Thursday, January 27, 2005

You must be nuts!

Rewind to AD 2000.

The scene: Semester exams were right in the corner. The practical part of the exams had just got over, and the general mood we budding engineering graduates had could best be described as ‘frenzy’.

Most of us were thinking that we had scraped through the practical exams. In engineering, according to my experience, failing in a practical exam is tougher than passing. You must’ve really been dumb, or must’ve refused to even stand when the faculty’s order was to jump. But theory exams were a slightly different matter. You got to read atleast 4 out of the 8 chapters in every subject to manage to scrape through. By scrape through, I really mean getting a first class with distinction, since one could probably set records by getting a score of sub 70% in a college like that of mine. Since the task – reading half of the chapters that we’ve never cared to visit before – was daunting, my friends were fretting over and over in the study holidays. But I, and a couple of able bodied souls, was never worried. My only goal was to complete a couple of Frederick Forsyth books before the study holidays got over.

If you had thought I was somewhere in the bottom of the class, you couldn’t have been more mistaken. Somehow, I had mastered the art of last minute reading. I knew the knack of getting an 80+ score just with a 6 or 7 hrs read before the exam. Either the system was stupid enough to award me that many marks with minimum effort, or I was a genius in last minute scoring. I personally doubt the former. Some of my friends said “You must be nuts to do that”. They weren't entirely wrong.

Fast-forward to AD 2004.

One of the most frequent arguments amongst we B-schoolers is over what we gain out of this 2 year long slogging. I always am a fervent believer that we gain a lot about the ground level working of almost all the departments of management. Some of my friends believe that most of what we read is crap and impractical. Cynical as they are, not many doubt one thing: that we are asked to play around with what could be one of the most important facets of management – time management. Read between the lines, and you’ll find that I’m not saying that we learn to manage time properly. I’m just saying that the very many things that happen round the clock teach us to respect priorities. I must admit here that I’m really a fledgling when it comes to managing time. I just can’t seem to get my priorities right, even after making proper schedules for entire weeks. Time just vanishes away, somewhere into the open.

When I sit and think that our classes get over at 1 pm in the afternoon and all I got to do was to read for the next days’ classes, read some newspapers, browse, eat, sleep, maybe workout in gym, play some games, and I’ve got till 9 am the next day to do all that, it looks like a cinch. But it isn’t. I guess most of we B-schoolers aren’t entirely successful in this area – getting priorities right. Things just fall apart and we end up postponing things to the last microsecond. These days, I don’t hear someone saying “You must be nuts to do this in the last minute”, probably because the world I live in works that way. Activities like completing assignments in the nick of time, polishing projects in the dire end, jamming notes just before an afternoon quiz etc seem to be so imbibed in us that I almost am fearing that we might end up doing the same thing in an organization after graduation.

So, what’s the solution? I guess it lies in proper planning. While we learn all sorts of financial, marketing and organizational planning, we are at the risk of losing one very important thing – planning activities. I just hope that my realizing and reflecting doesn’t stop here.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

From Reebok to Nike a year back. What now?

I bought two pairs of sneakers from a Reebok showroom some 2 years back, and I guess that made me an avid fan of Reebok. The sneakers were nice, glitzy and sporty – the perfect combination for showing off. All was well until a pair was stolen in a classic but unrecorded case of daylight robbery in my home in Bangalore. I suspect if the felon would’ve made more than 100 Rs. on that daring attempt of his. Given a chance, I would’ve paid him twice as much if he had disclosed his talent and intentions a priori. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t seem to work that way. No wonder we are late in recognizing talent. In the mean time, management students such as me are left to do a cost benefit alternative analyses for such things without rime or reason.

If you have a good deal of money as a bachelor – the kind of money they pay in IT industry - 2 models from the same company would sound boring. Since the only way left - as far as shoe purchase was concerned - for me was to go up, up I did go. I purchased Nike. A cute colored, light weighted shoe, with the classic tick that’s supposed to give the whole body a brawn par comparison. Again, all was good with Nike. It’s served me well for over a year, from plains to mountains, from rivers to ice. But the inevitable has happened. And an unspoiled, conservative old Indian brain has started to feel empathy.

I vaguely remember reading reports about child abuse by the likes of Nike, Reebok and Disney. Things came to spotlight after a case study about Human Right violations by Nike and Reebok that we did in our HR class yesterday. A specific line in the case read “Nike had the option of spending 1% of its advertising expenditure to place 15000 of its Asian employees above poverty line, and it chose not to”. That was a strong line. As curiosity has it, I researched more about the topic than ever, and I found startling amounts of information on the web, only if one chooses not to be ignorant. Nike, and to a lesser extent Reebok, has committed human rights violation by paying its contract shoe manufacturing Indonesian and South Asian employees far less than the average salary. The working conditions are allegedly traumatic, with little or zero consideration even for children and women. I found the following article especially strong:

Just do it. Boycott Nike:

According to recent reports, the situation has improved far from the 1980s, but there is still widespread exploitation on the part of such giants, particularly in countries like Indonesia and Pakistan where jobs are at a penny. It’s said that companies such giants give don’t give a damn to basic humanitarian considerations.

The question for us middle class Indian consumers is whether we are ready to boycott products from such companies if such inhuman policies come to light. We Indians did a lot to eradicate child labor from the cracker industries of Sivakasi, South India. Children abstained from Diwali celebrations, and we responded as a community. How do we respond if such policies of what are supposed to be flagship multinational giant companies come to light? As compunction pricks me, I’m quite clueless as to how the exact response should be from us consumers.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The sojourn to fairyland...

Escalation of commitment it is. I knew I was late in updating the blog. Since I wanted to update with a huge post, I delayed it even further. And now, in retrospection, it’s really been a long time since an update was made. Anyway, better late than never!

About the trip: Ask anyone who's seen and experienced snow for the first time, and he’ll tell you that it’s an entirely different experience. Not that people and things are different there, but the whole experience of wearing clothing worth kilograms, searching for some strip of cloth to cover the inch of body that remains exposed to icy winds, depending entirely on a twig to get a grip of the snow during a steep climb uphill over one feet of slimy slippery snow, and most importantly, worrying whether the sun caressed South Indian bodies have the inherent capabilities to withstand sub-zero temperatures... is inexplicable! For the sake of record, we were approx. 100 Km short of the world’s highest motorable road, and 150 Km short of the world’s highest motorable village – Kibber. But yes, we did make it to the world’s highest cricket ground. There were a lot of fun filled moments, and there was an equal share of nail-biting moments too...

Our journey…

1) The first move: Indore to Delhi in train. Once in Delhi, we shifted to a bus to Chandigarh; Overnight stay in Chandigarh.
2) The drive: We took an Indica from Chandigarh and traveled direct to Manali. The route took us through Mandi, several cute looking temples, the breathtaking Beas valley, and Kullu. Snowcapped peaks were visible all along, increasing the expectations multifold.
3) The stay: For three days, we stayed in the SASE (Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment) quarters near Manali. The quarters were surrounded by snowcapped hills on all sides, with the Beas River running by the side. It had snowed in the campus the day before we arrived, which was evident from the uncleared snow around. Within the campus, it was real cold – the likes of 2 to 6 degrees all the time.
4) The ascent: We traveled to the Solang valley the very first day. We were told that that was the best time to make it since the road would be closed if it snows later. We reached Solang without hiccups, picking up all the snow and ski gear en route. As we traveled higher and higher, the concentration of snow increased multifold and the valleys down had snow, giving us a feeling that were really on top.

5) First touch: Once in Solang, we started to Ski in the snow front. Contrary to what I thought, skiing on plain surface was an extremely difficult task. You gotta push the whole of the body using the rods, which required a lot of stamina. I was over-excited and skied for reasonably long distances by exerting all the energy I had. I fell down some 4/5 times, and felt cold snow inside my fingers and inside the shoes. The gloves and the shoes that we took on rent had holes in them. In a matter of 30 minutes, the temperature fell down to minus 4/5 degrees and it started snowing heavily. Suddenly, at one point of time, I felt really cold and completely lost - sans en. It took some 5-10 minutes for me to recover. The same happened with Arvind. That’s when we learned that energy exertion should happen slowly, particularly at high altitudes where oxygen levels are less. All of us felt bitter cold, and all we wanted to do was to get out of the place. That’s when things looked ominous.

6) Living on the edge: We did a bad mistake by taking our Indica right to the very top, through the narrow, slimy roads. After it started snowing heavily, the roads were covered with snow. Our Indica was certainly not the car for that kind of a terrain, and even by moving at 5 Kmph in the first gear, the car started to lose control. The safe roads were 10 Kms downhill, and there was a multitude of precarious bends en route. The trick was to drive without applying brakes. Apply the brakes; we all could become history! Somehow, despite skidding many a times, our driver slowly made it to the safe roads. It took half an hour for us to travel 5 kms to reach safe roads. Thus ended the eventful first day.
7) Loitering around: On the second day, we made it to Vashist hot springs, the Tibetan market, the Tibetan monasteries and the Hidamba temple (which was from where Arvindswamy gets kidnapped in the cult movie “Roja”). In the afternoon, we traveled a long distance to a place called Naggar. Naggar is known for apple orchards, the altitude and a Himalayan museum. The museum was deserted as it was a Sunday, and we instead visited an old castle that was precariously perched at a high altitude. The highlight of the castle was its carvings and the breathtaking view of the Beas valley it provides.

8) Snow again: The third day was spent again in Solang. It wasn’t snowing this time around, and all of us went with our own jackets, sans ski uniforms. I and Arvind scaled the ski slopes to reach the very top of the ski front. The view was amazing – full snow, specks of people with colorful jackets moving down under in pure white snow, cone trees with snow scatters etc. In the afternoon, we crossed half way into the icy waters of the Beas River.

9) The religious voyage: The next day, we started to Shimla. En route, we made it to Manikaran, which has an 11000 thousand year history. Manikaran is supposed to be the place where Lord Shiva meditated for a long time near the hot springs and the cold Parvati River. The springs were 88-90 c hot. You could even cook rice and dal at that temperature!
10) Shimla: Shimla gave us one of the coldest nights in the whole trip. We did a night stroll around The Mall, Shimla, which is supposed to the most ‘happening’ place. We really enjoyed the hot snacks, the hpmc night outlet, the cold ambience, the crowd and the lightings.
11) Junk food rocks!: The next morning, we started to a place called Kufri. En route, we went to a temple called ‘Joka temple’. The temple is at about 1 Km high over Shimla, and the ascent of the roads leading to the temple prevents most vehicles from reaching it. We had to walk the whole distance since our Indica couldn’t scale the ascent. I bet we would’ve lost a KG or two in the climb! Such was the slope and the length – 750 m uphill. Apart from the worship, the hot tasty Bajji served made the climb a worthwhile one.
12) We decided to skip Kufri since we had already experienced snow. Instead, we made it to a cricket ground that was at 2500 m high, which was supposed to be the world’s highest cricket ground. Apart from the flaunt-value, that specific travel didn’t provide anything else.
13) Chandigarh was next, and we made sure that we stayed a day there to experience what is one of the world’s earliest two fully planned cities. We were all spell-bounded by the planning and the infrastructure. Despite critics’ claims that planned cities are failures, Chandigarh was buzzing with all the flavors of India. The lake, the market, the world’s only rock garden, the road side chat shops, junk food outlets, vintage Sardars with cute colorful turbans, the ice cream wala who started a skirmish after providing six months' old ice creams, were all delights. It would easily be any Indian’s dream city – except for some elements like human rickshaws that were still in operation. While most of these rickshaws have been eradicated down South, it was disheartening to see the menial divide extant in the form of rickshaws in these parts of India. Hope rickshaws get out of action soon!

14) Agra: The last visit was to the famous ancient city Agra. We visited Sikandra, the Agra Fort, Buland Darwaza and the Fatehpur Sikri. Due to a planning goof up, we managed to see Taj only from across the River Yamuna. Taj was closed on Fridays, and most of Agraites were unaware of that fact! Must say here that a yet another visit to Agra beckons!
15) Last, completed the tour by taking a bus from Agra to Indore.

It’s needless to mention that this was a trip that would definitely stay in memory for a long time. We had a lot of people telling us that winter in Himachal would be miserable. But I could vouch that proper clothing alone would make the tour a delicacy. I would even go to the extent of arguing that winter is the best time to visit Manali, just because of the fact that snow is something that is really at a premium. It’s simply worth it. With so-called doomsayers' warnings about global warming et all, you never know!