Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CAT: restore the faith

Eight days into the 'mother of all exams' reports of hardware problems, software errors, poor administration, repeated questions) and other testing issues are still coming in.

It is time the directors of IIMs acknowledge this experiment has failed and call for a re-test - in old fashioned paper and pencil format. A high stakes exam like CAT is an act of faith. When that faith in its fair delivery and character of merit is at doubt, it no longer serves its purpose.

Just like when it physically leaked in Nov 2003; and had to be re-administered.

But the issue goes beyond this year. At some level we've all accepted that computer based testing is better, more efficient than traditional methods. Is that really the case?

The issue is not just hardware or software - but more fundamental. This exercise is a 'CAT and mouse' game - and not just because the exam went online this time.

On the one hand you have a couple of hundred IIM professors, a handful of whom would sit down, rack their brains and come up with the CAT paper. On the other hand, you had hundreds of 'experts' preparing mock CATs, analysing past papers, predicting future patterns. And many of these experts are IIM grads themselves.

When it came to setting one paper a year, the CAT could somehow pull it off. Remain distant, difficult, unpredictable - the Mount Everest of all exams. Putting it online - with a poorly set question bank - has taken it down to the level of a Sahyadri.

This destroys everything the CAT has stood for - all these years.

Now one can dispute whether CAT actually does select people with the best managerial potential in the first place. An article posted on fairtest.org notes that in 1985 Harvard Business School (HBS) decided to eliminate the GMAT from their admissions process.

John Lynch, the Admissions Director at the time, gave several compelling reasons. In a blind test, Harvard found that admissions decisions made with and without the GMAT were essentially the same. Success at Harvard depended on intangibles such as motivation, interpersonal skills, perseverance and hard work – all factors not measured by GMAT.

Looking at undergraduate grade-point average (UGPA), ethics, leadership, community activities, prior work experience and the interview made GMAT scores "superfluous".

However, 11 years later HBS reinstated use of the test. The point is, as long as you are using a GMAT or CAT, let there be no doubts about the administration and standards of that test.

Which brings me back to the question of computer based testing. In 2008 there was a GMAT Cheating Scandal involving Scoretop, where 'live' questions were posted on a members-only website. This article published at that time reveals some interesting facts:

1) The item pool is periodically refreshed, but the same questions are reused for at least several weeks.

2) The testing industry was well aware of the vulnerability of computer adaptive tests to what it calls “pre-disclosure.” Before the 1993 introduction of the computer adaptive Graduate Record Exam (GRE), two researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) wrote about their “fear [that examinees] will remember questions and reveal them to their friends or to a coaching school” and that “a group of examinees [might] memoriz[e] subsets of the pool and combin[e] their knowledge.

3) To expose the problem, staff from the Stanley Kaplan Education Center took the computerized GRE, compiled a list of items they had memorized, and presented it to ETS officials. ETS, which then administered the GMAT as well as the GRE, responded by suing Kaplan for copyright violations, even though the questions were never made public (see http://www.fairtest.org/ets-and-test-cheating).

4) After this incident, test-makers said they began using much larger item pools and changing them more frequently, but there is no proof for this claim. In 2006, ETS lost the GMAT testing contract after a series of administrative and scoring errors. The test is now run by the global conglomerate Pearson.

Under 'Indian conditions' where stakes are so high for both students and the coaching classes, I think it will be far more difficult to maintain the integrity of the question bank!

In conclusion, computerised testing can work - but requires herculean effort and partnership between the IIMs and the testing agency. It's not an exercise which IIMs can simply sub-contract - like housekeeping!

Brand IIM is like the venerable banyan tree, and the CAT forms the mighty roots of that tree. Destroy those roots and the very tree will start withering...

The IIMs must reclaim the CAT immediately, or they will lose the ground beneath their feet.

For more on the issues related to effectiveness and fairness of SAT, GRE and GMAT see articles on www.fairtest.org

ET 500: Old is gold, alas

I usually scan through the pink papers in under 5 minutes. But this morning I picked up the annual "ET 500" report (free with do rupaye ka ET every year) and actually spent over an hour poring through it. Just.

It's fascinating for many reasons. The # 1 company in India, by revenue, is IndianOil. Its revenues of Rs 290, 946 crores are double of the # 2 company Reliance Industries (Rs 153, 138 crores). But Reliance profits are 5 times that of IndianOil www.icocl.com (Rs 15, 296 crores vs Rs 2,599 crores).

Both companies are in the very same space (oil & gas). And no, I am not saying Indian Oil should be 'doing better' - that would be comparing apples to oranges!

A few other facts which caught my eye:

* 6 out of top 10 companies are PSUs - that's pretty much the story, every year.

* Only 1 out of the top 20 companies is what you can call entrepreneurial (started by a first generation entrepreneur in last 20 years). That company is Bharti Airtel. In fact such companies are pretty much non existent even in top 100.

Infosys (# 22), Pantaloons (# 73) and Kotak Mahindra bank (# 75) are the few exceptions although technically, they're all over 20 years old.

* Bharti Airtel and TCS are the only two companies from 'new age industries' in the top 20 (Wipro & Infosys are # 22 and 29 respectively). Oil, steel, auto, banking, power, capital goods dominate the top 50.

Interestingly, apart from ITC (# 35) and HLL (#36) and a few banks like ICICI bank (# 10), HDFC bank (#29), Kotak Mahindra bank (# 66) and maybe an Asian Paints (#95) and Reliance in its myriad avatars - you won't see any of the top 100 companies on this list on India's top 20 bschool campuses.

Except in a recession year (like this one).
And even then, they aren't places MBAs would like to join.

Which brings me to the question: is there a disconnect between bschools and the business realities of India? For long, bschools have been accused of producing 'managers' not entrepreneurs. Ok - but even within that definition, they want to be managers only in certain kinds of companies and sectors.

I understand there are cultural issues. That the majority of these top 100 and even top 500 companies are old (if this was a gathering of people you would see mostly grey hair!) A large number are fuddy duddy, family or government run enterprises.

But surely these are the very places where so called modern management principles and bright young men and women can make a difference - in the longer run.

It would be interesting if ET could come out with a report on how many MBAs the top 500 companies in India today employ. And what is the profile of the people they do employ.

Cynics might wonder whether these companies are healthy because of lack of MBAs... There's a thesis waiting to be written by someone, somewhere, on that!

Lastly, I noticed 5 companies from the 25 Stay Hungry profiles make it to the list (not counting Sintex, where Dangayach is not the owner). The highest ranked is Shree Renuka Sugars art # 227.

Am sure there are other interesting stories hidden in this list... and I'm sure someday I will tell some of them :)

Career query of the week

Hi Rashmi,

I've been working in XXX (a much admired American company) as a software engineer for the past 1.5 years. I did my BTech from YYYY, probably the best college for a computer science degree in the country.

I was always convinced that this would be sufficient even for the best tech jobs in India. However, lately I've been hearing that students who return with a "phoren" MS degree get paid almost twice as much as we do, even though their job profile may be the same as ours.

Now, I'm confused whether I should go for an MS or not. I do not wish to leave the country, neither for higher studies, nor for a job. However, I'm quite sure that an MS even from the best colleges in India does not compare to a degree from a US university, in terms of market value. Since it makes a huge difference, I think I should consider going abroad... its just a matter of 2 years, right?

Even though at this point, money is the only incentive for further studies; in the future, its possible that better jobs come to our country which require atleast an MS degree. I'm only 23 years old now. Isn't it best I do an MS now, rather than growing 30+(which is too old for an MS) and feeling sorry for not doing it when I could?

I should also make it clear that I am absolutely not interested in any kind of MBA. I love tech, and I do not wish to become a people manager. So NO IIMs, ISB, etc.

This has been a very long mail. Lets summarize.

Objective: A challenging tech job in India. Get paid as much as the other guy who is doing the same job, but may have another degree!

I have the following options:
1. No more studies. Be content with BTech and current job/salary.
2. MS from Indian univ. Will make resume a little prettier, but will it increase my package? Is it worth staying away from work for 2 yrs?
3. MS from some Indian univ affiliated with a foreign univ. Ex - JIIT(jaypee) affiliated with University of Florida. Again, I'm not sure how good this is?
4. MS from abroad.

Please advise!

dear S
I'm not too happy to learn about the foreign MS degree holder getting paid twice as much as you.. but that's life I guess. I think an MS from a top university in the US is a good idea for you.

As for which school, which program - I leave it to the wonderful readers of this blog to advise you! Folks, please do share what you know with this young man...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju - a review

Flying can be hazardous to mental health these days, unless you have a book or two to help you cope. Well, despite being well stocked up on a recent trip, I bought this one at Mumbai airport.

Ramalinga Raju beckoned , "Pick me up, pick up!" Pick up and read all about the bad-bad things I have done in life.

Well, quite like Raju's life, the book too does not live up to its promises. Agreed, nine months is a short time to put together and release a book but one does expect to learn *something* new?

"The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju", unfortunately, is like a 180 page long newsreport. With neither the brevity nor the breathless immediacy of 'news'.

Starting from the infamous "confession" the book takes you 'back' - but very superficially. There is a chapter on the crucial board meeting of Dec 16, one titled 'A Scheme is Hatched' - on the sub prime crisis and its effect on Raju's ill empire.

In between there is some mention of Raju's early days, his family, a faint whiff of his personality. But too soon, we are back to Maytas, Hyderabad metro project - the exoskeleton of the scam. What's missing is the pounding of the heart, the taste of fear, the rush of blood!

Author Kingshuk Nag thanks dozens of people connected with Satyam and the Rajus for 'sharing their insights' but very few of these insights shine through. And none are actually attributed to anyone.

While I don't expect a 'jeena isi ka naam hai' with Raju's primary school friends being asked to comment on him, surely some former confidantes could have been persuaded to talk?

Among them D V S Raju (a cousin who was instrumental in setting up Satyam between 1987 and 1992) and Srini Raju (brother in law, who helped run Satyam till the year 2000. Also the fesity Income Tax dy commissioner who almost derailed Raju with her queries back in 2002... wonder what *she* has to say!

At the end of this quick read, I gazed at the puffy clouds around the aircraft window and thought to myself...

a) Ramalinga Raju , you did all this for land, land and more land. But tell me, tu lekar kahaan jayega?. Kingshuk Nag makes just this point by referring to Tolstoy's classic short story "How much land does a man need?"

The answer is:"A man needs only six feet of land to cover him from head to toe..." Unfortunately this country is full of Rajus, who never quite understand that!

b) Raju was the proverbial dork who wanted to be Mr Popular. Quoting from page 76.

"It was partly a deep inferiority complex that made Raju embark on this unholy path... Raju knew that he could neither match Narayana Murthy nor Azim Premji, as Satyam procured mucht of its business by quoting cheaper rates... But Andhraites had made him into an icon and he had to live up to this image".

Raju had to show 'as good' quarterly results as an Infosys or a Wipro - hence he fudged. The company actually waited till Infy released its figures and then decided what numbers to show!

c) Lastly, blind love for his sons was another fatal flaw. Again, common with Indian politicians, actors and businessmen. No known cure for this affliction!

To sum up, 'The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju' will sell decent numbers but does satiate the thirst to get inside the mind of this smooth criminal. Perhaps someday we'll have a 'David Frost' to do unto Raju a full and final confession.

I think, like Nixon, he would probably justify his actions and say, "Karna padta hai - sab karte hain". Only to rue the fact that he was the unlucky one who got caught.

'The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju' by Kingshuk Nag
Rs 250, Harper Collins

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Career question of the week

Q: I am a software engineer working in a product based company in Bangalore for the last 3 years. I want to go for higher studies (M-Tech) but at the same time i cant leave my job. So can you please suggest me some reputed institutes where i can pursue my M-Tech as a part time or by correspondence. My problem is that i need reputed institutes only because i have done my B-Tech with a private engg. college in U.P. and now i want a tag.

Also please tell me the value of that M-Tech in the market. I know i am asking for too much but please suggest. i am confused.

Dear Confused - the best (and only distance learning MTech) I know of and can recommend to you is BITS Pilani. However from what I gather you need the consent and support of your organisation, including a Mentor at your workplace.

Can anyone who's completed this program provide more details? Also info about any other such 'part time MTechs' which have value in the job market.

You can post comments here or drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Business Standard on IIM Shillong

A day after my story on IIM Shillong Business Standard has done a wonderful report on the very same issue.

IIM-Shillong loses half its faculty over differences with director
Archana Mohan & Kalpana Pathak / Bangalore/New Delhi November 10, 2009, 0:31 IST

In slightly over a year since the inception of the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (RGIIM) in July 2008, nearly half the 13-strong faculty have left following differences with the institute's Director Ashoke Dutta...

The story made it to the front page on some editions :)

I do hope MHRD & the Board of Governors of IIM Shillong as well as other stakeholders find out the facts for themselves and take corrective action. The time to act is now!

Monday, November 09, 2009

IIM Shillong - a mockery in the name of 'IIM'

IIM Shillong - a mockery in the name of 'IIM'
- Rashmi Bansal

Can a person without academic credentials or a PhD be appointed as director of an IIM?

Can administrative staff attend faculty meetings and interfere in academic matters?

Can faculty be denied their allowances and even the contributory provident fund (CPF) due by law?

All this and much more constitutes the shocking state of affairs at IIM Shillong - the newest IIM which started functioning from July 2008. Every process, from the appointment of faculty members to the purchase of equipment, has been subverted, resulting in an institute which is only an IIM in name.

No less than 7 of the 13 full time faculty members who joined IIM Shillong in 2008 left in less than a year, leaving a demoralised student body and questions about how an institute by the name of 'IIM' can get by without following any prescribed norms.

At the core of the issue is the appointment of Ashoke Kumar Datta as director of IIM Shillong. Dutta's profile includes 40 years of erratic corporate experience and does not list any academic credentials. Directors and faculty at IIMs are generally required to have a PhD in their subject.

Mr Dutta's biodata lists his qualification as PGDM from IIM Calcutta and 2 years on the doctoral program of Case Western University between 1971-73 (he left without receiving the degree).

At the time of his appointment Mr Ashoke Dutta was already past the age of 60, a fact which should have disqualified him from what is meant to be a 5 year term.

A source who was closely involved with IIM Shillong at inception stage says, "Mr Dutta's appointment was not cleared by the PMO and earlier by the Dept of Personnel for a full three/four months after selection. I understand there was a problem of Security Clearance and a question of age besides the PHD which kept them from clearing the appointment. It took the intervention of the then MHRD Minister through a letter to the Prime Minister to obtain the clearance".

The appointment of a number of faculty members did not follow due process as well. A former professor at IIM Shillong, recounts the horrific way in which rules were flouted to accomodate some faculty members.

"A prospective faculty member is generally required to present a paper before the students and existing faculty, before being invited for interview. In the case of at least one faculty member, there was neither a presentation nor an interview."

Another shocking case was that of a candidate who was rejected by the interview board and yet appointed as a 'faculty associate'. Three months this person was promoted to the post of assistant professor.

Another professor was recruited to teach a subject, despite having no experience or background in this subject. These and many more decisions related to academics were taken by the director unilaterally, without consulting the Dean and other faculty colleagues.

The collegial system of governance, the Director's complete lack of powers in appointments and his accountability to the Faculty Council are at the heart of the IIM model of merit and excellence.

Apart from these processes not being followed, major issues with the organisational culture soon became obvious. Some of the strange practices at IIM Shillong included:

a) Daily faculty meeting for 1 hour between 9 and 10 am with no specific agenda

b) Administrative staff being invited to attend faculty meetings where they have no locus standi

c) Administrative staff interrupting lectures on minor pretexts.

d) Officer on Special Duty (Finance) sending emails questioning professors on issues related to CAT interview selections

e) Professors being humiliated in faculty meetings, intimidated verbally and through memos; and being told by the director "you are welcome to leave" if they raised their voice on any issue, including issues like CPF (contributory provident fund) not being provided by IIM Shillong, as per prevailing laws of the land.

A former IIM Shillong professor who spoke to me recalls, "I realised there was a problem when on 5th July 2008, when the director tried to force a faculty member to teach the accounting paper. The faculty member had refused citing lack of experience in teaching that subject".

"The Director insisted the faculty should teach accounting or resign. The person in question did resign but was later asked to stay on."

But this faculty member was not the only one to suffer thus.

Another such person was an eminent professor of Economics, who relocated to India from the US, where he taught at reputed schools including NYU. His wife, a professional with 20 years experience at leading American banks and financial institutions (and a visiting professor at schools like Northwestern university) also joined IIM Shillong as faculty member.

This professor objected to several of the goings on, including a faculty member being appointed in the economics area without his knowledge.

In less than 15 days, the economics professor became persona non grata. The director found an excuse to withdraw the offer made to his wife and he did so in the most callous manner - by serving a discharge letter while she was in the midst of taking a class.

Both professors left the very same day and subsequently joined another IIM.

IIM Shillong also failed to provide the basic support required by professors to do their jobs smoothly.

"I have spent substantial amount along with the student co ordinators for the winter placement activity. The money spent on STD calls, faxes, couriers and so on was not provided by IIM Shillong." says the former IIM Shillong professor.

Matters came to a head when in a faculty meeting he requested Mr Dutta to release money due to the faculty under CPF (Contributory Provident Fund). Since the probation period for faculty had been extended from 1 year to 2 years, various allowances such as relocation allowance and foreign travel grant were also not being provided.

"In fact I was not reimbursed for the travel cost incurred in my recruitment interview. The Faculty Development Allowance of Rs 36,000 per year which is provided to professors to subscribe to academic journals and magazines was also withheld, despite being specifically mentioned in my appointment letter," he says.

Ultimately, the director terminated the services of the professor who raised his voice - without citing any reason.

The former professor adds,"I had a very high rating from students, the highest for any faculty member. I was relieved because I am not a yes man and because I asked questions about the improper functioning of IIM Shillong." These questions included financial irregularities.

These include the following:

* Mr Dutta happens to be the chairman of a company from Kolkata, the All India Technologies, which is appointed as the webmaster of IIM Shillong for designing and maintenance of the institute’s website.

* Another related party transaction is the procurement of a web conferencing solution from Intellisys ltd, a company in which Mr Dutta occupies the position of a director.

Sources also allege that Mr Dutta is hardly present on the campus, with innumerable foreign and domestic tours taking him away for Shillong for 15-20 days in a month. Mr Dutta was to take the Business Communication course last year but only took 2 lectures. The rest of the course was handled by other faculty members.

The two areas where IIM Shillong has maintained sanctity are the course curriculum and the intake of students. In both cases external advisors are involved. Prof Paul Srivastava of Bucknell university has helped to design the PGP course curriculum.

Former director of IIM Ahmedabad Jahar Saha was the Chairman of the Admissions Committee of IIM Shillong and with the help of former IIMA and IIMC professors, conducted the interviews of shortlisted students. This process was smooth in both 2008 and 2009.

"The Ministry of Human Resources and Board of Governors of IIM Shillong is fully aware of what is going on, but not taking any action," says the former IIM S professor who spoke to me.

The biggest losers in all this are the students, who have no option but to graduate from IIM Shillong, making the best of a bad situation. They are silent, for fear of repercussions and harassment, as well as adverse impact on their placements.

(It is interesting to note that IIM Shillong had trouble filling up seats this year with scanty acceptances from the first and second list released by the institute. A third, fourth and fifth list was released before all seats could be filled).

In response to an email and fax questionnaire on all of the above issues, Mr Dutta stated that, "Most of the points raised by you pertain to jurisdiction outside the purview of the director."

Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) acknowledged they have received my questionnaire but would not commit on a timeframe in which they would answer.

All in all it is a very sorry state of affairs. With four more 'IIMs' slated to come up over next two years, it raises important issues of academic standards, governance and accountability of new institutions toward their stakeholders. And the IIM brand name.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wanted: beer drinkers in Mumbai & Delhi

If you are a beer drinker living in Mumbai & Delhi and can spare 2 hours of your time for a study on what the youth think & what they drink - drop me a line.

You get cool cash (Rs 1000 to be precise!) + dinner/ high tea depending on time of day + meet some interesting people.

You need to be free on these days depending on yr age category:


Males (18-24): Fri Oct 9, 7-9 pm

Females (18-24): Sat Oct 10, 4-6 pm

Males (25-35): Sat Oct 10, 7-9 pm

Venue: Ramada palm grove


Females (18-24): Sun Oct 11, 4-6 pm

Males (25-35): Sun Oct 11, 7-9 pm

Males (18-24): Mon Oct 12

Sunday is in south Delhi (Lajpat nagar) and Monday at DLF phase 1 in Gurgaon.

Please note that you must not work in the advertising, MR, PR or alcohol industry. And that this is not a beer tasting or sampling session - you will only *talk* about beer. However you are free to go and blow up your cash however you like :)

If u think you fit the bill drop a line with your contact details including tel no to rashmi_b at yahoo.com.

Why the IIT faculty is on a hunger strike

Airline employees strike.
Bank workers strike.
But IIT professors? It is a very sad day when they go on strike!

Something must be very rotten in the state of Denmark - in a manner of speaking - for these gentle souls to take such an extreme step. Certainly IIT professors deserve far better salaries but rest assured it is not merely for a few extra bucks.

I am reproducing an email put out by the Faculty Forum of IIT Bombay which lucidly explains why they took this stand.

Dear Friends:

HRD Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal has been making comments which incorrectly portrays our protest as being for salary only. This is far from the truth and a look at our memorandum dated 21/09/09 will make it clear that the IIT faculty are fighting more for autonomy, dignity and honor that the MHRD is systematically robbing the IITs of. Our main concerns are the following:

1. In the UGC system there is a percentage cap on posts (like 10% only can be Professors). This has failed them since meritorious people may not be promoted if there is no vacancy. MHRD is trying to impose something like that on IITs, where, till now, promotion is by merit only. This is direct interference in the academic autonomy of IITs.

2. IITs heavily depend on recruiting bright young people as soon as possible after PhD. MHRD has offered that a fresh PhD graduate can only be given a contractual post with a salary of about Rs 28000. Does anyone think we can recruit the large number of good people, that IITs need, with this salary? (IITs need about 6000-8000 new faculty in the next 7-8 years)

3. The Goverment of India has honored DAE and ISRO by giving them something called PRIS (O) since they are “centers of excellence”. Everyone from the sweepers to the senior scientists are getting that which is a 20% added amount to salary. They have nt given this yet to IITs. Are IITs not as “excellent” as DAE and ISRO?

This is about prestige and honor of the faculty. All these can only have one outcome: destruction of the IIT system over the next decade or two. The faculty are fighting to prevent this from happening. The minister through the media claims that it is about money. IT IS NOT ABOUT MONEY. If at all it is about money, it is for people who are not yet a faculty member here, for students still doing their PhDs (or even in earlier stages of their career, who have the potential to teach in an IIT, but may not feel that such a career is viable)

I believe that honour and prestige is the crux of the issue. Yes, IIT and IIM faculty feel they should be paid better but I don't think they would ever go on strike for money alone.

In fact, whenever I speak to faculty about whether they would jump ship as soon as some fancy foreign university sets up shop they say,"Not necessarily."

Apart from salary, professors value academic and operational freedom.
Their status as members of a respected institution.
The kick of teaching the 'best' students in the country.

If the government keeps its hands off and allows the older IITs and IIMs to chart their own destiny, they'll have a fighting chance. Else, the war will be lost... even before the battle has begun!

White Tigress

Punjab may be the land of milk and honey but it is not the land of airports. So I found myself in a shatabdi (no complaints, excellent train!), on the way to Ludhiana, a couple of days ago.

The seat next to me is occupied by a 'typical Punjaban'. Pink suit, pink lipstick, pink cheeks, armful of red and white bangles. Add a sarson ka khet and a tall glass of lassi and I'd be on the set of a Yashraj film...

Of course there is no lassi; instead I make tea from an Indian Railways thermos. And just as I attempt to get some 'work' done (hurrah for railways - modem bhi chalega!), she strikes up a conversation.

I am a bit surprised to learn that "Pretty in Pink" - let me call her Ruby henceforth - is actually an MTech in Computer Science.

"I was teaching at ABCD (well known engineering college in Punjab) but then I got married. Now I am looking for a job again..."

Ruby's husband is in the software industry and has just joined a company in Mohali. Arranged marriage. In the general spirit of chattiness I ask impolite Indian questions: "How did you decide.. how did you know he was the *one*?"

And she replies,"I left it to my 'payerents'. I said you know what's best for me... you decide".

In fact, Ruby did not even 'meet' her husband separately before marriage. Ladka ladki ne ek doosre ko sirf dekha, with a hundred relatives hovering around with chai and barfis. As is the Great Indian Dekhne ka Tradition.

But don't boys and girls usually meet separately a couple of times these days... before making a final decision?

Yes, but in her mind, it was a 'foregone' conclusion.

They did speak about a few things. Like she would work after marriage - as a lecturer.

"Actually my husband is less qualified than me. He is only MCA, that too distance. But he was in a good job, good family, earning well... "

Isliye pitaji ko theek laga.

It's tough to find a job right now as the semester has started, she added. Perhaps she should also look for something in industry.

"No, my father told me long back ki beta you join academic line. If both husband and wife are in industry then there will be no time for family..."

Of course she has no plans of having an 'issue' for next 2 years. "I want to enjoy married life", she adds.

Great, but she does not seem too happy to me.. just one month after. I wonder, if marriage has been this compromise, a duty to be fulfilled, what happens if one fine day she meets someone who makes her heart flutter?

"You mean someone who I can really connect with."


"No it can't happen."

Why not?

"Because I cannot think that way.. feel that way. I am not an expressive girl..."

Us tarah se kabhi kisi ladke ko dekha nahin... Aur agar kisi ne dekha to I won't give him a chance to get close to me.

Fresh from reading the White Tiger, the words Rooster Coop flash in my mind. There is one coop which keeps the have nots in their places. And another which does much the same for women - The 'Hen Coop'.

You bring up girls in this society *knowing* and *believing* it is dangerous to dare. And of course, to dream.

Abort your unborn ambitions at the altar of family. Ensure the heart is like banjar zameen where 'love' cannot and will not take root! In return we offer izzat, motherhood, lots of jewellery and the tag of Mrs to use on Indian Airlines...

The Hen Coop is what keeps the Great Indian Family going, even as the rest of the world hurtles towards chaos. Not that 'all is well' behind the closed doors of a courtyard where one SUV, one Honda city and one Alto (best for going to sabzi mandi!) stand proudly.

And then Ruby blurts,"Actually if I had met my husband properly before marriage.. I would not have married him!"

Bhai kyun?

"The other day he told me.. he had many girlfriends before marriage.. he was working in IT and BPO you know wahan to yeh sab hota hi hai."

Better before marriage, than after marriage, no? I venture.

Her eyes flash,"What guarantee is there that he will not be tempted after marriage also? So many families, so many, I have seen like that...!"

And suddenly I get a glimpse of a completely different person.

"I told him clearly one thing. If you ever have any hanky panky with anyone.. that day, that moment I will walk out and NEVER come back."

Under the pink salwar suit, I see stripes.

I see a 'white tigress'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The White Tiger - a review, and then some

I picked up Aravind Adiga's 'White Tiger' only recently. Definitely a late lateef purchase and no, not from the traffic signal. I hate badly printed books and do not pick up pirated copies as a matter of principle.

