Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai under siege

I am watching television since close to 3 hours... Flipping from channel to channel to 'get the latest'. A terrorist attack is unfolding on screen - live. Just like that movie 'Wednesday'.

Except no one knows who is scripting this or when it will end.

But the reason I am especially drawn to the drama is that I was at not one, but two of the venues where firing took place. Just an hour before it started.

In fact I was at the Oberoi hotel - all day. This was for an event that IIM Ahmedabad Alumni had hosted - an interactive session with Prof Eric Von Hippel of MIT.

After a long day we wound up at the Oberoi and took Prof Hippel to another location nearby for an interview... Before finally saying our goodbyes at 840 pm.

Then, I headed to CST station. The fastest and most comfortable way to get to Vashi. There was a train standing there, and I considered making a run for it.

But I stopped to buy a bottle of water. Then a couple of magazines. I caught a train at 9.07 I think. Uneventful journey. Was home at 10.15.

Suddenly I get calls from a couple of people about whether I am 'ok'. That's when I switched on the TV and realised how lucky I am!

Unfortunately Prof Von Hippel is staying at the Oberoi and we have been unable to reach him. He does not have a local mobile.

I notice that the building which is ablaze on TV is the Trident section of the Oberoi (the tall building) while he is checked in at the Oberoi (the short building). But they are inter-connected. And he is an American national... So it IS cause for concern! We can only PRAY.

UPDATE @8 am, Nov 27: Prof Von Hippel has been located and is safe.

As I stroke my sleeping daughter's head, I think anyone, anywhere can be caught in this crossfire. Yes, today, it could have been my turn... Had the event stretched on. Had I hung around for dinner. What's one hour this way or that, in a city like Mumbai?

But as they say, God had other plans.

I must add that for some reason, when I walked into the Trident today, I had a passing thought about the security. There was none. Not even the frisking you see at shopping malls.

Yes, they have something you walk through but it was all very casual. And as I stood in that beautiful lobby with its giant glass windows with that breathtaking view of the Arabian sea, I thought,"This is what I love about Mumbai."

Yes there is real poverty outside. And the rich may be feeling poorer as well. But there are some places which are immune to it all. Like this one.

But no more...

As I type this there is news that that Hemant Karkare, chief of ATS (Anti Terrorist Squad) has been KILLED.

The world is not making sense! Going to sleep now but looks like this nightmare will continue...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Smile please!

While times are tough and some are throwing themselves off buildings, at least one hardy soul out there has retained his sense of humour. The guy who writes 'The Secret Journal of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.'

Not Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, silly. It's a fake blog. But such a delightful one!

I just hope Rakeshji has retained his sense of humour and laughs along with the rest of us. It's a singular honour you know. How many people have a fake blog dedicated to them, which is actually more interesting than what the real man would write?

Sample (a post by 'Rakesh' on that recently conducted exam named after an animal): If you were to pass this test and get an MBA degree you would end up working for someone rich like Mukesh Ambani or Kumarmangalam Birla. Would you prefer this or be a self employed professional like Abdul Karim Telgi?

And this post on what Barack Obama could learn from Deve Gowda is truly a classic. Don't miss the pains taken to illustrate each point with appropriate pictures!

I guess the brain behind this one is inspired by the Fake Steve Jobs blog. Well, if this one ever unmasks himself I tell ya, he would give the Cyrus Broachas of the world a run for their money!

And how do I know it's a 'he'? Well... I just know. Women don't care about stocks and stock brokers that much and I may add, very very few are able to kick ass when it comes to humour.

Anonymous blogger, I salute thee! And thank ye for sprinkling a li'l bit of sunshine in our financially withered lives!! May your tribe increase :)

And oh, if you ever want to write for JAM magazine, it would be an honour.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Summer placement saga: sach kya hai?

Press releases from India's top bschools make it sound like 'business as usual'.

IIMA: Despite the global financial crisis, finance saw the highest percentage of acceptances at 32%. This reflects the decision of the students to not base a long term career decision on a short term market outlook. Consulting came a close second at 26%. Marketing was the largest gainer from previous years with 23% of the batch choosing to opt for marketing roles.

Between the lines: Of course last year 57% were placed in finance... And did those choosing to opt for marketing really have a 'choice'?

