Monday, December 26, 2005

Got tagged (finally!)

Got tagged by Mukta on the five things & people that I was wrong about in life. I wanted to aim for five but I didn't get beyond one. It really wasn't due to vanity but because the one thing that I have been wrong about has had a profound impact in my life the rest pale in comparison so they don't find a place here.

Two years ago my younger sister was presented two options in her career, one was to work for a large foriegn Bank and the other was a job as a lecturer in a local college. I told her to go with the Bank and she chose the college, which disappointed me since I felt that she was not doing justice to her potential. You see both my parents were in the teaching line, I have seen their frustration at all the red tape and politics that they faced every day. On the other hand, I felt that a bank meant more freedom plus a big salary, big bonuses and big promotions. Honestly I thought that my sister wasn't taking the chances in life that she should be.

Now, for a long time my own goal in life was to head a company. I worked hard at this all through my 20s and now that I am in my early 30s, I have a realistic scope of reaching my goal.

But I met
Anouradha Bakshi of ProjectWhy , (you can read about that here)& then I visited them earlier this year, since that time my corporate goals have steadily started to fade out, work started looking colourless (you can read about a disillsioned corporate month-end here). Infact after for a week of visiting PWhy, I just was so disillusioned about my job that I just couldn't do anything. I kept thinking about how important a job it was to teach children, to shape minds and to create a opportunities in life for people who didn't get that by birth. The satisfaction that I saw in this was far more than anything else. Compared to that, banking appears shallow and it seems to be a world of small men living in a small world and thinking that everything revolves around them.

Now I see my Sister's choice in a different light, in the two years she has made an impact in her workplace in her own quiet way. Though she is five years younger to me she has proved to be decades wiser.

I would always want to be the best performer in any job that I undertake but there is also a new deep need for doing something more meaningful in my life. Maybe I'd even follow in my kid sister's footsteps someday.
(After this, If I had listed out stuff like Boxer Shorts & Vodka Martini, as things that I have been wrong about, the post really wouldn't have made sense.
Btw now, I tag you to write about the things that you were wrong about in life ).
The waves came one year ago today and changed everyone's lives forever....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Another airport story..

Another evening, another airport and another delayed flight. It's 11 pm and all I can think of is crawling into bed. Seated in the lobby either side of me were two gentlemen, both of whom were were stood out from the usual crowd in their own way. The guy on my right was wearing a fresh business suit, a power tie & more than a dash of expensive perfume. He carried a cool cellphone, a mont blanc and had way too much of energy for that time of the night, obviously had to be a corporate bigwig. The other was the absolute contrast, wearing a simple dhoti, shirt, a titan watch & an old leather chappal. Equally obvious that this was a villager visiting the big city.

The corporate type, received one phone call after the other, he would scream or schmooze depending on was calling. All the while, the village type would look around the airport with what could be described as wonderment in his face.

Finally, boarding was announced. We queued up, the corporate type with his boarding pass carelessly fluttering from his suit pocket made some last minute calls and angled into the line right ahead of me. The village type collected his small fake leather bag and clutching his boarding pass like his life depended on it, shuffled right behind me in the queue.

We got on the shuttle, the corporate type checked the time in his expensive watch & continued screaming on the telephone & the village type sat in a quiet dark corner clutching his worn out bag. We got off the shuttle & started boarding the flight, the corporate type seemed to be stuck with me & the village type had gone ahead.
The Corporate type walked ahead of me inside the flight and as we walked through the business class (me closing my eyes and following his cologne) I could sense him pause for a second, I saw him look at the Village type who was sitting there in the plush leather seat & reading a paper. I couldn't see the corporate type's face but I knew that his mouth must have been agape. I couldn't help but break into a smile & shake my head as we, Corporate & I, shuffled past & found our way to our cheap seats at the economy class.


Ok. Here's the deal, Life & other such events like quite a number of important blogs, takes a tough stand on comments. Be advised that after you type your comment, the site would verify your great grandmother's maiden name then ask you to chant 'Moses supposes his poses are roses but Moses supposes erroneously' 20 times in 15 seconds and you may have to spell "Supercalifragelisticexpialidocious" with your eyes close and standing on one leg (no cheating, no peeking).
This blog also would have 'Spams are Welcome' policy going forward. Some of the best reviews for this blog have come from spams like job opportunitya, who has called my posts, Exhilarating, Excellent, Wonderful, Fantastic etc.
In a totally unconnected tangent, for those involved in the libertarians, arguments/discussions, I would like to say that we seem to have enough libertarians but whats the use since we don't have enough libraries for them to work in!! (Again the problem with India, too many people doing too little work!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

And wierder things have happened..

Another storm is expected to cross the storm ravaged east coast of India, Iraq just had it's general elections, George W has managed to swing back in opinion polls (can you believe it????), Celine Dion or Brittany Spears haven't come out with another music video this year (Hallelujah!). With such wierd yet interesting events happening around the world, the fact that my blog has crossed 50 posts isn't actually a big deal.

Unlike most of my ventures, this one has stood the test of time or it has till date and I'm not sure how or why.

I'd like to thank a few people. I would like to thank my family for having nothing to do with this blog. I'd like to thank my lil dog Belle who has tried very hard to save mankind from my posts by doing her best to distract me. I would like to thank a few colleagues who tap their forehead whenever they see me update this blog, for if they had found it cool, I probably wouldn't do it. I'd like to thank my pal U, who probably would count the number of posts just to keep me in the straight. In the end, I thank dear Claudia (Schiffer) for being born.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dilip D'Souza's post titled Back to the future

Let me tell you something, I'm a big fan of Dilip D'Souza's blog. I've never seen a blog that courts more arguments or discussions nor have I seen a writer take more personal attacks and still come out swinging. Not only are his posts thought provoking but they also make you want to do participate, even if you don't agree with him. Oh before you read further, for all those who wandered here to this blog by mistake ( thats is about 98.45% of my readership currently, after months of blog inactivity ) and don't prefer stuff on economics, there are a 3 new posts (Fear , One night in an airport & A trip to Singapore) that have been put up right below this one.

In his newspaper column (& subsequent Blog post), titled Back to the future, Dilip laments that the telecom companies and indeed most private service providers have been found lacking in the quality of service that they provide. Agreed. My view is that Privatisation is one thing and the quality of private companies is a whole different kettle of fish. Confused? Let me explain using the same example that Dilip used. His parents having been tired of the Government owned MTNL telephone service, decided to use the services of a private service provider. After the intial promises by the new service provider they found that the new guy himself was lacking in service & quality.

Now, to the point as to why I seek to differentiate the benefits of Privatisation/Liberalisation & service quality of private companies.

a) The D'Souza family in the 1980s would have got their landline thanks to the OYT (Own Your Telephone) scheme for Rs. 8000 with a delay of 'just', 16 months (yes that was the waiting time for an OYT telephone then). Now a telephone line is available for a fraction of that cost within a week (on the outside). This is the effect of privatisation/liberalisation. (Also remember that Rs. 8000 in the 1980s would be worth more than double that now)

b) In the early 1990s, the D'Souza family would have had to shell out Rs. 11000 per annum for getting a 8 kbps internet line. Now thanks to privatisation/liberalisation, they can get a 512 kbps line for Rs. 6000 per annum.

So it is clear that privatisation/liberalisatoin has brought in welcome changes already. Now for the most important benefit that privatisation/liberalisation has bought in

c) In the early 1990s, if the D'Souza family were dissatisfied with the telecom service provider, too bad, nothing could have been done about that. But now in 2005, they can kick out a service provider and bring in a new one. Simple.

Today if an MTNL or an BSNL or an VSNL or an SBI is shaping up, it is because of the competition that they are facing. If not, trust me nothing much would have changed. Organisations like Indian Airlines & Doordarshan have reacted to change very late and hence have seen a big depletion of their market share. Their services have been found lacking and their survival has mainly been due to monopolistic practices, which is their last bastion of resistance.

In a free market it is quality that sustains eventually. Currently the telecom industry is evolving, now there are more prospective customers than actual customers. So telecom companies target new customers disregarding existing customers (and hence not bothering about service quality). The market for a telecom company now can even be called infinite, I don't think that there is any service provider who can even give a ball park figure of the total consumers in a city, they don't even need to, that is the sheer size of the market. This is true for most retail businesses in India today. You would find that just as soon as a retailer takes your money, his interest in you wanes rapidly. Once the trend changes then there will be a time when existence of companies is heavily dependant on service parameters and cost reductions. This trend would change with the coverage of the market (the shrinking of the number of potential customers & by the entry of newer players). You can look at most of the western world to understand this.

Actually the western model of free market sometimes doesn't look free anymore. A free market in my opinion is a market where the entry barriers for any product or any company is low enough to allow for new entrants every year. This would mean that new, innovative & quality products reach the consumers every year. With the growing branding & advertising costs in the western world, there has been an automatic imposition of entry barriers for new companies.

Simply put, you have to be really big to play with the big boys.

Back to the issue on hand, so till the market trend reverses and the market becomes finite for service providers, does one have to put up & shut up? The answer is a resounding No. Opting for newer service providers & newer products give life to these companies & products, giving them the opportunity to be quality players in the industry. It also weeds out bad companies and bad products.

What you see is an economy in transition. Sit back, grab buckle up, grab your remote & enjoy the ride.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

One night in an airport...

Hyderabad Airport

21:05, I swagger over to the Deccan Airways counter to check-in. I get a blank stare from the guy behind the counter. Finally words tumble out of his mouth "But, the flight has left...". I looked at him sternly, there must be some mistake "Are you sure the Chennai flight has left?", he nodded sheepishly. I checked my ticket, damn! I had gotten the timings wrong, the ETD was 21:00. Since the flight is always two hours late, my mind had somehow assumed that the departure time was around 22:30. Booze was wrecking my memory. I knew why counter guy was sheepish though, it was one of those rare days when that bloody flight had actually taken off on time. Murphy's law, right? I was the living example that Murphy's laws work. Shift happens.

21:15, I walked out of the lobby and check with other airliners, Kingfisher had a plane the next day evening. Not Good. Air Sahara, whoa! Cute smile. But sadly, no flight till noon next day. Passing the Jet Airways & Indian Airlines counter (these would be the last resorts), I thought I'd check one of these low cost airliners. I reached the SpiceJet counter. Bingo! There was a flight at 23:45 PM. The tickets were cheap too. I collected my tickets after some chit chat at the counter and headed towards an ice cream stall. The night was nice and chilly, just the right time for an ice cream.

21:41, I walk into the lobby and to the check-in counter. Seated there was this portly gentleman with a big smile. I give him my ticket. He smiles and looks at it and then tells me that check in starts at 21:45. I looked at the clock, it was a few minutes to go. I shake my head, walk away and make some calls.

21:55, I walk back to the check in counter. There is a small queue. I settle behind this rather sweet looking old lady. I started sensing that she was very uncomfortable and was looking around furtively, had to be a first timer, I've seen that haunted look before . Now the portly gentleman from before was walking around near us, being uncle like, chatting up to people, putting the hand baggage tag on everyone's back. He was also saying in a loud voice that we had to make sure that there was no knives, sharp objects, scissors & nail clippers in our bags. Nail Clippers??????? How in heavens was that a threat? I had crazy visions of a wanna be terrorist threatening the air hostess with a manicure! Ve can be very cruel & give ze pedicure too! (Ok, I've seen too many trashy old movies!)

22:04, I was laughing at the mental picture of a terrorist giving a manicure when Uncle came around to me and tagged my laptop & bag. After he moved on, suddenly the lady in front of me, started rifling inside her bag. After a bit of digging, she came up with a pair of gold nail clippers. She looked around more desperately. The clipper looked like it was made of gold and looked pretty old, she must have had it for a very long time. She had it in her hand, shielding it from people around and I could see that she was kicking a few ideas around in her mind about handling the situation.

Finally, with a firm resolve, she stuck the nail clipper deep inside her bag. A rebel was born.

She zipped up her bag and looked around hoping no one had seen her when she caught my eye.

I smiled conspiratorially, she blushed and turned around.

22:12, I checked in & headed towards the bookshop to browse.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A trip to Singapore

It's been a long time since I wrote and I'm sure half my readers, which is about 2.45 to 3.12 people, have forgotten that this blog exists (I arrive at my readership numbers the same way I do for quoting any official figure, by picking up arbitrary numbers from the air and adding decimals to it them to make them sound genuine, if this method sounds familiar, there is a 56.45% chance that you've read this in a Dilbert strip, so is this plagarism? The answer is No, coz, I thought of this concept on my own but have later realised that I may have read this in that cartoon strip too. You see 98.71% of all original ideas have been used already!).

The lack of posts has primarily been because of my work. I travel a lot and life has been hectic. It's time though that I wrote something before I loose the other half of my readers. I ain't gonna be artsy fartsy and say I write for myself! Heck I write so that I'd be read.

I just got back from a 2 1/2 day offsite in Singapore. For the uninitiated, an Offsite is a trip sponsored by the company, to the location of the boss's choice, where apart from shopping, site seeing, nightclubbing, drinking etc, you also spend a few hours in front of your boss, discussing meaningless future revenue projections, all the while trying to hide the dismal current year's peformance.

The onward journey late thursday night was a minor fiasco. My flight was at 00:20 hours on Friday morning, and we had to check in 3 hours before, which was 21:50 hrs. Thanks to a delay in our visa processing at Delhi. The Visas landed at 22:00 hrs in a Delhi flight and with some swift talking, I had it in my hand at 22:10 & a colleague whose passports & tickets I had landed up from another city only at 22:40. Thanks to these delays we had to rush through most things and barely managed to board the plane. Around 02:54 (random again, just incase you thought otherwise), we woke up to pandemonium, the flight was in what I felt was a free fall, I opened my eyes to see my two colleagues hit the top of the plane and bounce back down. Later I was told that the plane had entered a vacuum. Those few seconds, I think all of us had come to a quick realisation that we would be dead in a few seconds, it was a totally irrational fear but all I can remember from that time was how calm I was and the seatbelt was a big help (Wear them all the kids! It saved me from bouncing off the walls of the plane!). Whatever it was, I was the calmest of the three in that row.

Fear is a funny thing, there I was, thinking I'd be dead in a few seconds but was calm about it and just the entire week before, I had been walking scared stiff in anticipation of a presentation I was going give in Singapore to my new bosses. It's a fair assessment to say that I was more afraid of public speaking than of dying. Coming from a family where three of it's members earn a living by teaching and also considering the fact that I'm into sales, it's strange. I've always been good at meetings where I can sit down for a discussion so, give me a guy or gal across a table and I can nail the meeting but give me a bunch of people in chairs and I'm a log of wood.

A friend suggested that I should imagine that everyone sitting in front of me were wearing skimpy lavender coloured lingerie, I thought this might work. The only hitch was that I kept imagining that I was wearing skimpy lavender coloured lingerie, instead of my audience. Not a nice thought, I can tell you. I could feel a draft of cold wind creep through. I barely managed to maintain sanity and not throw up or piss in my pants or say something like "I think ya'll would look good in a lavender lingerie". Considering all this, my presentation had the best reviews. Go figure.

There were a lot of nice things to see in Singapore, which thanks to a crooked tour operator & a bad plan, we couldn't see any. I did what I do in most cities, I walked a few kilometers down their roads, observing people, watching them lead their lives. You can tell a lot about a city by that. What I realised immediately was that this was a city for couples. They were there everywhere, holding hands, kissing, walking, talking, smoking etc etc. I almost felt an intruder in their private space. There were hardly any single folk anywhere. I've travelled alone and had fun in a lot of new cities, this one was different. I didn't like being a stranger in a crowd here. There were some moments when I wish I had someone with me. Those moments disappeared soon after they came and I was thirsty for beer again.

(Talking about beer, I had one called the Dutch Royal Stout, which was thick and red and tasted like turpentine and toilet cleaner mixed at the ratio of 73:27 and left in a tin drum for 3 days. Trust me, avoid that one like the plague or better still, use em for your Christmas gifts. On the other hand a Corona with a slice of lime is awesome!)

People here in Singapore do two things a LOT, they eat and they shop. If you've visited Singapore, you would agree with me. I don't think any restaurant, was empty anytime of the day or night. People just kept eating and the worse part is that none of that eating showed on them! I mean, how can that be?

And as far as shopping goes, any wrong turn of the street, magically got you inside a shopping mall. Any subway actually ended up being a shopping mall too. Malls have a sublimal way of entering your path, yes, the mall finds you, rather than you finding it. Before you are out of the trance, you have a shopping bag full of stuff and you are on your way. Like what a local Singaporean of chinese origin would say...Shopping? Can, can!

Every one of these malls was FULL through the day. I guess Christmas, the festival that celebrates the rising revenues of retail stores, was just around the corner and everyone around was doing their bit. But even then, shopping malls running full at 4 am??? Crazy! One thing I was advised was to ask for a discount wherever I go. I'm used to bargaining in a small shop but to do that in a mall? Well, I took my tentative steps when I bought a T shirt at a New Balance store. As the clerk was getting the bill ready, I cleared my throat, he looked up. I smiled, and said " there a disc.", before I could finish, he smiled wide and said "Ofcourse Sir, I'm give you a 15% discount" and bowed too. Wow! I mean how cool was that? Soon after, I even bargained down an Sony Handicam from $899 to $750. I was an expert in no time. (After all I'm a part of the scum sucking bottom feeding profession of banking aren't I?)

From the nice lady at the American Express counter who changed my money and sold me a local simcard (She very patiently tried to explain how it worked, eventually gave up and wrote the directions down for me) to the taxi driver who talked to himself as he drove, the experience with people was awesome. That says something about the city. It was great that people bow when they take money from you or give money to you coz I;ve seen way too much of disrespect for money here in India. In Singapore, every transaction happened with a smile or aleast a small nod of appreciation. I think I would have an attack of I get that kind of treatment from an autodriver here in Chennai, leave alone anyone else.

Another thing that I appreciated was that anytime I asked a person who looked Indian, if they were Indian, the answer was a standard, No, I'm Singaporean. The pride that these words carried was great. Considering that Tamils are 12.53% of the population, this showed their effort in maintaining homogenity. We Indians are a homogeneous group only when it comes to Cricket (I think Greg Chappell has changed that too), I guess we have to learn from our folks out there .

All in all, it was a fantastic place to visit, but too clean for the likes of me, I like my city nice and dirty. What is life without a walk past an overflowing garbage dump? Imagine eating a vada pao in the sanitised environs of Singapore instead of a dirty pushcart near a ditch in Mumbai ? Imagine driving to work without worrying about the traffic jam or the pollution or the potholes or about not hitting the guy jaywalking in the road? Or Imagine having to wait in line to get a taxi? No way!

It's been a while since I wrote, this isn't exactly the best I've written but I've liked writing this. Unlike some earlier posts were forced. I hope to write more regularly again. Thanks for visiting & reading :-)