Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just Did It in India?

At the turn of the millennium, an obscure small budget film, Hyderabad Blues, that was more home video than motion picture took India by storm and announced the arrival of its talented director Nagesh Kukunoor. Coming from a stable middle class Telugu family, he took the obvious route and became an engineer. Then Nagesh went to realize the Hyderabadi dream of working the ‘States’ in an IT firm. However, by his own admission, it was a mundane existence and he eventually took a leap of faith to return to India to make films. In his own words, it was a huge decision given that “film making is not exactly revered in the educated Indian society, occupying one secure notch above prostitution.” So, what kept him going? Here’s what he says: “Half the battles you fight are in your head. I told myself this repeatedly. I had other mantras of course. One I stole - Just do it!

A tag line (albeit, arguably the most famous tag line in the world) became a mantra for a man in need. Now that’s what I call powerful branding. Forbes magazine agrees. According to the Forbes magazine, with a value of $10.7 billion, the Nike brand is the most valuable among sports businesses. The growth and profitability generated by Nike's intangible assets, like its globally recognizable swoosh logo and "Just do it" slogan are reflected in its price-to-book ratio of 3.4, which is 50% better than the overall market. Of the company's $18.4 billion in revenues last year, 90% was attributable to merchandise emblazoned with either the Nike or Nike Golf logos. The company also has the distinction of being the only sports apparel maker whose worldwide market share has increased since the start of 2008, according to industry tracker Sporting Goods Intelligence.

Back in the day: Nike was founded in 1964 with an investment of $500 by Phil Night and Bill Bowerman and was originally christened Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). Brand Nike was launched in 1972 and the company officially changed its name to Nike, Inc in 1978. The company took its name from the Greek goddess of victory, Nike and victory has been sweet for the company. The Nike "Swoosh" is a design created in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for BRS. BRS needed a new brand for a new line of athletic footwear it was preparing to introduce in 1972. Knight approached Davidson for design ideas, and she agreed to provide them, charging a rate of $2 per hour. In June 1971, Davidson presented a number of design options to Knight and other BRS executives, and they ultimately selected the mark now known globally as the Swoosh. Davidson submitted a bill for $35 for her work. (In 1983, Knight gave Davidson a gold Swoosh ring and an envelope filled with Nike stock to express his gratitude!)

Lady Logo: The logo represents the wing of the Greek Goddess. The Nike logo is a classic case of a company gradually simplifying its corporate identity as its frame increases. The company's first logo appeared in 1971, when the word "Nike," the Greek goddess of victory, was printed in orange over the outline of a checkmark, the sign of a positive mark. Used as a motif on sports shoes since the 1970s, this checkmark is now so recognizable that the company name itself has became superfluous. The solid corporate logo design check was registered as a trademark in 1995. The Nike logo design is an abstract wing, designed by Carolyn Davidson, was an appropriate and meaningful symbol for a company that marketed running shoes. The "Just Do It" slogan and logo design campaign communicated such a strong point of view to their target market that the meaning for the logo design symbol evolved into a battle cry and the way of life for an entire generation.

Surely there cannot be more than a handful of people across the world who do not recognize the Nike Swoosh logo given its colossal arsenal of sports superstars such as LeBron James, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney to name a few. The list is pretty long and exhaustive. Until recently cricket had remained outside the Nike sphere of influence, especially in India (though in the early part of the millennium, Australian legend Shane Warne had started a fashion fad by sporting a swoosh earring.)

Indi-yeah! Nike corrected that about four years ago. In November 2006, for the first time, Nike's logo appeared in connection with an "Indian" sport: cricket. (While the English claim to have invented it, us Indians have turned it into a religion and a conglomerate!) Nike wrested the rights to become the official kit sponsor for the Indian cricket team for the next five years, beating arch-rivals Reebok and Adidas; it paid Rs 196 crore to the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the privilege. The ‘swoosh’ has finally swung, and how.

The American sports footwear and apparel giant has had a presence in India for close to a decade, but it's consciously held on to its "international" image. Where Sachin Tendulkar and Dhanraj Pillai were endorsing rivals' products, Nike's ads stuck to Maria Sharapova and Ronaldinho. India didn't really figure in the company’s marketing and promotion activities. That changed in 2006 and thus changed the rules of the game of the Rs 1,100-crore Indian sports footwear and apparel market. All these years, market leadership has eluded Nike in India. This is the only market where Reebok is No. 1 (40% marketshare), followed by Adidas (20%). Nike's 15% share is a distant third (source: Technopak Advisors). The company finally figured that it is critical to connect emotionally with customers. And in a cricket-crazy nation like India, you don't need to think too hard about how to do that!

Incidentally, Nike had signed with All India Football Federation in 2005, a year earlier than the BCCI deal. Globally, football is the biggest category for Nike and the company had seen a very high growth rate of this category in India also. That was the basic reason they tried finding a person like me who could grow the brand’s visibility in the football domain. Effectively, Nike’s objective was to create growth for football while cricket was an opportunity to be leveraged.

MS = E & S: Today the company has a host of Cricketers on its roll including Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Murali Vijay and Sreesanth along with top Footballers including Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chetri) and Renedy Singh. This is in line with its traditional Marketing Strategy – globally Nike depends heavily on its Endorsements and Sponsorships to promote itself. According to Reuters, Adidas has the second largest budget for sponsorships among sports gear companies, but spends about 25% less on it than Nike does. A Reuters report estimated Nike spent $260 million on sponsorships in 2008.

Celebrity Endorsement: By tying its products to successful athletes in many sports, Nike has succeeded in boosting its image and creating the impression that the shoes or the clothes play a role in the success of the athlete. Nike went quickly to the lead in basketball shoes following its connection to Michael Jordan and the 1984 Air Jordan shoe line. The company vaulted itself into the top ranks of golf equipment manufacturers when it built its complete product line around Tiger Woods.

The MO was identical when Nike's first cricket shoes were introduced. The Air Zoom Yorker was launched in September 2006 by pace bowlers S Sreesanth and New Zealand's Shane Bond, who were also been signed on brand ambassadors for the product. A shoe for batsmen, the Air Zoom Opener, followed.

Besides, the BCCI deal allows Nike to launch official cricket merchandise such as replica team T-shirts and jerseys, kit bags and backpacks. That's not just a huge branding opportunity, it's a potential money-spinner: retail consultants estimate the licensed merchandise business could bring in more than $20 million in the first year itself.

Sponsorships: Nike takes its sponsorships to a personal level through the sponsorship of clinics and camps. The company sponsors youth golf schools, basketball camps and track and field events as a way of making its name synonymous with sports success in the eyes of the young participants. These grass roots events are the company's way of taking its products out to the consumer.

In India too, since December 2005, it tied up with coaching schools like the BCCI's National Cricket Academy. The academies will work with Nike to understand the product requirements of the players. It's a win-win situation for both the company and the academies. While Nike creates brand awareness and has a shot at creating loyalists at a young, impressionable age, the academies' need for equipment such as shoes and training gear is looked after by the company.

Strategy Risks: However, there is a risk when companies like Nike attach themselves to celebrities. When one of its athletes makes a mistake either on the field or off, the company's reputation can take a hit too. The issue came up in 2009 when Woods was involved in a major personal scandal. Other sponsors dropped the golfer but Nike chose to continue to sponsor him. In India too while Sreesanth’s controversies may have damaged the brand appeal somewhat.

Target audience: Catch 'em young! In India, players like Reebok and Puma are looking at extending the sports product line as a lifestyle brand for the 17-35 years age group. Also, Reebok is looking at increasing its exclusive women's stores (it also has Bollywood star Bipasha Basu as its brand ambassador – it’s got its cricket covered too in the form of Captain Courageous Dhoni), 70% of the merchandise in Puma stores is lifestyle and not sport-related and Adidas too has a lifestyle variant store format.

But when Nike talks of young customers, it means young. Across the world, its core audience is between 12 and17 years, and it sees no reason why India should be any different. It continues to target this age group teeming with sports acolytes of cricket and football with its sports offerings – in fact, it has also introduced the Tiger Woods and Roger Federer exclusive lines in India too – Sporty Spice, eh? Also, it has taken its brand to the audience on social media sites such as Facebook with exclusive aps such as the Jersey creator.

My take: How big is the brand in India? Well instead of boring you with more numbers, consider this. Aamir Khan’s branding acumen is legendary in Bollywood and his “autorickshaw branding” concept for his movie 3 Idiots was widely hailed as innovative. The film cleverly used the auto rickshaws in Mumbai to display the slogan "Only for 3 Idiots" denoting the capacity of the carriage – truly ingenious? Well, the power of the Nike brand ensures that the company achieves the same without spending a paisa and moving a muscle. In Mumbai, where nearly 90,000 taxis roam the streets and the drivers often go to great artistic lengths to make their cabs stand out. Brightly colored graphics, hand-cut from reflective adhesive material, liven up taxis’ exteriors throughout the city, reports the hip graphic-design magazine Creative Review, in the form of favorite gods, elaborate geometric patterns and the logos of aspirational brands such as Nike.

Still not convinced? Well remember the old saying ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’? Take a walk down Linking Road or Fashion Street in Mumbai (and their equivalent locales in other cities) – the abundance of fake Nike shirts and shoes and ‘replica’ Team India and EPL/Football Jerseys would be an apt metric of the brand’s popularity – else the pirates would not waste their time on making’em!

With shoe flinging now in vogue (just ask Omar!), all I can say is, if you chuck one at me (perhaps after reading this post), just make sure it is Nike!

Friday, September 24, 2010 || Education in 2020

Introduction: Education Times is celebrating 2010–2020 as the ‘Decade of Innovation’. Education Times, through a print report, brings forth an insight in to the current education scenario, scanning radical changes which the decade is poised for, with a special emphasis on innovation brought in to the education sector.

The Brief 
Using an innovative solution to any major problem in education today, show us your vision of education in 2020.

The Concepts

Another Brick in the Wall?

In 2002, Education was one of the six core action areas that Dr. Abdul Kalam had shortlisted in his Vision 2020. 8 years down the line, our country still has an alarmingly high number of children who do not go to school. This ad draws inspiration from the epic Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall Part - II" from the album "The Wall" (1979). The photographs of prevalent child labourers in India form a "wall" montage, where as the message is a twist on the song - even the font used mimics the font of the album cover. My vision for education in 2020? Quite simply like the ad says: "Education for all... our future depends on it!"


"The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows." - Sydney J. Harris ---- Euromonitor International forecasts that there will be 3.2 billion Internet users worldwide in 2020 and that India will have overtaken the USA as the second biggest Internet user market with digital information growing 60 times! This mini-series of 3 ads encapsulate the future of e-ducation based on this rapid e-volution... here are the 3 ads:

100% Literacy by 2020

To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.  ~A.A. Milne ---- There's an old Hindi saying, "Kala akshar bhains barabar" that has exactly the same ethos as Milne's quote above. About 35% of world's illiterate population is Indian and, based on historic patterns of literacy growth across the world, India may account for a majority of the world's illiterates by 2020. This is what we need to avoid the most! Undoubtedly, literacy in India is key for socio-economic progress - and our country to become a true economic Superpower must aim to have 100% literacy by 2020. But there is lots of work to be done over the next decade - Literacy rates in 2009 were 76.9% for men and 54.5% for women... Needless to add, without 100% literacy, the economic growth is guaranteed to be skewed and we will remain to be paper tigers --> this is what this ad tries to convey.

Knowledge @ the Speed of Light

India in 2010 is already an IT superpower and a knowledge economy - or is it? In my opinion, by 2020, India will become a true knowledge superpower by building on the IT infrastructure, helping the light of knowledge eradicate the large spots darkness in society. To borrow a line, by 2020, "Let there be Light"... or rather knowledge at the speed of light.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yumm Bee Yaay!

Statutory Warnings: 1. This is an original poem (for better or for verse, that is what I will call it) - and thus is not for the staunch believers in the Queen's language. 2. If you're an MBA and you take yourself seriously, do not read any further. 3. This is not (fully) autobiographical!


Kya?! You talking to me?
I'm an MBA from a top B-school
I know it all boss, can't you see?
Fin, Marketing, HR & Ops - it's all cool!

PowerPoint, Laptop and my Smartphone
With these toys, my skills are honed.
For hours on end I can gas... oops, speak;
Never mind, my audience thinks it’s all Greek!

Every day I must read all the pink papers,
BTW, in just 3 months I've managed to memorize Kotler!
Go on quiz me, about brand equity, derivatives, M&A’s and business capers,
Did I embarrass you? C'mon now don't sulk and be bitter...

I worship the holy trinity of M/s Buffet, Prahalad and Gekko,
WTF?! You haven't seen Wall Street? Damn right, it's worth a dekko!
I know big words and for that methinks people say I am bright,
Suits me fine, 'coz use of jargon is my birthright.

I know my strategy - my 'Brand Value', 'Vision' and 'Mission';
Though with multiple job offers in hand,
These days I am prone to the occasional indecision.
All these jobs sound so boring; maybe I'll just form a rock band. (Just kidding!)

What I care about isn't just profile and package,
I must work for top company, anything else is sacrilege!
Jet set around the world - crack deals, be jetlagged,
But make sure I’m on the evening news - my wisdom can't be gagged.

Screw that, I'll do a Sabeer Bhatia. Start my own business;
I’ll make my millions by riding the waves of Profit and Loss.
Attract the angel funds, sell out and party with finesse.
The best part - at the end of the day, I'll still be my own boss!

… Chal bohut hua, ab uth ja bhai.
Wake up lazy ass - Oi, Wake up Sid!
Stop living in the world of insane dreams and lie
With these tales of fantasy, whom do you think you kid?!


You were forewarned! If you want to read some more, click here...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Letter from a girl

It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies' hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of Science. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from Universities in the US... I had not thought of taking up a job in India.

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Tata Motors)... It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: 'Lady Candidates need not apply.' I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers... Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful?

After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco's management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco.

I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company's chairman then) I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing. To this day I remember clearly what I wrote. 'The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives they have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender.'

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco's Pune facility at the company's expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. My hostel mate told me I should use the opportunity to go to Pune free of cost and buy them the famous Pune saris for cheap! I collected Rs30 each from everyone who wanted a sari when I look back, I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they seemed good enough to make the trip.

It was my first visit to Pune and I immediately fell in love with the city.

To this day it remains dear to me. I feel as much at home in Pune as I do in Hubli, my hometown. The place changed my life in so many ways. As directed, I went to Telco's Pimpri office for the interview.

There were six people on the panel and I realized then that this was serious business.
'This is the girl who wrote to JRD,' I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the job. The realization abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted.

Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, 'I hope this is only a technical interview.'

They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am ashamed about my attitude. The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them.

Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, 'Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories.' I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited place.

I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, 'But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories.'

Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So this was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we became good friends and we got married.

It was only after joining Telco that I realized who JRD was: the uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to meet him till I was transferred to Bombay. One day I had to show some reports to Mr Moolgaokar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in his office on the first floor of Bombay House (the Tata headquarters) when, suddenly JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw 'appro JRD'. Appro means 'our' in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which people at Bombay House called him. I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM introduced me nicely, 'Jeh (that's what his close associates called him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate.
She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor.' JRD looked at me. I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it).

Thankfully, he didn't. Instead, he remarked. 'It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country. By the way, what is your name?'

'When I joined Telco I was Sudha Kulkarni, Sir,' I replied. 'Now I am Sudha Murthy.' He smiled and kindly smile and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room.

After that I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing that we had in common. I was in awe of him.

One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard. Looking back, I realize JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me.

'Young lady, why are you here?' he asked. 'Office time is over.' I said, 'Sir, I'm waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.' JRD said, 'It is getting dark and there's no one in the corridor. I'll wait with you till your husband comes.'

I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.

I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn't any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, 'Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee.'

Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, 'Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again.' In 1982 I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the steps of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused.

Gently, he said, 'So what are you doing, Mrs. Kulkarni?' (That was the way he always addressed me.) 'Sir, I am leaving Telco.'

'Where are you going?' he asked. 'Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company called Infosys and I'm shifting to Pune.'

'Oh! And what will you do when you are successful.'

'Sir, I don't know whether we will be successful. Never start with diffidence,' he advised me 'Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. Wish you all the best.'

Then JRD continued walking up the stairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive.

Many years later I met Ratan Tata in the same Bombay House, occupying the chair JRD once did. I told him of my many sweet memories of working with Telco. Later, he wrote to me, 'It was nice hearing about Jeh from you. The sad part is that he's not alive to see you today.'

I consider JRD a great man because, despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice. He must have received thousands of letters every day. He could have thrown mine away, but he didn't do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money, and gave her an opportunity in his company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 per cent of the students in today's engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. I see these changes and I think of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive today to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and magnificence.

(Sudha Murthy is a widely published writer and chairperson of the Infosys Foundation involved in a number of social development initiatives. Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy is her husband.)

Article sourced from: Lasting Legacies (Tata Review- Special Commemorative Issue 2004), brought out by the house of Tatas to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of JRD Tata on July 29, 2004.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Legendary Lungi

Just as the national bird of Kerala is Mosquito, her national dress is 'Lungi'. Pronounced as 'Lu' as in loo and 'ngi ' as in 'mongey', a lungi can be identified by its floral or window-curtain pattern. 'Mundu' is the white variation of lungi and is worn on special occasions like hartal or bandh days, weddings and Onam.

Lungi is simple and 'down to earth' like the mallu wearing it. Lungi is the beginning and the end of evolution in its category.You cant provide it with gills to allow it to breathe more freely .Wearing something on the top half of your body is optional when you are wearing a lungi. Lungi is a strategic dress. It's like a one-size-fits-all bottoms for Keralites.

The technique of wearing a lungi/mundu is passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth like the British Constitution. If you think it is an easy task wearing it, just try it once! It requires techniques like breath control and yoga that is a notch higher than sudarshan kriya of AOL. A lungi/mundu when perfectly worn won't come off even in a quake of 8 on the richter scale. A lungi is not attached to the waist using duct tape, staple, rope or velcro. It's a bit of mallu magic whose formula is a closely guarded secret like the Coca Cola chemicals.

A lungi can be worn 'Full Mast' or 'Half Mast' like a national flag. A 'Full Mast' lungi is when you are showing respect to an elderly or the dead. Wearing it at full mast has lots of disadvantages. A major disadvantage is when a dog runs after you. When you are wearing a lungi/mundu at full mast, the advantage is mainly for the female onlookers who are spared the ordeal of swooning at the sight of hairy legs.

Wearing a lungi 'Half Mast' is when you wear it exposing yourself like those C grade movie starlets. A mallu can play cricket, football or simbly run when the lungi is worn at half mast. A mallu can even climb a coconut tree wearing lungi in half mast. "It's not good manners, especially for ladies from decent families, to look up at a mallu climbing a coconut tree"- Confucius (or is it Abdul Kalam?)
Most mallus do the traditional dan
ce kudiyattam. Kudi means drinking alcohol and yattam, spelled as aattam, means random movement of the male body. Note that 'y' is silent. When you are drinking, you drink, there is no 'y'. Any alcohol related "festival" can be enjoyed to the maximum when you are topless with lungi and a towel tied around the head. "Half mast lungi makes it easy to dance and shake legs" says Candelaria Amaranto, a Salsa teacher from Spain after watching 'kudiyaattam' ..

The 'Lungi Wearing Mallu Union' [LUWMU, pronounced LOVE MU], an NGO which works towards the 'upliftment' of the lungi, strongly disapprove of the GenNext tendency of wearing Bermudas under the lungi. Bermudas under the lungi is a conspiracy by the CIA. It's a disgrace to see a person wearing burmuda with corporate logos under his lungi. What they don't know is how much these corporates are limiting their freedom of movement and ex-pression.

A mallu wears lungi round the year, all weather, all season. A mallu celebrates winter by wearing a colourful lungi with a floral pattern. Lungi provides good ventilation and brings down the heat between legs. A mallu is scared of global warming more than anyone else in the world.

A lungi/mundu can be worn any time of the day/night. It doubles as blanket at night. It also doubles up as a swing, swimwear, sleeping bag, parachute, facemask while entering/exiting toddy shops, shopping basket and water filter while fishing in ponds and rivers. It also has recreational uses like in 'Lungi/mundu pulling', a pastime in households having more than one male member. Lungi pulling competitions are held outside toddy shops all over Kerala during Onam and Vishu. When these lungis are decommissioned from service, they become table cloths. Thus the humble lungi is a cradle to grave appendage.

(An anonymous piece)

BEER-ONOMICS - The Tax System in Beer (aka Bar Stool Economics)

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.

"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20". Drinks for the ten men would now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.

So the first four men were unaffected.

They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers?

How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realised that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer!

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% saving).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% saving).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% saving).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% saving).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% saving).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20 saving," declared the sixth man.
He pointed to the tenth man,"but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar too. It's unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!"

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back, when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "we didn't get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important.

They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works.

The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction.

Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.

In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier!



On July 21,2010 company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a very significant announcement on the official Facebook blog: "As of this morning, 500 million people all around the world are actively using Facebook to stay connected with their friends and the people around them." The number is mind boggling - consider this - this means that 12.5% of the world's population (i.e. 1 in 12 people on the planet!) are on Facebook!

People today perhaps don't remember a time before Facebook - and that's both scary and fascinating. Future generations will be more and more accepting of sharing their lives on the Internet, which has its obvious pros and cons. At the other end of the spectrum, whenour generation grows old and wants to look back on our lives, we won't need an old crusty photo album and Greenday to sing:
So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time

Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial

For what it's worth it was worth all the while.

We will simply use whatever popular device at the time that lets us flip through our life's history as aggregated from decades of social sharing.

Facebook has been at the forefront of paving the way for that future. It has taken 77 months for Facebook to go from 0 to 500 million and the company shows little sign of slowing, even with many leaving the network over privacy issues. The truth is, there is no viable alternative yet.

Anyway here are some fun Facebook stories of what could have been if the FB existed back in the day. I strongly urge you to click on the images below and see the larger image

Starting off with a classic:
Kokonad Sinha's Facebook Ramayan
Do click on the link below to see the entire PDF file - trust me it's worth it!

Krish Ashok's Facebook Mahabharata

If Shakespeare were on FB, this is what his pages would look like...


Titus Andronicus

Romeo & JulietClick here to read: Macbeth - The Facebook Version

Puck's page (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

... and finally this one, from a forward I got today:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

XIC Exhibition || Final selections for exhibition

Well, my photography course at XIC has nearly come to an end and from the photographs that I had submitted for final evaluation, these are the four that Prof. Mistry has selected for the exhibition on 18th Sep 2010 at St. Xavier's, Mumbai (All of you are cordially invited!):

"Rainbow on the road"

"The young man and the sea"

"Fruits of leisure"


Would love to hear your thoughts on the photographs above!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


(This one is not original but in spirit, it is mine... pun intended. Cheers!)


That squat dark oddly-shaped bottle. That funny fat bald old man in a robe beaming at you. What is the magic of Old Monk that never dies? What is the basis of the unquestioning faith that the Old Monk drinker reposes in the brand? What is the source of the extreme brand loyalty it generates? After all, there are millions of men who start their hard liquor life with Old Monk and never drink anything else till the day they die.

The facts, for the record. Old Monk is a dark rum blended and aged for seven years (though there is also a more expensive 12-year-old version, the Old Monk Gold Reserve). It has an alcohol content of 42.8 per cent and is produced by Mohan Meakin, based in Mohan Nagar, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. It is the third largest-selling rum in the world, and has been the biggest Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) brand for decades. Old Monk is the only spirits brand to figure in advertising guru Ian Batley’s list of potential Great Indian Brands, which could tap the world market. Suzuki Motor Corporation Chairman Osamu Suzuki is a connoisseur of wines. In his personal dining room and bar where he entertains his guests, there is a bottle of what he believes is the best liquor brand from each of the 192 countries the company operates in. India is represented by Old Monk.

But Old Monk enthusiasts couldn’t be less bothered with the numbers. For them this rum is more than just a drink. It is a close friend, a confidant, a keeper of memories. With every sip that you take, incidents come flooding back. The first time one got sloshed and got caught by the hostel warden. The first time one confessed one’s love but to the wrong girl in a moment of drunken recklessness. And finally the heartbreak when nothing but Old Monk could soothe the pain. Nostalgia is definitely something that Old Monk brings. Even if you are rich now, and only drink Scotch or wine, you retain a special affection for the brand.

The sense of kinship that comes with being an Old Monk drinker is legendary. There are tales galore about how strangers became fast friends over a glass of Old Monk. Mention Old Monk or “budha sadhu” (as he lovingly calls it), and Aditya Dhar, manager-training with American Express, and memories of the good times he spent with his friends crowd his head. “I can never forget this one cold January evening that we spent at a friend Neil’s place. We kept on drinking and Neil continued to strum the guitar till his fingers bled. But did he stop? No, not at all. Old Monk was the only remedy required and he played every single song in the book,” reminisces Aditya.
Glenn Satur, one of Internet’s unknown poets, puts it thus: “You’ve brought feeling to our lives, at moments of desperation. For most of us, you have been our mentor and our inspiration. We don’t give up on things, even if we think our lives have sunk. There’s always a solution to a problem when we have you dear Old Monk Rum!”

Arijit Ganguly, team leader with Royal Bank of Scotland, shares his story about a friend who just couldn’t take the freezing cold of Himachal Pradesh. “We were in Chail and we had to change buses. It was freaking cold and we found to our consternation that the bus would arrive only after an hour,” he recalls. One of his friends was so cold that even three trousers and countless number of sweaters couldn’t keep him warm. “Suddenly he took out a bottle of Old Monk and gulped down 100 ml of it in one shot. Within 15 minutes, his eyes and ears had turned red and soon he was found singing ‘My balls are on fire’ in a mere sweatshirt and jeans.”

Perhaps another thing that works for the Monk is also the sense of reassurance that one gets on seeing the signature design that hasn’t changed a bit in years. It is a soothing thought that in this ever changing world, one has something constant to hold on to. Of course, the fact that quality has never faltered helps. Then there’s the distinctive taste, different from every other rum in the world. Anyone who has ever had Old Monk will recognise the taste in any blind test.

When drinking with Old Monk enthusiasts, one has to adhere to the proper etiquette. One cannot say, “I am having a glass of rum,” when you are having Old Monk. Old Monk is not a rum. Old Monk is Old Monk. It is utter sacrilege to drag this priceless drink into the category of regular unexciting rums. You need to feel the pride, the proper respect, the honour when you hold a glass of Old Monk.

There is something about Old Monk that makes you feel all-powerful, that you have the strength to take on the whole world. A friend, Arindita Gogoi, could muster up the guts to tell her mother that she drinks only after she had had a few sips of Old Monk: “I was in Delhi, having Old Monk with a friend on a chilly December evening when my mom called from Assam. When she asked me what I was doing I told her very emotionally that, ‘Maa, it is very chilly here and nothing but a dark rum could save us.’” Her mother hung up. But to this day, Arindita continues with her unfettered fealty to this amazing drink, in spite of her mother’s displeasure. “You don’t feel stylish with Old Monk. It just makes you feel more rustic and grounded,” says Arindita.

However, Old Monk hasn’t been without its own share of heated debates. The one that has been plaguing its fans since eternity, or well since cola companies took over the world, is what is the best way to have this drink. With cola or hot water? On the Old Monk Appreciation Society page on Facebook, enthusiasts discuss such topics with a vengeance.

While some suggest having it with three-fourths Coke, topping it off with two cubes of ice, others consider the use of cola sheer blasphemy. It’s hot water or nothing at all.

While legions of fans argue on Facebook, Vikram Gour and Chaitanya Chadha sit back and watch as their creation achieve all that they had envisaged for it. When they created this society on Facebook, they wanted to find like-minded people who shared their love. And they weren’t disappointed. People from all across the world answered their call. Today, the society boasts of 1,100 members.

Some of the overseas fans have even been able to sniff out Old Monk vendors in the backlanes of their cities. “A fellow group member, Jeet Singh, based in New York, joined this group because he had had Old Monk many years ago. The thought of enjoying this drink again led him on a hunt through New York where he actually managed to find a bottle! Imagine that!” says Vikram.

If you go looking, you will be able to unearth countless anecdotes related to the Monk, most of them bordering on the insane and bizarre. Our favourite is the one about the drunken cockroach posted by director Shekhar Kapur on his blog. Remember the scene from Mr India in which Sridevi jumps on to the bed in alarm when she spies a cockroach? Did anyone notice how the cockroach was so well behaved throughout the scene? ‘Well, I needed the cockroach to be very still for the camera as he/she eyed Sridevi threateningly. Focusing takes a long time and the cockroach needed to be patient. So we got the cockroach drunk!! No kidding, we surrounded the cockroach in a pool of my favourite Old Monk Rum and it was soon lolling around like a drunken sailor, giving in to director of photography Baba Azmi’s every demand. Unbelievable, but hey, talk to anyone on the sets. It was true!’ We believe you, Shekhar.

So what is it about the budha sadhu? We believe that the subconscious reason for the way the fan thinks of the brand is that Old Monk never tries. It is a rum with no frills, no add-ons, no come-hither branding and advertising. It’s just a damn good rum and it wants to be treated with the respect that a good friend deserves. That is its only demand from you. It is totally no-nonsense. Thus, there is something pure and trustworthy about it. It has always wanted to be just a tasty rum, and by focusing on that, has transcended liquor and become something else. Completely.


To quote an alcohol website, Old Monk can be best described as "a velvet smooth dark rum with a hint of vanilla, it has an alcohol content of 42.8%. Honored the world over, Old Monk had been awarded gold medals at Monde World Selections since 1982. Its a classic 7 yr blended dark rum. With the first drop of Old Monk Rum, the sheer aroma of distilled cane sugar grown in lush green fields of India, stirs up the age old legend. Old Monk Rum is a form of the legendary 'Som-ras' of India's centuries old scriptures - The Drink of Gods and Lords of India."

Here's my description - it is a drink to be shared only with close friends. Here's a toast to my Old Monk buddies. Now pass the Thums Up and a slice of lemon... cheers!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Horses' Ass!

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels.

Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Bureaucracies live forever.
So the next time you are handed a specification/ procedure/ process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with this?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

Now, the O'Henrian twist to the story: When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sub Prime for Dummies

It's almost two years since the subprime crisis rocked our world - literally. Who'd know better than us final year MBA students looking for campus placements? Here's a quick reminder why Gekko was wrong. Greed is not good.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: