tilak and cropped hair. In the new version Ram has shoulder length hair and sports a sun-shaped bindi (signifying his suryavanshi origins).

In the 80s any Indian man with long hair (except for a sadhu) was labelled a delinquent. Parents would cry and beg, "Please cut it!". Now, you see long haired young (and even middle aged!) men all over the place. I guess it was Dhoni who made it fully mainstream and acceptable. (although he subsequently went and chopped it all off).

But hey, in case your parents still have a problem just tune into Ramayan and remind them,"Yeh fashion nahin, bhartiya sanskritik tradition hai."

Lastly, the amount they smile on the show. The pull of religion is strong but so is the need to bask in the glow of shiny, happy people. So what if they existed thousands of years ago...

A welcome escape from the daggers and knives being thrown by devranis and jethanis in homes, and on rival channels!

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