The internet has democratized publicity. Anybody with a keyboard can now go public with the news. No more editors with tinted glasses who try to put shade tint into news you get. But obviously, this has increased the "noise" in the system - there is so much noise in the system that it is difficult to figure out which is the signal and which is noise. At the same time, there are many outposts on the web which are just old media in new clothing - with the same type and level of spin that you would see in the media.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The media is an industry. On the one hand, for the media to cover, news needs to be happen. On the other hand, if a news is not covered by the media, then it is not news at all. That gives rise to a strange species of "news", the news that is created by/for the media.
Monday, September 29, 2008
This news has been in the air for a while (a long time now actually) - that we would soon be seeing Certified Tax Return preparers, who are basically graduates who will help you and I file our returns. NIIT had bagged this mandate from the government. Why is this important?
For a variety of reasons. In any case Chartered Accountants have had a free run with helping us file our returns, using these very same graduates, so now there is a chance for some of these guys to do their own thing and get a better share of the spoils. Ideally, if it were like the US with e-returns, the whole process can be simplified further, but as of now we are further away from e-returns than we would like. And, as always, there is a surplus labour force that can be used smartly in situations like these.
Second, the presence of NIIT. NIIT has demonstrated that it can churn out salesmen and IT chaps alike. There is no reason that that model can be spread to include graduates. Perhaps NIIT can be used to train better tour guides and many other things. They can become the "teacher" of the nation, a finishing school for some professions and a creation school for others - almost like the ITIs in the service industry!
If you are creative or you want to have a t-shirt or a mug printed, just the way you want it, check them out. They have a pretty decent range of designs, so go ahead and create a t-shirt with your blog name or a caricature, it is a great idea. I have tried them out a few times and am happy with the t-shirts and efficiency of the service.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Caught this movie last night and loved every bit of it. Read a review here, my favourite site for reviews.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Or how to lose customers and enrage people. You turn up at a sale expecting discounts - well no, you happen to be at a place to buy stuff and it turns out that the place had advertised a huge sale.
50% off sale - the banners screamed, the advertisements shouted. And then you figure when you reach the shop that it is not 50% off at all, it is an upto 50% off sale (yes, yes, my mistake). And then you figure out that there are very few things that are 50% off and those which are 50% off are all old items, stuff which did not get sold which they badly need to dispose.
Most All of the good things are available at the exact same price as they were available before the sale.
Landmark, please dont advertise this sale the next time - many stores offer a regular 20% off an all books even without a "sale". Even the little customer loyalty you have will vanish...
All cities/countries/places are "good" when you travel in a chauffeur driven air-conditioned car and live in hotels/guest houses.
If you really want to know a city, live there like the regular city dwellers do. Thats when you get to see the place, warts and all.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Falling prey to the hype around CFL lamps and their energy efficient, earth friendly ways, I have been using them for a while around my house. But my overall experience with them has not been very good. They dont last as long as promised; in many cases their life is less than the incandescent predecessors that they replaced. I am sure it reduced my electricity bill - but on a cost benefit analysis, I am not sure it passes the test. With a cost anywhere between 10-15 times ordinary bulbs, their life is pretty low.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A candlelight protest against terror in Delhi. The terrorists nightmare - candles. With all due apologies to those who participated in it, please note that it is a pointless exercise. As pointless as Shivaraj Patils statements.
Monday, September 22, 2008
If you have loved Seth Godins Blog and want a ready reckoner of the blog at all times Small Is the New Big is the right book for you. It is like Seths blog printed out and ready for your reference, whereever.
The sight of the look alike container at a barber shop recently, got me thinking. Once a brand gains prominence, other local brands imitate the packaging, container and make it look like the real brand. A fake brand is ready and many customers, especially if they are illiterate, cannot make out the difference. Many a time if you are not alert, even an educated person can be fooled.
Close on the heels of noticing Bengali DVDs being sold in Bengaluru (delicious irony) I also noticed Vishwakarma Pooja being celebrated at many construction sites. (Afaik, Vishwakarma Puja is not so much of a local celebration - correct me if I am wrong.) Is it possible that some of our construction boom is also fuelled by migrants (of either legality) from the eastern neighbour?
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
On the high seas? In these days of modernity? Yes. And the Indian Navy wants a nod to pursue them on the high seas. Hot pursuit on the high seas? Sure.
Just who was this Laxmanananda Saraswati, the VHP leader who was recently murdered? He was variously reported as an 84 year old monk and a VHP leader. But none of the papers ever carried any picture of his, not even a file picture. Surely not in Bangalore and surely not on the net.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Moser Baer took on the movie pirates and launched Movie DVDs/VCDs starting 28 rupees onwards. That, is nearly the cost of the pirated DVD rentals per movie. That was some time back. Now the effects of it can be seen.
Monday, September 15, 2008
"Oh, you are going to Bangalore. Get Cothas coffee." was the request from the maami who looked like your atypical coffee connesseiur. Yes, I dont mean them like the ones who appreciate the Mocha or the Cappuchino, these are connesseiurs who appreciate filter coffee.
Italian? Thats the politician...
But I digress. From that single request and many newer requests later, if there is one thing people appreciate from Bangalore, this is it. For the past few years I have been here in Bangalore, no gift has gone more appreciated, than coffee at my home (and then some). Each visit from Bangalore to Mumbai, I carry along packets of coffee. This brand, Cothas, is a brand that barely advertises. I have not seen a single ad yet. Yet it is a brand that sells very well. Obviously, Cothas produces great coffee and it is very well known in Bangalore. Now it is pretty much word of mouth that takes it across cities and shores.
So, if Pune has its Lakshminarayan Chiwda, Bangalore has Cothas coffee. Dont return without it...
Sunday, September 14, 2008
After the latest serial blasts, taking a cue from the United States', new weapon, the government of India has decided to go after the perpeterators of terror. The weapon, newly acquired, boasting of new
capabilities apologies is a statement. This statement is a modification of the previous ones which have been successful in relieving quite a few Indian citizens of their right to exist. The statement replaces the law which having been proved ineffectual in protecting terrorists lives was repealed. (On a related note, many sections of the IPC will be repealed, since they have also proved ineffectual and replaced with similar statements.)
Friday, September 12, 2008
The South Indian Co-operative bank story is a story worth telling. This bank, apparently 85 years old at some point in time went bust in 2004. Since then it has been a sordid tale for many investors there (one of whom happens to be my father).
The profile of the bank depositors mirrors my dad. Mostly senior citizens today, most of them were first generation migrants in Mumbai who put their money in a cooperative bank ostensibly formed to take care of their interests - that let them down very badly.
Somewhere in 2004, it was discovered that the bank had too many NPAs or too low a net worth. On investigation, much of the money was found siphoned off to a few "needy" people, from the "rich" depositors - a common story in the Indian cooperative sector. As usual, given the Indian judicial system, the scam accused got away on bail, leaving the depositors, where they are today, in a lurch. The report here, cached by google, notes how the scamsters "languished in jail for 3 months". The depositors whose life savings is locked languish in life since 2004 and now stand to lose a major part of it.
(Cached from google, heres a link)
And then, salvation happened: The bank was decided to be merged with the Saraswat cooperative bank - one of the few respected cooperative banks (read the comments in this article). But that did not bring much cheer to investors.
South Indian Bank customers with deposits up to Rs one lakh each can now get back their money if they want. However, those having deposits above Rs one lakh will have to forgo a part of their amount.
Why is this so? Presently RBI deposit insurance rules goes something like this.
RBI provides deposit insurance upto one lakh rupees for all deposits, whether the bank is nationalised/ private/ co-operative. RBI typically merges a failed bank into one with substantial reserves - the reserves can be used to repay the depositors. If your net worth falls to a particular level, the RBI anyway thinks that you're a weak bank and demands that you be merged into a stronger bank and in this case you as a depositor pays for the bank or bank staffs complicity in a scam. (Thanks Aadhist)
What about the thousands of depositors whose retirement kitty has been reduced by half? Where will they go with a begging bowl? Where is the government in all this? Or do they only bail out banks whose depositors riot or have nice juicy political connections?
My two cents learning from this: By and large, do not put your money in a cooperative bank if you can get into a regular nationalized/scheduled bank. The chances that your hard earned money in a cooperative bank (regardless of its names, regardless of the charms of its agents, wellwishers) will go is higher than a regular bank. Why? Because, overall cooperative banks have lower standards than regular banks and intends to reach people who would otherwise be unbanked. (Tx Aadhist) So, if you are a regular person earning his money through the salaried route etc., you are putting yourself at a greater risk by putting your money in such a place.
Disclaimer: There is a little bit of personal interest in posting this story. Many depositors in this bank are known to me and most of them are the typical first generation migrant to Mumbai who ended up locking up their retirement savings in this stupid bank and lost it thanks to some scamster(s).
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Using the power of the people to be alert, especially in the age of cameras on every cellphone. NYC emergency system now accepts photos, videos. This is a smart move.
You cannot have CCTVs everywhere, but there are people everywhere. Go ahead, take a picture. Who knows you might just avert a terror attack.
Indeed, it could well be India 2025. Got this link via Churumuri where a WEF team painted an optimistic and pessimistic scenario for Bangalore in 2025.
Heres what the Cassandras - doomsayers had this to say:
They described a gloomier scenario whereby by 2025, Bangalore would become the backwater of the global innovation markets. How come? Having placed all its development eggs in the IT basket, the city had become an IT services sweatshop that peddles its white-collar services to the highest Western bidder. There is no real innovation happening in Bangalore as high cost of housing combined with nightmarish traffic congestions had kept both prospective investors and PhD-armed scientists at bay. Starting in 2008, political leaders who formed the successive coalition governments spent more time jockeying for power than investing in vocational education and reforming universities to promote industry-academy cooperation. The result? By 2020, Indian IT vendors like Infosys and multinationals like IBM and Cisco had relocated their headquarters and R&D operations to business-friendly Indian cities like Chennai and Hyderabad.
The optimists were, obviously, thinking great. Regardless, says Navi Radjou, the government will have to focus on
1) Human infrastructure will become more critical than physical infrastructure.
2) Competition from Chennai and Hyderabad will heat up
3) The software industry alone won't create enough employment.
Pertinent points. I think that the truth as usual will be in between.
Bangalore needs to continue to be a talent magnet. Public transport needs to be improved on a war footing. The Metro is 10 years late, but it is still possible for the Metro to make a difference.
The city needs to expand - and the logical directions are the Bangalore-Mysore corridor and if the government is really smart, a Mysore- Bangalore -Hosur- Salem-Sriperumbudur-Chennai corridor - this corridor will integrate the manufacturing, technology, small industries and hi-tech segments in one go.
The big thing here, is that most of the companies are private, so they will, get moving so as to ensure that they are not just a one trick pony. I already see the biggies try their hand out at different things so that they are still relevant in 2025. As for companies, Bangalore is not just IT. There is architecture, biotech, research, design, textile and a lot of other stuff happening here. It is easy to make this assumption that Bangalore is all IT. It is not. It seems so when you see it on Google maps, but that aint true.
I would love to see 3 (or more) IISc like institutions set up on the lines of ISB. This is where the IT biggies can come together and set up an institute that has no funding issues, attracts and grooms the best of talents for the city/country, call it what you will...
I am an optimist...
All over India, we continue to have special rules for VIPs. VIPs can really be Very Important People, or just a laundry list of people who know VIPs who know VIPs who know VIPs and a list of people who know them. The definition of a VIP can vary.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
As I have mentioned before, Mumbais manual tollbooths are faster than the electronic equivalents in many places (and there are some really insufferable manual tollbooths across the country). Mumbais suburban ticket counters are manned by men (and women), who are machines. And they are faster than the vending machines. Dont try to engage the ticket counter person in any sort of small talk - unlike you would do in perhaps an other country like the US - here will be quick to shoo you off.
After all it is a labour surplus economy or a place where manual labour is cheap. Thoughts that came to my mind, as I read about the assembly process for the Logan.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Almost every company worth its salt in Bangalore provides transport. Before some people jump the gun, let me remind you that the list varies from HAL - which is located as centrally as possible in the city to IT companies (anybody) to groups of companies (@ ITPL) to companies in nearby Hosur and others.
Why? Because if it were not for the company provided transport a majority of employees would never manage to reach work (don't even bother to add, on time). Yet, many people prefer to ride their own bikes and cars (that is part of a longer story).
This has been, in effect, the story of the city. Abysmal public transport waiting for a critical mass of users with users waiting for good public transport to drop on their laps. The Metro is supposed to be the panacea for all of Bangalores traffic ills, but while we wait for it, something else is doing very well.
But very recently, the BMTC started introducing Volvos - the first to introduce them intra city in India. Skeptics were aplenty. Too expensive, too elitist and what not. But take a moment to see the Volvos in the city during peak hours these days. Every Volvo which travels to the ITPL, E-city side if packed. During holidays, the Volvos to the city center is packed. Evenings obviously, leaving for home, the Volvos are packed once again. Whether it is due to the hike in petrol prices, whether it is due to the traffic or whether it is simply because the Volvo is the closest to reliable comfortable public transport in the city, the Volvos are here to stay. Affordable prices (surely less than a litre of petrol in most directions and a thousand times cheaper and haggle free than rickshaws), amazing comfort (nobody switches off the aircons and comfortable when the bus is packed with standees), very reliable, friendly staff in the buses too. I think that the success of the Volvos augurs well for the Metro, whenever it gets ready to service these high density workplaces (the current phase covers mostly random areas other than Ecity and ITPL).
I now suspect that the Volvo skeptics were all hired by the auto rickshaw unions.
Until the Volvos came about Bangalore public transport was an oxymoron. I can say this over and over again. True, there were bus services of various hues to choose from - ranging from the BMTC to private rattletraps to cab center jitneys, but the Volvo has truly made public transport respectable in Bangalore. More power to them. The next time you are in Bangalore, try them out...
And yes, they changed the way we perceived long distance travel in buses...
Friday, September 05, 2008
I knew we would get to see this headline, sooner or later
"Indian American whiz kid behind Google browser"
Based on that moment of clairvoyance, heres few columns/headlines that you can expect, especially now that the Olympic gold medal question has bitten the dust:
- Why cant a billion Indians build a browser?
- Why is there no Infosys, Wipro or TCS browser?
- Why cant they all combine and produce an "Indian" browser?
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
iphone of browsers? Black? Comic book publicised browser? Pick your cliche, but Chrome is here.
"Idli Vada, Khara bhat, Chow chow bhath, Dose, Rava Dose" he rattled off at the speed and noise of a bull being chased from the inner confines of a China shop. But that is music to the ears of a breakfast connoisseur in Bangalore. What better thing than a holiday to write about it?
For those of you who know (or dont know) Bangalore, breakfast is the second best thing that this city can offer. Many of the people who live here never have breakfast - the lovely weather - the best thing about this city - prevents them from waking up at that time. But presuming that they overcome the challenge of waking up in particularly pleasant weather, a wondrous treat awaits them.
For the regular gourmet like you and me - not the Pav Bhaji in a 5 star or an airconditioned dhaba recreated in a 7 star enviromnent - it is a treat. I presume that the "others" are not readers of this blog.
So, what can you expect in Bangalore? Idlis (or should it be Idlies or Idlys?) - soft and fluffy as they can be made with a textured finish. They are never ground completely like toothpaste, they have a grainy texture about them. They always taste fresh and simply melt in your mouth. Health freaks stop here.
Vadas - the biggest vadas in the country are in Bangalore. Round, generously big - a perfect Vada is brown and crisp on the outside - just right and obviously, very fleshy inside with a few bites of coconuts and chilli. No, they dont adulterate it with cabbage and onion, not yet, not here. Dont let cholesterol bother you, for now.
The dosa and the sambar - we can debate about it endlessly. Dosas are highly adaptive beings. In Bombay they are whitish, in Delhi, they are nearly spotless white. They are a golden brown in Chennai and a reddish brown in Bangalore. They are anorexically crisp in many places and plump in many other places (some coincidence that).
When it comes to Dosa my preference is for Chennai over Bangalore, though Bangalore is a second by just about a quarter of a Bombay dosa thickness. But the sambar is best served in Bangalore - with that undercurrent of jaggery. The discussion on Chennai and Bangalore Sambar can be a never ending one in certain circles. (Dont even bring the sugary sambar you get in Bombay into the discussion. That is not sambar, that is pani puri chutney.)
But coming back to Bangalore, there are dosas and there are dosas. The regular dosa is the "sada" dosa, the one filled with "masal" is the masala dosa and the one with onions spread on top is the onion dosa. The onion dosa is loosely similar to an onion uttappam, but there are places where you can see that the onion dosa is a lot of onions, coconut and small cut green chillies in a dosa whereas the uttapam has onions nicely mixed with the batter plus extra beings like tomatoes.
The other variants here are the "Set" Dosa, a set of three rather plump and succulent dosas. I hate the sagu and prefer the sambar anyday, but the sagu has a fan following itself. "Neer Dosa" is a slightly rarer variety, that can be found at ease in Udupi, but it is not easy to find in Bangalore. White to the point of being considered for a Rin ad, it has coconut water - hence neer and is usually served with a coconut jaggery combo. The Rava dosa is not really a dosa, so it gets left out of this discussion. It has its followers too, so do not underestimate it...
The Khara Bhath is the Bangalore version of the upma. The Khara Bhath is a grainy textured, spicy rava preparation and is never gooey like the upma. Served with sambar and Chutney, it is the lightest breakfast, this side of the idli. The Kesari Bhath is the richer cousin of the Sheera. The Khara bhath is always, served upturned - the measure is a small bowl and you get one bowl served upturned- sort of like a hot grainy igloo with coriander leaves and chilli on a green leaf base plate. And in Bangalore, you can get chow chow bhath - which is one bowl Khara Bhath and one bowl Kesari Bhath served upturned on the same plate. If it makes you cringe, do not - it is a delicacy on any hungry morning.
Aha, how could I miss the coffee. With a deft half twist off the monster sized "coffee filter", a huge drop of decoction with the left hand and a nearly overflowing (small) cup of sweetened milk sloshed onto it - the coffee here is the south indians dream come true. Starbucks, dont even try. Those espresso machines are, well, ersatz. This is real coffee, preferably served upturned with a tumbler on a "davara".
None of the hotels in Bangalore ever miss a step on any of these. The Vada is not a scoring subject since the varying oil content can make any calorie counter die of a mental heart attack. But the others are. Try out Bangalore for breakfast and you will know what you are missing.
And on that foodie note, wish you a happy Ganesh Chathurthi...
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Chinese imports were supposed to wipe out Indian products according to many a doomsday scenario. They were supposed to wipe out the Indian market like a dirty table at a restaurant, but they havent. Indeed, brand India is now stronger with shopkeepers suggesting, "This is made in India". "Not Chinese"
Even I thought that the Chinese takeover of India was complete - when I saw a Ganesha idol made in China (its Ganesh Chathurthi today). But it has not happened.
A lot of products are made in China, high end phones, cameras but they are sold by the brand where the branding is more important than where it is made (and this is a very big thing in India - more on it). But the real Chinese stuff - sold for its cheapness at the lower end - toys, cheap electronics - killed the Chinese goose for the middle class, the brand conscious class atleast. Most of these were cheap, not durable and people realized very soon that "what you pay is what you get." Indian items, though slightly more expensive than the Chinese was better in the long run. Cheap Chinese toys are still available, but overall what cheap Chinese stuff did was, it helped the Indian manufacturers gain some respect in the eyes of their countrymen.
Titan was first off the block - with cheap durable watches and Sonata has made a good name for itself - nearly replacing old guard HMT. With Titan, cheap phoren watches got relegated to the pavements.
Nokia has never been bothered with cheap Chinese imports - even after it started a plant in India to manufacture phones. Nokia is still Nokia - people dont buy it because it is imported or because it is made somewhere, they buy it because of the value proposition of the brand. Ditto for many slightly different products - Chinese bikes for instance or a Chinese car. People will not go for something that is untested from a reliability perspective.
Indeed many manufacturers are now using this as an idea, as I had noted some time back. They are using China as a sourcing base and giving it Indian/American names to come with a "product" of their own. What is the point of one more DVD player, unless there is a clear differentiator?
Indeed many of these brands dont sell, because, in India, the defining proposition is not just cheap, but cheap, durable and beautiful. (Sundar, Sasta, Tikau to use an oft repeated cliche.) Ask the Koreans...
Capturing the internet is a dream companies have. Many company wants to capture the eyeballs all over the net and get it to their doorstep. Get all those visitors to their one web site? How to go about it? How do you build that one site which will fulfil the aspiration of every jobless and expert and collegian and senior citizen? Eureka! Provide everything that the web provides under one
Now, dont get me wrong. I dont mean that newcomers cant capture the web, but the methods cannot be "same old", "same old". This is true everywhere, but especially in case of the internet.
So, heres case in point 1. See the picture, as CNN-IBN attempts to capture the web by giving you a mail id, all the videos and games, so you dont wander around the web and stick to what they have to offer? Nice eh?
Not. It is as muddle headed as trying to own Bollywood, or creating an India based SN or offering a mail id on your gaming portal. Trying to be everything for everybody and who better than Seth to explain it, leads you nowhere.
And on the other hand, if you follow the process, the web might well be yours. Read this and mull over it. Google Chrome. Eureka. CNN-IBN may want to launch their own browser...
Monday, September 01, 2008
or fully loaded first? Most items, cars or computers always advertise the product with the base version price prominently and charge the customer for every add-on. Which is fair and perhaps works well.
But what if I wanted the fully loaded version and the price point was higher? How about indicating that too? So, if I really liked the Inspiron notebook, I should be able to bring it to my price point (in all probability I wont), but why not surprise your customers with the fully loaded price and keep reducing it for them?
This post really is about the textile industry of Mumbai. As I read through Travels of a T shirt, it was this that came to my mind. The city of Mumbai is almost entirely missed in the story, but then it is the same as the two Manchesters - having said that, it is still a story to tell. The ebbs and flows of business.
Textiles were the happening thing in India many years back and the place where it was all happening was Bombay. Being a port city, with its humid weather and fairly abundant labour supply, Bombay was a godsend to the textile industry. The textile mills were the hub of the local economy - that churned cloth that was exported and locally consumed. Around it chawls came up and an entire economy evolved. See this place from one of the local skyscrapers and some of it is easily discernible. Indeed, it might not be wrong to say that if it were not for the port and the textile industry, Mumbai would have been something else...
Though there was the textile strike (here) which crippled the industry, it must be said that they were, really, fighting a losing battle against rising labour costs, increasing mechanization. Thanks to the strike, many workers lost their jobs the industry moved out of Bombay - scattered to other low cost centers across India (by which airconditioned looms were the norm - so the dependency on natural weather was gone) though, textiles never ruled the roost as they did in Bombay.
Today, in Mumbai, the textile mills are almost entirely slowly, but surely being replaced by swank offices, malls, apartment complexes - in a cycle of development that has been repeated across all textile centers across the world. Manchester US, Manchester UK.
Nothing to feel sorry about, it is a natural cycle of economic and technical development, but a tale nonetheless, to be told. And how, Mumbai, as the title of the chapter in the book is but a "sister in time" to the other cities where the industry faded into extinction.