Sunday, August 31, 2008

Apple Inc - fascinating!

I so regret not having learnt more about Apple Inc., in the past. I so regret not having used Apple's products in the past. Man! What a company! What a portfolio! And what class in the way its products look (and feels)!

I have always used the good old Microsoft products - for lack of other options, low awareness and the easy availability of pirated versions of MS products, contributing to my usage. But, Apple is something else. I have been reading a lot about this fantastic Silicon Valley company for the last couple of years and am increasingly in the process of migrating my computer usage with Apple's products - be it an iPod or its web browser, Safari.

More than the products, I am fascinated by the manner in which the Apple folks think about their market, think about their customers, and try to identify newer and newer areas where Apple loyalists can become even more loyal. And, in the process, they have managed to get me more than intrigued by what they have to offer to me as an IT user. Phenomenal thinking!

I just got an iPod, and that possibly triggered my very gradual migration to Apple's products in the last couple of weeks. Simple concepts of using software to meet a human being's day-to-day needs - look at that harmless little gadget called iPod. It sure has become my companion in my drives around town, and has become the source of great entertainment when I am stuck in traffic and need to listen to some old favourites of mine, that will de-stress me in that strenous (and pollution-filled) environment. It looks good too - to be sporting that white cord on my eardrums and drive around town - quite different from the regular noise of the FM radio!! Ok, I love the radio (but have just become an Apple fan, in a big way!).

I came across Safari today, Apple's web browser. And even there, the level of thinking in can be offered to a consumer is mind-blowing. The layout, the functionality, the tabs, the search options, the speed of the browser, the great design, the ease of use, the behaviour of a browser not hanging/misbehaving (I have been suffering that with MSFT for so long now!) etc.

A few months ago, a good friend of mine bought the iMac- that white, classy laptop. The first glance I had at that machine, made my heart skip a beat. And a couple of weeks ago - when my NRI brother-in-law came to India with his Apple laptop- I actually touched it (the laptop, I mean!). I wonder if that's the same feeling (thrill) that one would experience, if one were to touch a girl - I don’t know, am single you see! What a machine! What features! What clarity in operation! What a range of things to do & still be left with so much to do!:)

Man, the Apple is becoming my apple pie (IT darling!), by the day. And given that there is no human darling to write home about in my life (ok, not meaning that in a depressing way at all, but only tongue-in-cheek!), I think the set of Apple products is going to play a greater part in my life, slowly & steadily!

I need to seriously look at the iPhone now - though it costs a bomb!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A sporting revelation for India - Beijing 2008

Reams and reams of paper have been used to eugolise the achievements of the 1983 World Cup cricket team from India. Over the last 25 years', Kapil's Devils have reaped the rewards of a phenomenal and well-deserved life, for their miraculous deeds at Lords' on June 25, 1983. This date is etched in any Indian's memory ever since he/she was old enough to understand dates/history et al.

What Kapil & his team did on that sunny summer afternoon in London is nothing short of legend. That famous win against the mighty West Indies has often been ranked as the most unparalleled and supreme achievement by Indians in any sporting arena. And this praise, is well-deserved, and has further context to it i.e. India was not the liberalized economy that it is now; in those days, anything foreign or imported was considered superior to anything created within the country;anybody owning a cellphone or even importing a car made a headline;one had to wait for a few months to get hold of a landline connection;studying abroad was nothing more than wishful thinking;there was political turmoil in the country what with the terrorist-hit state of Punjab and the turmoil of a tough political environment. There were many such more complicated situations during the early 80s' in India.

But, Kapil & his team believed in themselves. Their victory tasted sweet, indeed, victory in itself always tasted sweet - but the situation that the country found itself in at that time, only made this victory supremely tasty. And has since been the first course, main course and the dessert on any diary that captures India's sporting ethos. Hats off to Kapil's devils for giving us such a unique, rare and incredibly fulfilling moment in our lives! They made us believe that India can be a world-beater; they made us believe that self-belief is the greatest virtue - we never had infrastructure and capital pumped into any sport during that time(unlike the conditions now!).

It was an achievement in severely adverse conditions- and to this date, the strands of hair on both my elbows, simply straighten as soon as I recall/see/visualise that moment when Kapil ran back 25 yards to take the rare catch that Viv Richard's offered that afternoon in London. For me, it is the moment of that World Cup - passion, desire to win, going after it, killer instinct, a mindset of winning, going against all ods, you name it. And of course, that image of Kapil holding the Prudential World Cup of Cricket on the famous Lord's balcony is part of Indian folklore now. Wow, what a moment!

I want to pause for a moment here and bring in Abhinav Bindra. Here is a man - who is perhaps 2 years older than what Kapil was in 1983, and has single-handedly brought the Indian sporting hopes alive after nearly 2.5 decades. Yes, the conditions are vastly different now in India - we get the latest gizmos in the corner marketplace in any city; we are a liberalized nation;we are able to take on the world;we have a say in corporate policy making;we have a presence in many facets of world affairs; we are counted as one of the most aggressively growing regions of the world; the average Indian owns vehicles of his own now; we are more global than we ever were in our entire lineage. And, we have our very own Olympics Gold Medal this year! Wow, what a moment!

Abhinav Bindra is a phenomenon no less than what we had of our legendary cricket team in 1983. While the win in 1983 opened the floodgates of talent in cricket across the country, Abhinav's Olympic gold has the potential to open innumerable opportunities in various other sports. We have people talking of the potential and talent that subsists many sportspersons in different parts of the country, who are otherwise unable to make progress. Abhinav's achievement has the potential to tap into that talent base, nurture them, train them, provide them the right form of training and build the long-term vision for sporting excellence. What happened in cricket was a natural phenomenon i.e. it was the most televised sport and got all the attention. Nothing wrong with that - the 1983 team were champions, make no mistake about it! But the growth in cricket was not necessarily structured till the various zones, Ranji Trophy and other regional cups got some form or shape to them.

But, Abhinav's victory here has the potential for India to look ahead in a structured format. This victory should alert the officialdom in the Sports Authority of India, the Indian Olympic Committee and numerous other regional, state and national authorities related to various other sports, to take up Sports Policy Making & Vision. Something like a corporate vision & mission. Abhinav's gold medal winning effort has the potential for us to go about our future plans for Olympics gold in an incredibly systematic manner. For that to happen, we need to first chart out what the goals are i.e. which games do we have the greatest talent in right now? How is their current situation?What sort of gaps are crippling the system from progressing?Where is the funding going to come from?How does corporate sponsorship tie in with India's Olympics' dreams for the future?And so on...we need to use this opportunity to be incisive, analytical, critical and incredibly ambitious(with a world-beating levels of killer-instinct), if we are going to reach anywhere close to future gold medals on the world stage for India.

Abhinav has given us the impetus. He will alone not be able to do it. We need a collective effort from various stakeholders.

There are many other people who can be included in this effort - and they are world beaters in their own right. Infact, World Champions! The unassuming Prakash Padukone who came back home in 1979, with the All England Club title under his belt - this is nothing short of sporting excellence on a world stage; Viswanathan Anand, a man who has single-handedly put Indian chess on the world map- again, a World Champion, that too twice! Geet Sethi - an unbelievable 8 world titles in snooker and billiards. These are legends - alive and still available with concrete ideas for India's sporting development. And they are people who came into their own in a generation when there was no sporting ethos in the country. Let's use their expertise and world-beating abilities/insights to drive home the advantage for the country in the future.

