Monday, August 31, 2009

Mumbai on Monday - Life in the FAST lane

Just got back from Maximum City, and as was the plan, here is my post today on Mumbai on Monday. The city seldom ever ceases to amaze me. The sights, sounds, vibrancy, and life in general, kinda make me feel alive again when I set foot in Mumbai. Ok ok, I know I sound like the typical 'madly in love with Mumbai' kinda person. But I can't help it. Mumbai ends up doing that to people.

But one thing that really appeals to me is the pace of the city. And the difference is more pronounced each time one goes from Mumbai to another city or the other way round. I remember when we'd go to another city for hols as children, we'd be made to wake up by 6 or 7 am by the elders of the house, and try as we might, the day would pass so very slowly. Take Mumbai in comparison - life is forever in the fast lane. Turn around and it's 11 am. Take a walk and look at the watch, it is 2 pm. Do I like that? Yes I do. But many don't! This affection towards the pace of the city is an acquired taste, more like how one acquires a liking toward the taste of wine! People complain about how one never has time in Mumbai, and how everyone is perennially impatient. I like the pace of the city, because there is always something to do, all the time, and there is no scope for an empty, idle mind! You get a sense of productively using your time and at least I feel a sense of accomplishment when the day is done!

But one flip side is the fact that almost everyone is in a perennial hurry, as displayed by the intolerant horns that blare the second a traffic signal turns green. Or for that matter the gross disregard for a vehicle backing out of a building in reverse. The onward vehicle has 0 regard for the vehicle moving in reverse and yet again the horns return - while at times the impatience is exacerbated to a level of knocking off a tail light!

But that is one part of Mumbai that we cannot disregard, and perhaps have to live with. And for all the other good stuff, a few tiny aberrations are ok, what say fellow Mumbaikars?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What I saw Wednesday and thought on Thursday

Yup, in Maximum city now. Back to the sounds, sights, lights, life of Mumbai. And yes, it's Ganpati time, festival time!!! Ganpati is here, in every nook and corner, and this was what I truly missed on Sunday when I was not here for Ganpati for the first time in my life ever. So this post is going to cover my 'views' and thoughts on La fiesta en la Mumbai.

I had put in a post last year describing 'Why rains in India make so much noise'. Back then, I had written about how we celebrate our festivals, beginning with Janmashtami and going on through Dashera, Eid and Diwali. So, I won't be repeating myself here, and talking about how we bring Ganpati home, keep him at home and celebrate his presence and so on. This time, my take is going to be on a slightly different metaphysical level of consciousness. Nah! Nothing profound, I just wanted to use those words!!!

So, I for one, generally have seen that the less exposed one is to the 'upward' way of life, the happier they are. The maximum quarrels happen inside the closed confines of a car, not while packed like sardines - four on a scooter. As one moves on in life the endless pursuit of the top spot, I feel, makes one forget the finer, sweeter things in life. This was the theme of my Ithaca post as well. In fact, I have put in quite a few posts on these themes, and I'll link back to them at the end of the post. Now, given that it's Ganpati time, and its a festival for the masses, this feeling is even more pronounced and this is what I saw when I went for the Visarjan (immersion) of our idol.

At the Visarjan place, it was amazing to see so many people, so many children, all running around, enjoying the moment. It was a major event in their lives - people pushing their idols on hand-carts, children screaming 'Ganpati Bappa Morya' while running behind the hand cart. Most of these were street children, who lived around the tank, but wanted to savor a part of the whole event. Some enthusiastic children took it upon themselves to try to regulate traffic as the Ganpati Cart made its way to the Visarjan tank. People were throwing Gulaal all over the place. There were vendors selling soap bubble kits, whistles, blow horns, balloons, food and what not. No masks on peoples' face - Swine Flu might as well go take a hike! The street kids would crowd around anyone who was distributing sweets as Prasad, screaming 'Aunty mujhe do na Prasad'. The street kids were so chirpy and cheerful, and so, I wondered, with awe - they have no idea how their lives are going to shape up in the years to come, let alone the fact that they may not really have the security of two square meals a day in the years to come. But preoccupation, they had none. Worries and cares, they showed none on their countenance.

But the biggest rap on my head came from this child I saw. He was polio stricken, with crooked legs and hence he used his hands to move around. He was there with a bunch of his friends, and all his friends were crowding around the wired barricades surrounding the pool to watch the immersions. This kid wanted to see the proceedings too, and so he tugged at the pants of one of his friends, who immediately hoisted him up and sat him down on the parapet wall around the barricades. Clinging tightly to the pole, this child watched as the idols were being taken for immersion, and the smile on his face could have lighted up the whole of India. After a while, his friends wanted to leave, and maintaining the same smile on his face, the child hobbled away on his hands behind his friends.

Tiny things bring joy to people. But somewhere the pursuit of an unknown perceived good makes us forget what we have right now. We are left glossing over what may be right for us, without caring about the smaller things around us that can help us derive simple satisfaction. And then again, you cannot but fail to remember Davies - "What life is this if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare."

And here are the links to older posts that carry a similar theme -
Why Rains in India make so much Noise - The Ganpati edition
Why Rains in India make so much Noise - The Ganpati edition - part 2
My Ithaca post
The finer nuances

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday - My tryst with Ithaca

It's the last week of the term and as usual it has been power-packed to say the least. Hence the one week absence from The Lilac Avenue and the probable absence for another 4 more days. (Promise to get back with inputs on Festive Mumbai soon).

But you know how exams and assignments do weird things to normal people, right? They make you all thoughtful and reflective and introspective and so on. Well at least they did do that to me! And what a time! Cos it's Thoughtful Thursday!!!

Today was our last lecture with Prof Nerkar - a brilliant professor. I was never a fan of entrepreneurship - call me risk averse or whatever, but over the course of 10 classes, I have been exposed to a new meaning of entrepreneurship. Not just the facts and figures, but a new way of looking at entrepreneurship - I learnt that by and far entrepreneurs are the most risk averse individuals ever, since they wish to diversify risk in as many ways as possible! Ok, enough of fundas. But the reason why I loved Prof Nerkar's classes, was because of his way of conducting the class and making people with a completely lopsided view of the entrepreneurial process see clarity without ever pushing a jargon or a concept down their throats.

Since today was his last class, he left us with a message. He read out the poem Ithaca by Constantine P Cavafy. It is a beautiful poem that goes thus -


When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P Cavafy

And given how life can be here and beyond, this poem had a very strong message for me. I have been thinking about it ever since and I really feel that maybe, just maybe a quick, shortcut to success may not really be what one must ask for. The Gita says - work for the journey, not the end goal. Cavafy says ask for a long route to your destination, ever keeping your goal in mind. It's all about the process - the route. I remember every minute of my Fuji climb and precious little of what I saw after I went up to that peak.

Think of our route to our goals. With our keen eye pointed in the direction of our goal, we have blinkers on our eyes, and so, we miss beautiful trees with pastel hues, mountains, meadows, exotic birds - all of which line our paths to make our whole experience all the more enriching. In a less metaphorical sense, in our quest for a self-appointed end goal, we miss out on value time spent with friends collecting memories that will last a lifetime. We miss out on conversations that can form anecdotes twenty years from now. We miss out on the finer nuances which no amount of glossing over the goal can provide us. And so, after my chaai in the atrium with my dearest friend at 2:30 am, after a whole evening of reports and assignments, I thought to myself - Life is beautiful, savor it. This won't come again...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Funda : Competition

Today's funda has a bit to do with strategy. Not a bit, but a lot! It's about competition. I can start off with jargon like Porter's five force analysis of an industry and so on. But, that would take a separate article in itself. In a nutshell, the 5 force analysis basically helps you analyze the worth / attractiveness of an industry. So, the five forces are
  1. Threat of new entrants
  2. Threat of substitutes
  3. Suppliers
  4. Buyers
  5. Internal rivalry

A 5 force analysis generally evaluates the degree of threat of each of the above factors and delivers a verdict on what the industry is like.

That said, the funda I wanted to talk about, are a couple of snippets related to such analysis. One - if you want to enter an industry, enter to win. It doesn't make sense to enter just for the heck of entering it. There is no cosmic, karmic connection between a new entrant and an industry. The goal, like Eli Goldratt says is to make money at the end of the day! So, keeping up ol' man Welch's point about being number 1, number 2 or out, when you analyze a new idea, a new plan, you must think about why you're doing what you're doing. Will it result in monetary or societal benefits (everything cannot be weighed against money, right). If not, it's ok to drop the idea. No issues at all. Second, figure out your ranking in the industry. Like for instance,, entered the online job search market as a first entrant, and is still number 1., by the same founder entered 3rd, and it has been almost 5 years and they are yet to break even. They still are third and they hope to make it this year. At that time, think back, on the reasons why you want to keep that venture going in the industry, whether being 3rd in the industry is helping you protect your interests vis-a-vis your flagship product, or whether you don't care that you're third, because pulling out of the venture can hurt your interests elsewhere, say brand-wise. So, a continuous evaluation and rethinking exercise is in order. At the end of the day, I'll have to come back to the age old cliche - change is all that is permanent! And that brings me to my second snippet - does it make sense to keep fighting competition all the time?

The answer, surprisingly is NO. At times, you're better off collaborating with the enemy than fighting her. You may not believe it, but Coke and Pepsi, who have forever been perceived as being at loggerheads with each other, have more or less worked in tandem while structuring the industry. They have together ensured complete control on the 'buyers' and 'suppliers' part of the 5 forces model in the cola industry. Think of this. You cannot take on wars that have a foregone conclusion. If newspapers were to think of the internet as the enemy, would they have ever found respite? Would we have had epapers and the news sites? And had there been no news sites, would it have been possible for all the desis in foreign lands to keep abreast with the latest goings on in their muhalla, town, city and so on?

So, change is inevitable. The easier you notice the need to change, the better. The more flexible and amenable to change you are, the better it is for you as a firm! Good night!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trends on Tuesday : I Love the Earth

I opened up the papers today and almost every page had a mention of Global Warming, its ill effects, steps taken to mitigate it and so on. I did a quick googling just to ensure today was not 'Earth Day' and not, it isn't Earth Day today. Then what's with all this hullabaloo?? And then I realized, it's a trend - and finally a trend worth its while!

Ok, first of all, Global Warming is a reality. Mumbai had winters touching 6 degrees in 2007. Last year winters hovered around30 degrees! 2005 saw Mumbai submerged. Ever since, we have seen scanty rainfall. Enya made an album called 'A Day without Rain', we seem to be moving towards a decade without rain. The met has predicted 87% rainfall, which spells doomsday for our agrarian economy. Do we then assume that the Rain Gods have effectively 'paani pherofied' (borrowing the traditional Hindi phrase) on all our growth plans? Certainly, we need to revise GDP estimates based on the degree of rainfall. If MRF rainday is missed, the BSE Sensex reacts badly! Given that almost the whole world, thanks to the recession, is betting on Chindia to lead us from darkness to light, doesn't it make more sense to ensure that we take care of the environment, and put a stop to these wild climatic swings?

Now, climate change and mitigation is the most hotly debated topic these days. Not just in political circles or on BBC, but also in grad schools, B Schools, and believe you me, even across coffee tables! Although everyone feels passionate about wanting to do something to protect the planet, no consensus seems to be arrived at as regards how we may go about doing so! A few key issues spring to mind though.

  • GDP calculations should be modified to correctly reflect the environmental footprint. Only then will steamrolling economies have enough incentive to not grow at the cost of a damaged Earth
  • The developed world cannot expect the growing economies to stand up and chip in monetarily for all the damage caused thus far by the world as a whole! Asking India to stop power generation from coal, is impossible to implement. We have way too much coal and not enough money to close down all those thermal power plants and make a fresh 'clean' start. That too with almost 70% of India without 100% access to electricity. These fledgling economies, if asked to bear the brunt of the damages wrought by the developed world in the past, would either refuse, fuelling conflict thus leading to status quo, or would end up paying, and grossly neglecting emission control in their own countries - There is only so much you can do with available money, right? - I'd written a bit on this point before here
  • There have to be sops for industries, essentially entrepreneurs to go ahead and invest in renewable energy. A friend of mine recently bought a humongous SUV. I asked her why she didn't choose a hybrid. She said that the hybrids were expensive, and she had no incentive other than the greater good of humanity to buy a hybrid. She'd pay more, and the amount she'd pay in taxes would be higher too! So why should she spend on a hybrid, when she'd rather use the extra cash to pay down the mortgage? Well, our industries would have a similar idea, if Government, and markets did not actively encourage investment in renewable energy. The Indian Government's decision to invest 1 trillion rupees into renewable energy initiatives looks like a step in the right direction.

So, climate change and the associated aspects seems like the newest trend of the 21st century. Hope we keep the steam and save this planet. Save trees, cut emissions, use car pools, save the tiger, Heal the world....

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Indian tourism - Screaming for help

I happened to read a ToI editorial today by architect and author Gautam Bhatia today. What he said there from an architect's perspective is actually true of India's modus operandi when it comes to maintenance of heritage sites. Not just that, India does happen to have a very rich history and heritage. And the ability to generate a lot of revenue through tourism, according to me is being squandered by us! Take for instance a place like Murud - on the Konkan coast. How do I know of its existence? Extensive Googling led me to a blog by a foreign visitor who was here on a 'discovery expedition' of sorts. Post a trip to the place, I realized that Murud has one of the most pristine beaches on the west coast. Imagine Goa without the clamoring tourists or salesmen! Plus, surprise surprise! A rickshaw guy there told me about a fort which can only be accessed by boat! Sounds exciting doesn't it? Well, it looks even better. You go by boat to the fort, and then you can actually explore the fort yourself! The fort is in a state of disrepair, screaming to be rescued. What really pained me, was the fact that such an amazing experience was not exploited to the max!

Simple stuff - Google up places to see in Mumbai. And trust me, you wouldn't come up with half the list of things to see in Mumbai. You'd perhaps now be directed to the morbid alternatives of terror tourism or slum tourism. But Mumbai also has a bunch of forts on the sea coast, some wonderful places offering shopping experiences you can find nowhere else, cuisines, churches and what not. But do we have a method to find these somewhere? Can a foreigner chart her own sightseeing trip around Mumbai?
Take Hyderabad now. We have the Chaarminaar, and Salarjung museum. How many of us who are not localites know of the beauty of these places? How many of us have even read or heard about such places? Or know about the history of these places?

Tourism in India is grossly underdeveloped, but can offer a whole host of options and opportunities. If only India's rich cultural heritage was given its due! I clipped the editorial for posterity here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Funda : Protectionism

Remember the in-flight safety video? Where the oxygen masks drop during turbulence and you are told to mask yourself first and then help others out? Well, economic recessions and fluctuations are a lot like mid-air turbulence. They throw all sense of routine and uniformity out of balance and every one's life is thrown in disarray. At such a time, is it wise for a country to take on a similar 'protect yourself before you protect others' approach when it comes to economic growth?

The answer, I felt till a very long time was yes. Each one for himself. Tough times need tough action. And if I don't safeguard myself, how can I expect someone else to safeguard my interests?

As it turns out, this idea is wrong in a globalized world. Given the current economic downturn, many nations are feeling the pinch of recession, and are scrambling to save themselves from collapse. Underdeveloped nations that depend on the developed world for survival have had to bear the maximum brunt of the recession. But what is surprising is that in spite of the degree of development achieved by the developed world, in spite of the cushion of comfort the numerous years of growth have afforded them, the developed world also tried to scramble for cover! A glaring example is the 'Buy American' clause in the rescue package of the American government. I happened to see the hue and cry against this clause in Canada, whose dollar value of trade is the largest with USA, and it was then that the full force of the argument hit me. Look at it this way. The world is going through turmoil. Internal consumption is hit badly. So, to keep the economy afloat, you need to look outside - trade. And if your counter party (who happens to be an economic superpower) in the whole trade equation turns away, to protect his own interests, where else do you go? Superpowers are afforded that status for a reason - the immense accumulation of sustained growth over the years is actually supposed to put them in a position to help other 'comparatively needy' countries out in times such as these.

I remember having read an article once, when the whole cap on H1 visas came out in early 2009. The article spoke about parochial decisions that make a government want to look inward and at short term political benefits while forgetting about the long term implications of its actions. In other words, the article went on to say that in a recession, where a sudden spurt of growth through innovation is the need of the hour, if a country like US were to shut its door to skilled labor, they are in a way missing the forest for the trees! And later, when the recession goes away, the opportunity cost for the skilled labor may not be incentive enough to make them want to go to work in the US. At such a time, the long term picture would have effectively been ruined on account of protectionary tactics of the past.

Funda conclusion - Protectionism - not good. A superpower must use her superpowers to elevate all those suffering under recession, and such a mass elevation can alleviate every one's issues collectively.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What I saw Wednesday : A muddled world

Mid terms are coming up and hence the lull on the lilac avenue. Which brings me to what I wanted to say today. Well, what I saw today is not really what I saw. Well, not really. (Please be prepared for a little rambling, since you must understand that exams can do weird things to normal people!) So, I haven't been able to get myself to put in my thoughts in here for the past few days, under the pretext of exams and assignments and what not. I keep telling myself that I need to be able to find time for things I like to do. But, somehow, time plays hide-n-seek with me all the time. Or so I feel.

This place has way too much to offer. Throw in an industrious bunch of 570 people, and the enthusiasm levels, not to mention the raw energy is sky high. Everyone is doing a million things. Somehow they manage to juggle class, assignments, club meets, club work, attend talks by guests on campus, plan ventures, play sports, spend time with family, contribute to society and goodness knows what else. Everyone seems to be doing everything, (well, everyone doesn't do everything, but sum up the someone is doing something and you have an everyone is doing everything scenario). Although each person's tasks need not be mutually exclusive, their sum total of the activities is collectively exhaustive.... I told you to be prepared for random rambling

So, anyway looking at the whole gamut of activities, I wish to do it all myself! And then the constraints kick in. 24 hours, sleep is essential, class work does not diminish, temptations towards peripheral activities increase. And more often than not, prioritization kicks in. And in the altar of sacrifice, fun is offered as an oblation! At least used to be, till a friend once remarked - 'overwork will keep happening, but that does not mean that you should let go of that which you like to do.' I then realized, that the options I have here are just a tip off the iceberg of options and choices life would throw in front of me, going forward. It's up to me to figure out and balance everything. And whether I learn about Porter's 5 forces or about NPV and IRR, I guess one thing I would need to learn here is prioritization, balancing and activity management. But now I have to get back to EBITDA or else my NPV would end up being negative!