Thursday, January 25, 2007

Email of the week - II

This is an email I received a couple of months ago. But I thought it was a refreshing take on the whole b school brouhaha. What's more, there's a topical edge to the subject raised, in light of the film 'Guru', which is inspired by the life of an extraordinary man who thought exactly the way.

The 'Shell' job he spurned, being the equivalent of an 'IIM type' job in his time...

hi Rashmi,

I am a final year Bachelor of Management Studies student from Mumbai. I am taking the CAT' 06 in November and had a few questions. I would be really glad if you could answer them.

I found out that the average salary of an IIM-A gradutate is around 8 lacs. I do not have any work experience but I still feel that I could earn a lot more than that in a few years after completing BMS by starting my own business or joining my dad's business depending on where my passion lies.

Don't you think one can make more money by starting their own business where they have full control and freedom inspite of the risks involved?

I would love to have financial security which a job would provide but a pay of Rs 8 lakhs per annum is nothing great in my mind and considering the background I come from, I don't think a pay of that kind would offer me much financial security. I know you are not a education or career counsellor but I thought you would be the perfect person to answer this because you have studied in IIM-A and now you have your own business.

Ultimately, even i want to start my own business. Can you tell me how an IIM experience will help me in doing that?"

My reply: The question is, would it help or hinder you in starting your own business? Assuming you make it to the IIMs in the first place.

Not making it - or even trying for it - may actually be a good thing. It could mean you're a streetsmart person who can't be bothered with swotting over the CAT exam... when you can be out there doing 'bijness'. But the fact that you are asking these questions indicates a level of self-doubt. So here are some general observations on entrepreneurship and MBA.

There are MBAs who are successful as entrepreneurs but it is a fact that the vast number of highly successful entrepeneurs are not MBAs.

Coming from a background where the family already owns a business, it is generally easier to visualise a career as an entrepreneur without an MBA. Whereas those who do make it to IIMs and other top b schools generally come from middle class backgrounds. Through a mix of intellect and intensive effort they make it to these institutes, and to them the concept of a job paying Rs 8 lakhs (more, with every passing placement season!) is very attractive.

Yes, at these institutes there are courses and seminars on entrepreneurship. There are even business plan competitions. But, let's face it. The MBA best prepares students to operate within existing frameworks. The most obvious fit is as an expensive cog in a designer corporate wheel.

Secondly, placement is the default option. The reason most aspire for an MBA in the first place. NOT taking placement requires action. It means taking a risk. And that upsets parents and well wishers. But again, those who are truly convinced go ahead and follow their dreams.

There is a trend of b school grads opting out of placement to set up their own enterprise. Last year around 16 students across IIMs opted out, this year 4 IIM A students have spurned PPOs from the likes of Deutsche Bank to set up their own business venture.

But it's still a very small trickle, compared to the overall bschool population.

So the answer is - MBAs become entrepreneurs despite the temptation to 'play safe' and stick to jobs. Lack of family support and more importantly, lack of capital are hurdles. But those with spirit and self-belief overcome these hurdles.

Back to the final year BMS student.
Firstly, an MBA immediately after BMS is quite redundant. It would make sense only after a couple of years experience - either with the family business or running your own enterprise. That's a call you have to make.

The 'own enterprise idea' may not go down well with the family. And it may not take off immediately. But you should stick in there, learn and grow with it.

After 2-3 years, if you feel the need for an MBA, you could consider IIMs. But a 1 year course at an institute like ISB would make a lot more sense. Around 8 students who are part of ISB's class of 2007 are entrepreneurs and most plan to go back to their own business. That kind of profile is unheard of in IIMs.

The other option is a 1 year MBA at INSEAD/ LBS/ IMD, provided you have the money. Again, the idea of pursuing the MBA is to be able to grow one's vision, as often a family concern is stuck in the old pattern of doing things. The focus would be on gaining as much knowledge as possible, as getting a job is not a prime objective.

In case you still feel ki nahin, MBA karna hi hai, abhi karna hai there is the 'Family Business MBA' option. Options include SP Jain, NMIMS and Nirma Institute of Management. FMB programs do not offer placements.

Of the lot, S P Jain has the most hands-on approach. Classes are held 1 week in the month and the rest of the time you are expected to apply what you have learnt in your own business.

In the final analysis the phrase 'I would love to have financial security' is what is creating the dilemma. A 'secure entrepreneur' is an oxymoron. Let go of that desire, believe that you will make it happen. Everything else will follow.

P.S. If you are a young entrepreneur - with or without an MBA - do share your story and any views on this subject. Email Some of these stories will get featured, in a future post!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Riding the wave

The Indian tourism department has shown remarkable alacrity in making hay of the Shilpa Shetty situation. They released an advertisement in the UK which reads:

dear Jane Goody,
Once your current commitments are over, may we invite you to experience the healing nature of India.

Well, now that Ms Goody has been voted off Big Brother, I guess she can take up the offer...

Associating with a current event or controversy is nothing new - people have always done it. It's just that little bit harder though, as the news cycle has shortened considerably. Nothing stays in the headlines more than 48 hours (not even Ash and Abhishek!)

On the other hand, if you can't ride the wave, I guess you just create one. If not a full force tsunami, even little wavelets will do. The latest such example is a new video titled Bhai Tune Pappi Kyun Li by Mika Singh, of Kissa Kiss ka fame. For those who haven't seen it, here's the clip, courtesy Youtube..

Quite amusing, I say!

I know this is really shallow but I thought it was rather funny. I'm not saying anyone deserves to be forcibly kissed... Yet there was something strange about that incident. You could not help feeling Rakhi too was partly to blame. And that's the feeling - right or wrong - that's been played up in the song.

Kis tarah bani ek normal birthday party ek aitihaasik birthday... starts the video. 'Bhai tune pappi kyun li' has the Meet Brothers cheekily asking Mika: Why the hell did you have to kiss her. "Saari duniya chhod ke tujhe wohi bas mili?"

Mooh par cake lagake.. gale lagaya mujhko.. meri hi party mein... kyun uksaaya mujhko? The song goes onto claim kabhi is gaal pe kabhi us gaal pe kar diya kiss... Kya buraai kar di maine... Why the FIR?

And here's the killer portion. A girl wearing a trademark Rakhi Sawant outfit appears on screen in tears...

Mike ne mujhe yahan kiss kiya. yahaan!... honthon pe.. main ek Bhartiya naari hoon.. main gaal par kiss lar sakti hoon.. honthon pe hargiz nahin.

I think poor untalented Mika could never have come up with something so wicked. It's the Meet Brothers handiwork. What's more the tune is actually... quite catchy!

And ah, what timing! Rakhi Sawant is currently stuck in the 'Bigg Boss' house and can do nothing but fume in there. But she has promised to respond with her own video... where she will garland a Mika look-alike with chappals :)

Frankly, a good controversy never hurt anybody. Not Mika, not Rakhi, not Ms Shilpa 'Mummy they are calling me names' Shetty. As K comments, "I wonder if Miss Shetty will end up in a Hollywood production thanks to this fiasco".

At the very least, in the interest of racial harmony, Shilpa might get invited to Buckingham Palace for tea and scones. There, she can enlighten them on the joys of shaking one's hips... And eating with one's fingers!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Work from home

On JAM's Engineering college book project. We need 3-4 engineering/ MBA students who can spare 3 hours a day to work on this project, from wherever they are currently based.

The month long assignment involves compilation of data in a specific format. The accuracy of data is important- hence we want folks who pay attention to detail and won't go about the work mechanically.

Please apply only if you have no exams/ projects etc coming up in the next one month coz we're expecting you to take complete responsibility for your portion of the work.

In addition to an honorarium, you can expect a participation certi from JAM and your name in the book, when it's published in a couple of months time!

Email for full details.

And oh, if you haven't filled in the survey yet, do so here...

And now, 'audiotorials'

We're all familiar with product placements in television. And paid write ups in print masquerading as 'articles'.

But yesterday, for the first time, I learnt there is a radio version. Aapki ladki sayaani Lavanya on Radio City 91.1 FM was indulging in the usual idle chatter.