It's the least one author can do for another :)

Well, the first 40 pages of 'White Tiger' did not take my breath away.

a) I felt it was written for a foreign audience. The way journalists write about India in Time magazine. (Yes I know, the author was a reporter for that very same magazine not long ago!)

b) The idea of Balram Halwai, the driver from the heart of Darkness writing a letter to the Chinese Prime Minister in the Queen's English bugged me. I mean, really, it did not seem like his voice.

But 100 pages on I fell into the rhythm of the book and started enjoying it. And I was filled with sneaky admiration for what Aravind was trying to do.

The White Tiger addresses the issue that we live with each and every day and which shocks every White Man who visits this country. How can we as a nation exist skyscraper to slum, BMW to bullock cart, PVR to piss-on-the tracks and never quite blow up?

If the have nots outnumber the haves by so many millions why don't they simply rise up and finish us all off?

Well, the answer according to Aravind, lies in the 'greatest thing India has ever invented' which is the Rooster Coop.

Just like roosters who are caged and accept their fate at the hands of the butcher, so do human beings accept the cage they are bolted in. The poor have a station in life, which is to serve the rich, and theirs is not to question, or to rebel. As Balram aka White Tiger puts it:

"A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 % - as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way - to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man's hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse."

Hmm. Dark thoughts but much of the book is laced with equally dark humour. Or so it appeared to me - one man's tragedy is another's comedy as they say!

Never before have people like me smelt the insides of a servant's quarters and visualised the nocturnal dancing of cockroaches. Thought about how icky it might be to massage hairy feet. Or realised the importance of caste, of religion, of 'background'. Even to get a lowly driver's job.

(Yes, we had 'Slumdog Millionaire' but that was more of a fairy tale)

I was also fascinated by some of side characters like Vitiligo Lips, Pinky madam and the idea of drivers passing their time reading Murder Weekly (is there really such a publication? Perhaps a spicier version of Manohar kahaniyan which I remember from summers spent at my native place!)

I wonder how much time Aravind actually spent observing Balram types, to be able to touch upon the hierarchy that exists even in a servant quarters. Like in college - "Main tera senior, zara bach ke rehna"!

For every blonde Ukrainian prostitute there is the fair skinned Indian with the dye job. Because everywhere, there are two Indias.

There's English liquor and country liquor.
There's penthouse and basement.
There's Light and there's Darkness.

We who type away at a computer connected to broadband in a language left behind by our former masters are in the 'light'.

But every day we brush shoulders with those in the darkness. Maids, cooks, ayahs, sweepers and of course, drivers.

I am surely a much kinder employer than the Mongoose or even the well meaning but ill fated Ashok (for context, refer book!) but when one Rajendra Yadav reports to work tomorrow... For a moment, I will be reminded of the White Tiger.

As long as the tigers - or the roosters, who form the majority - remain in their cages, life as we know it will go on. Naxal movements are wreaking havoc but are yet to touch the main cities. And so it that we have the occasional report of murder or dacoity but on the whole still feel 'safe'. And believe we will stay that way, for another generation.

But who can really say?

I sure hope our various social upliftment programs do some good because I really don't want to see more 'entrepreneurs' like Balram Halwai... angry and not so foolish ones! The kind who get their start up capital by slitting their employer's throats.

And then cross over to Our Side, melt into the neighbourhood and become 'high net worth' customers.

The White Tiger, Rs 395

P.S. Harper Collins, I hope you are coming out with a paperback edition soon coz the Balrams of the booktrade have been hawking it for months now!

Also read: my blog titled White Tigress

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amazing grace

I went to Hypercity today thinking I would pick up a couple of things. Went a bit berserk (vegetables! detergent! icecream!) and emerged with five not-so-light shopping bags.

"Can I take the cart upto level 1?" I asked a guy in uniform near the exit.

"Aapko ricksha lena hai.. chalo main chhod deta hoon," he replied.

We got into the lift, then out, I walked slightly ahead of him - no particular reason. But maybe unconsciously in memsaab mode.

I fiddled in my purse to find change. First I took out a five rupee coin. Then I thought nahin, I have shopped so much. Should give him at least 10 bucks.

He patiently waited for rick to come ahead, carefully arranged my bags and then I got in.

I said, "Thank you" and handed him the note.

He gave a really wide smile and shook his head,"No madam, yeh to maine dekha aapko.. to aa gaya saath mein.. insaaniyat ke naate."

That guy - I don't even know his name - left me humbled.

There are good people everywhere, practicing random acts of kindness. I was feeling a bit low today - he made my day!

May more insaans practice this insaaniyat ka naata. And make the world a more beautiful place.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Career query of the week

An interesting question from a software engineer who wants to study filmmaking abroad...:

I m a software engg. Age is 26. I am very much interested in doing FILM Making (Direction) Course & making my career in this field out of india, preferably in US or Europe film industry or television industry.

Now I wud like to know what is the way I can proceed in this direction.

Q 1- I want to take admission in some good film making college in US or EUROPE. Concern : the fee structure is very high. Pl let me know any good film making schools with affordable fees either in US or Europe.

Q 2- : What will be the career path after learning the FILM making course. I mean I am ready to struggle few yrs with low compensation in that country from where I will complete the course.

Q3- : What is the way (entrance exam) to join film making colleges in US or Europe.

To be honest, I do not know much about film making courses abroad... Any recommendations or advice you can share in the comments would be a great help to this guy! And many others..

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Does India need 7 more IIMs?

The cabinet has just approved the setting up of 7 new IIMs over the next 2 years. Locations range from Tamil Nadu and Haryana to Chhatisgarh to J & K. A sum of Rs 1057crores has been alloted for this purpose, reports Business Standard.

My question is why - why set up SEVEN new IIMs in a single go?

There are 1000 + bschools providing management education in this country. No shortage of seats there. Yes, 'quality' education is offered only at a few but what guarantee do we have that these new institutes will live up to extraordinary standards in any case?

What does one expect from an IIM? Well:

a) Quality of students: Intake being through CAT, toughly contested etc

b) Quality of faculty: A committed set of high quality people

c) Infrastructure: Land, buildings, ek acchha campus

d) X factor: That special something in terms of academic orientation, student life and overall culture that sets it apart.

So far so good, but is all this likely to happen, all of a sudden, at seven new locations? I think not!

First of all, the idea of situating a management institute in remote areas cut off from civilisation needs to be examined. Take IIM Shillong, which I visited a few months ago. Beautiful, relaxing - but the nearest industrial town - and airport - is Guwahati, which is 3 hours away by road. How much industry exposure, CEO visits on campus or guest lectures can they hope to attract?

Not to mention placement. I *really* don't see companies taking the trouble to visit IIM Chhatisgarh when there are so many management institutes in Mumbai, Pune and Gurgaon offering eager-to-work, decent quality graduates.

Coming back to our original four points:

a) Students: New IIMs are not hot destinations for the brightest of
students. Many will opt for an SP Jain, XLRI, MDI or FMS over IIM Uttaranchal. IIM Shillong has had that experience.

b) Faculty: It's tough for IIM A, B & C to get great faculty - given current payscales. Wonder what extra incentive, if any, there is for an academic to join an IIM in the middle of nowhere. That too with only teaching, no research orientation in initial years.

c) Infrastructure: Sure, the new IIMs will have great campuses
within 5 years. But today there are plenty of private bschools with very nice campuses as well - SIBM for example. It's not that big a deal.

d) X factor: This is the toughest bit. Culture is a collective energy, a vibe which is part intent, part accident. It is the asking of questions, the seeking of answers: "Who am I" and "What do I stand for".

The DNA of an institution cannot be to be an "IIM". Because by today's definition that would boil down to "best students, best placements."

We don't need more government sponsored management institutes with no particular focus. Have some USP, some reason to BE and not just exist!

In short, I think we are simply wasting Rs 1000 crores. If we need to set up new IIMs - let's figure out why, where and who is going to benefit.

If the intention is regional social development, well then let's accept that an IIM in Srinagar is not really going to do anything for the youth of J & K. Just as IIM Shillong makes no difference to the youth of the Northeast.

If you want to make a regional impact then go ahead and reserve 50% of the seats for locals. But that will dilute brand IIM, you say? Yes - so choose another name. ike we have IITs and we have NITs. And now IIITs.

Let the new institutes start with a clean slate. Let the old ones not be asked to carry new burdens.

And let it be an entire package deal: IIM + SEZ + airport. A stimulus package to grow the local economy by attracting industry, jobs and students. With the bschool being integrated - in a deep and meaningful way - with its immediate environment, and constituents.

Kapil Sibalji - are you listening??!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Experience the Joy of Giving

Hum sab is duniya se, doosron se, bahut kuch chahte hain
Magar hum duniya ko, doosron ke liye, kya kar sakte hain?

No matter who you are - young or old, rich or poor - you can experience a special kind of joy. And that is the joy of 'giving'.

Yes, I buy that but a few months ago when my friend and batchmate Venkat Krishnan came to me with the idea of a 'Joy of Giving Week' I thought it was a pretty bizarre idea.

Valentine's Day, Mother's Day - sure these days have been created by card companies. But can all of India really come together for one week of every year and celebrate something as 'giving'.

Three months later I have to say the answer is 'yes'. The 'Joy of Giving Week' from Sept 27-Oct 3 is turning into a national movement. People from all walks of life are coming together to create something very special.

Something you will hear a great deal about in the weeks to come.

So what is JOGW? Simply put:
It is a platform for all across the country to celebrate the joy of giving. Whether you are a paan wala in Lucknow, a traffic cop in Mumbai, an idli seller in Madurai, a millionaire in Delhi, a multinational company in Bengaluru, a saree shop owner in Kolkata, a teenager in a school or a college goer in Vadodara...

This is your opportunity to reach out to someone less privileged – by donating money, volunteering time, providing your skills and even just saying a kind word to someone who may not have expected it from you.

All you need to be part of the Joy of Giving Week is to do one simple conscious act of giving. So join the movement, now!

Some of the activities planned during Joy of Giving Week

* School Design Challenge - 35,000 schools across the country to participate in a new contest that invites children to think of solutions to India's problems, and implement them during the week.
* Goonj's Clothes collection drive will reach out to 25 cities across the country and raise 10 million donated clothes.
* Apollo Organ Donation Campaign -- Apollo Hospitals will promote a large campaign inviting people to pledge their organs and save lives
* Stars 4 Charity -- To be anchored by Farah Khan (with many from Bollywood participating). The proceeds will go to Jai Vakeel Trust.
CEOs Walk The Ramp - Taj has agreed to host the event pro bono. CEOs do a fashion show for charity
* Shadow A CEO - Indian School of Business to get on board India's top 50 CEOs and elite B-schools for a unique fundraising and learning opportunity
* Wildlife Conservation Trust - To match all donations made for certain wildlife conservation projects during the week, up to 1 crore rupees.

And, of special interest to college students - the Joyfest to be held in 300 colleges across India.

What is Joyfest?
Every college has a festival but this one is different. Joyfest is an opportunity for two Indias to come together - on a common platform

Step 1: Every college selects an NGO of its choice to partner with (orphanage, old people's home, orphanage etc)
Step 2: The college holds a cultural program of 60-90 minutes where students & NGO members participate together
eg Antakshari - one student, one slum child form a team and so on
Step 3: The NGO is the special guest of the college for that day.

Students will raise funds for the NGO through any activity of their choice eg sell tickets to the show, game stalls, sale of old books - or whatever they decide to do.

Why Joyfest?
It would have been easier to just hold a funfair and donate the money to a charity. But we think that you, the future leaders of this country, should actually reach out to the underprivileged. Get to know them, connect with them as human beings.

Giving is not just about money but about your time, our attention, your heart and your soul.

Joyfest is supported by MTV and JAM magazine, because we believe that youth does have that heart.

Do come forward and start a Joyfest in your college. You can register at the Joyfest website - www.joyfest.in Or drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com and I'll get someone to take you through the process.

The first 25 colleges to register will get 'pioneer status' and special media coverage. All students who participate in Joyfest will receive certificates from 'Joy of Giving Week'.

But hey, that is just a bonus! of As this film made especially for Joy of Giving week by ace South Indian Director, Jayendra should convince you.... This was his 'gift' to the movement!

It had to be an NRI

Madhuri Dixit did it.

Madhu Sapre did it.

Found an NRI/ phorener and rode into the sunset, I mean.

It's no surprise then that Rakhi picked Elesh from Canada as her future husband. The baby faced Manas and Chittiz (yuck what a name!) did not even look the part. Much less play it.

Elesh was the only one who said "I love you", with conviction.

The others were just acting, and Chittiz in particular was clearly not interested. Manas ki ma was hysterical throughout the finale - bete ye mujhe kahan le aaye ho. Laughing at all the wrong places and unable to say a single line to welcome her hone wali bahu. After all, her son is barely 22 years old...

OK - so the show was cheesy but well executed. Thank God there was no 'viewer poll' -- keeping in mind 'ek ladki ki zindagi ka sawaal' and all that.

And we do hope this *engagement* fructifies into a wedding nahin to Rakhi ki khair nahin! All of India sat up till 11 pm to 'bless her'. And confirm she would not wriggle out of it somehow. No 'kahani mein twist'.

I enjoyed the entire shindig, and whatever you say, the idea that a girl can choose her guy in this way is empowering. It's quite the opposite in the traditional arranged marriage where men still have the upper hand.

And there's no concept of wooing the bride, is there?

What Rakhi said about choosing Elesh was also interesting: "He came across as a genuine and caring person on and off camera".

Off camera is the important aspect. But in Rakhi's case then, do we believe the 'genuineness' she portrays on camera?

I liked the fact that even at the final stage - in the wedding outfit - she exposed a bit of cleavage and a lot of navel. "That's who I am, take it or leave it!"

Chalo, wishing Rakhi and Elace all the very best. I know there are lots of jokes about the impending divorce (if the marriage happens at all). But I think everybody deserves a chance and the happiest of couples are often the most unlikely ones.

Aapne sab se maangi, Rakhiji, toh here are my blessings!

And congratulations to NDTV Imagine for finally cracking the 'Hum aapke hain kaun' format which worked - for television.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ode to Teenage - video library of my teens

Yesterday I saw a movie called 'Seven Pounds' on DVD which is one of the most pointless and depressing movies I have ever seen. Seriously, Hollywood seems to have lost it.

Of course I have not seen either Kambakht Ishq or Luck (and do not plan to) but even those cannot beat the sheer lack of colour, sense or style in 'Seven Pounds'. Will Smith, what were you thinking??

But this is not a lament on a specific movie, rather the whole DVD rental experience. A couple of months ago I joined Bigflix 6 month 'unlimited rental' plan. Which basically means you can keep 2 DVDs for as long as you like; or rotate them every day. Why Bigflix?

Well, their selection is not all that hot. Most of the movies they stock keep playing out on TV but this way you can watch at your convenience, and without ads. But the biggest point in Bigflix's favour is they actually have a store which is 5 minutes away from my house.

This is of course, a Reliance mobile showroom whose primary job is to sell SIM cards and collect bills. But, it also has a (mostly empty) cybercafe and small area devoted to BigFlix. Which means I can actually go across and pick up a movie - if I feel like.

I can also queue up movies and have them delivered but I like having the option of acting on impulse.

And being Reliance ADAG you have some surety that they won't just pull down the shutter one fine morning. Like clixflix.com did in New Bombay without bothering to inform customers. (reminder to self: must write a separate blog on that someday!)

My grouse with Bigflix - the corporate DVD rental experience - is that the folks who man the store are just doing a job. They don't really care about movies. Or wouldn't one of them have warned me: "Seven Pounds is absolutely avoidable!"

And my point of comparison of course is the one and only "Teenage video library". The folks who literally took me through my teens.

In 1983 my dad went to Japan and brought back a Hitachi VCR. Clunky by today's standards but an object of extreme beauty - and desire - back then. Promptly, we joined 'Teenage video library' in Colaba and began our romance with renting films.

The chief attraction at "Teenage" was a guy called Asif who was extremely cheerful and appeared to have seen every movie ever released. You just had to mention the name and he had an opinion for you. Or you said "I want a comedy" and he would recommend a few.

Asif must have been in his early 20s but for some reason did not have much hair on his head. I might have had a small crush on the guy, for some time. Even borrowed 10 bucks from him once, when on my way home from St Xavier's (as an FYJC student) I had no cash to take a BEST bus.

Asif had a brother who was older and had curly hair. He was obviously the 'boss' - probably the 'brains' of the operation. But Asif was the heart and soul.

The point is that a mom and pop shop like "Teenage" (or bhai and bhai in this case) had a certain charm. A stickiness, a sense of 'this is a service I trust'.

Unlike Bigflix they never ever shut down at 8 pm. Yes, we would argue if the 'print was bad' and much of their business came from pirated films. Bad bad boys :)

Bigflix cannot follow such a model (and those who want pirated don't rent DVDs - they simply download from the internet). But I wish they had a kid at the counter who was doing a part time job because he loved movies. I think it adds something to the experience.

Of course one can check reviews on the internet - or even on GPRS. But the point is, a human touch.

That touch is disappearing not just from DVD rental but every retail space as it 'modernises'. Salespeople come and give you a perfunctory "Madam can I help you" without the intention or inclination to do so.

And so many people behind the counter are busy jabbering away on their mobiles, or lost behind their headphones. Even when customers are waiting for billing, or for assistance of some kind. Because it's just a job and that means 'physical presence'. No energy, no emotion, no interest because "yeh mera thodi hai".

Aaj idhar hoon, kal kya pata.

I am sure "Teenage" still flourishes at Hampton Court in Colaba. Wonder if Asif still mans the counter. If not, I hope someone like him - to sell dreams and DVDs to the next generation of teenagers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sach ka saamna

Star Plus debuted the Indian version of 'Moment of Truth' today and I think it rocks as much as the original, in terms of morbid fasciation quotient for the viewer.

The real meat lies not in one family being torn apart with skeletons tumbling out of its Godrej almirah but the fact that every viewer is thinking: "How would I answer that question?"

When I first saw the phoren version of Moment of Truth on Star World, I thought,"Here is one show that will *not* get Indianised." After all we are a 'khaandaan ki izzat' loving country, would we do such things for money or 15 seconds of fame? (Infamy is more like it!)

Well I was wrong. The very first contestant - Smita Mathai- was an average middle class, silk-sari-with-mangalsutra kind of woman. She answered 12 questions - on everything from parents and inlaws to husband's alcoholism. She admitted she had thought of killing her husband at one point (heh heh - who hasn't :)

But seriously, she gave an eloquent explanation about his alcoholic period and how she could not see him suffering...

Q 11 I thought might do her in: "Are you still married to your husband for the sake of your children?"

Eh - 95% of the Indian population is, and finds nothing wrong with that. "Log shaadi bachchon ke liye hi to karte hain.. aur nibhaate bhi hain. Yehi to Indian culture hai."

Anyhow, Smita's lips quivered, her eyes seemed uncertain but she said "No".
And the polygraph agreed.
Husband whooped with joy.

Q no 12:"If your husband never came to know about it.. would you consider sleeping with another man."

Oops, I thought, she is trapped now. This is a hypothetical question. "If the bank never discovers you have stolen a crore of rupees, would you steal the money?" It's a fantasy and everyone has fantasies!

Now Smita can say "Yes, I would consider sleeping with another man if you never find out". Husband need not get offended because another man is not necessarily Mr Muthuswami next door but perhaps Shahrukh Khan. Or Brad Pitt. Or the dishy gym instructor.

Cosmopolitan magazine says fantasies are healthy, baba.

But Mr Mathai does not read such magazines. He is a hot blooded Indian male and will definitely feel insulted.

Knowing the consequences of saying "yes" Smita says "no".
When the polygraph beeps 'false' she looks surprised and says,"Yeh nahin ho sakta!"

Husband looks suitably crushed, embarassed, takes off glasses and wipes eyes.

Smita leaves the show with zero rupees and will spend rest of her life explaining that polygraph tests are not always true. They are not admissible in court as evidence. That she was tricked.

The truth is she was tricked, kinda. She thought she had 'nothing to hide' but discovered we are constantly hiding things. Even from ourselves.

The makers of this show have every intention of disrobing you -just like Draupadi was, in front of a full house. She had no choice, but Smita did and I wish she had quit when she could... She was too brave for her own good.

Tomorrow there is a thrice married buddha on the show. It will be spicy but you know what, more friends and relatives will snigger behind Smita's back than his. Because the 'morals' of society are supposed to be guarded by the women.

That's why brides in MP are 'tested' for virginity.

And why Rakhi Sawant is asked about hers, from a guy who apparently has a girlfriend back home (but still decides to participate in a swayamvar!)

The fun part is Rakhi got to kick that guy off her show. Which I think makes a statement.. of sorts. It's nice to see such issues being aired - even if is on a show which is about as 'real' as Michael Jackson's nose.

Sach yeh hai ki I am watching 'Rakhi ka swayamvar'. Apart from the drama, the palace is beautiful, and so are her clothes!

Aur ek chhota sach yeh bhi hai that I can't blame my book-in-progress for writing less on this blog. I've just been lazy, and I think I'm getting hooked on twitter. 'Instant gratification' and easier to tweet than blog on GPRS!

I need to remind myself that I am first and foremost a writer.

And so I must write.
Even if it is, about what I think of twitter...

As Captain Kirk might have put it, this blog's mission remains: 'To boldly go beyond 140 characters'

Sach ka saamna - 11 pm, Star Plus. Watch for high drama & Rajeev Khandelwal. And to have something to discuss, at the water cooler.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A good day...

Is a day when you learn something new.

And there is so much beauty and knowledge and wisdom in this world, that every day can be good, I say!

Well, today I was in a bookstore, waiting for a friend when I picked up a hardcover called '10 10 10' by Suzy Welch. I flipped through it and essentially she says:

"When making any difficult decision think about its consequences in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years."

Wow, I thought. That *is* a great rule to live by!

Now I don't plan to read the book itself (reviews are average) but the five minutes in that shop were certainly well spent!

On the way home I tried applying the 10-10-10 rule to a few dilemmas I'm facing in life. Let's take a relatively minor one, like not being able to blog that often these days.

It isn't lack of ideas, but a question of prorities. I'm trying to complete my next book and that takes all my heart, soul, discipline and determination!

So when I feel like writing a post I often just... let it slide.

For 10 minutes: It feels bad.

In ten months: It may affect this blog's readership (sometimes I wonder, if I slow down too much would I simply lose the *desire* to blog?)

In ten years: If I write a book which touches lives and ignites minds, it would all be worth it!

So, folks, forgive my long absences and silences. And think about the 10-10-10 rule, as it applies to your life! But hey, don't overdo it....

Like today I also learnt that I can eat an entire thin crust pizza (all 8 pieces) when really really hungry. But I don't think it qualifies for the 10-10-10 treatment.

Will just compensate by eating light tomorrow!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lift ke side effects

Anyone who's ever worked at Nariman Point knows that the elevators suck. It can easily take you 15-20 minutes to get from the ground floor to the desired point.

Well, the head of a company who has an office in one such building made an interesting observation today. He said and I quote:

"Ever since smoking was banned in public places you can't hang out just outside the office, or in the stairwell, and grab a smoke. You have to walk down and smoke outside the building."

(Not sure if even *that* is allowed but I guess there are fewer chances of getting into trouble)

"Well, the long and short of it is that with the lift situation being what it is, junta is forced to use the stairs. In the process, most smoking types have either lost a helluva lotta weight. Or simply cut down on smoking."

From half a pack a day they're down to 2-3 suttas - at least during working hours.

So in case you're wondering, the ban on smoking in public IS having an impact...

And the next time you cool your heels at Express Towers remember - the humble elevator is also playing its part!

Michael Jackson R.I.P.

Michael Jackson is dead. As far as I am concerned, the Michael Jackson I loved died a long time ago. What went on 25th June was just the pale shadow.

What was Michael's problem, you might wonder. He had talent, he had money, he had fame, he had fans. he had 'everything' most of us can only dream about.

The trouble was none of it mattered. Deep down inside, Michael hated himself.

That's why he underwent a zillion surgeries.
That's why he went wacko in many different ways.
That's why he was taking painkillers, on which it is believed he OD'ed.

The kind of pain he had though, could not be killed with any drug. Except love.

Self love.

As another singer who's also gone somewhat cuckoo in recent times once crooned, "Learning to love yourself... is the greatest love of all"!

Remember that! Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and say it to yourself:"No matter what - I love you, as you are."

And say a prayer for Michael and the little boy inside him who spent a lifetime looking, for the 'King of Pop', to say those very words.

P.S. You might want to pick up a book called 'You can Heal your Life' by Louise Hay. It will help you look into that mirror... and believe what you're saying!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stay Hungry crosses the 100,000 mark

I'm happy to share with you all a significant moment: my book 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' has crossed sales of 1 lakh copies!

To celebrate this occassion, the publishers - CIIE, IIM Ahmedabad - have organised an event in Bangalore on 2nd July. And you, dear readers, are cordially invited!

Date: Thursday, 2nd July 2009

The Venue: Spring Hall, Hotel Royal Orchid
1, Golf Avenue Adjoining KGA Golf Course
Off HAL Airport Road, Bengaluru 560 008

Time: 5- 7 pm

* Release of 100,000th copy of Stay Hungry Stay Foolish as well as the Kannada edition of the book

* Launch of the first CIIE Mentorship network in Bangalore city, spearheaded by IIMA alumni

* Opportunity to interact and network with alumni, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

IIM Bangalore director Pankaj Chandra and IIM Ahmedabad dean B H Jajoo will be present on the occasion. We're also expecting several of the entrepreneurs featured in the book, to be in attendance.

It is a weekday and early evening but I hope you are able to join us!
Pls do send me an RSVP at the earliest as we have limited seats :)

As always, drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com

P.S. I will be in Bangalore from Tue-Thu next week. Would be nice to meet some of you! Any students of IIM B? I will be @ yr campus on Jun 30.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book review: 'Stranger to History'

'Who am I', is a question most of us ask at some point as we grow up. But after examining the evidence and experimenting with the 'other' we settle into the comfort of our cocoons. The family, community, religion of our birth.

A few, very few, have the unique position and privilege of belonging, and yet standing apart. And their quest for identity throws up questions that increase our understanding of the whole.

If you've read Barack Obama's 'Dreams from my father' - you know exactly what I mean. Aatish Taseer's 'Stranger to History' reminded me so much of that book - different locations, but similar circumstances!

Obama was born of an African father and white mother, and grew up with his grandparents in Hawaii.

Aatish was born of an Indian mother and Pakistani father, and grew up with his Sikh grandparents in Delhi.

Both fathers abandoned their sons at a very early age and were absent from their lives as they grew up.

Ultimately, each of them embarked on a journey to find out who they were; and in the process examined what it means to be black (Obama) and to be a Muslim (Taseer).

'Stranger to History' is sub-titled 'A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands' and that's exactly what it is. The story alternates between the 'son' discovering himself and Islam in its many forms.

The first 'big principle' Aatish discovers is that wherever he went, "there was some current of macho comradeship and familiarity" Never mind that he did not feel particularly Muslim, or even know the right way to pray. His name, and parentage were reason enough to be accepted by the faithful.

That belonging, or 'extra national' Islamic identity is a thread that runs through most of the book.

In fact, this project came about after an article Aatish wrote about second generation Pakistani radicals - born in Britain - who bombed London buses and trains in 2005. When he sent the article to his father, Taseer senior responded by saying that Aatish was doing his family name disservice by spreading 'anti-Muslim propaganda'.

"To me, the most interesting aspect of the letter: my father, whi drank Scotch every evening, never fasted or prayed, even ate pork... was offended as a Muslim by what I had written."

Doubtless, that sentence alone would have caused further embarassment to Salman Taseer, a prominent figure in Pakistan who is now serving as Governor General of the Punjab province!

But the question that journalist in Aatish is asking is this:"Am I Muslim because of my outward appearance and adherence to certain rules laid down in 6th century Arabia?" He seeks answers across lands and cultures...

The journey begins in Turkey, a country where Kemal Ataturk banished the fez, the veil, changed the script to Roman and ended the office of caliph in the early twentieth century.

But he finds that even in this Turkey there are now outposts where people have adopted Arabic dress and radical Islam. And young men like Abdullah who sincerely believe that "Muslims have to be at the top.. we have to determine all the things in the world, otherwise we won't be free ourselves."

From Istanbul Aatish goes to Syria, where there is no free press or intellectual life and under the watch of a fierce secret police,the mosque became the only place for people to congregate and discuss politics. He observes that important issues are raised from the mosque and then 'smothered in prayer'.

The Grand Mufti at Abu Nour seeks "to restore believers to a pure historical and political world order, free of incursions from the modern world". It's the same desire that prompts young radicals to bomb those London trains.

Aatish describes the sermons as "a long narrative of former greatness and defeat, reversible not through education, new ideas or progress but through closer attention to the letter of the Book". An example which would have been funny had it not been so... mindblowing is a man asking a priest if his wife is permitted to wear nailpolish.

"Expecting the answer to be no, he is surprised when the priest says that of course she can; why shouldn't she look beautiful? However, it is written that when she washes for prayer, the water must touch every part of her body, including her nails... So yes, she can wear nailpolish as long as she removes it every time she is at prayer: five times a day!"

Aatish then proceeds to Mecca where he completes the Haj, feeling like a 'fraud' and is 'found out' in a sense when at the House of God he is ticked off for wearing strings from various Sufi shrines in India. Islam, as defined by the Wahabbis, does not approve of that...

The most interesting part of the book is the time Aatish spends in Teheran. And especially in the context of the current unrest in that country, there are many insights.

In Iran, Aatish meets Muhammad Rahimi, an ITT Delhi graduate who enthusiastically participated in overthrowing the Shah of Iran. He was one of those who stormed the Iranian embassy in New Delhi and took the Ambassador hostage. But the whole night, people were drinking and partying - and the next day the same men were standing in a formal ceremony and reading from the Koran.

What kind of Islamic revolution was this? Muhammad was deeply disillusioned and decided to quit the idea of politics altogether.

"And you know what's worst? They burnt our libraries and books. They tried to kill Farsi!.. Textbooks are shortening the country's pre-Islamic history.. The youth of today are strangers to their history!"

It seems like Islam may have led a revlution but it could not win the hearts and minds of its people. "Have you seen the mosques?" says a young man called Amir."They're empty but for a few people and Basiji (militia of young Iranian men whom the regime uses to enforce religious morality)."

"If you look into their eyes, they seem like a different species. We call them Homo Islamicos."

Aatish observes that 'trifles' had become the instrument with which regimes sought to control their population. How you can dress, or eat, or whether or not you can party... And what's more the regime is completely corrupt so ultimately you can 'buy your lashes'!

Phew. From the Danish cartoons which set the Muslim world on fire, to the assasination of Benazir Bhutto, Aatish manages to experience it all. And transmit to the reader some thoughts, some ideas that linger.

"The world is richer in its hybrids', he concludes. If only religion-driven men and women of all faiths and hues realised that!

However the book is not an easy read... I think it's been heavily edited so as to not get the author in trouble because he prefers to quote others speaking, much of the time. Unlike Obama's memoir which was so much more personal, and touched me so deeply!

I also wish Aatish had desisted from showing off from time to time, by using very GRE word list type words! "Conflation', mala maayat nahi!

But I still recommend 'Stranger to History' for its braveness and its boldness. Writing about religion is a delicate and hazardous task; I think Aatish has managed it skilfully.

Lastly and quite irrelevantly, in a ruffian-sort-of-way, the guy is very good-looking. Half Pakistani-half Sikh is an explosive combination :)

Rs 495, Pan Macmillan (hope the paperback version is cheaper!)

P.S. There are multiple covers of this book. The pic featured with this review is not the one selling in India. Shall scan the Indian version and upload tomorrow!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Career query of the week

An offbeat one!

Hi Rashmi,

There seems to be a bit of a lack on information on the scope and employment opportunities after completing International Relations. Also, JNU and Jamia are the only known universities offering the course.

I have decided to prepare for its entrances for this year with no agenda whatsoever. I just like the subject. It would be great of you to throw some light on this field, possible career avenues as well as the best universities India and abroad. So far I can only see my option in foreign affairs journalism.


I can think of IFS/ IAS and a career as a professor, as possible outcomes. One could also work for a thinktank and/or a United Nations kind of post (but there must be some route to achieve that - an IR degree is just basic groundwork).

If you have any info which can shed some light on JSB's question, do share the same in the comments!

Quick Gun Tiffin Mum

For the last 5 years, I've led a life of luxury. No I don't own Cartier jewellery, yachts or a penthouse. I've had a live-in maid who has managed every single aspect of my domestic life.

Well, salad days are coming to an end as Lata ab hamare yahaan kuch hi mahinon ke mehmaan hai. Yup, she will soon leave to get married and start a new life. And a new life it will be for me as well.

Of course we will manage with part time help, a cook and so on and so forth. But one thing that I know I need to manage personally is my daughter's school lunch. Short break and long break - and you know what, I've decided to take it up as a challenge.

I have never been a 'traditional' mother. The kind the Apeejay school textbook in KG class described as 'looks after all of us while father goes to work'. (I kid you not, such a textbook exists and I have preserved it, for the record!)

The closest compliment I have received on cooking from my family is Nivedita writing an essay on 'Meri maa' where she remarks in sentence 5: "My mother makes very good salad". (Note - I do, actually, the kind which you see spread out in salad bars. But you see it's more of imaginative cutting and chopping, mixing and matching, than anything else :)

Actually I can cook but have never needed to or wanted to... but I think inside every woman there is a little voice which yearns to be known as the mom who makes the bestest cupcakes (can still remember the ones made by Geeta and Girija's mother in our colony!).

Refer the opening pages of Allison Pearson's 'I don't know how she does it' for further confirmation on that point.

So. I have decided to take up the Challenge of the Indian School Tiffin Box. This tiffin must be:

a) Tasty: And by this I mean the box should come home wiped clean.

b) Healthy: Fried and bazaar bought stuff won't make the grade.

c) Speedy: I will not spend more than 15 minutes preparing it. Which mom has more time than that?

Ideally, the lunch must look good as well :)

Now you might say we in India already have quite a bit of variety - from parathas to pulao to uttapam, idlis and poha. But here's the problem: Vast number of kids don't find it exciting enough. Remember the ad for Kissan jam where the mom runs after the child with a spoon - a lot of Indian homes see scenes like that!

My theory is that Indians go through a cyclical eating pattern:

a) V early childhood: Daal-chawal-roti-sabzi

b) Early childhood: First discovery of pizzas, burgers and emotional blackmail. Gradual descent into nutritional hell

c) Late childhood and adolescence: Discovery of more forbidden food (and drink), rejection of 'tiffin'.

d) Late teens/ 20s: Hostel and bachelor pad phase. New found respect for simple ghar ka khana.

e) Thirty +: Reverse snobbery, WILL stride into office with 5 storey tiffin box.Eat your hearts out - everyone. Mujhe to bhai aur koi khana suit hi nahin karta.

Anyhow, the long and short of it is that I have decided to put some energy into making exciting school lunches and 'short breaks'. Nawt everyday - but once in a week.

Don't worry, dear readers. I shall create a separate blog to showcase my culinary experiments... And record with honesty how they were received by Nivedita & friends.

Suggestions/ recipes from tiffin-makers (or eaters) welcome. Anyone who can help me figure out the calorie and nutrient value of my experiments - pls get in touch as well! As always, the id is rashmi_b at yahoo.com.

May a thousand Buddhas smile upon my cooking :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book review: Eat pray love

My brother sent me a copy of 'Eat Pray Love' on my birthday and I was like "No.......! I read that more than a year ago." But how would he know? Well, agar maine blog par uska review likh diya hota to... khabar yoon hi pahunch jaati.

So, for all those of you who may be thinking of buying me a book :) or well, looking for a good book to read, here are some of my favourites reads over the past one year.

Each book probably deserves a dedicated blogpost but I shall be less ambitious and give you mini-reviews instead.

1) Eat Pray Love: I fell in love with the cover of this book and ten minutes into it, with the book itself. The writer - Elizabeth Gilbert - is obviously very 'pahunchi hui' - both in the way she writes and the way she's lived her life.

In a nutshell: Elizabeth is a thirty something woman with an almost perfect life. But on a cold November morning she finds herself sobbing on her bathroom floor and hearing a voice in her head:"I don't want to be married anymore. I don't want to live in this big house. I don't want to have a baby."

And so she walks out on the husband and the apartment in Manhattan with 8 phone lines, the friends and the picinics and the parties.

"I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life - so why did I feel like none of it resembled me?"... The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving...

But then, God spoke to Liz. And it was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice but her own voice, speaking from within. A voice she had never heard before.

"This was what my voice would sound like if I'd only ever experienced love and certainty in my life". The voice said:"Go back to bed, Liz"... Go back to bed so that, when the tempest comes you'll be strong enough to deal with it. And the tempest is coming very soon. But not tonight.

The author describes this as the beginning of a religious conversation:

"The first words of an open and exploratory dialogue that would, ultimately, bring me very close to God, indeed."

Three years after this conversation, having been through a messy divorce and failed love affair, Liz sets off on her 'search for everything' across Italy, India and Indonesia.

It's important to quote the 'religious conversation' bit, because although the book follows Elizabeth's journey across three countries it's not a travelogue. This is essentially a journey within.

The Italy portion is about the pursuit of pleasure - good food, good wine, good company. Because the body needs as much nourishment as the soul.

The India portion is about the pursuit of devotion - self mastery, enlightenment, all those very Himalayan things.

And Indonesia is about the pursuit of Balance. It's also the most "geewhiz, can this really be true" part of the book where Liz finds the love of her life. (Incidentally, the two are now 'happily married').

Okay. You either absolutely and completely connect with this book, or you put it down after 5 minutes. Women, those on a spiritual trip and anyone who admires ease of expression will find 'Eat Pray Love' unputdownable.

And despite that 'God' element rest assured it is not in the least bit heavy. This is a very simply and beautifully written book with extremely tiny chapters (108 of them). The logic being that 108 is the number of beads in the traditional japa mala. Concept, isn't it?

The author also endows the book with a sharp sense of humour, pithy cultural observations and loads of colourful characters. Starting from the Italian twins Giovanni and Dario to 'Richard from Texas' and Ketut Liyer - the Balinese healer.

And yet, the string running through it all is scathing self introspection and constant 'notes to myself'. A chick-lit version of 'My experiments with truth'!

One final selling point - reading the innermost thoughts and reflections of another human being is always comforting. Because you realise - "I am not alone".

Whether we will find 'Felipe' in this lifetime or not - is another story.

Coming soon: more reviews of books I've read recently and loved. Mini review likhte likhte full blog hi ho gaya... Must do justice after all :)

Related reads: Eat Pray Love fan blog

Elizabeth Gilbert's official website

An interesting bit if trivia:
Elizabeth Gilbert's GQ memoir about her bartending years became the movie Coyote Ugly. And Eat Pray Love is also being made into a major motion picture - with Julia Roberts in the lead role!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Note to myself

It takes 12 years on an average to develop a new drug. We started in 2000 and nine years later, I still do not know if we will succeed. So mine could be a wasted life, completely. But what an amazing challenge to try and understand this mystery called the human body.

- Dr Swati Piramal, director of Piramal Healthcare speaking to Nadine Kresiberger in the Indian Express today.

Words which ring so true but alas most of us can't - or don't wish to - get the message. Decode Swati's soundbyte and the general formula goes thus:

Find something you love and then pursue it.
Don't constantly hanker for results - they will come.
But meanwhile, enjoy the journey.
Because that's all you have, in this moment!

Besides, once you reach that goal, there's another one waiting to be achieved. Which makes 'happiness' an illusion ever out of reach. Like Waiting for Godot.

But hey, TV par philosophy kaise jhaadoon? People make wrong choices in life and then want practical solutions on how to leap from one career into another with no pain, no risk, no sweat at all.

So this week on my show 'Stay Hungry', I had a 29 year old MNC employee who thinks his salvation lies in supply chain management. (Why - just!)

A young engineer who went into journalism and one year later is preparing to attack CAT with a view to joining MICA. (But why, journalism mein kya kami hai, I say!)

And most interestingly, a professor of Persian from Aligarh who now wants to get into "professional line". (As if teaching is menial!)

Then, being admissions season this is that time of year when folks write to me with Qs like:

Can you suggest which of the following course is better at Symbosis, Pune
C) BSc- Economics: started recently.

I say 'better' or 'worse' by what yardstick? If I hate IT then options a) and b) will suck for me - no matter what. Why, oh why, is that not obvious?

As an expert I can at best shine a light down a pathway or two but the real power lies when you navigate the jungle of life. Using the compass that lies within each of us.

It's really that simple.

And here's a tip for all those who wail but "I don't know, I don't know what I like". Hell, you don't.

But you do know what you DON'T like. List that down and make sure you are not entering that field of study. Believe me, no degree is as valuable as the application of mind and heart that you bring to the table.

To sum up the 'note to myself' for this season of admissions and decisions: Trust your instincts.

If your mind is confused and unsettled, listen to your body. If your hands go cold, your head feels heavy or your stomach wobbles - it means NO WAY JOSE.

Now go out there and conquer the world!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crocodile Dandi

Violent attacks against Indian students in Australia have made headlines in India this week. It started with Times Now making the case of Shravan Kumar a prime time issue - not for a day, but over the entire week. Now, it's been taken up across the Indian media.

And many more such stories are tumbling out of the closet. Baljinder Singh was stabbed last week while Rajesh Kumar suffered 30 per cent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled at him - in his home - in Sydney.

Actually, back in March, the Economic Times had reported on this issue as follows:

The growing number of attacks on Indian students in Australia has become a big cause for concern at the Indian High Commission in Canberra. A senior diplomat at the High Commission told ET that in the last six months, there have been 500 cases of assault on Indian students, registered by the police authorities across Australia.

FIVE HUNDRED attacks and it did not make a ripple in India. And students too sat silent, I think because of two reasons:
a) Once you've invested in an education in Australia, you want to complete it - no matter what.
b) You know your own government will do nothing for you apart from lip service. So why make a fuss?

As a panelist observed on Times Now, "If a government does not care for the safety of its citizens abroad, why should the host nation?"

Well, in this case, because of economic interests. Indian students are cash cows for Australian universities- they've been heading Down Under in ever larger numbers over the last few years. Why?

Well, Australia is perceived as being cheaper than the US and friendlier than the UK. It's also relatively easy to get admission.

While Australia does attract some high achievers the general profile is the kid with average marks and above average bank balance. Business families, kids of corporate executives, well-to-do farmers. And the Oz-exodus is fuelled by a concerted marketing effort - in the media and at the grassroots level.

Canadian newspaper TheStar.com reports: Joyta Gupta, principal of K.R. Mangalam World School, a private school in central New Delhi says she and some of her teachers and students have been flown by the Australian government to cities such as Brisbane and Sydney to take part in seminars, a move Gupta said has made students more inclined to go to Australia to pursue diplomas and degrees.

One fourth of the graduates from the school go abroad to study every year.

Then there are students from smaller towns who would rather go phoren than settle for a B or C grade college in an metro town. And increasingly there are middle class Indians heading for foreign shores, with the help of loans.

Incidentally, hospitality, management and commerce courses are the most popular options.

So all in all, 95,000 Indians joined Australian universities in in 2008, making us the second largest foreign student group in the country after China. In fact, the education sector generated $15.5 billion in 2008 and has become Australia’s “third largest export industry” after coal and iron ore.

The Australian government was planning a $3.5-million campaign to attract more Indian students. But they'll need to use those funds more constructively now!

I have never been to Australia but the impression I have of the country is friendly and easy-going. No doubt there are anti-social elements in any and every society. And some who would be racist in their outlook.

But is the situaton getting aggravated by the current economic situation?

The report in ET noted: There are fears that such incidents of muggings, theft, racial abuse, car jackings and even murder are on the increase because of the economic meltdown and loss of jobs.

Last year Australia changed its visa rules, giving Indian students studying in Australia automatic eligibility to work part time during their courses. Earlier you had to seek permission to work as a student.

Some years ago it was next to impossible to stay on and work in Australia after completing your degree. Unless you had skills which were classified by the government as 'shortage' area. So MBAs and journalism graduates, for example, had to head straight back home.

But more recently I believe there is an option called the 'Skilled-Graduate (subclass 485) visa, valid for 18 months and carrying unrestricted work rights.
Foreign students who may not be eligible for permanent residency can apply for this visa and get some work experience.

I'm sure these graduates are willing to work harder and longer than locals - and maybe even at lower salaries. This could be a source of tension for locals in a dwindling job market.

So, what happens now? Will the flow of Indian students to Australia get affected?

I think it will, in the short term. 'Sentiment' thoda down ho jayega. And the attitude of the authorities - so far - has not been very convincing. Last month the Melbourne police asked young Indians to “moderate their social behavior,” by not making conspicuous displays of wealth, such as laptop computers (seriously - no jokes!)

The country which will benefit the most from all this is Singapore. Safety is assured in that country - and the economics of getting an education are similar to Australia. In fact many Australian universities have 'branches' in Singapore and "there is a view that Australian institutions should make more courses available in India, which students can attend at home".

Ahem. Firstly we need to pass a bill in Parliament to legally allow that to happen. And secondly, I think for many many students going abroad will still be the preferred option.

'Education' is not just about attending a college but the whole experience of a new culture and its people. Kids who have never picked up a glass of water in their own home learn to cook their own meals. My cousin who drove to college in his car went to America and happily worked at a gas station.

So - I am all for studying abroad - wherever. But safety and civility are things we can and must expect from the host country.

Let's hope the issue which has exploded in Australia is taken seriously and resolved quickly! And it is nipped in the bud... if simmering elsewhere.

Related articles: Student taxi drivers, visas and immigration

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