Friday, March 30, 2007

Manzar @ IIT KGP

IIT KGP is holding a literary fest called Manzar from Mar 30-April 1. I am conducting a blogging workshop there. No, I have not done it before but shall try to impart some practical advice and implementable fundas.

If you're in the Eastern region you may want to check out Manzar. Not necessarily for my workshop, but the many other events.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Jobokplease Blog

We've introduced a blog on Jobokplease. The idea is to give some practical advice to folks applying for various positions. We will cover hiring trends off and on, as well.

This blog is currently being written by Amit Panhale and of course, me. We welcome contributions - both from employers and jobseekers. Preferably, based on their personal experiences and/ or observations.

And of course, your feedback on both the site - and the blog.

Recent posts:
How to land a writing job

My first job

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Whitewater rafting: do it at least once in this lifetime

A moment in your life when you experience the true joy of being, Not a single strand of stess, strain or sorrow in your body. A mind clear, free and in the moment.

That, in a nutshell, was my experience of white water rafting. Not my first ever experience - I'd tried it years ago at Kullu. But this time was different. Maybe I am different. I know this is something I want to do again, and again, and again.

We start from a point called 'Marine Drive'. It's a glorious Sunday morning. Groups of college kids, yuppies and techies (their buses labelled 'Nucleus software') are putting on lifejackets, posing for pics. Eight at a time, they tumble onto their rafts, dip in the bright yellow oirs, and heave off.

My 'group' is the scantiest. There are just 3 of us - besides the guide and a Garwhali who's been drafted on board to provide 'balance'. He's a rock climbing expert - this is his first time on a raft and he is scared as hell.

Oskari and Marja are from Finland. That explains the thin tshirt and shorts Oskari is wearing with a smile. There's a chill in the air as we drive down from Rishikesh to the rafting site. Light jacket definitely required for a tropical type like myself.

We don our yellow helmets, tighten the life jacket until we can just about breathe ('loose is dangerous,' grins Hukumchand - our guide) and push off. There are three basic instructions:

'Forward paddle' - meaning you push the oar back to move the boat forward
'Back paddle' - meaning you push the oar forward to move the boat back.
'Relax' - stop paddling, hold on to the oar with one hand and the lifeline with the other.

Most of the time you simply forward paddle - in between you relax. And oh, you stick in your front foot firmly under the 'air cylinders' which crisscross the boat. That can get uncomfortable at times but a good grip is your only defence from falling off the boat - so I dig in deep and hold it there.

The first splash of water is bloody cold! The subsequent ones are no better. We approach the first rapid 'Good Morning Black Money'. A relatively easy one but we emerge from it completely soaking wet.

More follow. A 'grade 3' rapid - Three Blind Mice - tosses and turns the raft into the air. "Forward paddle - hard!" yells the guide. The oar occassionally hits water -mostly just air. At one point I think I might fall off but it doesn't actually happen.

Completely exhilarating and we're raring for more.

When we reach 'Bodysurf' the guide says, "You can jump in!" Oskari is the first to take the offer, Marja quickly follows. I am not too keen but the guide insists. "Aap adventure karne aaye hain na... Lifeline pakad ke kar lijiye".

I jump in. The water reminds me of the 'Titanic'. It is soooooo cold! In a bit, the body adjusts. I splash around a bit and float for a while. Only my hands aren't adjusting - they are shrivelling up and turning pink.

We swim to 'shore' - a clump of white sand with a row of canvas tents. This is one of the many camps where enthusiasts stay for 2-3 days - sometimes more - in pursuit of riverine happyness. We are merely having lunch.

Facilities at the camp are basic - each tent has two beds, blankets provided. Toilets are the 'dry variety' - Indian and Western style commodes over a pit. After every use, you're expected to shovel a mix of sand and lime on top - a kind of 'natural flushing system' which eventually decomposes all that human waste into manure (I'm guessing).

In any case, the food is outstanding. Ghar ke jaisa jhana. Dal, aloo-gobhi, paneer, rice, salad. The Finns exclaim it's the 'best meal we've had in India so far'. Maybe we're all just really hungry!

There are some really beautiful butterflies flitting on the 'beach'. Oskari observes them closely as Marja and I concentrate on 'drying'.

We're back in the boat now. And oh boy, the water is once again, just as cold! We've got the hang of paddling now. The trick is holding the oar correctly and moving in tandem. A raft nearby with 8 on board is doing a poor job of it. They're all over the place. But then there is only one direction you can go - with the current.

The main attraction on this stretch is a grade 4 rapid. Yes, grade 4! We're not afraid anymore - just excited. Just before 'Golf' is a smaller rapid called 'Tee off'. Clever, huh? Apparently some English lady who pioneered rafting in this area years ago kept all these interesting names - and they stuck.

'Golf' is every bit as up, down, round and about, splish-splash-SPLAT as it gets!

We hit the water once more up ahead. As I semi-swim/ float in the glorious, green and gurgling Ganga, it strikes me that this is the first time I have really taken a 'dip' in its holy waters.

Finally, we float to dry land. A wet n wild journey has ended. I have made two new friends and a sackful of memories to draw on in dull and dry times.

The next morning, my muscles ache. But it's a pleasant kind of ache. I am already plotting when, where and how to do this again.

How to: Ideally, you should stay in one of the many camps to get the full 'experience' but even a day trip is good enough, and it's cheaper.

The 18 km stretch from Shivpuri to Rishikesh costs Rs 400 while the 26 km stretch from Marine Drive is Rs 600 wonly. Both options include to and fro transport from Rishikesh, the second option also throws in a hearty lunch.

Money well spent! We rafted with Vagabond Adventures - and were quite satisfied.

Credits: All pics except the first one taken by me. That one's from

Murphy's laws of placements

Am back after an amazing trip - more on that soon. Meanwhile, here's a piece I wrote for the latest issue of Businessworld magazine.

Murphy's laws of placements
- by Rashmi Bansal

Stuff expands to gobble up available space. It’s the same with money. The more of it you have, the more you gotta spend. That’s Murphy’s first law of placements — to put yet another fab B-school placement season in perspective.

Read the rest of the article here. You'll be glad to know that BW no longer has password protected access, so you can read it without any hassles.

Do keep in mind it's a tongue in cheek kind of piece, before you jump at my throat.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanted: review writers in Delhi

JAM is looking for 2 writers in Delhi who can:
a) Review new restaurants
b) Review the latest clubs
c) Review fashion shows

No experience necessary but when you apply please:
a) Write a sample review (250 words) of the last restaurant/ club you went to
b) Mention 3 restaurants/ clubs which have opened in the last 3 months which we should be reviewing
c) Those applying for fashion show coverage should mention whether they have any connection with the fashion industry.

The above positions are freelance/ part time for now, but could develop into full time positions in time.

In addition, we're looking for:
a) A Delhi-based photographer who can shoot pictures to accompany these reviews

b) A summer trainee who will work on a 1 month project - an undergrad or graduate, either will do. Work involves some amount of travel and some amount of desk work. But it's not market research - something more interesting!