IIMB: As against 65 firms in the previous academic year, 110 companies, including 56 new firms, came calling to take the B-school students on 10-12 weeks' internship in the summer of 2009.

Between the lines: Bhai earlier they chased us, now we have to chase them. Fewer offers per company means we need more companies on campus!

Incidentally, a report in ET suggests that this year IIM-B called around 3,000 companies, IIM-C contacted around 1,500 companies and it was 650 companies for Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi. Quite an effort!

IIMC: The summer placement process which was scheduled from the 9th to the 14th of November has been completed with the entire batch of over 300 students being offered the widest possible range of sectors and job profiles.

Between the lines: These wide range of profiles and sectors was ALWAYS available but these firms never even got a chance to interview IIMC grads. Since everyone was snapped up by those I banks!

Meanwhile IIML has not been that lucky...

Indian Express reports: Two weeks after their summer placements exercise began on campus on November 7, about 55 students in the first year of the MBA programme at IIM-L are still waiting for an offer.

Senior members of the faculty at this institution of excellence could not remember the last time this had happened—a few students were sometimes left behind after the first week of placements, but ultimately everyone got placed. Never was it so bad.

I thought location might be to blame but if XLRI and IIMK could weather the storm - I wonder what went wrong here?

The bigger picture
Ultimately I think the whole model of placement-based education is getting turned on its head. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing.

Take the very concept of 'summers'. When I did my MBA it was known as summer 'training'. You joined a company, did some project - the basic idea was to get exposure.

It was more about just testing the waters. Very few people joined the same company they did a summer internship with.

Five years later when my brother did his summers the concept of PPOs had caught on. Many companies were making better use of their trainees by giving more challenging projects.

If you did well in your summer project you expected an offer from the company. But it was more a matter of prestige than a desperate desire to join that same company.

Cut to a few years later. Circa 2005. Joining the 'right company' for summer was now a crucial concern. So junta started preparing CVs the moment they set foot on campus.

The word summer 'training' fell out of fashion and summer essentially became a preview of the final placements.

I'm not saying we could go back to those innocent days when summer was intended as 'exposure' alone. Coz a large % of MBAs now have prior work experience. But I think there is merit in students keeping an 'open mind'. Using summer more to learn and explore than seal a deal.

And whether they like it or not, this is actually happening... So may as well make the best of it!

Lastly I won't say a placement is not important. But ultimately the question to ask is: "Have these two years made a deep and lasting impact on me, as a person?"

I know my answer was yes, despite having dropped out of final placements. I hope each one of you feels the same about your institute. Because THAT is what really matters.

Life is NOT about getting placed but finding your place in the world. A world full of promises and possibilities... just waiting to be explored!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thank you, all

For your many suggestions, thoughts and feedback on my three ideas.
I am not going by the popular vote, of course.

But hearing from you has helped me clarify my own thoughts.
And now it's time to START.

Incidentally, many of you pointed out that Po Bronson has this book called 'What Should I Do with my Life'. Well, you are preaching to the converted.

Po Bronson is one of my favourite writers, and a role model to me.
Reference this post I wrote a couple of years ago.

Do check his website for some mega-useful advice on getting started as a writer. And do buy that book and refer to it from time to time.

It helps to underline the really inspiring bits with a pink marker like I have :)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Next Adventure

The response to Stay Hungry Stay Foolish has been overwhelming, to say the least. So, what next?

Well, I have more than one idea in my head. And another in my heart. So which one will it be? I've decided to share my thoughts with you... seeking I know not what. But knowing that I shall get it! Here goes...

When I was 7 years old, I knew I was born to be a writer. Yet it took me 30 years and many other hats (MBA, brand manager, entrepreneur, youth expert, journalist, blogger) to actually get there. To accept, and to express, my true calling.

What is a true calling? I think it is a vocation or a way of life that feels like your life purpose. It is something at which you excel without effort. An activity or pursuit in which you are 'in the zone', a part of something larger than yourself.

So my idea for a next book, in a simple sentence, is to seek out the stories of 'people who shine in all walks of life because they've found their true calling.'

How do you recognise your true calling? What if it isn't practical to embrace it? I completely believe that finding your true calling is the highest form of 'personal entrepreneurship' possible. It takes guts, it takes vision, it takes perseverance.

And my contention is that you can pursue a calling and get rich and/or famous out of it. It's not an either/or but a case of having your cake and eating it too.

So, in a nutshell, I am looking for people who have found their true calling. This exercise is a little more complicated than finding entrepreneurs from IIMA. Obviously the subjects should believe that yes, this IS my true calling.

If you believe you fit the bill, or think you know or have heard of someone who does, please write in to me. I am especially interested in people who have switched careers at some stage, in pursuit of this calling but as such I am open to any and all suggestions!

The id is rashmi_b at

While the heart wants to explore true calling, the head says: be practical! So the other interesting thought I have is to do a follow up to Stay Hungry that looks at a diametrically opposite profile of entrepreneurs: men and women who've made it business without a fancy degree.

Of course we have Dhirubhai Ambani, Karsanbhai Patel and Lakshmi Mittal. But I am sure there are many more contemporary stories worth telling.

Incidentally by 'fancy' degree I meant no IIT/ IIM.

So if you know/ have heard of folks who fit this profile please feel free to drop me a line with a brief description. The id remains rashmi_b at

Lastly I wanted to profile '30 under 30' ie 30 young people under the age of 30 who are different/ are making a difference.

Yes it is 'vague' but I truly believe there are young people out there who have energy and passion for things other than CAT/ JEE. They may be entrepreneurs, they may be pursuing other dreams. But they each have a story worth telling.

Agar aap aise kisi bande/ bandi ko jaante hain to bhi mujhe zaroor likhiye!

Maybe one or all or a combination of ideas - I don't know! That's why it's a 'new adventure'. Send in your thoughts, your nominations, and join me in spirit. The 'stay hungry' spirit.

Look forward to hearing from you...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Manjunath Shanmugam Memorial Candle Light March

Anjali and Jaishankar, two lovely people who are also trustees of the Manjunath Shanmugam Trust asked me to help publicise this cause. I am more than happy to do so!


Manjunath Shanmugam, was an Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOCL) employee and IIML alumnus. He was working to curb oil malpractices in his territory; and was murdered on 19th November 2005 by a petrol pump owner and his accomplices. Manjunath was a popular student, noted for his passion for music, sincerity and integrity.

The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust is an international corporate community initiative; and works to improve governance in Indian public life.

Candle Light March
This candle light march has been organized on his death anniversary so that the entire student community of India can embrace and stir nationwide consciousness, and make our voice heard about prevalent widespread corruption. Youth across the country are honouring the values he stood for, by joining hands on this day; and in one voice, taking a pledge - Honour Integrity! Fight Corruption! If you wish to sign up for this pledge please click on:

The trust is looking to mobilise a large number of colleges across India to participate in the event. If you can organize the march in your own college please email us at and we will help you.

The blogathon ends

My heart wasn't in it.
Besides, I forgot I would be out for most of today judging Debating Matters.

So - let me officially end it 12 hours ahead of schedule.

* maybe a shorter timespan like 6 or max 12 hours is an ideal timeframe
* it must be on a day when I am not only vela but feeling all charged up

You know we routinely work under pressure and 'perform;.
And it can be done here as well.
But then, what's the point?

Until next time...

Debating matters

A turbanned young man of 16 odd years describes himself as 'dreaming of doing what Obama has done".

"Er, you can't become the President of the United States..." he is reminded.

"I know that...I mean, to go out there and create a revolution!"

We are at the Nehru Science centre auditorium, 3000 miles away from the US of A. But Obama has captured the imagination of the world like no other leader in recent times.

A John F Kennedy maybe, but that was close to 50 years ago.

We are at 'Debating Matters', a competition for class 11 students organised by the British Council. These are the regional eliminations. After many more rounds, one team will earn the privilege of going to the UK to represent the country.

The topic of the day: "Man, not machines, should explore space".

As in any debate, it's ability of a team to argue coherently and convincingly that really matters. In one round the 'for' wins the day, in the next it's 'against'.

In one case a team completely buckles under and pretty much agrees with the opposition. It's sad to see this happen but sometimes failure teaches us so much more than defeat.

The third round has two evenly poised teams. Until the Q & A session starts. One team completely loses it - unable to rebut and defend their position.

I have never been a debater but judging this event was an interesting experience. Normally debates are more about convention than clarity. Style over substance.

Here the emphasis was on strength of arguments and ability to think one one's feet. Apart from the judges, the audience also threw questions and was allowed to 'vote' on who should win.

Although our decision was independent and final (in all cases audience and judges' opinions matched in any case :)

The judges were also asked to give detailed feedback to each team. And in the larger interest I am sharing some of the points that came up here:

* An argument must be presented in a structured manner: Point 1, point 2, point 3. With many speakers it was not clear what WAS the central argument.

* You can't read out what you have to say from a sheet. At best you should keep points at hand. It's ok to stumble a bit rather than rattle it all out perfectly.

* Too much research is as bad as too little. Judicious use of facts is the key. Examples should aid your points and not be an argument in themselves.

* Avoid cliches like 'glass half empty/ half full' and so on. Also avoid too many quotes from famous people - we want to know what YOU think on the topic.

* Do not put foot in mouth. While answering questions many speakers went into tangents which led to their downfall.

* When you are obviously in a winning position, don't gloat - be gracious to your opponent. There is a thin line between swagger and arrogance.

And well, I could go on but the biggest takeaway is that you must have clarity in thinking. What are you trying to say? Once you know that everything falls in place.

A debate is not about oratory (yes, speaking forcefully and with conviction matters). But WHAT you say matters more.

This was most clear when teams and audience was invited to 'ask questions'. In true Indian style most people actually 'made points' (and you can see this happening at colleges, conventions, press conferences!).

Mayank Shekhar, who played the 'Simon Cowell' role had to point out at one stage:"A question must end with a question mark!"

In an aside I would like to add that it was heartening to see that many of the 12 young people who came up on stage had pretty offbeat career plans (as of now). Apart from those who wanted to be in business/ corporate world there was a young man from Baroda who wished to be a 'cognitive neuropsychologist'.

Other professions which came up included environmental filmmaker and aeronautical engineer. I wish them all the very best of luck - esp the guy who wants to emulate Obama :).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book review: Married But Available

It is always scary to review a book authored by someone you know. What if you don't like it at all? I guess you just keep mum and pretend the courier lost it :)

Thankfully, Abhijit Bhaduri's 'Married but Available' requires no such white lies. This book is part 2 in a 3 part series and although I haven't read the first ('Mediocre but Arrogant') it does not matter. It works as a standalone.

In fact I am relieved to skip part 1 - tired of the slew of books set on bschool campus!

'Married but available' is about Abbey, a middle class Bengali boy just graduated from Management Institute of Jamshedpur or MIJ. Abbey joins Balwanpur Industries as Personnel Executive and this is both the greatest strength and greatest weakness of the book.

The fishbowl world of Balwanpur is fascinating. It is one of those integrated townships which has 'everything', even its own cinema hall. Well, everything except privacy.

The manner in which Abbey learns to deal with worker issues - ranging from cable TV telecast times to a cockroach in the food is quite enlightening. It's all about winning their hearts by using your mind. An incident involving breeding of snakes is particularly bizarre!

But like I said this township is also the book's weakness because no one who's graduated from a bschool in the last 10 years will relate to working in such a place. Which means a substantial audience lost :)

The book also touches upon what is a red hot issue today - layoffs for workers. Whether in a factory or in a white collar office the concerns remain the same. It is NEVER easy. The way Abbey deals with it he manages a win-win situation.

There are also some insights into working with foreigners (although today I guess they are hardly the strange new animals they were in the early 90s). And of course lots of gyaan from the likes of Captain Sobti, Rusty Rascal and Father Hathaway.

At times it gets preachy but real life mein bhi hota hai. The seniors who never stop sharing their pearls of wisdom.

The less compelling part of the book was the 'married but available' angle. Let me not spoil it by revealing the story but it's a case of marrying the wrong person because she was available. And of course complications follow. But since the main protagonist is a guy his solution is to become 'comfortably numb'. Which means the reader does not feel much for him either.

There is a part 3 in the making which I'm guessing will 'resolve' all the issues.

