The Curious Case of Ken Jolly

No, this is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery or an Agatha Christie whodunit. It is a friend who renamed himself Ken Jolly. The story begins around 40 years ago in the coal mining towns of Kothagudem, and Ramagundam. We were kids then, and had a lot of older friends. Kiran was one among them, his full name being Kiran Kenjale. He completed his engineering from VRCE (now called VNIT) at Nagpur and went to Texas Tech at Lubbock in the U.S. for his Masters. But what he did after that was amazing (to me at least). He figured out that he did not want to be an engineer, that he could maximise what he wanted out of life by becoming a real estate broker.

Why a real estate broker? Because according to him, it required minmal skills and got maximum returns in terms of brokerage fees. And a lifestyle that allowed him to take long or short breaks from work to travel and experience things that most of us only dream about through our entire lives. He has probably been to every continent and more countries than I can even remember. He has done bungee-jumping, taken cruises in Alaska, and visited Rio several times.

I think it's also a tribute to his market-orientation that he changed his name from Kiran Kenjale to Ken Jolly because it made it easy for customers to remember it, and give him their business. As a marketing professor, I think that is sheer genius! He came visiting yesterday to IMT Nagpur with his wife Neena, and we had a good time meeting up after a long time. His brother Prakash Kenjale was a sort of legend at TCS, where he worked a long time, and in a curious turn of fate, TCS is here today for campus recruitments. Amen!

Zorba the Greek- Part 2

I can't resist a follow-up to my first blog on this book. I just finished reading it, and before I forget, I need to put on record that it is one of the finest books in any genre that I have read. And I have lost count of the number of books that I have read. Must be at least a thousand. But such an easy flow of words, with almost no story in a stereotypical sense, the book has so much to say.

Of course, what you get from it is up to you, the reader. But the attitude towards life, God, The Devil, man, woman, man-woman relationships, war, nationhood, killings in whatever name, the emptiness of bookish learning, the author traverses all this and more in the span of a single book. It's breathtaking in scope of what is covered, yet breathtakingly simple in its narrative. It will be one of my all-time favourites. If for nothing else, I'll remember 2010 for my discovery of this treasure-house of wisdom.

Reunion Season

There are two things which invariably happen in December, year after year. Some academic conferences. And reunions. And so it was that I had a few of both. I met many batchmates of my Osmania Engineering college at a Hyderabad club on Dec 21st. Lot of warm memories were shared and a champagne bottle or two emptied. These gatherings are special, as anyone who's had one will tell you, as you see some people after years, and you still connect with most.

Next, we had two roommates of mine also from Hyderabad, who shared an apartment in the US for around 3 years, meeting up. A Paradise (hotel) biryani was in order, and so it was had.

Went to Chennai for a conference, and ran into a few IIMB batchmates who play golf at the Gymkhana Golf Club which happens to be surrounded by the Race Course track. An unusual setup, and we played golf at daybreak. Met some ex-colleagues, and one of my PhD student at the conference. Also met an old IIML student at Chennai (from 2001-2003).

Back at Hyderabad, rounded off with a meeting with two ex-Kirloskar Institute students- one of whom is an entrepreneur and another, a movie actress! And there is a family outing planned for New Year's eve weekend yet to happen!

Knowing your Onions

Today, more than at any other time in the history of mankind, it has become critical that you know your onions. And tomatoes. And vegetables.Because like India's crisis in 1991 which forced us to take some gold to the IMF and get some cash in return, the onion seems ready to take households to the brink.

I am an unabashed onion fan. I have been eating them since I was a kid. I get irritated if there are no onions in my plate at mealtimes. I ate onions by the dozens in my engineering college mess, as that was the only unlimited item on our plates, apart from rice and sambar. I used to cut onions and tomatoes for our lunch table even after I got married-that speaks volumes about the extent of my love of onions.

I am sure the onion farmers must be smiling, and onion traders and other hoarders must be having a belly laugh right now, but us, poor eaters, are close to tears, even when we are not cutting the onions up. This is gross "be-insaafi", as Gabbar would have put it. A modern version of Sholay might actually have an episode about the great onion robbery instead of the train robbery sequence.

Academics could write about 'the great onion theory of governance' about collapse of governments caused by the humble onion, because a couple of governments did actually take a tumble when prices sky-rocketed in the past. Here's hoping we don't get to that stage! Happy munching!

Year-end Oranges

People suffer from blues of various kinds. I 'suffer' from Oranges. You may well ask, "What are the oranges?" and I would reply, "the positive form of the blues" Well, OK, the colour is inspired by the fact that I happen to live in the orange city, but any other bright colour would do just as well. What I mean is that positive energy flows through me at the end of the year. Not to make new year resolutions, but to keep doing something new all the time.

For instance, write blogs. Unless I do something, I don't have anything to write about. The easiest thing to do, for me at least, is to read something. Of course, you may not agree. But I also do things like attend conferences (which peak at the end of the year, incidentally or coincidentally). Or write books, though that has slowed down the last year or two. Or watch movies, or occasionally, TV shows.