Email me with yr contact nos at I may take a day to reply as I'm travelling. Kindly don't mind it!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shweta - brew your own koffee

Karan Johar is a smart film maker and a great talk show host. Yes, his guest list is a little repetitive but he's trying.

Tonight he had Mira Nair and Tabu on 'Koffee' - and it was nice! Mira of course is the more gregarious type and shared some interesting ideas and anecdotes. Asked what she felt about Deepa Mehta, Gurinder Chadha and herself being lumped together she laughed, "You could call us the Charlie's Angels of Punjab". (All 3 women, brown and directors).

Of course she is in her own league and conveyed that but with warmth and diplomacy.

Tabu on the other hand giggled and hid her face for a large part of the show. "I suffer from low self esteem," she admitted. And it does seem like it! Despite so many awards and people gushing over her performances (especially for the upcoming 'Namesake'), she herself does not seem to believe in her talents.

Farah Khan was a 'surprise guest' and added some entertainment value with her muhphat jawaabs.

All in all Koffee with Karan is watchable even in its second season. I think Karan manages to put even those who aren't technically his friends at ease. He also does a lot of research, slips in provocative questions with a straight face and pull a leg or two.

Plus, he has a great sense of timing - he does interrupt but it's natural, like you would in a real conversation.

Quite the opposite, however, is the scene with Shweta Bachchan and her much hyped talk show on NDTV Profit. When the only non-acting member of the Bachchan clan makes her 'debut' so to speak there's bound to be some curiosity. And the idea of a 'Next Gen' show featuring 'achievers under 40' is an ok one.

But unlike Karan, Shweta is not a natural. She's well turned out and has done her homework but when you're not at ease it shows. Luckily she didn't have to put her guest at ease - it was Karan Johar.

One can't blame Shweta for being nervous but having Karan as one of her first guests? Seemed like the teacher giving an 'easy test' to ensure the principal's nephew will pass with flying colours.

Despite Karan's best efforts, it did not really work. He had nothing new or interesting to say.

To live up to its promise Nextgen needs to ensure its guests are more eclectic and truly 'next gen'. Not the already arrived and over-exposed!

Keep the koffee hot, Karan. And Shweta, brew your own unique blend. In short, keep away from Bollywood!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Sex Education debate

Indian Express reports: The Madhya Pradesh has decided to end the Adolescent Education Programme (AEP), two years after it was introduced in class IX and XI, saying "sex education has no place in Indian culture".

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's decision came a day after he met Deenanath Batra, chairman of RSS body 'Shiksha Bachao Samiti'. Batraji advised the CM that yoga should be included in the curriculum in place of sex education.

Apparently, NSUI had also recently protested the use of 'graphic anatomical pictures' in the kit provided to teachers. Teachers themselves had protested against "indecency in the name of education".

ET reports:According to some teachers, illustrations in the book showing physical changes in male and female bodies from childhood to puberty to adulthood were offensive. They said they would not be able to talk to students regarding the same or show such diagrams.

The diagrams in question are similar to what is contained in many biology books taught to school children showing the human anatomy. However, teachers in Madhya Pradesh argued, the human anatomy was different from sexual organs.

One Mr Rajesh Tiwari, principal of government-run Excellence School in Bhopal, believes AIDS is a different issue and sex is different.

"Why do you need these diagrams of nude boys and girls? It is against our culture to talk sex and show such diagrams to our students. Fifty years ago, teachers did not need to speak of sex to students. So why the necessity today?

Why should a 15-year-old be openly spoken to about sex? Just tell them that according to Indian tradition, every man has to lead the life of a ‘bramhachari (bachelor)’ till the age of 25. Tell them AIDS can be contacted through a used syringe or blood transfusion."

There have been similar concerns in Kerala.

My reply to Tiwariji, Batraji and all others concerned about the impact of sex education on ‘Indian culture’:

50 years ago we only had Binaca Geetmala on All India Radio. Today we have item girls in bikini tops and chaddis jiggling it on prime time television.

50 years ago Bollywood couples only danced around trees. Today they kiss, have sex and sometimes even get pregnant before marriage. Then, proudly carry around their bump.

50 years ago most Indian girls attained puberty at age 13-14. Today, it’s as early as 9.

A recent survey by the Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (MPVHA) of 250 girls in the 10-19 age group in 12 districts found that 70 % want sex education to be made a part of curriculum in schools.

The survey found that over 60 percent of the girls were facing a communication gap with their parents due to shyness and fear, and 80 percent were unaware of physical changes in their bodies during adolescence.

As many as 47 percent of the girls indicated that they were sexually harassed outside their homes. Of these, 53 percent said they had never complained to their guardians about it.

NCERT’s AEP (Adolescence Education Programme) includes activity sessions to learn about sexual molestation and its prevention. The program also has modules on homosexuality being a preference rather than an abnormality. And questions like: “When did you first have wet dreams? Did that change your approach to girls?”

I haven’t seen the actual syllabus but it hardly seems as if giving this kind of information is ‘encouraging’ sexual activity. If anything, young people get their doubts answered by a credible source rather than hearsay.

Secondly, class IX to XI students are around 14-16 years of age and ‘not too young’. In fact, if anything, it’s a bit late in the day and they already know.

I personally think by age 9-10 the biological aspect should be explained by parents to their kids, along with some of the value-based, emotional and cultural issues which come up in adolescence.

We can’t pretend that sex is possible only after marriage because kids will find out that’s a lie. But we can communicate that in our culture, as well as experience, it is better to wait. That having sex is a big decision, with emotional repercussions, and must not be taken lightly.

However I find a lot of parents – even urban, educated types – would rather ignore the issue altogether or wait till the child is ‘old enough’. For some, that day never really comes. A parent recently told me that some mothers arranged a session with a gynaec for their girls in class IV and V. So she could explain to them ‘everything’ and answer any questions they had.

This particular mom did not feel comfortable sending her 10 year old. I’m not sure why. She’ll simply get hand-me-down information from the girls who did attend… So why be shy??

The parents vs the state
The does-sex-education-encourage-sex debate is not confined to our country alone. There is a huge controversy in the US on this issue as well. There is a divide between parents who believe schools should impart only ‘abstinence education’ and professionals who believe it is imperative to also impart information on birth control.

Abstinence education was created in the early 1980s by Marion Howard, a professor at Atlanta's Emory University. Apparently, when Howard asked 1,000 sexually active teenage girls what they most wanted to know about sex, 84 % said they wanted to learn "how to say no without hurting the other person's feelings."

So was born the Postponing Sexual Involvement (PSI) which uses acting, mimicking, and role-playing to tell 5th, 6th and 7th graders that they are too young to have sex. The unique aspect is the message to abstain is best delivered by kids of their own age. Sessions are conducted by trained ‘peer leaders’ under teacher supervision.

Formal evaluation of the program reveals that PSI makes teens less likely to indulge in sexual activity in the year following abstinence education. And 4 years later, in the 12th grade,1/ 3rd of participating girls are less likely to become pregnant.But that sounds like a pretty vague statistic to me.

According to MSNBC 66% of American high school students have had sex by their senior year. And these same teens are paying the price by contracting dangerous — and sometimes deadly — sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, 65 percent of all sexually transmitted infections contracted by Americans this year will occur in people under 24.

Yet only 18 US states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide sex education The WHO believes that there is no evidence that comprehensive sex education programs encourage sexual activity. This was their conclusion after a study of 35 such programs around the world. And I am inclined to agree...

The way forward
Since a majority Indian parents are unlikely to be comfortable talking about sex with their kids, a formal sex education programs has its merits. A Indianised version of the ‘abstinence’ program can be added on to satisfy those worried about sex education affecting Indian culture.

The truth however is that formal sex education has little or no impact on the decision to have sex. The external environment such as peer group interaction, media imagery and individual personality – sex drive, appetite for risk etc which responsible. And those are factors beyond the state’s control.

Yes, a value system or belief system can be influenced by what parents and elders say or do in the impressionable growing years. But as a young adult your child may accept or reject those values – that’s his or her choice.

In any case, the situation is not as ‘grim’ as our cultural warriors believe. The % of young people having sexual intercourse below the age of 18 appears to be relatively small.

A study of medical college students found sexual intercourse had been experienced by 11.8% of respondents. The mean age of first sexual intercourse was 17.5 years. Along similar lines, a National Institute of Health and Family Welfare study concluded that that premarital sex varies from 17% among schoolchildren to 33% among young workers in the typical north Indian population.

Among those who had sex, the average age for first sex estimated by the researchers was 17.4 years for boys and 18.2 for girls. 60% of respondents said that they had sex ‘rarely’.

The study was conducted among 1500 young people in the slums of Delhi and Lucknow. A rider: both these studies were conducted circa 2000-2001. Yes, the figures would definitely have gone up. Here’s a more direct indication:

In 1996, the Durex ‘global sex sex survey’ found that the average Indian male had sex for the first time at age 25. The same annual survey concluded in 2005 that Indians, on average lost their virginity at the age of 19.8.

Of course I would not take this at face value (academicians call it a ‘quick and dirty survey’ with a sample which does not represent the general population as it’s only online!).But some of the pop statistics do seem close to the truth.

Indians were the ‘oldest’ to lose their virginity – at age 19.8. We also had the fewest sexual partners n the world (just 3, vs a global average of 9).

So the culture brigade can feel ‘happy’ at our relative conservatism or alarmed (at our relative promiscuity, compared to previous generations). Either way, we can’t blame ‘more sex education’ for these behavourial trends.

Killing the education bit won’t reduce the propensity towards sex. But it just might end up killing safe-sex-ignorant young people.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The curious case of the 'J Boyz'

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Similar is the case with money. Too much of it, too soon and this kind of thing - just waiting to happen.

Last Friday the Juhu police picked up 6 teens from the 'J Boyz' gang for spraying graffiti on a car. Nothing artistic about it, these kids were just marking their 'territory' with the trademark 'J Boys' signature.

Apparently this has been going on for some months. Several cars have have been vandalised, and so have the walls of building compounds.

Indian Express reports: “For the past two months, we have been receiving complaints from local residents about graffiti being painted on the walls of their buildings and on their cars. Sometimes the windows of the cars are also smashed. The culprits sign off as A-1, J-Boys, RB (Rule Breakers) and so on, which are the names of their gangs. Most of them are still in school or college, and are from well-to-do families,” says Senior Police Inspector Pradeep Shinde of the Juhu Police station.

“These boys leave home around 2:30 am, and drive around in their cars. They get high on beer and start damaging property. When we question them, they say they did it just for the craze and thrill of the act".

38 boys had been rounded up on Feb 24. But complaints continued. And so the saga may have stretched on, if not for simple bad luck. The J Boys happened to spray the official car of minister of state Baba Siddiqui.

Minister saab must have barked,"Pakdo saalon ko" and it did not take long to catch the fellas red-handed.

Anyhow, the boys were let off after being lectured and paying a very small fine. 15 year old Jackie 'Soda' Thakkar told the TOI,"It all started 6 months ago. We were bored, but we have now realised our mistake. It will not happen again."

His mother added that her son was misled into joining his friends 'because he had a car and knew how to drive'. The boys were apparently in the Thakkar family car when they were caught spraying the graffiti. It was 2.30 am.

This was a month after Jackie's mother received a call on her son's cellphone from a policeman. Members of a 'rival gang' (A1) had tipped off the police after they were rounded up for spraying cars.

Mrs Thakkar stated to the TOI: "I told them Jackie was at home and could not have been involved. Before the phone call, I'd never known about these graffiti gangs."

Okay - but how come a 15 year old was out on the loose after she got to know about it? And why is he allowed to take out the family car in the first place?

The blame game
The saving grace of the entire incident is that these boys only used aerosol cans. No knives or guns. But boredom is a hungry animal. Easily satiated. The 'gangs' had already progress to small acts of violence like smashing windshields of cars.

Yes, these are not hardened criminals. But why are they attracted to this kind of stuff in the first place? One father accepts the impact of what the kids have done and says he will work on 'channelising their energy in a positive direction'.

But I think his assessment of the situation is somewhat blinkered."They are all good kids", he states."But unlike our times, there are no open spaces to play. So, you find them cooped up in coffee shops. These issues should be addressed."

The issue that needs to be addressed is simple: stop giving them so much cash that they can hang around in coffee shops and blow a hundred bucks a day. If that's the kind of lifestyle they want, let them earn it!

The Indian parents' plaintive "I want my child to have everything I did not' approach is at least partly to blame. Their other constant refrain is: 'I want what's best for my child'.

Now these two wants are not necessarily mutually compatible. An 'everything I want I get from dad' upbringing leaves nothing to strive for. Nothing to 'achieve'. It all comes to you so easily, ab bacha hi kya?

Yes, young people have a lot of nervous energy. They want to conquer the world. The middle class teen channelises the energy into studies - he has no option. Na daddy ka koi business hai, na jaydaad. So the 14-17 period is spent in swotting over board exams and entrance exams.

That produces its own ill-effects and stress (another issue for another day!) but leaves little time or inclination towards graffiti and vandalism. No such gangs in Matunga, Chembur or Bhandup. All the action is in Lokhandwala, Versova, Bandra - the 'new money' suburbs.

J Boyz, A1, RB, YWA (Youth Warriors Association) - whatever name you like - lead a life with less emphasis on academic achievement. In the long run they will probably attend decent colleges, but riding on their parents' money. Australia, NZ, UK, America - choices are aplenty - if you have a chequebook to match.

That leaves them with a lot of spare time and nothing much to do. And too much spare cash to go with it. I'm all for a reasonable amount of pocket money. But not giving an under 18 an add-on credit card (many such examples! one company even pushed such a product to parents not long ago). Giving access to your car keys and not caring where they are at 2 in the morning? Definitely courting disaster.

Some of the parents have said they will take their kids for counselling. That's good, but I hope the entire family does some amount of introspection.

Secondly, don't jail these boys but a heavier fine needs to be levied. Rs 1000 is what a J Boy might easily spend in a single day. Usey fark hi nahin padega. Additionally, punishment could be given in the form of community service.

Lastly, like Western countries, we need to instil in our teens a work ethic. Never mind how rich your parents are, you must earn a portion of your pocket money. Whether that means flipping burgers at McDonalds or becoming a shop girl at a local boutique.

Leave aside the kids slogging for competitive exams, enrolled in intense courses like medicine or immersed in extra-curriculars. For the rest - who comprise the majority - 'studies' and 'attendance' won't be affected by working. Most study in the last one month and don't attend anyways.

I'm not saying this will be a solution to adolescence itself - that's always a rocky phase. But there are merits to instilling a work ethic. As opposed to hearing a statement like, 'My mom is my ATM'.

Understanding the value of money is the best gift any parent can give. Perhaps the most difficult but most necessary one for a well-to-do Indian parent.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The orkut party ends

At least for the kind of folks who used it as an online emotional dustbin.

Indian Express reports: Anti-Shivaji forums or anti-Ambedkar postings or 'hate India' campaigns on Google’s social networking site, Orkut, have been confounding authorities for quite some time now...But not any more.

The Mumbai Police is finally equipped to track down such offenders and bring them to book. A single e-mail between the DCP in charge of the Enforcement Branch and the California-based company will now nail such persons.

With cases pending in various courts both for 'global' grouses (you have insulted my country/ religion) as well as individual-specific complaints (you have maligned my name), google simply could not ignore the anonymous offenders on both orkut and blogspot.

So in early February, the police met with representatives from Google and reached a 'working agreement' whereby orkut has agreed to provide details of the ip address from which an objectionable message or blog has been posted, and the Internet service provider involved. An encrypted code has also been agreed upon for such communication to prevent people from posing as the Mumbai Police and laying their hands on such information.

According to today's Mumbai Newsline, one such request made is with respect to a community called ‘Hate India and what about you?’

"There are several slurs against Hindu gods and goddesses, which could hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. We contacted the Computer Emergency Response Team in New Delhi, and have blocked the community. Now we are going to track down the culprits," said Deputy Commissioner of Police, Enforcement, Sanjay Mohite.

According to information posted on the community, it was created by someone in Karachi, Pakistan on May 21, 2006 and has 904 members.

"But it could be a false location. It could easily have been created in Mumbai or Pune. We have approached Orkut to provide us details of the IP address used to create the community, and the service provider used," said Mohite.

I don't know what they mean by 'blocked' because a few minutes ago I accessed it. There are comments which use actual obscenities there.

Now many bloggers will make this a 'freedom of speech' issue. But that freedom is somewhat like having the license to drive a car. You can't commit a hit and run and then take refuge behind your freedom to drive a car. And of course you can't get an anonymous license.

Similarly, you have to be responsible for what you say online.

The trouble is this: you may say something you don't really mean in the course of your life. But there is no permanent record of the same in the real world. So you won't be dragged to court for it.

Online, a comment made in a rash or heated moment could come back to haunt you.

Secondly, in the real world, professionals are held liable for the content they publish or broadcast. They are trained to follow systems and processes. Online, it's everyone from age 11 upwards with an opinion and a mousepad.

So then?
Personally, I believe it may be a good idea to take action in a few cases to set an example for which deters future juveniles (in age or thought process). The question however is, how much importance do we need to accord to 'global' complaints vs those filed by individuals.

In better times we could - and should have - ignored the first variety. These online wars of pichkari proportions would quietly fizzle out. But in times when defacing statues can result in riots and deaths, I guess one can't take too tolerant a view.

Expect policing on religion and Ambedkar related issues. One can only hope it does not extend to people expressing themselves on politics/ politicians/ bureaucrats/ corruption/ general state of the world and so on.... Phir to hum mein aur China mein kya fark.

But if it comes to that, I am sure our courts will offer necessary protection!

Far more important, in my view, is the protection offered to individuals suffering from harassment by anonymous bloggers. Finally, television channels can stop having shows on 'are bloggers responsible just like the rest of us'. An issue which had become very personal after well known names and faces found themselves ripped apart on anonymously authored 'media blogs'.

Again, people in positions of power always have stuff being said about them behind their backs. But to have derogatory, speculative, false and obscene things said about you online - where there is a permanent record of the same - is a different thing. A hurtful thing. And one you are completely helpless about.

Guess that's the end of the Irresponsible Online Gossip Monger. Or the 'Let me harass my Ex Girlfriend/ Boyfriend'. The key thing once again is 'malicious intent'.

And of course, truth is a universal defence against anyone randomly claiming 'I have been defamed'.

One hopes the police uses this new found key to the google locker with intelligence and caution. Those of us who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear anyways.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I resist upgrades because...

... they're never seamless. Take something as simple as updating your blogger tamplate. I did it so I could put a widget with an RSS feed to What's more, it appeared quite painless. The page looks the same...

And yet. The google Adsense code disappeared. My sitemeter code and blogstreet button disappeared. Sitemeter is relatively easy to put back. But inserting Adsense code in the new layout is a bit of a problem.

If I use the 'add a page element' interface, there is just one default location the code will go and stick to. When I try to 'edit html' and insert it (in what I guess must be the right location!) nothing happens.

Forget it... I really can't struggle too much for a few extra cents. The point is, things were working fine. Then, you upgrade me. But you don't upgrade a few elements of my old blog. It's like jumping off a BEST bus into an a/c service, having left your handkerchief and subah ka newspaper behind. Not an irretrievable loss, but a definite inconvenience.

Lastly, the new template makes the blog unviewable on GPRS. Not that I need to see it that often- but still.

Aakhir kyun?
It's exactly the same fear of the unknown that has prevented me from going out and buying a new cellphone.

My Nokia 6670 is 2.5 years old, which in 'phone years' is pushing old age, senility and debility. Trouble is, this phone was quite senile from Day 1.

The migration from the super user-friendly Nokia 3310 was a nightmare. Everything from the call receive button (made in a size suitable for midgets) to the messaging menu (completely different) made phone a royal pain (in the ear and otherwise) for over a month.

The experience inspired me to write a piece titled 'Too dumb for a smartphone' for Digit magazine back then.

Eventually I got the hang of it - but I stuck to the bare minimum stuff I needed to use. The brick-thick manual went into the dustbin.

I'm not 'happy' with this phone but I'm used to it. And changing that feeling to 'not sure how to switch this on' is a daunting task.

In the interim I did use a few other phones for brief periods - like the MotoKrzr. Motorola phones are amazing in design - they fit snugly in your hand quite unlike the bhaari bharkam Nokia. But while Motorola is beauty and Nokia the Beast, the latter has better options in cameraphones. And a camera is, for me, a crucial professional requirement.