Overall, I think this is a good book for anyone who:
* is a young manager and esp those planning a career in HR. Context may change but issues remain the same.
* enjoys reading yuppie-lit ie books about People Like Us.
* looking for a quick breezy read - nothing too deep.

Incidentally I saw 'Married but Available' at no 5 among best selling fiction books at Crossword in Bandra. Lagta hai acchi bik rahi hai! I don't think book 1 got much display or distribution...

You can check out Abhijit's website for more
published by Harper Collins, Rs 195

Obama - India needs one too!

I am happy that Obama has won, creating history. But it is also fascinating how McCain has graciously accepted defeat.

We never see such speeches in India. Partly because we lack manners and what I would call a spirit of the 'greatest common good'.

But mainly because for the last few elections no one has really 'won'. It's not over till it's over. Horses must be traded, MPs herded into camps. Anything to get the magic number '272'. And then some.

What is also fascinating about Obama's win is that yes, he is the first African American to be elected to the highest office. But he reminds me very much of the story of Prahlad and Hiranyakashipu.

Hiranyakashipu had asked the Lord for a boon whereby he could not be killed - during day or by night, inside the home or outside, not on earth or on sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra.

But eventually Lord Vishnu took the form of a Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).

Obama is also neither black nor white. He is either/or and at the best of times, both. Black enough yet 'white' enough. Especially in education and outlook.

Obama was created in a different mould because he was destined to slay the Demon of Race.

And here in India one has to wonder when we will see an 'Obama' who will help us rise above our differences. And lead us into 'change we can believe in'...

Not in 2009... but someday for sure.

Idea accha tha magar..

Being a 'brand manager' is no easy thing. You have to eat, drink and sleep thinking about your brand. Bad enough. You also have to keep thinking about how to make others think about your brand as often as possible.

Which means pasting your logo and branding everywhere.

In what must surely be described as an 'innovation' in someone's CV Britannia has decided to advertise its bread on the handcarts of Mumbai's famous sandwichwallahs. So far so good.

But please note that the sandwich guy still prefers Modern bread. Kind of like Sridevi endorsing Lux and then using an expensive firang soap.

Advice to Britannia: Figure out how to get your bread used at those stalls. Perhaps offer a discounted steady supply?

Idea accha tha magar
magic always lies in the implementation.

Ideas are everywhere

We tend to think of ideas as the preserve of some special class of people or 'ideators'. But they are everywhere and in everyone.

This little stall selling ice golas at Linking Road, Bandra, stopped me in my tracks yesterday. As they say, "Sirjee - what an Idea!"

Ice golas are one of the most satisfying summer experiences one can have. But like most middle class Indians I have been conditioned to avoid them. Because of the generally suspect quality of the ice.

So this 'mineral water ice' is a great idea. But what makes this ice gola haathgadi a 'must visit' is the google-inspired branding. It's so witty and well executed you say to hell with my sore throat: "I gotta try it".

Please do note the attention to detail...

As for the gola itself - I tried my favourite kala khatta and what can I say? It's good but nothing out of the ordinary. An additional hygiene factor with 'Gogola' is that it comes with a plastic straw instead of wooden tinka.

But see the premium I happily paid - thirty bucks! - for a 'brand' rather than a commodity. There's a lesson in it for all of us in there.

If you've seen anything interesting in streetfood and have written/ blogged about it let me know and I'll share it here:)

Personal blogathon II

Around 3 months ago I had undertaken a 'personal blogathon'. The idea being to post as much, as often and on as many things as possible. Even relatively trivial stuff.

Well, the experiment was fun and resulted in 9 posts in a period of about 24 hours. I realised that 24 hours is, perhaps, limiting because a body has to eat, sleep and live in addition to blogging. So this time I am increasing the timespan to 48 hours.

And I am (mainly) going to write about food, food for thought (books & ideas) and food for the soul (some deeper thoughts on life & living).

Which I guess is a very wide range of topics and can eventually be twisted to cover anything :). So here goes...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Have you taken CAT as well as GMAT?

Looking to interview someone of this profile to feature in 'Cracking careers' on UTVi.

If you've graduated from a well known Indian or foreign bschool which accepts GMAT - all the better. Preferably want someone based in Mumbai.

Drop me a line at rashmi_b at

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth