Saturday, November 7, 2015

Is it that easy to misinterpret/misrepresent facts about any country?

If there is a place where Indians and Chinese compete on number-count supremacy (apart from the real population count, of course), it would have to be in the U.S academic space. I'm sure 95% of you will agree with me. For the remaining 5%, I have a simple task. List any ten of your favorite universities, and scroll through the PhD students’ and professors' list (preferably from a STEM or a Social Science department), and your doubts will be laid to rest.
Rohit Mahendran shared his lab-space with some of the nicest Chinese people he'd ever known. This was not just because these were the only Chinese folks he had actually interacted with, but because they were really open, friendly, and approachable. He was surprised to learn that he could socialize much better with his Chinese friends than with most others (Indians included).
One evening, after a thoroughly frustrating research session, he struck a conversation with his Chinese colleague, Jenny (her English sobriquet, obviously) about China and his country. He had broached this topic before, perhaps half a dozen times, but the conversation had always rapidly moved in the direction of research and their work. This time, he was determined to know what Chinese people thought about their worthy neighbors.
Jenny started slowly about how she liked Indian spices, the colors and the diversity (Duh!), but when she opened up, Rohit wished he had never broached the topic. 

It started with some curious questions:
"Do folks in India believe in burning the wife after her husband's death?"
"Raj told me that he belonged to an upper class Indian community. The caste system must play a very strong role in your country, right?"
"Why do you throw dead bodies into your holy rivers? (In reference to a photograph posted online of a river in Varanasi by a Chinese traveler, which became viral in China)"
"How can you people ever travel in such a crowded train (Mumbai local)? When we complain to our authorities about the number of people in trains during our annual festival, they always refer to the situation in India"
"Is it true that some of your main cities have an alternate economy (probably referring to the underworld and slums)?"  

After this barrage, she finally asked me, after considerable hesitation, "I'm not saying you would do this, but your countrymen consider women to be substandard citizens. Right?" 
Now this shocked Rohit to the core. Coming from a progressive south-Indian family, comprising of strong female figures occupying high academic and administrative positions, and as an Indian who had travelled and worked in various parts of India, he knew this wasn't true. Admittedly, he had chiefly worked in the metropolitan cities. Perhaps, he never lived in the “Real India”; but in the limited “India” that he knew of, women were never considered as “sub-standard citizens”.  Rallying himself, he said "Oh, not at all. What makes you think so?" 
"Oh, it’s nothing. I watched this documentary on BBC about a high profile rape case in India where a few men, lawyers etc, who were interviewed said so openly. Now do not tell me that BBC isn't reputed enough".
Rohit spent another 15 minutes explaining (albeit unsuccessfully) why that video left a bad taste in the mouths of Indians too, and how those lawyers were not representative of the masses. She referred to a few "reputed" articles that considered India to be totally unsafe for women. In the end, she said "Thanks Rohit, I really did not know"; but Rohit was quite convinced that her opinion remained unchanged.
On his way back, he recollected his interactions with his temporary roommate (Joshua), an American, during his first fortnight in the US of A. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that the questions Josh had asked were on the same line, albeit being coated with the veneer of subtlety. Josh had enquired about the veracity of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and the general hygiene issues around Indian monuments. 
"Indians tend to save more than Americans” Josh had said; “We Americans live on credit. Trust me, it’s a bad thing. But I guess your mindset comes from attempting to hoard food? Well, you know, storing more food than required at home? I guess it’s got to do with poverty and shortage?" 
"Indians and Americans value time in totally different ways. I guess Indians are culturally inclined to be slightly impatient. Almost every time someone breaks into my queue, it has been an Indian. I used to think it was really rude, but don't anymore. I understand it’s cultural" (Perhaps someone had told him so)
Josh had also admitted that his knowledge of India and her people was very limited, and based on movies, a few occasional newspaper articles, and his own experiences with Indian expats. 
Rohit felt miserable. What he knew about his motherland and what others knew about India were just not comparable. Was it that easy to dupe people in believing that India was a bad country to live in?
"Half-truths are more dangerous than lies", he muttered. There is no fun (or money) in showing that the "growth story" called India had the same old story of strong fundamentals driving a strong economy. The media naturally gravitates toward the outliers, the ugly parts of the country, just as in research, where one attempts to identify (and analyze) outliers. There wasn't much he could do, except set an example. Hopefully, he would convince Jenny of the true nature of his motherland and her people in the coming years.
He was lost in thought when his mobile beeped. "Aree, where were you, man? We have pizzas for you and your extended bunch of friends. Lol" read his roommate's SMS. "Did you loot the "free pizza" seminar once again this week? Have some shame dude" Rohit replied. "If I hadn't, other Indians would have. So Pritesh and I lifted 8 boxes and 4 Pepsi bottles. So come home early, bugger" was the reply.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Independence : A State of Mind

I vividly remember the 50th year of Indian Independence celebration in Ujire. I was introduced to a Helium Balloon for the first time in my life. Ofcourse, there were a few thousands of tri-colored balloons released post the flag hoisting. Subduing my curiosity of how the Helium Balloon flies up, I asked a  relevant question to my father.

"Why did we fly so many balloons in the air on account of our Independence Day?"
"A flying balloon is a representation of our Independence and that we're free from slavery", told my dad.

"But appa, the balloons are all mixed up in air. No uniformity, no rules.. Why didn't we tie all similar coloured balloons together and then release them? Wouldn't it look neat and interesting?"

"Son, the balloons would then be free, not Independent" my father had said.

I'd stopped asking further questions, most probably because I started wondering what happened to those balloons once they reached "The Sky".

My father didn't stop my lessons of Independence just there. He made it a point to give me 10Rs at every festivals and asked me to spend the same on "anything I wished".  I would make a list of 5-6 items I wanted to buy in that money, only to realize that the money was sufficient to buy only 1-2 items out of the list. I remember fighting with father to increase it from Rs.10 to Rs20 or whatever but he was very clear.

"Nothing more than Rs.10, you buy whatever you want".
"But I want to buy so many things. Rajesh took a toy, Ashrith bought an ice cream, Manju sat in the giantwheel"
"Think, what would be those two things you really want to buy/experience. Don't do it just because your friends are doing it"

Though I felt bad then, I believe I'd learnt my first true lessons of taking Independent decisions

  • To make a list of items needed
  • assign priority to the items
  • actually spend on priority items.
  • Be accountable for the decision I made on spending.

This lesson that I learnt has percolated into many other aspects of decision making. While I had the freedom of buying anything with the resource available, I was actually made to think and act independently.

While freedom is a physical phenomenon, Independence is a mental construct.

But funny enough, as a marketing professional, I'm being trained to take this very independence away from the customers (to be very crude). While ensuring that a consumer is being contacted by the brand I represent would be my primary motive, I try my best to ensure the consumer is covered by information which would lead to a positive predisposition towards my product. Taking an example of buying a vehicle :
  • Need for a vehicle to commute being converted to a want for a luxury SUV.
  • Enough marketing impressions in newspaper, radio, malls, leaflets etc to ensure you read good things about our product or atleast know our product decently well 
  • Attempts to influence the influencers : Tech forums, Experiential Test Drives, leasing companies etc
  • Financial deals and offers which makes our product irresistible. 
  • Finally, a great after sales service to ensure you turn into our evangelist.
None of the point that I mentioned above are wrong/unethical. However, its just an illustration to let you know that our decision to buy any product has not been truly "independent". 

The same is true for the very media where we hope to seek the unbiased information "as it is". We've to admit that our stance/viewpoint on certain piece of information is based on what we read and hear.

The argument extends to our education system as well where we're studying "what's been tried/tested and OK"d by experts across the world. When my professor tells me that this particular problem can be solved by XYZ method only and this has been the "best case scenario" he's seen in his 30 years of teaching career, I definitely accept it. 

The very reason why I'm writing this post is to convince myself that I need to appreciate the subtle difference between freedom and Independence. What will truly liberate me is Independence and that I need to watch out for the detractors of Independent thinking (advertisements, curriculum, media etc). There's no control over what one normally sees and hears. But he/she definitely can control what he/she watches and listens to. 

I was in Delhi for 2 of the Independence Day celebrations. Delhites celebrate the day by flying kites. May our mind/heart fly independently like a kite with a thread of consciousness controlling the actions.  I wish all my fellow citizens and NRIs, a very happy Independence day.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A journey into the superstitions and beliefs in the Automotive World

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon and true to their words, Rohit Mahajan and Shankar AS had met up for a cup of tea at Rohit's new residence. Sipping their cup of hot tea and sitting on a bean bag placed in the portico, they were taking turns in praising this new location.

"A 100-step walk is all you need to reach to any God Damned item/service you need!" claimed Rohit. Namdhari's Fresh, Reliance fresh, a Darshini, a Coffee house, multiple tea shops, a temple housing 5 different dieties, a darshini, 3 juice centres, multiple eateries, 8 different ATM centers (not that you needed so much), furnitures, pubs, bus stand, auto stands, a Gym, a dance class, a yoga class, a music class, a saloon, 2-3 dry cleaners, a multi-utility Computer shop; virtually EVERYTHING. "You would need to take another 100 more to a Mall" said Shankar, with a grin. "Yet man, it’s a wonderful place I must..." he was about to continue when he saw Rohit pointing out at something in the main road.

"De Ja Vu" said Rohit pointing at something which was definitely moving. A closer look at it looked like he was pointing at a new Bullet bike. It had garlands and flowers on it, temporary registration board etc and it looked like the driver had just got his bike delivered from a showroom. "Man, I swear, I saw this very bike and this bike driver going in the same direction (right to left), just 20 seconds back!!”

"It must definitely be a coincidence man", Shankar said, dismissing Rohit's observation. "You've either seen another bike; similar bike but different, or you've seen the rider in the opposite direction. It makes no sense when you say the bike's gone in the same direction. Hey, hang on. What the heck!!”

This time, it was Shankar's turn to point out and they both saw it! True as hell, the same driver, riding the same bike passed by them in the same direction! Rohit, unable to control his curiosity, kept his Tea cup aside and went out to figure out what the driver was actually doing.. He came back 20 seconds later smacking his head.

"Dude Shankar, he's just circumambulating the Temple which is right in front of our portico with his bike man" declared Rohit, unable to believe what he just saw. It was his first time, witnessing someone circumambulating a temple with his bike!

But working in the 2 wheelers industry since past 10 months had taught Rohit something very unique about this industry. "You think about all the superstitions and beliefs in this world and you see them all in the 2 wheelers world man, trust me" he said. And then he went on to list down all that he had learnt from past 10 months.

Issue 1 – About the super-human expectation
Rohit - People are OK buying a 45000 phone and upgrading to a new one in less than a year. However, when they want to buy a two wheeler costing almost the same, they are super careful and they look at 10 years or more with the bike. Not that everyone wants to keep the same vehicle for 10 years but they insist that the vehicle be super durable and trouble-free for 10 plus years.

Shankar - Not quite sure why this happens but my gut feeling is that people are more tolerant for a phone switching off but cannot take a 2 wheeler breaking down. I understand that their life is more tied to a mobile phone than a 2 wheeler but everyone has a backup phone, seldom maintain a backup scooter.

Note to the readers: Fair enough, the thoughts well taken. However, even if 10% of the attention that they give to their phone is given to their vehicle for maintenance, it'd run easily for 20 years.

A beautiful ad by Amaron about how people don't care about their vehicle batteries

Issue 2 – About the lack of willingness to pay for any essential cover
Rohit - Next point is about the "Engine Warranty" that they are super concerned about. When the 2-wheeler manufacturer says "2 years or 30000 km whichever is earlier and you can upgrade it to "5 years or 75000 km" just by paying INR 600, they crowd demands "Why only 30000 or 75000 km and Why should I pay 600 Rs to extend the same for 5 years?". To reach that number of 30000 or 75000, the buyer has to ride for 40 a day, for all the day of the year and continuously for 2 to 5 years !! Unless you're in a sales or business development kind of roles, In Bangalore kind of a city, its a long shot driving so much every day !!

Shankar - Yes you seem to have a point. People are OK spending INR 2500 for as the bike purchase party or 3000 for full vehicle sticker but not 600 to ensure peace of mind for 5 years.

Note to the readers: Anyways most of the 2 wheeler manufacturers are covering this by giving this extended warranty as a complementary thing.

Issue 3 – About Seasonality of buying pattern

Rohit - Now comes the seasonality part of the industry and it will turn hilarious from now on.
  1. People do not buy in May-June since it’s the rainy season and that they don't want to expose their bike to rain as soon as they buy.
  2. Then comes the "Aati" or "Aashada" maasa. This month is inauspicious to invest on anything good. Depending on the Solar or Lunar calendar that you follow, the month varies. So for example, 1 state has Aashada in July and the neighbouring state has it in August. A few of the North Indian states have this inauspicious month in August.
  3. Then comes the awesome series of days when everyone wants to buy off the vehicle. This is the time when the 2 wheeler manufacturers need to miraculously increase their capacity of output (almost 80% more). This season runs from Mid August to early November (Ganesha Festival to Dusshera and Deepavali).
  4. The automobile industry is supposed to "hibernate" post this season. People just DO NOT BUY a vehicle in December because it’s the year-end. They want new vehicles in the new year with the new year registration!! Perhaps in the 1990s, the change of year meant the change of model but it's no longer true. However, we're clinging on to the same old belief.
  5. The date till 15th January is inauspicious - Shoonya Maasa and some communities extend the same feeling for another fortnight (until the Amavasya).
  6. Then comes a 15 day patch in between, until the Holi when people do not buy the vehicle. Another lull period during the 2nd fortnight of March and this cycle continues. 

Shankar – Yes, this entire cycle is very wierd man. Now I realize why so many automotive companies give unbelievable offers in December.

Note to the readers:  If one is smart enough, he'd wait until December to buy a vehicle. Yes, the year of manufacturing and the year of registration would be the previous year but YOU HAVE the INVOICE to prove the vehicle age if you're reselling!!

Issue 4:  About the inauspicious days
Rohit - Some states consider it super auspicious to buy on a Tuesday but in few South Indian states, Tuesday is a BIG NO NO. Some states consider Saturday is bad and so on.

Shankar - So instead of a Sunday, you can ask your dealers to shut down their operations on a Tuesday.

Issue 5 :  About the inauspicious registration numbers
Rohit - People continuously frequent the RTO to check the series of registration numbers. They wait until their desired sequence comes up and grab that “auspicious” number by hook or by crook.
Shankar - Ya ya, I remember now, my dad recent bought a scooter which was seriously underpriced in the secondary market. Upon investigation, he found out that the numbers when added up, turned out to be a Devil's number in the locality.

Meanwhile, in a different world !!

Note to the readers: Understandable if someone waits for a harmonic/repetitive number or a number which is easy to remember but Devil's number!!    SERIOUSLY!!

Rohit finally said, "This list will go on and on and the industry has been living with this kinda irregularity ever since it came to India. So let’s chuck this discussion right here, hop onto my car and go to the movie theatre lest we'll be late".

Sitting in the front seat, guiding Rohit (about Traffic etc) in moving the car out of the parking lot, Shankar was only analysing all these market intelligence when he heard Rohit swear, "Oh Shit !" hitting the reverse gear, taking the car back into the parking lot, take the car out again, now in the opposite direction. Shankar was puzzled. "Dude, aren't we supposed to head towards our left? What are you doing and why are we heading towards our right?"

"Dude, didn't you see! A stupid black cat crossed our way man! I definitely can’t take the risk now. Let us take the next U turn and then head left" 

Ha ha, look at that idiot :)

Monday, March 3, 2014

The decision that never helped..

He woke up with a start.. His palms were sweaty and he was breathing heavily. Place him next to the situation when he's just finished running his regular 1.5 km evening jog and you wouldn't spot a difference.

"It must have been a bad dream", Rohit thought, sitting upright on his bed. Now that he was awake, he cursed this "bad dream", turned on the lights and looked around for his bottle of water. "Oh, I forgot filling water last night". He ambled towards the kitchen trying to recall the dream which woke him up.

Ten minutes later, he was sitting on his computer chair, scratching his head over some thought. This time around, however, it was not about his bad dream (He tried a lot to recall the same and finally gave up). He was in a pensive mood, reflecting upon his dreams..

"When was the last time I woke up in the morning and felt great about the dream I saw(?)?"
"When was the last time I ever dreamt at night?"

He wasn't able to recall any of his dreams !! Perhaps, he never had had a dream for a long time now !! "What happened to Rohit, the Dreamer?" he wondered. After, what seemed like half an hour, his brain started to throw hints.. "Think of the last time you did something different, something that gave you sleepless nights". "It must be something that I have been really passionate about, or else I generally do not lose sleep on anyhing" !!

Oh yes, it was the book he had published.. It was in June 2011.. A good 30 months back !! "So you mean to say that I never had any dreams (worth remembering) since that day?" he asked himself..

Now, more than just wondering, he was anxious now.. He recalled reading somewhere that dreaming is always a good thing and that it was a call of one's sub-conscious mind.. A dream is sub-conscious mind's interesting way of influencing people when they wake up..

"Think Rohit Think !! What has happened since June 2011 that has resulted in this?"

He started analyzing all the events that happened in his life since June 2011 and tried correlating the same with his lack of dream.

- Enrolling in an MBA - "I don't think so, MBA makes you dream of bigger things in life"
- Leaving my regular Dance Practices - "Not quite sure, but gut feeling says this ain't the reason"
- Saying Bye-Bye to the biker in me - "I always enjoyed biking but that wasn't something I dreamt about day n night"
- My decision to stop writing blogs - "Ah, no ways.. How can deciding to stop blogging/expressing your views possibly affect my dreams".

That was THE moment of realization..
That was it !! His mind wasn't ready to accept but he actually knew it..

- By deciding to stop scribbling mindlessly in blogs/books, he had stopped expressing himself.

- By deciding not to waste time and be more efficient in utilizing the "limited time" he had, he had unintentionally capped his thought processes to analytical and visible stimuli.

- "Its when you're writing that you analyse 100 different possibilities of expressing your thoughts. A lot of time, you're confused how to express your thoughts.. That is when you sleep over it !! The next day, almost everytime, you had your answers..

- His decision "Not to write" had invariably prevented him from listening to his inner calling.

- His sub-conscious thoughts did not have a meaningful outlet anymore.

"That is why I've not been dreaming and sleeping has become a process of "just" resting my body". This was a scary thought.. And almost like a resolution, his mind was made.. "It's gonna be a great challenge, starting to write all over again, you're gonna fail a couple of times or half a dozen times" declared his mind..

It was 12 30 AM (midnight) and Rohit had to wake up early morning for some "important" work to complete.. But he was searching for a scribble-pad and a pen in his almirah.

He definitely wanted to start all over again, by expressing very thought process.. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Traffic Sense and Courtesy while driving

I am a Bengalurian who shares a common hatred with every other Bengalurians : the hatred towards Pathetic Traffic Sense of Bengalurians (including mine). Well, you might prefer to differ with me saying, "Hey, I do follow all the traffic rules". My sincere thanks to you for being an exceptionbut you are what you are, an exception.. 

Traffic Jam in Hyderabad

Its quite amazing to know that my friends in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi compete with me in cursing their city traffic. Statements start flowing :

"Kolkota-r driver-der driving sense sob-cheye baje"
"Aila, Mumbaitla Traffic Sense sarvat bekaar ahe"
"Bengluralli janardu kittogiro Traffic Sense maga"

As an argumentative Indian, I never want to give up any arguments and hence we argue everytime we meet up on traffic, invariably so because one of them would have reached the hang-out place 30 minutes behind sechedule :)

I was on a brief visit to USA in Feb 2008 and obviously, I was amazed by the lane discipline and the overall driving courtesy. 

1) When you see the board "Stop and Proceed", you actually stop and then proceed.
2) You stop your vehicle, calmly communicate with the person driving opposite to you about your next action (parking, taking reverse etc) and thank him for stopping for that time.
3) You stop the vehicle when you see a person crossing the path and the pedestrian thanks you for stopping. 

I rationalized the presence of driving courtesy in the US (and the lack of it in India) by giving myself the following reasons.

1) Too many vehicles in India, more than what Indian roads can handle.
2) More 2 wheelers in India, more people "filling the gap" in a traffic signal.
3) A very questionable and outdated test for obtaining your driving license.
4) Fast track life, too much stress and lack of concentration while driving.
5) A better and non-corrupt enforcement of traffic rules and huge fine levied upon breaking rules. 

I'm in Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam) and I am surprised to inform you that my rationalization is, well, irrational.. Here I see the same problems as in India (questionable test methods for driving license, a lot of vehicles, more two wheelers), yet the people here have much better driving courtesy than we do. 

Traffic Jam in Dar Es Salaam

Q : Is it to do with culture?
A : I don't think so, the Indians here (NRIs and PIOs) have good driving courtesy

Q : Has it to do with enforcement?
A : The enforcement body (Traffic Police) is comparable to India in all sense :)

I was having a conversation with my colleague here who's in Dar Es Salaam for 3 years now. He made a point which TOTALLY answered my confusions and cleared my thoughts about the difference. 

As per his (and my) logic, it is the "non-geared" vehicles which are making the difference. In India, I get way too irritated after 1 hour of driving in Delhi and shifting gears every 15 seconds adds to the frustration. Here in Dar Es Salaam (and in USA too), most of the vehicles are with "Automatic GearBox". Needless to say your effort to press the clutch and change the gear everytime you accelerate/decelerate is avoided. Its like driving a Honda Activa, even simpler because you don't have to worry about its balance. :)

Trust me, 1 hour of driving in a country where the infrastructure has still not yet coped with the economic growth is way to painful. I am quite convinced that if the number of vehicles with Automatic GearBox will surely make us, Indians to learn better driving courtesy because culturally, we're "Hardwired" to show sympathy and to be considerate.. But considering that Hydraulic Automatic Gearbox is less fuel efficient than manual transmission gearbox, it might be hard for this system to work out in India.