Then she goes: "Us din main sadak cross kar rahi thi aur mujhe ek ladki dikhi... Uska chehra bada pyaara tha.. aur uski skin bahut smooth aur silky thi."

So apparently she went up and asked her: "What is the secret of your smooth and silky skin?"

And the girl replied "Veet".

Except that on radio it sounded like 'wheat', so I thought maybe this is one of those 'use kitchen ingredients for a home facial' kind of recommendations. It took a while to figure she actually meant the hair removal cream.

Except how this is connected to her face, we don't know. And why would one woman be admiring another woman's smooth and silky arms or legs.

All in all, a very strange and desperate attempt to mix up editorial and advertising in the radio format! But I'm sure, more such 'creativity' will follow...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Email of the Week - 1

I get a lot email. Much of it from people I don't know, looking for advice on careers.

Unfortunately, I can't reply individually. Two reasons:
a) I don't have the time
b) I don't have all the answers.

A couple of times in a month I do write back to a few folks. Depends on when I get time and which queries are genuine. By that, I mean queries which cannot be answered through a quick search on google.

I also get some very strange emails. The kind which make one wonder about the state of the world today. Here is one such...

Title: Need sum help
Sender's identity: withheld

Reason for choosing this email: An example of how NOT to ask someone for help

hi rashmi,

i m a regular reader of ur blog but i dont term myself as a gr8 fan of urs coz there r issues where my views differ totally to that of urs.

well i m here 2day to ask for a help. with 96%tile in cat n with a 2yrs. work ex in tata steel, i expect a fw calls. i have also been called for icfai in hyd n hv to give a presentation there. there r many topics tht they have given but i hv selected 4 of them. they r
1. india china relationship.
2. is there a need for a second green revolution.
3. india in 2050.
4. india us nuclear deal.

now i want ur help to zero in on any topic n ven give me the links for th material.

do it for mr plzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

name, cell no

My comments:
a) Saying you love my blog is not mandatory. It does not increase chances of my replying to you. However, specifying that you're not a fan is still a dumb idea. Whatever happened to tact, diplomacy and politeness? Esp when seeking a favour??

b) I am shocked that someone with a 96 percentile, and impressive work ex should write such an email. Both its tone and content are so immature.

c) What kind of manager will you be tomorrow, if you can't even decide which topic to present on today? Further, you want LINKS on the topic from a third party?? Any number of questions on both competence and ethics come to mind.

But Mr "Gimme Links" is not unique. There are any number of young people out there who should introspect on how to behave appropriately both online and offline. Especially when dealing with people older/ more experienced than themselves. Courtesy and respect will never go out of style. Remember that and you'll get ahead much faster in life.

And maybe, even get a reply from me.

EOL (End of Lecture).

The 'Email of the week' will be published every week on this blog. The emails chosen will help to illustrate a point or discuss a larger issue. Sender's identity will not be revealed. If you happen to be the one whose email has been published here, take this as constructive feedback. It's not personal.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

New age CVs

I recently received an impressive CV for a writing position at JAM. I scanned it quickly and noted several professional and educational qualifications. And then, under 'interests and activities':

Launched a group on as an opportunity to meet like-minded people and enhance my leadership and writing skills in the process.

At first I was a bit amused - it's the first time I had come across someone mentioning starting a yahoogroup as an achievement of sorts. But on second thought, why not? It does show some initiative and leadership. Unless the group was composed exclusively of the initiator's kindergarten classmates.

In fact, I wished the applicant had mentioned the specific yahoogroup so I could check it out...

On a broader note, I wonder whether in times to come people will mention I have '48 fans' and '2162 scraps' on orkut. In certain kinds of jobs - like media - being well networked is an asset, after all!

So perhaps it's time we stopped including hobbies and interests such as 'reading, dancing, painting, cooking...' in resumes. Coz these are mostly fake and/ or pheku.

Reading, for example, should be qualified with the kind of books you read. Or one can safely assume it's Archies double digest and Mumbai Mirror's 'ask the sexpert' in the loo each morning.

And cooking is relevant only if you promise to share your dabba with your colleagues in office. But hey, not if you're the kind who's partial to veggies like turai and tondli...

On a more serious note, given the utter and complete lack of time people have outside their jobs to cultivate esoteric hobbies, it should be perfectly acceptable to list 'sleeping, eating, watching Discovery Travel & Living.'

If honesty really is the best policy...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Shalom India

In Europe, you huff and puff your way up spiral stairways in cathedrals. In India you huff and puff your way down crooked pathways in hill stations. All in search of a view. A 'mountain view' to be more precise. Is it worth it? Usually not. The mist has all but obscured the mountains in this particular instance.

You pause for a while, inhaling the fresh and fragrant Kodaikanal air. Time to trudge back up. Yes, you are now hungry. Very hungry. Which is why little thatched huts have sprung up every 200 metres. Omlet sandwiches and chai form the standard menu.

But wait, there's a more enterprising lady towards the top of the trail. She'll whip up a mean Maggi, a frothy fresh lime soda. Even a falafel or a 'sabich' . Uh oh, wherever there's sabich, the Israelis follow. Rather, wherever there are Israelis the strange stuff they eat finds its way on the menu.

And sure enough, two rugged, dark haired young men and a pretty, blonde haired woman enter the humble restaurant. They want sabich. It's not available. They settle for rice with mix vegetables. One of the guys enacts anti-masala theatre.

"No this one (picking up a green chilli).. last time you put it and I go.. in and out.. in and out.. toilet." Ha ha, the cooking lady laughs. Almost like she does it deliberately.

"How much time you take?" asks the draamebaaz. "We... very hungry.. fifteen minat? I very hungry.. I (rolling eyes) eat this pole." His companions laugh and go sit on the plastic chairs outside.

We're still waiting for the Maggi. Ordered more than fifteen minat ago. I strike up a conversation. "Yes.. we are from Israel," he says in a thick - for lack of a better word - Israeli accent. "We travel across India for one year."

I've been to Goa recently, I say to him. "Many Israelis there."

Actually, I am surprised to see Israelis in Kodai. I thought they essentially came to Goa - for the sun, sand and rave parties. A good - or at least visible - number seem to have adopted the 'dual' lifestyle. Six months in Israel, six months in Goa. In fact, there seem to be numerous Israeli owned businesses - the kind that sell yummy food and other interesting goods at the Saturday night flea market in Arpora.

But Goa does not agree with Dramabhai. "I no like Goa... " he says emphatically."I like Varkkala.. you go Varkkala?"


"Where you from?"


"Oh," he shakes his head." I no like Bombay.. people.. poor people, sleep on road. Very bad."

I agree, yes, it's not a good thing.

"You no feel afraid.. poor people.. they come in your house at night?"

I am a little peeved now., that does not happen. We are mostly safe.

"Very bad .. this poor peoples... what people like you are doing for this?"

I am... getting angry now. I mean, maybe we aren't doing anything - or at least not enough. But it's not like I'm asking what he's doing about the Middle Eastern peace process. Here he is - bumming around my flawed but fun country instead.

The maggi arrives and we get busy slurping it up. It's New Year's eve and I am in no mood to slug it out with this jungli Israeli maanav. We go our separate ways, taking leave abruptly.

Minding your manners
So usme kya galat keh diya usne, you may ask. Well nothing, perhaps. But there are certain unwritten rules when you are a visitor in a foreign country. You try to appreciate the local culture. You find good things to say to random locals. You hold your tongue when you sense unkind words rolling out.

Ah, but these Israelis aren't here for the 'incredible India' experience. They are on quite a different 'trip'. Although it may be wrong to stereotype, cheap drugs are one of the big attractions for young Israelis making their way to India. That may hold true for other nationalities as well, but with Israelis there's another peculiar feature. They tend to form 'communes'.

And I'm not saying this based on a couple of casual encounters, the phenomenon has been well documented.

An interesting article titled 'Israelis invade India' follows 23 year old Shai Levy's post-military service pilgrimage to India. Writer Dikla Kadosh notes:

Levi, 23, came to India to unwind, relax, and forget the horrors he witnessed during the height of the Palestinian intifada, when blood stained the streets of Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods on a regular basis. He came to escape responsibility and the stress of Western life....

