Thursday, June 30, 2011

'I have a dream' events across India

dear Readers,

You will be happy to know that my new book 'I have a dream' is currently the no 1 non-fiction title in India. Thank you for the love & support you have given me over the years, as demanding readers and friendly critics. Your presence in my life has certainly made me a better writer!

I am travelling across India for a series of events. Details re: next two cities are as follows:

Friday JULY 1, 6 pm
"I Have a Dream" - INSPIRATIONAL TALK by Rashmi Bansal, hosted by Persistent Foundation at Dewang Mehta Auditorium, Persistent Systems Limited, S.B.Road branch, Pune. To attend please register here.

Saturday, JULY 2, 6.30 pm
You are cordially Invited for a 'I Have a Dream' - Book Reading event by Rashmi Bansal on Saturday 2nd July @ Crossword, ICC Towers, Pune at 630 pm. If you're attending, add your name here.

FRIDAY JULY 8, 6.30 pm
You are cordially Invited for a 'I Have a Dream' - Book Reading event by Rashmi Bansal on Friday 8th July @ Crossword, S G Rd, Ahmedabad at 630 pm.

Baroda Management Association and Faculty of Social Work, MS University cordially invite you for a talk on 'I have a dream' at Faculty of Social Work Auditorium, M S University, 3-5 pm

SATURDAY, JULY 9, 6.30 pm
You can also catch me at Crossword bookstore, Baroda, at 6.30-8 pm for the book reading/signing event!

Other cities

Details on exact venue, time etc will be posted here soon :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Climb every mountain

"Just a week back, I was holding on to a near-vertical ice face with a pick, weighed down by 25 kilos of supplies, with two other guys tied to me with a rope, completely dependent on me. And I think that was easier."

Easier than getting admission to Delhi University.

That statement by Arjun Vajpeyi, the youngest Indian to climb Mount Everest, is echoed by thousands of students vying for a few hundred seats in the 'most wanted' colleges of our capital city.

The DU mountain has always been a difficult climb, But this year it has gained Everest-like proportions, with the prestigious Shriram College of Commerce (SRCC) declaring a cut-off of 100%. Making the prospect of securing a seat icy and bleak, even for 'toppers'.

The trouble is there aren't too many other mountains to set one's sights on.

Unlike the mighty Himalayas, the college landscape in India consists of a few majestic summits and a large number of minor elevations. The climate on these academic molehills is neither pleasant nor invigorating.

It's like being in Lonavla during the height of summer when your friends are holidaying in Europe.

The cold hard fact is that the list of 'top colleges' in Delhi - and most other cities across India - remains practically unchanged in the last fifty years. The colleges students vie for were established during the British era, or shortly after Independence.

This is not at all surprising, because a good college builds its reputation slowly. It can easily take fifty, or even a hundred years. That is why commercially driven colleges cannot and do not prosper easily. The businessman looks for short-term gain, breakeven point and bottlomline.

For that reason alone, new colleges are not coming up in the traditional areas of Arts, Science and Commerce. Returns from engineering and management are far more attractive.

Even the government is focused on 'professional' education, and more so on existing brands like IITs and IIMs. That leaves the 'degree' college market stagnant and under-capacity. God help the 'average' guy when the 98% er is anxious and unsure, about his kismat...

Making the best of it

Some are calling this the 'Rajnikant' effect in admissions but sadly, this is only a cruel joke.

All your dreams are shattered, your spirits low. You resign yourself to joining some 'shady' college. Right now, quite honestly, it feels like the end of the civilised world.

I know because that's how I felt in July 1988. After a year in the US, where my father was working with NASA, I came back to India and wanted to join St Xavier's college, Mumbai.

They said, "Sorry, you've come late. Admissions are closed..."

"There are other good colleges," said my mom, and off we went prospecting.

The gloomy corridors of Elphinstone college depressed me; Jai Hind looked like a place where 'what you wear' mattered too much. Sydenham offered only commerce. Where else could one go!

Try Sophia college, someone suggested. I wasn't keen, but what choice did I have? We made the trip, from Navy Nagar to Peddar Road. And guess what, the moment I walked into that cool marble corridor, I felt a sense of peace. The sun came out from the clouds.

We met the Vice Principal, a kindly lady whose sari pallu never quite learnt to stay in place. She did not labour too long over my odd foreign marksheet. Or scold me for applying late.

"Okay - you are admitted. Welcome to Sophia!"

And there I was. Not getting into Xavier's - in hindsight - was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was jolted out of my sheltered existence.

Those three years at Sophia changed me, in ways I could not have imagined. I learnt to travel, make new friends and take up positions of leadership. The less-than-perfect college I was forced to join gave me a far bigger canvas - to discover myself and what I was capable of.

But it did not happen on day one...

The Lotus Effect

"I am back in school!" I thought to myself.

Sophia college didn't have a uniform but the way the girls spoke, the way the professors taught - it didn't feel like college.. No one asked questions, everyone just took notes.

The large majority of girls were from conservative families - both Hindu and Muslim. Some of the Muslims came to college in burqa - for their convenience there was even a stand where they could hang the.burqas during college hours.

After spending a year in an American high school, all this was a cultural shock. To think I had once dreamt of attending an Ivy League college, and now I was stuck in a convent, administered by nuns.

Well, soon enough I discovered there was a silver lining at Sophia. It had plenty of extra-curriculars in the form of clubs. Immediately I set about joining as many as I could - International Relations Club, Film Club, Bhartiya Sanskriti Parishad.

My personal favourite was SPRAG - the Sophia Press and Radio Action Group.

The second thing I quickly realised is most of the clubs were dead. 90% of the girls had no interest in extra-curriculars and didn't want to stay back till 2 pm (when college officially ended and club activities began).

So if you came forward, you quickly got to do things. To become one of the core group, to do what your heart desired.

Over the course of three years I represented my college in dozens of inter-quiz competitions. Even at outstation fests like Oasis (BITS Pilani) and Mardi Gras (IIT Madras). My big challenge - every year - was finding one more girl interested in quizzing. Since most competitions require a partner!

In my third year, I became editor of the college magazine. And secretary of SPRAG (the media club). Every month I produced an 8 sheet xerox offset newsletter called 'Snippet' which was sold for Rs 2 per copy.

The issue which carried a debate on whether Sophia should remain a 'girls-only' college created a bit of a stir. As did my idea of a 'black band' day to protest against the Mandal Commission.

The Principal -crusty old Sr L Rodrigues - said to me in so many words, "If you want to do this kind of thing, find some other college."

Point taken and protest halted... There is a limit to 'democracy' inside a college with pink walls!

Lemon vs Lemonade

At Sophia - because of the combination of subjects offered - I had to take English Literature along with Economics and Statistics.

I enjoyed it so much that at the end of the second year I almost changed my major. Although in the end I stuck with Eco, I know those two years of Keats and Yeats were a wonderful exposure. That shaped my thinking and writing in years to come.

To sum up, when life gives you a lemon, you gotta learn to make lemonade. What's more, something that appears to be a lemon from afar may actually be a semi-sweet orange, when you take a closer look.

A college where 'things don't happen' is a place waiting for someone to come along and 'make things happen'. Revive existing activities, or start new ones. Set up a chapter of NEN (National Entrepreneurship Network) or Rotaract - become part of a larger movement.

In every college where 'teachers don't take interest' there is at least one teacher, waiting for an interested student. Be that student. Take whatever subject you are studying seriously, go deep into it like a diver looking for that elusive pearl.

College is like a mental gym. The subjects you study are like equipment. You might prefer treadmill but only get a chance to use barbells - either way you will see the benefit.

English literature or economics - neither is going to be of 'use' in practical life. But if you study a subject with passion and understanding, you will develop a critical faculty. The ability to think, to look at a situation from all angles, to assimilate ideas. And come up with your own,

The Last Word

If you still need convincing, do pick up a book called 'Adapt' by Tim Harford (of 'The Undercover Economist' fame). It's a dazzling and convincing argument on why success always starts with failure.

Harford believes that 'trial and error' is the most effective way to solve problems. And that flexibility and experimentation are the qualities you will need the most in an increasingly complex world.

Be that person who tries harder, and is never afraid to make a mistake. Treat your life like one grand experiment. For, results come in the most unexpected ways.

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin because he never kept his laboratory clean. Who knows what you might discover, in the contaminated petri dish of life.

If you believe in yourself, 100%.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No happy endings

So I've seen two movies over two weekends and they both have the same basic message: Bure ka phal bura hota hai.

Or, if you do bad stuff, you will ultimately meet a bad end.

'Shaitan' is a stylish film about five stylish friends with too much cash and too little purpose in life. Their descent into hell begins accidentally (drunk rich kids killing motorcyclist) but thereafter, they make some really bad choices. To cover up and 'get away' with the initial crime.

'Bhindi Bazaar' is a tale at the opposite economic end of the city, where young Tabrez is enticed into the world of crime by an aatthane ka ice-gola. Here too we see a group of 'friends' who eventually falls apart. Their story is likened to a game of chess, except in the end there *is* no winner.

Marne ke baad pata chalta hai ki Bhindi Bazar ho ya Malabar Hill - kya farak padta hai.

Unfortunately life itself is not so black and white. There seem to be a large number of people who seem to get away with assorted sins. While Tez and Fateh in Bhendi Bazaar were pickpocketing hapless commuters, our leaders continue to pickpocket the entire nation.

Sending a few individuals to jail - and denying them bail for a while - is not going to change that!

While Amu, KC and gang in 'Shaitan' stage their own kidnapping and become headline news, our leaders create their own daily drama to stay in the headlines. Some of them appear to spend more time hopping from channel to channel participating in schoolboy debates than doing their actual jobs...

And yet. I am sure these pocketmaars with Swiss bank accounts must be suffering. Do they have the health to enjoy their wealth? The peace of mind to enjoy a sunset? The genuine respect or admiration of the people who live and work with them?

I think not.

The world would be an ideal place if bad people met a bad end within 120 minutes, but lessons of life are far subtler and slower. And we aren't directing this film so we can't see the big picture, the connections within connections, and their consequences.

They say that if a butterfly flutters its wings at one end of the world, it can produce a hurricane at the other end. There *are* hurricanes all around us, inside us. Or cases of exploding mangoes (as in the classic black novel by Mohammed Hanif)

Only the timer mechanism is sometimes faulty.

Bhindi Bazaar mein paida hona kisi ke haath mein nahin hai, says the movie. But maybe it is. You reap what you sow, and a tree of hate, greed and violence offers no shade.

In future lifetimes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Invitation to the launch of 'I have a dream'

dear Readers

You are cordially Invited for the Official Book Launch of ’I Have a Dream’

Date : 15 June
Time: 6:30 -8.30 pm
Location : Crossword Book Store – Kemps Corner, Mumbai.

Meet some of the Social Entrepreneurs from the book who will share their Inspiring Stories & also answer your questions. Present from the book will be:

Shaheen Mistri, Founder – Akanksha Teach & for India

Dhruv Lakra, Founder – Mirakle Couriers

Santosh Parulekar, Founder - Pipal Tree

Vineet Rai, Founder – Aavishkaar Social Venture Fund

I will also be signing books of course :)

Looking forward to seeing you there! And of course there will be events in other cities over the next six weeks. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crime and Punishment

The byline 'J Dey' always fascinated me. Who is this guy without a first name, as mysterious as the shadowy figures he writes about...

Most journalists, after all, want to be known.

Sadly, I now know that J stands for Jyotrimoy. And his photograph is on every front page. Jyotirmoy Dey was shot down, in broad daylight, on a busy thoroughfare in Mumbai city. Just like so many of the gangsters he has reported on over the years...

The life of a crime reporter is tough, it is thankless, and I am sure it does not pay very much. Yet, Jyotirmoy Dey devoted his life to it. And sadly paid with his life for it.

May his soul rest in peace.

It is certainly a very sad day for journalism and humanism.

Also read: J Dey: The Eagle Who Dared

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Maid in India

In the year 2002, when my daughter was a toddler and life was a scheduling algorithm, I had this idea of starting a 'maid agency'.

An agency which would supply professionally trained, trustworthy domestic help - something I would gladly pay a premium for.

The inspiration was a visit to Singapore, where the maid economy seemed to flow so smoothly and efficiently (just like every aspect of life in that country!). But surely, there was *something* we could learn from them, and implement here.

I didn't actually get into it - because it was a great idea, but not the idea I wanted to devote my life to. Life somehow went on, I was lucky to have a wonderful girl work with for more than five years.

Then, Lata got married and I was back scouring maidland for clean, reliable and efficient domestic help. Once again I wished there was an agency I could call!

So this morning, when I woke up and glanced at Mint I said to myself, "Finally!" The cover story chronicled the quiet revolution in the 'home service staff industry'. Thanks to entrepreneurs like Shawn Runacres of Domesteq Service Solutions, a a Delhi based domestic staff placement and training agency.

Originally started to cater to expats, 60% of Domesteq's clients are now Indians. And in Gurgaon, where they've just started a branch it's 90%.

The report says a similar service is offered by Partners in Prosperity, a Delhi-based NGO. Catering to more middle class homes. Similarly, there is 'Care Service' in Bangalore. In Mumbai I am told an NGO run by Jesuits called Seva Niketan has a domestic employment bureau.

So far, so good but demand far exceeds supply. There are many agents, but all they do is serve as middlemen - connecting you with a potential worker. Very few are taking up the task of training and upgrading the women, thus increasing their earning capacity. And making life easier for working couples and young mothers.

But that apart, sometimes I wonder, what is it *we* can do to make things better. Why don't we pay our maids far more - for they are literally our lifelines.

Because we believe there is a 'rate' for everything and it isn't wise to disturb the status quo.

"Zyada sar par chada kar mat rakho" is the advice given by generations of mothers. Treat your maid kindly but firmly, never let her forget who is the boss.

But again, times are changing. I recall this beautiful article by Rama Bijapurkar on the subject of maids which hit bullseye:

On her 45th birthday, my friend decided to thank the important people in her life who had helped her with her home-and-career juggling act all these years; so she took her cook and her housekeeper for a multiplex movie and a good dinner. Working mothers know that when it comes to the crunch, it is the quality of your maid and not the quality of your presentation that determines your career success.

Rama also has quite a few practical suggestions on how to a 'maid to order'. With or without an agency, training, motivating and rewarding an employee is, after all, in our hands.

Hands that today, are free of dirty dishes. But who knows, what tomorrow holds...

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Author Brand

My third book 'I have a dream' hit stores all over India on the 8th of June. And I am told that as per A C Nielsen, the book was #2 even before its release, based on orders placed by the trade.

It is deeply humbling and amazingly feel-good that so many people out there are placing their trust in me. Rather, in the author 'brand'.

When retailers pre-book a title, or customers do so, it is with the belief that they will like what I write. Based on what I wrote before this.

This is not very different from the manner in which people buy other kinds of products. Like Colgate toothpaste or Kissan jam - tried it, liked it, now don't want to *think* every time about this purchase.

A brand is thus a mix of preference and force of habit. It makes the process of navigating a world with too many choices, a little bit easier.

But the 'Author Brand' is a slightly different animal. The tube of Colgate you buy from one month to the next will remain *exactly* the same (they change the packaging slightly, maybe once in a decade!). But every new book an author writes must be the same - yet different.

By this I mean there should be enough in the book to identify the author brand and yet it must not feel like 'Bah, I've read this before!'.

So how does one achieve that? Well, I have a simple formula - encapsulate your Author Brand in 3 words. What do you stand for?

If I look at Stay Hungry Stay Foolish I would use the words 'Inspiring', 'Real Life', 'MBA Entrepreneurs'.

So Connect the Dots was a natural extension - 'Inspiring', 'Real Life', 'Non MBA Entrepreneurs'.

And 'I Have a Dream' extends the brand as - 'Inspiring', 'Real Life', 'Social Entrepreneurs'.

The really important elements, to me, are the fact that the stories are inspiring and real life. The term 'entrepreneur' I define far more broadly than a Peter Drucker. To me, an entrepreneur is anyone who has charted out his or her own destiny.

Yes, setting up your own business is the most visible form of entrepreneurship. But you can be an entrepreneur in the social space, creative arts or even the spiritual arena.

I know there are hundreds of amazing stories out there, and these stories will come to me - as I need them.

Of course the 'Author Brand' is not so rational. As with music, where every singer is distinct and identifiable, the true strength of a writer lies in his or her 'Voice'. A certain style, a manner of expression.

My style of writing - from the very beginning - has been simple. I prefer small words to complex ones, small sentences to big ones. I often twist the rules of grammar (not because I do not know them) but because I want the words to flow as if they are being spoken.

And of course, I mix a bit of Hindi with the Queen's English. It doubles my vocabulary and makes what I write more accessible and relatable to the aam aadmi. (yes I know some of you strongly object to it but that is the way the words flow out!).

So why am I sharing these thoughts? To guide those of you who are embarking on this path - struggling to find your way. Wondering what will make your writing 'sell'.

I can only say that you have to be true to yourself, above all else. Don't worry about failure. Don't get carried away by success.

Those are not the reasons you want to become a writer in the first place.

You write, because you have to. Not for recognition or readership, but for your own selfish pleasure. When you write in that state of mind, your heartfelt passion and joyous energy and will spill into the pages.

And create happiness in the world.

P.S. 'I have a dream' is available in all stores and also online at Flipkart , Infibeam , Indiaplaza and Dial a Book.

You can also get regular updates on events around the book here:

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