Sunday, 25 June 2017

Book Review : Good Works - Corporate Marketing Initiatives That Build A Better World And The Bottom Line

There is hardly an MBA, at least in India, who hasn’t heard of Philip Kotler. Without his book, one cannot imagine studying Marketing. Thus, on noticing a book co-authored by this Author, I didn’t have to think twice before buying it. The book in question is titled : “Good Works! Market And Corporate Initiatives That Build A Better World… And The Bottom Line”. It was the last few words that got my attention; CSR will likely remain an afterthought, a regulatory requirement, unless it is linked with the Bottom Line. That is the nature of the modern for-profit organization.



This book is a treatise full of case studies around Corporate Social Initiatives, bunched around 6 central themes :
*  Cause Promotion {Persuading Consumers To Join Your Company In A Good Cause}
*  Cause-Related Marketing {Making Contributions To Causes Based On Product Sales And Consumer Actions}
*  Corporate Social Marketing {Supporting Behaviour Change Campaigns}
*  Corporate Philanthropy {Making A Direct Contribution To A Cause}
*  Community Volunteering {Employees Donating Their Time And Talents}
*  Socially Responsible Business Practices {Changing How You Conduct Business To Achieve Social Outcomes}
I strongly recommend every marketer, corporate honcho and management eduationist in India should read this book; the theoretical framework it presents combined with the real life examples stated herein make for deep learning and give natural insights, as well as act as provocators of independent thought.

My mind, once again, goes to the same old conundrum : I can find a Western book, with few connects to India and Indian Realities, in an Indian Book Store. And I am yet to find a good book on Indian Case Studies – I am aware of a minimum of 6 excellent books of case studies of which I myself have studied 5 {Anisha Motwani, Prachi Garg – 2, Anuradha Goel, and a book on Positioning}, with a fifth in my purchase list already. Not one of these has made it to bookstores in India, at least not on a comparable scale. Why is this shocking pusillanimous and thoroughly repugnant fascination we have for the West still present? To management faculty, institutes and colleges – my blunt & straightforward question – ALL of these are Corporate Professionals. Why have you abandoned your core duty of documentation and research? Where are you in this list?

Take this book, for instance. I could not make a connect with any case study, save one or two, as the atmosphere was not Indian. I had no common point of reference, no connect with either the Brands or the Social Causes mentioned. This severely hindered my learning and my takeaway from the book. But perhaps the most stunning aspect is this book – an out and out Western book – contains an Indian reference as well. Just spare a thought on this repugnant thought : someone from outside India can identify an Indian example, but we Indians don’t have the time for it. Wow. I am frankly speechless.

Does this mean the book holds no value for us? Of course not – it holds tremendous value for us as a people, as a nation, and as professionals. As professionals, reading this book gives you ideas, learnings, as well as deep insights. The book is completely practical from start to finish. I could quote volumes on this, but as the examples aren’t Indian, they would be meaningless. That said, your mind will automatically identify Indian examples as you read the literature – for example, Tata Tea Jago Re, or the Re 1/- donation to give just two examples

Further, it will also give a deep and disquieting set of questions : that few Indian initiatives have been really cashed in on by the organisations; they haven’t managed to connect with consumers. Thus, it means that they are either doing it out of the goodness of their heart, or legal CSR requirements, or most likely both. They haven’t managed to connect these with Branding Power, Consumer connect by and large. A further deeper disquieting question also arises – maybe the consumer in India does not place an adequate value to such efforts, or it maybe that the consumer body is just too cynical…


This feasibility comes to the fore even more strongly as you read case after case after case after case of community, consumer, NGO, employee and Organisational involvement in various small, medium and national as well as international causes. This is repeated throughout the book, leaving one with questions and still more questions. Where are the Indian Examples on a comparable level of community, social, individual and organizational involvement? Just to take one example – where are the employee volunteers? Where are the community cases – I know some are present. But where are they in the public and company consciousness, and why aren’t they more prevalent? Why do we ignore these vital aspects? 

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Book Review - The Rise Of Sivagami

Bahubali shook the nation like no other movie has done; carrying the franchise forward, SS Rajamouli has decided to create a book series filling the details and carrying the story forward. The first book of the series – The Rise of Sivagami – goes back into the story, before the time of Bahubali, providing a surprising background, a background which will provide motive, passions and flesh to the main characters in the movie Bahubali. This is a first of its kind association between a film presentation and a well known author; kudos to Team Bahubali for thinking of this

Bahubali - Before The Beginning


THE NEGATIVES
That said, at the outset, let me place on record the one or two negatives of this book, even before I lay out the basic plot; the crude and, to my eyes, ugly use of vulgarity and sexually explicit narratives in parts – for example the crude description of female body parts of captive slaves – has left a highly negative impression on my mind. These scenes seem forced, at least to me, and have no place in the story whatsoever. Due to this one reason alone, I reduce the rating of this book by 2.5 stars as a punitive measure. I rate this book 1 or 1.5 stars only. `

Vulgarity has no place in a good fiction {or non-fiction for that matter} book; especially since this is meant for general reading. If the above was only one instance, I would have ignored it; but I happened to notice it in other places, which was ugly to be honest. The net result was I was so disgusted by this out-of-place stuff that I stopped reading the book for a time. I don’t want to turn to a mainstream book for sexually explicit stuff – and yes, I count even one paragraph of nudity, vulgarity as the same as sexually explicit material, and call them the same!

Second negative is the story – surprise, surprise. Yes, the story: it is way too complex. I constantly found myself jumping back to the Dramatis Personae section trying to figure out who is who. This got irritating, after a point. The flaw isn’t that the story is engaging – it is engaging, without a shade of doubt. The problem is that the current book is way too long. When you have created such a vast scope, the presentation matters one hell of a lot-  and this is where the book fails big time. It could have been shortened & subdivided into more books, making for easy understanding. The net result is that an excellent story has been made less attractive by the execution. Or a simple frequent mention of who is who would definitely have helped!

THE PLOT
Coming to the plot, this is not your rapid action fast-moving thriller. This is a story of political intrigue, back-stabbing, jealousy, plotting, planning, human drama, naked ambition & desire. This book tells the story of the Mahishmati empire before the events in the movie – specifically, it tells the background to the main characters Sivagami & Kattappa. Saying more would spoil your fun, so I wont say anything else. Read it for yourself to know more.

THE POSITIVES
The positives are also many, to be perfectly honest. The story is slow-moving, by and large. It has rapid sections throughout the book – that is true; but the overall impact is a slow moving tale. This isn’t a negative – the plot does not lend itself to pace. The plot is intense – so is the narrative. Given the intrigue and interplay, the slow and intense narrative style draws you into the story, and absorbs you. Once you get used to its stupendous scope – the events play out before your eyes.

The second positive is the scope – magnificent, and grand; every bit as grand as the movie. This is thoroughly logical – you are talking of a massive and powerful empire here; the scope has to be grand and massive to be believable. And that it is – beyond a shade of doubt. The third positive is the story itself; given the nature of the empire, all the events come across as natural – the intrigue, the plotting, the powerplay, the injustices, twists & turns. The fourth positive is the characterization – the author has provided for a vivid, detailed character background for all relevant characters, making the reading almost like a life event – almost like you are there. The full details on every aspect help you relate to the story, the environment, all of it – placing you in Mahishmati.

THE CONCLUSION

All in all, stupendous! My heart aches, for the needless vulgarity in some small parts and slightly lax presentation  is forcing me to rate this book as 1 star, when it deserves 4! If you can ignore the small vulgar aspects, this is easily a classic book – unmissable for the reasons given. {To me, even nudity is Vulgar, period. Those are my non-negotiable prerequisites while rating. There is no repeat no place for any nudity in a fiction novel, regardless of genre. Do we discuss such things in family? We don’t. That is my only barometer of judgement; can you talk these things to your family?  And If we don’t, there zero place for nudity in good books}. Despite this, the book is one of a kind - go ahead and read it. Even I, despite my criticism & objections, did enjoy the book overall.  This is an intriguing, fascinating and involved plot – you will enjoy reading it! 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Movie Review - Ek Unaad Divas & Its Life Lessons

There are few movies that stick in your mind, entertain you & teach you a life lesson; as well as pull you back to them every once in a while… this movie, Ek Unaad Divas – is one of them. Great pity that this is in Marathi – for this is one movie that needs to be made in Hindi so that ever larger number of people can watch, enjoy and live & change their lives by it! That said, Hindi movie industry just doesn’t have the required depth to make a movie of this caliber. Sad, but true.


THE PLOT
The concept is simple – a highly paid, top corporate hot-shot, portrayed by Ashok Saraf, gets forced into loaning his car for the day to a client, who has just closed a 5-Cr order. And on that very day, Taxis are on strike – so he has to walk back. On the way, he runs into his childhood friend – a lower-middle class man earning 2453/- per month. The hot-shot, Vishwas Dabholkar {Saraf}, and the friend end up having lunch – a life-turning experience for the big man, as he is stunned by the happy outlook of his companion!

The rest of the movie is a roller-coaster as the wonder-struck Dabholkar, stunned by his experience with the poorer friend, walks through the streets to his office with a newly broadened approach towards life. Along the way, we get to learn, or rather, re-learn life – through the eyes & experiences of Vishwas Dabholkar, who interacts with life around him with a newly defined approach towards life – an open, happy approach, savouring many moments and leaving us many, many lessons for us.

THE LESSONS
The movie gets heart-wrenching, yet warming, as the hot-shot big man, walking through the small streets to his office, runs into many unfortunate souls, poor people and people from all walks of life – and yet impacting them in a nice way, helping them in their troubles, thinking – for once – not of self or own family, but of others. That in itself is a big learning, that it doesn’t take too much effort to be nice to other people, and that one can be good to people regardless of their stature, age or social standing

Another hard-hitting lesson is the detachment of “My Achievements, this is me, etc” from the self : forgetting one’s Ego… which can lead to seeing the wonder in so many people and instances in life. My own experience, which was forced on me, taught me this not so long ago – when I learnt a lot from my students, 20 years my junior, when I was a visiting faculty to them. If they are reading this – thanks for showing me a side of life I had forgotten all about; in your youthful openness, optimism and approach I learnt a life lesson, a management lesson, as well as made me a better manager all in one.

These and many many other small lessons in the movie, which  are really important for modern life – the real value of money & sharing, the importance of thinking of the other person, the value of being selfless, understanding the needs of others, being basically a nice person – all those things which the modern metrosexual educated person calls impractical, like things concerning values / ethics / decency / honesty / fun / caring for others -  make this movie one-of-a-kind, and kind of special. This movie shall remain one of the most memorable movies and life experiences for me; I for one shall never forget this movie. My personal thanks to the entire staff involved in making this movie, and teaching me a life lesson!

We take life so seriously – our jobs, our money, our career – even our family, our children’s careers & lives, that somewhere along the line we forget to live. We are so enraptured by the trappings of life, of its attachments, its pulls that we ourselves don’t realise the damage we our doing ourselves and our society. The money will remain here when we die – that apart, by being too focused, we forget the small pleasures of life – something that makes us automatons, machines almost; running after success and money all the time. This pressure even translates to extreme pressure on our children, as we insanely drive them for marks, not on the knowledge & education, as well as the right values… is this the way to live? Go after success, money, ego forgetting the small pleasures & values of life, the importance not just of your own self, but of everyone in your life – small or big in stature… do we ever stop to think?  




A word about the story, editing and the characterization – awesome. One word I had promised – and one word it is, without qualification – awesome. The dreamers have created one hell of an awesome product. The best part is that it is a fun watch; a hugely entertaining movie throughout. There is only one song in them movie – and what a song! Hur Hur Aste Teech Uri, Divas Baraa Ke Ratra Bari! An unforgettable number that will grow on you with its melodious tones &classy lyrics. All in all, this is a tremendous and near perfect movie that is a must watch by anyone who understands Marathi. While it teaches a lot of lessons, changes you as a person, forces you to ask youself some deep questions – it does so in a gently, fun, decent and entertaining way. As the last scene fades away you are left refreshed! 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

De-Stressing The Corporate Job While Retaining Competitive Ability - 1

One of the rising themes of management discussion is the concept of work-life balance, compounded by rising stress in corporate life in India; quite a lot has been written about how we need to lessen the stress. Another theme is the concept of how Indian Managers don’t take or get leave too often, or rising lifestyle disease incidence and about rising burnout cases and so  on. Most articles I have read emphasize on a lot of points as a solution – namely, advocating leaves / smaller working hours / de-stressing and so on… sadly, most of these don’t take the overall corporate atmosphere into account.

LITTLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE STATUS QUO
Let me take a divergent view – that there actually little alternative to what is taking place, at least as of now. And the reason for that is that the current realities highlighted above are actually the symptoms of a larger malaise, or rather problem. We need to examine the overall atmosphere in which a modern corporate operates, the external environment.  Any processes and policies, even on the personnel front, need to be in keeping with this external environment and its relevant factors.

FACTORS OF THE REALITY STATED ABOVE
And these factors are : High growth economy in comparison to the developed world, newly opened to external pressures, increasing competition both internally as well as externally, the current work culture in India, massive gap in demand and supply of jobs, rapid rise in information availability – the information revolution. These factors intertwine together to create a situation where no other approach, at least majorly, is feasible.

Taken together, these impose virtually crippling constraints on Corporations; and the cost of ignoring the brutal demands imposed by the market can at times be too huge, resulting even in shutting of companies – leaving thousands jobless. That is not an alternative that bears contemplation. However, it doesn’t stop at these factors, as the two most crippling factors that stifle innovation while also affecting work culture is something that isn’t limited to Corporate India  - our Chaltaa Hai Attitude & our penchant for selfishness and corruption. These two will be analysed fully in the next article on this theme; as their impact cuts across functions, industries and levels, seriously eroding both innovation  as well as competitive ability, dampening enthusiasm & hampering winning strategies & thoughts.

SUMMARY ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT OF THESE FACTORS
You have an external atmosphere, a culture where people habitually work long hours, even Sundays; where the in-thing is to be seen to be working hard. Add to this, fast growing competition, information revolution, and demand-supply gaps everywhere – and you are looking at certain marketshare losses if you buck the trend; or a certain job loss for yourself – as the pressure on your manager will hit your relationship, or both. If your specific industry involves long hours, and you alone strike out on your own – you could be looking at serious losses unless the shift in work pattern is strategized carefully.

The source of stress & diseases, tiredness is not just time-  but pressure as well. And even in that, I see little alternative, for the current method is the way we in Corporate India have been conditioned to operate under. Given the huge Demand-Supply gap, fact is that any employee at any level can be easily replaced without any loss of operational efficiency. A high attrition rate has little discernible impact on the overall operative efficiency of an organization so long as it is not too far out of hand. Sure – it has massive strategic implications & damage – but the modern manager is not trained to think along strategic lines, neither do most HR processes allow for any room for strategy at the levels where it should matter.

MODERN LIFE IS A CAULDRON
Modern Life is a cauldron – make no mistake about that. I suspect that most career lines will have similar problems, given the overall interplay of the factors outlined above. In a highly competitive atmosphere – stress will rise. That is the nature of competition. The problem isn’t the stress, or the late hours, or such things; they are symptoms of something else – and that something else is what we need to look for in our quest to unlock potential, lessen disease incidence, and enable better stress-handling capabilities of our employees.

In this series of articles on corporate stress and rising disease incidence, I will attempt to look at these factors in detail, and specify what that something else is, before embarking on the hunt for a solution to these issues. For now, my advise to newcomers to this life – adjust to it, and as fast as possible. Find out at the earliest possible moment from the time you graduate as to what helps you de-stress, and then nurture that; it will prove invaluable to you in the long run.

THE REAL ISSUES AT HAND
Coming to the point of the article-  the “something else”, the core reason why stress, disease etc are rising in Corporate India. This is isn’t any one, definable aspect; but rather a jumble of many intertwined major challenge areas : namely, competitive ability & skills – on personal as well as organizational levels;  internal core organizational processes {Pay, R&R, JD, Line Processes, Decision Making support systems, ethics, complaint redressals, PMS} not keeping pace with the external environment; organizational structures {size, span, power matrix, power collusion} not developing fast enough to meet & match external threats; and the most critical failure of all – the total failure of most organizations in my personal knowledge to tap into available information, collate it,  and use it properly…


It is the delicate interplay of these complex factors operating at individual, group, team & organizational levels that collude to create the problems and challenges you see around you. The organizations that manage these in older industries succeed more often than not; while in new industries, the organisations that succeed in incrementally improving these slowly rise above the rest, and take a commanding control of the initiative in the market. This series will, over the next few months, take a look in detail at each parameter… stay connected!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Analysing The Telecom Tangle 1 - Systemic Risks

INTRODUCTION
The telecom sector has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons – rising stress, high debt, loss making or low profitability, mergers, job losses and lot… this sector is one of the high-points of the India Growth story. For this to happen in this showcase industry seems strange from the outside… the reality is, in my opinion, the exact reverse. The seeds of the stress were sown right at the beginning; all hints to this reality were ignored, and by everyone. I do not recall anyone pointing these, self included; though I did come close, to be honest. Yet, when I now look back with my experience garnered since then – there can be no doubt : the seeds of the problems were inherent in the model itself…

SYSTEMS & PROCESSES
It wasn’t, for the most part, deliberate; the decisions that were reached were all rational decisions made by rational people. They may not have been the right ones, as we know from hindsight, but they were decisions reached with a strategy in mind, as we shall see. Also bear in mind that this was a new trade, with no established learnings, norms, procedures, case studies. In essence we were creating them as we went along. And this was the first, most critical point – we went wrong, as we focused on the end-results – new customer acquisitions – in isolation; there should have been equal focus on establishing industry firsts, processes, learnings, sharing of good practices, deep analyses etc. None of this was done for the levels that mattered. The result is there for all to see!

SYSTEMIC ISSUES - TRAINING
The next error that happened was frankly, stupid in the extreme – I make no bones about it. It was simply inexcusable – and it was simply this : there was never any training imparted to new employees as they came into the company, beyond the perfunctory induction training & some technical training. This is fine for old established trades, with established learnings and processes, and in-built mechanisms at team level. This was a disastrous decision for a new trade with none of these. These first two factors taken together sowed the seeds for disaster, as we shall see how they connected years down the line to create hell.  As a matter of fact, in a brutal indictment of the Telecom & Handset Trades, these two trades stand as the only trades where I have not received extensive training on joining the company. s

WHY IDENTIFY SYSTEMIC ISSUES FIRST?
Yes- there were other problems, as we shall see. You could make the case that the major issue was the investments are not justified by the market or its size. There may be some truth to this; an analysis of this is, however, not on the menu for this article. That too will be attended to, in the fullness of time. Please bear with me, as the aspect of the quantum of investments into the industry is deep, has many parameters, and ramifications in addition to a massive scandal associated with it from our past. So, let us leave that aside for the moment. My point is to first of all identify the systemic risks in the model of business as it was practiced on the field. This is because systemic issues create insolvable long terms, and become critical only over a long period of time.

So what do you do, once you have invested in the business? For starters – you are stuck with that decision, and then it is upto you to make the best you can out of it. And this is where the second phase of problems started, and right at the beginning. Mobile Telephony was a new concept to India; and the implied assumption might have been that customers don’t need education. This was especially so in the period prior to internet on mobile. You were in a new market, in a new industry, selling a new product. And when Data happened – this fledgling problem became a full-scale crisis…

AT THE FIELD LEVEL
The focus should have been on developing the market, deepening it; opening new customer lines; new markets; investing in finding new usages and the market sizes of these new usages {think data here}; studying how it can be a game-changer. If any of this happened-  it certainly didn’t percolate to the field levels, and most certainly did not show up in the customer communications. There was little effort to educate the customer, to create the market. The emphasis was always on acquiring new customers. That is by itself a laudable objective; the problem was that this  was the only present objective. By the time the realization sunk in that merely acquiring new customers is useless if they don’t contribute to the bottom and top lines of your company, the rot had set in.  

By this time, unfortunately, the teams were accustomed to getting customers by any means at their disposal – leading to a Brain Drain from the trade as well, as Channel Partners as well as elite employees realized early on that this was wrong, and quit back to their original trades. This was to hurt, and hurt the trade very badly indeed in the time to come. The complete absence of checks and balances to check misuse, {including out-and-out unethical tactics & short sighted approaches to sales} and short term tactics, or profitability over the long term, meant these practices became systemic- giving rise to a fourth systemic risk in the practiced Business Model.

PROFITABLE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
There was never any genuine focus on profitable customer acquisition; this is something I did point out, and in my first few months in the trade, as I could not see the point of having a customer who purchased nothing! That said – I readily admit I did not foresee this getting to be an endemic serious and crippling issue in the trade. When the trade did wake up, the solution proffered was wrong; they started tracking calls, in the sense that sales targets were accepted basis first and second calls and so on. Will 2 or 3 or even 25 calls give you a profitable customer? Obviously not! The only answer should have been to move to revenue targets and per customer revenue, and all along down the line. This was never done, at least not till very late.

The core challenge in this trade is  the nature of the cash flow from Telecom service products, which is a service, and a recurrent revenue source. The employees had no idea of the accounting involved in such a different trade; being from product sales, wherein profitability calculations are far simpler. In this trade, a customer registers a profit only after regular usage of the service over a period of time. This should have been clear right from the start  till the last level of the organization – it wasn’t. I had to educate myself regarding the concept of profitability in such a scenario. The companies did not invest in training employees. It is only after studying the theory myself, including case studies {something laughed at by most salesguys} that I came to the realization of the risk of taking a strategy that did not cater to the risk imposed by the nature of the cash flows that emanated from the Business.

The result of this was a front, second and third line totally disconnected with profitability from operations. In a product sales scenario, so long as the pricing decisions have been & and are properly made, inventories planned out, and an intrinsic demand generated, profit is almost a certainly so long as demand continues to arise, and the scalability of the business attended to. However, this is not the case in Telecom Services, which is a recurrent revenue model, involving very different profit concepts. Unless the profitability is built into the strategies, the processes and the systems at field level – disaster is a foregone conclusion, at least at an industry-wide level.

The inability to ensure sufficient revenue per customer is a problem that has roots in this simple issue; it has, of course, since then grown into gigantic proportions, and with many other, more serious parameters now involved. We shall look at them in later parts of this Telecom Series. The key issue here is, had this been built into the DNA of the organization and the industry at the beginning itself, this would have been hard-coded into the entire company. Working with only  profitable customers would, could and should have been the buzzword for the trade. That it wasn’t the case is a Manifest Truth.

CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST PART
Yes, there are issues of marketing strategies involved – wherein you spread the net wide and then draw it in; was this strategy the best one feasible? Yes, in a fast-growth market, you need to grow in tandem with the Market- But that does not mean you incubate a series of deep systemic risks in your business model for too long, which is what happened! We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it clearly wasn’t the best way to go about it. The industry numbers tell the tale. A check was badly needed; had this check – that of profitable customers only – been there at the start, with a proper process and strategy behind it – in all likelihood, the situation would not have been as bad. For Business is always a matter of choices – and in this case, the choice apparently was between scale or profit. No one thought that it was feasible to develop a strategy of Building-Scale-With-Profit. And that was the biggest industry failure.


In the next parts – I shall go deeper into these systemic risks, and identify the way forward now for the trade, basis hard-core case studies from other industries I have since worked in, as well as my extensive reading of Business Literature from across the world. Stay connected! Furthermore, at no point do I deny the external factors that were to buffet this fledgling trade. My point is simply that the internal systemic risks made the entire system more susceptible to external environmental shocks…. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Our Traffic Jams - And Our Blind Eye To Them...

OUR CROWDED ROADS
Roads… no, I am not talking of the quality – or lack of it – of our roads, for once. While that may still be a problem in more than a few areas, that is still small stuff, really – as compared to the far bigger issue that confronts us with regard to roads. An issue that is not too evident, and yet is increasingly a pressing concern; or, at least – should certainly be a pressing concern for all of us. Not just Indians – but every single resident of this planet.

We worry about the environment – or pretend to, at any rate; that, at least, gets into the newspapers with surprising regularity – not least thanks to a certain Gentleman bearing the first name “Donald”. It does deserve every bit of news space it occupies; that I grant – the environment, I mean. That we don’t do much about it in our personal lives is another matter entirely. I don’t blame the people – those who don’t do much, that is. The environment is going to be just fine for them,  in their lifespans, and thus, they have little to worry about, if you really think about it.

RIVERS OF TRAFFIC!
What I am referring to is something far simpler – the traffic, the abundance of traffic, or should I say, the rivers of traffic on our tiny teensy weensy roads. And I refer to the arteries as well – those teeny weeny 4 and 8 lane – aah-  {forgive me, Civil Engineering / English / Oxford / Merriam Webster et al} – Highways. My heart would ache for the torture they endure were they human. Luckily, they aren’t human, and they aren’t alive. Lucky for us – they would have run away to another Galaxy, leaving us Humans without Roads, had they been alive!

IS THIS PROGRESS?
I have observed the bumper-to-bumper traffic in any number of cities in India; this spans Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chandrapur, Amravati, Indore, Bhopal, Raipur and many more. The sheer waste of resources, time and effort is staggering; so much so, that I gave up my personal vehicle altogether. And I will try my best to continue to use the public transport as far as is possible. A 40 minute journey takes 2 hours – no,  am not talking of Mumbai. I am speaking of other cities. It staggers the mind, and leaves me wondering – is this really progress?

WHY NOT POOL?
Furthermore, it is even more staggering to see cars with one driver on the road frequently… why not car pool? Not to save cash – but to save your time, money, effort, free up time for productive work – I do one hell of a lot of productive work in the commute, for instance – and much much more. But this isn’t limited to cars alone; why don’t bikers also pool rides? Sure, it will be difficult, will involve some compromises. But I have done it for 5 years, and from experience – I can say that it is doable, eminently so.

IT DOES MEAN COMPROMISE – BUT DO IT ALL THE SAME!
Sure, it requires compromise, sacrifice, a redefinition and redesigning for your lifestyle. You will certainly have to walk a lot more – but isn’t that great? I for one have benefited one hell of a lot from the additional walking. And no one is asking you to give up permanently – just cut down – even 3 days a week of a compromise to start is good enough. The time that is saved, can be used to better your enjoyment; like I use the time to listen to Marathi Music, or reading a good book; which I would otherwise not be able to do in a 14-hour day. For the commute time will remain essentially the same, given the traffic.

WHY DO WE NEED TO DO IT AND NOW?
The question is, why do you need to do it? Because roads are finite; land is finite. And new vehicles are being added every day, numbering hundreds of thousands, in every city, street, town and village. Add to that the increasing urbanization rate, and population influx to the cities. Add to that the burgeoning population of India. Put it all together – and the picture becomes crystal clear. You need to do it, else in a few decades, maybe just one decade – the situation might become impossible.

Where do you think the new additional vehicles will be driven? What is the capacity of the roads we have, and how many are using them? Traffic Jams are already a regular issue in nearly every city; and yet, no one does anything. Oh sure, we complain about the Government. Question again is – what are we, the people – doing about it? Cant you get off the roads three days a week? I have gotten off for 4.5 of the past 5.5 years. Sure – it has come at a price. But, I have the satisfaction of knowing I, personally, have contributed albeit in a very small way towards building my nation.

IN SUMMATION
Every additional vehicle on our roads adds to the pressure, it adds to the pollution, it adds a few seconds to the commute time; it adds to body stress, it adds to illnesses, it adds to wastage of time. It is quite possibly among the biggest productivity losses we as a nation are having. How many hours are wasted – a sheer total waste? And how simple it would be to find a better way utilize that time – admittedly at some inconvenience to our ownselves? 

The payback – time saved, money saved, and best of all – a decided improvement in the health parameter. Not just due to the additional physical activity, but most critically due to the lessening of stress, and more positive involvement of the mind! You deserve it, your family deserves it, and most of all your nation needs it. Give up your vehicle 3 days a week!


Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Indian Economy - Detailed MacroAnalysis, Supply Side

As we move towards the GST implementation, the prospect of an economic distress is becoming increasingly evident, at least from a variety of economic indicators. The extreme-right wing is quick to point out the GDP Growth which is still among the better rates in the world & the numbers from Agriculture as proof that all is well; and add to this potpourri the rising stock market, laying claim that all is well with the Indian Economy. The other side is equally quick to point out the slowing GDP numbers from Q4-17 as proof that all is not well.

As a middle-roader, it seems evident to me that despite all the good that has taken place, as well as the systemic changes implemented aka the GST, The reality is quite different, and calls for some deep soul-searching. A look at the complete picture, far from inspiring confidence in the state of the Indian Economy, actually raises a series of questions, and some serious doubts over the near to mid term. Over the long term, a positive outlook is pretty much a guarantee; the trick is getting to the long term, which poses some serious and deep questions.

Gross Fixed Capital Formation
First, the investment numbers. Gross Fixed Capital Formation is at a slow point, which is a cause for serious concern. Not only is it slow, but it has been slowing for 4 years now – 2013 {Refer the chart below for details}. This is a vital point, for this means that the issue isn’t bad policies by the current Government; but rather the issue actually is an economic slowdown that s responsible. Other charts we look at will no doubt establish this general slow-down in the Economy, which has generally gone under-reported.

GFCF


What is GFCF? As per Economics Help, Gross fixed capital formation is essentially net investment. It is a component of the Expenditure method of calculating GDP. To be more precise Gross fixed capital formation measures the net increase in fixed capital. Gross fixed capital formation includes spending on land improvements (fences, ditches, drains, and so on); plant, machinery, and equipment purchases; the construction of roads, railways, private residential dwellings, and commercial and industrial buildings. Disposal of fixed assets is taken away from the total. Thus, a slowdown in this is a cause for concern!

The Index of Industrial Production (IIP)
Next, let us look at the IIP : The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an index for India which details out the growth of various sectors in an economy such as mining, electricity and manufacturing. Here again, the Graph shows a worrying trendline, as can be clearly seen in the chart given below. This is notwithstanding the change in the baseline that effected; the higher numbers of the new series would automatically be higher for the older numbers as well.



The Purchasing Manager’s Index
Add to this the PMI – The Purchasing Manager’s Index, which is The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment. Here again, the trendline can be seen since 2013 or thereabouts, showing increasing stress in the manufacturing sectors of India. Note that a figure below 50 can be interpreted as less than half the purchasers are not too gung-ho about economic prospects.



Credit Growth
Add to this the figures for Credit Growth, and things get really serious : this is the rate at which the bank lending to business grows vis-à-vis the same period last year. This rate is at its lowest in the past several the interested to check for themselves. It can be seen that there has been a long-term degrowing trend starting 4 years ago – again, as in all charts above, making this article a simple economic analysis, and not a comment on this Government.



Gross NPAs
Lastly, let us take a look at the graph of NPA of Indian Banks. This once again shows a rising trendline, extending back 2-3 years and more. While this deserves a more detailed look, to be taken up later, again the overall picture this trendline poses does not inspire confidence.



Putting it all together
Put it all together – IIP, PMI, GFCF, NPAs, Credit Growth – all are showing a decreasing trendline. In almost all, the trendline extends beyond 2014; in almost all, the trendline in the tenure of the current government clearly shows little impact as of now, as can be seen from the graphs quite clearly. These are key economic indices – Industrial Production, Purchasing Managers, Gross Investment in Fixed Capital, Non-Performing Loans, Credit offtake from banks all are signs of healthy economic activity. And in each and every case, the trendline is not one that inspires confidence. This is just the supply side of the equation – the demand side has an equal number of stunning surprises, as I look at PCFE, GCFE and consumer sides in the next article!

Thus, as of now, there is little to celebrate for the extreme-right, right, left or centre wings. The ground reality is that the situation is worrisome, and the interventions of the current government is not yet giving results. With the GST now coming in, the hope is that this will turn things around – but will it solve the core issues that has led to these graphs above? Why has this happened? For that, a deeper analysis is required. But, for now, let us keep in mind that, notwithstanding the GDP growth rate we are all crowing about – the situation a dicey, requiring hard work, and some serious intellectual thinking for solutions!


References: Trading Economics, and Capitalminds for graphs, charts and numbers

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta In Our Schools?

Should we be advocating the teaching of the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta in our schools? I ask this question of myself, and that too as a Bill is being raised in our parliament, to this effect. So far as I am aware, this is a private member’s bill {do drop a comment if that is not so, will edit article}. This bill is coming at a time when a combination of factors is driving interest in reading this code-book of life, judging from posts on Social Media. While it was always a central theme of our life, movies as well as our polity, it has off late come centre stage, which is a great and welcome development.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH THIS HOLY BOOK
My first experience  was reading an Amar Chitra Katha on this topic at age 9-10 or thereabouts; later, at age 12-13, I started reading The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta. I managed to read maybe a few chapters, before moving. Time passed till around 2014, when I again found an interest in this code of life. Since then, I have read it daily, four pages a day, and tend to restart after reading it completely. I have two versions at home – one, Geeta Press; a second one from Bhaktivedant Book Trust which I use for reference purposes. In addition, I refer one or two internet sites daily. I also send two shlok daily to my close family and select friends {who ask for the same}.

MY TAKE
The above preamble was essential, not to toot my horn, but to establish that not only do I respect The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, but have a deep reverence for it. I request people not to read too much into my opinion on this matter; I am speaking up as I believe this should be debated, that my opinion be placed before my friends. This post will be uploaded on FB marked Friends only, and on my blog. No other promotion will be attempted on this. My opinion on this matter is on two fronts -one minor, one major. Both are basis my understanding, and my opinion; I do not lay claim to being an expert. If any other explanation is present, I am open to understanding it.

First of all, I would like to call attention to the following Shlok from The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta – Shlok 67 & 68 from Chapter 18:
इदं ते नातपस्काय नाभक्ताय कदाचन |
चाशुश्रूषवे वाच्यं मां योऽभ्यसूयति || 67||

“This instruction should never be explained to those who are not austere or to those who are not devoted. It should also not be spoken to those who are averse to listening (to spiritual topics), and especially not to those who are envious of me. Source : http://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/18/verse/67”

इदं परमं गुह्यं मद्भक्तेष्वभिधास्यति |
भक्तिं मयि परां कृत्वा मामेवैष्यत्यसंशय: || 68||
“Those, who teach this most confidential knowledge amongst my devotees, perform the greatest act of love. They will come to me without doubt.”

Another site has this to say of 16-67: “You should never disclose this science to one devoid of austerities, nor to one who is not devoted, nor to one adverse to spiritual advancement and never anyone who is envious of me” Source : http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-18-63.html. This second site also has commentaries from Shridhar Swami, Madhavacarya, Ramanuj, Kesav Kashmiri; they seem to be in general agreement.

For further evidence, I looked towards my two physical copies; being a daily reader, they are always handy and near to me. The Geeta Press version says of Shlok 18-67 “Tujhe yeh Geetaroop rahasmay updesh kisi bhi kaal mein naa toh taprahit manushya se kehenaa chaahiye, na bhakti-rahit se, aur na binaa sunneki ichchaawaale se hee kehenaa chaahiye; tathaa joh mujhme doshdrushti rakhtaa hai usse toh kabhi bhi nahi kehenaa chaahiye” Bhaktivedant Trust version states  “Yeh Guhyadnyaan unko kabhi bhi naa bataayaa jaaye jo naa toh saiyami hain, na eknishthh, na Bhakti mein rat hain, na hi use joh mujhse dvesh kartaa ho

MY ANALYSIS
I have used several sources which I regularly refer to, and given the reproduction of the relevant material with source links or specific book references. All of these state the same thing, which I interpret after years of reading them, that The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta is not to be told to anyone who is not a Bhakt, or who is not willing to listen, or who is not at least trying to do some tapashcharya as given in the various Vedic texts. The second verse, 18-68, clearly states that one who preaches this among devotees is blessed. Thus, teaching it in schools does not seem to be warranted by the above {for ex, there will certainly be some students who do not want to listen}, or at the very least, needs a much closer examination by people with real knowledge. {I do not lay claim to such knowledge}. If any reader has a better idea, for I am still a learner, please update me, am willing to learn & upgrade.

The two together are the reason why, despite being a regular early morning reader of 4 pages of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta & 2 pages of one Upanishad {have read a total of 9 so far} for 2+  years, I have never discussed this openly. That is also why I circulate the morning Shlok only on request, that too only  among people I know personally and am in daily touch with, or are my family. Even in my family, I started only after receiving a request, or an expression of interest.

The Second reason – we are a Multi-Religious nation, and teaching a book associated with one Religion does not seem to be the way to go…

These are my two cents on this topic, for what they are worth!