Sunday, January 29, 2006

The rise and fall of Khyber

Before Indigo, before Olive, before eateries started by models who rarely eat, there was just one tony restaurant in town. Khyber.

Khyber was not located in a 5 star hotel, yet commanded 5 star prices. The world behind its ornate doors held a certain undefinable mystique. It was a restaurant for 'rich and famous' people. Not for you and me.

Those, of course were the days when 'let's eat out today' did not roll of the tongues of middle class moms and dads. In our family, going out for dinner was a ritual observed strictly as an annual ritual - on my parents' anniversary.

For years we went to the same restaurant (Delhi Durbar in Colaba), ordered the same items (nan, paneer, black dal) and came home satisfied. Of course, times changed. We changed. The restaurants changed. Blowing up good money on a nice meal ceased to be an issue.

But somehow I never went to Khyber. Until last night.

The Experience
Did it feel special to dine at a restaurant which proclaims to be "known for its food and for its ambience, one that is known across India and is on the "must visit" list of foreign visitors".

Um, not really. Because this was not THE Khyber but its country cousin - Khyber at Khar.

Like many south Bombay restaurants, Khyber has realised that it can't afford to ignore the New Money in the suburbs. And so it has set up a 'branch'.

So far, so good. But this Khyber and that Khyber seem to share only the recipes. Khyber, Khar is about as classy as Mallika Sherawat's wardrobe at Cannes.

The tables are too close together, the noise level high. It could be Samrat in South Bombay except the Gujju families are replaced by middle-aged Punjabi and Sindhi businessmen. And there are chintzy red curtains.

OK, I exaggerate a bit. It's not ALL that bad. But certainly not a 'branch' of the original Khyber. This is a popular version of the premium brand. The important thing ie the food is excellent. But the overall experience is nothing to write home about.

Aisa kyun
I guess this was bound to happen because a large part of the mystique of the orginal Khyber lay in the people it attracted. Kings and consuls, CEOs and expats. You can't expect that kind of crowd here.

But I do think some of the basic principles should not have been abandoned. Where is the art and culture, the stamp of Parmeshwar Godrej and Hafeez Contractor that make the brand what it is? Nowhere, in the Khar outlet.

'Hero' by Enrique Iglesias played in an endless loop the entire time we were in the restaurant. While leaving I mentioned it to the manager who cheerfully replies, "Madam you should have told me earlier."

Like Enrique has a place in an upscale 'Indian' restaurant in the first place!

The Khyber website proudly proclaims: In 1988, when people walked through the doors again (the restaurant was rebuilt from scratch after it burnt down in 1985), it was an upscale establishment with menu and decor working with a synergy that was unparalleled in the city.

Even though the restaurant had expanded to an area of 6000 square feet, a conscious decision was taken to reduce the capacity of the restaurant to 175 people, so that the patrons could enjoy a sense of privacy and the attention of helpful staff.

Considering the suburban establishment is spread over 5 whole floors (two for the restaurant, one for a banquet hall and two for a night club - Squeeze), you would think 'space' would not be a problem.

But greed is.

I, for one, would not go back here again. But I do plan to check out the original Khyber once. And sincerely hope that there, I would not be disappointed!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Kaun nahin banega crorepati

KBC2 recently went off the air, citing Amitabh Bachchan's illness as the reason for its inability to can fresh episodes. But India TV has a different story.

Don't mourn the loss of your favourite game show, says the channel. Don't mourn the loss of hopes and dreams. Don't blame your bad luck either - you never had a fair chance of making it to the "Hot Seat" anyways.

Dial mein kuch kaala?
The India TV story, backed up with impressive amount of documentation, paints a pretty bleak picture of the selection process for India's most popular game show.

The gist of the expose: KBC gets 25 lakh calls per episode, so the odds of making it to final 10 twice are next to zero. Yet, it happened five times. And though the rules bar BSNL and MTNL employees, at least nine took part..

To elaborate: 25 lakh (2.5 million) viewers vied for a place on every episode of KBC2. To qualify required a small amount of grey matter and large doses of luck.

Step 1: Call in or sms (via MTNL, BSNL or Airtel) and answer one simple question. Charges - Rs 2.40 on BSNL/ MTNL or Rs 6 on the Airtel network.

Step 2: Of those who answer correctly the computer 'randomly' selects 500 callers who are then asked to reply to 2 more questions.

Step 3 : This is followed by round 3 where a lucky 100 people must answer 3 more questions.

Step 4: Of those who clear this hurdle, the computer generates a list of 10 'final' participants who get a chance to compete for the Hot Seat.

So yes, anyone making it to the 'final 10' twice defies all laws of probability.. And yet, India TV has pictorial evidence to prove it.

The BSNL tangle

This is a picture of Prem Prakash Rai, Sub Divisional Engineer, BSNL, Bhopal. He appeared first on KBC in Episode 4 on August 12, 2005.

And the second time on Sept 12, 2005 in episode 15. This time he won Rs 20,000.

On the face of it, there has been a huge mess up. Rule no 1 of the 31 listed states:

Employees of the Company, the producers of the programme "Synergy Communications Pvt Ltd," the advertising agency which has been appointed from time to time, and all sub-contractors and agents rendering services in respect of the Competition, any sponsor; and members of their immediate family... are ineligible to enter the

Lines of this kind drafted by the 'legal department' are a standard part of all competitions. Wonder whether the auditor was given a specfic LIST of companies whose employees were persona non grata.

As per official statistics, 7.5 crores of the 10 crore calls received were through BSNL.

BSNL happens to have 3.5 lakh employees... Wonder whether they get free calls from home and office. If so, they probably did just that in their 'spare time' (which is never lacking in a PSU!).

That would be simple 'misuse' of faclities. More worrying is possible manipulation of the system. After all offficals such as Shri R L Dubey, Director (Planning), BSNL have stated on record that calls made from PCOs, office board lines and any other telephone lines (other than BSNL/ MTNL) would not be considered valid entries.

For both image and profit reasons, BSNL needs to provide some answers.In July 2005 BSNL had already raked in over Rs 4 crore or 32 lakh per day by routing KBC2's tele-voting calls from across the country.

Any breach of trust would surely affect future revenues of this nature!

More questions
And what was Star TV doing? Whatever the angle at BSNL, at the end of the day the organisers are to blame for actually allowing BSNL employees to appear on KBC. You can't shrug off 9 such instances as an 'oversight'.

"Shaayad Star TV ko yeh jaankaari maloom nahin thi... ," suggested india TV's Rajat Sharma. Then adds,"Magar unki website par har participant ke details maujood hain. Woh kahaan ka rehne waala hai... kahaan kaam karta hai etc etc"

As regards the same person appearing twice on air, Rule no 17 states: Contestants can make it only once to the Fastest Finger First round for any Show in a Schedule.

So the channel may be able to defend itself by saying that those who made it to the final 10 twice were not picked in the *same* shooting schedule. It still appears fishy...

Especially because to ensure 'fair representation' the rules further stipulated a quota for women (2 out of 10 in every episode at least). There was a regional quota as well to ensure participants were drawn from throughout the country.

Under those circumstances the chances of making it twice in the final 10 appear all the more remote!

Auditor, where art thou?
The FAQ section on the KBC 2 website contains the following query:

There are touts and so called influential people who claim they can get me an entry directly into the show. How true is this?

Answer: There is only one way to get on to KBC 2 - by qualifying through the phone lines, as described in the rules. There is no question of bypassing this process, and contacts have no role to play at all in gaining entry into the contest. It is a fair process, closely monitored by independent auditors.

Well, these independent auditors were the venerable KPMG . What exactly was their job defintion? Who set up the systems to execute the selection process? Who oversaw its functioning??

Since KBC is a franchise of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' it should be following the same selection process. Has the Mother Brand faced any such issues??

It is still unclear who was ultimately responsible for the selection of contestants. Was ir Star TV or producers Synergy Communications (owned by Siddhartha Basu)? Or was the task outsourced to a third party??

As Amitabhji would have said sahi option ko 'lock kiya jaaye'...

Why it matters
You might say, it's just a gameshow - why get so worked up? The truth is it far more than that. Combine the lure of winning one crore with that of interacting with India's biggest Bollywood actor and you have 'the Dream of a Lifetime'.

At one level it was luck - but once you made it to the Hot Seat, it was all about your soojh boojh. Your General knowledge, of course. But also your ability to handle pressure, your presence of mind.

Unlike other game shows, on KBC2 anyone who won a few lakhs really 'earned' it. KBC2 was perceived to be a merit based game show where luck played only a facilitating role - not a decisive one.

Coupled with the grace and gravity of its host Amitabh Bachchan, KBC2 was synomymous with the 'high standards' that every Indian wishes to see in public life.

If those standards were in fact diluted, it feels like a betrayal of faith. A loss of innocence. A lack of decency.

Mild aftershock... so far
Although the rotten eggs may have been few in number (and none of them won significant amounts on the show), the fact that they did make it on air is not just egg but fully cooked omlette on Star TV's face. Naturally, India TV has been trying to gain as much mileage as possible.

This includes its trademark rabble rousing anchoring. "Dekhiye kis tarah Star TV ne hazaaron laakhon darshakon ke jazbaaton ke saath khilwaad kiya. Chaliye aapko Patna le chalte hain... "

In Patna a 'member of the public' appeared to be reading a speech from a paper (written down for him by whom?) expressing his shock and anger. Junta accosted on the roads of Mumbai were a little more natural and convincing. The channel claims messages from 'lakhs' of viewers are pouring in...

But the story has not had a major impact yet... Being an India TV expose, no rival TV channel covered it. And being the day after Republic Day there were no papers this morning.

Midday had featured the story on page 1 yesterday but again, most folks missed it, as it was a national holiday and Mid-day is more of an office/ commuting paper than home delivery.

It remains to be seen whether media will take up the story or keep mum. As the show is now officially 'over' in any case, they may choose not to antagonise Star TV.

Every dog has his day
India TV is one those those channels most of us never tune into, just taking in nano-second darshans of it as we surf by. I for one made several efforts to consign it to the nether regions of my 100 channel television. But the Cable Guy seems to believe every underdog deserves a chance and keeps fiddling with the order.

He may be right.

Every channel can come up with something to hold the viewer's attention. And every viewer can come up with something to draw the channel's attention.

This story was first brought to India TV's notice by a KBC crazed viewer based in Udaipur who has notes and details of every episode ever telecast. From which contestant spent how many minutes on air to what suit Amitabh Bachchan was wearing on a particular day.

KBC mein chahe number na aaye, citizen reporter ki haisiyat mein ab aapka bhi number as sakta hai. Some consolation huh!

Give us four options or four hundred, we'd still vote for a clean, untainted KBC!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

5 stars to Rang de Basanti !

Everyone is dying to see this film, thanks to the fresh n funky look in the promos and posters; the amazing music and of course Aamir Khan. Add to that the curiosity factor of controversy.

And that is exactly why I was a bit worried as I walked into the press preview for the film. Would Rang De Basanti really live up to expectations?

The answer is yes!!! This film not only lives up - it far EXCEEDS your imagination. A good film entertains you while you're in the theatre. A great film stays with you long after you've left it.

Rang de Basanti, in my opinion, is one of those greats. If Dil Chahta Hai redefined 'youth' films, Rang de Basanti takes the theme to the next level.

I will explain why, but first, a quick plot summary :

Inspired by a diary written by her grandfather, foreign kudi comes to India to make a documentary on India’s revolutionary freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and others who laid down their life for the country. She casts five young men for these roles – none of whom can identify with the idea of making any such sacrifices.

‘Is desh mein hai kya? Population?? Corruption???” says one. “Mujhe to jaise degree mili I’m outta here”. Meanwhile they’re hanging loose at the masti ki ‘paathshala’.

But, somewhere along the way the reluctant actors find themselves moved by the passion of the long-dead revolutionaries. And inspired to actually stand up and take on the System.

And from the official synopsis:
In the film both the 1930s British India and the India today run parallel and intersect with each other at crucial points. As the film reaches its resolution the line between past and present blurs, as they become one in spirit..

That makes no sense now but when you see the film it will! There. I’m not going to spoil it for you by giving the actual details.

Why Rang de rocks
Rang de Basanti’s greatness lies in the fact that achieves a fine balance. Dil Chahta Hai was a light film, this one has a message. Yet it manages to be as entertaining – perhaps even more than DCH.

The easy camaraderie and bonding between the friends lights up the screen. The language is Phinglish (Punjubbi and Hindi vich occasional English) – just the kind Dilli ke bande actually use (correct me if I’m wrong here!).

The film has all the usual youth ‘types’ – bade baap ka beta. good-for-nothing with heart-of-gold, nationally integrated cast of Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-and-isaai. And yet there are no stereotypes.

In fact, the film creates new definitions of old ideas. What does it mean to be ‘patriotic’? Rang de attempts to answer the old question in a new way. It’s not about Sunny paaji single handedly immobilising the Pakistani army and half its airforce by breaking the sound barrier as he booms “JAI HIND”.

Rang de Basanti says patriotism is about standing up and doing something. Not just complaining that everything in this country is useless but to see that each one of us is responsible for the current state of affairs. And has the power to start effecting a change.

Ah, but here is where the really controversial bit comes in. Is the path chosen by these young men the right path? Yeh kai dinon tak charcha ka vishay rehne waala hai. Coz these aren't the do-gooder variety of changemakers a la Mohan Bhargava in Swades.

Again I would say the film maker has managed to achieve a balance – while the characters do embrace questionable actions and ideas, the viewer is left with some alternatives which are more acceptable: like joining the police, IAS or politics.

This is how Rakesh Mehra put it to There is a matter of making a choice and accepting the responsibility of making it - that is the turning point in the film. The big moment is the decision for them to accept that choice, and take on the consequences of their actions, not to be escapists.

The ‘taking consequences for you actions’ bit is the crucial one. That’s what takes the film beyond the vigilante justice formula we’ve seen a million times before!

The Second Coming
Director Rakesh Mehra’s first film ‘Aks’ was described as “a superior product, technically speaking, but falters in that one vital department -- story-telling”.

Well, Mehra seems to have taken the feedback very seriously because this time the story and screenplay is numero uno, and on that strong foundation rest the other stuff: stunning visuals, music, technical wizardry.

The important thing about the story is that revolves around a basic clash in values –at many different levels. Youth of 1930s vs Youth of Today is the dominant theme. But there are many other sub-conflicts touched upon.

For example, the pressure from Aslam’s family to have friends from his ‘own community’ – the first time I think the ‘ghetto’ issue has been brought up on the Bollywood screen. Then there’s Laxman Pandey, a saffron party worker who’s anti-all-things-Western-and-Muslims. His attitude changes – in more ways than one – over the course of the film.

The casting – what can I say? All the characters – major and minor - don’t just play their parts. They live them. I particularly liked Soha Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Alice Patten and Kiron Kher.

Aamir is great as usual. He looks a little old in some scenes but then he is supposed to be one of those dadas who’s still in college although he ‘passed out’ 5 years ago. And the film just would not have worked its magic on us without him.

Chhoti Baatein
I also liked the small touches. For example, the scene where Sue first steps out of Delhi airport is so true to life!

Thankfully the scriptwriters decided to give the foreign kudi Hindi speaking classes before coming to India - so we don’t have to suffer sub-titles or awkward English dialogue . And it makes for some good laughs as well.

All the threads of the story tie in together – which is rare in Bollywood. Like the RJ who makes a fleeting appearance in the first 20 minutes. Since it’s a known face (veejay Cyrus Sahukar) you wonder usne do line ka part kyun accept kiya. Well, he suddenly pops up as a ‘crucial’ part in the climax.

It’s also nice to see an ad filmmaker-turned-director NOT accepting ads in the film itself. So while there is a marketing tie up with Coke, there are no Coke bottles at all in the film. NDTV gets mega-mileage throughout – but it's not a plug. In fact, it adds authenticity to parts of the story.

It’s also nice to see the Gang hanging out at places other than standard issue coffee shops, malls and multiplexes.

They prefer omlets and chai in a sardarji da dhaba or a purana qila next to an airfield. Of course, there is one important scene in a trendy lounge bar too. This reflects more accurately the mix n match hangout culture (street food bhi khayenge, 5 star mein bhi) of actual youth – again, rarely seen on screen!

The sepia-toned depiction of the revolutionaries was also extremely well done. And illuminating. I never knew, for example, that Bhagat Singh and his comrades went on a hunger strike for 114 days because they demanded to be treated not as common criminals but ‘political prisoners’ entitled to paper, pen and a daily newspaper.

And the way Rang De manages to cut back and forth between past and present –not just as long flashbacks but from moment to moment without trivializing either era is amazing. I’m sure it’s very hard to pull off - in the movie it appears effortless.

A couple of very minor quibbles:
- India Habitat Centre appears to have been passed off as Delhi University
- Saffron party workers attacking peaceful demonstrators at India Gate? In the age of 24 hour television, sending a martyr’s mother into a coma would be an absolute PR disaster !
- Sue is shooting an entire historical documentary with a single camera and no back up unit? Chalo maaf kiya – creative license!

There is a lot more I would like to write about the film but shall wait until more of us have seen it!

I would give Rang De Basanti a 5 star rating for its thought, its passion, its careful crafting and overall entertainment value. Go see it as soon as you can beg, borrow or steal tickets!

Also read: the official JAM review by Krishna Rao, here

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Happy Blog Birthday

Youthcurry is now one year old. Well, technically 1 year and 4 days old so this post comes slightly late. But a milestone is a milestone, and a good time to stop and reflect. So, here are some reflections.

Why I started blogging
The question is: why didn't I start blogging earlier! Well, the answer is the few blogs I had come across were typical personal journals with illuminating entries like: "I ate X for breakfast and Y for lunch".

Why would I want to start sharing information like that with total strangers?

Well, gradually I realised blogging did not mean 'pathetic personal journal'. I was especially intrigued by the idea of using a blog to organise my thoughts on a 'specific' subject.

"Write on a subject you truly love - or something you are an expert in" was the advice all 'how to start blogging' tutorials had to offer. So I chose 'youth'. I mean sure I had studied economics and once attended a wine tasting but I certainly could not pass off as an 'expert' in those subjects!

Besides, youth was:
a) related to my line of work; making blogging feel less like timepass and more like a professional activity
b) a wonderfully broad area of expertise!!

The first post was the *most* difficult of all. I simply could not figure out where to start. Then, I chanced upon a report on Indian youth in Brand Equity which declared:""Gen Y is passe, say hello to the iGeneration or as they prefer to be known, iGen". Yeah right, I said to myself - and was stirred into writing this in response.

There has been no looking back since.

Writing is a discipline
And blogging is a tool that helps enforce it! You see everyday I would have several ideas, barely 1% of them ever got written as articles. In one year of Youthcurry, 245 such ideas were actually converted into blogposts. Which is amazing!

The other thing about blogging is that when you get a thought you can simply put it down, without agonising over the opening sentence, the word limit, whether it fits into a certain publication.

In effect you write with a more 'karmayoga' kind of attitude. Without worrying about the final result. Or whether you will be able to find and refer to this piece of writing 3 months from now....Because that 'labelling' and 'filing' is something that naturally occurs.

Comments or no comments?

When I started Youthcurry I decided to allow feedback - but not to reply. Replying, I felt took energy away from writing. Many commenters therefore dubbed be a 'blogsnob'.

Well, later I did change my view on that although I still don't reply to each and every comment. But I do read them all and note the feedback.

In fact feedback has, on more than one occassion helped me to polish up a blogpiece with additional perspective and/or facts before it's published in the mainstream. So you could say I sometimes use my blog to 'test market' my writing!

The good, the bad and the ugly
Blogging also brought me into contact with hundreds of strangers - most of them nice, decent, rational human beings. But there were also the anonymice who left comments of a distasteful and personal nature. So I stopped anonymous comments.

Then IIPM happened. I learn that there are some people who will stoop to any level . But, there are others who will stand up for what is right. Even though they are in no way connected, nor do they stand to benefit. And that re-affirmed my basic faith in human nature!

A birthday gift!
Youthcurry was featured in the January edition of Fast Company magazine. Feels cool to be one of the three Indian business-related blogs taken note of.

What's more this blog recently crossed 225,000 visits!! I am humbled and honoured... And happy! That my writing could reach out to so many of you; and bring you back for more

Thank you, all! For stirring up Youthcurry; for dropping by to taste it. For helping to bring it to boil. Looking forward to more spice and sizzle in the year to come!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Inner Voice - II

In my last post I wrote about two unusual career-related decisions:
a) Five IITians entering politics
b) A consultant chucking his job to become a full time writer.

While both decisions are guided by an 'inner voice', clearly what the voice is saying are different things.

What the writer hears is: "Take a risk and make a career out of your natural talents." His gamble is purely on himself.

What the budding politicians hear is: "Serve your country. Give back to your countrymen". They have no natural 'aptitude' or talent for this. In that sense their decision is far riskier and idealistic. And open to ridicule as well.

Just being IITians does not automatically ensure these young men will make better or more honest politicians. But it does not mean they need to be condemned or written off before they start (reference: some of the comments to my last post ).

There is a case to be made for youth and idealism. Spending 10 years working in Bell Labs and then entering politics would not make these young men any the wiser or more effective.

We get what we deserve
Indian politics is badly in need of fresh blood. Because the current crop is teeming with rotten apples.

As the Association for Democratic Reform observed during the Bihar elections: Affidavits filed with the Election Commission one in three candidates fielded by major political parties had chargesheets pending against them.

So like I said, the road ahead for Paritrana is very very difficult but let's give them some time and room to make a few mistakes.

Otherwise, we have no business sighing about dynastic rule or criminalisation of politics.

What the party stands for
Jahaan tak rahi ideology ki baat, here's what their website (which appears to have been fixed) has to say:

Sabhi sukhi hon (All should be happy)
Sukh ka mool samriddhi hai (The root of happiness is prosperity)
Samriddhi ka mool rajya hai (The root of prosperity is the governance)
Rajya ka mool dand hai (The root of good governance lies in the system of reward and punishment)

Their website further explains: In less organized society the punishing side of Dand predominates. In more organized society the reward side of Dand predominates. In any case it is Dand that rules. The role of the System, the Government, the State, or that of a King is to "regulate" Dand, not to hold it. And when Dand is not properly regulated it destroys the State and its people. That's what has happened in past and is happening in the present society.

Now an economist may argue this is simplistic but so far I see no trace of rabid Hindu nationalism - the variety that excludes other communities.

Yes, they've used a quote from the Rig Veda on their website. Why should that 'offend' anyone? It is a part of our common heritage - whatever faith we may belong to today.

The tragedy is that unlike the Greek, Roman or Egyptian civilisations ours did not die out... So any reference to collective wisdom of the past becomes 'anti-secular', anti-the-idea-of-a-modern-India.

There, writing that one line I know will invite comments about me being a Hindu fundamentalist. Which is as offensive as people saying that all Muslims who take pride in aspects of their culture or religion are supporters of Taliban or Bin Laden or whatever.

Getting back to the original topic - the IITians joining politics. My lengthy defence of a group of people I do not know personally is based merely on a matter of principle. Everybody deserves a chance.

Of course, politicians must be accountable, whether they are cowherds or IITians. Magar abhi to innings shuru hui hai... what follows may be a series of ducks or some brilliant centuries.

Let's wait and watch.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Inner Voice: Can you hear it?

"Mani Ratnam's Yuva is turning real, with five IITians deciding to join mainstream politics", reports TOI.

The party - Paritrana - was launched in Jodhpur today. Paritrana means 'complete relief from various causes of distress and that is what we want to do for our people'.

Brave. Foolish. Idealistic. All of that - and more.

Tanmay Rajpurohit, who's done his MTech from Georgia Tech after a BTech (Aerospace) from IIT B is the party President. Other office bearers include Ajit Shukla, Smit Bisen, Chandrashekhar and Bharat Sundaram - all IIT B and IITK graduates.

Says Shukla,"My inner voice told me I should invest in my efforts in country instead of making my pocket heavier... People think we are crazy so much so that our families have also failed to understand our motto, but we won't give up."

Deadly thing, this inner voice. That's why most folks pretend they can't hear it. Or choose to drown it out. Because listening to it may mean acting in ways which are strange and unacceptable in society.

Of course the families of these young men would be upset. IIT kya is liye bheja tha? But as Mahatma Gandhi once said: "There are moments in your life when you must act, even though you cannot carry your best friends with you. The 'still small voice' within you must always be the final arbiter when there is a conflict of duty".

Which, ultimately, is what these young men have done.

Two days ago another young man was facing a similar conflict. He too responded to his inner voice and decided to chuck what some would call a 'dream job'. To pursue his dream of being a full time writer.

This is what IIM A grad Sidin Vadukut had to say about his decision on his blog:

Dear All,
Finally after weeks of contemplation and thought and watching Friends reruns I have decided to finally do it. A few days from now I will cease to be a consultant. Instead I will be a writer.

As we speak an email is hurtling its way across the nation to my HR and MD indicating my imminent departure from AT Kearney. From next Friday I will be a free bird and will immediately embark on a book, freelancing, columning and anything else I can force people to hire my writing skills for.

The reasons are numerous. But in the end I decided I needed to do what I was happiest doing...

For the amazingly talented guy who penned the now-classic Travails of Single South Indian Men writing is that source of happiness.

And yet it will not be easy. Because writing pays far far less than consulting. Because at times the pressure to churn out publishable material makes an exhilarating activity a task like any other.

Because staying motivated and free of self doubt is always a challenge. One that I am sure both Sidin and the 5 young men at Paritrana will meet head on.

Have you tuned in to your inner voice lately? If you have everything and still feel empty inside, it might be time to slow down. Stop. And listen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hot chocolate Lux

First, they put Shahrukh Khan in a bathtub . Now, they slather Kareena Kapoor with chocolate paint.

Both, ostensibly, to celebrate '75 years of Lux soap'. And beyond the column-inches these activities may generate, neither is going to do anything for the brand in the long run.

The Lux strategy is especially confused and confusing. The brand is being stretched across the entire customer spectrum. So there's a soap cake being sold for 13 bucks and a White Spa body wash costing Rs 70.

A new 'chocolate seduction' soap.
A 'sandalwood + honey' variant.
A purple 'Aromatic Glow' variant.

The idea appears to be: ek hi teer se saare competitors ko maar do. But that usually doesn't work.

A single brand can't be a Lux AND a Palmolive Aromatherapy AND a Santoor AND in liquid form, an economical alternative to Bath & Body Works.

And this is especially applicable if the brand reworks only its image and not the formulation.

No seduction here
Yes, I actually bought the Lux chocolate soap. My verdict: Melody may be chocolatey, Lux still isn't.

The shape, look and feel is very nice but the soap SMELLS like any old regular Lux soap. So you never feel seduced by the 'chocolate' element.

Fragrance is in my opinion far more integral to a soap's appeal than how it looks. And for those who think that a chocolate smell in soap is unappealing - think again!

Try any foreign cocoa butter lotion. Or if you are in Bangalore's Garuda mall check out the shop on the first floor which sells 'hand made' bath products.

The delicious smell wafts into your nose while you're on the floor above! Everything in that shop is abslutely fascinating. The chocolate soap is chopped off for you from a cake-like brick. Looks good enough to eat...

The only sad bit is the company is from the UK and insists on charging UK prices. An 800 rupee soap was a bit much - even in the name of indulgence. You feel like the soap would have to be guarded and sparingly used. And what if it melts in the soapdish and turns into mush?

Ha, you can see how hard I had to work to convince myself it wasn't worth buying. Now that is what I call chocolate seduction.

Eat your heart out, Kareena!

Monday, January 16, 2006

10 pm deadline: concert killjoy

A concert featuring 19 artists - the who's who of Indipop. Plus Shaggy. The Big Idea: a 12 hour blast

Sadly, the 10 am to 10 pm concert organised by Channel [V] on Sunday, 15th January at the Andheri Sports Complex failed to rock Mumbai. Entry was free against college I cards but right until 4 pm there was a sparse audience of about 200.

After that, junta started coming in. But at the end of the day, a concert that had every artist from Euphoria to Jal to Kailash Kher, managed to draw not more than a crowd of 2000.

So what went wrong? Not enough publicity, for one. Plus, the heat played spoilsport. Braving the mid-day Mumbai sun, even in January, is not very pleasant. A similar show in Delhi would have made more sense.

Now had the concert been held from 6 PM to 6 AM it would have been a surefire hit. But sadly, that will never be. The powers that be would never allow it!

It's way past our national bedtime.

Sound of music - no more
On the one hand, the 10 pm ban on loudspeakers has had a positive fallout. The din during festivals like Ganpati has definitely decreased. Not all organisers comply, but the aam aadmi can then call up the police and ask them to put a stop to the racket. Usually, it works.

However, live concerts having to comply with a 10 pm deadline is absurd. It is medeival and misconceived.

If multiplexes can have movie shows at 11 pm, surely other forms of entertainment should not be curtailed either.

This is how one entrepreneur reportedly got around the problem in Surat during Navratri this year: He constructed an air-conditioned dome covering an area of 30,000 square feet for dancers to perform Garba.

"In keeping with the orders of the Supreme Court, which has banned playing of loud speakers after 10 pm, the dome will be sound proof. This will enable the dancers to dance for a longer time," said Nitin Talati, organiser of Navratri at the AC dome. The dome has a capacity for 7,000 dancers and 5,000 seats.

The sound-proof dome is said to have cost Rs 75 lakhs to construct. One such permanent structure is sorely needed in every major Indian city!

I know Rang Bhavan would not be the same without that open-air feel but since its death as a venue things haven't been the same. A sound-proof Rang Bhavan is better than no Rang Bhavan!

The enjoyment of music is a legitimate economic activity all over the world. Why should the new 'globalised' India be any different?

Update: This year visitors to the usually noisy Glastonbury music festival in the UK partied way past the deadline with wireless headphones. Mid-day asked assorted noise-makers - rockers, baraatis, clubbers - whether they'd be happy with such an alternative.

The answer so far: no. In fact last year a dandiya organiser in Borivili did switch off live music at 10 pm and offer junta a chance to continue swaying to the tune of headphones. 50% of the dancers hung up their sticks and left.

But who knows, we may yet overcome technophobia. And the day will come when dandiya lovers will shop for 'metching hedphons'!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mumbai Marathon 2006

27,000 runners participated in the marathon this year. Right from 6:30 in the morning the Azad maidan was abuzz with activity. People looking for directions at the huge venue, plastering bibs overs their chests, spectators lining up at the start and finish lines with pom poms and balloons.

The marathon has become another of Mumbai's very own festivals.

- pics and report:

In three short years the Mumbai marathon has become a giant event attracting the old and young, fit and physically challenged. Which, I think, is quite an achievement.

There is something about a marathon that fires up the imagination. Can you really run 21 km, 14 km or even just 7?? You decide to, as a personal challenge.

The fact that your running will contribute in some small way to a charity is an added incentive. In 2004, Rs 1.5 crores was raised through the Mumbai marathon. In 2005, it was 4 crores. This year the figure is expected to be far higher.

Not that it has been easy. The first year that the idea was mooted my friend and batchmate Venkat Krishnan was running around in circles trying to get celebs and corporate types to sign up to run and add some glamour to the event. Because glamour = media coverage = more participation = more funds raised.

Venkat runs Give Foundation, an NGO for NGOs which handles the entire charity aspect of the marathon.

Bhala teri company meri company se...
One of the strategies which has worked brilliantly is the "Corporate Challenge". Playing on the need companies feel to be seen as do-gooders, by their own employees and other stakeholders, the Mumbai marathon invites a select group of high profile companies to put together a team of 30 employees to run.

The company pays Rs 1.5 lakhs (at the minimum) while each runner raises pledges from family, friends and co-workers. Many companies also make matching contributions.

Of course, the company gets tax benefits. And a rah rah, wah wah team building exercise as well.

It's a win-win situation for all, I would say. A friend who ran last year (whose pledge I contributed to) said she got deeply involved in the charity she was raising money for. "I could have just pledged my own money, but the process of convincing others to support my cause raised awareness for the NGO. And it felt like I was doing something more than just signing a cheque."

Acchhi baat hai. But on the other hand there are folks like this in the fray. One consulting company flew down its young and fit GOMBAs (Grossly Overpaid MBAs) from locations around the country and put them up at Taj Land's End. Only to run for the Mumbai marathon.

"Agar McKinsey kar raha hai to hamein bhi karna hai" kind of an attitude. Which charity are you supporting?"United Way..." What do they do? "Pata nahin."

Of course the end justifies the means. But on the other hand, adding up the money spent on ferrying the runners and of course, rehne ka, khaane ka in a 5 star hotel... You wonder, wouldn't it make more economic sense to just make a LARGE donation?

Maybe, but it makes business sense only if you're SEEN pounding the pavements alongside the other yuppies. It's never about ability to give - it's about igniting the desire to do so.

Traditionally, Indians have donated to temples, or to community causes. The very idea of 'giving' to a cause or an institution for the public good is a new one.

Events like Mumbai marathon and organisations like GIVE are helping that culture take root. More power to the people behind them. And no, I did not run this year. Next time? I promise to seriously think about it!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mobile Gaming: Too many 'wrong numbers'

It's being touted as the Next Big Thing. But how big depends on which numbers you believe. And there are a LOT of different figures floating around right now.

Yesterday ET
declared: "Paid download figures for mobile games are around 600,000 a month but it could be anything between 50-60% more".

Huh? Why can't ET arrive at a fixed figure for number of paid downloads after speaking to all mobile operators? I can understand operators overstating downloads - why would they understate them by 50% ??

Incidentally, on 22 Nov 2005, Hindu Businessline reported 450,000 downloads a month. "And it is growing by 30-40 per cent". Annually, or monthly? Must be the latter if it's 600,000 less than 45 days later - which is impressive.

Perspective, please
Hutch says that it has had a 50 fold rise on downloads (from 2200 per month in Feb 2005 to 120,000 per month currently). But while growth is heady the numbers are chickenfeed compared to ringtone downloads - 300,000 a DAY.

That's about 9 million downloads a month.

Of course the average ringtone costs Rs 10-15 while the average game costs Rs 50. Still 80% of Value Added Services revenue come from ringtone and caller tunes as of now; games accounts for 2-8%.

In light of that statistic this statement by Business Standard does not make sense: "Within a year, the market (for mobile games in India) has expanded from a mere Rs 25 crore to at least Rs 80 crore in 2005".

3rd standard mathematics problem: The ringtone market in 2005 was estimated at Rs 150 crores (a figure that appears correct given the no of downloads X Rs 10-15 per download formula).

8% of Rs 150 crores? Closer to 12 crores than 80 crores!

CIOL on the other hand estimates (correctly, I think) that the market size of wireless/mobile games in India was US $3 million (Rs 13.5 crores) in 2004. They explain how the figure was arrived at:

It is estimated that, on average, there are 200,000 downloads of games via GPRS network of the cellular mobile players - Orange, Airtel, Idea, and BPL. The market size estimation assumes an average charge of Rs 50 per download.

Elementary, my dear Watson. Maybe all journalists should be put through a compulsory course in addition and multiplication!

And oh, somewhere in the equation lie another 15 million free game downloads in the CDMA space.

More maths lessons
Sorry for throwing all these figures at you - honestly I am the last person to show off when it comes to mathematics (my worst subject at school). But bear with me, there is a point in all this somewhere.

Currently India has approximately 76 million mobile-phone subscribers .

The question is - how many have GPRS/ java/ colour screen handsets? Pyramid Research, an Economist Group company estimates that "almost a third of Indian mobile users are restricted from gaming due to a lack of sophisticated handset availability".

The Pyramid survey shows that around 32% of cellphone users in India play games on their mobiles - double the UK figure. Obviously these are pre-loaded games like Snake, given that we don't see corresponding figures of downloads.

Again I fail to understand how this FE journalist concluded that "Indian mobile gaming market constitutes 5% of the world share".In 2004 the mobile gaming market in China ALONE topped $98 million.

Arun Gupta, COO Mauj Telecom says, "With the introduction of faster networks and colour java handsets becoming more affordable, the Indian mobile gaming market is expected to grow tenfold in five years."

Fair enough - sounds entirely plausible. But according to a research by In-Stat/MDR , the Indian mobile gaming market is projected to grow to $336 million by 2009.

From $3 million in 2004 to $ 336 million is um... just not going to happen. The analysts are in the business of making dizzying projections - the figures get printed - everyone feels good.

It's like the astrologer who makes yearly predictions. No one checks back on the 99 things he predicted which did NOT come true (I distinctly remember one gent who predicted on Jan 1 2005 that Salman and Aishwarya would get back together..)

Magar agar ek bhi prediction sahi nikli - ya 50% bhi sahi nikli - both astrologer and analyst ki lottery lag gayi!

Who's playing
Back to the gaming conundrum. You and me know ringtones are huge - everyone has them. But games? Ask 10 people around you and it's unlikely that any has downloaded a mobile game.

Survey after survey by JAM magazine confirms that the 15-22 year old India metro-based youth is not an avid mobile gamer - at least not of the download variety.

Why? For one, they aren't impressed with the quality of games on offer. Most Indian developers are churning out a large quantity of games but there's no one game that's proved addictive enough to spread by word-of-mouth and become a must-have.

Secondly, Rs 50 (going upto Rs 150) is not a sum you want to throw away on a dud game download. Earlier operators did allow you to download a trial version of a game for Rs 20 but that seems to have been scrapped.

So neither do we have a killer app in mobile gaming, nor a price so low that the average Anand doesn't think twice before making an impulse download.

Games at throwaway prices (I'm thinking Rs 10) could expand downloads significantly. Mobile operators know better than anyone else that once they've hooked you, they've cooked you. That, and they would need to identify a few 'killer games' which junta would want to own.

The combination of affordability + desirability is crucial.

The Action shifts
The interesting thing is, currently B and C towns are driving a large portion of the growth in value-added services for the mobile industry. Techtree reports:

In such towns, mobile entertainment cost is almost considered as mainstream entertainment, because of the lack of an alternative."

Which is why Mauj has just launched mobile games in Hindi and 7 regional languages including Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Urdu. The move is targeted at regional audiences, as only 3 to 5 percent of the populace is familiar with English.

The 3 games developed by Mauj - "Mastibhari Udaan," "Saahas Ka Yudh," and "Jaanbaaz".

This is also why Bollywood based games are finding favour with developers. According to Mid-day: On average, a movie sells 7,000 to 10,000 copies with more popular movies like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun even going up to 25,000 downloads. The Sholay game, which kicked off the Bollywood-mobile gaming frenzy has over 50,000 downloads so far.

Again, you and me would probably not download these games - but their appeal to the large mass of users is high. So they do make good business sense.

Among the SEC A and B metro crowd Nokia's Ngage was high on the most-wanted list last year. But now, the lack of camera and FM have reduced its appeal.

Bottomline: Mobile gaming will grow in popularity - since the base is small to begin with the growth will appear spectacular. But better - and more affordable - games are the need of the hour.

And honest statistics derived from common sense calculations need to be used by the breathless reporters helping to hype up the phenomenon. Wrong numbers are inevitable in telecom. They should not be, in journalism!

Although, as I type those words, I worry... Kya mere saare calculations correct hain?


Monday, January 09, 2006

Baba Ramdev ki ajab dastaan

I have a healthy dislike of gurujis and babajis of all ilks. Top of my list are the miracle workers who claim to cure uncurable diseases - they so obviously prey on the helpless and the hopeless, people clutching at straws of hope.

Second on my list are the preachers who say recite this mantra or embrace this form of worship and thou shalt attain salvation. As if.

Both of the above, invariably, get drunk on the money and power that fame and following brings. And then come the whispers of sexual favours, molestation, even murders involving the 'Holy One'. Does not sound God-like to me!

However a New Age calls for New Age Gurus. This guru is one who offers more of practical and psychotherapeutic advice than deep religious or spiritual fundas. And in a format that's nicely packaged, easy to digest.

The two gurus who fit the bill are Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Swami Ramdev .

The key take away from Sri Sri's 'Art of Living' course is the 'sudarshan kriya' breathing technique while Ramdev is chiefly known for teaching ordinary individuals of varying shapes and sizes all manners of yoga asanas and pranayams.

Art of Living has a more premium brand image while Ramdev has a wide, mass appeal. But both, I think, are doing a great job of delivering ancient Indian wisdom to a modern, skeptical and stressed population.

The Bone of Contention
And now, Ms Brinda Karat is accusing Ramdev of selling 'adulterated' medicines. Financial Express reports:

"We came to know in June-July last year that herbal ayurvedic medicines prepared by Divya Yog Pharmacy, owned by Ramdev, contained animal material and human bones. We then handed over the medicine samples to Department of AYUSH and now they have confirmed our apprehension," she said.

But the swami's followers as well as leaders across the political spectrum have come out in support of Ramdev. Because medicines have never been his primary appeal.

As Acharya Balkrishanji, director of Ramdev's Divya Yog Pharmacy pointed out in an interview with the TOI,"While Swami Ramdev started teaching pranayam about 15 years ago, we started selling medicines only a year and a half back. The turnover is Rs 1 crore annually."

The 'overall assets' of the Divya Yoga Mandir Trust, incidentally, are worth Rs 45 crores.

Sach kya hai?
As of now, Ramdev denies adding animal content to his medicines . What, then, of the samples tested which Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss says contain some ' animal residue'?

And does 'animal residue' necessarily mean 'animal and human bone' as Ms Karat and ex-workers of Ramdev's pharmacy allege?

Dr Madan Gulati, Deputy Director, Ayurveda, UT, said to the Tribune: "Ayurveda is not a system of medicine for vegetarians alone. In fact, it is incomplete without the use of minerals and animal parts. Ayurvedic medicines contain herbs, minerals, shells and corals but there is no place for human bones".

This is what the description on Ramdev's own website states:
Medicine: Divya Arshkalp Vati (for curing piles)
Main Constituents: Pure rashont, termalia, chooti harad, bakayan seed, neem seed, reethatawka, desi kapoor, kaharva, khoonkharaba, makoya,alua, nagdaun etc.

Khoonkharaba? Apparently there is a herb by that name.
What I find more interesting is the "etc". Etc could be anything.

The Solution
If Ramdev stands firm that his medicines do not contain any 'non-veg' content then he has to be able to prove this by getting more samples tested at a nationally recognised laboratory.

If they do contain some 'animal' elements he should simply come out and say: "Some medicines may contain animal content - but they work. You decide if you want to buy them!"

To my mind even that would not pose a problem:
a) as long as no people or animals are actually killed for their bones
b) those buying the medicine are aware of the facts and accept them

When I was growing up 7 Seas Cod liver oil was a much favoured prescription for 'health and vitality'. My brother and I consumed those yucky transparent yellow capsules for years. (God forbid if one opened in your mouth before swallowing!)

And this, in a family that has always been strictly 'vegetarian'.

But then, the question arises - would Ramdev's medicines qualify as 'ayurvedic' if they contain animal / human bone?

What is ayurveda?
The big mystery today is - what is an ayurvedic product in the first place. My first memory of a product that unabashedly called itself thus: Vicco vajradanti toothpowder and toothpaste. "Ayurvedic jadi bootiyon se bana sampoorn swadeshi..." went the jingle.

Then, multinationals discovered Ayurveda.

a) For tax purposes: If an OTC offering or cosmetic product is labelled 'ayurvedic' - there are several commercial benefits.

The most famous example is Vicks Vaporub which uses the exact same formula in America and India, except here it lists the Indian (herbal) ingredients on the label. The company was able to establish that all of its ingredients were listed in traditional Ayurvedic texts.

b) Customer appeal: Companies realised that any product labelled ayurvedic or herbal connoted 'natural' and 'chemical freee' to the customer. The Hindu reports that the Rs 300-crore segment is perceived to be "the hottest and the fastest growing". And hence everything from toothpaste to shampoo to face cream went ayurvedic with a vengeance.

So we saw new and amazing products like Clinic Plus Ayurvedic Hair Wash with natural ingredients such as neem, tulsi and cinnamon leaf oil...

Do a few drops of one or the other plant extract make a product 'ayurvedic'? How herbal do you need to be to qualify as truly herbal??

Someone, somewhere urgently and immediately needs to set clear and definite standards for what constitutes 'ayurveda'. Both in medicine and cosmetics. Or, in the name of ancient India, consumers will continue to be taken for a ride. Maybe one they are enjoying - but a ride nevertheless.

Meanwhile the Brinda Karat vs Ramdev slugfest continues... And at the end of it all, both will come out unscathed. Looking good in the eyes of their respective followers. Make no bones about it!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Steve & Barry's in India

Steve & Barry’s, a US chain catering to collegians, is soon launching in India, according to HT

"The buzz is that it (Steve & Barry's) has recruited five people from Shoppers Stop. The US chain is offering a 40 to 50 per cent rise in salaries and the promise of a global experience".

Pardon my ignorance - I had never heard of Steve & Barry's. But an apparel chain catering to collegians piqued my interest and a google search yielded a wealth of information. ABC News provided the best summary:

In the summer of 1979, 15-year-old buddies Steve Shore and Barry Prevor started out in business with a megaphone and piles of excess-inventory T-shirts they sold for $1 each at flea markets across Long Island.

In college, they opened their first Steve & Barry's University Sportswear store at the University of Pennsylvania, charging fire-sale prices for T-shirts and sweat shirts emblazoned with college names.

Their low cost, casual clothing chain moved off campus for the first time in 1998 to a mall in Auburn Hills, Mich., and underwent a rapid expansion. Their 100th store opened in this Rochester suburb in November and they expect to swell to 200 stores inside a year and top 5,000 someday.

100 new stores in 7 years is impressive! The USP of Steve & Barry's appears to be 'cheap and cheerful'. Everything from cargos to jeans and sweatshirts sells for under $ 10.

Says co-founder Prevor: "McDonald's changed hamburgers, Home Depot changed hardware. Basically we're saying it's the same thing with clothes. There's no reason people have to pay five times the price for the items we're selling."

How do they do it
Analysts estimate that Steve & Barry's markups are just 2 - 20 %, far below the apparel industry's 54 % average. The secret of being able to sell cheap is buying cheap. Apparel Resources says: The company is an expert in international tariffs and sources merchandise from America, Canada, Central America, India, Mexico, Pakistan and a few other countries.

Their other successful business management stint includes purchasing merchandise off-season for a better price and allows manufacturers ship in full truckloads.

Apparently 40% of Steve & Barry's merchandise is now sourced from India. So it makes good sense to sell some of that stuff in India as well.

India already has an 'export surplus' type markets - Fashion Street, Sarojini Nagar. But now the bargain basement shopping concept has been picked up by organised retail. There are the 'family type' places like Big Bazaar, the reasonably-popular-with-youth Vishal Megamart and the most promising of the lot - Pantaloons 'Fashion Station'.

Fashion Station is a first of its kind fashion outlet spread over 15,000 sq ft and is located in the NCR region’s largest mall. The outlet will house a wide selection of trendy apparel for today’s fashion conscious people at value prices. The USP of the store is "Fashion that fits your budget".

A good concept but not many outlets so far. The only Fashion Station I know of in Mumbai is in Mulund.

So yeah, I think Steve & Barry's has great potential to become a popular youth shopping destination. 'Everything in this store Rs 499 or less' is an unbeatable proposition. You'd go there once at least to see what they stock.

Like McDonald's 8 rupee icecream, they should consider offering a ridiculously low price on a few basic items. 'T shirts for Rs 99', anyone? If quality is decent - public will come. In hordes.

The college sweatshirt
One of the items Steve & Barry's appears to be famous for is college sweatshirts. In the US Steve & Barry's has licensed apparel from 350 colleges - the University of Michigan is their best seller nationally. According to Forbes magazine, today college apparel is less than a third of sales, but it still drives Steve & Barry's image.

I can't help wondering whether they will attempt similar licensing deals in India. Wonder what the Principal of St Stephen's or St Xavier's would say to such a proposal. Nope, can't see it happening. Imagine the kind of internal and external debate that would take place! The TV news channels would have fodder for weeks!

In price and value conscious India I think a Steve & Barry's kind of mindset will click. As the success of dollar stores has shown, people are willing to make impulse purchases at psychologically appealing price points.

The other, more favoured method of building a brand is to advertise a lot and then hope people walk in and buy your over-priced goods. That's what Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West, Guess and a host of international apparel/ accesory brands have been trying. It appears to me, without much success.

At Steve & Barry's the advertising budget is less than 1% of revenue. With that kind of attitude you'd better get your merchandise and pricing mix right!

A bit of friendly advice: don't sell us bottom-of-the-barrel stuff that has been rejected by the rest of the world. We Indians are difficult-to-please customers - don't take us for granted.

Humko style bhi, size bhi, aur sasta bhi mangta hai. Tall order - but then you are Steve & Barry's. Surprise us!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Amity Business School sued

A student suing an educational institute is a rare and unheard of phenomenon in India. But, with education increasingly being regarded as a 'consumer product', we are going to see more of it happen.

6 former students of Amity Business School have taken the bschool to court following the withdrawal of AICTE approval to Amity's flagship course - the PGDM.

A case against Amity Business School was filed in the District Consumer Redressal Forum, Mehrauli, New Delhi which hears matters between Rs 1-5 lakhs on 29th November, 2005.

The complaint states: "That the applicant/ cancellation has no fault in the withdrawal of approval by AICTE to the respondent no 1."

"That the applicant/ complainant suffered the loss of a year of his career and valuable time, as well as mental and physical harassment by the respondents."

In addition to refund of fees paid advocate Naveen Kumar is seeking compensation of Rs 100,000 for loss of a year, financial, educational, mental and physical harassment by the respondents (Amity Business School).

That's an excerpt from an article published in the latest JAM magazine. You can read the full story here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

B school salary figures: Reality Check

The campus placement season is coming towards me like a drunk and unbathed Gulshan Grover staggering towards a cowering and trembling girl who took refuge from the rain in one of his luxurious bedrooms.

That's how IIM Calcutta student Abhinav Jain describes the feeling of hurtling towards the 'final destination'. The all-important, all- essential,all-you-really-wanted-from-the-MBA: the Placement.

In the movies , the girl generally pulls out a seven inch knife from the apple basket lying on the side table , positions it right over her tummy and yells "Kutte , ek kadam bhee aage badaya to main khud ko khatm karr dungi". But I do not feel any amount of artillery positioned over any part of my anatomy can halt the oncoming placements .

Like it or not, that ‘these-are-the-best-days-of-my-life’ feeling you get in year 2 of the MBA is now, inevitably tinged with the worry of what is to come. Will I get placed on day Zero, day One or still be hanging in there like a monkey on day Three?

Well, if placement details so far are any indication, this year you can expect far fewer monkeys. And far more peanuts. Make that pistas and badaams, actually.

The Goa Institute of Management (GIM) is one of the first b schools to announce its complete placement picture this year. The average salary offered at GIM increased this year to Rs. 5.66 lakh as against Rs 3.77 lakh last year. 71 companies were scheduled to participate in the placement process but only 38 companies could recruit students.

Which is great news. The economy is booming, the job market is robust. You are lucky to be passing out this year, folks.

But, a word of caution. Let’s not make placements into an Olympic style competition. This is not a race to be won by any one institute. It’s just about getting off the starting block in the Marathon of life.

And yet, b school after b school – including the best of them – pad up the salary figures in their press releases. As do companies themselves, when making their offers.

The biggest culprit: the concept of CTC or ‘cost to company’.

An annual package of “12 lakhs” (CTC) offered by a well known foreign bank last year actualy included:
* Cash component of salary
* The rental value of the chummery (shared) accommodation provided
* Interest on the deposit paid for your flat
* Allocated cost of furnishings
* Company’s contribution towards your provident fund.
* Your contribution towards PF
... and of course, the taxes that you have to pay.

The joke went, even the toilet paper provided in the loos was accounted for in your package. Certainly, the cost of training in the UK was factored in. So, in hand, the MBA could expect to get about Rs 35-40,000. Which, although excellent, was far less than what the hype would suggest.

One accounting method, please
With tax rules changing, many companies are expected to do away with the CTC concept and offer all-cash-component salaries this year. Which may make the job of adding up apples and oranges - when it comes to salary packages - that much easier.

Either way, b schools must adopt a uniform method of ‘accounting’ for their placements. If one institute reports ‘CTC’ while another refers to actual cash component, there is ample scope for confusion.

Secondly there is the issue of ‘incentives’. A sign-on amount is one thing but otherwise a bonus is linked to performance. How can that possibly be predicted and included as part of ‘salary’?

What’s more, many companies, especially in industries such as insurance, financial products and marketing clearly specify a variable package. Say Rs 2.2 lakhs will be ‘fixed’ while Rs 1.8 lakhs is based on your meeting certain target. Which means it’s more like a commission.

Hence referring to such a package as Rs 4 lakhs p.a. is misleading.

Then, of course, there are blatant lies. A click of a mouse and suddenly figures get transformed. The main thing is that if institute X has released its figures, then we have to look equally good. Or better.

Institute X may have indulged in a bit of exaggeration to begin with - that gets compounded as institute Y also decided to add some lipstick, powder and paint before facing the world.

And so the chain reaction continues. While b school community is not fooled by tall tales – the truth is generally known - the real loser is the prospective student. He who takes the very decision to pursue the MBA based on these fantastic figures...

Will b schools come together and solve this very real problem?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Expect the unexpected

There is something about a New Year which fills people with new hope and resolve. My uncle has but one - hope and resolve. His daughter Simi must get married this year.

She is just what your Great Indian Matrimonial Ad ordered. Professionally qualified and homely. Yup she works at a major MNC but can make killer naan and chhole with her own two hands. Pretty hands, I might add.

Simi is modern, yet traditional. Meaning she is no behenji but has never had a boyfriend. Why? Coz she didn't want to get into faltu chakkars. And believed mom n dad would do a far better job of finding the right guy when it was time to make the choice.

Well, they're trying. Dilli mein baithe hue mummy-papa kaafi ads daal chuke hain. Bakras are shortlisted and forwarded to Simi - who's in Mumbai - for a face to face.

One could write a soap opera about the kind of namunas she has met so far. Oh, even fixing a meeting is high drama. A recent episode...

The guy works in Seepz, she in Andheri.
"So, shall we meet on the weekend?"
"No I live in Vashi. I can't come this side on the weekend."
"OK, how about after work on day - say 6 o'clock."
"Um... my bus leaves at 6.30. How about 4 pm?"
"Ok.. where?"
"Haan but I will be able to spend only 15 minutes".

Whaaaat? Yeh shaadi ka decision le raha hai ya alu-pyaaz khareed raha hai??

Simi has reached a difficult decision. She will have to make some efforts on her own. Register on matrimonial sites. Go through profiles. And most importantly, look around her own office to see if 'Mr Right' might be right there. Waiting in vain so far.

Yes, life is unexpected. Things never do work out the way we plan. On Jan 1 newspapers and magazines recklessly predict the next big superstars, the next big technology. Only to find the next big thing sneak up quietly, without warning.

Let's hope Simi's Mr Right sneaks up on her. Quietly and without warning.

And oh, she has finally opened her mind to marrying someone who is not a bania. That, incidentally was a key qualifying criteria so far. "Good for you," I add. "There are too few good looking guys in our community anyways..."

She giggles, "Haan they look good only on their resumes! Actually jab milo to..."

Bhagwan kare Simi ko ladka mil jaaye. Aur jaldi. Another year and mera mehenga wala lehenga will go right out of fashion!

Wish you all a rocking 2006. May strange new thoughts and unexpected actions make it more interesting than you imagined possible!

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth