Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Praying for success

Religion is a big part of people's lives in India and it is truly integrated into their daily lives. Folks are constantly seeeking divine intervention in their daily lives in order to make good things happen such as pass an examination, get promoted, find a bride/groom, get well from sickness etc.

We reached a key milestone in our business and were moving into a critical stage with a customer. A pooja (prayer) was scheduled in order to pray for the success of the operation and the eventual growth and prosperity of the business (and major stakeholders such as myself). It was the first time that I participated in such a ritual and I found it to be quite fascinating.

We had two pujaries (priests) perform the pooja. One of the rooms in the office was converted to a pooja room for this occasion. There were pictures of various Hindu gods and goddesses with special focus on Lord Ganesa (eliminator of obstacles) and Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth). The pooja included the chanting of holy verses with occasional offerings of flowers and fruits to a small idol. Key elements of nature (wind, water and fire) are integrated in this ceremony as well. Wind drives away evil, water cleanses the environment and fire provides the light necessary for you to see your way.

How effective is this? Check back in about six months.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A truly "International" Experience

I am in Zurich attending the 2-day the 17th World Newspaper Advertising Conference and Expo and am blown away at the global-ness of this event. It is truly one of the most unique conferences I have attended in my life. Over 500 participants from 65 countries are in attendance including is a large delegation from India. The presentations and Q&A were in four or five different languages. There are over a dozen translators here that are translating the proceedings in real-time. Sophisticated headsets and audio controls enable participants to select the language of their choice.

What is most interesting is the the common nature of the challenges and opportunities that all participants face in their respective businesses. Almost everyone is talking about the impact of media convergence on the future of newspapers and new opportunities in the multi-media space. The forum is a really great example of a truly global platform for shared learnings and interconnectedness.

And on a personal note, it is great to be back in Zurich. The place has brought back fond memories. Mona and I were here in 1992 on our honeymoon!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ground Floor

Floors in a building in India are numbered differently than those in the US. Ground floor is labeled as floor 0 here while we are used to referring to it as the first floor. Trivial issue, you say? After hitting the button for floor 1 for the nth time (when I really wanted to go to floor 0), I realized how painful this transition to the alternate numbering scheme can be. In general, elevators here move at about a third of the speed of their US counterparts. Same thing is true for the speed at which doors open and shut. Secondly, there is a continuous traffic of people in and out of residential buildings, which means that the elevator will make several stops before reaching your target floor. Of course, it does not help that we live on the top floor in our building.

So having the elevator stop at one extra stop (floor 1) can be VERY PAINFUL. Especially when you are rushing the kids to school or charging off to an important meeting.

On the other hand, if you look at it technically, this numbering system does make logical sense. The ground floor ought to be considered 0 and the basement -1. But then if I am on the 13th floor, am I really 14 floors high?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Madam Chief of Staff

Having a good life in India depends heavily on the quality and effectiveness of domestic help. And just so you get the proper perspective on this, domestic help consists of the following:

- Driver (daily from 8am-9pm)
- Maid 1 (daily/morning - housecleaning)
- Maid 2 (daily/evening - dishwashing and miscellaneous cleaning)
- Milk/Newspaper delivery (daily/morning)
- DVD delivery (occassional/as needed)
- Cooking Gas delivery (occassional, as needed)
- Laundry pickup/delivery (occassional, as needed)
- Miscellaneous (general home care and errands)

As you can see, managing domestic staff is not an easy affair and I am excited to announce that Mona has effectively transitioned into the role of the Chief of Staff in our household. After getting early training managing the staff at the guest house in January, she comfortably eased into this new role as we moved into our new place. I am very impressed with her negotiation and resource management skills although she needs to work on her patience. Managing half a dozen people daily to get your home running and operating smoothly is quite a feat! And I am glad that she is the one doing it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The mCommerce boom

Mobile Commerce is big in India! And no, I am not talking about purchasing movie tickets, books, music etc. using your mobile phones. I am referring to the thriving hawker industry in the country that caters to the consumer on the go. I have never seen the quantity and range of stuff available for you to buy while you wait patiently in your car waiting at the traffic signal for the light to turn green.

Major street intersections in Bangalore (and most major cities in India) are like an open air mall. As you stop at a red light, street vendors make their approach towards you. These guys sell everything from cell phone chargers and sun shades for your car windows to toys, magazines, cleaning rags, towels etc. This open market is aligned with trends and seasons. For example, on January 26th (Republic day of India), everyone was selling Indian flags of various types and sizes on the streets.

The hawkers themselves are young and old, men and women. Business starts as rush hour begins in Bangalore (around 9am) and ends when the traffic starts to wind down (around 9pm). These folks are hard working, persistent and resilient! They appear magically as soon as your car stops at a traffic signal. They present their merchandise in an entertaining fashion and transact quickly.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Urulu Seve" - a unique form of protest

There has been a simmering conflict between the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the distribution of water from the Cauvery river for several years. A tribunal was set up to analyze the situation and deliver a verdict regarding water allocation to the states that depend on the river. Last week the tribunal issues a verdict which favored the state of Tamil Nadu.

Bangalore was tense and security measures were put in place for riot control. The day the verdict came out, schools and offices shut down early and folks hurried back to the safety of their homes in anticipation of trouble in the city. Malls and buildings covered themselves with large safety nets to protect themselves from a potential hail of rocks and stones. Tens of thousands of police and security personnel were deployed in various parts of the city. I was one of the last guys to leave the office and it was amazing to see the city and the roads reasonably empty.

Things seemed to be under control and no major rioting took place. But protests and debate continues. A bandh (the city shuts down) was declared for today but has been postponed to Monday because there is a prestigious air show in progress. The most fascinating form of protest was conducted by Mr. Narayana Gowda, the leader of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (political party). He performed "urulu seve"! This involves people rolling on the ground over quite a distance for some time. I am attaching a photo for those who are having a hard time getting a visual on this!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Wanted: Brides and Grooms

The matrimonial ads in the Sunday Times are an interesting read. No, there has not been a change in my marital status. I am still very much in love with and devoted to my wife. But I like to read these ads because I believe that they provide a good reflection on current social and cultural trends in a country.

There are over four full pages of matrimonial classifieds in the Sunday Times – over 600 ads! Ads are split evenly for prospective brides and grooms and are organized in the following categories: Caste, Community, Language, Religion, Profession and Nationality. There is a special category for NRIs (Non-Resident Indians).

Top three characteristics being sought for brides? Fair, tall and slim.
For grooms? Professional, well qualified and well placed (in a good job!).

Most ads are placed by the parents or close relatives. Ads placed by men or on their behalf are typically larger and use highlights such as color, borders, special fonts etc. This might indicate that men are having a bit more difficulty in finding mates than women.

Here’s my favorite one among the lot:

Tall, Fair, Athletic 35 years,
looks younger independently settled
30 Lacs annually
seeks independent & educated Como girl.
Caste no bar.