In response to my earlier post asking for cameraphone suggestions, one of you said I should buy a regular digicam instead. Well, hello, we own 3 digital cameras ranging from 3 to 6 megapixels. The point is, you can't carry a camera with you all the time. Secondly, try whipping out a camera in a restaurant or shop and taking pics. There is hajaar natak. Permissions to be taken blah blah blah. It's just easier and faster to do the job discreetly with a quality cameraphone.

Getting back to the 'upgrade' bit, I have seen reviews and reviews. What I never read in the review is "how hassly is it to switch to the new phone, for an existing user of X, Y or Z". I know that level of detail may be like asking for the moon ... but I want it anyways.

Meanwhile, I resist. I find excuses to delay my purchase. And pixellatedly challenged, plod on!

The other India

......not in distant UP or Bihar but at our very own Kurla train terminus. I was there last night, to pick up my mom, returning from Kanpur on the Lucknow Express. Suffice it to say I felt transported to Mulayam Singh country standing in Mumbai itself.

Now of course large swathes of this city are not 'first world' at all. Or even second world (if something like that exists). But when it comes to a public amenity such as a railway station in a major metro, there are certain minimum standards you expect.

CST, Bombay Central, even Dadar - they're not fancy but they're fairly functional. A station like CST was built over a hundred years ago and there's scarcely any room for expansion. Yet the local and through train terminus somehow co-exist and bear enormous passenger loads.

By contrast, Kurla terminus is exclusively for long-distance trains. It was built from scratch but God knows which planner/ architect was employed by the railways for the job. Its existence almost justifies 250 years of British rule in India. Had they not been here, perhaps the rest of our stations too would look like tabelas.

The first problem with Kurla terminus is that it is in the middle of nowhere. Meaning not enough signage - whichever side you approach it from. But that is nothing - wait till you actually get there.

You will somehow have to squeeze past the taxis and rickshaws piled up at the narrow exit-cum-entrance to park your car. A vast ubad khabad maidan with piles of rubbish where rats the size of 2 week old kittens stroll languidly. A housing complex for the upwardly mobile of said species complete with picturesque garbage dump and 'tracks' view!

Enter the station 'complex' which is basically a couple of platforms under tin roof sheds and a large cement and concrete hall. A kind of 'waiting area' where rows upon rows of sheet clad bodies are laid out in various stages of slumber. Waiting for a train? Or simply waiting it out till they find accomodation in Mumbai. You can't really tell.

Onto the platform. The stench hits you, full on. A giant unwashed and uncared for smell; a lone uniformed employee valiantly spraying the tracks with pressurised water. Standing there in a pool of self-created sludge.

The already-narrow platform is half occupied with giant gunny bags barely leaving room for alighting passengers. Two trains pull in at around the same time - both over 2 hour late. There is absolute chaos as a mass of humanity spills out of the station and tumbles into the waiting tangle of transport. No traffic policeman in sight...

The first taste of Mumbai for folks from the hinterland. The dirt, dust, chaos and lack of amenities perhaps make them feel right at home!

I entered the stationmaster's office with the intention of writing a complaint/ suggestion. Can't the railways at least level the ground outside the station to provide proper parking? I mean, you're charging us for it!

A tired middle aged man looked up and,"Madam, kya karein.. sab unplanned hai. Naya building banega." Kab? I was last at Kurla terminus 6 years ago and nothing has changed in the interim period. A tiny rat scampered across his room as we were having this conversation. Simultaneously the train we were expecting pulled into the station and I abort my 'improve India' mission. Just glad to pick up mom and head home!

The thing is...
Building clean, functional railway stations is not rocket science. There's the Delhi metro of course but also just a few kms from Kurla, the example of New Bombay. Vashi, Belapur and the like. They're 'local' of course, but living proof of stations built to some kind of plan. And an improvement on the British zamaane ka model - with better design, construction quality and hygiene standards.

You keep clean, it stays clean. You build a cowshed, it stays that way. And gets worse...

But then Shree Laloo Prasad is too busy giving lectures at IIM A and Harvard to bother about such minor irritants. And the media - so full of discussion and debate on the need for a second airport in Mumbai - could hardly care less.

At the very least they should stop calling this horror 'Lokmanya Tilak' train terminus. Now that, would be a real sign of respect.

P.S. I am leaning towards Nokia N80 as my next phone. Does it take decent night shots? Any N80 owners with views/ opinions - please do get in touch!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Making it easier to jump

... into entrepreneurship. IIM A is now providing a 'safety valve' for those choosing to say no to a lucrative job from campus and chart their own path instead.

HT reports: As per the new rules framed by Placement Committee, students who opted out of the placement process this year would be entitled to appear for placement interviews for the next 2 years, should their new ventures fail to take off.

Last year, 6 IIM A students opted out, this year HT believes the number is 10 (ET reports it may be 20 - official figures not released yet). At the very least, that's close to 5% of the 250 strong batch and a definite trend. If you count the number of grads who quit within 2 years to get into entrepreneurial ventures, the number would be higher.

I think the 'come back if you wish' option is a good idea. Incidentally, deferred placewment was allowed at IIM A way back in 1993 when I graduated. Around 3 of us opted out of placement and one went back and took a job through campus the following year. But the profile of those opting outw as a little different.

All three of us were girls, for example. And we were 'in search of self' as they say. Not having definite ideas of becoming entrepreneurs (although that's the path I took after working at Bennett Coleman & co for 2 years :)

From the current lot, I don't think many will actually choose to go back for placement - but it's good to have that security. Makes the 'entrepreneurship is risky' objection easier to overcome with parents as well.

Of course one can usually hardly 'give u' in a mere two years. Because you need that time to figure out what you are going to do, and how you are going to do it! This period, in fact, is a struggle for most first-generation MBA entrepreneurs but most seem to have the clarity that going back to a regular job is not the solution.

However, I do know of one young man who has re-entered the rat race. The business he started right after placement did not take off. He went through a low phase and then decided to get back into a regular job for the time being. Was it easy? Yes and no. The IIM degree opened many doors but the key question he struggled to answer,"How do we know you'll stick around with us?"

Well the answer is - no guarantees anyone will stick around. Whether former entrepreneur or ambitious corprate-climber. It's just their destinations which will differ. The climber may move to another company while the once-failed-entrepreneur may take a risk and start up again.

Entrepreneurship is a bee. Once it's buzzing in your bonnet, you are run the risk of getting stung. But there's also the promise of honey - sweeter and healthier than a sugar coated placement pill.

More on the subject in weeks to come. I will share the trials, tribulations and truimphs of first-generation entrepreneurs in this space, in the form of interviews. They don't all have to be MBAs, of course.

If you fit the profile and have been running your venture for at least 6 months, get in touch with me at Would also love to hear from some of you who have dropped out this year or recently quite your jobs and are 'in the process'.

