Monday, December 07, 2009

South Indian Meal

As I wrote in my blog on talent, I eat a lot. And I love the meal or saapadu as it is called in Tamil.

I must say, amongst all the restaurants in Chennai that I have eaten, Tanjore is easily the best for saapadu. Like McDonalds’ QSCV, I can say Tanjore must be following the QQP dictate - Quality, Quantity and Price.

The place is absolute value for money. Costing about Rs. 60, you have to buy a token at the counter before you go the first floor at New Woodlands, Cathedral Road. Do not expect luxury though seating is comfortable. The bucket or balti service reminded me of a Tamilian wedding. The tables are straight and long; not like the rectangle four or six seater tables usually found in restaurants. Food is served on plantain leaf.

The food tastes like home cooked. It is tasty, sumptuous and non-greasy. It is more in TamBrahm (stands for Tamil-Brahmin, for those who didn’t know) style.

None, whether it's New Woodlands' other restaurant like Vrindavan or Sangeetha or Saravana Bhavan or any other, came close to it.

As I had mentioned in my blog on restaurants in Chennai, the others cannot be called authentic South Indian Meal. First thing that puts me off is Rotis or Chapattis. Wheat is not the staple Tamil Nadu; it is Rice, Rice and Rice. But, I guess the fascination of South Indians to eat wheat has led to the inclusion of Indian breads. Two, I love the fact that it is bucket or balti service. This means that the food is served hot. Other places give you accompaniments and gravies in cups or kinnams (in Tamil and katories in Hindi). First, all kinnam items go cold by the time they arrive at your table and, second, they are just not sufficient. So, you have to think twice before asking for more because consistent reordering for kinnams might lead to people think that you are a glutton. Further, if the restaurant is crowded, by the time kinnams come, your fingers would have dried up and so would your appetite.

For those who are aware, typical vegetarian Tamilian saapadu (pretty much the same for other South Indian states, I think) comprises of Rice (the staple), Paruppu (lentils or dhal), Sambhar (dhal and tamarind gravy), Kara or Vattal Kuzhambu (hot and spicy), Rasam (a thin soup made with Tamarind as base), Kootu/Poriyal (veggies) and Curd. Appalam (Pappad) and pickle are also part of the meal.

For desserts, a plantain. For digestion, a beeda (beetle leaf and beetle nuts).

So if you are in Chennai and are looking for a place for a typical and authentic saapadu, head to Tanjore.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Capitalism, better?

A forward I loved reading!

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama's socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama's plan".

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Could not be any simpler than that.

Read this, too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Talent: Inborn or Developed?

I think talent is inborn, though I would love to believe otherwise. I can't even lie because I have gone through some experiences which led to the fortification of this belief.

I have always had issues with dancing. In past and even today, I am scared of going to parties. I am always worried that there might be a dance floor and that I might be forced by colleagues to perform shakes and moves. I can promise that with my size and weight, I am only capable of pushing people besides me or, worse, break the dance floor. I loved and detested people who could dance. I loved women for the beauty and detested men with jealousy.

I would shy away either by hovering around the bar counter with a glass brimming with liquid or find people, who like me, had two left feet. Or better no feet, at all. I remember situations when I was forced to the dance floor and wouldn't know what to do. I would smile like a fool and wriggle myself out of the embarrassment under the dim and flashing lights.

Similar things can be said about my singing but I think I make a positive attempt and am not as nervous when forced.

So last year, I joined Mani's dance class. Mani has studied dance in UK and teaches various Latin American dance forms - Samba, Rumba, Cha Cha Cha and Jive. No, that is not the entire list. I learnt these. During that period, he also did Ballroom and Salsa workshops. He is a great dancer and a fantastic teacher. He breaks down the steps to such fragments that a person like me starts believing that (s)he can dance. He displays an amazing amount of patience.

I tried dancing for about a year and under Mani's tutelage did manage to go through two levels of exams, improving every time. But then whenever I took exams, I would be close to nervous breakdown. If I got the steps it would not be coordinated with the beats. If I concentrated on the beats, I would miss my steps.

Then it had to happen. Other priorities overtook and I had to leave the dance class.

Then, I tried my luck with playing instruments. I joined guitar classes at The Unwind Centre. I must say the experience was no different. On side note, Unwind Centre sucks! The classes would never be on time and teachers were atrocious. I am not saying that they didn't know how to play guitar just that they were very bad teachers. Of course I too missed a class or two. My exam nervousness returned when it came to tests.

I analyzed my failure in my tryst with art. If I wasn't moving that well under Mani, I seemed strumming air rather than the strings in Unwind Centre. There seemed to be one common thread in both cases. During exams, I was sweating from every orifice in my body.

Did I have learning disability?

I seemed to learn languages better. Whether French or German, I seemed to love learning them. I didn't get nervous when I took exams. I took to tennis only a couple of years back. Despite my weight and shape, today, I play competitive tennis, even if it is at amateur level. I seem to learn serving and playing shots better with every game. Even when I play league matches, which is akin to the exams in Dancing and Guitar classes, I seem to look forward to playing them.

Only after this did I start thinking about talent. I believe that if you don't have it, you don't get it. While it may not be about the DNAs you inherit from your parents but the seeds are sown when you are young, I think. You must have a liking for the activity. I am very sure that even if I put more years in practicing, I would never be able to match Mani's grace and elegance.

Savitha, I am so sorry that I mocked at you every time you got into the pool and just watched. As you used to say, now I realize that everyone has his or her own strengths and WEAKNESSES.

Focus on strength, try but don't break your head and heart over the weaknesses. You tried!

1. The person dancing is Mani, not me.
2. Tennis personality is Roger Federer, just in case you thought it was me.
3. I am also not the person whose image first appears in this post. You can find my picture in my profile. It was taken in a restaurant and I love to eat a lot.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Apple Overtakes Nokia

Apple overtakes Nokia. Ok, Apple hasn't really overtaken Nokia in terms of units sold. But I guess that was never Apple’s intention.

By now, Apple's success has been well recorded and written about by media, marketing gurus/analysts, bloggers and authors.

So, I may not have anything new to say. But am recording my thoughts anyway.

When Apple announced the launch of iPhone, one of my colleagues wondered if the company would ever succeed and be able to beat the existing players. Mobile phone market is extremely crowded. We could very well say that mobile technology is definitely in the Tornado phase. There are Gorillas, Chimps and Monkeys. Oh, wait a minute. Mobile industry is actually commoditized market, meaning the switching costs are lower. So, we have King (Nokia), Prince(s) (Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung...) and Serf(s) (anybody other than those previously mentioned).

It was a valid question. Apple, which has roots in computing, could be classified as Chimp in that industry. A specialist who could never win the battle against the IBM clones. But if there was one advantage that Apple had was its brand image. Apple was supposed to be cool. It was supposed to be a favorite brand of the famous. It was always aspirational. But because it defied the rules prescribed in Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, it became a niche Chimp, trying hard to knock the pins in the alley.

But things were taking a different shape in the technology and consumer behavior. With the rapid innovations in the mobile handset and telecom industry, mobile phones were fast emerging, if not replacing PCs, as the mode for communication, computing and entertainment. Probably, it is the first true Convergence device. Today, there are more mobile-phones vis-à-vis the PCs and laptops.

Apple would have diminished and been wiped out if it had continued to stay in the PC industry. Despite bringing in newer technologies and being aspirational, lack of partners would have killed any chances of gaining dominance. And as it is said and shown in Pirates of Silicon Valley, Bill Gates and his Microsoft would have done a Fast Second.

I guess it was but natural for Apple to move into this space.

Oh btw, I very recently watched Pirates of the Silicon Valley. Do watch it, if you like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or the PC industry.

Then something happened after the mercurial Jobs was back at the helm of affairs at Apple. He changed the fortunes for the company and waged a battle that has become a legend. And his weapon in this war – Apple’s brand equity.

This brand image not only bailed it out but also catapulted Apple to a leader in the new areas. Like a phoenix, it rose. While, everything that Jobs touched turned gold.

But we cannot say that brand image was the only reason for Apple to succeed. Philips is the best example which despite being associated with electronics industry could not cut ice in the handset industry, but it is not the only one example.

I think Apple made a strategic (conscious or unconscious) decision of first releasing iPod. Or maybe iPod happened and it was extended to iPhone.

Or I could say iPod set first the rules of the game and received an overwhelming response to its initiative to transition from desk and laps to the palm. While, the software and the iTunes did its magic, it was the show value of iPod which won the hearts and thus the desire amongst targeted users. As Naru would say the value is captured by what is visible and iPod, a sleek device, did a fantastic job. Apple with a slew of variants from Nano to Shuffle not only demonstrated dominance but also expanded market share.

Until Apple’s iPod arrived, the ubiquitous MP3 songs were heard mostly on computer. And, maybe on mobile phones. iPod revolutionized listening to music, the same way as Sony’s Walkman did, ages ago. Ah yes, Sony took the cue around the same time and launched Walkman series of mobile phones which also became popular. Later, the same series was rechristened W Series.

iPod had its own challenges. Microsoft launched Zune but failed miserably. Poor Microsoft, it has become so big and has to fight battles on so very many fronts.

Of course, other formidable challengers were Mobile handset companies themselves. Almost all built strong music features within them. Then, of course, other electronic players like Transcend, Creative, Samsung, Sony, and Philips…who brought their own music players. And not to forget, the unorganized/unbranded products, which were shells sold for peanuts.

There is a rule in technology marketing which says that the market leader has to continuously challenge itself. Which Apple did, pretty well.

Finally, an Apple product which retained its desirability quotient but transitioned Apple from a niche PC maker to a mass-market premium music player.

And it was this success and acceptability, which laid the foundation for the launch of iPhone. Now who could have imagined that Apple’s reincarnation? The biggest achievement for iPod was that it made Apple’s software be used by a much larger audience, something which weighed heavily against it in the PC market. What is important, it became the leader and rewrote the rules.

Persistence pays! Investing in brand repays more!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 in 17 Official Indian languages

I do not approve of MNS' philosophy. Nor of any other party/organization which has similar outlook. Narrow patriotism has done enough harm. Please refer history.

But MNS' demand to have in Marathi is a good thought. Today, the site is available in Hindi, Gujarati and English. It would be great if every Indian (like Sachin Tendulkar) can get BSE site in his or her own language. To start with it should at least be in the 17 official languages.

But why should it stop with BSE's site. In fact, all Government sites should be published in these 17 languages. At least, Central Government sites should be. States might still be caught in linguistic patriotism.

This will ensure information democracy, in the first place. It will also mean that Governments are unbiased. Two, this will increase spending, which in turn is required to curb recession; at least in a small way. And finally, technology spending is always beneficial. Promotion of Indian languages over Internet is definitely the way forward.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Gandhi, My Father' & Maslow's Theory

Having been fed on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, 'Gandhi, My Father' was not a flick I wanted to watch. I dismissed it to be another Gandhi film. Until, my parents watched and raved about it.

After a long time, I ordered it on DVD. I realized my parents were quite right about the movie. It was a poignant portrayal of the relationship between Father of our nation and his son, Haridas.

The film’s three main characters - Mahatma (Darshan Jariwala), Haridas (Akshaye Khanna) and Kasturba Gandhi (Shefali Shah) - have given a commendable performance. Kudos to producer Anil Kapoor and director Feroz Abbas Khan. Akshaye as an ambitious yet obedient son sparkles. Darshan's smile lingered in my mind long after the movie was over. In my opinion, he is the best 'Gandhi'. Shefali Shah has done a wonderful job of being a duty bound wife who adopts and follows the path of her husband while doing her best to protect the interests of her son in which unfortunately fails.

While we might know quite a bit about Mahatma from school and other sources, this movie captures the facet of Gandhi as a father. The movie is about the trials and tribulations of the family by the consequence of Gandhi dedicating to the cause of liberating India. While Mahatma wants his son to give up his dreams and join him in the 'war', Haridas wants to become a lawyer, like his father. The movie captures how Haridas transforms from being a subservient son to rebel who inflicts great pain on his father, probably without being aware of it. He falters, in life and character. Disowned by his family, Haridas meets his end as an orphan and in penury.

Why did this happen to Haridas? Was it because his safety, psychological and esteem needs weren’t met?

As Wikipedia says Maslow's theory is predetermined in order of needs important for human beings. It is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the lowest level is associated with physiological needs, while the uppermost level is associated with self-actualization needs, particularly those related to identity and purpose. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. If a lower set of needs is no longer being met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level. For instance, a businessman at the esteem level who is diagnosed with cancer will spend a great deal of time concentrating on his health (physiological needs), but will continue to value his work performance (esteem needs) and will likely return to work during periods of remission.

I am not sure if there is empirical data supporting this theory but it is very logical. Considering that it is an important concept taught to marketing students, it surely seems very relevant.

It would be interesting, if we apply Game Theory and imagine what could have happened if Mahatma had acted as a father and helped Haridas to fulfill his dreams. Would that have averted the tragic fate that Haridas met?

Gandhi stood for principles. Haridas would have gained his father but the nation could have lost Mahatma, if any compromises were made. Gandhi was an extraordinary man who took simple yet profound decisions. Was it because Gandhi had moved up the Maslow's triangle and his needs had been fulfilled that he could spurn the pleasures of life and devote himself for liberating his motherland? In that case, if his security, psychological and esteem needs had been met, would Haridas have followed footsteps of his father?

No one can say, now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I felt like Robert Langdon

I am agnostic tending to atheism. I do not believe in God but I love the concept of God. Religion, history and mythology interest me.

It was a long weekend this October. Savitha and I were contemplating a visit to Horsley Hills or Bandipur. Unfortunately, all places were full.

We were dejected. That is when we thought about Story Trails. Story Trails is an organization that conducts a variety of trails in Chennai. Each trail is a concept. There are Temple, Peacock, Country Roads, Mystic (recently, added we were told) trail to choose from. When we called, we were told that Steeple Chase was being planned that Saturday. Steeple Chase is a trail that tracks the history of Christianity in Chennai.

Before I write about the Steeple Chase experience, let me tell you little about how it is organized. Each trail requires a minimum size. You will be asked to come to a designated spot at a particular time. A storyteller is assigned to conduct the trail. For Steeple Chase, our storyteller was Navarre.

So, we assembled at the Madras Race Course, Guindy. Story Trail had organized Tourist Autos for the trip.

Shortly afterwards, the auto took the new Kathipara grade separator and went on Mount Poonamallee Road. Little further, we took a turn and started the ascent to Saint Thomas Mount. It is a pity that despite having lived in Chennai for more than 15 years and I have not even once been there.

Navarre took us around the place and he explained to us how the Jesus’ disciples took different directions after the resurrection. Saint Thomas is believed to have crossed the Middle East and landed on the Malabar Coast where he set up fellowship. Then somewhere in 72 AD, he is believed to have come to Chennai. He used to pray at the mount there and spoke of Jesus and his teachings. He is believed to have carved a cross which one can see at the Church. As all disciples, Saint Thomas also met a cruel death. As per the depiction in the tablet, he is believed to have been speared to death while praying.

Standing at the Mount, listening to the story and looking at the depictions, I felt as if I was transported to 72 AD. I imagined a different Chennai. Probably, the Eastern Ghats had more hills than it has now. It probably would have been a thick green forest and not cemented monster.

Ah one controversy there. There is also a belief that it was not Saint Thomas but another Thomas from Armenia. We will keep it aside for a moment.

After spending some time, the autos took us to towards the city. We crossed Saidapet, Nandanam and finally made way to Luz Church Road. I have crossed this Church so many times while I go to Mylapore Club for my morning tennis but never gave a thought.

The story behind the Luz Church dates back to the 17th Century when the Portuguese arrived in Chennai. They are believed to have seen a light from the shore and followed it. When they landed on the shores (Santhom), they built what is now known as the Santhom Basilica. But they realized that the light was actually coming from far behind and they tracked it to the place where the Luz Church is built. And that is how the Church also got its name. Luz (pronounced a looz) in Portuguese means LIGHT! I am wondering next time, I tell an auto drive to go to ‘looz’ Church he would probably think I am a ‘loosu’.

As he showed around, he brought us to a plaque given to the Church by ARMENIAN TRADERS! Remember the other Thomas who was also Armenian from Saint Thomas!

This is also historically significant as after 72 AD, this is the next sign of Christianity in Chennai. Maybe at the time of Saint Thomas, it was not even called Christianity.

From there, we took the Luz Church Road towards the Santhom Basilica. Since we were behind schedule, we could not go there. Taking the beach road, we crossed Marina Beach (world's second longest beach, for those who did not know) and came to Fort Saint George. Today, the Fort also houses the State Assembly. After a brief security check, we went inside to visit the Anglican Church. Actually, as the name suggest, it is more a Fort than a Church. Built by Military architects, it was fashioned in such a way that it can withstand a battle. Anglican form of Christianity probably came to Chennai as soon as it was established by Henry VIII. It was also built because many Brits for lack of an Anglican place of worship went to the Portuguese Churches and were getting married to the women there. One of the interesting discoveries that we made there was that the funds for Yale University went from our own Chennai! Elihu Yale who was a Governor with British East India Company was stationed, right here. He is believed to have sent ‘gifts/funds’ towards the setting up of the varsity.

The next stop really shook us, both figurative and literally. We were to go to Parry's corner where Armenian Church is located. Now for anyone who knows Parry's Corner knows how crowded and noisy the place is. The auto went through alleys and stopped at the side of the Church. We entered the Church through a door which reminded me of the haveli in the movie Garam Masala. And believe me, it was a different world inside. You step into the Church and you find the atmosphere serene and unbelievably silent. One cannot imagine how calm it is inside. It is definitely an architectural marvel.

Now interesting thing about this Church is that there is no service. The place was gifted by Brits to Armenian traders. Armenians dealt with precious commodity unlike British who were trading in almost all communities. Also, we were told that Armenians preferred the British to others. The Pope of Armenian Churches visited this very place of 'worship', recently. The Church itself had a bit of mausoleum influence. Pity we could spend more time there as it was closed for the day.

Of course, by the time we went to the last stop of Steeple Chase, we could not even go inside the Church or should I say Kirk. It was the Scottish Presbyterian Andrew's Kirk. Situated just off the Poonamallee High Road and behind the Egmore Railway Station, this Kirk is the symbol of long-lasting enmity between British and the Scots. Despite the fact that Scots fought along with the Brits, they were given a piece of marshy land while Armenian traders got a place in the heart of the city.

As Navarre narrated the story of how the Kirk was built, I remembered a program about St. Petersburg in Discovery. Since it has marshy land, Scots first laid pillars on top of which they put a slab. The Kirk was then built on top of the slab.

With Andrew's Kirk, we came to the end of our trail of Christianity in Chennai.

Navarre said that Christianity in Chennai was always contemporary in the sense that any changes that happened elsewhere immediately was introduced here.

India, by itself, has been the land where different religions were born and flourished - Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Some have fared better in other countries than here. Buddhism, today, is practiced in large numbers in many other countries than in India. One of the important lessons we learn, in the History taught in schools, is that Indians are fine with foreigners ruling us. Many empires were established by people who were not originally from India. Mughal dynasty is probably the best example. Also, the trail makes it clear to me that God as a concept will never die. People need more of Her or Him, whether native or foreign. Christianity, a true imported stuff! Is it the fascination of Indians, in general, with 'foreign' stuff?

Oh as for me, the chase brought the Robert Langdon in me. As Savitha had observed my expression while I touched the tablets and crosses reminded her of Tom Hanks in Da Vinci Code.

History does fascinate me. These monuments are testimony of our past. They are proofs of our behavior then and now.

Oh yes, I am looking forward to do the other Story Trail. It is one amazing experience. The way it is organized and the small small things (the takeaway, I mean) are really thoughtful. So if you are in Chennai or are visiting the city, discover finer nuances with Story Trails. Let the story teller weave the magic for you, as Navarre did for us, that evening.

Call them at +91 44 4212 4214 or visit Story Trails.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Torn, Caught Between Many

As he realized that the train was about to move and with it his happiness, he felt very uneasy. He realized that the next day he was not going to meet her, probably, not for a long time. May be never again. Life is cruel.

He hadn't cried in decades. Not even in the difficult of situations. He could never imagine himself cry. It was not a man thing. As he thought about it, the eyes swelled. Frantically, he reached for his mobile and tried her number. It was a female voice, but not hers. Automated, emotionless women who made him realize that it was over.

The tears started rolling through his fat cheeks.


Yeah, this will be the starting line of my book - Torn. Whenever I write.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Differentiated Ear Buds: Quality Propotional to Price?

Despite numerous advice from doctors and warnings from Savitha, the habit of using ear buds soon after bath does not seem to go.

Am so addicted, if I do not use it, I would get withdrawal symptoms. I have to use ear buds and soak away the water from the passage. I keep doing to the point that water flows from my eyes and then I feel heaviness in my ears.

Who said people get addicted on drugs?

I have always used Johnson's ear buds. In between I did use the local stuff which is a very "cheap" option, both cost and quality wise. Then there were these emails floating around saying that unbranded ear buds are made of recycled cotton from hospital wastes. It named an unheard infection that could be fatal. After reading one of the early forwards, I stopped purchasing that Rs. 10 for 100 pack.

Have you noticed that there is no other brand other than Johnson's visible in market? A week back I went to Apollo Pharmacy and asked for Johnson's. The pharmacist introduced me to Apollo's own branded ear buds. I was excited thinking finally there is an option. Considering Apollo Hospitals is a big brand, the product must be safe.

The ear buds, basically, has two parts - the stem and the cotton buds on the two sides. In terms of quality, Johnson's stem and the amount of cotton and the firmness with which it rolled is far superior than both unbranded and Apollo's. Apollo's stem is better than unbranded. Unbranded stems can bend with little pressure.

The most important aspect is the amount of cotton available for us. Again, Johnson's buds are safe to use and soaks more water. When the buds soak water, the cotton is compressed. If there is not enough amount of cotton, the stem can hurt the sides and the drum. To my surprise, Apollo's performance was as "good" (read bad) as unbranded products'.

In terms of packaging, Johnson's is available in the small plastic container (with about 100 sticks, I think), a large refill pack (with 60 sticks) and then small refill pack (30 sticks). Apollo was available in the small plastic container. Unbranded are available in 100s in a small polythene cover.

No guesses on price! But clearly, Johnson and Johnson rules!

That leads me to think if the quality of product or service is directly proportional to the price a consumer pays?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Customer Service: Learnings from the barbershop

It is probably because of my father's Air Force life that habituated me to visit barbershop regularly.

Today, after my daily game of tennis, I visited my barber (hair stylists, as they are referred to nowadays). I, usually, pay a paltry sum of Rs. 50 plus a decent tip of Rs. 10.

As I went in today, the barber asked if I had walked or visited the gym as my T-shirt was wet with sweat.

After instructing him that I needed a short haircut, I left it to the capable hands of the man and his tools to do the art work on my scalp. When the job was finished, I was satisfied and was going to happily give him the usual tip. But then he stopped me, asking me to relax in the seat. For the next 5 minutes, he drummed, pressed, and massaged my head. Phew, I was ready to go for a sleep. Refreshing! Oh no, I was not planning to increase the tip, though certainly tempted.

I thought it was over but then he brought a dry towel, placed it on my shoulders. Next 10 minutes were a period of relief. Relief from the tension that had built in into my shoulder and back muscles due to tennis. I so much wanted to let Mr. Barber continue but, alas, I was getting late for office.

Without hesitation, I pulled out Rs. 30 along with the hair cutting charges of Rs. 50. More than 50% of the actual cost of “actual” service rendered. Both Mr. Barber and I were smiling. I was because of the service. He probably because of the tip and making a customer satisfied.

I thought to myself, on a normal day, I would have stopped with the haircut. On a normal day, Mr. Barber would have stopped probably after the head massage. But the anticipation of what customer might require, though unstated, changed the experience.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is My Vote Counted?

Long time back, I watched Man of the Year starring Robin Williams. Robin plays a TV host who decides to stand for Presidency and gets elected. As the plot unfolds, an employee with Delacroy, which manufactures the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the software, suspects that Robin may not be the real winner as there might be some defects in the software.

Do watch the movie as to how it ends.

I liked the plot and movie. Didn't think too much after that.

EVMs were introduced in India first in 1999 election. It was a welcome relief for many. First of all, trees won't be cut to decide who will hold power in centre and states. It definitely puts India in the league of advanced democracies in the world. Most importantly, the booth capturing, snatching of ballot papers and other ghastly acts could come down.

Then, suddenly, after this General Elections for the first time, some parties have called for reverting to ballot papers than the buttons. They have raised concerns that EVMs can be "doctored/tampered".

A very serious statement having enormous implications. Imagine, your vote cast of a particular candidate actually falling into another's account. Imagine a party which was not supposed to win, gets the mandate to rule. I am not sure if this has happened. A search on the net reveals many reports on issues and problems with EVMs.

Does this mean that EVMs need to be phased out and Democracies go back to paper-based polling?

I think not.

First of all, the problem lies with human beings not machines. Two, tampering can happen even with papers. And of course the ghastly acts of vandalism which I mentioned above.

I think the opposition parties that have made allegations against the use of EVMs should provide their case. This can be used by Election Commission to ensure the holes are filled in.

Friday, August 21, 2009

US Worked Behind The Scenes

There was so much furore over the Iran elections. People in Twitter were urging others to wear Green to show their support to the demostrations against the results announced.

Recently, a comment by Hillary Clinton which was published all over irritated me. Let me make it clear, I neither a pro or anti establishment in Iran. But Hillary's stating that US worked behind the scenes to promote the demonstration in Iran is admitting to a shameful act. Not because the elections were rigged. I have nothing to prove if it was.

I just remembered the "surprise" election of George Bush in the United States of America. I still can't forget the scenes from the famous documentary - Inconvenient Truth. The "sudden" change in the results that catapulted Bush Jr to presidency and throwing of ballot papers from buildings are clear proof of election results being rigged in that country.

Result, the "war on terror". The seemingly unending war has created more hatred across the world.

May be US is worried that the Government-elect may turn out to be another "Bush-regime" in Iran.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Harry Potter Vs. Lord of The Rings

To be honest, until now, I didn't like Harry Potter series. I did see the first part when it was released but wasn't that impressed. On the other hand, I immediately like the Lord of the Rings. I like it so much that I saw all the three parts back-to-back. For a long time, I carried my prejudice against the Potter boy.

I sensed the growing euphoria with every edition of JK Rowling's masterpiece. I am not sure why but I was always euphemistic.

I do not who but someone made a very positive comment about Harry Potter. That comment made me change my outlook. The person said that JK Rowling's biggest contribution is that it has made children take up reading books. Kids who were hooked up to TV and PC, now are enthralled by the happenings in magical world of Hogwarts.

I, now, decided to watch Harry Potter 6. I also decided to catch up with Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix. I hadn't watched any franchise after Chamber of Secrets and Sorcerer's Stone. Now, I do appreciate JK Rowling's work. Amidst the many wand moments, HP does convey the time-tested story of Good Vs. Evil.

Though, I still believe that Lord of the Rings does better. Not taking anything away from Potter, JRR Tolkien has done a better job in conveying messages of unity in diversity, the resolve of mind and the constant struggle between the mind and the heart.

While I was discussing the movie with Sonia, I felt that LOTR and HP are very similar to our own Mahabharat and Ramayanam.

Would today's kids take to reading our own epics? Will these two epics ever reach the popularity worldwide as contemporary epics have attained?

Some sleek marketing is required!

Monday, July 20, 2009

ZooZoos SACKED? Not A Salesman

During the IPL season, if there was one thing (or should I say something) that kept many glued to the TV sets were the ZooZoos.

Appearing to be animations, at first, ZooZoos were cute creatures doing funny stuff and subtly promoting Vodafone Essar's mobile services. ZooZoos became a craze amongst many. Popularity grew manifold when it was revealed that ZooZoos were not animated but real actors donning the funny costumes. It was a matter of pride for Indians as ZooZoos, we are told, were Made In India.

Vodafone was also in spotlight as people started talking about the Pug. It was speculated that the loyal follower Pug was ditched.

But did ZooZoos do the trick for Vodafone Essar? Did ZooZoos help the service provider grow faster? Faster than Airtel, the market leader?

ZooZoos did catch the attention but I don't think it led customers to take action. Out of the Attract Interest Desire Action process, Action was missed. No, they are my assumptions. The figures indicate so!

Subscriber figures published at the COAI website suggests that the net addition month-on-month basis has been dropping. No, not the subscriber base, only the net additions. The net addition figures from March 09 until June 09 are 2848096, 2772890, 2538819 and 2368891.

Is this an industry trend? Figures from COAI’s website suggest that Airtel has been able to add more subscribers than Vodafone Essar has been able to.

A caveat here, I am quite sure that the figures uploaded in COAI site need some cleansing and verification.

Coming back to ZooZoos, I think they gave a fresh face to the campaign and drew attention but I don't think they made great sales persons. The campaign has not translated into hard numbers for the group. But I don't think they can be blamed entirely.

As one of my friends put it in her Tweet, ZooZoos were great but the service is bad. Vodafone Essar may want to set their house in order or may be get the basics right.

In the meanwhile, the services of the Pug have been recalled. Whether the little Pug will do big wonders is to be seen.


1. I use Airtel and I do not have anything against any other service provider
2. The inspiration to write this post originates from my brain
3. I wish all service providers the very best in the competitive market

Dominos: 30 Minutes Or No Free Pizzas

It was quite a disheartening experience with Dominos Pizza. Let me make it clear before I recount the experience that I do like the Domino's pizza over Pizza Hut or Pizza Corner.

My team and I have been ordering Domino's, especially the Cheese Busters, pizza quite regularly from the Ashok Nagar outlet in Chennai. Last week, we ordered two pizzas from the same place to be delivered at our office in Guindy. The flyer given to us from a previous delivery mentioned that the pizzas would be delivered free, if delivery time is beyond 30 minutes.

The delivery boy did come but after an hour from the time order was placed. So, we reminded him about the delay and asked him to deliver the pizza free. The delivery boy cringed and start giving excuses. He was not ready to give it us free of cost. After some point, I called the outlet and narrated the incident to the order taker. To my suprise, the order taker also started giving reasons. One of which was that there was a 'conditions apply' clause. So, I asked him what was the condition in this case. He said that there was a heavy traffic at the outlet and hence the offer will not be valid. I reminded him that this was not informed to me when the order was taken. He didn't have much to say. He said that we could pay Rs. 250 against Rs. 400 and take the pizzas. Since, we were slightly starved, we agreed to give Rs. 200. But I was very upset.

Then a day later, I visited Dominos website and promptly registered a complaint. I must commend that a person from the outlet quickly called me up and apologized. He promised that he will give us complimentary pizza and return Rs. 200. I was quite happy.

Two days later, I redeemed the offer.

And that is where my disappointment with Dominos grew further. Since I was busy in a meeting, I asked my colleague to collect the pizza. When I returned my colleague told me that delivery guys apologized for the incident but also informed us that since they can't keep up their time (30 mins), they will not take our delivery orders from the next time.

To me it sounded as if Dominos was angry with customers for redeeming the offer. I was quite upset because if Dominos did not have the intention of keeping its promotion promise, why did it make it in the first place.

Dominos: 30 minutes or Free Pizza seems like a pure gimmick. Lying!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Winning: Straight From the Gut

Jack Welch’s Winning was suggested to me by Sunil, my school pal. He said that if leaders follow what has been written in this book, Sathyam-like situation could have been averted.

I bought the book immediately.

Winning is unlike the books that I have read. It is a management and self-development book under one cover. The book is pulp of successful manager’s experience. It may not be well-researched but you can be rest assured that it is crude experience. It is a book for CEO, CXOs, Mangers, Supervisors, and, most importantly, for every employee.

Before reading this book, I always felt that Mission/Vision was an exercise of writing meaningless long and complex sentences. Jack Welch explains with real life examples and the appropriate ones as to how this exercise can align the entire organization towards goals.

Whether it is Candor or the 20-70-10 rule, this book touches upon every department of an organization. Jack Welch believes that every department is strategic and has an important role to play in Winning, be it Finance or HR.

As I said it is not a book written by a theorist but by a practitioner; and an honest one at it. As it is said “one learns more from his mistakes”, Jack Welch in this book shares many mistakes he has committed.

Winning by Jack Welch is not a book from the head; it is from the heart. Or better from the gut.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Social Networking: Problem of Plenty?

My interest in writing blogs with renewed vigor was with a post on Orkut. I was not sure if social networking sites were fad or would become part of our lives. A reflection on my behavior indicated that I was using Orkut to find out my existing contacts online and interact with them. I was not keen on newer friends, unless they were fairer variety. So, I felt social networking was at best an extension of Yahoo Groups. But, of course, social networking sites have grown on to became photo album, video album, birthday calendar, game parlor and many more such things.

When I thought Orkut was all that I needed, someone initiated me into Facebook. I opened an account and didn't use it actively, until recently. Then my mails were peppered with invitations to join WAYN and many others. I have resisted the temptation. When I thought going was fine, LinkedIn came along. It has become a must. It has become an essential for someone in the corporate world to be active on LinkedIn. It can get you partners, sales and jobs. So, I linked up. Now, the count is three.

And again I thought that this was enough. Then Twitter twittered into my life. The 140 word social networking, sms, microblogging tool has become very addictive. It’s four now.

A link shared on Twitter showed that while MySpace, Facebook and Orkut are the leading social networking sites in the world. There were many unheard local networking sites leading in different countries. Sonia’s research revealed that there are around 300. That is quite a bit considering the number of netizens in most countries, except for probably developed nations, is definitely low.

But I guess the need for people to network is far from being satiated. Once the number of internet users increase, the importance of such sites is likely to grow substantially. The survival of such sites itself will be interesting to watch out. While, Twitter doesn't have a revenue model, I guess Facebook, Orkut and the likes have or are developing revenue generation models.

On the differentiation front, I haven't used many sites to give my opinion but I think LinkedIn is the most differentiated for segmenting and going after the professionals. It has a well-differentiated offering. The other most differentiated social networking site is Twitter. Limited by 140 words, Twitter probably has a high adoption graph line compared to other social networking sites. It has real celebrities who Tweet real time. By the way, the part on why Internet, despite being a two-way media, still cannot solve the problem for celebrities in responding to fans is a good read, in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. While, one can do so many things in Facebook, Orkut…Twitter primarily acts as a message board.

Now, I have reconciled to the fact that I may for sure sign up for another social networking site if there is a different and attractive value proposition. I am not sure if I would need it, though. I have already started signing off TweetDeck for longer period.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I subscribed to Twitter Feed. Is it working, I don't know yet.

Monday, June 01, 2009

South Indian Restaurants or Multi-cuisine Coffee Shops?

Karaikudi, Anjappar, Aruppukottai, Arasappar. These names if uttered to a Chennaite will stimulate the bile and other gastric juices. These restaurants offer sumptuous spicy and delicious Chettinad food. The crowd never seems to die down in these outlets.

I was having dinner at Karaikudi couple of months back. It was quite late and I think I was down three drinks. Those who drink will agree that stomach prefers hot and spicy food after the walls become intoxicated by fermented and distilled juices.

Not that I hadn't noticed this earlier but guess under the influence of alcohol, my marketing mind started working over time. The menu seemed to irritate me. Why? It was the amount of Chinese and North Indian dishes that were peppered on a Chettinad restaurant’s menu. What's more, even the captain seemed to be suggesting fried rice and some Manchurian dish. Totally unacceptable!

My mind wandered and virtually explored the menu of various North Indian, Chinese and Continental restaurants. I was quite sure that those menu were unadulterated, unlike the liquor at TASMAC outlets and the Chettinad restaurant menu. The exception probably was Kumarakom restaurants that serve food from our neighboring restaurants - Kerala.

Well, I ordered Attu Kaal soup after which I neutralized alcohol with idlies and spicy fish curry. My favorite combo!

While, hunger subsided, the question lingered in my mind along with Chettinad spices.

Would I order Masala Dosa at Cascade? Will I order Naan and Paneer Butter Masala at Tangeriene? Or for that matter Spaghetti Nepolitaine at Dhabha?

Then maybe I thought it was an issue with Chettinad restaurants. But then I proved myself wrong. Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha, Palimar which are renowned South Indian restaurants serving veg food also where in fact operating like multi cuisine restaurant. Oh by the way, Chettinad restaurants mostly serve non-vegetarian food.

Is it an interesting consumer behavior? Is there something wrong in positioning of these restaurants? Or is it a strategy by restaurants to gather more market share?

In my opinion it is all. First, I think it would be wrong to classify Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha, Palimar, and the Chetti restaurants as South Indian. They classify better as coffee shops. Open almost round-the-clock. They serve all cuisines. These restaurants have used their brands to tap the market with their South Indian positioning while parallely expanding their servings that address the needs of the varied taste buds. They have successfully managed to get more customers and the eating-out business pie. Important to consider is the price points of these restaurants which necessitates them to focus on volume business.

The niche restaurants on the other hand are rather premium and attract a different set of customers. And as in any business, differentiation is the key for survival. Even in the niche restaurant market, there are differentiated player. Particularly, this is true in the North Indian or Punjabi restaurant segment.

On the consumer side, there was a time when eating out was a big deal. But with a booming economy, money to splurge and changing life style has changed our behavior towards eating out.

With the change in lifestyle and exposure, consumer palette has also become global.

It must be a no-brainer that the reason for eating out and the choice of restaurants has a strong relationship. Here I must mention that the children have a strong opinion nowadays on where to eat. They infact are decision makers in many cases. Now, that is a topic in itself.

Guess, what I would order next time at Karaikudi? May be, a Chicken Manchurian Tikka Masala Kal Dosa! Wow, maybe I should open a fusion food restaurant!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brand Name: How to name a product

For an initiative that we have undertaken at Congruent, my colleague and I met up with Mr. KR Chandrasekaran (Chandra), COO, Java Green, last weekend. We are building an IT product and sought Chandra's advice on how we should name the product.

After hearing our story and checking out the details, Chandra suggested a framework to work on. Chnadra opined that the brand name should ideally provide cues to what the product is likely to do for customers. This would help in easy association in the minds of customers, esp for brands that may not have a large advtg budget. He gave the example of Fair & Lovely and (at another level) Surf detergent. Surf surfs well (foams well). Of course, there are successful brands with names (like Nike or Accenture) that may have no direct meaning that consumers can associate with but they usually require significant time, effort & money to build.

He suggests that a brand name should preferably have 3 elements to it:

1. Name
2. A Category Descriptor
3. Benefit or tag line

He advised us to use Aaker's model, which provides an useful and practical approach to developing a brand's identity and helps to look at a brand in its entirety. He also strong suggested us to read Building Strong Brands by Mr. David A Aaker. I have added to the same to my wishlist.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Demystifying Twitter

It is almost about three months since I first opened my account with Twitter. I was told by Mr. Dorai Thodla that it is great marketing tool.

So while I opened the account, I watched the video describing how Twitter can be used to keep in touch with your loved ones. Apprise others of what you are doing in mere 140 words, people following could respond to you. It sounded interesting but I was wondering how this tool to be used for marketing purposes is. Anyway, I was reminded of what Naru, whom I consider as my Guru, used to say. He said if you do not understand something, just do the motions and after a while you will comprehend. So, I went along. Used Twitter trying to figure out how it can be used effectively.

While trying to figure out how Twitter is to be used I went through couple of URLs, which I have posted earlier.

In my opinion Twitter is an online message board, micro blog and a social networking site.

Basics of Twitter

The fundamental is Following and Followers. It is simple. Following is a list of people whom you follow and followers are those who follow you. That isn't rocket science, is it? What we need to understand is that when one posts a message, those who follow, will receive the message. Similarly, one will receive the messages in one’s home page from people whom they follow.

So your screen is your message board. Choose the people based on the information you would like to receive and start getting updates.

Please follow the maxim: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. This is the best way to increase your following.

The change

While Twitter, I believe, was meant for personal use (like Orkut, Facebook…), it has fast transformed into a business application. It is being used by individuals and organizations to promote themselves.

This is not to say that Orkut and Facebook are not used for business purposes. Last week, I attended a webinar organized by 20:20 MEDIA, the leading IT PR firm in India and my ex-employer, on Using Facebook for Business. Mr. Dave Evans (evansdave), the author of “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day" spoke on how to use Facebook for business purposes and provided some examples. But of course, he mentioned that Facebook was more effective in B2C scenario.

I must point out that LinkedIn is the best networking site for B2B.

The challenge

Here is one more tool.

According to a post in Tech Crunch, Twitter has about 1+ million users, with about 3 million messages posted per day.

Of course, I am very confident that the number of users in India at this point of time would be miniscule.

So who is using Twitter in India? Yes, I do. The Hindu Business Line Life had an interesting article last week. It states that Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Lalu Prasad Yadav also use Twitter.

I sure think we have a problem of plenty. We have mails, chats, social networking sites. On the other hand, we also have traditional media – TV, Radio, Newspaper... Interestingly, whether personal and professional networking site, there is a Twitter-like facility.

But like a true Web 2.0 tool, Twitter does seem to provide some real time interaction and that too with a live person.

Twitter, in the course of time, may also become a spammer’s delight. Because there are restrictions on how much you can feed into the message box, it is now primarily used to direct traffic to another site – the tiny URL.

Why would I follow or get followed?

The million-dollar question!

Simple, if you want to use Twitter for personal use, just use your address book and invite everyone. Block anyone else. Voila, you have your own Twitter space.

But if you want to use Twitter for professional or business purposes, you have to do bit of introspection. Once, you have decided what you want from Twitter, do a keyword search. Click and verify if you have searched the right person. If yes, click ‘follow’ and soon, your home page becomes their message board.

Please remember, there is no obligation to follow anyone who follows you. Similarly do not assume that because you are following someone, that person would follow you. It is better to be choosy. But if you are in there to win popularity contest, just keep clicking follow and hope others would do too.

I do not know if Twitter is just a fad? Whether it is here to stay? Will it replace other tools we have – website, email, chat or mobile sms?

At this point, it is attracting many. Flow with it, keep experimenting.

And, finally, one more link on 17 ways to use Twitter!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ads of Telecom Service Providers

It all started with the launch of MTS in Chennai. I was quite keen to understand if the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) do differentiate themselves and try to position themselves.

So, once again, I started a discussion with my colleagues. We discussed ads of various TSPs.

Airtel ads:

We started with the leader – Airtel. Airtel has used celebrities and continues to do so. The latest ones are Madhavan-Vidya Balan couple ads. The other ad that captures ones attention is the Lil Kid ad where a boy is reprimanded by mother. For some time now, SRK and Sachin do not seem to be given spots. Other ads which remembered were two kids playing on two sides of a fenced border. AR Rahman setting the Airtel tune was a long running campaign at one point of time.

The models used otherwise resemble people from day-today life. There is a play on emotions and ads are derived from the happenings in life. Suresh Talpade, Madhavan-Vidya Balan and the Lil-kid ads really touch emotions.

Vodafone-Hutch ads:

Before I summarize the ads, please read Sonia’s blog on Zoozoos, the latest brand ambassadors for Vodafone. Zoozoos are the talk of the town.

Whether Hutch or now Vodafone, the ads have always been very creative. Use of the Pug really established the brand. While there is an emotional play, it is more fun to watch the ads. Whether it was the ‘network follows you’ or the ‘always there to help’, the pug always captivated you. I am sure the ads did well for the brand and for Pug as a pet. The demand for pug rose so did the rates.

On the other hand, the Irfan Khan ads were smart.

Vodafone (earlier Hutch) ads were always fun to watch. Emotions were less. Models and more importantly the locations always are sophisticated.

Idea ads:

Idea ads were more idea ads.

Abhishek Bachchan, who is the brand ambassador, uses phone as a medium to solve issues facing the society. “What an idea, Sir Ji” ads are really smart creative. There is not much of personal touch. There was just one Shreya ad and does not look like it had many reruns. I liked the use of cell phone for distance education. It was touching!

BSNL ads:

For a public sector company, BSNL does seem to have pretty ads running. It was surprising when Preity Zinta became the brand ambassador. More so now, as Deepika Padukone promotes the brand. The VAS ads of BSNL are also pretty decent.

There is no emotion; BSNL ads are very functional.

Aircel ads:

After changing so many hands, Aircel at last seems to be a brand that is trying to make itself a serious national player. Dhoni is the brand ambassador. Like Pepsi, Aircel draws heavily on cricket. Dhoni demonstrates what one can do with an Aircel connection – browse, make payments, follow cricket, search…

Nothing more from them yet.

We somehow could not recollect Reliance ads. The one that we did was a young couple traveling to Badrinath and the girl using the phone to let her granny listen to the bells at the temple.

We could recollect Kajol featuring on Tata ads. Of course, now they have the Hello-Hello series running. Quite funny they are.

And of course, the Virgin ads. The ads are very focused and the company seems to know whom they are going after which is the college going

Now the most important part, will I ever change my service provider based on the ads. There is hardly any differentiation in service. I hold Airtel connection. There is constant complaint about the Hutch service but I must say Airtel is as bad. Interestingly, there is an Airtel tower above our office even then there are call drops!

Services and rates are hardly a differentiator.

I wonder what role these ads play. If not to woo at least to retain, I guess. Except for Virgin and MTS, I haven’t seen anyone else who seem to have take value-for-money positioning. But someone like me may never go for Virgin or MTS.

But I maybe wrong on wooing part, at least partially. The number of subscriber base in India is about 300+ million is about 30% of the population. It means that the mobile market has not even crossed the early majority. Indian mobile market is set to grow further. Even if there is a potential market to add another 400 million, it is a huge market which is the rest of early majority and the entire late majority at stake.

I am not sure about services but we are going to see more and more creativity flowing out of TSP war.

Not sure how Number Portability will affect the ads. That is because at least today with the number you possess one can identify your service provider. But with number portability that identity is lost.

Hope in this loss, customers gain!