Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mumbai Writer's Retreat: Feb 14-18

dear Budding Authors

I've enjoyed reading your manuscripts over the last 2 weeks and have sent you all my feedback.

I think some of you are very promising, others need to look deeper within to develop a voice that is true and unique. But in fact all of us, including published authors, do need to take time out and reflect, work on techniques and talents.

More than anything we need to remove our blocks and flow with our thoughts and feelings because that is what great writing is all about.

As I was going through your manuscripts, I received an email about a 'Writer's Retreat' in Mumbai. This retreat is conducted by Wendy Rohm, a bestselling author and literary agent. The goal?

Develop your book, fine tune your manuscript, and perfect your writing in progress. Writers of all levels attend to generate new material, develop ideas, or perfect works in progress.

The Mumbai Writer's Retreat is being held from Feb 14-18 and I thought it might be of interest to you. Hence sharing the details!

These workshops are also held in other locations such as Paris and Thailand. There is also an online course starting February especially for writers in Asia and India. Check that out if you are interested but for whatever reason can't be present physically.

Why am I recommending this course? Purely on good faith. I would like to attend at some point (but perhaps in Paris :)

I just think sometimes we need a support group - a helping hand, a friendly ear. A place where there are like-minded people and some gentle guidance and professional mentorship. None of which is easily available to writers.

Yes the course does not cheap but sometimes you have to *invest* in yourself and your dream.

To find out more and to register email Margaret at TheRohmAgency at with a cc to me (rashmi_b at Give my name as a reference and you will get the special benefit of $100 credit toward a future 12-week online course. Or one of their conferences anywhere in the world, including the next Mumbai conference in 2012.

But do think about it and register only if you're serious and can spare the time. There's a pretty stiff cancellation policy!

Meanwhile, whether or not you attend this retreat, keep the faith, and keep writing!

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. But if any of you register through me I will get a small referral fee. That's not my motivation for spreading the word, however. Ek writer hone ke naate doosre writers ka bhala chahti hoon.

I want all of you to get published coz the world needs more amazing authors and wonderful, readable books :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making a difference - I (Teach for India)

Kuch log kehte hain ki aajkal ke naujawan kisi ke liye kuch karna nahi chahte. Sirf apne mein mast hain.

Well, that is true and yet not entirely so. Because there *is* a small new breed of young people trying to make a difference. And a bunch of organisations enabling them to do so. Here are some which I think are doing wonderful things, and who knows, you may like to explore the doors that can be opened.

Let me start with Teach for India. This is a unique program where graduates and young professionals pledge 2 years of their lives to working as teachers in municipal schools. The idea is that these two years of 'giving back' and of understanding India from ground zero will make you socially senstitive.

You will go back to the mainstream - join the corporate world most likely. But, you will be inspired to be a true leader. It's a powerful idea and in the last 2 years the program has attracted some amazing talent.

As I realised, while speaking to Teach for India fellow Srini Swaminathan. Srini is a BITS Pilani graduate who worked with Schlumberger for 8 years. A job most would die for.

But, last year he decided it was time to stop thinking and start doing something. "I used to donate money online and all that but I wanted to do something more, to really make a difference," he says. The fact that he too comes from a low income background was a motivating factor, to give back something to kids out there who have nothing in life today.

Srini is now teaching second standard children at the municipal school in Dharavi Transit Camp. "We have a pucca school building," he says. "But not much else!" So Srini has to be creative. Everything from an empty cornflakes carton to used birthday hats, he says are welcome because they help stimulate thinking and creativity in class.

In June 2010 when Srini joined there was a comical situation where he spoke very little Hindi and the kids spoke very little English. Six months later, he says, he has picked up enough Hindi to get by. But more importantly, kids are speaking English.

"It used to be 90% Hindi, 10& English - now my kids speak 70% of the time in English."

These are just a couple of small indicators, you can read about Srini's experiences, in his own words, on his blog or Facebook page.

There are over 100 TFI fellows like Srini out there, doing similar transformational work. And mind you, getting transformed in the process as well.

If you would like to apply for Teach for India 2011 fellowships, today (Jan 23) is the last day for applications. In any case you may like to keep it in mind as something to try for next year.

Incidentally, TFI fellows are paid a stipend of Rs 15,000 per month, but as the Mastercard ad goes, it's an experience that's priceless.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Calling budding authors

A ton of you keep asking me the question: how do I become a bestselling author.

Well, the answer is, first you *write* a book.

Then you find a good publisher.

Then, you pray to God that the book sells :)

The trouble is that many of us only dream about writing a book, instead of actually penning down the chapters. Some of us need handholding, motivation and a danda on the head in terms of a deadline.

But let us assume you somehow do write a book. Or, at least a few chapters. How do you find a publisher? It is pretty tough for a first-timer.

You can go fill out proposal forms (available on most publisher websites). Then wait for an eternity and most likely never hear from them.

And in the odd chance that you do hear back, you will rarely, if ever, get a reason for the rejection. Constructive feedback ka toh chance hi nahin hai.

It is in this scenario that many new authors have gone the self-published route, some with a good amount of success. Examples include 'Immortals of Meluha' (originally published by Bahrisons), 'Oh Shit, Not Again' (published by Shree distributors) and my own books (published by Eklavya Foundation).

None of these a 'blue chip' publishers as such but they took a leap of faith - each for their own reasons - and it worked wonders.

And something today has triggered in me the thought. In my mind's eye, I see myself setting up a new kind of publishing house.

Open to all kinds of writing.

Fair to newcomers in terms of quick and honest feedback.

Transparent and pro-author when it comes to commercials.

And very willing to take 'risk'.

In fact I don't see it as a risk because 20 years as a writer and editor have given me what Malcolm Gladwell calls 'the power of thinking without thinking'. I will trust my gut more than my brain when it comes to deciding 'what will sell'.

So. I don't know *exactly* how I am going to go about this but let me take the very first step by inviting those of you who have a book (complete, or partial, or even 2 chapters), to send in your samples. Only on the basis of faith.

I promise to revert to you within 48 hours of receiving your word doc/ pdf with a specific feedback. Not that I can sign a publishing contract with you tomorrow, but I may be able to do so in the next 3 months.

And if that sounds like carrot enough, let's make halwa together.

Email - as always - rashmi_b at

P.S. Do not send me anything in docx format! Also do send in 2 lines about yourself and your contact details. Plus a para or two summarising the book and who you think will want to read it :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Taking the stairs

There are two ways to make your way up to the corner office with the brilliant view.

Those who get 'branded' by the right bschools usually get to take the elevator. The rest must scramble up the stairs. It might take longer and mean more effort, but they make it up there too.

But hardly anyone talks about *how* you go about it. I'm sure students graduating from lesser known bschools (or engineering colleges), could use a tip or two.

If you're a graduate from a tier 3 college and you think you've done well in life, share your story with me.

What were the skills, attitudes and principles which made you 'successful'? I'll send you Qs to make it easier to elaborate. Just drop me a line at rashmi_b at with a brief description of yourself!

P.S. Since many of you are asking here's how I classify colleges:
Tier 1: Nationally known colleges
Tier 2: State level colleges
Tier 3: Local colleges, little known even in their home state

As for 'doing well in life', it's completely subjective. I'm not looking for a specific designation or salary package. If you think you've done well for yourself, that's good enough for me :)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy New MBA

My cousin called to wish me 'Happy New Year'.

When I asked about her daughter, a first year student at a local bschool she added, "Koi ladka nazar mein ho to bataana."

Hey bhagwaan, aur koi bhi request I am game for. Yeh kaam mujhse nahin hoga.

"Won't she work a year or two before marriage?" I asked.

"Main to chahti hoon par uske papa ne mana kar diya hai."

This is not a stray case. Or an unusual one. The tier 3 bschools in tier 2 towns are full of such girls. Whether in management or in engineering, they are pursuing education for the sake of a 'degree'. Almost like an eligibility certificate to get a 'good match'.

The girl herself may wish to work. At least for some time. But she is resigned to the fact that it may not be possible. Before marriage, her father and brothers will decide if she can. After marriage, her husband and in-laws will decide the same.

So that effectively eliminates 48% of the population in these tier 3 bschools. Which unlike top schools, have a pretty even boy: girl ratio.

Bache bechaare ladke.

Now all their exposure to concepts of marketing, HR, finance and blah blah blah, is basically of no use. Because if, by pull-push-pleading-and-prayer, a few companies do drop by for placement, 90% will flunk the interview.

Because they are dumb, and I do not mean in terms of intelligence.

When I give talks at tier 3 schools, there is usually a pindrop silence at the end of the session. Perhaps they were sleeping through it all?

"No ma'am," a student explained later."People have many questions but they are afraid to ask."


"You speak such good English no, ma'am. They can't speak like that. So they stay quiet."

But all the students have passed the state entrance test and taken admission, isn't it?

"Yes but that is written only no, ma'am."

Well, your English seems pretty good...

"But I went to a convent school. ma'am. There aren't many students like me here."

So how do the students follow what is being taught in class?

"The teachers explain in local language, ma'am."

My head started reeling. MBA subjects being taught in Telugu or Gujarati or what have you. I don't have anything against these languages but then how in the world will this help students?

Without ability to communicate in the universal business language of English, they will never get decent jobs. It doesn't matter how many rules AICTE makes and how many speeches Kapil Sibal gives on excellence in education.

This is the golden jubilee year of IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Calcutta. A time to reflect on management education as a whole in India.

While IIMA and IIMC looked to Harvard and Sloan respectively for guidance and inspiration, Indian bschools look up to IIMs. What they have taken from these institutes is the external framework of 'MBA'.

The idea of an entrance exam, a list of subjects to be taught, the carrot of placements. And of course free (and mostly unfair) use of hyperbolic product promise such as 'world class', 'professional environment' and 'fantastic carrier start' (this is a real claim made by a real bschool in the national capital).

And in the midst of this circus - a comedy of aspiration, a tragedy of education - we have the AICTE. All India Council for Technical Education which has issued (another) set of ill-advised rules applicable to all PGDM courses.

These include gems such as:
1) All PGDM courses shall be of duration not less than 24 months. (Why? Even IIM PGDM is technically not for 24 months).

2) Model Curriculum/ syllabus will be issued by the Council.(Great - but what about upgrading quality of teaching and teachers?)

3) Admission to PGDM courses will be conducted by the respective State Governments through the Competent Authority designated for such purpose. (That still doesn't ensure students who get admitted have the minimum competence required to do MBA in a meaningful manner).

We can start solving the problem, only if we at least admit to its existence.

The first thing the bottom 3/4th of the bschool pyramid needs to do is junk the IIM model. Spend the first 3 months just improving language and communication skills.

Next, realistically prepare students land in the industry feet-first. Train for the kind of jobs they will be expected to do.

Not a single student from a tier-3 school will get a hard-core finance job, yet 90% claim that is where their interest lies. Fine. You can fulfil their aspirations, but in a direction different from what IIM students are taking.

Train your students to truly understand the stock market - let them find work with brokers. Brokers don't care much for which bschool you are from. Heck, they don't even care much for an MBA degree! As long as you produce results, or help the company to.

Most importantly, train your students to be good salesmen. Because there is always a demand for that breed of people, across industries. Sales is not a lowly job, it requires a high degree of skill and intelligence.

The best marketing companies - such as HUL - insist on management trainees working as salesmen for a good 12-18 months, before making them 'brand managers'. If managers must take the sales route, it follows that a good salesman can develop into a manager.

Yes, the truth is tier 3 graduates may get the designation of 'officer' or 'executive' or even 'manager' but the actual job content may not be managerial. Or, what we have understood to be the job of a manager, thanks to the MBA.

But guess what, majority of IIM graduates have the same problem. Yeh MBA ka syllabus hi kuch aisa hai. When you discuss a case, it's from the perspective of the CEO, not the trainee!

Wishing all MBAs, aspiring-to-be-MBAs and the rest of humanity a very happy new decade. May we all turn the spotlight inwards, and find the guru within.


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