We all have a lot we can learn from each other. And perhaps, we can even do some business!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Barista bik gaya...

And about time! Over the last couple of years the pioneer in the coffee shop business in India had kind of lost it. For quite a while now, the brand has been in we-are-getting-acquired mode. Which means that the once cool hangout became skimpy on expansion, innovation and generally stopped caring about its customers.

At least that's the impression I got when I visited their Linking Raod outlet last week. The rexine sofa there was so tattered and torn one couldn't help wondering: why? Why is a once-proud brand letting itself go to seed?

I think when you're in I-am-selling mode you stop caring. Sure, you implement a few things here and there to keep investors feeling 'yahan kuch ho raha hai'. So Barista did launch a few upmarket 'creme' outlets . But on the whole the brand energy was missing.

Barista has seen a series of owners. Sterling Infotech's C Sivasankaran bought 65 per cent in Barista from Turner Morrison 3 years ago. He also purchased the remaining 35 per cent stake from the Tata group. The mandate to sell the company was given last August.

Lavazza of Italy is understood to have buoght the company for... Rs 480 crores. According to the TOI, the Italian Coffee giant will invest Rs 105 crore into the company in the next 24 months.

Sterling's promoter NRI business man C Sivasankaran, who has a reputation for acquiring ailing companies, turning them around, and selling them is said to have made a profit of Rs 85 crore from the sale.

So it was essentially a financial investment for Sterling, who was smart enough to realise Starbucks nahin to koi aur global chain khareed lega. After buying out the earlier promoters (Rs 30 cr to Turner Morrison and 65 cr to Tatas) he apparently invested another Rs 120 cr in Barista.

I'm not sure how well that money was spent because the Barista experience - or geographical coverage - certainly did not get any better!

Well, now that a company in the coffee and cafe business is taking over, I hope the focus shifts back to making Barista a warmer and more 'with-it'. And not just a new blue and white signboard and coffee cups to go with it.

Whether they retain the name Barista (unlikely) or switch to Lavazza, what we want is the 'most incredible espresso experience'. And, softer and more edible doughnuts to go with it. Because only a diamond should be... forever.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Roti, kapda aur internet

It is said that one can live on love and fresh air alone. The first is scarce on the IIT campus, so they're happy enough with unlimited access to the internet. But, that may be changing.

Economic Times reports: "Institute may limit net access to beat reclusive lifestyle".

Rajiv, alias Moviemom, is in his final year, pursuing majors in electronics at IIT Bombay (IITB). Back in the hostel after lectures and tutorials he spends most of his time downloading movies, blogging and chatting - either with friends or wingmates - until the wee hours of the morning. Not surprisingly, he doesn't make it to the morning lectures and barely manages to comply with the 80% attendance requirement

Alarmed at the 'dysfunctional', 'non-social' and reclusive lifestyle of its students, the IITB administration has decided to ban internet access to all hostels between 11pm and 12.30 pm from 12th March 2007.

I can understand the concerns of the administration. When I visited IIMA a while ago, the dorms had a deserted appearance. It wasn't term break - people just don't feel the need to hang out in the common area on every floor. They'd rather communicate online.

The same story at IIM Indore. A student told me if he needed a book from his next door neighbour he's more likely to 'ping' him than simply holler out. Luckily one can't ingest nutrients via internet, or these dudes would perhaps be seen only once a week in the real world.

On the one hand, it's sad to see the forlorn carrom board, silent common telephone (with everyone having cellphones who needs them anymore!) and lack of visible camaraderie. Of course, the same spirit and ethos has been recreated online. But is it an equal substitute?

IITB dean Prakash Gopalan told ET that "participation of IITans in sports and cultural activities has declined signficantly". He believes that students have developed an addiction to the internet, gaming and surfing which needs to be curbed.

A part of me agrees - and why IIT, even I need to curb my need to go online (am thinking of a ban between 8-11 pm so I can give undivided attention to 'life' and especially my daughter :)

So if access to everything except basic email is restricted, students will have to venture out and deal with each other. But knowing IITans they will find some way to beat the system. In fact, they will take it up as a challenge!

Secondly, this may achieve the goal of increased real-world social contact (an issue that IITB believes is directly connected to recent suicides on IIT campuses). But even the all-night internet ban (as IIT Delhi recently proposed) may not get students to class at 8 am.

I mean, 15 years ago we had no internet and many of us still did not make it to class at 9 am, especially in the second year. There are many ways to waste one's time on a campus where you have cool and interesting people. And a dhaba which makes omlettes/ parathas/ Maggi along with killer cutting chai.

So let some of the action shift back to the real world - great. But students will be students. Nothing can really change that!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fab cabs: not a gender issue!

It's International Women's Day, which means the papers are full of stories about 'how-far-we-have-come' and 'what-a-long-way-left-to-go. And of course, the 'glass ceiling'.

One of the more unusual features today was the launch of a taxi service of, for and by women in Mumbai. The person behind is 47 year old Revati Roy, a former rally driver.

Mid day reports: The women-only service called Forsche (pronounced as ‘For-she’) has a fleet of 15 cars (like Santros and Indicas), which, among other things, offers graduate English-speaking women drivers.

Every taxi will also pamper its women clients with vanity mirrors, make-up kits and personal hygiene products. More so, every car will be equipped with a global positioning system for enhanced security and convenience.

Launching an all-woman cab service on Women's Day is a good idea. It makes a great story and just about every news factory has prominently covered it. However, I am a little ambivalent about the need for such a service. And more so, in Bombay.

I've travelled by cabs at all hours - including past midnight - and never felt unsafe. Of late, there are instances of cabbies overcharging. But generally, if you know what the fare should be and are firm about it, they back off.

I usually scan the available taxis for an older looking or Sardarji driver. In my experience they are more honest. But with any kind of Mumbai cabbie, 'indecency' I am yet to come across.

So frankly, I would not be keen to pay a big premium for hiring a taxi driven by a woman. In fact at the rates Forsche is charging I am wondering who will hire these cabs? Rs 4000 for 8 hours is a lot, given that the regular rate for an a/c Esteem, is Rs 1000 for 8 hrs. There may be a few takers in hotels and corporates but how scalable is the business?

What's more the operating hours right now are only 8 am to 8 pm. I mean even if I were to feel unsafe the problem would occur late at night, wouldn't it?

On the other hand, I am all for the GPS navigated taxi services - like they have in Singapore. I don't really care whether such a taxi is driven by a man or woman. As long as it's clean, reliably driven and available on demand.

I used such a service in Delhi recently. It's called Easycab. All you do is dial 43434343, give your location and within 15 minutes an Easy Cab is at your doorstep. There's another similar service in Delhi for which you have to dial 1929. I am yet to try it but a friend was quite satisfied -except for the Rs 6 a minute they charge when you call up. No such hassles with Easycab.