I was watching a TV show yesterday, called the Zee TV Rishtey Awards or some such. Z was the pioneer among private TV channels in India around 18 years ago, and were celebrating, with all the early stars like Navneet Nishan of Tara, and Neena Gupta and Alok Nath of many other serials. There was a nice takeoff on Dabangg, by one of the comedians on stage. Also a pretty good take on the various rishtey in one's life. The good part was that each act was about 2 minutes long- in other words, well within tolerance limits. Hindi films could do with such editing!

India Goes Global

It is no secret that Indians have been doing well in the U.S. universities for many years now. But it is now becoming very obvious that U.S. universities want to engage with India in a big way- if the Foreign Universities Bill finds its way, maybe through setting up a few campuses here as well.

I am at a conference organised by a newly formed Academy of Indian Marketing at Delhi. Some global biggies of Indian academia abroad are here, including Jagadish Sheth of the famous Howard Sheth model in Consumer Behaviour, and many things including research on CRM since. Also here is Rajan Varadarajan, an immensely prolific academic researcher and journal editor, and many others.

But what is remarkable is that the Academy of Marketing, USA is also here and intends supporting this association in some of its initiatives. So is the Marketing Science institute of the U.S. These are the big names in the business of academia, and it signals that India is arriving in some ways. There will be increasing opportunities for Indian academicians in India to do their bit, publish their work with original research done here, write cases and so on.

A depressing statistic though is that the number of Indians applying to the U.S. for Ph.D in management or marketing has dropped over the years. Korea and China have taken the lead by a large margin. Anyone listening? We need a lot of good Ph.D.s.

Zorba The Greek

I am presently reading this book. I don't know yet how it ends, but I think that's not the point of this book. Sometimes, an author or a poet hits on something that does not have a formula, or a stereotyped structure, and yet manages to keep you glued to the written word. This is one such book-a rare one, if I may say so.

This is the story of a vagabond Greek, narrated by his companion-cum-boss, who travels to Crete and tries to get a project going, and among other things, runs a lignite/coal mine with local workers. But again, that is not the point. The story is just an excuse for the author's larger ruminations about the purpose of life, men, women, relationships, the existence (or otherwise) of God, the Buddha (yes, that's a recurring reference point).

The other thing is that the tale seems timeless. I have no idea when it was written, and it seems to matter little. Again, a rare thing. I have not heard of this author or whether he wrote anything else in his life, but I think this book alone is worth at least ten. Hats off to this guy, whose name is still Greek to me!

By the way, when I visited Greece once, I was struck by how similar they were to Indians. Maybe I have a soft corner for these guys.

Leadership Challenges

There was an interesting question I faced at a training program yesterday. My subject was leadership, and the question asked by one of the participants was "Why was Sachin Tendulkar unsuccessful as a captain of the cricket team?"

This made me think (on my feet), but the answer is that different skills are required when you have to get work done from a set of people, compared to doing the job yourself. It is easy for Tendulkar to set himself standards, and use rewards or punishment for himself and get runs, or field well, but getting ten others to do the same was not his forte.

In many cases, leaders take things too personally, and it may start affecting them. For instance, a batsman may stop batting well, or a bowler may not bowl well, because he is made captain. The same may happen in the corporate world, where a great salesman may make a lousy sales manager, and also stop selling, due to his administrative responsibilities.It is probably possible to orient a person taking up a leadership role about what it is that needs to be different.

The setting of priorities, and putting the right people (out of those available or recruitable) on the right job are two other things that a leader should be good at. A personal sense of mission is desirable in what a leader wants to achieve in a 2-3 year time-frame. You may want to call it a vision for people in the organisation, because that is what makes an organization go around. A clear vision and clarity on limitations of his role make a leader better.

Revisiting Chitchor and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi

I saw these two films again, last weekend. Movingly told, Chitchor is a film you can probably watch many times, just for its music. All four songs are world class. So is the acting, without much theatrics, or excessive drama, and the sets are just any small village or town you can find anywhere. But you connect instantly with all the characters, including the village postman, the kid accompanying Zarina Wahab, and Amol Palekar, the straight-talking overseer mistaken for his boss. AK Hangal and Deena Pathak are very believable too.

Chalti Ka naam Gaadi is brilliant comedy with all the three crazy brothers -Ashok, Kishore and Anoop Kumar outdoing each other. Madhubala has a great role too, and some excellent songs and dances. The movie is peppy, vibrant, and full of life, with the suave KN Singh providing the evil foil. The ending could have been trimmed a bit, but it's an almost perfect antidote for any blues. Mohan Choti also has a great role and takes part in a very nice song and dance routine. The line from that song, "Mannu, tera hua, ab mera kya hoga?" is an all time classic.

Red Indian Wisdom

The Indian Way of Life

An old Indian Chief sat in his hut on the reservation, smoking a ceremonial pipe and eyeing two U.S. government officials sent to interview him.

"Chief Two Eagles," asked one official, "you have observed the white man for 90 years. You've seen his wars and his material wealth. You've seen his progress, and the damage he's done."

The chief nodded in agreement.

The official continued, "Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?"

The chief stared at the government officials for over a minute and then calmly replied, "When white man found the land, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, plenty beaver, women did all the work, medicine man free, Indian man spent all day hunting and fishing, all night having sex..."

Then the chief leaned back and smiled....
"Only white man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that."

Hyderabadi Finally Gets It

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