Sunday, 27 March 2011

The titanic struggle

This blogger is extremely bleary eyed and prickly these days. Nocturnal slumber is not coming easy. No, we are not afflicted with the weighty travails of modern business ; we are letting younger and more energetic men and women shoulder such onerous responsibilities. (Notice the royal "we" ; high praise by this blogger in the last post has completely gone into the head ! ) No affliction of the body either. And yet, repose eludes. The villain is a certain creature that God created to inflict misery on man.

When confronted with this creature, pressing matters of the business world fly out of the window. Affairs of the state be damned. All concentration is on the futile act of achieving extermination of this malevolent species. This blog therefore takes a holiday from business until this emergency can be tackled.

You see, the business world has already got well into the class warfare of man against this torturer. First came coils that emitted smoke, which presumably the creature did not like. But smoky bedrooms, however romantic, do not necessarily aid slumber. So the industry graduated to mats which you heat on a contraption they provide. This apparently fooled the creature into believing you are not there. For a time this worked. But then Rajalakshmi - she of the gargantuan proportions - cannot easily fool somebody into believing that she does not exist. Meanwhile the businessmen moved on to "more improved", "new" and "revolutionary" products. You see they like to dilute everything with water if they can. So they started selling liquids that could also be heated on a special contraption and could drive away the menace. You can get them lavender scented, pine scented, lemon fresh, strawberry coloured etc etc. They might be very attractive to human sensibilities, but the blasted creature is least intimidated and merrily continues to torture unsuspecting human beings.

Experienced hands know that there are two types. There is the silent operator who you don't discover until an unbearable itch signals that the enemy has come and gone. Then there is the other type who has musical tendencies and decides to give you a full rendition of the octave. While music is always welcome, its not so pleasant in the hours when the body is weary, especially if such music is rendered two inches from your nose. Both are now merrily eluding all of human invention designed to keep them at bay. So what do I do ?

I've been through the entire gamut of solids and liquids, but my resident enemy simply laughs them away. Some creams and potions have also been prescribed, but other than a repulsive smell , do little good (discerning readers may note that all cream and potions, of whatever variety and sold for whatever reason to the gullible female of the species, achieve precisely the same result !) Sympathisers have assured me that in summer, these creatures vanish ; but then its rather hot in Bangalore these days and the taps have gone dry and yet our tormentor seems to be alive and kicking.

Advanced experts have prescribed body armour (otherwise called the net) as the only foolproof solution. But then the enemy wishes to join inside the armour. If you look rather closely, you might notice an unathletic man trying to contort himself into the body armour without allowing the oppressor in ; and failing spectacularly !

A kindly soul has attempted to comfort me that the singular attraction the scoundrel seems to have for me is simply because I'm "sweet"! While that did wonders for the soul, it does precious little for the body. The suffering continues.

I call upon the youth of the world to unite. Onwards to battle stations. To a war, even more important than Afghanistan, although both share the same trouble of being unwinnable. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender (with due apologies to Winston Churchill) !

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tag is what you make it

Something is happening in the blogworld. The female species which loves to start tags asking such earth shattering questions as "What are you wearing" seems to have vanished. No tags have been floating around for a year or so now - presumably the undying curiosity as to what you are wearing has been satiated. The holiday has now been broken by a tag from the star blogger cum author cum artist Preeti in this post of hers. No choice but to pick it up and as usual twist it to suit an allegedly business blog.

The rules , I am obliged to post, are

  1. The tag has three parts..Movies,Music, Books/ Authors
  2. Write a movie, book and author with each alphabet of your first name. The book, movie or song should be one that you really liked. If you say why it matters to you, it would be great! We will all discover new songs, movies and books this way.
  3. Tag as many people as there are letters in your name. (if your name has 4 letters, you have to tag 4 people and so on)
  4. Mention that the tag originated here and link back to this post :-)
  5. Copy paste these rules :)

Here goes. (sorry Preeti there's no way I can manage the alphabets of my name, but at least there are 6 choices each). All choices are from the 1900s, in keeping with my "image"!!

Movies :

In the business world, movies are the ads - there's a famous definition that every advertising type is a failed movie maker ! Here are six ads that came to mind (no apologies for the retro feel !)

1. Liril : The ad that came in the late seventies is probably the best ad of all time in India. It simply took the country by storm, when it hit the air. The ad was so successful that Levers paid Karen Lunel not to model ever for any other brand - she'll forever be the Liril girl. Remember, those days there wasn't much TV and the ad was aired in movie halls. It has reputedly been seen more times than Sholay !! See the ad here

2. Rasna : If you are from a certain generation, Ankita Jhaveri was a household name. I love you Rasna, or atleast, everybody loved Ankita. Ad's here.

3. Lalitaji : Never liked this ad, but it sold a million cases of washing powder. The lady in the ad, I'd run a million miles from. This is the ad.

4. Amul : Not a TV ad, but this series of hoardings has been going on for some 35 years. Brilliant and everybody in India has seen them. All the gems can be seen here.

5. Apple's 1984 : The ad that launched the Mac in 1984. One of the all time great ads. Watch it here.

6. Ericsson : An old Ericsson mobile phone ad that was the rage at that time. Shows how you can hook a viewer even in 30 seconds. See it here.

Music
:

There are some ad jingles that stay in your mind for years. Here are a few of them.

1. British Airways : The jingle that was from Yanni's Aria. Listen to the ad here. Brilliant tune that helped set one of the greatest commercials of all time. To see the whole rendition of the Aria by Yanni click here. - it is beautiful music.

2. Close Up - The incredible jingle by Walter Navarro - come a little closer baby , smile for me. It was used on the radio in India in the 70s - has me humming it even now. Don't miss this song here.

3. Nirma : The jingle that pitted a David (Nirma) against the Goliath (Levers). The jingle was mainly on the radio those days, but ran as the music for Nirma ads for 20 years. Its here.

4. Gold Spot : Very catchy jingle. See the ad and hear the jingle it here.

5. Nescafe : Come Alive Come Alive Come alive with Nescafe. I can hum the jingle even now , but I simply can't find it anywhere on the Net. A radio jingle from the 70s or early 80s I think.

6. Benazir Bhutto : The famous zong, teer bijan, is actually a commercial made by the Pakistan People's Party for the 1988 elections. Great song. The video is eminently forgettable but the song is brilliant . Watch it here.


Books :

Business books are usually boring pedantic stuff and entirely unreadable. They are usually bought to be displayed, but rarely read. There are a few however that are very nice and that I have actually read ! Six of them are

1. Parkinson's Law : Absolutely brilliant. Small book of only 100 odd pages written long long ago. Incredibly humorous and a must read.

2. Barbarians at the Gate : The story of the 1980s takeover of RJR Nabisco. Told like a fiction novel. You can't put this book down.

3. Punjabi Saga : The trilogy that Prakash Tandon, the first Indian Chairman of Levers wrote. Its an autobiography, but is a fascinating insight into Punjabi Society as well as business. Beautiful book , especially for anybody who has worked in Levers.

4. Who moved my cheese : Again a short slim book that powerfully brought home the message about change.

5. In Search of Excellence : An all time classic by Tom Peters.

6. Control your destiny or someone else will : The unofficial GE leadership handbook that's based on Jack Welch.


In keeping with my usual practice, I won;t tage anybody by name, but all you folks out there - Gils. Zeno, Sandhya, RamMmm, Vishal, Hema, AJCL, ..... , pick it up if you want to. If you do, go to Preeti's post to pick up the true tag - not the improvisation I have done here.

Phew. That took a lot of doing. Blessed with a short name, it was still difficult. Imagine the plight of somebody named Ramasubramaniahariharasubramaniathathachariar !!

Need a strong cuppa ......

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Beware bloggers; Ramamritham is after you


Readers of this blog are familiar with the mythical Ramamritham - the ubiquitous bureaucrat who frames awful rules and procedures. You can refresh your familiarity with this character here . Frequently this pest merely frames irritating rules that makes lives miserable, but rarely does he do direct harm. But this time he has outdone himself with his mischief and and is now proving to be a real menace. I am referring to the amendments he has proposed to the Indian IT Act, blandly named as the Draft Rule under Section 79 (nobody accused Ramamritham of possessing imagination)

Strip away the legalese and the implications are this
  • the government can shut down any website, including blogs, for the vaguest of reasons
  • Bloggers are responsible to censor reader comments ; if somebody comments inappropriately, its the blogger's problem
  • Intermediaries have to do due diligence on all user material. So presumably the ISP should shut you off if you show your finger to Ramamritham
  • Only an idiot will open a cyber cafe - the risks are simply not worth it.
Government censorship of the Internet is a worldwide problem. Regimes are struggling with how to tame the beast which they seldom understand. The ubiquity and speed of the net is something that is deeply unsettling. Hence this problem of censorship, which is creeping all over the world.

India's justification with censorship of the net started with terrorism. Because terrorists use the internet, it has to be policed, went the logic. It then extended to pornography. Clothed under such "laudable" aims, Ramamritham, in his trademark style has completely gone overboard. Consider the rules he is framing for cybercafes for example.
  • A cyber cafe has to obtain a special license (neta babu raj is back)
  • He must keep a hard and soft copy of log of all users in a prescribed format and must submit monthly returns to the licensing agency of all the websites that each user went to !!!
  • Partitions in the cafe cannot exceed 4.5 feet in height (presumably so that Ramamritham can peer and see if the user is looking at dirty pictures)
  • All screens of computers shall face outwards; so that they can be easily seen by others
  • Police inspectors are authorised to come and inspect whether these rules are being followed (we all know what that means in India)

I haven't made all these up - these are in the Draft Rules. If you don't believe me you can read the bland document here. No wonder you rarely see any reasonable standard internet cafe in India.

The real danger to bloggers is this - if you offend the powers that be, they now have the legal right to hound you. Its no good to say that these powers are meant to be used only to block terrorism or incitement to hatred. The fact that these powers exist means that they will be misused. The history of Ramamritham indicates that he cannot resist using a power he has.

The right way in a democracy to stop this is to lobby your elected representative so that the bill is defeated in the parliament. Fat chance. Imagine a reasoned debate between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azhagiri on the need to protect individual liberty. So we can only, but moan, in forums such as these.

I though I had returned back from China. Evidently, I haven't. Perhaps the only really "safe" place to go is to that blessed land where the First Amendment is guarded with unbelievable diligence and vigour. Meanwhile, dear readers, do me a favour. Please preface every comment of yours with " The Government of India is next only to God; Hail Ramamritham ; More power to him ". You'll help keep me out of jail. Thank you !

PS - For a more reasoned and less frivolous reporting of the issue go here and here
PPS - Disclaimer - Ramamritham is entirely mythical and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely accidental !

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The farewell

It was his D Day. The day when he was to retire from his company. Precisely 25 years ago he had joined as a wide eyed young boy, to become a salesman. Coincidentally, on his first day in office, there was a farewell for a retiring colleague that day. There was a huge crowd. Speaker after speaker came up and extolled the virtues of the retiring man. A huge gift was presented. Many photos were taken. A few tears were shed too. The young man looked on in awe. His boss to be, nudged him and said, "Remember this young man; when its your time to retire from the company you should have done well enough to deserve a function like this ".

The young man started in all earnest the next day. He worked hard and learnt fast.Some days were good; others bad. He traveled many a kilometer, slept in many a strange bed, sold a million cases. The years flew by. After a decade or so he was promoted as a supervisor. He was proud as a parrot that he got promoted. He worked even harder. Nurtured dozens of young men who started out, just like he had , years ago. More years flew by. And suddenly, one fine day, he realised he had turned fifty. And had just completed 25 years in the company.

On that birthday, his wife nagged him to take a day's leave. So at home he stayed. That's why when the postman came, he was there to receive the letter in person. The letter from the company that said that , being fifty, he was being offered Voluntary Retirement. Could he please accept it and come to the office on the 31st of that month so that they could give him a farewell.

What choice did he have ? Its was a young man's world. There wasn't a place for the over 50s. He had to accept. Came that fateful day. He wended his way to the office. He remembered his first day when he had witnessed that grand farewell, all those years ago. Now, it was his turn. With a wistful sigh he went in.

Of course, nobody recognised him. Whoever recognises a sales guy from the field ? The pretty young thing at the reception made a face at this rather unsophisticated fellow who had come. When he said that he had come for his farewell, he was ushered into a room. And told to wait. The Branch Manager was busy on a call and would be late.

He waited and waited and waited. All alone. At long last, somebody came to fetch him. There were 15 people in the hall. He didn't recognise a soul. Most of the office had gone home - who was after all interested in the farewell for an old foggy, whom they had never even seen before. The Branch Manager came rushing in - he was a yuppy. MBA from somewhere. He loudly proclaimed, "Lets get this thing started. We need to finish fast as I have to get into another meeting ".

The Manager made a speech. Some 3 minutes or so. Of how the company was built by people such as the one to retire. He hadn't remembered his name. So he said - "this man". They had forgotten to get him his farewell gift. The HR type whispered in his ear - could he come after a week to collect it please. They had been very busy these days. Then came the dreaded moment. When he was invited to "say a few words".

You see , he had prepared his retirement speech very carefully. He had written and rewritten it some 10 times. Of how this was a great company. Of how he owed his entire life to the organisation. He wanted to talk about the good old days. He wanted to say why its values and caring were the reason he had stuck on for so long. He wanted to narrate the incident on his own first day. He wanted to tell the young people, how they could carry on his legacy and make the company even greater. He had even written a quote from the Gita to round off his speech.

When his moment came, however, he looked rather sadly around the room. The crowd had whittled down to 9 - a few had left to catch the bus. One was talking on the mobile; another was texting away. He folded his speech and put it back into his pocket. Instead he just thanked everybody for coming, of how much it meant to him and wished them all well. They came around to shake his hand and patted his back. Somebody thrust a cup of coffee in his hand. And in a few minutes everybody had left. He was alone in the room again.

He slowly made his way to the exit. All alone. A stoop had come to his shoulders. His thoughts were far away. His step was a tad slower, minus his customary spring. He paused for a moment at the door. A single tear dropped down on to the floor.

The itsy bitsy spider

Businesses have to anticipate and plan for all sorts of eventualities. A business continuity plan for an ebola outbreak or a response to gang warfare in the Niger delta may raise an eyebrow as to the extremes businesses go. But surely, planning a national response to an itsy bitsy spider takes the cake. And yet this is precisely what Mazda is discovering it ought to have done in the US of A.

The problem is this. Apparently a common spider called yellow sac spider has taken a distinct liking for Mazda cars. Or more precisely, the rubber hoses that are connected to the fuel tank. The spiders being rather fond of a long siesta during day time, find the inside of a tube the perfect place for somnolence in the hours of light. For some reason, the Mazda car tubes seem a superior choice to a Chevy tube, for instance.This apparently can lead to pressurisation or ventilation problems and in extreme cases could also crack the gas tank. So, Mazda has a problem on its hands.

Reportedly 20 such instances of "arachnid infestation" have been reported (surely a candidate for the Nonsense English award). Enough is enough. Mazda is having to recall 65,000 vehicles in the US for an investigation as to whether an eviction of the resident yellow sac spider is required.

Accusations are flying thick and fast. Mazda says these spiders have got in at the owner's garages. Some owners (and no doubt lawyers drooling on the prospect of a class action suit) are stating that they got in at Mazda's warehouse. Dealers who have to check these vehicles are figuring out what insurance they can take for the eventuality that some technician or the other may be bitten by one irate spider not amused by its summary eviction from its house. Mazda is no doubt issuing such pearls of wisdom as "Beware of spider before opening the car".

Meanwhile researchers are having a field day. They are getting their kicks researching why this spider has taken a liking to only the V6 Mazda, And not to any other model or any other brand. Some may deduce that the spider has a great taste in choosing cars - someday Mazda might even feature an ad that its car is the favourite of not only homo sapines, but other species as well.

Meanwhile Mazda is presumably busy trying to appoint a "Chief Entomology Officer". Anybody fancies this new job, which also carries the CEO tag ???

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