Now of course Delhi-ites generally have numbers of taxi services by-hearted. And the local stand ka taxi may work out cheaper. But for a baaharwala Easycab is a God-send. The taxi I got was an Esteem - clean, air conditioned and with a uniformed driver. The rate is a flat Rs 15 per km, visible on a reliable digital meter and the driver is extremely polite. Honestly, I felt safe and relaxed in a Delhi cab for the first time ever. And I am not surprised to learn from Tech2 that:

Chauffeurs for EasyCabs have been recruited after conducting four verifications (which included police, bank and two personal verifications). They also had to undergo a multi step process which included various tests such as written, spoken, attitude, psychology, road knowledge and behaviour.

Easycab will soon be launching in Hyderabad and also has Mumbai on its radar. The company plans a fleet of 5000 cars in Delhi and 10,000 in Mumbai - and I am sure there will be initial resistance but eventually they will achieve that.

The smart thing to do perhaps would be to integrate the Forsche service within a larger umbrella like this. Male or female driver? Quite irrelevant - it's the brand that needs to stand for safety, value and comfort.

Lastly, Forsche recruited drivers from an ad it placed in Mid-day a couple of months ago. Apparently a range of women applied. Says Ms Roy:

“While Prabhjyot Kaur (57), a grandmother and graduate in economics and sociology will be our oldest driver, the youngest in my fleet of taxis is Rajashree H (32), an electronics engineer from BITS Pilani.”

I'd dearly love to meet this engineer and ask... why?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

'How to Placate an Angry Naga' : Finding One's Feet in the IAS

It started with 'Five Point Someone' and has now become a genre of sorts. I call it 'experiential literature'. People writing heavily inspired/ thinly disguised accounts of life on elite campuses, in the corporate world or as a desi in a foreign land are no longer a novelty.

But a peek into life in the IAS, is. After the classic 'English August', we finally have another interesting book from an IAS officer on what it's like to be in government service. This one is not fiction, though - it's reality in diplomatic and digestible wordbytes.

Yet, it manages to provide quite a few insights into how government departments function - and why they don't. As the authors themselves ask in the foreword of the book: "Is the government working because of civil servants or despite them?"

We begin our journey at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. Now you would think this training comprised lectures on economics, politics, law and so on - which it does. And yeah, they also discuss important items of practical value like 'how to handle VVIP visits'.

But were you aware that trainee IAS officers actually start their day with PT and jogging at 6.30 in the morning? The idea being to inculcate 'Officer-Like-Qualities' or OLQ - an indefinable mix of attributes which in modern management jargon is usuallyr refered to as 'leadership ability'.

The secret sauce which makes you a successful IAS officer is actually summed up on page 13:

The cornerstone of impeccable OLQ was learning how to say 'no'. The more boorish members of the faculty did not even wait for yu to finish your sentence... but others said it with a smile, which not only took the edge off the negative reply, it even made you feel guilty about putting the person in this position.

This, one learnt, was real OLQ - the art of man-management combining the ability to lead by example with the common sense to know what to say, what not to say, when to react and when to keep a straight face, and to be able to pull it off ina fraction of a minute in any given situation.

You are then introduced to life as a 'sub divisional magistrate'. A first posting is never easy and more so for a woman. Then there are dilemmas like how to impress your boss without being seen either as an overeager-beaver or a yes-boss type.

The author takes you through the pain of transfer, always hanging over officers. Worse than a transfer is the 'waiting for a posting' category where you are simply... given no work at all! There is an interesting chapter on the dynamics of maintaining 'law and order'. How one must understand mob psychology and strive for 'containment' despite grave provocation from the public.

The next time you see the situation 'getting out of hand' on TV, spare a thought think about how many such situations have probably been defused due to the wisdom of an anonymous IAS/ police officer.

Insights into human nature are peppered across the book. The protocol between the district magistrate and superintendent of police. The delicate balance one has to achieve with seniors, juniors and colleagues in related government departments - given that unlike the corporate world you don't have the option to simply chuck your job and leave.

The behind-the-scenes work which ensured a superbly organised 'Millenium Maha Kumbh' is the highlight of the book, and also the inspiration for the title. Apparently the highly respected Naga sadhus who do not wear a stitch of clothing on their bodies, wander in and out of the administration offices. Unaware of the impact their nakedness may have on others - and leading to some hilarity.

There is a chapter on different kinds of bosses (these varieties of course exist everywhere!) and on a problem peculiar to the IAS - 'how to deal with politcians'. One trick of the trade, apparently is to never say 'no sir' (might offend) or 'yes sir' (implying total compliance' to any request. You simply say 'very well sir', which is non-committal.

At the very end, the authors ask an important question on all our minds:"Do IAS officers manage to change the system in some way or does the system change them?"

They conclude that there are 3 kinds of officers:

1. Dreamers: who stand up for values and wish to do something meaningful. They may end up disillusioned, or appear like failures to the world but at a personal level feel the satisfaction of having lived by their own ethics.

2. Pragmatists: they try to look at the system impersonally and are satisfied if some good comes out of their efforts. However they are not 'crusaders'. They are content with keeping their integrity intact without demanding the same of others.

3. Self-aggrandizers - their defining quality is total flexibility. They crave power and are willing to compromise everything to achieve it.

Of course, being serving officers the authors do not venture to answer what % of their bretheren fall in categories 1, 2 and 3. The popular perception is that dreamers are 2%, pragmatists 10% and the rest, to put it less tactfully, as corrupt and venal as the political masters they serve.

This may be a wrong perception - perhaps another book by the authors in their post-retirement phase can shed some light!

A couple of small cribs:
Although the book credits the husband-wife duo of Leena Nandan and Jiwesh Nandan, it's written completely from the perspective of a lady officer. Wonder whether that's yet another fine example of 'tactical accomodation' to avoid an ego clash :)

I also feel this book suffers from 'babu language' at times - many thoughts could have been expressed in more simple and colloquial words.

But overlook the somewhat stilted prose and dive in anyways. Especially if you have any interest in IAS as a career or the IAS in general. And yeah, compliments to the designer of the book jacket. The Ambassador car complete with red siren is the perfect symbol. It doesn't get more 'governmenty' than that!

'How to Placate an Angry Naga' : Finding One's Feet in the IAS is published by Penguin, Rs 195

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Party busted

No, I'm not referring to the rave party on the outskirts of Pune which has been hogging the headlines. This is quite another case of elders ki zyaadti - on happy young Haryanvis. TOI dt Mar 5 2007 reports: "Haryana caste court bans DJs at weddings"

Haryana's Ruhal khap (community) which has a presence in 63 villages, outlawed DJs and warned anyone violating the diktat to be ready with a fine of Rs 11,000.

So no more remix numbers at baraat parties. The ostensible reason:"With DJs, youngsters dance under influence of liquor and sometimes misbehave with girls and women..." Ah, but there's more.

"Very importantly, due to high volume of music preferred by these DJs, people can't milch buffaloes and cows early morning as the animals are unable to sleep at night."

With real news like this, what will happen to humour magazines like ours ... !

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Tyranny of Political Correctness

'So where are you from," is a question Indians love asking each other. If you answer Bombay - because that's where you've lived most of your life - they will persist, "No .. from where are you originally?"

The answer to such questions is sometimes complex.

I was born in Ratlam, a town in Madhya Pradesh which gained some sense of importance as a junction of the Indian Railways. Its only other claim to fame being a patent brand of extra spicy namkeen sev.

Ratlam was the town we visited during summer vacations, the place I considered 'native'. So technically, I guess I am 'Madhya Pradeshi'. But there is no such term, is there? So in response to the 'Where-From Question' (henceforth referred to as WFQ), I generally answer 'Marwari'. That's where my great (or is it great-great?) grandfather hailed from.

People pose the WFQ for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's idle train chatter. Often it's used to seek out some kind of connection with a stranger. Or even a potential client or business associate. It's actually something quite deeply ingrained in our culture, coz it even comes up in the playground. And kids will not hesitate to use the information with reference to their classmates.

I remember going home in tears at age 9 or 10, because I had been taunted as a 'kanjoos Marwari'. My mom said, "Just ignore them, bete. If you don't react, they will stop teasing you after some time." My dad added, "Do you know that Birlas are Marwaris? They have built so many temples, schools and colleges. How can anyone call Marwaris kanjoos?"

The combination of these two thoughts helped me tackle the schoolyard bullies with my head held high. And I am sure every child has gone through some similar episode. The takeway is simple: If someone calls you a 'chashmish' or a fatso - so what? If someone says you are a Sindhi papad or a Kashmir ki kali or whatever, so what?

Ek to, jo bolta hai usey hi lagta hai. Nothing anyone can say about you which is irrelevant or untrue can stick to you.

And even if I do wear glasses, or I am fat or I am Sindhi or Marwari - that is part of my identity. Accepted. There are other aspects - and there are people who will like you and respect you for those as well. Your own self esteem is in your own hands. No one can take that away from you - neither Jane Goody, nor a playground bully.

Which brings me to the current climate of political correctness. As human beings we need context for each other. Referring to someone's ethnicity or mannerism linked to place of origin is not necessarily a bad thing. Stereotypes do have more than a few grains of truth in them. As wikipedia puts it:

Stereotypes are ideas held about members of particular groups, based solely on membership in that group. They are often considered to be negative or prejudicial and may be used to justify certain discriminatory behaviors. More benignly, they may express sometimes-accurate folk wisdom about social reality.

I'm all for fighting discrimination, but let's not suffocate folk wisdom. Can't we learn to love ourselves - and laugh at ourselves?

Apparently not. Some of you objected to inferences in my previous post. Like security guards in CBD Belapur perhaps being 'fresh off the Bhagalpur Express.' Or that a Chinese businessman may speak less than perfect English. I should be more 'sensitive', they advise.

Frankly, I think each of us should be less sensitive. I mean sure, we should respect each other but a few gentle observations and ruminations do not undermine anyone. The world will become a very boring place if we start bleeding political correctness, every time there is an irreverent pin prick.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Bombay goes posh

We may not have 24 hour electricity, but we finally have a fancy shmancy hotel. It's a 4 star wonly but The Park is, in some ways, even more pseud than your regular 5 stars. Being a 'boutique' hotel they take extra care to have exotic items on their menu. The desssert choices, for example, include 'yoghurt jello with berry phyllo' (eggless and dietic). Go figure!

OK, it's not like New Bombay has no hotels. But there aren't any of the kind you might want to visit because there's 'something in the air'... that la di dah crowd, precise geometry of spoons and ceiling-to-sky lobby which makes you want to linger over a 200 buck coffee.

So anyways, having heard of this new 'Park' in our part of the world we were excited enough to get all dressed up and go check it out a couple of days ago. Having noted it was in 'Sector 10, CBD Belapur' we zipped down Palm Beach Road and thought it would be pretty simple locating it once we were in the general vicinity.

Were we mistaken! CBD or 'Central Business District' Belapur isn't a place you want to be stuck at late in the night, looking for directions. There is no one - except for security guards - for miles and miles. And all these guards shrug helplessly, "hum idhar naya hai". Fresh Off the Bhagalpur express...

After circling around aimlessly we figured it must be on the other side of the tracks. As the description I accessed via GPRS read promised 'stunning views of hills and lush green foliage'. Uh, right. Not in this season.

Anyways, we did find it eventually and it is nice. The only trouble is, exactly a month after its launch, the hotel is deserted. We were the only souls in the 24 hour coffee shop cum restaurant 'Zest' at 11 pm. A total of four guys comprised the crowd in the bar - 'Dusk'. And get this - they claim 'above average occupancy'.

We checked out the 'signature restaurant' Aqua, set against a pool designed more as a backdrop-to-a-party than for any serious swimming. Very pretty. But the menu, which was supposed to be Continental + Mexican seemed a tad too imaginative. Perhaps that was the brief given to the chef. Confuse the hell out of your customers. They won't think twice about the prices.

Back at the coffee shop we fell for it. Bet you've never had 'chilli lime sorbet with fudge brownies'. Well, I can tell you now that both items are scrumptious (but each on its own, not together!).

Even more delicious are the little quotes like 'Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea..." Peppered all over the menu!

But getting back to the food. My daughter spotted the word 'pizza' and suddenly felt extremely hungry. We ordered. For 425 bucks we were presented with a 'cupizza' (pizza in a cup). More like a quiche impersonating the great Italian masterpiece. Along with it came a thick slice of garlic bread and some ... leaves. Not salad, the random kind chewed on by cows.

On the positive side, the ambience is pleasant. Much classier than anything else in these parts. But the place appears a little cramped. The 'lobby'is non existent, even the driveway is congested. I haven't actually been to other 'Park' properties but am sure they are far superior.

Apparently, this is a renovation of an existing property. So maybe there were some design/ space constraints. I would think, however, that turning 'Apeejay House' near Churchgate into a hotel would make far more sense.

I just don't get the logic of starting a designer hotel in the middle of nowhere. CBD is 'central' in terms of being located between Bombay and Pune. No way is it a '40 minute drive from the domestic airport'. You'd be lucky to reach in 1 hour 40 minutes!

I'm just not sure there are enough fancy businessmen with interests in JNPT and Thane-Belapur industrial belt to patronise this hotel. And even if they exist would they want to stay in this lonely wasteland? As for the Vashi-Nerul crowd, I think the hotel is too exotic and high-end for the aam New Bombayite. And too far as well. 'Tunga' coming up right next to Centre One will do fine for the majority, thank you.

The only silver lining for the 'Park' is a new Chinese restaurant slated to open soon and I will check that out (there is no decent Chinese around here, since 'Yufan' shut down).

As we leave, a lone Chinese (businessman?) is sitting on the beige silk sofa near the entrance. Is he wondering, 'for what I paying thees US $ 150?'

P.S. Pics taken with a 1 mp Nokia 6670. Yeah, I really need a new cameraphone. Agt least a 3 megapixel. Any tried and tested suggstions?

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