Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Art of Healing – I

I feel normal today.
The skies look blue.
Food tastes good.
Breathing is easy.

Yes, I don’t always feel this way.

For many years I have suffered from the ‘blue funk’. The feeling that everything is ok, but it’s not ok.

It’s a feeling that comes and goes. Sometimes it’s fleeting, a minor mood swing. At other times, it’s white hot and intense.

There are certain triggers for this feeling. And one such trigger occurred last month. I thought I was protected, that I would never let another’s words or actions affect me so deeply. But I did.

What has changed is that I have more understanding. I know that I have no control over anybody else but I can work on myself.

This ‘work’ is an ongoing project. When I was first hit by depression, I went the conventional route - medication and psychotherapy. You can read about it in detail here: Depression: It Could Happen To You. (Youthcurry Feb 2006)

It was a difficult time but it was necessary. I now realize that my body and mind were sending me a much-needed signal. This is not the life you wanted, this is not who you are.

I was reborn as a writer and became an author, because of it.

And I see a pattern. Whenever the shit hits the fan (I mean in my head), I am forced to get out of my comfort zone, my routine existence, and find something to ‘fix myself’. That is how I discovered a whole new world, the world beyond what we see, hear, smell and touch.

The world of the spirit.

Which was surprising because my entire life I have been a rationalist. I believed that ‘thinking’ through a problem or situation is the best way. That feelings are never to be trusted.

And now, I believe quite the opposite.

Again, it was a vague feeling of agitation and internal turmoil that led me down this path. And I must say I was a pretty resistant student. I remember attending ‘Art of Living’ around 8 years ago and feeling haan acchha hai but then practicing nothing.

Two years later I was really feeling like crap and attended a course in Isha Yoga. That’s when I understood the power and the value of meditation. You can read about the experience here: A Journey Within (Youthcurry Dec 2007).

Similarly I attended a course in reiki because a friend wanted to do it. That was the first time I ever heard of the seven chakras or ‘energy centers’ in the body. I got initiated and it was all quite fascinating but again I never practiced it.

Three years later another crisis led me to another wonderful teacher and this time I understood the power of reiki.

In a nutshell, I understood that while we have a physical body, a mental body and an emotional body, we also have an energy body. While conventional medicine treats the physical body, talk therapy is aimed at the mental body. And this process is kind of hit-and-miss.

But if you work on changing your energy, everything automatically changes.

At the core of all matter lies energy, and the human body is no different. The energy body is a template for the physical body. Emotional energy resonates with life experiences, personal and professional relationships, and belief systems and becomes literally encoded in cell tissue.

(from ‘Nourishing the Energy Body’ by Jule Klotter)

Our hands and legs and stomach look solid and material but in essence we are all vibrational beings.

Every cell within (the body) is actually energy or light, vibrating at a slow enough rate to make it into visible physical matter. The human body, and the energy field which surrounds and interpenetrates it, is made up of electromagnetic energy, and every person has a unique vibrational energy signature, or frequency, in the same way as we all have unique fingerprints or DNA.

(from Self-Healing with Reiki by Penelope Quest)

I did not believe this stuff when I first heard it. It was like growing up in a world where you’re told the sun revolves around the earth. And then, some mad scientist proclaiming it’s the other way around.

The most wonderful thing, though, is it doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t believe in it, reiki works. The most amazing thing is that you can send reiki energy to someone far away and it works just as well (it’s called ‘distance healing’).

So what I am saying, in a nutshell, is that learning how to balance your energy body is the biggest gift you can give to yourself. But most of us – including me – are idiots and will be forced to discover these tools and techniques only through a crisis.

You get a chronic medical condition.

Your heart is broken by someone.

You fail at something important.

Now you are depressed and asking ‘why me’. You are a victim of repetitive thoughts and unanswerable questions. People tell you to ‘snap out of it’ but you can’t.

Yes, this is the time of your darkest night and your greatest opportunity. Grab it with both hands, close your eyes and place your trust in the Higher Power. You can and will emerge, a stronger and more vital human being.

I feel the need to share what I have learnt and experienced – over the last few years, and particularly, the last one month, because it’s so beautiful and so important. Yet it’s simply not a part of our ‘education’.

Maybe the knowledge I have gained at the mid-point of my life is something you can understand and apply much earlier ☺

Besides, I find it less and less interesting to comment on external events. Like the problem with the system, the country and the world. My attention at this moment is focused inwards, and that must necessarily reflect in what I write.

I ask only that you keep an open mind.

Tomorrow: The Art of Healing - II

Vote for 'I Have a Dream' @ Crossword Book Awards

My book 'I Have a Dream' has been nominated for the Popular Book Award @ Crossword Book Awards 2012.

If you enjoyed it and would like to cast your vote, here's the link:

Voting ends tomorrow :) ie midnight of Monday Oct 15.

It would be cool for a non-fiction title which celebrates the spirit of service to win against pure,timepass fiction!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Paradise Lost?

The flight to Guwahati took 5 hours. Almost as long as it would to reach Singapore. Surely any state capital should have better connectivity…

What is the problem with Assam anyways? As we descend towards Lokanath Bordoloi airport I feel like this is God’s own country - mountains, lakes, lush green fields and the mighty Brahmaputra river.

People who live with nature are naturally peace-loving and simple folk. But those aren’t words you associate with Assam these days… I ask a local resident - let's call him Mr K - to explain to me ki yahan ho kya raha hai.

Well, he says, “It’s the classic case of local vs outsider.”

Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants cross the border every month. The going ‘rate’ for becoming an Indian citizen is Rs 500.

“You and I may not have a ration card but these people will have every proof of identity,” he adds.

What’s more, they will quickly learn Assamese, adopt some local customs and even names, to blend in with the local population.

“Being migrants they are more hungry, more hard-working and more cunning. A lot of land has been taken over by them.”

Seeing them make quick progress upsets the Bodos, who have traditionally dominated Lower Assam.

So, Mr K feels, it’s more of a battle over economic opportunity than religion. Yes, majority of migrants are Muslim but that is the incidental factor, not the main issue.

In any case, Assam is an industrial and economic pygmy. Mr K recounts stories of several corporates who came to the state, pledged to start operations and then backed out.

“Ratan Tata himself came to lay the foundation stone for a 5 star hotel. But the hotel never came up…”

Similarly, Apollo hospitals and Infosys too changed their mind and went elsewhere. Only because the government insisted on 90% reservation for locals.

So who exactly is a local? Mr K is originally from Rajasthan but his family has lived in Assam for close to 150 years.

“My grandfather’s grandfather came to Assam… My grandfather was born here, my father was born here, and I was born here.”

But Mr K will still not be treated as a ‘true Assamese’. Nor will his children.

“There is no discrimination as such but somewhere we know, we don’t have the same status – same shaan – as we would have, living in Rajasthan.”

Mr K runs an SSI unit in Guwahati and I wonder whether the current problems are affecting his business.

“No, because the agitations are in areas about 100 kms away from the city.”

But, constant bandhs and strikes do take a toll. And it is true that work culture in this part of the country is slothful.

“Government offices are supposed to function from 10 am to 5 pm. But at ten, you will see the officers – basket in hand – buying vegetables from the market.”

The wife will cook, husband will eat and by noon the attendance register will get a tick mark.

“Government jobs are the most coveted jobs in Northeast,” he adds.

Recently, the Assam government appointed 27,000 teachers at starting salaries of Rs 11,000-15,000. The grease money to get this job is Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakhs.

“But it’s like a lottery ticket. One time investment - no work, full pay!”

And that’s not the only lottery ticket in the state. ‘Donations’ to numerous organisations are compulsory and have to be treated as cost of doing business.

“If All Assam Students Union comes for chanda I know we have to cough up Rs 10,000. That’s the ‘fixed’ rate.”

While the Assamese accept this, the newcomers and the corporate houses cannot. And the market in Assam and Northeast isn’t even big enough to justify such headaches.

The only industry that has come up in recent times is cement - because limestone is available in plenty. The traditional business of tea, silk and handicrafts continue.

Mr K’s kids live far from Assam. And that is the story of majority of young people from the state.

“After class 10, children go out to study. And hardly any come back.”

Yes, the hills are blue and valleys green. But that is no longer enough.

Must hearts turn black and rivers run red, before we wake up, and do something?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hum honge kamyab... ek din

This afternoon I was looking for a good movie to watch on television. Instead, I found myself watching the men and women marching towards 7 Race Course Road, carrying the Indian Flag.

Who are these people who will spend their Sunday braving lathis and teargas shells?

Why are they so determined, so daring, so dedicated to the cause of India Against Corruption?

What did they hope to achieve today?

I believe India Against Corruption is a revolution. In fact, it is a second war for independence and no such war was ever won in a day.

When Team Anna’s second anshan ran out of steam, the cynics muttered ‘I told you so’. In a way, watching them ‘fail’ is reassuring for the vast majority who have merely been onlookers.. It confirms that we did the right thing by not moving our butts.

Because ‘ultimately kuch nahin ho sakta hai.’

It’s true. Itni jaldi kuch nahin ho sakta hai. The vast, deeply entrenched and securely guarded edifice of corruption in our country cannot be brought down in a day. Or a month, or a year, or even ten years.

But that cannot stop those who believe it can and must be brought down.

So far the IAC had but the passion of its foot soldiers. And the cannonball of media. Going forward, it will need new weapons, and tactics.

How will this campaign of the people and by the people stretch its tiny funds to fuel its giant ambitions?

Nobody knows but faith will keep them going.

Faith that one day, you and me, and all the citizens of this great country will rise up and stand with them. Because, truth can and must prevail.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Your time starts now

I love watching Masterchef Australia, and it’s not just for the food. In fact, being a vegetarian, the food aspect put me off, initially. I would squirm as contestants sliced and diced through meat and seafood to make it look pretty on a plate. But somehow, I got over that, and got hooked anyway.

What I truly love about Masterchef is how it can take ordinary people and induce them to do extraordinary things – because they’ve been challenged. Or, to be more precise, stressed, pressed, whipped, dipped and devilled into reaching somewhere deep and magical inside themselves.

Just about every dish contestants are asked to cook seems to be beyond the reach of an amateur. The time allotted always seems too less. Two minutes before, something is still cooking – the plate still empty! But somehow, almost always, it all comes together, and comes through.

On a good day – like Mindy had recently - the amateurs even manage to beat the spatulas off professional chefs.

The question that fascinates me, however, is can the process of producing a Masterchef be replicated? Not just in cooking, but for any other kind of skill or subject?

Let’s first examine how and what Masterchef does correctly. Number one – they select the right people, but not just those who can cook – in a technical sense. Along with kitchen skills the judges look at how passionate you are. How intense is your desire to be on the show? How badly do you want to win??

So, now you have a bunch of highly motivated, highly driven individuals who have shown some flair for cooking. In the traditional mode, it would take 3 years in a catering college to get a diploma. Even then, you’ll struggle for an entry-level position in a restaurant. And slowly work your way up.

At Masterchef, 3 years gets condensed to 3 months. And from day 1, you get exposure to top-level chefs. The best in the business come as trainers, mentors, judges and even to cook against you. The learning curve is steep, fast and furious.

The next thing that kicks in is ‘self-respect’. There you are, on national television - family and friends are watching. You have got to do your best. Or even better than best. Things you never even knew you were capable of.

And of course, the constraints and challenges are designed to make you jump out of your skin. An invention test, for example is about more than cooking. It’s about pulling something out of your hat. There is no time to think deeply, you simply direct yourself to ‘do what feels right’.

Which is the best way to do anything truly worthwhile in life.

Lastly, the winner takes it all but even the losers gain a lot. Many left mundane jobs to pursue their dream of a career in food. And hardly anyone goes back. There is no stigma of ‘failure’, in fact contestants feel like they’ve test marketed the idea and now have enough skills and confidence to make a run for it.

A takeaway business, a bakery, a cookbook or food blog – these are the outcomes you can hope for, even if you don’t get crowned as ‘Masterchef’.

That means ‘winning’ is great but it’s also a process designed to awaken the power within you. The power to become a winner, to make your dreams come true.

I know this kind of awakening is possible in every field of human endeavour.

And that ‘education’ must expand beyond degrees and certificates.

The real proof of the pudding must always be the quality of the pudding you produce.

And not the bowl it’s dressed up in, labelled IIT, IIM, Harvard or Stanford…

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Aapki yaad aa gayi...!

I don't know if anyone is reading this blog. Because I haven't been writing anything!

Although I have a lot to say, in this new facebook & twitter world I somehow don't find the time to sit and do it...

An average blogpost would take me an hour. A fb post takes 3 minutes. Twitter takes 30 seconds. Of course, writing a blog is more meaningful, more satisfying and has a much longer shelf life.

Yes, I must get back to blogging!

Meanwhile, I feel I owe it to my long-standing and loyal readers, to invite them to the events around my new book 'Poor Little Rich Slum'. Schedule in Mumbai & Pune as follows:

1) Wednesday, 4th July at Crossword Kemps Corner, 6 pm

2) Saturday, 7th July at Star Bazaar, Crystal Point Mall, New Link Road, Andheri West, 430 pm

3) Sunday, 8th July at Crossword, In Orbit Mall Vashi, 6 pm

4) Thursday, 12th July at Kitabkhana, Flora Fountain, Fort, 6 pm (my co-author Deepak will be joining at this event).

5) Friday, 13th July at Crossword ICC Towers, Pune, 6 pm.

Will update you re: events in other cities shortly.

And yes, will update the blog as well :)

Monday, April 09, 2012

The suspense ends, here is Book 4

Many of you have been asking about my next book. Some of you are busy guessing what it's going to be all about.

'Women entrepreneurs'

'Internet entrepreneurs'

'Entrepreneurs who are less than 5 feet tall"

The last one, of course, is a joke. But the point is - I guess it has become quite predictable. The fact that I will pick up a theme and then give you 20 inspiring stories around it.

This is both good and bad. Good, because this is the 'brand' I have built and there are many takers for it. Bad, because it has become easy for me to do and I can easily become lazy and complacent.

That is why I decided to take a break from the well-loved series - and explore something new. In February 2011 I embarked upon 'Project Dharavi'.

I know, many books and movies and documentaries have been made on this subject. So when my friend and co-author Deepak Gandhi proposed the idea to me, I was reluctant. Is there really anything left to be said?

"Let's just go and have a look," he urged.

And that is how it started. Our thrice-a-week pilgrimage to meet and understand the people who make up this vast and vibrant community.

We went there without any clear idea of what to look for.
We went, not knowing what kind of material there might be.
But the deeper we dug, the more amazing people and amazing stories we found.

One cannot wish away the problems and the issues which exist.
But neither can one ignore the solutions which Dharavi has produced.
To make the most of every little resource, every little square inch.

We hope this book introduces you to the ingenuity and the enterprise of the 'little Indian'. The millions of nameless, faceless people out there who make up our economic life.Who are weaving together a new social fabric.

Although this book is not about you, we believe it will speak to you.
And not just through the power of words.

A young and talented photographer - Dee - shadowed us throughout this journey.
Capturing through his lens many manic moments and mellow moods across Dharavi.

"Poor Little Rich Slum' releases on 12th of May. Here is a first look at the cover, designed so beautifully by Studio ABD.

Pre-orders will begin on flipkart and other websites over next couple of days.

And you will get more updates from me - very soon! Watch this space.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Do you believe in miracles?

This story begins in September 2010, when Professor Prabhat Ranjan and I found ourselves in a Qualis vehicle. Lurching towards a sleepy student town, from Mangalore airport.

We were to speak at TEDx Manipal.

Partly out of curiosity and partly for timepass, I asked Prof Ranjan about his work. He told me about many interesting things, including a device he was developing for use by disabled people.

I thought it was a good idea, a noble idea, and said to myself – “ I must write about this someday”. Prof Ranjan invited me to visit his lab in Gandhinagar sometime. And that was that.

Exactly one year later, I was in Coimbatore. I had just completed the Bhavspandana program at Isha Yoga Ashram and was in a state of complete bliss. I decided to pay a visit to my batchmate K Suresh (Kesu).

This was not my first trip to Coimbatore, to be honest. Each time I would think of visiting Kesu and then, I would chicken out. You see, Kesu has been paralysed from neck down since the year 1999.

A part of me thought – “It will feel horrible to see him in that state”.

It was, however, exactly the opposite. Kesu may be sitting in a wheelchair, head drooping to one side, unable to speak or move. But he is intensely and vibrantly alive.

He looks as young – or even younger – than he was on the campus.

He has the vulnerable and helpless quality of a child.

But despite the body which has totally given up on him, his mind is sharp as ever. Kesu is clued in to everything happening in the world.

The facilitator is his wife Jayashree. She helps him read, she helps him access the internet. And through a system using blinking of the eyelids, she helps him communicate.

To watch them ‘talk’ through each other is to see love in action.

Love beyond words.

As we sat there, talking about world affairs, books, philosophy and common friends, I suddenly thought of Prof Ranjan. Could the device he had mentioned, be of help to Kesu? The least I could do, is ask!

It turned out that in the one year since we spoke, much had happened. The technology was more robust, it had better features, but it was all good only in theory.

“We have tried, but failed, to find a test subject,” lamented the good professor.

Thus, it was a ‘match’ made in heaven. It took another six months for the technical team to visit Coimbatore, to procure the required headset, and then to test and fit the device.

The first day that it ‘worked’ Jayashree called me, elation evident in her voice.

A couple of days later Kesu wrote this email to me, bringing tears to my eyes.

Dear Rashmi,

Thanks a million for enabliing me to type. I never thought I would start crowing about typing an email but stranger things under heaven and earth...When my typing speed improves, I will write a post about this and send the link to our batch.



I wanted him to announce this wonderful news himself – in the 1993 batch egroup as well as to the world. But I guess good news travels fast and this report appeared in the TOI yesterday: Professor ‘enables’ quadriplegic IIM-A graduate.

This is just the beginning. Prof Ranjan is working on making Suresh use speech synthesis so that he can communicate (like Stephen Hawking). In the near future, he sees Suresh being able to send SMS and make phone calls through this technology.
As well as operate TV and other power points such as light and fan.

The point is, such technology is available in the Western world. But it is expensive and unsuitable for Indian climate and conditions. Prof Ranjan’s device – low cost and ‘made for India’ – has the potential to help thousands of quadriplegics and paraplegics like Kesu.

But, Prof Ranjan is a scientist - not an entrepreneur. He needs someone who can come forward and take this technology out of the laboratory and into the world. An idea with the potential to blossom into a beautiful social enterprise.

And that is my main objective behind sharing this story. If it has touched you in some way, and you would like to be involved with it – please reach out to Prof Ranjan through his facebook page:

I have had a small role to play in this miracle. That of a messenger, who connected two people in search of each other.

But ultimately, I believe there is something bigger than all of us, a Divine Power, a Cosmic Force. Which made it happen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beyond the MBA Hype

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an engineering graduate in possession of a software job must be in search of a ‘good MBA’.

In a free-wheeling interview, Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball and author of ‘Beyond the MBA Hype’ shares his journey. And offers unbiased advice to those who are thinking of walking down that path.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m a computer engineer from VESIT (Mumbai) and after that I joind Citicorp. Worked in India and abroad on multiple assignments and then decided to move beyond pure technical work. So I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers in their management consulting division.

Why MBA?
In my consulting role, though the client, geography and technology changed with every project, essentially it was more of the same. That’s when I started researching options, and an international MBA seemed like a good way to change careers.

Did you focus only on top schools abroad?
My professional work involved a substantial amount of global travel. So I figured it would be logical to continue the international exposure by getting into a top bschool abroad where the class profile would be very diverse and international.

What was your GMAT score?
I’m not good at standardized tests. For someone from a tech/engineering/male background [considered to be the toughest applicant pool when it comes to global MBA applications] my GMAT score was quite low (below 700). So I knew that the rest of my application strategy had to be really strong.

How did you shortlist and decide where to apply?
This was the most confusing part. In India, the CAT score plays a significant role in getting interview calls from bschools. For international MBA programs, GMAT is important. But there are other aspects that are equally, if not more important.

Many of these are quite subjective, like the concept of ‘Fit’. It’s like a compatibility test where you need to convince the school that you are both made for each other. Plus there are factors such as post-MBA plans, professional background, number of years of work experience.

Considering all these, I felt I would not ‘fit’ into a 2-year program. A 1-year program in the UK would provide the RoI (Return on Investment) I was looking for.

Why Cambridge Judge and how was the experience?
My medium-to-long term plans were to get back to India. So I wanted a brand that was strong enough to get me a job abroad as well as in India. The University of Cambridge has been around for over 8 centuries and it’s a very well respected brand in India as well.

I was also drawn by the personality of the MBA program. Compared to the veterans in the MBA industry, this program is relatively young. It’s more collaborative than many others, and there’s a strong focus on experiential learning. Though you still have to be on your toes and compete with other extremely talented folks for grades, internships and jobs.

I got the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs, I-bankers, scientists, management consultants, Olympic level sportsmen, iconic business leaders and Nobel prize winners. It was a fantastic experience.

How did you fund your education and how did you manage the EMI repayments?
I was lucky to have got 2 scholarships at Cambridge. That took care of a considerable chunk of the financing. Plus the bschool had a tie-up with a UK bank to provide education loans for accepted candidates.

Did you work in the UK or come back immediately?
After completing my MBA, I had a few options to stay back in the UK – with my former employer (but in a more business-focused role), with a strategy consulting firm (where I did my internship) and with a startup (that my team helped during the program). This was before the recession, so the job market was a little better. I had planned to work there for a few years, repay the GBP loan and then get back to India.

But due to a twist in the tale, I ended up accepting a job that brought me back to India immediately after graduation.

I was in India for a short vacation when I came across a team that was setting up a new office in India and they were looking for folks for their corporate finance work. The German Managing Director who interviewed me made the role sound interesting, so I decided to make a complete career change and start my post-MBA career directly in India. I worked in the area of Mergers & Acquisitions for 5 years after my MBA.

When did you start the website MBA Crystal Ball? Why do it?
When I was applying to bschools, I considered myself to be a dark horse. Most stats weren’t working in my favour (age, test scores, professional background). So I had put in extra efforts to ensure that my application was water-tight – right from thinking about the rationale for an MBA, the post-MBA career plans, explaining what made my profile unique while competing in the tough applicant pool.

After graduating, I started helping others who needed a helping hand in doing exactly what I had done for myself. I did it for free (it was more a passion than a business idea for me) and they started getting into the top schools.

The right mentoring can make a lot of difference when the competition is global and intense. Though Indian applicants are strong at cracking standardized tests, our education system doesn’t prepare us to tackle abstract and introspective questions that are part of the MBA application process.

The concept of MBA admissions consulting is relatively new in India and I felt maybe this was something where I can make a small difference.

How and when did you quit your job to focus on it full time?
Outside India, the premium admissions consulting model is well-established and attracts high-caliber talent (top MBA grads who’ve also done well in the business world). In India, it is mostly taken up as a part-time activity. That’s how I started off as well.

I created a product (it’s called the MBA Mock Application Process or in short - MBA MAP). It simulates an application process for the top-100 schools and provides chances of getting into each. That got an encouraging response (cost: Rs 9000/ $ 250). It might be the only Indian product in the admissions consulting field to have been ‘exported’ to other countries. I realized that the only way I could do justice to it would be if I focused on it on a full-time basis. So I quit my M&A job about a year back to manage MBA Crystal Ball.

Does the site make money for you yet? What’s the kind of traffic you get?
I don’t use the site to make money. In fact, there was no website for a pretty long time. Most folks reached out to us (and our services) due to word-of-mouth publicity. When folks started asking for my website URL, rather than giving creative answers each time, I guessed an easier option would be to create a simple website. So I got a domain ( registered and launched the site.

We get several thousand hits from candidates who are seriously considering a career transformation or just curious about evaluating career growth options. So we use the site more as a platform to share broader ideas. On our blog you’ll find content that sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with the services we provide. We recently published about non-MBA careers, like social service, teaching jobs. You’ll also find a guest post by a Gladrags model on careers in the glamour business.

When did the idea of a book come?
I wrote ‘Beyond The MBA Hype’ in 2006 after I had completed my MBA. When I was applying to bschools, most of the articles I read in newspapers and websites were about how an MBA will have a magical effect on the candidate’s career, financial status and life. And I really wondered how much of that was true and how much was hype.

After having gone through the experience I thought somebody needed to also share aspects that never got talked about – the education, building new skills, internships, the career hunt from an Indian candidate’s perspective (most books on this topic are written by international authors).

The book was not created to promote MBA Crystal Ball (it didn’t exist, at the time). In fact, those who’ve read ‘Beyond The MBA Hype’ tell me I shouldn’t have got it published as it is detrimental to my business interests. Instead of pushing more prospective aspirants to apply blindly to the top schools (and fill our coffers), the book recommends exactly the opposite.

The basic message is to step back and evaluate simpler, easier and less risky options to reach their goals.

How easy (or difficult) was it, to get published?
‘Beyond The MBA Hype’ has taken over 5 years to get published. I initially tried to get it published in the US, thinking that’s where the MBA market is. Publishers and literary agents who liked the concept turned it down saying a first time author without a saleable name would be a tough sell.

So I changed focus to India, not knowing if there would be any takers, as the international MBA market is extremely small and niche.

Fortunately, I found a good literary agent who sold it to HarperCollins. For new authors struggling to get published and going through a similar roller coaster ride, I share tips on my personal site: (

Who is your core target audience?
- Professionals with 2-10 years work experience, who are thinking of ways to take their career to the next level.
- Recent graduates who’ve not been lucky with the Indian MBA entrance exams (CAT, plus all the variations) and are thinking of applying to international MBA programs.
- Anybody who’s stagnated (frustrated) in their current job and thinking that an overseas MBA might be an easy way out.

How has the book been received?
Considering the initial apprehensions, it’s done exceedingly well. The first print got sold out in under 3 months, the second print-run is out.

Given the weak economic situation globally, would you advise people to look at an MBA abroad?
The message in the book is more relevant today than it was when I wrote it. The global economic situation should force MBA applicants to really get their game-plan sorted out.

Having said that, an investment in quality education is the best one can make as you are investing in yourself. So there’s more incentive to see yourself being successful. A well-designed MBA plan with risk scenarios clearly identified and mitigated is the best way to approach it.

For MBA applicants, I’d say do your homework, choose your schools well, put a best-case and worst-case career plan in place and go for it only when you are really confident.

Do you recommend 2 year or 1 year programs?
Both have their pros and cons. The profile and the career aspirations of the candidate should influence the choice. Where you want to work will also play a big role in choosing the school. Managing transnational placements is becoming tougher. Consider the average class profile for each school you are applying to, see if/how you’d fit in.

Is it possible to get a job in the US or Europe for a fresh, non-citizen MBA?
Possible? Yes. Easy? No.

The recruiter has to have a strong reason to go the extra distance and sponsor the international candidate’s work-permit. For complete career changers, it’s become more difficult.

The good part is that a ‘fresh’ MBA in an international MBA program comes in with an average of 4-5 years work-ex. So pre-MBA experience and skills can be leveraged while job hunting.

If instead, you return to India does the global alumni network help in finding a job?
They can, but in a soft economy there are limitations to what they can do. So I’d say, don’t depend only on the alumni network. Reach out to anyone and everyone who can help.

What’s the typical profile of people who get into top 20 bschools internationally?
For 2 year US-format programs: Average age: 26-27, Average work-experience: 4-5 years, Nationality: 60-70% American, rest international, Gender Mix: 70% Male, Communication skills: Excellent, Body mass index: Varies

Any application tips for those who aim for such schools?
Start early. Find out how the application process works. Don’t over-focus on the GMAT. Spend time thinking about post-MBA goals. Research schools that will help you get there. Know what the school will and more importantly, will NOT do for you.

Is it worth attending a 2nd or 3rd rung bschool abroad or should one drop the idea altogether?
Bschool rankings have their own yardstick to judge schools. A candidate’s yardstick may be very different. So, whether a school is rung 2 or 3 is a very subjective viewpoint. There are many excellent schools in India that might not figure on the top rankings. I went to a local ( ‘unhyped’) engineering college that doesn’t feature in any domestic or global rankings. But it gave me a good education and I did pretty well for myself career wise.

Extending that logic, I’d say don’t shortlist or discard Bschools purely on the basis of rankings or location. In the book, I use the term ‘good’ Bschools, without really defining it in absolute terms. Go to schools that are ‘good’ from your perspective.

For instance, Harvard is a great school. But is it great for everyone? For me it wasn’t even on the radar, as my secret desire was to quit the corporate world before I was 40 and start something entrepreneurial of my own (mission accomplished!). The theoretical idea of pumping close to a crore into an MBA program would make my heart miss a few beats.

Any advice for those in ‘decent’ jobs eg today but who still have the itch for MBA? Should they hold on to their jobs or invest 2 years in an MBA (India or abroad).
A top MBA is designed to take those in ‘decent’ and ‘good’ jobs and get them ‘better’ jobs. So for the high-potential ones who’ve weighed the pros and cons, it can be a great tool. But I’d recommend not looking at the MBA as an end in itself. Think about what it’ll help you achieve.

Going back to your analogy, my recommendation would be to evaluate the reason for the itch, and think if going abroad to buy a Rs 50 lakh itch relief powder is the only solution. Or would a warm neem-water bath at home cure it…

Only you can decide...And Sameer's book, might help you do that.

Rashmi adds: I first met Sameer Kamat around 3 years ago, in my neighbourhood park. He was working with Siemens at the time, and also writing a book. I gave him some advice on how to get it published.

We’d meet off and on and I would get status updates.

Publisher mil gaya hai – But they want rewrites – Date of release decided – Date of release delayed. Finally, one day Sameer asked if he could come over to my house - to give me a signed copy.

I’m happy for Sameer. I think he’s a guy who set a goal and then persevered, to achieve it. He has clarity and focus, which is what we all need. Whether we all need an MBA - is another matter altogether :)

What I like is that Sameer charges the student upfront, for unbiased advice. Unlike most admission consultants who take a 'cut' from universities. I wish his business model and his book the very best.

And yes, I hope to bump into him one of these days - walking fast and purposefully - in the sector 17 park :)

Friday, January 06, 2012

Top books of 2011 (in India)

Sharing a piece of news published in the Hindustan Times, the list of top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles in India last year, as per A C Nielsen retail bookscan. My books did pretty well... "I Have a Dream" (# 1), "Stay Hungry Stay Foolish"(# 3) and "Connect the Dots" (no 7).

So it feels good but I know I must keep working... And yes there will be at least two more titles from me for your reading pleasure, this year.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

R.I.P. Amit Saigal

Amit Saigal, founder of the iconic Rock Street Journal passed away earlier today. I think he was in his early 40s.

"Saigal started Rock Street Journal in January 1993 in Allahabad with Shena Gamat Saigal after they realised the lack of support system for Indian rock musicians."

That's what wikipedia says. What it doesn't say is how crazy an idea that was.

Apparently the first issue of RSJ was a compilation of Amit’s own articles and published at the family printing press. Legend has it that of the 2500 copies printed he managed to sell only six at the college festivals of LSR, BITS Pilani etc. The rest were distributed free of cost among a close circle of people who were interested in rock music.

Rock has always been a small niche but one with a fanatical following. I think Amit knew it would never ever be a highly profitable venture. As he said in an interview given in 2006:

If you really do what you want to do, or get inspired to do, then you don’t think about “mass appeal” or success or failure. You just follow a mad inner urge and do your thing.

And that’s what he did. RSJ had its die-hard fans but never the numbers (except in the Northeast). The magazine was more influential and visible in the 1990s, of late I don’t even think it was being published on a monthly frequency (the last issue displayed on the website).

A more commercial mind would have realized that the niche occupied by rock was not growing in India. But RSJ stuck to its guns and never diluted its brand. Instead, RSJ went into events like the Great Indian Rock Festival and pub rock festivals (which I hope made money for them :)

Coz you cannot bring out magazines on passion alone.

I never knew Amit personally, nor did I ever meet him. But I felt a sense of kinship, at some level. In the very early days of JAM we did collaborate a little, two small niche magazines – his even more niche than mine.

And I always admired the consistency and focus of RSJ (though I could not relate to the content). JAM also carried a beautiful interview with him a few years ago which you can read here or here.

It is indeed sad that Amit Saigal is no longer with us. But though short, his life was driven by passion and created impact. That is more than can be said for most of us...


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Street treat

My daughter was two years old when she pointed to a glowsign and said, “Barista”.

By the time she was four, there was the shiny new Center One mall next door.

‘Outings’ followed a predictable routine: an hour in the kiddie play area, some ogling at the new Barbie collection and finally, a treat at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut.

More retail madness followed and today, there are five malls in and around our home (although two of them can be classified as doob chuke like the 'Titanic' )

At age 12, going to the mall is no longer a very exciting activity. Unless it’s an unsupervised outing, with friends.

So, on the second day of this New Year, I decided to initiate her into an age-old Indian tradition – the art of picking up raste ka maal.

Three hours at Hill Road in Bandra yielded 3 tops, 1 t-shirt, 1 bag and 3 hairbands – and we spent just 1100 bucks.

“Wow, this is great!” she grinned from ear to ear. “At In Orbit we would have got like, one or maybe two tops, that’s all.”

The highlight of her day was the Angry Birds t-shirt. They’re the new rage and of course, ‘Made in Thailand’. But not (yet) as cheap or as common as ‘Being Human’.

Another brand which is not yet available in India, but is selling at Hill Road is the funky Spanish label ‘Desigual’. This stock is export-reject maal from factories in Tirupur which is great. That’s how bazaars like Fashion Street sprung up in India, in the first place.

The only problem is, the really cool stuff is no longer selling either at Fashion Street, or Hill Road. To buy that, you gotta be in Goa, or Hampi, or any other backpacker paradise.

There is an entire store full of amazing Desigual merchandise in McLeodganj, run by a charming Kashmiri guy.

“I have special contacts with their suppliers in India,” he whispers.

God bless you, but please, ask them to send some maal to Mumbai also.

Real fashion is on the street, and from the street. A generation over-fed on malls and brands will turn to these streets to rediscover what it means to create a wardrobe.

And not just buy one with daddy’s credit card.

Monday, January 02, 2012

'Fat but happy' - my foot!

Every January millions of people around the world make the same old resolution: "I will lose weight.”

So it’s not surprising that bookshops too have a bunch of new releases on that very subject. Only this year, it’s not dieticians writing – it’s the dieters.

Ek taraf there is Yana Gupta with ‘How to love your body and get the body you love’. On the other, there is ‘Confessions of a Serial Dieter’ by Kalli Purie. And that’s the book I want to talk about today.

Because we all know supermodels do sad and desperate things to maintain their weight. It’s Kalli’s story I find more interesting, and more ‘real’.

Kalli’s confessions span the 3 years and 43 diets it took her to slim down from a peak of 103 kilos to 59 kgs. And it is not pretty. She recounts in grim and gross detail the effect of each diet, physically and emotionally.

What it is like to retire to your room every night with just a thermos of green tea (no dinner).

Survive for days on papaya and dahi (a miracle diet which also clears your stomach and skin).

Exactly where to place your fingers so you can puke out what you have eaten (a one week experiment with bilumia)

Honesty drips from every page and that is the chief selling point of the book.

But, while many of us struggle with weight issues, few of us get so obsessed. The determination to fit into a particular dress to attend a particular wedding is commendable, but is it really necessary?

If you drop from 100 kgs to 68 kgs, do you still need to go on a ‘champagne diet’ to cover the last mile to ‘size perfect’ ? The fashion police and the social police say so. And the media perpetuates the idea.

Silk may flaunt tummy tyres in the ‘Dirty Picture’ but don’t miss Ekta Kapoor giving interviews in a new, slim avatar.

Or the fact that Nigella Lawson herself has given up butter to go the bikini way. (Et tu Nigella... what are mere mortals to do?)

In an ideal world, Kalli Purie uses her media empire to change mindsets. In the real world, she just puts herself through hell and joins the gang of skinnies.

Kalli’s book is not a how-to manual. Because every body is unique and what worked for her, may or may not work for you. But you certainly can get motivated by her zeal.

Kind of like ‘it’s hard, but if I want it badly enough, I can do it too’.

My takeaway is that each of us must face our own demons and conquer them. For someone, weight loss may be the biggest challenge in life, for another it may be a financial goal, or finding the right career.

So spend this year tracking your demon down and beating it to death... Who knows, you just might be able to spin a book out of the experience!

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