18 December, 2008

Winter cheer

Snap. A year went by. One year ago, I had just finished packing for moving back to India. I was saying my goodbyes to my friends, colleagues and to the city and was getting done with that as well.
I knew I would come back often. I knew that my time in London will never come back. Memories are made with the place, the people and the present. Each one of them changes constantly, people changing the least I guess and the present changing all the time. I miss my time there - From Camden to High St. Ken to Hampstead and even the time spent in the Docklands - there are things about each place which I miss. Each place I stayed there had its own flavour. In the beginning, it was all about settling in and roaming around with my IIMA friends 100% of the time and learning how to cook. It changed into numerous cookins, anda-paranthas, walking up the hill with Nautanki and haggling like two middle-aged housewives, the Heath and the village. It also meant finding new friends and reading new books as older ones got married or got busier. West Hampstead had the flat screen TV and playstation and snow and weekday night outs followed by dreadfully long days in office.
Moving back to the present, the wedding season is in full flow. Almost all my friends are married - RG is my only hope in ensuring that I am not the last one to get married - which is also not a bad thing. It is not a bad thing because if something is so good to spend your entire life in it, it must be good enough to wait for. Also, I love my (almost) complete control over my life and space and interests, which I think reduces a bit with marriage. As AS tells me – “You will lose all the controls. But you will like losing them.” If he was not married, I would believe his intentions but not his veracity. Since he is married, I doubt his intentions.
Any how, my ex-manager from ebookers has gotten me in touch with some new companies - we should be able to last out this recession with such friends, but let us see how this story unfolds.

08 December, 2008

NK ties the knot

So this one is going to be about NK - friend, counsellor, 'ex-gamer', foodie, gymboy and fat-mate, super-geek and/or misplaced CA....
  • Friend - A few years ago in London the three (AT, NK and I) of us colectively endangered our livers in our quest to make me see light at the end of a tunnel. All I could see during this time was an unending stream of Jack and diet coke (of course!). Both of us believed in compartments of information - it was a lot of fun to let him into a few compartments and for him to share a few with me. it is even more fun when you meet someone else with an access to other compartments of NK's life and you get to exchange notes. So much fun. NK listened when he had to and said stuff when he had to. I remember him helping out when AT had a back problem and stopped moving for about a week - NK moved in with us to ensure that AT was moved around - not something which any person can ensure easily. He has supported quite a few of his friends with his work, brain and even money. He has lost some money in the process but has continued to do so. That is rare in today's world.
  • Counsellor - He started off by radical suggestions like flying down to New York on New Years eve. Other highlights included trying to make me read the Game, subsribing me to various email alerts and weekly journals which varied from job alerts to dating advice.
  • Ex-gamer - There have been many an occasion where NK' s way with the ladies has floored me. His way has done much, much more with the ladies in question. NK's work was an inspiration, in the way the sun is an inspiration to travelers - it shows you the way and gives you your bearings. It shows you things you never thought were possible. What was very cool about all this was also the fact that he believed that this was an a talent which can be taught. After reading the 'Game' and other books referenced from the 'Game', he came to the conclusion that such talents could be learnt and taught, much like the way you learnt to become a doctor or an engineer. I understand this bit. At the same time, there are always doctors and then there are good doctors. NK was a good 'gamer'.
  • Foodie/gymboy and fat mate - there is picture of AT and NK from one of these jack and coke sessions on my phone. My sister refers to both of them as flat mate and fat mate respectively. NK likes food. His consumption is not governed by demand but is constrained by supply. He was a staunch supporter of my cooking - good or bad and a good end point as well. His love for food and his regular gym sessions were a delicate equilibrium - a steady and constant struggle between two equal and opposite forces. His gymming continues unabated in Mumbai even today, only to keep up with his nutritional tendencies.
  • Supergeek, misplaced CA - He is good with his work - thorough, well organised, consistent and persistent. I do not think that there is anything he can not do. He is not a nerd - anything he reads is for a purpose and to "add value". I love the way there is a reason behind every thing he does. He manages all this without appearing to be a stuckup idiot or a bore - which is something he should be proud of. He is a web 2.0 enthusiast - there are so many thing which I use on my computer due to him. Given that he is a CA and from SRCC, and I am from KREC, I should be somewhat ashamed and I am. I only feel better by praising him for being a supergeek.
He had a super wedding - I was only too happy to be part of it and share the happiness with him, his wife and his family. I danced at a public function under normal lighting - which was a first for me. My movements were coordinated and any complaints for the same need to be forwarded to our choreographer. NK also managed to get his sister married the very next day - every thing went to plan and there were no mixups. I loved every bit of it.

Congratulations NK!

04 December, 2008

Symptoms of complacency

I had an interesting conversation with RG and am summarising it here. I am back in India for almost a year now. My life is repetitive. I can predict where I will be and what I will be doing given a time and date with a large degree of accuracy. Office, Client office, car or home will explain 100% of my weekday. During the weekend, most client offices are closed.
Of course, there are times when I meet friends - but someone usually is getting married for that to happen. Such is life. Strange thing is, I am happy.
Free will has led me into this and free will is keeping me here. Some common indicators of happiness - money, partner, career are all missing. If a few years back, if I would be told that I would have almost no money, no body to share anything with and no real career, I  be very scared. Right now, I am living it and am happy.
This brings me to the main topic - Am I being complacent? I have a long and varied history of being complacency. Complacency is second nature to me. In fact, it is my first response to anything. However, this time I have my doubts. I have doubts both ways. It is irritating.

Raj uncle

A thousand words. Done. 

30 November, 2008

Loose ends

My list of unanswered questions:

1. How many terrorists were there? Have we been able to recreate their steps that evening?
There were statements made that there were anywhere between 10 and 26 terrorists. In the end 10 are accounted for. There are so many unanswered questions or maybe I have just missed this in the media? I for one would worry about this no end, because it takes 2 people and a few guns to wreak havoc.. do we know for sure that there are no many in this city?

2. What are we going to do about this?
Barkha Dutt is wailing about the ceasefire on the LOC being withdrawn and a troop buildup. A troop buildup will scare Pakistan, but Pakistan I think has been scared of India since it came into existence. I for one do not believe that a troop buildup alone accomplishes anything. A troop buildup would make much more sense if India takes a stand that it is now going to take care of terror camps on either side of the border and the troop buildup is to support that. Similarly, India should go after Dawood if he is involved - I wonder if bribing the Paki army could do the trick. Can India be a little brash for once? Can we not throw some muscle around? Can we not hold our own?

3. Will the media ever behave?
We all have been subjected to inhuman stupidity, insensitivity, callousness of the media lost in a blind zeal to track the tragedy. Did we need all the details of the commando operations - knowing that the terrorists would also see it? Do we need all the sentimentality on TV - can we not feel the way we should without any handholding by the media. I think that the media is setting lower and lower standards for itself to beat. India TV was flashing information which was given to it by the terrorists over the phone call (Assuming that whoever had called India TV was actually a terrorist) as News. If the terrorist had said that they were from Bangladesh, that is what would have been flashed.
Barkha Dutt was getting a high shouting herself hoarse and coaxing exactly what she wanted to hear from everyone she interviewed.

27 November, 2008


This is a page just to record this day. There will be plenty written about this and all of us will remember what we were doing when this happened.
I hope for the following:
1. More resources and political will behind counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism
2. I think that our existence lives is a pendulum between minority and majority excesses -
Babri Masjid - Mumbai riots - Mumbai Blasts(1)*- Godhra** - Train blasts - Serial blasts serially in cities - Mumbai attacks

Will we able to break out of this bizarre game of ping pong. What we need is not magnanimity... I think we need to ensure justice - fair and time bound. Not for this attack - but also for this attack and for all such attacks on India. I think that is one way we can break out of this ping pong.

05 November, 2008

Its only a name

Saurabh happens to be quite a popular name for people my age. My mother wanted me to have a name like Amit (full marks for uniqueness). My father advised against this as this would put me me at the beginning of every roll call and every lab exam (roll numbers are usually alphabetical). During engineering, I have uttered many a silent thank you for not being in the first batch going in for practical tests and viva.
I have always had people with the same name around me. There was a time in DPS when there were two others with the same name in the same class - Saurabh Khanna, Saurabh Kumar Das and yours truly. Many a time, we used to be called for each other's doings - be it exam scores or pulled up for bunking classes. The confusion was usually only mildly irritating but had its high points as well.
Once in class,  a teacher who had just received a piece of paper from a peon, asked me to stand up as she read it out to me. I was expecting a visit to the accounts department as they were supposed to refund my hostel fees. The teacher, smiling mildly, read this out, "Saurabh, you are hereby suspended for 2 weeks and are asked to stop coming to school from tomorrow." Even though my behaviour was on an average somewhat unruly, I was not sure why the school was taking such a strong exception to this. After about two hours of tracing the root cause, I came to know that it was my hostel warden who had volunteered my name. Apparently, he knew that some Saurabh had done it and he remembered my name.Real culprit - Saurabh Sachdeva (ofcourse yet another one).
There has also been a time in life when I had the right name but was the wrong person, but there are better tales to share here. 
With the internet ofcourse, things have become more interesting. I have received the following emails: 
1. Dear Saurabh Sir, please find attached the production and attendance report for yesterday
2. Dear Saurabh, the amount in your account is Rs. xxxxxx.
3. Dear Roopshree, your shaadi.com profile has been updated.
4. Congrats Roopshree! there are three people interested in you.
5. ALERT! A cheque of Rs. 5000 has been debited from your account.
6. Saurabh, please submit the cash tomorrow as I need the money urgently
7. Saurabhda how is australia?
8. Saurabh, congrats on joining the naukri.com mailing list. you will now get 100 emails every day with suitable job openings. 


Thanks to my name (or actually my email address on gmail), I get occasional glimpses of someone else's life.

I wrote an email to my bank when the bank emails started coming to me.

This was their reply:
This is with reference to your e-mail dated October 17, 2008 regarding e-mail alerts.
We request you to provide the below details to enable us to assist you:
1. Account number or customer ID
2. Copy of the e-mail received by you as attachment.
Warm Regards,
Bhavya XXXX

Customer Support

Next email from them after I provided the above details:
Dear Mr. Jain,

Thank you for your confirmation.This is with reference to your query for the e-mail alerts.
Your query is being attended to. We will revert to you within 5 working days.Looking forward to your co-operation and patience in the interim.
Warm Regards,
Bhavya XXXX

Customer Support

My obvious reply to them was somewhat disturbed:
I am not MR. Jain.
I am saurabh kumar

To which they replied:
Dear Mr. Kumar,
Thank you for writing to us.
This is in reference to your earlier e-mail regarding insta alerts.

We are sorry for addressing you incorrectly

And then, their parting shot -
Dear Mr. Jain,
Thank you for your patience and co-operation.The necessary rectification has been done. Hence forth you will not received the alerts of other customer.We regret the inconveniences caused to you.
Warm Regards,
Bhavya XXXXX
Customer Support

30 October, 2008

Interesting times

It is amazing how everything has an angle without which nothing happens. Raj is out to do what uncleji did long ago and the congress is OK with it as it weakens uncle and splits the vote. Who cares what this means and whether it might have repercussions in a country where the dialect changes every 100 kilometers and the local script changes at every 500 kilometers. Why will the government not act? It stands to lose more votes in Maharasthra than gain a few in Mumbai.

India is almost as alien to exist as a country as the United States of Europe - only with 600 million more people packed in an area which is a third of Europe. Europe has had such a colourful existence up until 1945 and it took about 70 million deaths for Europeans to shed their expansionist ambitions, appreciate the value of peaceful coexistence and learn to behave themselves.

India was luckier.
In spite of the chaos which existed - the brits leaving, partition, princely states, hindu kings with muslim kingdoms and vice versa, 300 million people, famine, floods - we were able to pull through. It took at likes of Sardar Patel, Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and the sheer force of their ideals and their power over our collective imagination which held this country together.

We are not so lucky today.
Today, we are a country which is so short of political charisma and excitement. A good example was when  we were at the mercy of the good sense of Ms. Gandhi to turn down the prime ministership of this country which had been handed to her on a platter. Every person in power has a base derived by his identity. Identity has always been important to Indians - probably because there are so many identities one carries. For example, I am a Hindu, Srivastava, From Chapra, Upper caste, Bihari, North Indian. Each one of them is something I was born into and not something which I have any control on.
I am also an engineer and an MBA. But does anyone care if any one of these MPs are even literate? Do we even know? Had I been in politics, my identities would subsume my capabilities.

I wonder if universal suffrage is a such a good thing. How would this country be if only graduates could vote (due credit to SS for talking to me about this) ? Should we have tried out "each one, teach one" before universal suffrage?

"May you live in interesting times" is apparently a Chinese curse. I did now know that till quite recently. In fact, I have included it in greeting cards. Looking at India today, I understand this chinese nugget better.

30 September, 2008

Dark humour

An example from the economist -
"Perhaps fittingly in an economy that is in danger of sliding into depression, the only stock among the 500 in the S&P index that finished higher was Campbell’s Soup"

I have not been able to write anything over the past few weeks - general lethargy due to bad scheduling is to blame.

22 September, 2008

Credit Crunch in a screenshot

Lesson number 1 -
If you screw up, it is your problem. If you screw up big time, it is your boss's problem. If you screw up really well, big time, for a long time and make a lot of money in the process, the US Fed will take care of you.

Lesson number 2 - Greed is always good.

Have a look at the news article below, and then take a look at the ad which captures the essence of the "sub-prime" mess brilliantly..

13 September, 2008

Inertia, innovation, evil, implosion and I-am-too-cool

This one is going to be a roll call of things in my head.
Inertia - The head count at office has stayed put for just under two months now and that is depressing. The fact is that we got a very big new client but an existing client reduced business due to internal issues so our numbers remained constant, because of which our head count did not change. Now with September almost over and the Diwali madness about to start, I am not very certain of hitting 20 people as planned earlier. Basically, if we do not hit 20, it would mean that I was wrong twice. Earlier, I had forecast a headcount of 10 by the year end. Given that we got there in June, I then re-forecast and thought we would now do a 20. To be wrong twice, by a large margin for a small business is not very impressive.
Innovation - Take a look at diffen.com - it is a wiki based website where you can find out the difference between Bourbon vs Whiskey or between a Nokia and an I-phone. If you want to, you can add your own pages or contribute to existing pages. My friend has built this website - he owns it and codes for it. He has a regular job and this is something he has gone on weekends and in the evenings. There is no advertising and the website generates more visits than some of our clients! I had noted the somewhat above average size of this boy's head when I had met him for the first time in 1997, I had known that this boy will go far.
Evil - The launch of chrome by Google is evil. Will it not be picked up by people who try new browsers? Who are these people - these are the people who use firefox today. Wasn't Google supporting firefox? Would this not hurt Firefox more than Microsoft? Does Google even care?
Implosion - Large banks in the US. The financial services sector in the US is slowly but surely imploding. Stock prices of all major banks have fallen. Quite a few banks have closed. Bear Stearns went without a whimper. Lehman seems to be the next one. Quite a few people I know work in this sector, out of the UK and US. They have seen some very good times and I guess what is happening is cyclical. I wonder how long will it be before things bounce back.
I-am-too-cool - My candidate for this year (and for the past few years as well) Farhan Akhtar. He made Dil Chahta Hai. He topped it up with Rock On. The movie looks good, feels good and sounds good. This man sings, writes, directs (not for Rock On) and produces. When he is producing, he lets the director have his way. Loads and loads will be written about him and the movie. I will only add this - Notice the way he says "Yeah" in the movie! Also, Please watch it.

03 September, 2008


The last time I had a proper holiday was 20 months back. It does not mean I am a hard worker and have been really busy. Envigo needed as much capital as I could muster, so that meant that post the decision to quit my job (Aug 2007), I did not plan a holiday. Now it is August 2008 and I feel jealous with every one making plans and every one sharing pics on flickr and facebook.
SM went to Peru, Brazil and Argentina and then went to Zanzibar and some other equally exotic places. It is hard to keep track of this one. Other friends of mine visited Greece, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Indonesia, Spain, Iceland, Norway and so many places in India, while I shuttled between Gurgaon, Mumbai and New Delhi. (Actually I did go to New York for 2.5 days, but it does not really count and I came to London for a week in April and am there again, but then again, not really a holiday)

There are so many places which I want to see - Barcelona and Seville, Scotland (again and again), Thailand, Indonesia, Peru, Kerala, Leh and Ladakh... the list is a long one. I wonder if and when will I be able to do some of this.Some of the most fascinating places I have been to include Cornwall, Prague, Scotland and even Wales. I would like to go to each one of these places again... especially Scotland. The place and the people - both the ones you go with and the ones you meet there make a holiday memorable (making such a nobrainer is like saying that the sun rises when the sun rises).

Came across a cool website thanks to RG - www.diditz.com. It is another "share your experiences" kind of as website, but they have put quite a lot of attention to small details and it makes the overall experience quite nice. Lots and lots of travelling to do before i can contribute meaningfully to the content.

27 August, 2008

Post candidates

Writing is much tougher than I thought. What keeps me going are visions of grandeur and fame and unabashed adulation by the teeming millions.
But seriously, there are things about blogging which are irritating.
Writing ideas and plots have a bad sense of timing. In the sense that they occur almost always when I am not in front of a computer. I forget half of them by the time I log into blogger.
Also, You know that there are some people (besides  your close friends) who might be reading your blog. But you don't really know what they want to read. There is an absence of structured feedback. I miss it.  (Even in  running a business, I sometimes miss having a boss.  I wonder if that makes me a  very sorry entrepreneur)
I thought I will make a list of things I want to write about and then write them as proper articles later.
1. Our parents' generation - I often wonder about the  "good ol' days". What were the good things to do then? I wonder what were the things my parents did to kill time? And my grandparents. I watched Mumbai Meri Jaan and there is a clip in which they show about 60 years of Bombay - starting with independence and  the  first international flights from Bombay and ending with the life and traffic today in "Mumbai". Such clips always make me think about the immediate past - How were things in the 50s and the 60s in India - was there hope and confidence or had the current apathy already set in? I think writing this one will need some interviewing (jobless that I am)
2. The rise (and fall?) of Google - There isn't much to talk about in the rise - everyone has seen it happen... but it is increasingly tempting to discuss a potential fall - continued dependence on Adwords, poor quality of natural search results despite algorithm changes, anti-trust issues and so on.
3. The ROI of road repair - Is there another way than hoping for the MCD/NDMC (damn them!) gods to smile and come and repair your potholes?

Ha! I thought that writing about posts and not writing an entire post about anything in particular was a smart idea.
The only thing that could go wrong was if all my post ideas dried up.
Thanks Murphy!

19 August, 2008

Bachao Haseeno se...

So the movie was ok, but I think there could be more interesting endings.The original plot is here for those who have not seen it and don't want to.
Part 1 -
This part of the movie remains unchanged - Raj (RK) meets Mahi (ML) [song] and then moves on - Sleeps and then runs away from Radhika (BB) - Meets and then falls in love [song] with Gayatri (DP) [This point in itself was a good ending for a somewhat pointless and hence an average movie. However, Gayatri says no to Raj and this is something he can not handle. Raj wants to apologise to every one he has ever hurt with his wily ways. Given the length of the list, he decides to apologise properly to the top two he had hurt the most. He sets off to apologise to Mahi and Radhika.
Part 2 -
Raj finds out that Mahi has a husband. He meets Mahi who has her parents visiting her at her house. She does not recognise Raj. Raj tells everyone that he is a friend of Mahi's younger sister's fiancee. There is a wedding going on and there is singing and dancing [song]. Mahi's father recognises Raj takes him to meet Mahi. This time, Mahi is able to place Raj and remembers the incident. She calls her husband and the two of them have a laugh about it. Raj asks for forgiveness. Mahi does not understand and Raj explains his reasons. Mahi can not believe that Raj is being serious and she and her husband have another hearty good laugh.Mahi realises that Raj is quite serious so she sobers up and tells Raj that her life was not affected for more than a few hours after that day at the airport. Raj leaves. [no song]
Radhika is a regular Rakhi Sawant, who does item songs for a living. She is a b*tch as a boss and she fires secretary just after an event [item song]. Radhika holidays alone (!) in Italy and Raj has to go there to meet her. Radhika offers the job of her secretary (read servant) to Raj on a whim, to see if he is really serious about apologising and he does. She gives him a tough time running errands, but Raj works very hard. Radhika has a soft spot for Raj quite quickly, but continues to give him tough errands.  There is a party where Radhika flirts with a few men [song] and tries to see if Raj is getting jealous . After the party, Radhika tries to seduce Raj [song] but Raj resists. Radhika is impressed and tells Raj that they can start a new life together [rain song, Radhika trying harder!] and that she has forgiven him. Raj apologises for not feeling the same way about her and leaves for Australia. Radhika curses Raj.
Raj comes back to find out that he has been fired. Raj also needs to leave the country as his work permit will expire in a month. He tries to meet Gayatri. He finds out that Gayatri was heartbroken after he left and Rahul (enter Abhishek Bachan) supported her. One thing led to another and Gayatri and Rahul are now dating. She has completed Bschool and plans to start a new video game design company with Rahul. She also wants to marry Rahul as she thinks that she wants to settle down and have a family. She tells Raj that Raj had met her when she was "very cool" but Rahul met her when she was completely miserable and yet took care of her and has brought her back to normalcy. Raj sits in a plane for Italy and remembers Radhika's curse.
Movie ends.

12 August, 2008

Bin-dra, done that!

Every one knows by now about this, but just wanted to record this moment for posterity and as a portent of things to come....
(Image courtesy - wikipedia)  
(There has to be a model by which one could predict medals per country - independent variables could include media density, per capita state spend on education and/or sports.
Random thought - if every one wants to work less, why dont we have 4 day weeks and 3 day weekends?)

11 August, 2008

The Bombay Plan

If you know your history, you will know that the Bombay plan referred to a plan which called for rapid industrialisation of India by using a large infusion of public funds. The plan was backed by prominent Indian industrialists including JRD Tata and was circulated around 1945. Surprisingly, it was formulated by leading businessmen and industrialists but it called for substantial state intervention in industrial development. Historians say that the first few five year plans were based largely on this plan, even though the plan did not gain any official backing or recognition.
However, my Bombay plan was very different. It involved running around bombay for two meetings, which went ok. It also meant meeting most of my IIMA friends under one roof with a few notable exceptions, and not doing anything significant other than resting and eating for two days. I think my plan was more successful than its illustrious older namesake.
Five years since I passed out and a large majority of my friends today are those I met at campus. I wonder if it this is something to be worried about or take inferences from. Does it mean that I have stopped meeting new people? Does it mean that I am boring and have not been able to make new friends? I think I am ok in making new friends.I have made new friends, but not so many of them and I do not hang out with them in the same way as I hang out with my campus friends.
At the same time, I think that I like to spend more and more time with them is because even though we might not share similar thoughts, we share similar attitudes. There have been numerous situations where a very demanding task has been confronted by an equally demanding disregard for all things important and critical. I think campus did that to us. The laid-back-ness of such gatherings,therefore, is awe-inspiring. (About ten of us could not arrange for ice cubes and we could not also decide where to go on Saturday night).
The whole of saturday turned out well as well. (With all of us every thing has to turn out in some way. Notihng is planned). A full English followed by rest (RG - I dont need to sleep, I just need to lie down for a while; MM - I have stuff to do in the house) followed by some biryani and some playstation. Always hits the spot. I think life in bombay is a bit like life in London - every one stays away from family and has plenty of time over the weekends.
Bombay, on the other hand, never ceases to amaze with its traffic, congestion (such a mild word compared to what actually happens in Bombay) and rain. Each one of us had our traffic tales for the day and week, but it was all soon forgotten. Kebabs from Carter road and single malt from Dubai soothed our jarred nerves and restored our faith in humanity. I wanted to stay on on Sunday as well, but it was my sister's birthday back in Delhi, so off I went.

06 August, 2008

What's the Catch?

It was love at first read. The first time I read it was in college. It helped me during my MBA entrance interviews as well, as it played the part of my favourite book, favourite author and also the last book I had read (it probably was). There is something about the Catch because of which I keep coming back to it. So do a lot of others it seems. It has been voted one of the best novels of all times in several surveys.
Someone once told me that one of the reasons I was not floored by "Catcher in the Rye" was probably because I did not read it at the right age. With Catch 22, I think I got it right.
What did I like about it?
The humour. Black and dry and variations of the same.
The confusing narrative, which jumped from place to place and person to person and forward and backwards in time - all in the same sentence some times.
The characters - Yossarian (the anti hero, ofcourse!), Ex-PFC Wintergreen, Milo (The capitalist) and Dunbar. in fact, all the characters were like different possible roles one acts out in real life. Many a time, I have spotted Wintergreen, Cathcart, Yossarian and Dreedle in real life.
The book is also a melting pot of so many underlying themes - the arguments of one person's welfare versus many, the sanity inside insanity, heroism and the lack of it, the absurd extremes of bureaucracy, the absurd extremes of normalcy as well, love versus lust - it never fails to excite.
Heller also made disguised references to earlier works and usually let his characters take the opposite position. For example, Yossarian is the opposite of Achilles all through the book when he always chooses his life over others. He is also the opposite of Jesus, when he choses to make a deal with the colonel.
I used to have a very worn out copy, which had survived the college hostel, numerous train  rides between Delhi and Mangalore and long rainy evenings in London. I got another copy as a birthday gift a few years ago. Getting something you really like is nice. Always.
The next book which comes anywhere close is "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel. But that is another post.
(Also, blogger sucks!)

31 July, 2008

The Lawyer

This is about a friend. She is one of the brightest and funniest people I have met - a budding writer, a human rights lawyer and a child at heart.

I met her in London, where she was on a scholarship (of course!) to do a one year post graduate course in Law and Literature. I did not know that these two things could be or needed to be taught together. I still have limited ideas on the subject. This was the cool thing about knowing her - she came from a very different background. She thought differently and had a different approach to life. All my friends were mainstream professionals - engineers, MBAs, bankers and the odd CA. Most, if not all of us were in it for the money, more or less. It was nice to get to know someone who cared enough about things to devote time in it. Someone who read things and then went there to help. She had lived and worked and taught in refugee camps (At the same point in time, I was in a campus about 4 kilometers away with nothing much to do). She had lent a hand when dams were to be stopped from flooding villages. Her job after law school was with a firm which worked on gender and sexuality issues. Someone just posted a comment about how we live in our shells and tend to forget how bad things can be. This one was different. She always wanted to be in the thick of things.
She was the kind who could give a 20minute rem on Freud (very contextual, because I used to live in a house right opposite Freud's home) and make it quite interesting with examples and subtexts. She taught me words like poco (which is short for postcolonialism) and new words which were used in poco literature. For some reason, she used to think, rather strongly believe, that I am (or people like me were) homophobic(s) (I really wish there was a milder word for this).  I had never thought on those lines, nor do I think I am one, but still, it remained quite a discussion point for us.
What were the things we had in common - interest in lots of food and lots to drink, making merry and chatting about all and sundry  Other common traits - laziness and chaos. Trust her to miss a lecture (she used to have about 2 in a week) because of all kinds of reasons. Chaos - this one was worrying sometimes and she did surpass me. Missing deadlines, rocketing phone bills, dropping things.. She had this knack of finding things which did not belong to her (like she once found a cheque which she then returned after locating the owner).

Here's to the lawyer chick. Happy Belated Birthday. 

28 July, 2008

Life and times at L 326

I work at Envigo and love it, though I will be accused of being biased. There are about 12 more people here - the number keeps changing (increasing) though this month is the first month this number has not changed till now. They may not share my opinion, but chances are, that they will.
There are a few simple things which make Envigo a good office -
 - work timings are not emphasized, work is
 - there are clear and mutually agreed upon appraisal documents
 - client work is rotated amongst the team and across functions
 - there is ownership of performance - both good and bad
 - analysis is emphasized upon, reporting is only an enabler
 - the food is good and there is beer once a month
There will be some profit sharing, once there are some profits to be shared.
More than an advertisement for a job, this post is a snapshot of the way things are here, in what will be referred  later (if there is one) as the "early days."
What are the things which need to change -
 - Documentation of a few processes needs to be improved
 - Mind numbing carelessness by the promoter has to be tamed
 - A good agency person needs to be hired - we can learn a lot from such a person
 - We need to move into better premises

24 July, 2008


A large part of my day was spent as below:
  1. Gurgaon Sector 43 to Sarita Vihar - 31 km - 2 hours
  2. Sarita Vihar to Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon - 40 km - 1 hour, 10 minutes
  3. Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon to South City 1 - 10 km - 1 hour, 30 minutes
It is sad because Gurgaon is a new city - it did not have 50% of its currently built up areas 10 years ago. All of Gurgaon is planned - there are broad rectangles of land cut across by roads. The growth was probably not expected. But how could they miss out on public transport? That is not a recent invention.
Every one has to have a car. Last week, I went for a walk with my parents just outside the gated community we live in. We stepped out to buy ice cream. I realised that it was the first time I was crossing a road on foot in Gurgaon. I also realised why. The traffic is incessant and there are no pedestrian friendly features. So, we have city which has a zillion plots worth about a million times more... did we forget that people will live in it? Some, at least. It is a city meant for the double-income-no-kids, I-spend-half-my-time-in-the-US IT/ITES family who have one car per person and are supported by an army of servants.
But surely not every one can own a car... how will they manage?
Is that even a question we need to ask? Is that a question any one asked? If you travel across Gurgaon at rush hour, you wont be blamed for thinking that no one did remotely think of asking this question. Large parts of Gurgaon were developed not by the perennially blundering government agencies - HUDA divided the land into sectors, but the sectors were developed by dynamic companies like DLF (remember the largest IPO ever in 2007! now trading at a 30% discount to the issue price) and Unitech. There are no provisions for buses or taxis inside the colonies. No body really misses these provisions, because there are no buses.
Why does any of this happen? Why does not any one seem to care?
The rich get richer and do not really care about anything. Every couple of days, they complain about the country going to the dogs while staring into their single malt. The educated middle classes are breathlessly emulating the rich. They spend more and save less. And since there are about 200 million of us, the average Indian family looks quite bling and sits happily every time there is a power cut or a traffic jam.
What happens to the not-so-rich?Caste and religion decide that there is someone who will stand up for you, so what if the issues are economic or welfare oriented in nature. No wonder the parliament touches new lows only now.
Democracy ... of the people, for the people and by the people.
We can only get what we can come up with! Someone should have thought about this earlier!

Have a look at the below - Omar Abdullah (from the NC) making the Left (who is now in bed with the Right) squirm!

17 July, 2008

A good day

Today was a good day overall. Good days for me mean two things -
- things falling into place
- being able to realise it
Most of the day was part 1 from above and this blog is a way of cementing part 2.
So what were the things which went right today -
  1. Woke up somewhat late, but was able to leave early by getting ready quickly, less traffic on the way to work, was able to sleep during the ride into work and reached office by 10
  2. Did a lot of work - finished some long pending work, called up potential clients, tackled a few small issues for the team and for one of my clients
  3. Billable work started for a new client (thanks to a 15 page NDA, I can not tell you which one) - From the time you meet a client, getting to the getting paid bit is a long way. It involves meeting them over and over again, making them understand how we might be able to help them, draft a contract, negotiate over points, get a signoff from them, wait for them to get a signoff from their bosses, start billing, raise an invoice, chase up with accounts and finally opening a letter to see a cheque inside. Start to finish can take anywhere between a few weeks (god bless such clients) and a year! however, once billing starts with a new client (as in, the meter on how much work we do for a client project starts) usually means a lot of pain is over.
  4. Emails from old colleagues is always nice. I spent almost 4 years of my life at a new place - and a large fraction of the total number of people I knew in London was due to my work place. Now that I am in Delhi again, it is nice to get emails from them.
  5. Chit chat with friends all day - AR was sending mails at the rate of 5 an hour which is always fun
  6. At about 6, thanks to facebook, I was part of a plan to go to a nice lounge/bar with two friends. I had been thinking that my social life was testing new lows this week and this plan hit the spot. What I also liked about the plan was that it started early and had the potential to end early and seemed harmless enough. I panicked for a bit at the fact that I had signed up for a singles night, but then realised that this was Delhi and such a plan would mean 15 men and 2 women. Since I was going in with two women, I already was on talking terms with them and my worries of having no one to talk to were put to rest. There was surprisingly less traffic and I was a few minutes early to pick up my friends. Thankfully, they were ready to go and we were at the place on time.
  7. So the singles night out turned out as expected - 3w + 8m. What was nice was that even the men, except for Pappu (about whom I will soon), were nice people, and they were ok to hang out with. All of them had interesting jobs, interesting lives and were also great for conversation. Soon, the group had managed to locate common friends and acquaintances and the drinks were flowing.
  8. It is always nice to spend time with YS. I have known her for so long now and she is the same - chilled out, no hangups, great sense of humour, lots of stories to swap and a common list of people about whom I can bitch about to her.
  9. SS as well is really nice. She can hold her own, no matter the audience. Like she spoke for a bit to Pappu, who had also come for the singles night. He was the kind of guy who gives Delhi a bad name. Rich and showing it, somewhere between little and no class (depends upon how charitable you are feeling), no respect for anyone, loud mouthed. Of course, very rich, with a few acres of prime land in his name with a few factories sitting on them.
  10. Post-Pappu (he left quite soon) and post-dinner, on the way back, we realised how much we all felt about Pappu (Especially SS, who politely bore the brunt of his attack) and we talked about him for quite a while. Such cut and dried real life caricatures are very useful in making friends and getting to know people - you get to know what the others noticed about him, which gives you an insight into how they think and what they are made of...
  11. Finally, as I dropped my fabulous company and was driving back alone, I was happy to note that there were no police checks, which can be a pain after three glasses of wine.
  12. As I came back home and switched on the TV, Forrest Gump was on. It was the part where Gump walks out after getting decorated with the medal of honour and walks in to an anti war demo. he is asked to give a speech at the end of which he says his name and gets to meet his all time love Jenny again. I like this movie a lot.
As I write this (late night and then early next morning), I am thankful to the powers to be...
I think that as most of us are busy climbing mountains, it is good to sit back every once in a while to enjoy the view. You might not be at the highest point yet, but you are high enough to get a good view most of the time.

15 July, 2008

Country Living and taking it easy...

The first reaction my father had when I told him about my plans to leave my current job, move back to India and set up a small online marketing agency of my own was some thing on the lines of - we better come to the UK once before you leave.

My father has always supported me. I have tried very hard not to take it for granted, but sometimes I do. I think that is why now, that I am running my own business, I am somewhat less scared than I should be.

During college placements, my father was not even bothered. My mama was in the hospital just before my placements and that had kept the entire family occupied and the first conversation I had with my father about my job was after getting an offer from Novell.

At IIMA, I realised a few months before the placements started, that my chances of getting a job I liked were slim. I would not get interviews with Indian finance companies (not that getting an interview would help too much), I did not want to work in FMCG (aka sales and marketing roles) or do BD and project management in IT firms.
What were left were three possible openings:
  1. TAS - One of the general management roles available on campus
  2. Crisil - Good backdoor into the financial sector
  3. Pharma companies with openings in Strategy etc
In short, it was a long shot.
I told my father all this and also said that I really did not want to take up a role I did not like. He took about 2 seconds in saying that it did not matter and that I should come to Delhi without a job if that is what it was.
I would like to take some credit for getting a job I liked on campus, but the fact that my father was ok with me not having a job out of campus did have quite an impact on reducing overall stress levels.
Anyhow, my parents came to London and spent two weeks with me. It was nice. The house was huge. They traveled all over London and we went to Oxford. Thanks to someone we know, we also drove all over the west of London. We went to Windsor and Eton and took narrow roads and tramped around all over the countryside. It was just amazing. Papa and I both decided that buying a house in the west of London is something one should aspire towards... Thanks to this trip, I also understood why so many of my colleagues spent hours commuting from their homes out in the country to their workplace, while I used to secretly gloat about my 22 minute commute from West hampstead into Aldersgate. There would be very few things which would make me want to live anywhere else.
I have done six months in India now - I always wonder how things would have been different if I moved back earlier. Would I be better off in my personal life? Would my business take off in a similar manner? Am I better off in moving back when I did, or should I have stayed on for a few more months/years? Should I have moved back earlier? I hate such unending option generating decision trees. RSH (ex batchmate, ex flatmate, ex colleague) used to be very good at this. It used to drive me insane. RSH did move back to India. And then moved back to London.

09 July, 2008

India - Long time, no see

There is a new series called ‘Kahani mahabharat ki” on TV.

“Kahani” has a few extra a’s and e’s to use the great power of numerology to make mythological serials popular in India. I was looking forward to seeing this fantastic story again on TV. I have seen the earlier one and quite liked it – the story and the characters makes normal actors look better)

The spellings put me off. The tired look on the actors turned me off. The background music was tiring.

The cameraman is on E, because he is never tired in showing zoom ins from weird angles. Again and again. The script seems to have been written by some panwallahs in their spare time. Overall, this team of unimaginable collective talent seems to have succeeded in converting the Mahabharat into what seems to me like a saas bahu drama in costumes. Maybe that is what they intended.

There is a show on radio called “Tu sabki Baja” on a radio channel which encourages people to “Bajate raho”. I remember getting slapped for much milder language while in school.

Looking around, I think I grew up in a different country.

I grew up in the 80s. (Some people tell me that the process is not over yet).
I grew up in an India where an evening out did not mean drinking. It meant going out for a “picture” with parents, then having south Indian or Chinese food and coming back home with a kulfi. Even into college, it meant a movie, dinner, conversation and a walk. Maybe I was just very uncool and did not know about it.

Entertainment was one channel and a VCR. Mahabharat and Ramayan meant finishing everything before 9 on a Sunday, which happened on its own as you woke up at 7
Actually, a TV producer today needs all the help getting Mahabharat to work on TV (hence the extra a’s and e’s).

I wonder if my kids will not understand me. I don’t think they will like me too much. On a positive note, I think I understand my parents a bit better with every passing day. I think I am still growing up.

08 July, 2008

Field Marshals and something else...

Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw passed away a few days ago. I read about it in the TOI (see below) and also was pleased to note that the economist wrote an endearing eulogy for him. I had read a bit about his temperament and was not too surprised to read about his retorts to Madam Gandhi (about whom I have a lot to say, but will not, given the recent case of Gandhi versus Vaid, I will keep my opinions to myself)

It also gave me the opportunity to read a bit more about him and about the only other Field Marshall the Indian army has had - Field Marshall Cariappa - who was at the helm of the armed forces during 1947. Reading about him, I felt that he was quite important in the mindset with which the Indian army was born with (in 1947) and developed it. The army prides itself (again very little data) for its secular credentials and a little part of it flows down directly from Cariappa.

Cariappa, after retiring from the Army, was made the Indian high commissioner to Australia. He was not very keen about this, but Nehruji insisted. As a result, he found his way into Canberra's high society. I do not think anyone could really handle him - a war veteran who had fought for the British and had been instrumental in stalling the Japanese (Which in turn helped keep Australia safe), highly learned and well versed in poetry and philosophy, while at the same time, with a tendency to speak his mind (a somewhat unnecessary skill for a diplomat). He travelled all over Australia and soon knew a lot more about Australia than many native(?) Australians. Australia had a white only immigration policy at that time (which is quite a laugh now, given that the Aussie government now is prepared to spend Australian tax payer dollars into attracting indians into settling there - highly skilled ofcourse). What angered him as a soldier was that with a white only policy, Italians and Germans (countries which Australia fought against in WWII) were welcome to settle in Australia, while Indians, who had fought on the same side as the Australians were not.
I am not sure why I am talking about him - have meandered from Maneckshaw but reading about this time and some stories about Maneckshaw and Cariappa were fascinating.
I dream of a day when the demand for Indian work permits outstrips its supply.
Or you could just walk in into the country via Bangladesh!
Topic change.
Dramatic topic change.
I noted some very interesting things on Google analytics.
It made me happy.
Because of that, I need to bring this up as well - I might have talked about this earlier on this blog - that for me, a large part of companionship is about having a witness to my life and for me to bear witness to someone else's.

18 June, 2008

Traffic management

option 1: Option 2:
Option 3:
I think that the government here is trying hard with number 1 (massive infrastructure investment), but what is really needed is number 3. That is all I have to say about that.
I have not been able to come up with something very interesting to write about for the past few weeks, may be that is just a reflection of life these days. Staid, plain, mundane, routine are the words which come to mind.
Workwise, things are ok. A few clients and a few potential clients. The gathering inflation rain clouds have managed to take the joy away from the early showers / timely monsoons. Things will get worse from a business point of view as the government takes steps to dampen demand. However, since we are a tactical marketing arm and not really into branding, we should be hit at the end. When tactical spend is getting hit, things are going to be so bad anyway that it wont matter.
Personal life wise, things are just about ok. Things are moving and not moving and all I want to do is to do the right thing. Doing the right thing implies taking a decision. Decision making, by my definition, is 1)selecting option out of many, 2)based on a predetermined set of criteria, 3)using the best possible information.
The information can only be best possible, because perfect information would mean that there is an equation which has to be solved, not a decision to be made.
I guess the reader and author both by now have realised that the author is in a rut!

02 June, 2008

Tips to save energy!

I went through some information on energy saving on a US website here, and have contextualised it for an Indian audience below:

The energy we use at home accounts for quite a bit of India's contribution to global warming. As incomes rise and consumption increases, this energy and co2 will only increase.
This means making smart choices at home matters, not only for saving on utility bills, but also i helping reduce global warming.

Heating and cooling
This is a top home energy user, with the average household producing about four tons of heat-trapping pollution a year (in the US, data for india not available) . It is heavily influenced by weather. Warmer summers increase greenhouse gas pollution from heavy air conditioning use.
Even as the weather varies, your choices can help spew less global warming pollution.
• In summer, keep shades drawn to keep the cool in.
• In winter, open shades to let the sunlight to help warm rooms.
• Use water coolers in the first few months of the summer when the humidity is not high. An air cooler is much more enery efficient than an air conditioner and it saves you electricity bills as well
• Buy air-conditioners whic have an energy star rating only
• Buy air-conditioners which can be programmed to be at a particular temperature.
• Temperatures of upto 28 degrees are comfortable. Every degree higher will translate into energy savings, less electricity consumption and Co2 reductions.
• Clean or replace the air filter on your air conditioner.
• Plant trees around your house to cut cooling costs in summer if you can. They help the local water table (which can reduce the cost of water pumps)
• Insulate your walls and ceilings.
• In case of a house, use a light-colored or reflective paint on the roof.

After heating, refrigerators and freezers are generally the home's next two big energy eaters. Other appliances follow closely. Together, these items account for nearly eight tons of heat-trapping emissions per household per year.
• Upgrade to Energy Star products. Not all appliances are equal. Whether you're in the market for a new fridge, toaster or air conditioner, look for Energy Star choices, which offer the best energy savings.
• Size counts. When in the market for an appliance, make sure you buy what suits your needs. Items too large or too small waste electricity and your money.
• Unplug. Your electric meter is often adding up kilowatt hours when you don’t think you’re using an appliance. Unplug toasters and cell phone and other chargers when they’re not in use.
• Use power strips and switch off the whole strip: Cable boxes and video game boxes, and to a lesser extent TVs and VCRs, use almost as much energy when they're off as when they're on. Make it easy to turn them all the way off—plug them into a power strip and turn off the whole strip. Consumer Reports also offers more detailed ratings and green buying guides for appliances, from vacuum cleaners to laundry machines.


Lighting accounts for about fair amount of enery consumption after heating and cooling have been accounted for. In terms of heat-trapping pollution, that means the lights in the average household produce just over a ton of carbon dioxide each year. Here are a few steps to lower those numbers.
• Use energy-efficient lights. Changing just one 75-watt bulb to a compact fluorescent light cuts roughly 1,300 pounds of global warming pollution(Again a US number, but I think that apart from power cuts, the number woul be the same in India). They also last up to 15 times as long and save you money.
• Turn off lights. A good chunk of lighting expenses is from rooms that stay unnecessarily lit.
• Use natural light. Open shades and use sunlight to help light rooms.
• Install motion-sensors so that lights automatically turn on when someone is in the room and turn off when empty. (A very US oriented tip, however, such technology is now available in India and is cheaper than you think!)
Other energy efficient choices for your home
• Use the energy saver cycle on your dishwasher and only run it when full.
• Wash clothes in warm or cold water, not hot.

And a really big one:
Raising animals for meat is more co2 intensive than using the piece of land for crops.
Going vegetarian helps the environment as it cuts out the middleman (Meat!). This one will be a tough nut for me to crack.

01 June, 2008

Oh Calcutta!

So I went to 'Oh Calcutta' yesterday for Lunch. There were four of us and I was the first one to show up, so I had some time to look around. This one is built opposite the Satyam at Nehru Place (which is a new movie theatre built on what used to be a parking lot) and has quite an expensive parking lot (Rs 50 for 2 hours). I parked outside on the road and then made my way inside. The maitre'd was nice and quickly got me a table. He was quite helpful. I had mentioned that I was waiting for three others, and I saw him ask quite a few groups of three poeple they were looking for Saurabh.

Back to Oh Calcutta!

What were the other things nice about the place:
- the restaurant is well spread out and they have not tried to cramp the place up
- there are various seating options - tables for 2/3/4/5/6/8 (I think!)
- The service was prompt. They did try to upsell (regular water or bottled water and the like), which is something I personally dislike, but managed to sound very genuine.
- The prices were reasonable. Actually, I do not really know as my friends paid for it (A resounding round of applause to the Jains and to AR). But I think the buffet was around Rs600 (including taxes)
Some astute readers might have realised by now that the restaurant review has overlooked mentioning the food so far. Good point, I will say. Well made, I can add to that. The central theme here is Bengali food. Since I have not had too much Bengali food (all my bong aunties used to make sure they were well stocked in chole-bhature every time I went to their house), I can not be an authority of the quality of the jhol or taste of the steamed Hilsa.
However, since many a large meal have passed through me, I know a good one when I get one. Overall, the meal was fantastic. It was very mild and had the taste/look/feel of home-cooked food. I had the fish curry, the lamb and the prawn curry. The prawn curry was labeled 'thakurbadi', which means that it had been cooked as it used to be cooked in Tagore's kitchen.

I would recommend Oh Calcutta! to people who like normal north indian food - rich in variety and flavour, low in oil, lots of courses etc.

20 May, 2008

Monsoon Beddings

Delhi has been a refreshing surprise early in the summer. After a couple of weeks of ever increasing heat, there were almost two weeks of rains. Even though the rains meant a complete breakdown in traffic, I was still happier because of the drop in temperature...

I added Google analytics tracking on this blog. I wanted to note some of the interesting facts it revealed:
- I have had visitors searching for "ecommerce authors in india" as well as "Personal yoga teacher vasant kunj" visit this blog. Google might have a hand to play in this, see this.
- They an average of 2 pages on this blog.
- About 1 in 5 are regular visitors, while the rest are searching for yoga teachers and the like (see above)

I wonder how dangerous is it to have data like this with Google. But then I guess, if the big G really wanted this data, they could just buy a few of these companies to have a look-see.

Do no evil, as they used to say ... wonder if they really stick to it now.
What about automatic matching on keywords in adwords? Or the content network with only a button to control it for a few years!

29 March, 2008

What about ecommerce in India?

So then I have been around for about two months now and I have a laptop full of presentations made to CEOs, Marketing heads, product veeps and so on... I have met quite a few people in the internet space - actually the people I have met are more from a marketing background and less from an internet marketing background.
This is a good thing for those in the business of knowledge arbitrage. But is it?
I think that it is best if a company which can spend Rs. 50 crores on online marketing spends it. It does not matter if Envigo - online marketing par excellence gets a share of this money or not. This seems counter-intuitive, but it is not so. The reason is this - A big corporation (or a small firm with VC money to burn) will spend this kind of money only when it sees positive, sustainable and reliable returns. It will adapt its systems and delivery mechanisms to deal with such kind of additional volume. Apart from the marketing funds, such money would also drive further investment within the company. In other words, it is not easy to deal with 100% more bookings overnight. So, the investment and the effort behind it will mean that the company is going to stay in the online arena. Even if Envigo does not get to see the money directly, eventually the benefits will trickle down. The benefits will be in the form of greater acceptance of this media and a general willingness to try this out. It will also be in the form of competitors lining up to replicate such successes. It will mean a gradual reallocation of funds towards online channels - for the firm and for the industries in which the firm operates. That is how it begins to start looking rosy for Envigo.
A lower ROI - because of sub-standard agency work or simply because of cleverly negotiated contracts does not help anyone except for the agency negotiating such contracts. And such joy tends to be short-lived. This is because the client will wisen up, with agencies not eating such low hanging fruits more than eager to educate the client .
This is why a great team of people, who may be in different online marketing shops, delivering exceptional results in a consistent fashion is what is needed. The online marketing pot is supposed to grow and grow - read this. It needs to grow faster. Such a team will generate that confidence and make client pockets deeper.
The good news is that in a lot of firms, the internet is the next big source of customers. This is because the customer is increasingly adept on this medium and she demands and expects to engage with her basket of brands on the internet. Things are very unorganised - Where to drive traffic from, how to measure returns, which channels to use and how much to pay an agency - but such things are a necessary companion of early stage growth. (For example, when the railroads were growing in the US in the 1800s, there was a time where you had to change your train 8 times between Philadelphia and Charleston - a distance of about 800 miles - because of different rail gauges).
In such a scenario, with rapid growth, unorganised service providers and service seekers, what should a marketing agency try to do to become bigger and better?
Not surprisingly, the same factors would help an agency which would help any other company, say in manufacturing. What is key - Motivation, Innovation and Agility. Self-driven employees who strive for personal improvement and client satisfaction, an open culture which supports cooperation and fosters innovation and an overall nimbleness in the way work flows in the organisation to deliver client requirements on time and show results.
Growth, in my opinion, will be delivered not by superstar business development (sadly, this is my current job at Envigo) but by a robust sales funnel and client management - all supported by well designed processes.
Processes are the oxygen at Envigo today. After closing the first round of business development, we are now taking stock of what went right and wrong and are writing out what to do next time around.
All the best to us!

18 March, 2008

What is online marketing?

Every few days, I meet someone and have to explain what I do for a living and it gets a bit irritating because very few people seem to get it.

a1: so what do you to?
a2: I work in an online marketing agency.

a1: (blank)
a2: Well we advise clients on how to spend money online...

a1: (Eating something and looking away)
a2: It is like how a regular marketing agency works - Suppose a company has a million dollars and wanted to spend it in selling more soap. They would go to a marketing agency and ask them for a media plan. The marketing agency would tell them how to market their soap, which TV channel and programs to use for advertising and how much to spend where. An online marketing agency that for an online audience, with a website owner as a client and online audiences as a target audience.

a1: so you are selling soap online? (between mouthfuls)
a2: we can help a client sell whatever he wants to

a1: Hmmm. So what do you do then?
a2: (imaging a car crash in slow motion) grr.,..

I get to play a2 about 50 times a month.
Below is an answer with the eloquence it deserves.

Online Marketing is a set of activities undertaken on behalf of a client or an employer to:
1) help drive online actions
2) in the most cost effective manner and
3) to track and report online actions.

Online actions could vary from a Purchase, Lead generation, email quote request or just viewing a website or a banner.

Cost effectiveness would mean:
3) What was the cost of buying traffic from this specific traffic source (How much did the click cost?)
4) How much did it cost for a given source to drive an online action. Remember that traffic is not bought for traffic's sake (not any more) but for driving a particular online action.
5) How much money was made as a result of this online action? (what was the value of the sale which happened?).
6) If 5) is greater than 4), then we turn up the knob for the given traffic source. If not, the knob is dialled down.

To make every one a bit more calm, there needs to be a system of accurate tracking and reporting:
7) Such reporting would provide data for questions 1 to 5.
8) it would also help us do 7) for every single link, website and campaign.
This set is the set of things an online marketeer does. It has a certain deterministic appeal to it. It also has a real world uncertainty about it. Every campaign shows a diminishing marginal return after a point. Every campaign has an elasticity - price, volume, conversion all change. Thankfuly, every campaign has its own predictability as well.

The interface with the client involves providing answers for the following questions:

1. Which set of online mediums/websites to be used?
2. How much to spend on each such website?
3. Which kind of commercial arrangements to be set up - Pay per click, pay per view, pay per action and so on...
4. Which creative formats to use?
and 5. How to track and run reports so as to measure what is going on?

What makes a good online marketer:
- To understand the nuances of reporting systems
- To have a good eye for detail
- To be a natural flair for analytics
- To be able to work in a team

This, in a nutshell, is online marketing. This is what we do!

11 February, 2008

Road rage!

This post is going to be a long crib - a vent about life, justice and anything else that might come into my head as I write this post.It all started because of something else, but then I had to drive about 250 kilometers over the weekend, all in and out of Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad and Greater Noida (Yes, even Greater Noida).
I have been thinking about a post on the traffic, but thought that it would be too much of an ex-non-resident thing to do. But then, this weekend tippeth the cup over.
There are so many things wrong, I am not sure where to start.
I will list some of my favourites:
- Red light jumping
- Red light creeping
- Wrong side driving with lights on
- Switching on headlights to tell the other side that they are coming first
- Selecting an incorrect lane on a red light
- Speeding
- Selecting an incorrect lane on the expressway
- Not stopping when it makes civic sense and common sense to stop
- Blocking the left lane at a red light

The main problem here is that there is no incentive to conform, no disincentive for misbehaving and strong incentives to misbehave!

Are these not the kind of things which the government is supposed to set right?
- The Gurgaon expressway cost Rs. 7.5bn (or Rs 10.0 bn), however, travel times which had fallen have shot back up thanks to the toll bridges. The Toll bridges take an average of 15-20 minutes to clear up.
- Bad design - no clear signs, no punishment for people found in the wrong lane (Cash payers in the tag lanes and so on)
- Bad behaviour - people always try to get into the shortest lane
- Bad planning - Toll costs are Rs 16, Rs 49 etc which few people carry. the toll booths do not have the forms for the getting a tag

I feel sorry about this. For a few reasons in no real order of importance.

I go to Delhi using the MG road. The traffic on this road has gone up because of the toll being implemented on the expressway. Was the expresssway not supposed to be a boon to all traffic heading out of Delhi into Gurgaon and beyond.
Secondly, is this not a very sad waste of money if the travel times actually go up. Long ago (1996), my dad had an interview with someone at Gillette who told him that it took him 50 miutes to go from Vasant Kunj to Bhiwadi. It takes someone about 80 minutes today to get to Bhiwadi (and there are 6 more lanes to play with than in 1996).

A small fraction of this is my money. And some of it is yours. If anyone I knew spent my money in such a bad way, I would take my money someone else (Is this what immigration is all about?).

I wonder if we could make the NHAI sweat a bit more for such blunders.

Moving on the brighter things, I have a personal yoga instructor, India still being one of the few places in the world, where such luxuries will not burn my pocket. Anyway, she has exercises for everything. The usual objectives are boring - weight loss, tone-up, stamina - she has exercises even for hair growth, sleeping better... I wonder if she would have something for "I dont know what to do now" or with love. Imagine going to the yoga teacher with a broken heart, hearing her reply to your query (with the strings of the sitar being strummed in the background), “Do surya namaskar and the pranayama along with these other allied asanas five times every morning at four am.” Wonder if such a thing exists in Yoga. It would make Yoga more popular than all the self help books about life, love, relationships, rebirth redundant. It would help reduce icecream sales. It would also give gyms and other fat loss related money making schemes a run for their money, the link being: heartache > icecream > weight gain > weight loss programs > new boy > heartache.
If only...

25 January, 2008

A Noteworthy Journey

Thanks to the Virgin Atlantic online checkin and also because a colleague who was supposed to get me upgraded had a baby daughter, I ended up on a window seat and in economy on my way back from London. After dinner and a few hours of sleep, I woke up and looked out of the window.
I like looking out of train windows - this habit started early with a lot of 2nd sleeper journeys while travelling around Bihar, Assam and Delhi. There was a brief interlude when my parents started booking the 3-tier AC sleeper and staring out of the air conditioned windows is no fun, even in the day. I was back at the looking out of windows in college , which was 40 hours away by train from Delhi and had some of the most interesting landscapes on the way with tunnels, bridges, valleys, mountains, creeks and even a stretch of sandy beach. I will dig around for pictures and post some, but the best way of seeing this stretch of rail is by traveling by 2nd sleeper in a non-rainy month (which are only a few and the best months are just after the rains!) from Kurla down till Mangalore. My father likes to say that nature comes in four varieties - hills and hills, hills and forests, forests and hills, forests and forests - and this route has each of the four in plenty. However, the best sight I have seen was even before the Konkan started and going to Mangalore from Delhi used to take 53 hours, as the train used to take a gigantic U turn and works its way back up through Kerala. I remember one morning, when we were passing through Kerala and were in the middle of the mid morning bathing. All the men had left and gone to work, while all the women were washing their clothes and bathing. It was quite a sight for the young testosterone being transported right through the middle of god's very own country! Amen. I want to add another variable into the natural beauty equation - women.
Cutting back to the journey at hand, I saw a huge city to the north next to some water. It was Teheran, which is to the south of the Caspian Sea. It was very peaceful - the time probably being around 5AM local time, the time when a city is usually most asleep than others. (In any case, I was too high to notice any movement). For a passing moment, I thought about Ahmadinejad and some of the things he has written or said, but the view tore me away from such things. I went back to just taking in the view of the city, albeit from 10 miles up, which has been habitated for the past 8000 years.
Gradually, the scenery became more interesting. We crossed the Zagros mountains as the sun rose and the scenery only improved with the Hindukush ranges coming into view. It was a goegraphy class in fast forward - glaciers, ravines, valleys and rivers - all in quick succession. What was interesting was how some rivers seemed to cut right through a mountain range - as if they had existed all along and the mountains rose afterwards. This is what plate tectonics also suggests - that the earlier continents were very differently shaped and located and they have drifted away from and into each other leading to the current continents. In the process, they created the Himalayas. The Hindukush is located approximately where the western edges of the Indian island would have rubbed against the Asian landmass and would have led to the mountains slowly rising out of coastal plains. Hence, the rivers.
May be.
This was also the age old route to India over which I was flying. Iranians/Aryans/Persians/Greeks, Scythians, Mongols and then the Arabs all have had their go at my precious and till very recently, a predominantly benign (read lazy and fat) country. I could see all the hell they were willing to go through to reach the pot of gold which was India. Every father west of the Hindukush who had a particularly headstrong son would rear him with his head towards the east and his mind full of a tales of gold in India. On the plane, the entire horizon was filled with lethal looking mountains and passes - and while I was flying over them, all kinds of adventurers had made a highway across this landscape for India.
Faith can move mountains. Greed can get you across.
The tremendous sense of calm is worth a mention. On sea level or thereabouts, every problem seems bigger than it really is. Religions (all of them), countries, economies, commodities or the lack of it have all been invented by humans over the past thousand years or so. The mountains and the planet have been changing, but have moved by a few inches in the past 10000 years. They are all that matter when you are ten miles up. They are all that you can see.
Maybe all of us should just chill a bit more and takes ourselves a bit less seriously.
Just for a bit.

21 January, 2008

Whatay Whatay fun!

About time I started writing again, there are just too many things happening and I want to document all of them. This blog will remain my personal blog inspite of earlier plans to find another domain... so now I need to think up of a cool new name for an industry expert(!) blog. The last few days in London and the trip back deserve one blog entry each - it will be nice to store these memories in text format.

The online marketing agency - UK and India started its operations in Delhi with a small team and small facilities but with big ambitions. Initial work includes search, consulting, affiliate management and some web design.

Bombay and Delhi are fun - there is just so much energy all around. The food tastes good, the women are prettier and crazier, my low bar seems just right (for those who know). I went partying but what happened after the partying was more memorable.

I was taking a new phone connection and I was asked how many I need for the new company. The guy then went on to ask me if I had already hired these new people, or if he could help me get a few. "It is easy sir.... Marketing people are easy to find!"
Imagine that - Orange and Vodaphone providing head hunting services while you are filling up a form for a new phone.

Mobile rates are low and are getting lower. Internet speeds are getting faster - 8MB broadband is there for the taking. Flights are full, on Sunday mornings at five am and on Thursday afternoons as well. I booked a Bombay to Delhi flight, when I was actually trying to go from Delhi to Bombay and supplied some entertainment to the ticketing women of Simbldy Deccan.

I do miss London. I miss my space. At the same time, I love my space being squashed out of shape by those in my life in India now. The title of this post is from a radio jingle which plays on one of these FM channels and I can't help but smile at how well this captures some of what I feel every day. So what if I have to spend two hours in a car every day.

The country of my birth and the land of my people, Welcome back into my life!