Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Survival of the fittest

For Hyderabad and Chennai, it’s now or never.

All over the world, people say Silicon Valley’s loses are India’s gains. If a same parallel is applied within India, the loss of competitiveness and attractiveness of one city certainly appears to be a gain to another.

For instance, the charm of Bangalore as 'IT/ITES destination number one' is slowly evaporating. Every media in every town has carried articles about its crumbling infrastructure. Still, no one seems to be working on it. Given the bureaucracy and my-votes-don’t-come-from-this-place logics, this is certainly not surprising.

What IS surprising is why no other city is trying to “hog the news” to sound as a serious alternative to companies.

Bangalore has been in the news for pretty long, and has certainly garnered world’s attention. Any MNC that was looking to move to a low cost destination had to consider India, and inevitably Bangalore. Hyderabad and Chennai came close, but Bangalore stood out.

Times have changed.

Things appear much simpler now. Chennai’s/Hyderabad’s wait seems to be over. An once-in-a-lifetime kind of a chance seems to have come. Now is the time for these cities to act. If this had been a story of three companies vying for a single client, it’s straight and simple that the two second-runners would’ve done everything possible to look good when the leader looked less ominous. But the same doesn’t seem to be happening with Chennai and Hyderabad.

Sure, there are odd stories here and there. But if Hyderabad and Chennai had been serious all this time, the need of the hour is to create a big buzz, the theme of which would be to hit where it pains the most – infrastructure. Forget about lower attrition, good water, people and other stuff. Statements by development ministers and press releases won’t work. People, media and research companies have to speak by themselves. For that to happen there has to be a noticeable difference. The only way is to ACT - and act hard and fast.

For instance, people speak about the negligence of Bangalore. Imagine if a media reports that Hyderabad or Chennai is building the IT expressway, adding 10 more flyovers, upgrading the airport and revamping key roads all at the same time. Companies simply have to notice. There are no two ways about it.

Sure, it’s going to cost a lot of money. But if the buzz is generated, with the leader crumbling, business for years is near-guaranteed. If cities have been businesses, this thinking is so obvious.

Net-net, it’s now or never.

The question is: can Hyderabad or Chennai or for that matter Pune/Noida/Gurgaon make the difference? Are these cities serious when they say they are wannabe IT destinations?

P.S: Having worked in Bangalore, I really love the city. But I guess it’s no reason to see the other picture.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

It sucks to be honest

More so in India. There seems to be no incentive to be honest. I wonder why so many people keep trumpeting about vacuous words like honesty, integrity etc ad nauseam. A little reading and one could come up with a whole lot of examples why it sucks to be honest.

And that's exactly the reason why it's important to glorify people who commit themselves to maintain integrity.

Murder on the oil front

Ofcourse, the first mention goes to the latest victim – Manjunath, the IIML alumnus who was murdered in cold blood for trying to be sincere in his job. His story sounds like THE perfect script for a Bollywood movie: Hero gets a good education; unlike a lot of others, he decides to serve a Govt. company, and indirectly the country – which is a path less traveled by; he tries to seal an IOC outlet for adulterating oil; refuses offers of bribe; doesn’t yield to the threats; the ‘villans’ call him alone. It’s a perfect start for a picture perfect end.

Except that it’s not.

It’s real life, mind you. He gets murdered in cold blood, on a day when CAT was the focus of arguably the whole country. Every newspaper worth a mention devoted space to CAT – the window to dollar dreams and investment bank jobs. But then, our hero certainly wasn’t the character who figured in that highest-offer-till-date story.

What adds to the angst is that he chose to work where all the critics-in-mother-earth wanted every IITian and IIMite to work – to contribute to the country, residing in India. Whether the ‘brain drain’ from these institutes is a permanent loss to our country deserves a separate post, but it’s surprising that a story that’s very, very similar to that of S. Dubey (the IIT graduate) hasn’t got half that attention. Didn’t we call it a perfect story? Just count the number of articles in Rediff.com on Dubey.

Other bits and pieces

Coming back to the topic, I’ve personally seen people (including me) been the butt of undergrad jokes for the following:

1) Not copying in exams.
2) Attending all classes.
3) Waiting for the green light to appear in a traffic signal.

The point is: it sucks to be 'proper', even if you incline a wee bit towards that side. You might tolerate all jokes, but it’s most painful when you have to be ashamed for being honest. That’s what happens when you are outnumbered by one too many.

Again, a quote from Rediff that appeared while covering Dubey's case: “This is a clear signal to everyone that honesty in India has only one result -- failure. An honest citizen must be prepared to forfeit one's life.

Now, would Manju’s story alter the gun culture scene in states like UP/Bihar?

I can’t comment on that, but the PSUs are sure to take a beating (as if this isn’t the case) among the IIM community if pieces like these come out in the open. Because, as I said, there is zero incentive to be honest or to work with PSUs or somehow contribute to the country, unless people like these are glorified.

Please sign up the petition here: http://www.petitiononline.com/manju005/

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

So, what went wrong with brand India?

I had a chance to speak to a Dutch student who was researching about Indian software companies and life of Indian software engineers in general. I asked the inevitable question “What’s the perception about India in your part of the world”. He gave 3 lines.
  1. Our people used to think India is a very pooor (sic) country. The IT industry is slowly changing that perception.
  2. There are a lot of uneducated unemployed people, and everyone else is in the software industry.
  3. All people in IT industry are exploited ones.
Actually, you could get the same impression reading comments to some of the most debated topics in Slashdot.

Some of these impressions aren’t entirely wrong, while some are impossibly, utterly-butterly wrong. The truth is we really haven’t marketed ourselves the way we’d like to. India, except for the odd discussions hovering being one of the best low-cost destinations etc, doesn’t really figure in the list of countries where one could lead a comfortable life.

We hear stories of a lot of the travelers who come to India and fall in love with the country. Some love the simple culture – staying as a family together, the not-too-materialistic lifestyle, a deep rooted history etc. Some love the people. Some love the diversity. But we certainly don’t hear about people preferring India as a country to work. How many people would be willing to work for a short stint in India? How many multinational companies have the Asia Pacific headquarters in India, compared to the likes of Singapore, Australia etc?

It’s perfectly understandable that infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, bureaucracy simply sucks and quality of life is below even Asian average. But why not a short one/two year expatriation stint?

While India is one of the preferred destinations for tourism – one with old monuments, diverse culture et all, we still retain a huge part of the ‘poor country’ image, and not without reason. While general quality of life is not on par with developed countries, any expatriate could live a king’s life in India. The purchasing power and exchange rate ensures that any expatriate would be able to save a considerable sum, even after spending on tours etc. A luxury like servants which is almost impossible in other countries is so easily possible in India. But these are the kind of stuff that we never hear of.

On the contrary, the clichéd phrase we all have heard one thousand times is “India is a land of snake charmers”.

Having born and brought up in the cities in India, I’ve never even seen one of those guys. Actually, I’ve read so much about them that I almost long for seeing those guys. For anyone who was nurtured in middle to upper-middle to upper class neighborhood in an Indian city, snake charmers are guys you could hear of only in news reports. The sad part is that this is the perception about us elsewhere.

I guess we need some serious action on all fronts to change these perceptions – that India is not alone a land of snake charmers; that not all employed Indians are in the IT industry; that not all IT industry employees are exploited ones; that India is not a poor country but one with a lot of poor people.

I think the only way to achieve this is to be open to others to see the truth first hand. If globalization is the solution, so be it. Let’s welcome it with both the hands.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

IRIS, Klueless, life et all

It's quite some time since I've been to my blog... let alone other blogs.

IRIS went amazing. If feedback was anything to go by, it was one of the best fests ever. I'm not going to be humble or modest in this because I think the vibes were very, very good. Some feedback here in Pagalguy and in the IRIS blog.

The results for the bloggers park contest conducted by IIM-I is out: http://www.iimi-iris.com/iris/irising/blogging.asp

Klueless was the biggest hit of all the online games. It was an extremely addictive puzzle and here are some comments that I found in the IRIS blog.

One day, one WHOLE day have I spent on Level 20. This is indicative of either my stupidity or the level's haughtiness. I don't know. COME ON!! Too tough. PLEASE, some extra hint.
And more...
I'm not telling you to post the answer over here but please please PLEAAAAASSEEE tell me (mail me) the answer to no 20.

I have my end semesters comin up n this is all i've been doing for the 4 days now. i've been stuck on no 20 for 3 days now.

I IMPLORE THEE. PLEAASEEEE mail me the answer or just give me a HUGE hint. i justt wanna get it over with so i can S.I.P (study in peace)

I never really believed that an online game could be so addictive!

That apart, the moment IRIS was over, academic load came running. And how! Rows and rows of classes with project presentations and other submissions every day. Literally. Next week is going to be the toughest of all.

Rest later!

Monday, November 07, 2005

The problem of plenty

I’ve been thinking about the problem with too much of information. With broadband, online versions of newspapers, magazines, blogs and RSS, there is simply too much of information to process.

The primary issue is with the number of updates.

Ofcourse, it’s the responsibility of the reader to pick and choose, but sometimes, you are only looking for a sub-section of the updates made and there is more to eliminate than to select and read. For example, a lot of people who’re subscribed to say BoingBoing.net or to the feeds of education columns in BBC might tell you that updates are too frequent and far too many. This issue might be more relevant to international readers – which, in these cases, I’m one – since we might be looking for some of the ‘wonderful things’ that we too (as Indian readers) can cherish, or updates about the happenings in education domain that might affect everyone, whereas too many updates are limited to readers from specific region (US etc). I guess BoingBoing is one site that I’ve subscribed to and unsubscribed from the most number of times because of the frequency of updates. Sometimes, you want to read but you just can’t keep up with the pace.

The second important component of this problem is that most of the updates come sans any sort of highlighting – no usage of block letters, italics, sub-headings, points or even paragraphs.

In short, readability becomes very, very difficult and even if you just want to skim through, it’s like the author doesn’t want you to. I guess this is because the newspaper article writers or we as bloggers assume that readers have unlimited time to spend on articles or our own posts, which is wrong. It’s probably because of this assumption that no effort is made by most of the writers to make the posts ‘skimmable’, i.e., it would make a lot of difference if the newspaper/blog updates etc highlight important points or give a summary of the whole post so that readers, who are busy, can just read the summary or the highlighted areas and skip the rest of the content, while interested-others can spend time to analyze and ponder over what’s written. This is especially relevant to articles that spell out a lot of facts and come to concrete conclusions. In that sense, YouthCurry is one blog that does a lot to make the posts readable.

I have to confess that I don’t even read half as much from the net as what many of the polished bloggers do, but these are serious turn-offs nevertheless. Today was one such day when I had to catch up all the left-out articles and there were around 1000+ unread RSS feeds from ‘The Hindu’ alone, despite having subscribed only to sections that matter the most to me. I’m sure I don’t even have the time to read even the title of all those feeds.

These issues are also relevant to some of the new blogs that crop up every now and then. If I come across a comment asking me to ‘take a look’ at a blog, I do visit those blogs, unless I smell a spam rat, but the length of the posts, the amount of personal content, and the lack of highlighting are complete turn-offs.

Maybe all of us could make a sincere effort to make the posts more skimmable?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Low cost airline: The 'feel' of India's growth

It's always great to be in the thick of things, to witness all the changes around. Low cost airline is one such example.

With our term break during December, a lot of us were planning to book rail/air tickets. Being from Coimbatore, I used to be in a really pathetic situation whenever there was a vacation. Both the ‘from’ and ‘to’ cities in my case aren’t metros, and Indore is badly connected to the South. I used to travel in a car from Indore to Bhopal first, then in trains from Bhopal to Chennai, and then to Coimbatore. To cut it short: I used to spend two days and three nights in shabby, battered and extremely poorly maintained train coaches, and reach home the morning of the third day. Journey alone used to cost half of my vacation.

The only other option was to take a flight first to Mumbai and then to Coimbatore in either Jet Airways or IA, both of which would end up costing something around 9-10K one-way, which isn't exactly the best option if you are a student.

Somewhere during this mayhem, Air Deccan started its operations from Mumbai to Coimbatore. I was elated, but still couldn't use the service because the timings didn't work out. Paramount Air started later, but again I couldn’t make use of the service since Mumbai wasn’t in their hit-list. Nonetheless, Air Deccan provided an alternative of traveling from Mumbai to Bangalore. This way, I'd travel from Indore to Mumbai and Bangalore to Coimbatore in some decent buses, with Air Deccan fitting in between, cutting a day and a night in the process. For some reason (or laziness?), I couldn't complete the Air Deccan part of the booking till today, and was just about to do it tomorrow.

It was at this point that I read the article today about Go Air starting its operations between Coimbatore and Mumbai, and surprisingly, timings are perfect. How elated I am! Now all I have to do is travel to Mumbai in a decent bus and then take this carrier, saving 1 day and 2 nights in the process. Their website isn’t exactly polished – not everything is where it’s supposed to be, and information is not easy to find – but I guess I have a decent amount of time to make a manual/internet booking.

Amazing stuff - made all the more amazing since I’m about to experience the *difference*. It’s like we didn’t know anything about computers till schooling and was suddenly struck by the beauty of computers, virtual games and the internet. Boy, didn’t we enjoy every bit of it? But I’ve seen some college and school kids-of-today say: What’s so special about internet? I always feel like saying “You have no idea kiddo!”

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rush in your entries for iRising

You might be aware or IRIS, the management fest of IIM Indore. All the online games are open to all Indians. Here are some of the most popular events. Last date is approaching. Rush in your entries.

Bloggers Park

The last date for IIM Indore IRIS 'Open to all' blogging contest is fast approaching. Check out the IRIS website: http://www.iimi-iris.com/iris/irising/irising.asp for more details. Last date for the posts is November 5, 2005.

There's more. Following are some of the most popular events.


There are puzzles and then there is klueLESS. Even the toughest questions and riddles look like kids-stuff before this. No one knows how many levels there are. Last heard: somebody fainted at level 10. Try your luck.


Are you the one who can capture priceless moments with a click? Well, roll you shutter and win a cool 2K. Did we hear a click?

P.S: Sorry if you are bored of repeated mentions of iRising... I happen to be a joint co-ordinator.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Kaapi and the Café

My last visit to the Café Coffee Day (CCD) was eventful. Not that it was filled with events, but so many interesting things went over my head and there seemed to be no end to it. I did leave with disturbing questions though.

First was the business model of CCD. I thought it was rather bold of CCD to have started and created a lifestyle over coffee in India. I mean, if you exempt cities like Bangalore and Bombay and take a look at tier-II cities, CCDs are pretty much considered as one of THE ‘hip’ places for youngsters to go. It was like this opportunity was waiting to be captured for a long time.

Second was the pricing adopted by these coffee chains. I guess they would’ve done a proper market study and all, but I don’t really know if the prices are justified. Given the time people spend in such cafés, it’s understandable that prices have to be somewhere high up, but cosmetic versions of coffee and cold drinks at 40 bucks? I’m not sure. But then, if coffee over book-reading and wireless internet browsing is what they are planning to offer, they better price it high. I somehow believe a kind of differential pricing – depending on the cities – would be a good idea. While coffee for 40 bucks might not be a big deal in Bangalore, I guess it’s a big deal in tier-II cities. [I’m not entirely sure if isn’t done though.]

Third was the most interesting. Over a question of which ‘version/flavor’ of coffee everyone liked, my friends differed. Some opted for Irish coffee, some for Hot Chocolate, but I digressed. The best coffee I’ve ever had was the South Indian Kaapi in the Sagars – Shanthi Sagar etc - in Bangalore. One of my colleagues introduced me to the ethereal taste of those kaapis, and we became very, very regular visitors to those Sagars. Ofcourse, additional business of much larger value - like dinners and lunches - flowed to them, all because of our love for their kaapi. That kaapi was THE best because it was served real hot and had the 3 ingredients that we’ve heard in the ‘3 Roses’ tea ads – Niram, Thidam and Suvai in Tamil, roughly translated to color, kick and taste. Simply put, the kaapi was just perfect. The nearest competitor was the morning coffee that accompanies The Hindu in many of the South Indian homes.

Although the Sagar Kaapi used to cost just around five bucks, we sure wouldn’t have minded paying much more. It was worth the money and the long walks amidst office time. Those being the best coffee – atleast according to me, the coffee I pay the most for are the ones at CCD. So, my doubt is why the typical South Indian coffee is never available in any of these modern coffee chains. It sounds perfect – best hot coffee at the costliest price. It could be disguised in one of those hip names – like Coorg Dew Coffee or something – and priced similar to the entry level ones. I know a bunch of people who would surely visit CCDs and Baristas much more frequently just for this type of coffee. It’s like Bangalore’s tasty trademark coffees being made national. With their infrastructure, having one more option in their menu wouldn’t require much of an effort. If it’s so simple, why haven’t they done it yet?