Significant Happenings

Asterix turned 50 recently. Millions of people across the world have enjoyed his adventures along with Obelix, the maker of the magic potion, Druid Getafix and so on. The names of the characters are great entertainment in themselves. I still carry around a particular one called Obelix and Co. which is a great take off on management- in particular, advertising and marketing. There is a smart alec who gets the Gauls addicted to making money by selling menhirs (he buys them himself)and succeeds in corrupting them. Great read for an MBA.

The bard Cacophonix is another briliant creation. We come across equivalent characters in real life so often, that he is easy to relate to. The caricature of Romans (particularly Julius Caesar)is hilarious, and should be compulsory reading for all would-be dictators.

Paul Samuelson, author of a great text book on Economics, passed away. I read his book during my MBA and it was the first one on Economics that I enjoyed reading.

The Telangana crisis set me thinking. I was born in Andhra (undivided), so will I have an identity crisis if that changes to Telangana? What is the economic rationale for a new stste to be formed? Will the reorganisation help the common man in any significant way?

Idlis and Orchids

Read a book called Idlis, Orchids and Willpower, written by Mr. Vithal Kamat who started the eco-friendly Orchid Hotel close to Mumbai airport. He is also from the family that runs Samrat and a couple of other restaurants in Mumbai. What I found interesting is that it is a service business (because I teach Services marketing), and a non-IT service business (because we have seen a lot written about them. Also, he has won several global awards for the environment-friendly ideas he has used in The Orchid.

In doing all this, he has drawn inspiration from a very traditional father and a home-maker mother. Also, he does not mince words about his siblings, and how family squabbles erupted at some points. Interesting style of writing too, not very sophisticated but appears to be straight from the heart. Interesting read for someone interested in biographies of entrepreneurs.

Coincidences

I happened to meet a student I had taught in 1991 while I worked at XIM. He came to the IMT Nagpur campus for recruiting our students. I do run into people from the past most unexpectedly. Another coincidence happened at a relative's place. I was trying to explain to a visitor about what IMT is and what I do there. To my surprise, he turned out to be a vendor of some services to our institute. A couple of days later, he was in my office discussing business.

An important visitor, the global head of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) visited the campus today. He lives in Silicon Valley, USA, and shared lots of experiences with students. He said from personal experience that India is now much more entrepreneur-friendly than it was in the days of Infosys starting up. We are hoping to do some joint events with TiE in future, through a student group called Kushagra, formed specifically by people who want to become entrepreneurs at some point.

Kolkata

Visited Kolkata for work over the weekend and was amazed at the unchanging nature of this city. I have been there off and on for the last 10 years, and the more everything else changes, the more Kolkata remains the same. It also remains relatively inexpensive, which is good for the less fortunate, stung by inflation in recent times.

Whether it will follow other cities in India with an IT boom, and consequent changes in lifestyle, only time will tell. I also find the old ambassador taxis a refreshing change from all the modern cars, which look and feel the same. Have I lost it completely? I hope not.

A new Metro line seems to be coming up between Salt Lake and Howrah. Compared to the brouhaha over the Bangalore Metro (as of now non-existent), things seem to be proceeding quietly and smoothly on the project.

IMT Nagpur

Joined IMT Nagpur last week, as the director. An intake of 300 MBA students each year makes it one of the bigger B schools in India, though Harvards of the world are much bigger. IMT Nagpur is the second campus, about 5 years old, while Dubai is the latest. Hyderabad is slated to open in 2011, giving IMT a wide presence.

Driving from Bangalore to Nagpur, about 1050 kms, was an experience in itself. Roads have improved, barring stretches under construction. I made it to Hyderabad in 11 hours, and from there to Nagpur in around ten.

Placement season is on, with the usual hectic interview schedules for students. A nice ambience pervades the campus, reminding me of the IIM campuses, on a slightly smaller scale. I was at Lucknow and Calicut earlier.

Earlier, on my last day in Bangalore, I visited the Book Fair at Palace Grounds, where my autobiography was also on view at the stall of my publisher, pothi.com. Met the entrepreneurs who set it up. Jaya Jha, an IIML alumna and Abhaya, her partner. They set up this innovative Print-on-Demand venture less than 2 years ago, and already have over 150 authors who have published with them.

Karnataka Politics

Yeddy, steady, go seems to be the rallying cry. Only, it is not towards progress, but towards suicide. A party that takes several years to come to power is able to destroy its own government in less than 2 years. Have our parties lost all sense of propriety, shame, and even the will to survive? Reminds me of the time when the Janata Party came to power in Delhi after the infamous emergency in the 1970s. The new government did not even last 3 years. All the common causes evaporated as soon as power got into their hands. Surprise, surprise, Indira Gandhi came back, strong as ever.

Like other organisations (corporate), political parties need to infuse a certain amount of discipline, and at least some common sense into their members, to ensure that at least they complete a term before frittering away a mandate which is earned after a lot of effort, and expense. People deserve a good government.

Modern Diseases

Just some random thoughts about Modern Diseases and their treatment.

1. Don’t Check Ur Mailitis: Strikes many a healthy emailer without notice. Can induce long stays in the real world. Patient recalls only physical world, and tends to forget the unreal, or virtual world. Starts living his first life, to the complete exclusion of his second life.
Treatment: Earlier treatments included mails to the patient announcing he had won 200,000 pounds (the currency, not the weight) in a lottery. This treatment no longer works. A whack on the side of his head (a physical one, actually delivered on the side of his head) sometimes works. A kick in the right place may also be tried as an alternative line of treatment.
Note: A golf club should not be used to administer the treatment. It can land the do-gooder in the cooler for life.

2. Realityshowtitis: This shows up in symptoms like saying to your children after they have brushed their teeth, "your score is...thirty", with a flourish, or saying to your boss in office, "You are eliminated from this company", or saying to anyone at home, "We will meet in the next round", or similar forms of disoriented speech. Serious cases include assuming you are a KBC show host and offering every guest four options of drinks or food, using letters a, b, c, and d before naming them.
Treatment: Blowing up the fuse of the TV set is the best treatment. Asking the patient to sleep for at least eight hours a day reduces the symptoms dramatically. Engaging the patient in some socially useful activity may also help, though if he exhibits reluctance to do so, force or threats may be needed.

3. Twitchyfingers: This is completely unlike the itchy finger, where scratching it is enough to cure. What happens to the patient is he treats anything he sees as a mobile phone keypad or a computer keypad, and starts typing on it. If done on a bald head, it can have hilarious consequences for observers, but not for the one with the head.
Treatment: There is no known cure for this, except to try to convince the patient that he is living in the year 1984, when computers and mobile phones did not exist. Giving him a gun may lead him to ape Quick Gun Murugan. Mind it.

4. Tiger Woods Syndrome: This is a delusional state where the patient constantly plays superb golf strokes in the air. Symptoms are similar to those found in the Tendulkar Syndrome and Beckhamitis (except that this affects the foot). He is under the illusion that he is Tiger Woods.
Treatment: The most effective treatment is to take the patient to the woods, and show him a real tiger, uncaged. While running for his life, his health will rapidly return to top form, and after recovery, he may perform well in athletics, at least.

5. Husbanditis: This manifests itself as deafness in BOTH ears when there is mention of any household work, responsibility, etc.
Treatment: This affliction is incurable, once a person becomes a husband. Vaccination through an ‘anti-marriage brainwash vaccine’ is the only preventive measure available.

Girish Karnad's Play

Saw a brilliant performance of Bikhre Bimb, a Hindi adaptation of Girish Karnad's work. In a one act, solo performance, Arundhati Nag conveyed a range of emotions, from ecstacy to jealousy to helplessness. It's about a surprising twist to an acclaimed author's life story. The props used are very intelligent- a TV that carries a spitting image of the actor on stage, talking to her out of the idiot box.

Having seen a play after quite some time, I felt the impact was even better. A sidelight was the presence of Shabana Azmi at the theatre (Ranga Shankara). Bangalore seems to be picking up again as a 'playful' place, judging by audience number and reactions. Long live drama!

English Language

Reading a fascinating book called Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, who usually writes travelogues. What strikes me about him is his meticulous research into facts and anecdotes about diverse people. Reminiscent of Arthur Hailey who in the past wrote about airports, hotels, finance industry etc. in great detail. This book has a lot of interesting observations about English language, its history, evolution, and reasons why it became the force that it is, compared to many other languages.

One important reason for its rapid development in tune with the times is that there is no single custodian of the language, and the second is that English is open to influences and new words from many other languages. The stories of the people who wrote the first few dictionaries of the language (Webster being one of them)are also quite fascinating. One dictionary took almost forty years to compile!

Diwali

I hit a record of sorts by meeting 3 different friends, two old and one new, in the three days this Diwali. I usually shudder to drive in Bangalore (a phobia of sorts) due to the sorry state of the roads and even sorrier driving habits of Bangaloreans. Which is why this is a record.

The feelings evoked by Diwali are however, unique. It brings about the urge to splurge on everything- food, sweets in particular, sparkling diyas, or lights of any kind, consumer goods, etc. I restricted myself to a new music system cum many other things, made by an unheard of Japanese brand. But I am sure I would have bought something else if the holiday had been longer.

Also saw Blue, India's first movie with underwater action occupying a lot of screen time. I thought it was a good attempt at this, and action on the road. Only a flimsy story to take it forward, but the, which Bond movie has a great story? Lara Dutta makes a good Bond-style heroine, though that can't be said about Sanjay Dutt and Akshay, who are poor substitutes for the real thing. Shot in the Bahamas, which I visited long ago, was an added attraction, since we also dived there during our trip.

Bangalore Book Fair

The Bangalore Book Fair is an annual event that hosts publishers from all over. This year's edition is special, however, because pothi.com will have a stall there. What is pothi.com? It is a Print-on-demand (or POD) publisher based in Bangalore. So what, you may ask. They are also the publisher of my autobiography called "My Experiments with Half-truths". That's what makes this year's event special for me. It's from November 6th to 15th.

What makes the POD so attractive to fiction/poetry/non-fiction authors is that the content is entirely under the author's control. So a Michael Moore (whose Stupid White Men had some problems getting published) could use this form of publishing, and so could you or I, unknown authors to begin with, who may never get published any other way. Sales are usually slow, because it is sold online against an order, and the author needs to promote his book (as I am doing now), but there is no pressure on an author to buy a minimum number as with normal self-publishing/printing. It is deeply satisfying, for some reason, to see your thoughts in print even in the age of the internet.

Paulo Coelho and Michael Moore

A brief review of two books I read last weekend.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho is an interesting book. It looks at inmates of a mental asylum in Slovenia (where is that?) and delves into our inhibitions, need to conform to societal norms, and inability to let go. Also, it leaves you wondering if everyone is 'mad' in their own way.

Michael Moore's Stupid White Men is a typical takeoff on George W. Bush, Gore, and all the white men in the U.S. and the world, in general. Very persuasively, Moore argues that the bomb was made by a white man, the internal combustion engine which pollutes our air was made by a white man, people who chucked him out of his jobs were all white men, and ...so on. But the media always portrays the villain as being black men or other non-white men. It's hilariously funny, and also scathing in attacking many holy cows...if Tharoor had done it, he would have been exiled. Rupert Murdoch's company (his US publisher) did try to stop it, but the association of Librarians' raised a stink, until the publisher was forced to publish the book as per their contract.

Two Film Reviews

I saw two movies, the last two days. A quick review.

Quick Gun Murugan is a really nonsensical and enjoyable take on cowboys, Tamil films, corporate shenanigans, and mamis of Mylapore (that's in Chennai), among other things. It's funny by design, and to look for too much logic, structure, and cinematic greatness as in a Shyam Benegal movie would be futile. But for me, it worked. From the lipstick worn by Murugan, to the Zimbly wonderful Locket girl (Lola Kutty in another avatar), Mango Dolly whose item number is better than any of Rakhi Sawant's, to Gunpowder, and Rice Plate Reddy (the villain), it's a bunch of imaginative characters, and the "Mind it"s and "I say"s enhance the masala mix. A great way to entertain yourself, if you dig this sort of stuff. Potential for many sequels too, I think.

The Kite Runner is a good adaptation of the book. Sensitively told tale of cold war politics, meaningless wars, and the bizarre roles of the so-called religious men in destroying an innocent society, aided of course by the greed of the superpowers. The setting is Afghanistan, but it could have been anywhere. South America, Africa, or Asia. Or Europe, which has seen more mayhem this century than the rest of the world put together. The U.S. emerges in this film as a hero, but that's only because Michael Moore did not make the movie.

Reality Shows

Somehow the reality shows have not caught my fancy. What could be the reason? That I am unreal? I cannot vouch for that, and there is a seeming contradiction. If I am unreal, then my vouching for it is as unreal, so it may not matter.

But look at the reality shows that are being lapped up as much as the saas bahu serials were. I look at it this way. If your life is "really" good, then you would be too busy living it, rather than watching TV- real or otherwise. If your life is not really good, then you need to spice it up with entertainment that is far removed from your not-so-good reality. In either case, my analysis shows that reality shows should not have a market. But why do they get watched? Secondly, are they really real? Or is it all a rehearsed drama for the benefit of the producer?

What do I like to watch? Mostly, Travel and Living, the odd comedy show, and the news that sounds a lot like entertainment, what with Advani (sounds like a cousin of Akashvani) looking sad at being asked to retire at eighty something....but I do miss Laloo, who was a true entertainer. Even when he guest lectured at Harvard, or IIMA.

Beauty with Brains

This is triggered by an interview I watched on a TV channel. It featured the actress and director Nandita Das. Not sure how many people have seen her films, but she has starred in a few. I was struck by two things- the impact an upbringing (mainly parents)can have on a person's worldview. Secondly, that beauty and brains can go together, in spite of the dumb blonde jokes that we are all used to. Anyway, she is not blonde, nor fair, but still, beautiful to those who are not "fair-minded", or blinded by fair skin.

She spoke on a range of issues, including live-in relationships, her choice of films and her non-career mindedness as per Bollywood norms. I thought she came across as a balanced, Live-and-let-live kind of person, and more than that, as a genuinely nice person, compared to the many "naatakbaaz" (fake-sounding) people one comes across in large numbers on TV (maybe I have been watching too many financial analysts).

The interview was on DD, so I must also congratulate DD on a good subject for a nice interview.

Unconventional Wisdom

It has become a trend for economists to write mainstream books like Freakonomics. The latest that I read in this genre is one with a misleading title. I will come to the title later, but the book puts forth a lot of unconventional arguments. One is that patents are bad, another is that firemen should keep the assets that they save from a fire, and yet another is that a high population is good for all of humanity. I will not get into the details (I am not sure that I can!), but it is an engaging way to spend your afternoon, or evening, or night to read this book. In general, his argument is that the law of Karma should be applied to situations to decide who gets the incentives and pays for costs of his actions- the doer!

There are some real gems, like "the Labour minister steals from the farmers and business, the Commerce minister steals from the workers and farmers, and the Agricultural minister steals from the workers and business, to benefit their own constituencies- the workers, the businesses, and the farmers, respectively". Of course, in the American context. But he also points out that people in general have benefited from progress only over the last 50-100 years in terms of a rise in income and choices of lifestyle.

A real good observation is that Americans (or Westerners, in general) have no right to lecture third world countries on issues like child labour, because parents of the children can take care of this, and secondly, because American parents also did the same (supported their children working) for survival a couple of hundred years ago.

All in all, an interesting read. The (misleading) title of the book? More Sex is safer sex.

Long lost friends

Suddenly these past two weeks, I have had friends from school and college catching up through mail or Facebook. It is really great to catch up after say, twenty years or thirty years. One schoolmate is a chef, another a businessman, and so on. We are now going to try and revive a school batchmates group from Hyderabad Public School, Ramanthapur.
In any case, we are already planning a 25th reunion of our IIMB batch this year. So the reunion fever is stronger than Swine flu, as far as we are concerned. With most of us having children who are grown up, and very little to occupy the time at the "empty nests", this is one thing we are looking forward to.
Disgruntlement with high pressure corporate life is what I find increasingly among friends and acquaintances, and many are taking ways out by teaching, retiring, or finding other pursuits. Not bad, I would think. At least 25 years later (or Quarter ke baad, as our reunion is teasingly titled), people have figured out what is important to them, and are trying to pursue it, without peer pressure or other pressures influencing them. After all, that's what "success" should be all about.

The Long weekend

The long weekend started off well, with us going to Harihar, a place I worked in for seven years. Thanks to the bungling of the highway construction on NH 4, it takes longer to reach there than it used to seven years ago. But roads in town have improved. With some friends from Kirloskar Institute, we revisited some of our old haunts like Kondajji (a hill with a lake and a camping site), Raj Bhavan restaurant at Davangere nearby, a nice garden restaurant where many weekends were spent. The colony surrounding the institute (of a Kirloskar company called Mysore Kirloskar) has been bought over by an investor, and is in bad shape, though it may be restored or sold off in smaller lots.
Tried a hookah which a friend had brought from Qatar, and enjoyed the fruit flavoured "smoke". The journey back was marred by a blind (not literally) auto driver ramming his auto with us in the back into a mini-truck. Luckily we got away with minor bruises. Came back to a lot of rain in Bangalore.

Pics from Singapore KL and Pattaya

I have finished added captions to my recent Singapore trip album, which you can visit at-

http://picasaweb.google.co.in/rnargundkar/Singapore#

I am new to Picasa and digital photography in general, having grown up on the "grandfatherly" analog cameras using which I was comfortable, but when it comes to instant sharing, I am now a convert to the digital variety. Happy viewing. The same site also contains a couple of older albums from the trips to Udaipur/Jaipur/Amritsar and to Amsterdam.

Ladyboys of Thailand

An entire 90 minute show performed by beautiful (actually better than beautiful, gorgeous-looking) transvestites (ladyboys in local parlance)? I am not joking. You can see it in Pattaya, and unless they tell you, you can't even make out they are transgendered performers. What a brilliant idea to give them dignity in a world that normally forces them to live in disgusting and undignified ways. Hats off! This show, called Alcazar, was a highlight of our two day Pattaya romp. Another was an undersea walk in the shallow sea water on way to Coral Island, an island reached through a thrilling 30 minute ride on a Bond-style speedboat that cuts through the water, front end up at an angle after take-off. The undersea walk needs no training, just wear a helmet (a BIG helmet) that lets you breathe, and a guide takes you for a walk, feeding fish and touching some coral, watching other sea animals floating past you. It beats the Singapore Undersea World any day, though the fish in Singapore are bigger.

Our Thai guide tells me his life story, which like most stories, is about poverty, separation, and need to earn a living. But the important part is, in spite of this, Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, and rightly so. They are charming to visitors, to the point of embarrassment. I think that's why people keep going back to Thailand. Something to learn from them. Though if they could learn more English, they may get better jobs. But who knows? They may lose their humility and become like the Indian touts whom tourists have to encounter.

There was a lady at the reception in the hotel who reminded me of Buddha for some reason-very graceful, and contented looking. A cocktail car (like a minivan, actually) parked in a courtyard of a mall was a lovely spot to unwind after hectic touring. There are also a lot of noisy beer bars and go-go bars that cater to the so-called "nightlife tourist", but this cocktail car was free from distractions.

Their vocabulary being limited, OK, OK, Same Same are commonly used terms. We go to Nong Nooch village and see a cultural show with Thai boxing, songs and dance. The garden is huge, and a bus ride makes us appreciate the diversity of trees- thee is even a Bodhi tree from India. Thais are Buddhist and also do a very nice Namaste like we used to!

There was a restaurant called Bai Bua in our hotel. Funnily, in Marathi, it means a lady (bai) and a guy (Bua). The Bangkok airport- Pattaya highway is flawless, and takes two hours or less to drive 150 kms- tourism friendly like hell. The beach itself is not great, but the water is a light green, blue which looks terrific. The mediterranean has a deep blue, and that looks nice too.

From a marketer's point of view, I found the Alcazar show very instructive. The presentation was power-packed, lot of resources used, editing was tight, not a moment wasted, acts unfolding one after another, each one spectacular, and photography was allowed. Unlike in India, where we guard everything as if it was a nuclear secret, the actors were very participative, and kept mingling with the audience at times, even posing for photos at the end of the show, outside the venue. That's great customer relationship management, and great publicity from these guys talking about it (like I am). Golf tours are also available from Pattaya, all-inclusive and day long to six or seven courses. Hope to go back on one myself.

Pintu goes to Malaysia

The best part of Malaysia is its language. Or words. I was fascinated from the moment I landed in Kuala Lumpur. Salamat Datang is a greeting. Dilarang.....something.. is No Smoking. Teri maa kais hai, or something similar sounding, means 'Thank you'. But the best of them all...a gate is called Pintu. What a fabulous word. Pintu... all the Indian visitors at the airport kept on saying, Pintu this, Pintu that...I am reminded of something that happened in Clemson University a long time ago. I was a student in some course during my Ph.D. My American professor had a habit of asking us a question, and if he got the correct answer, he would shout "Bingo!". One of my classmates, Masoud, was so fascinated, that he would read up before class so he could answer the questions, just to hear the prof. say Bingo! How's that for motivation?

The fascinating words don't stop there. We went to an upmarket commercial and residential are called Bahsong Baru, a Las Vegas and Disneyland combo resort called Genting, and a shopping area called Bukit Bintang. And to top off the musical sounds, their currency is called Ringgit. By the way, at Genting, which is also on a hill, we saw an indoor mall with a meal advertised in a Hong Kong style restaurant. The menu (rather, a big hoarding)on the wall had a full suckling pig meal- reminded me of the wild boar that Obelix and Asterix ate lots of. The magic potion was missing.

Our guide Velu had a lot of style, always wore a batik shirt, and handled us with aplomb. Malaysia is officially Islamic, but a very liberal variety, with bars (though local Malays are supposed to refrain from going there and mostly do), wine shops, and attire ranging from short skirts to the burkha/hijab.

My additional joy (apart from their language, not the short skirts) came from meeting my old classmate from Ph.D. days, who is a visiting professor at Universiti Malaya.

Singha in Singapore

No, actually that is wrong! No Singha beer in Singapore. That's in Thailand. And Tiger beer is from Singapore. Confused? You bet. Price of beer in Thailand? 50 baht-around 70 rupees. Price of coke in Thailand? More than that.

Indian food? No problem. On a banana leaf? No problem. In a restaurant called The Banana Leaf? Again, no problem. Tiger prawn or Chili crab in a Tamil restaurant? Absolutely. A mall like an Octopus spreading its tentacles across three blocks of Singapore? That's Mustapha, a heady combo of an Indian kirana store and the western mall-mania filling eight streets and four or five levels. Big bazaar was (is?) trying to do this in India.

Disciplined or scared of big brother? I could not figure out what Singaporeans really feel. The discipline is awesome, but scary to someone as used to indiscipline (not just from students) as I am. No doubt, Singapore has a lot of man-made beauty and a stupid combo of a lion and fish- wouldn't a mermaid have been more beautiful to look at? Anyways, many questions and no answers.

To end on a high, Singapore has some beautiful restaurants like Riverwalk Tandoor in Clark Quay (pronounced as Key), great public transport, professional and courteous taxi drivers (again a candidate for the Ripley's Believe it or Not), and lots of money floating around (all the banks have tall offices)- at least until the recession struck. Singapore in one word? Unreal!

To buy a car (as expensive as two wives, according to our guide David who looks like Jackie Chan), there is a quota, and you may have to wait a few years. Hamara Bajaj of 1970 was your consultant, maybe? Another thing an Indian cannot understand. Not enough growth in Singapore population, in spite of incentives. Ripley should create a monument to this. Indians would gladly double the world's population, given half the incentive.

The King of Bad Times

I thought I should give some competition to Mr. Vijay Mallya. This is not about beer, but the villains I have watched in Bollywood movies. Who is the best of them all? My vote for the king of bad times is for Ajit, with Pran a close second. Ajit, because he looked so cool, always under control, with a fun element even in the most brutal villainy. Like boiling people in acid baths or electrocuting them or whatever. He also generated jokes that will live with us for a lifetime, some real dialogues and some made up by his fans. Mona and Michael are also immortal, thanks to him.
Pran also was a gentleman villain, usually suave, well-dressed and mostly, well- behaved too. Prem Chopra was a baddie who looked like a leach, Amrish Puri was too loud for my taste, and Manmohan, Sujit Kumar etc. made no impact. Of course, Gabbar's career as a villain was short-lived, though he made a powerful debut in Sholay. Vinod Khanna also played villain in his early days, and so did Shotgun Sinha. I remember in a movie where Shatrughan had some powerful dialogue as villain, the audience even clapped for him against the hero, who was probably Randhir Kapoor.

Cars I Drove Over the Years

Since I am not a zillionaire, these are quite modest and do not include the Ferraris, Mercs and the like, but I just realised that it is an interesting list nevertheless. For example, I started driving at age 18 on a vintage Ford Prefect 1955, which has that old world look, complete with a cranking "handle" to start it like the Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi car, and a floor gear. It also had a footboard on both sides, and we as children used to enjoy standing on it on the drive from the gate to the garage while my father or mother was driving. Great fun!

The next car was a humdrum "Fiat" which was an official car (parents'), which I did not drive much, as it came with a driver. My next one in the US was a giveaway from Alok, my friend who had finished his PhD and bought a new Totota Celica in 1986. His old Datsun (from Nissan)1976 I think, was what I drove for a year. It was a zippy car, by Indian standards, though it had a leaky cylinder which meant one spark plug constantly needed cleaning, much to the amusement of our American friends.

I then bought a 1979 Ford Granada, and we made our first around-the-US yatra in it, going from Clemson to Los Angeles and back. We later made another longer round trip in a similar Ford Lincoln that we hired. The Ford Granada was a luxury car, and was fantastic for long rides, though a gas guzzler compared to the Datsun. But then, petrol was cheap enough for us graduate students to go gallivanting. So we covered around 25 states of the 50 US states in that tri[.

I celebrated my PhD with another used car, a Subaru with a hatchback, station wagon style. This was a great car for its handling, and carrying capacity. We could stuff almost anything, (though we never tried a small elephant, maybe we could have)at the back and we used it for many short trips, including to the Tennessee mountains in Fall season to see the multicoloured leaves.

My first car back in India in 1995 was again a Fiat (Premier Padmini), which I liked a lot for its hand-gears and seating capacity. Six was a comfortable fit. It saw me through Harihar, and my Lucknow days, where I sold it. Next I bought a new car for the first time, the good old Maruti 800. Lasted me 2 years, and I exchanged it for an Esteem when I moved to Bangalore. I drove a lot of the 800, and I drive a lot less of the Esteem, because I am mortally scared of Bangalore traffic. But I did make a couple of trips to Goa and to Salem, and enjoyed the comfort of the ride.

All in all, an interesting bunch of cars.

My Top Ten List

This is Chapter 22 from my autobiography.

My List of Top Tens

Without a list of top tens, anybody’s life would be incomplete. So would mine. To make sure I feel complete, I have made up many top ten lists. Now, I really feel I have achieved something in life. So here we go-

Top Ten Movies (Foreign)

1. The Sound of Music is probably the best movie in this category. I particularly like it for its upbeat ending.

2. In a different genre, I liked The Omen, for its terrifying but understated portrayal of the satanic plans. Even non-believers in Satan were probably scared while watching it.

3. My Fair Lady is a delightful movie, particularly if you like language.

4. Romancing the Stone is a very good movie of its kind, pure fun. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were superb. So was Danny DeVito.

5. The Pink Panther series was hilarious, period. Peter Sellers, the music, the inspector, the French, everything was simply great.

6. Generally I don’t like war movies, but Where Eagles Dare set against the World War backdrop was just too good. Richard Burton’s greatest, maybe.

7. The Mel Brooks movies, Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be, Space Balls, History of the World Part I, Blazing Saddles, are all examples of comic genius at play.

8. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Great Dictator. Classics.

9. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Both Humphrey Bogart films. Both not to be missed.

10. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The comic caper had beautiful locales in the South of France as a bonus.

I enjoy Bond movies too, but they are cinematically not the best, and also follow a typical formula which rarely goes wrong, so I don’t rate them among the best. My favourite Bond is Roger Moore- I also think he was the best looking one. I liked Pierce Brosnan much better in his serial, Remington Steele. I must have watched at least a hundred episodes of that in the U.S. Another T.V. series I liked a lot was ‘Murder, She Wrote’. In India, I rarely watch T.V. shows these days, but some good ones were Hum Paanch, Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai and Laughter Challenge with Ehsaan Qureshi, Naveen Prabhakar (his take as a bar girl speaking to Feroz Khan addressing him as Feroz bhai was one of the best), and Raju Srivastav etc. was a class act, helped along by Shekhar Suman, Navjot Sidhu and of course, the mandatory glam quotient with Parizaad Kola.


Top Ten Movies (Indian)

1. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi- music, masti, Madhubala. Aur kya chahiye? One of Kishore Kumar’s best.
2. Anand- it made an impact in 1970 when I saw it. It makes one even today.
3. Rajnigandha- a great example of how to tell a story. Simply. It also has my favourite Mukesh song- Kai baar yoon hi dekha hai, yeh jo man ki seema rekha hai, man todne lagta hai.
4. Padosan- probably the greatest comedy ever made. So stunningly simple, low-budget and yet, irresistible. Can be watched once every year to drive your blues away. Maybe Mehmood’s best role. Meri pyaari Bindu and the line from it ..mere prem ki naiyya beech bhnwar mein gud-gud gotey khaaye is hilarious.
5. Sholay- everything came together in a great symphony. Not one false stroke. Salim Javed were probably responsible.
6. Chupke Chupke- can language be such fun? Yes, if people like Hrishikesh Mukherjee can have a go at it. Om Prakash got a chance to show his great talent.
7. Shaukeen- 3 old men trying to bed a young damsel? Just for sheer novelty of the plot, this gets my vote. Utpal Dutt was hilarious.
8. Yaadon Ki Baraat- One of the best lost and found stories. The song Chura Liya hain Tumne jo Dil ko, Nazar Nahin Churana Sanam…one of the most romantic songs ever.
9. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro- This movie is so funny, that you can barely stop yourself from rolling in laughter. Om Puri and Satish Shah were great. One of the Satish Shah dialogues (he is the municipal commissioner who has just returned from a foreign tour)- “foreign mein hum dekha….peene ka paani alag, drainage ka paani alag” is an all time great. Another great dialogue- “Aadha khao, aadha phenko- yeh Switzerland ka cake hai”. The idea of using a scene from the Mahabharat for the mayhem in the climax was also superb.
10. Johny Mera Naam- A gorgeous Hema Malini, a debonair Dev Anand, three I.S. Johars, and some wonderful music. Masala movie-making at its best. Jewel Thief is in the same category, but a little long.
11. Maybe I will add another one- Teesri Manzil, to this list. Vijay Anand was one of our best directors, I think. Suspense, comedy, great music and dancing. The term disco had probably not been invented, but “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera” was rocking! So was Helen in the other dance number, “O haseena zulfon wali jaane jahan”.

There are of course, many more which could have made it if it was a top twenty list. But I don’t want to go on and on, like some badly edited Hindi films. As unintended comedies, I’ll vote for all Randhir Kapoor films, and all NTR films in Telugu ending with the name Ramudu, with prefixes like Driver, Adavi, and even Challenge.

Top Ten Songs

Since I don’t listen to English music, this is essentially Hindi music.

1. Yeh dil na hota bechaara- Jewel Thief
2. Are yaar meri, tum bhi ho ghazab…Teen Deviyan
3. Pyaar diwana hota hai mastana hota hai..Kati Patang
4. Chalte Chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna….Chalte Chalte
5. Phoolon ke rang se, dil ki kalam se…Prem Pujari
6. Zindagi, ittefaq hai…Aadmi aur Insaan
7. Ek Chatur Naar…Padosan
8. Hum the woh thi aur samaa rangeen…Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
9. Dil dhhondhta hai phir wahi…Mausam
10. Mehbooba Mehbooba…Sholay

Here again, there are many more that come close. Some recent songs from Gangster, Metro, Raaz, and so on are very good. So are a few more oldies. For example, Aane wala pal from Gol Maal, Tum kitni khoobsoorat ho from Jungle mein Mangal. Seene mein jalan…from Gaman, Musafir hoon yaaron from Parichay, Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai from Guide, Hey maine kasam li…from Tere Mere Sapne, Haal kaisa hai janaab ka from Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Gum hai kisi ke pyar mein..Rampur ka Lakshman, Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa…from Aandhi, Chingari koi bhadke…from Amar Prem, Ai meri zohra jabeen….Waqt, Thandi hawa yeh chandni suhani…Jhumroo, Aa chalke tujhe main lekke chaloon ek aise gagan ke tale…from Door Gagan ki Chhaon Mein, O mere dil ke chain, and Deewana leke aaya hai …both from Mere Jeevan Saathi, Aap ki aankhon mein kuch.. from Ghar, and so on.

Ghazals by Ghulam Ali are another thing I rarely get bored of. He is one of the artistes who I liked even better in a live performance. Hungama hai kyon barpa, Dil mein ek lehar si uthi hai abhi, Kal chaudhvi ki raat thi, shab bhar raha charcha tera, Apni dhun mein rehta hoon, main bhi tere jaisa hoon, …the list is long.

Some Mahendra Kapoor songs are also very good. Neele gagan ke tale, Aankhon mein kayamat ke kaajal, Laakhon hain yahan dilwaale, par pyaar nahin milta. The lines “Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna accha”…from the song that starts “Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayein hum dono” in Gumraah.

Maybe the lady singers need a special mention, though they come behind Kishore Kumar on my list. Some fantastic solo songs by Asha Bhosle include those from Don (yeh mera dil yaar ka deewana), Lootmaar (jab chhaye, mera jaadu), Caravan (piya tu, ab to aaja), Shikaar (parde mein rehne do, parda na uthaao). My Lata Mageshkar list is very short, but some songs are really impressive, like Yeh dil aur unki nigaahon ke saaye (I think from Prem Parbat) and Rajnigandha phool tumhare (from Rajnigandha). Her duets in Aandhi with Kishore Kumar were great, though.

Top Ten Heroines

1. Madhubala
2. Saira Banu
3. Tanuja
4. Kajol
5. Vidya Balan
6. Rekha
7. Moushumi Chatterjee
8. Smita Patil
9. Chitrangada Singh (of Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi)
10. Neetu Singh

Is there any common characteristic in all the above? Maybe that all have a great smile, some sauciness, and a talent for acting their parts well. And at least one great role each. The foreign heroines look very similar, maybe because many of them don’t have too many clothes on. One I liked a lot was Ingrid Bergman. Though I only saw a movie or two of hers, and in Black and White. Of the recent ones, Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge was very good, I think.

Singapore

Singapore, here I come. I never went East, for some reason. Though I have travelled to Europe and the US, somehow an opportunity never came to travel in Asia. I will make up next week with a trip to Malaysia and Singapore with our students who go on a foreign study program as part of their course. Classes at MDI Singapore are clubbed with some sightseeing and cultural exposure. Should be nice to see how people live in other parts of Asia. Unfortunately, we only focus on negatives around, like terror in Pakistan (or from there), fights with China, strife in Lanka and so on. But these and other neighbours must be doing good things occasionally, I am sure. Particularly East Asia and its 'tigers'. Hopefully, will learn a bit about how they did it. Singapore is like a Mumbai suburb, I am told, but its progress has been astounding, to say the least. And the same Bristishers had left their legacy there too. Only, Singapore was smart enough to shake it off and start doing their own thing far before and faster than others.
Yes, and the rains are finally here- late, but life-saving for Karnataka citizens.

Hunger for Water

Almost all reservoirs in Karnataka seem to be running dry. Whether it is El Nino or some other culprit, can we be so dependent on the vagaries of rain? Can we not develop other energy sources for power at least? What use is the millions of engineers we produce if we cannot break out of the clutches of a few mega power plants? In the olden days, we survived reasonably well on firewood and other stuff easily available for our energy needs. It now looks like we need to generate our own power and maybe use our own wells (like we did hundreds of years ago), in spite of a municipality and power company existing to ostensibly do the needful. Why can't we do something about the basic human condition-urban and rural?

I read a book called The Black Swan, which was very interesting, about the effect of major random events and random discoveries on our lives. Basically the author argues that life is highly unpredictable (so is business, and everything else). I am reminded of some quote which said, "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans for something else".

My days at IIMK

Further excerpts from my biography on autopilot- sorry,autobiography.

Chapter 11: Calicut: Lola Kutty Land

There is an old joke about why mallus don’t get the time to work in Kerala. The explanation (according to the joke) is that they are too busy tying and untying their lungi. I presume it refers to the male mallus. But I think it is really unfair. I think the real explanation is that they are too busy teaching people the correct way to pronounce everything. Take the example of Calicut. Such a simple and uncomplicated name. But that would generate major unemployment in the state, because everyone can pronounce it. So, there is an official name change to Kozhikode. Even Vasco Da Gama would have lost his way, had this been done in 1498.

Many people now happily spend hours, or maybe days, educating ignorant foreigners (non- mallus) on how to pronounce Kozhikode. Come to think of it, if a movie can be made about this education, it may beat “My Fair Lady” at the box office.

Jokes apart, one has to admit that Lola Kutty land is a unique place. These are some of its distinguishing features-

1. Almost total absence of any language other than the local
2. Amazingly green landscape
3. Almost zero industrial activity. Only West Bengal and the jungles of Amazon come close.
4. Almost equal split between Hindu, Christian and Muslim population
5. Correlated with above, beef, fish, chicken and pork sausages co-exist peacefully
6. Half the state works in the Middle East and remits money back home

There could be a few more, but these are good enough to illustrate the uniqueness of the state. What happens in the state by way of economic activity is a mystery, because apart from fishing and some tourism, there are few visible signs of anything happening at all. It remains, as the tourist brochures say, “God’s Own country” in terms of nature’s beauty, but whether it can feed the population is a question mark. Probably the incoming dollars (or dinars) make up.

I have one major complaint about the average Malayali. It is that he rarely smiles. It may not matter to his fellow Malayalis, but I was taken aback by the apparent grimness. Maybe my sample was not representative enough, but I am fairly sure this observation is accurate. If it is so, then the reason should be found out, and a correction put in place.

Anyway, I am digressing. I got a job at IIM Kozhikode (whichever way you want to pronounce it) and went there in May 2005. I just managed to beat the monsoon, and fortunately found a landlord who spoke English. He was very nice and helpful throughout our two year stay in his 4 bedroom house. The house had two halls, one on each floor, six coconut trees, one of jackfruit, and a few creepers with pepper pods on them. I really felt like a king.