As for the connections they make with the Indian culture, Levi characterized them as mostly superficial. Although he found the people to be very open and easy to get along with, he noticed that Israelis tend to keep to their own kind, only interacting with Indians in matters of business. They communicate with Indians in English and barter, sometimes aggressively, over goods.

...Ramesh Choudharg, a room service attendant at the Hare Rama guest house where the Chabad center is located, had mixed feelings about the Israeli guests he encounters. "Sometimes they make big balagan,” he said, using a Hebrew word meaning 'mess'."

Naresh Fernandes, the editor of Time Out Mumbai wrote an article exploring the relationship between Indians and Israelis some years ago. He says:

Driving a hard bargain at the bazaar, he said, is the least of Israelis’ offenses in India. According to him, the perception Indians have of Israelis is that they are only interested in drugs and parties. The post-army twenty-somethings alternate between being lazy idlers, he said, and violent aggressors.

A Britisher whom I chatted up at Goa's Anjuna beach - practically taken over by Israelis - had an interesting observation. 'Norman' is a guy with tattoos all over his body, sitting at a beachside restaurant in an obviously elevated state. He loves to talk - in 10 minutes flat you know his entire life history (or at least the version he finds convenient to share).

Yes, he does drugs, but only to take away the pain of his 'broken back' and his wife who left him for another man and other life issues which require 'herbal medicine'. Given his propensity for story telling, we may have another Shantaram in the making.

But, I digress. The point Norman made about Israelis was this,"They're so aggressive.. so brazen.. they just sit around here with their chillums .. huge ones.. smoking pot in broad daylight." Whereas, we Britishers at least keep up appearances. "We're not so open.. almost inviting trouble.. I don't know how they do it.. how much they pay the cops!"

What's in it for them?

A young rabbi who runs 'Chabad House' in Mumbai, where young Israelis camp en route to Goa or Rajasthan explains...

“They need relief...They come here to do everything the army didn’t allow them to do. Their shoes had to be polished and tied – here they wear sandals. They had to cut their hair – here they grow their hair long.”

Holtzberg is not excusing their behaviour. He just understands the reasons behind it better than the Indians that come into contact with the hordes of escapists.

And here's what another fellow Israeli has to say:

Itzick Sabag, a 23-year-old Israeli who came to the United States after completing his army service and now lives in New York, is not surprised that Israelis have such a negative reputation in India. The type of person who goes there, he said, has no ambition or direction and is mainly interested in doing nothing. India is the perfect place to do just that.

“People go to different places for different reasons after the army,” he said. “They go to South America for hiking, climbing, outdoors stuff. They go to America to work or go to school. And they go to India to do drugs.”

So how many Israelis visit India anyways? In 2003, 32,157 visas were issued to Israeli nationals, making it no 15 among countries sending in maximum tourists to India. I could not locate a figure for subsequent years - as our Ministry of Tourism now tracks only the top 10 countries.

Israel is not one of them, yet its touristss are creating ripples...

The 'enclaves'
Not sheer numbers but the tendency to congregate in a few places is the problem. Daria Maoz chose to complete her doctorate thesis on Israeli backpackers in India. She observes:

The Israeli backpacker population is concentrated in a few small and clearly defined regions. "In some places the Israelis make up 90 percent of the tourist population...and when hundreds or even thousands of Israelis are concentrated in one village or neighbourhood you just can't ignore their very striking presence."

That's what happens in places like Bhagsu and Dharamkot, two not very large villages near Dharamsala, and in Bashisht and Old Manali, two neighborhoods of Manali, which like Dharamsala lies in the north of India. The situation is similar in the south of the country, especially in places like Goa's "Tel Aviv beach".

More Israeli enclaves include Kasol in Himachal Pradesh, Hampi in Karnataka. And where these enclaves spring up, here's what happens..

"The Israeli backpackers take over these areas and set up their own colonies," says Maoz. "In the last eight years they've turned those places into Israeli enclaves and in peak seasons they are flooded with thousands of Israeli backpackers. Some of them stay for long periods, even several years. Most of them stay a few weeks or months, but when they leave, other Israelis take their place creating permanent Israeli settlements with transient populations."

...According to Maoz, most Israeli backpackers treat the Indians as if their sole purpose in life was to serve them. They ignore the locals' needs and feelings, treat them and their traditions with contempt and regard the Israeli enclaves as playgrounds where they can do almost anything they desire. Uninhibited drug use is a prime example.

While writing her thesis, Maoz needed to 'observe' her subjects closely. She made several trips to India and adopted the backpacker lifestyle. She describes the enclaves as describes as a 'complete Israeli takeover of the local culture and space'.

"When you arrive at the Israeli enclaves in Dharamkot or Manali you feel as if you were in Israel itself...All you hear walking down the street is Hebrew and everyone you meet is Israeli. Even the rickshaws have signs posted in Hebrew advertising trance parties..."

Maoz believes the phenomenon creates a neo-colonial situation in the enclaves. The Israeli tourists, she says, reject the local culture, aren't interested in Indian food, in Indian traditions or the local lingo.

Even their interest in 'spirituality' is very superficial.

Two days after arriving they are already dressed in white and telling each other that the `energy is flowing' that they are living `here and now' and that their `chakras are open'. .. When it comes down to it, says Maoz, they are a lot more interested in trance parties and smoking drugs then in spiritual practices.

One of the strangest phenomena Maoz came across occurred at the Chabad House in Dharamsala.

Maoz visited the Dharamsala Chabad House on Rosh Hashanah and saw hundreds of Israeli backpackers taking part in a prayer service and festive dinner. She also saw how after dinner the backpackers headed off to a nearby site for a trance and drug party that lasted some 42 hours. A week and a half later she met them again at Chabad House where they had come for the pre-fast Yom Kippur meal. After dinner Maoz saw the backpackers pass a joint.

They called it the pre-fast joint.

All this doesn't go down well with the locals. But, it's paapi pet ka sawaal. Tourists bring in much needed business, so they grimace and bear it.

A restaurant owner in Dharamkot told her of an Israeli who drank five cups of tea, but when asked to pay the bill, which came to some five rupees or half an Israeli shekel, he refused claiming he had only drunk three cups. In the ensuing argument, the Israeli threatened the restaurant owner, telling him that he would organize a boycott of the restaurant...

An amusing form of 'resistance' is Indians who pass themselves off as spiritual teachers.

"The Israelis are looking for spirituality," one such spiritual guru, who worked as a schoolteacher in his home town, told Maoz, " so we sell them spirituality." Maoz says that during the peak seasons, Indians flow to the Israeli enclaves selling themselves as masters and babas (holy men), teaching Reiki, yoga, meditation and anything else Israelis care to learn.

And, her final conclusion:

One of the main findings of Maoz's research is that Israeli society has an interest in sending its young people to India. "Israeli society understands that after long, hard and frustrating military service and before integrating into society, Israeli youngsters need avenues to let off steam and to challenge accepted norms. Instead of having them do this it in Israel, they are sent to India."

Ah, cheaper and more effective than mass psychotherapy. Sow your wild oats and float on ye wild grasses in yon Himalayas. Come back a little more civilized!?

Well, as long as we can all live and let live. It's in the best interest of Israelis to be a little better behaved. Or the party may well get wound up... I mean, even Al Qaeda has taken note of the Israeli fancy for India. Although so far - thankfully - there have been just empty threats.

Let me conclude by saying that I have the greatest regard for Israel and the Israeli people. I would love to visit the country one day... Despite a horrific encounter with a snake shaped bread calld 'ziva' on Anjuna beach. I am sure it was about as authentic a representation of Israeli food as 'balti' cuisine is of India.

Until then, I shall continue chatting up Israeli backpackers, in part awe and part envy of their year long drifting voyage. To places in my own country I have never seen. But hope to find time to visit - someday.

And hey, if questions about the eradiaction of slums come up, I'll be ready with an inquiry into the resettlement of Palestinians... Peace be with you all. Shalom.

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