We had a jet-setting director, who moved around as if he headed yatra.com. He was rarely in town, and we often joked (behind his back) that he spent more time with Jet Airways air hostesses than his own wife. Anyway, he was a true academic in the IIM A mould, and we got along reasonably well. As usual, the marketing area was in the doldrums with only three faculty members and many students (though less than Lucknow). My first six months at Calicut went in writing a new book (my second) on Services Marketing. I also taught the course, and students chipped in with some original case studies (at my insistence, of course) for my book. These became some of its highlights (USPs, or Unique Selling Propositions, for those of you in marketing).

I think I must have inspired some colleagues to write books as well, because all the profs. around published a book in the next year or two (Suma, SSS Kumar, Tapan, Sunil Sahadev are some I can recall). I had always wondered why Indian management faculty did not write enough books. I found the explanation as I later pondered over the question. Writing something-anything- takes 100 times more effort than doing anything else. Maybe the pen is heavier, not just mightier, than the sword. Talking, sleeping, eating or traveling come to us almost naturally, but writing is an acquired taste (like Goat’s cheese or tequila). Many people come out with the weirdest excuses when asked to write anything, even their own CV. A case in point is MBA students. When asked to write a half page CV for a placement brochure, it takes some of them over a month to write it! For their own career!

I made a great new friend at Calicut called Ravi (it’s pronounced Revi, but I won’t go into that). He was a misfit, according to me, in mallu-land. He was open, outgoing, and he laughed a lot. He also played cricket for the local club of which I had become a member. We played an inter club cricket match once, and I enjoyed the nets and the actual game tremendously. We won the match handsomely too.

Ravi was also a cocktail enthusiast, and we spent a lot of time drumming up concoctions with whatever raw material we could find. Many exotic recipes were created and consumed. Feni, orange liquer, Bacardi, and the usual rum, brandy, vodka and gin were some of the liquors used. Pina colada was one of my favourites, and Polly’s Folly (vodka with lime, sliced green chilly and salt).

We went on picnics with him and our families, and I went fishing with him too. A long boat was used, where only one of us could sit at one spot, so we sat one behind the other. We spent a quiet hour or so, and the experience was very soothing.

I conducted a conference along with an American association of marketing educators called NASMEI, and it proved to be a big hit. I was able to outsource the catering and venue arrangements to the local Taj hotel, which helped me to concentrate on the academic aspects. Tapan, my colleague, helped to coordinate the publishing of papers sent, and we published them in two edited volumes just in time for the conference. Gerard Tellis of NASMEI, USA, was very supportive, and got a few international delegates. A unique feature of this conference was that there was no (wasteful) inauguration or valediction ceremony-only working sessions with paper presentations. My director did not appreciate this much, but many participants did.

Casa Marina, where we had a couple of parties, was a beautiful seaside bungalow converted into a restaurant/hotel. It was owned by a German, and managed by a local. A little further up, P.T. Usha had her Academy where she trains girl athletes. A few hours drive up the coast is the town of Cannanore. Nearby, there is a beautiful seaside fort called Bekal. It has a magnificient view of the sea. On the way to Bekal, there is a drive-in beach. It has a tongue-twister of a name, Muzhappilangad. But it resembles the hi-flying Florida beaches in the Miami region, made famous by the partying students in March every year. This beach in Kerala is actually deserted, surprising considering its tourist potential. But we found this in many places in the state, and it probably speaks of lack of entrepreneurial effort. Maybe the entrepreneurs are terrified of the red flags that may greet him.

Another lovely riverside resort in Calicut was Kadavu. This is a half hour drive, and offers luxury rooms, a nice restaurant, and boat rides in typical Kerala houseboats as well as regular motorboats. We took some of our participants from MDPs there for an evening party. Having prawn or fish with a beer in tow, gazing at the river, is a great experience indeed, comparable to some similar feelings one gets in Goa.

One memorable trip I remember from Calicut was to the Coorg area (now called Kodagu). Madikeri is the hill station that is a capital of the district. It is a quaint hill station, and has a very nice, quietening effect on the mind and soul. The only trouble is, the roads leading to it are soul-numbing. We traveled at around five kilometers an hour on some stretches to reach this place. But once there, it was delightful. Clean, reasonably priced, great food and lovely sights.

One new activity that we tried at IIMK was conducting Faculty Development programs. We found there were lots of takers. The reasons are many. Our state run university system leaves many faculty members disoriented and without proper mentors in teaching methods, research and publishing, and more. These gaping holes can be filled through faculty training programmes, where they spend a week or so getting exposed to the best practices at a good B-school, in a non-threatening ambience.

Another great learning experience at IIMK was the high tech distance learning program we had launched. This was delivered to 40 cities in India via VSAT by a company called Hughes Direcway, our technology partner. Students attended these classes on a computer terminal in their own city, with email and voice connectivity to the faculty. These were tremendous ways to bring mobility to education, and all IIMs later followed the lead of IIMK. We even launched a specialized Sales and Marketing program, and that was also a huge success. NIIT and Reliance later entered the fray as technology providers to some of the later entrants.

We also did a consulting project for Cochin Refineries on branding their petrol retailing efforts. This went down the tube, because the company was soon after merged with BPCL, ruling out any question of independent branding of its retail products. Mysterious are the ways some of our public sector companies work! Anyway, it was good to interact with all the officials of the refinery. We (my colleague Tapan and I) also found time to see ‘Hum Tum’ starring Saif and Rani (said to be a desi version of When Harry Met Sally) in a Cochin theatre during a visit.

The monsoons in Kerala drive everything, it appears. Every Keralite worth his/her salt carries an umbrella all the time, maybe as a reminder that the rain god is just around the corner, and can open up in all his glory at any time. The buses in this communist dominated state are mostly privately run, and so is the case in Kolkata, another place with similar political inclinations. In other capitalistic states, the state transport is much more active. I once asked a friend about this contradiction, and his explanation was “They (the government) swallow all the money, and there is nothing left to run the buses with”. Don’t know if that’s the correct one, but it is an explanation.

A major difficulty (and a peculiar one) that I faced in Calicut was with regard to student projects. Being a strong advocate of student work right from my own student days, I came across a brick wall when my market research students came and told me that locals did not speak much English (if any), and therefore could not understand many of the questions in a typical (MBA generated) questionnaire. So we had to think of strategies like questions that had monosyllabic answers, and so on. But then, some of these problems occur in rural areas too, if you are trying to do research there. Graphics (figures etc. ) are better understood, and simple words without jargon are appropriate for these situations. Anyway, these were learnings for everyone.

I also went with a student on a placement promotion trip to Mumbai, and that was another useful experience. We went to most of the big banks and a few consulting and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods, like toilet soaps and toothpastes) companies. It was nice to see mostly positive reactions from many of the potential recruiters. Though students took care of the logistics and nitty gritty of the placement process, I think the faculty visits gave them some moral support.

During my days at IIMK, a controversy broke out between the HRD ministry and the IIMs regarding fees to be charged from the MBA students. The ministry was trying to dictate the fees and IIMs were resisting this assault on their autonomy. The following piece was inspired by this tug-of-war. The then minister was Murli Manohar Joshi.

Murli Meets Mughal-e-Azam

Murli was visiting IIM Delhi, trying to convert the institute’s logo into a colour recognised by all- saffron. His logic was impeccable, but he came up with an unforeseen obstacle. The Great Mughal, who happened to be the Chairman of IIMD’s board. This is how their conversation went.

Murli: Hamein Bharat ki sanskriti ki raksha karni hai. Is liye naye electives ki khoj karni padegi… jaise ki…murli bajakar bakriyon ko Manage karna.

Mughal-e-Azam: Hamari saltanat mein …hamara matlab hai hamari Institute mein yeh gustakhi karne ki jurrat karne wale aap kaun hote hain? Kya bhed-bakriyon ko manage karne wale multi-million dollars ki Securities Transactions ko manage kar sakenge?

Murli: Kyon nahin? Kya Praacheen kaal mein Krishna Bhagwan ne Dwarka mein raj nahin kiya tha? Aur apni madhur murli ki dhun se gopiyon ko bhi mantramugdh kar diya tha! Management aur gopiyon ka madhur sangam…nahin nahin..mera matlab hai Mangement aur bakriyon ka…nahin nahin…

Mughal-e-Azam (interrupting)…Saleeeem……roko ise. Is shakhsiat se hamein bachao. Chalo, hum mughal raj ki tauheen aur bardaasht nahin kar sakte. Hum is Institute ke Chairmanship se istifa dete hain.

Murli: Ek aur baat sunte jaiye, jahan panah. Is institute ka logo ab saffron yane bhagwe rang ka hoga, kyonki Bharat ki pavitra dharti par aur koi rang aam janta ko itna pasand nahin hai.

M-e-A: Nahin…hamaari aakhri saans chalne tak hum yeh nahin hone denge. Is mulk ki…matlab Institute ki Autonomy ko hum thes nahin pahunchne denge.

Murli: Magar ye logo to Ministry ki den hai…ise badalna hi hoga….

FADE …..to strains of hindi song…LOGO, na maro ise, yahi to mera…

My IIMB Student Years

The Bangalore Years (1982-84) at IIMB

What happens to anyone who goes to an IIM is that his life changes forever. It is a unique environment, where you are forced to do many new things. The residential setup with a cosmopolitan crowd-urban, rural, northern, eastern, western, southern, young, old and so on …the diversity is amazing. The only other place I got to see this kind of diversity was in the U.S. university I went to later on. All the assumptions that you have about yourself have to be re-evaluated, in general, when you land up at such a place.

To balance the cosmopolitan students and faculty, we had a totally rural ambience of Bilekahalli where IIMB was located. We were the first inhabitants of this new campus, and faced the music in many ways. No street lights-actually, no streets in the beginning, a makeshift mess of a dining room in a shed, no computers (that was not the IIM’s fault, there weren’t any in India then), no sports facilities except open spaces, and so on. Looking back, we didn’t mind it one bit. This is worth thinking about, in the context of material greed that overcomes many of us who graduate from there, from about the time placement season starts. Is material wealth correlated with happiness? I don’t know.

The atmosphere in the classes ranged from electric and ecstatic to bored and tuned out- depending on who taught and how they taught. The processes and the autonomy of using different methods of teaching (trying to teach?) were truly world class, and in some cases, superior to those I found in the U.S. later. For example, the system of doing course projects in every marketing course was the best thing to happen to us armchair engineers!

The first term, we did a project on estimating demand for mopeds (the dinosaurial equivalents of today’s Scooty). Off we went to meet dealers of Luna (the market leader then) and TVS mopeds in Bangalore. We were three in the group, and did not have the faintest idea of how to do this project. But amazingly, at the end of the term, we knew a lot more than at the beginning. Learning somehow happens when the responsibility shifts to the learner. In the next term, we again had a project, and this time we decided to estimate the demand for HDPE (plastic) carry bags in various applications. This also turned out to be a great learning experience, going into dusty streets to find sellers, ask them how many they sold, where they were used and so on, and try and put together this weird set of estimates into one whole figure. We might have been wrong by miles like any bad astrologer, but still we learnt a lot!

There was also my first exposure to the subject we called OB-Organizational Behaviour. I realized how much there was to learn about human beings, including myself, after going through that course. It was of course, the professor (S.K. Roy) who made it so awesome, and that spurred me on to take a few more courses in the area- and each of them lived up to my expectations. This was not always the case in other areas. I hated the finance courses, and could barely keep awake in some of them. There was a very good Indian Economy course (by Prof. Indira Rajaraman), where, for the first time, I could appreciate macroeconomics and India’s economic data- which were not so great at that point, though!

Some of the marketing courses were good too, particularly advertising where a lot of ad agency guys guest-lectured with their snazzy presentations, and they inspired me to get into advertising as my campus job later on. Industrial marketing (Prof. Thiru) was well taught, with a lot of case studies. The exams were a mix of different types. One I remember particularly well was a take home exam in Org. Behaviour, where we were given a set of statements (10, maybe) and we had to agree with them or disagree with them, with justification. I had to really rack my brains and refer to a lot of books to answer that exam (the copy and paste facility did not exist then). Far more than for many closed book ones. Later in life at Clemson, I would encounter a microeconomics prof., who gave us Agree or Disagree type questions for an entire exam.

The most boring was a course on Energy Modeling, where 99 percent of the people slept through all the classes. The system of electives and registration was new to those of us who came from the university system, but it felt nice to have a choice. Also, the CGPA system seemed fairer than the marks system to me. The relative grading kept everyone on their toes, because even if you were good, others who were better could pull your grade down.

An interesting thing happened somewhere in term 2 at IIM. I started writing under a pseudonym ‘Observer’, about small events like sports (the few that we could manage to play) on the notice board at the hostel, and found these pieces had a wide readership (later, it became our official wall mag –we called it Mural). So I expanded into areas like film reviews and jokes (PJs), along with Dash, my co-editor of the IIM magazine, and we became a rage. Some movies we reviewed those days included Mawaali, the Jeetendra-Sreedevi potboiler. In one of the movies we saw (at the now non-existent Drive-in theatre to which we usually rode on a bicycle), Shakti Kapoor played a character whose name was ‘Khoya Khoya Attache’! The movie was called Inquilab, and starred the Big B. Takeoffs on faculty were quite routine in these articles, and a new dimension was added when we discovered a guy in our batch-Vijayaraghavan, or Vijjy- who could draw cartoons. We had one cartoon of students being “ground” in a grinder by Prof Apte in his Economics course, another of Prof Jagadish looking in a mirror asking “who is the fairest of them all?” and so on. Serious comments also happened on events at times, but the dominant theme was humour.

We also had the unique tradition of coining nicknames for everyone. These were usually (not always) anglicized versions of our original names- Gunds for me, Paddy for Padmanabhan, Jockey for Narayan Das ( now a Harvard prof.) and the graphic ‘Toote Chappal Gande Paon’ for V.K. Ravi (a market research honcho and golfer today). We also had nicknames for faculty. Rajan (who was called ROI or Rajan of India) was very creative, and coined many of these. Among the ones that stuck was Cadbury, for a prof. who resembled the butler in Richie Rich comics. One prof. was also named Lothar, after the Mandrake comics character.

An institution at IIM campus was Uncle (with of course an aunty in tow)- who had a chai and bonda shop on campus. That was the place where evenings were spent reminiscing on the day’s happenings, or what was wrong with the system, or the world, or your grades, etc. all the time through our two years. The sweet couple (Uncle and Aunty) who spoke only Kannada (I think), and many of us who didn’t, communicated perfectly. When I later read Gerald Durrell’s book “My Family and Other Animals”, I could relate to his Greek communication- Kannada was Greek to us, literally, in those days.

Another institution was Naffy-the dog. He was named after the famous concept of the Need for Affiliation (n-Aff). He was the campus pet, and could be found everywhere. Rumours had it that he attended classes more regularly than some students. There was also, briefly , a monkey on campus-thanks to Fred, an exchange student from France, who carried one along. It was seen on the shoulders of some guys regularly, and even acted in a play staged on campus! I think it delivered some jungle mail to the Phantom, played by Snail wearing a VIP underwear on top of a pair of jeans for the right effect.

The cultural activities were truly some of the highlights of our stay at IIMB. We staged a play called “Waiting for Lefty” and I got to act in a lead role for the first time. My co-lead was Rose, and the other major pair was Ali and Navneeta. Harish Chaudhury (now an IITD prof.) directed the play. Many new talents were discovered in the three or four other roles in the play. There were other acts that brought the house down, like some Tamil song and dance acts, and a theme song, “Mere Dil Ka Quarter Kar Lo Occupy” sung by Hemant and Kishore Kelekar, incorporating many of the famous personalities like JD Singh, our beloved marketing prof, and many others.

The sports scene picked up after an innovation that our batch can be credited with. One of us had a Frisbee lying with us, and it was not too common in India those days. Someone came up with the bright idea of playing Frisbee Footer, a combo of Rugby and Frisbee. It had passing, and goals and so on, with a goalkeeper to prevent the goals. It spread like crazy, and we even had tournaments of Frisbee Footer.

There were also people who played Bridge all their waking hours, and I occasionally joined in. The lights used to go out fairly frequently (we were in rural Bangalore), and that used to be the occasion for the singers to take over. Our block had Deepak (Todo) who was particularly good, and we could listen to world class music at our doorstep. Our seniors also had a rock band, which played fairly good Elvis and other numbers, but they stayed in the city, and we interacted infrequently.

Gopal Bhat and his favourite song “Ek Chatur Naar” from Padosan was the highlight of many culturals. He was very comfortable with the classical part sung by Manna Dey (for Mehmood in the movie) in the song. He later also sang a ghazal equally well, along with Deepika for a program on All India Radio that I compered.

The wall mag was christened Mural, and we (Dash and I) also produced two issues of a print magazine we called IIMBIBE (Dash was Bibhuti Bhushan Dash, my partner-in-crime, rather, my co-editor). This was again a wonderful experience, with some classic articles written by Snail, Rajan of India, and others. I contributed one on Godliness and 100 percent attendance, arguing that the IIM policy on 100 percent attendance was designed to create godliness among us, because only god would be able to meet such tough norms. The letters to the editor column was also a highlight. We faked them, for the first issue itself, in the names of various classmates and faculty. If “bestsellers” can get endorsements/plugs before they are published, we thought we could write letters to the editors of an unpublished mag. Dash and I are in the pic below.


The second issue of the magazine, we decided to be different. We made it a faculty special, and started chasing the professors who we thought could contribute. It was again a learning experience. We discovered talent in unexpected places. Prof. AK Rao, who taught a very “dry” subject (Operations Research) according to students, came out with one of the funniest pieces.
Dr. Gopal Valecha who taught us organizational behaviour, described very engagingly his experiences at Ohio University. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed this issue as well. We, the editors, had the joy of chasing the profs for their articles, instead of their chasing us for assignments. Vijayaraghavan’s cartoon (which showed a donkey chewing up our magazine and exclaiming- ‘it’s very tasty’) adorned the IIMBIBE cover. This guy is himself a prof. at XLRI now.

There were of course, many dark moments at IIMB as well. A couple of student colleagues could not make the academic cutoffs, and had to leave half way. Two more died in road accidents, making one wonder if our pathetic road conditions were responsible. One was a bizarre case, involving almost everyone in the campus in a search. Puneet, pillion riding on a bike, disappeared after an accident close to the campus. A search along the road proved futile. His body was fished out of a nearby lake a few days later, leading to many theories about the events surrounding his death. That left many of us in shock for a while. Salve was the other colleague who died after his bike crashed into a pole in the city.

The summer project at IIMB was a veritable feast for me, as I liked to travel. This three-month project had me touring the whole of Kerala, parts of West Bengal including Siliguri and Darjeeling, and the eastern parts of Assam near Tinsukia. I had to cover the plywood manufacturers, assessing demand for some cutting tools like saw blades made of tungsten carbide. The Bangalore based company which I worked for was very professional, and treated us trainees well.

I encountered a lot of very nice and helpful people during my visit to the North-east. They were a lot more laid back and friendly compared to the typical rushed corporate executives that I encountered elsewhere. The natural beauty of the parts of Assam that I saw was amazing, but I suppose there were underlying economic issues that erupt in violent agitation from time to time. In fact, one of the worst massacres at Nellie had taken place just before my visit.

The tuition fee at IIMB those days was Rs. 1500 for a year, payable in three instalments. Of course, parental salaries were also down to earth, matching the fee. Even our own nominal salaries after we finished (not corrected for time value and inflation) were a pittance compared to what fresh MBAs make today.

One of the nice things I think I did at IIMB was doing group photo shoots of all classmates. I had to borrow a camera from Siraj to do it, and used colour film for the first time. To keep the group size manageable, I invited people block-wise, and floor-wise. Those pictures are today priceless! One funny thing about the pictures was that they cost Rs. 5 per print in 1984. Even today, they cost about the same. But today, there are fewer labs that deliver within the hour!

The year book, IIMPRESSIONS, was the last thing I worked on at IIMB, with Dash for company. We decided to go for a zodiac sign based format. All guys and girls of a zodiac sign were clubbed together with an introduction to the section, and people who knew them well were commissioned secretly to do the writing of the individual pieces on each. Zany and irreverent, complete with nicknames and mugshots (some of them have to be seen to be believed), it was the biggest blockbuster, with students who did not get it begging for copies months later! It was printed at an obscure letter press (not even an offset press), but that did not diminish its appeal.

We collected data for the year book through a questionnaire called Pakad Baees (Catch 22 translated into Hindi). Another innovation that the year book contained was the use of ads (rather, tag lines from ads) to attach to specific people in our batch. Like the Charms slogan, ‘Charms is the spirit of freedom. Charms is the Way you are’- applied to Chasha. Or a paint company’s line- ‘In a world of changing values, some things stand apart’, for Himanshu Manglik, changed to ‘In a world of corporate mediocrity, some things stand apart’. Or, Raymond’s “A guide to the well-dressed male” applied to Ravikumar. Or, “Whenever you think of colour, think of Siraj”, borrowed from Jenson and Nicholson. Another cigarette ad went, “Smoothness was never so satisfying”, and it fit Lingaraju perfectly. He was the smooth operator of our batch, in many ways.

A book that impressed me during my IIM days was Ogilvy on Advertising. I bought a copy, and read it many times. I still feel it is one of the best books of all times on marketing in general, and advertising and promotion in particular. The man knew how to market himself and his ideas! Proof that I read it.

I appeared for placement interviews with 3 or 4 ad agencies, and was selected by Living Media (India Today group publishers) for their agency, New Horizons, in Delhi. I had a meeting with Aroon Purie, their editor-founder, during the interview process, and I was impressed. India Today in the eighties was as reputed as TIME in the U.S. I remember that a copy of India Today was enough to bribe your way into some media houses and sundry other places. Even people who did not understand English used to keep a copy of the magazine on their table, just to appear “intelligent”.

I worked as an account executive/client liaison executive in the ad agency. We did regular ads for India Today, some for a city magazine called Bombay (now defunct), and the original designs for Computer World magazine that they were launching. An NID graduate was doing the design and page layout, and the first editor was a “techie” from Hyderabad. We also did ads for Appu Ghar, India’s first amusement park that came up at Pragati Maidan. It was Indira Gandhi who had given this name to the park, overruling the more westernized Disneyland type names that the promoters had wanted. The park was a big hit, and we got to see the rides at close quarters before they opened.

I changed residences once in Delhi, going from a “barsaati” in Defence colony to an apartment in Vasant Vihar. What shocked me was the price of food and accommodation in Delhi. I spent half my princely salary on the room, and the rest (almost) on food. Of course, they were interesting days. I took some time adjusting to the severe cold in winters, and used a room heater for the first time in my life. My two classmates, Venky, and Gobish (Gautam Biswas), were my room-mates, and we shared a lot of work-related stories. Venky worked for Maruti which had just set up shop in India, and was trying to get vendors to supply some parts. In 1984, Indian vendors were neither used to supplying quality, nor quantity. So it was an uphill battle for him and others in a similar responsibility. This was the first time I realized how difficult it is to buy something, even for a company.

One horrific experience at Delhi was the riots after Indira Gandhi was killed. Just because her killer was a Sikh, mobs in Delhi went around killing any Sikh they could find. I was horrified that such a thing could happen in the so-called civilized world. Many years later, the same horror story repeated after the Godhra train incident in Gujarat, where Hindu mobs went around torching innocent Muslims. We remain animals in many ways, and the veneer of civilization and sophistication is quite thin, is my only conclusion. But good governance can minimize the damage is still my belief.

During my stint with New Horizons, I had a first hand experience of industrial photography, which was really boring. People photography or landscape photography I used to enjoy, but this was something else. I also had occasion to visit Thomson Press, one of the most technologically advanced (it was a part of India Today group) printing outfits in India. It had computerized machinery in days before the PC came to corporates.

Within a year, I felt I was stagnating at my job (the bane of all MBAs, ad guys, and now IT guys in India as well), and went back to Bangalore to look for a job. I landed one in a company founded by three IIMA batchmates. The company was called Marketing and Business Associates (MBA again!) and was into marketing research. This is how my tryst with M.R. began, and lasts to this day. I found the job intellectually stimulating compared with my earlier one, and it also helped that I got to tour Ooty on one of my first assignments. I managed to do a decent job there, without speaking a word of Tamil, extracting info from potato farmers and tea garden managers for my client’s product, a micronutrient for plants that was sprayed on to the leaves.

My next major assignment was for WIPRO consumer , trying to figure out which ingredient customers would prefer in their toilet soap-Tulsi, coconut oil, or something else. Another was for readymade chapatis (heat and eat) in Mumbai, and for a fabric softener. Fabric softener was an idea ahead of its time, because not many had a washing machine in 1985. I used my first fabric softener in the U.S. a year later!

Another interesting research project I worked on was for BHEL, who had a Flue Gas Desulphuriser (FGD), costing about a crore rupees, and wanted to assess demand. So I went to a lot of industries which emit sulphur gases, and delicately extracted their pollution data. This was slightly difficult at times, and led to trips to the hinterland in many cases. But networking usually helped, and the IIM buddies usually helped in many ways. Like at Vizag, I was able to stay with Nandu Jr., a classmate, and got VIP connections in a couple of companies through his dad! This guy is now a marketing prof. in the U.S. We also were neighbours in G Block at IIM.

The marketing research industry was advertising’s poor cousin (probably still is) in terms of spending by clients, but for a person working in it, probably worth its weight in gold. Where else can you interact with the consumer of different products and services on a regular basis, gaining insight into how their minds work? I was posted at Mumbai, and one of the memorable experiences I had was of working with HDFC as a client. Indian companies those days did not have a customer-friendly culture, but HDFC seemed like an exception to me. Watching how customers were treated by their staff was a revelation.

My Encounters with Anopheles

The following is some stuff I wrote and won an award for-

My Encounters with Anopheles


I have tried to explore the meaning of what I do in my own way. Part of that exploration was through this series in which I converse with Anopheles, the female mosquito who bites.


A mosquito buzzed into my bedroom. I was sleepless anyway, so I started a conversation.

“Where are you from?” I asked.
“From the drain on Street No. 6,” the mosquito replied.

"Do you always have to travel this far for dinner?"
"Not really, but I go for quality food. So I don't really mind."

"Tell me something. Is it necessary for you to suck the blood of human beings to survive? Can't you find some other food?"

The mosquito looked surprised. "The human body has 6 litres of blood on an average. What's a drop or two for you?"

I replied, "Our sleep is disturbed, for one. And, of course, your bite is, quite literally, A PAIN."

"Do you really need so much sleep? Why don't you remain awake and think about things?" the mosquito enquired.

"Like what?" I asked.

"You asked me why I had to draw blood from humans. Have you ever thought about why you slaughter all those animals you use as food? And plants, roots and fruits. Aren't they life forms too? At least, we don't totally kill or destroy you. All we do is take a drop of blood, and go. Is that so objectionable? " the mosquito looked at me questioningly.

That forced me to lie awake and think about the exaggerated notions of the superiority of humankind, before I finally fell asleep- after firmly tucking in the mosquito net.



Episode 2

My bedroom was abuzz. Once again, the same mosquito was with me. I learnt from her this time that she was named Anopheles. After a Greek mosquito goddess. We continued our conversation.

"What do you live for?" I asked.

"For a lot of things. For family, friends and society. And for myself, to enjoy life as much as I can. To realise my potential for doing good." It was amazing to find a mosquito telling me things which I thought only humans were capable of thinking about.

"You told me last time you lived in a drain,” I said. "Do mosquitoes always live in drains?"

"Of course not. Some have palatial accommodation. Lakes, ponds, tanks, …even buckets. Depends on what you can afford. And what lifestyle you aspire to have. But if you have grown up in a drain, it is very difficult to migrate to the lakes. You see, they have a different way of life out there. And they look down upon us."

This sounded suspiciously like the GREAT CLASS DIVIDE, and I ventured to ask, "But aren't all mosquitoes born equal?"

She gave me one of those looks. "Are all humans born equal?"
Without waiting for my answer, she went on, "Then why do you think we are?"

After a pause, she added, "There was this reformer, a couple of decades ago, called FULL MARX. He tried to change things so that all mosquitoes would be on par socially and economically. He painted his revolutionary ideas on walls in his own blood. He called the series "MOS KAPITAL".

"What happened then?" I asked, with great interest.

"Nothing. He went the way of all revolutionaries. His ideas were too idealistic. The mosquitoes who became powerful wanted to keep the power at all costs, and succeeded. The dreams of a classless society evaporated quickly. Life became worse than before. So his ideas were abandoned, and we are back to the earlier system." On that sombre note, Anopheles waved me goodbye and sailed away silently.

Episode 3

Anopheles was back with a buzz (and not a bang). Our conversation this time veered around to education. I happened to mention to her that I was a marketing professor, and was surprised to learn from Anopheles that mosquitoes also have schools.

"How much have you studied?" I enquired of her.

"Not a whole lot, I'm afraid," she replied. "You see, I have a large family to support. And I am the sole BLOOD WINNER. That leaves hardly any time to study. But I do attend some short courses from time to time, to keep myself up to date," she added.

"May I ask what these courses teach?" I was curious.

“Oh, this and that. Some are practical, like the one I attended last week, called ‘Stinging Least to Draw the Most Blood,’ which essentially taught me how to increase the efficiency of a sting. Then there was another called ‘How to Minimise the Danger of Human Attacks’. Some of them are for fun, like ‘Floating in the Air’ and ‘Swinging From a Single Hair’, or ‘Training Your Young Ones to Play Hide n' Seek in Keyholes’.”

"What are the objectives of your formal education system?" I asked her.

"That every little one should grow up to be a good, honest, useful mosquito," she replied without hesitation.

"To what extent is the objective achieved?" I wanted to know.

"A lot depends on the students themselves. Some are motivated and do well for themselves. Others sleepwalk through their classes and remain unaffected. Yet others put their 'learning' to mischievous uses, and become blots on the mosquito-landscape."

"Sounds very familiar," I muttered. "Anyway, let's change the topic. What do you do for recreation?"

"We create buzzwords. That is our major leisure activity," she informed me.

"What do you mean?” I couldn't fathom this one.

"Just what I said. We have individual events, in which each of us buzzes a new buzz. If the panel of judges feels it is original, we enter the final round. The best new buzzword (an accepted new Buzz is called a buzzword) gets a prize. We also have team events, where a team can work together to create new buzzwords. It's a lot of fun."
Anopheles proceeded to demonstrate a new buzzword she had just made up, by flapping her wings musically. "Do you have buzzwords too?” She asked me.

"Yes," I replied. "But in our case, the objective is different. We create buzzwords so that we can confuse novices (sometimes non-novices too), and then charge them money to clear their confusion. For example, take the buzzword "Corporate Restructuring". Till date, nobody has been able to figure out what it means. The process of explaining what it means has spawned an entire industry - called Management Consultancy." On that note, I bade her goodbye, and settled down to some well-earned respite from a 'buzzy' day.

Episode 4

My winged friend sailed into my room once more. “What’s on your mind?” I asked her.

“Oh, nothing.” But quickly, she was out of her self-imposed silence. “Tell me, if humans are so smart, why aren’t they happy?”

This was an unexpected googly- a doosra. I tried to counter with a lecture on the longings of all human beings to be one with the supreme being, and their quest for real happiness, but I didn’t sound convincing to myself. As I had thought, my arguments were instantly rebuffed.

“What are the major differences between your life and mine?” Anopheles asked pointedly. I had to think hard. “You fly, and I don’t,” I tried.

“Come on, now. Next you will say that you are big and I am small, and that you can read a book and I can’t. Is that all?”

That got me thinking about why we as a human race existed, and all I could think of was the violence, the greed, the crime, the grime and the filth most human beings encounter in their lives. Most of our instincts and higher abilities did not seem to be put to the common good at all.

“I agree we seem to be spending too much time on wars over oil and ideology, …” I stuttered.

“So do animals, over territory or other egoistic pursuits,” she said.

“But we do have a lot of saints who show us the path, and lead righteous lives,” I added.

“How many did you have in the last hundred years?” she asked innocently.

I counted up to four, and gave up. She sensed my discomfort, and changed the subject.

“OK, let’s talk about the subject of parents setting an example to their children. What do you tell your child to look forward to in life?”

“A job with Infosys,” I joked. I could see a frown of non-understanding on Anopheles’ face (or so I thought).

“That is one of our fastest growing companies,” I added.

“Will that make your child happy?” This was getting tougher than I had imagined.

“I think so,” but I was only half serious about this whole thing. “The only two things ‘happening’ in a child’s life are admission to an engineering college and a job in Infosys after that, it seems,” I continued. “And I don’t know if that’s such a good thing.”

“What do children who join this great company do?” her curiosity was aroused.

“Write some kind of programs- instructions for making computers work”, I said.

“So the homo sapiens want to spend a lifetime writing programs to make the dumb machines work?” I had to agree it sounded ludicrous when it was put like that.

“Well, we also have the BPO sector,” I said.

“And what do young people do there?” she wanted to know.

“Hmm..they answer phone calls, make sales calls, fill out forms dictated by someone across the world, decide whether some applicant should be sold insurance or not, and a million other things.”

“And we thought our life was mundane,” Anopheles could not resist this one.

It was time for me to get into the questioning mode. “Tell me, do you have religions?” I asked her.

“Yes, we do.”

“How many Gods do you have?”

“Oh, lots. We keep imagining as many as we want.” Sounded familiar.

“How do you handle religious extremism?” I was curious to know.

“What is religious extremism?” she asked. I could not believe this.

“Don’t you have people…uh, mosquitoes who want to destroy mosquitoes following another religion, or at least banish them, or something?” I asked.

“Not really, we are very liberal. Our policy is to live and let live.”

“And ours, live and let die,” I muttered, inspired by James Bond.

I was getting late for office, and excused myself. “We’ll meet another time,” I told Anopheles, “and continue our tete a tete.”

THE END

Autobiography Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Relatives Unlimited

I started believing in God after counting the number of relatives I had. Like him, they are omnipresent, and infinite. Unlike him, they are visible. I have benefited from this plethora of relations in many ways. Wherever I went, I would have an aunt or a cousin or a nephew to stay with. For example, I stayed with a nephew, Suren, at IIT Delhi’s Aravalli hostel when I went for an interview with the India Today group in 1984. Countless times, I stayed with various cousins and aunts in Mumbai, Pune, Baroda, Indore, Nagpur and so on. This continued even in the U.S., where we visited New York and stayed with a cousin. Niagara Falls, yet another cousin. And so on. Right now, I have relatives (and friends) in so many places in the U.S. that it seems like a second home, though I have been away for almost two decades.

Excess of relatives in one place can be a bit of a problem, though. I remember when I got married, both our families were in Pune. It was a competitive brood of relatives on both sides who fought for our attention, and wanted to feed us (lunch or dinner, no less). So we used to go on a Pune darshan every other day whenever we visited. This happened to a smaller degree on one of our trips to Nagpur, as we had a lot of friends there.

Hyderabad is another city where we have a few relatives, all of whom are impossible to see in a weekend. So we ration out our visits. We visit relatives A and B at one time, and C and D the next time. I like this system, because it reduces everybody’s stress levels. That must be the reason why our government was such a great advocate of rationing- they did it for 45 years after independence. It took a sardar (Dr. Singh) to do the unthinkable, and break free from supply side constraints. We still do it in education, putting all kinds of restrictions (like whether to teach in English or Kannada) on schools, colleges, and even the IIMs (they cannot decide whether to go to Singapore or New Mumbai without some joker in the central government bureaucracy/ministry giving them their blessings).

Kolkata is probably the only large city where no known relatives (mine) exist. Maybe that’s because Bongs won’t let them survive. I have nothing against Bongs, but it is somewhat difficult to live in Kolkata for too long unless you were born there. I have actually visited Kolkata several times, and liked the place. Particularly the way commies co-exist with “dirty” capitalists and do everything that capitalists do, without batting an eyelid. Talking, rather than doing, is a national pastime, and probably Bongs are just a little better at it than the rest of us. If words could be converted into electricity, we would not have a power cut in our lifetime. Another good thing about Bongs is their zest for gulping down whisky. Smoking too, seems a passion, and it probably goes well with discussions about Karl Marx, but I would not call it a good thing.

Anyway, I am digressing. Back to relatives. My mother had six sisters and a brother. Each of these had several offspring, and ancestors through marriage, and so on. Our summer vacations were spent remembering the names of these assorted relatives of various sizes, ages and shapes. My brother had mugged up some names in the form of tables that he constructed, like we memorize maths/number tables.

Whenever a cousin was to get married, up until the early eighties, we all used to take off and reach the venue in large numbers. Reservations were unheard of in small towns, and so we did not wait for one. Roughed it out, spent many nights sitting on trunks (metal suitcases) in train corridors, dodging, bribing and begging Ticket Examiners. It seems almost impossible that we can pull it off today. Of course, the options today have increased manifold, particularly the flight options. I am not sure if the urge to travel remains at the old levels, though.

Most cousins of my age group today are in their forties and fifties, but strangely, we still meet in a fairly regular way, and also have a group on the net that we communicate on. Maybe this reduces the need to physically run around. Technology has its uses, even if Nero Wolfe disagrees.

My parents were quite progressive, and did not really mollycoddle me in any way, that I remember. I find that I became fairly independent minded in boarding school, which I joined in seventh standard. Though the atmosphere there was strict, it taught you to do many things on your own. In college, hostel life also forced me to structure my time independent of anyone’s advice, and again that was a great help. I feel those who stayed at home all the time may have missed out on the independence, bacause parents normally tend to take too many decisions on behalf of their children, more often than not.

Relatives came in all sizes and shapes and attitudes, so that gave me a wide exposure to different personality types. From a strict-looking household of my senior most aunt, where a lot of religious activity was a part of daily routine, to the almost anarchic lifestyles of some cousins, I saw it all. In fact, we may have a record for marriages of all kinds among our generation. We have a cousin who is married to a Parsee, another to a German, one to an American, and a nephew to a Pole (a girl from Poland, I mean). Intercaste marriages within India have been fairly commonplace among our cousins as well. All in all, we have a mini-Bharat in our conclaves.

Naturally, our food habits are all mixed up as well, as colourful and diverse as all the different areas we come from/have lived in. From burgers and pizzas to Puranpoli and idli-vada, we have it all. We enjoy almost every foodstuff known to mankind. Or at least, we have tried it a couple of times. Of course, it is a bit difficult to like German bread, but maybe it’s an acquired taste.

There have been an awful lot of teachers in my family, and I hope that is not the cause of our nation’s intellectual decline. But my grandfather (mom’s side) was a professor of philosophy in the days when it was a respectable subject. Abstract maybe, but respectable. Management had not made its mark as an academic discipline yet. But strangely, in our generation, my brother, sister and I, all gravitated to the management field for either an MBA or Ph.D.

My Name is Anthony Gonsalves

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