I hope that Abhinav Bindra's incredible victory spawns a dedicated Olympian culture in India. Hope we have many more such iconic moments in the future!! Cheers, Abhinav and to all the other champions that I have mentioned in this piece - simply admirable and inspiring human beings!Makes me proud to be an Indian - yet again!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Food-filled Saturday & a mini re-union

As my lovely vacation reaches its final leg, the momentum in the degree of fun that I am having is picking up. The day started with a wake up call from an old friend - one of 2 people I was going to have breakfast with, at our old, favourite joints around town. Got up, refreshed myself and reached the famous Veena Stores at 8 a.m. sharp, to be greeted by these 2 tall, ex-colleagues turned wonderful friends. It was a mini re-union of sorts for the 3 of us - Sharat, Vijay and I - to be back in Bangalore after such a long time and to be visiting these old, famous and favourite restaurants/food joints.

Kicking off the breakfast menu with the legendary idly/vada-chutney combination, we moved up the "value-chain" with khara baath, sauvige baath and sweet pongal at Veena Stores. My stomach was already full by the time we finished these, but these two pot-bellied, tall guys around me were in their elements & all set to continue the feast at 2 other famous places. Of course, their tongue-in-cheek of why I am so puny and slim(ok, that was my interpretation!), as against their pot-bellies, was one of the many jovial moments of the morning.

As we trudged down the near-empty street, on a a cloudy and lazy Saturday morning in Malleswaram, we caught up on each other's lives and had nice, long conversations of cultures, languages, et al. Typical, re-union chat, but a little more realistic & not the least bit flashy or ornamental. Good, old-fashioned friendship!

We reached CTR (Central Tiffin Room, now renamed as Shri Sagar) and dug into the ultra-famous "benne masala dosai". The only disappointment of the morning came at CTR, what with the Mangalore bajji and Maddur vadai, not available at that time. Sigh! I was choking, by the time I finished eating the full dosai. But, my counterparts were even more enthusiastic! We walked down to Janata Hotel - this place is usually known for its fantastic masala dosai, but not just me, but even my tall, pot-bellied friends were unable to even consider digesting it. We tried a slightly lighter alternative -kesari baath, which was the second sweet of the morning, in less than an hour, across 3 restaurants!:) This was awesome! And the weather and the quality of our conversation was immensely engaging!

By the time we came out of the Janata Hotel, Sharat, Vijay & I were pooped/tired - and tired because of the effort that went into consuming all these delicacies in one go!:) Anyway, we strolled down the street back to a basketball court(called the Beagles Court!) near Veena Stores and had a long, engaging conversation for the next couple of hours. It was actually so nice to be sitting down with 2 old friends, watching kids practice basketball on a Saturday morning, a stiff breeze blowing across our faces occasionally et al.

Finally, at around 10.30 a.m., calls from one of our local headquarters (read home), prompted us to trudge out of Beagles and head back home.

I was so pooped and full that I wanted to just crash into my bed for the rest of the day. But, I had a bunch of errands to finish and also had to watch a set of finals in the Olympics. Did all that, and skipped lunch!

In the middle of the afternoon, I left home for the Forum mall in Koramangala with 2 other folks and came back home by 7 pm. Of course, this was not before I endured 25 kms of driving in nightmarish traffic, literally moving, bumper to bumper! God help the roads in Bangalore, not to mention the traffic sense of people who drive:(. Managed to chip in with a McDonald's burger, french fries and coke in between, in the mall, amidst a maddening crowd on a Saturday evening in this mall.

In the evening, my bro-in-law was feeling rich, and took 2 of us - my cousin and I , to the Windsor Manor! It was the first time ever I had entered this particular star hotel in Bangalore, and lined up a beautiful dinner by the poolside!:) Wow, good place, awesome ambience, and obviously the other extreme of the spectrum compared to a Veena Stores or a Janata Hotel or a CTR!

Am pooped and tired - of eating. Am going to sleep now. I need a break, as this vacation is "tiring", but am not complaining!!:)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Legends and the premium on longevity

I have long been fascinated by veterans that I have either seen on TV or have met in my life. I used to have this old theory that these people are not necessarily the best people, in tune with the changing times etc - not all, but a few of them. I also used to feel that many of them have been with one organization and may not have necessarily seen the world in other places.

My thoughts on these things have changed over the years as I have myself changed organizations, cities and roles in my 7-year career. And I am now convinced that there is a tremendous amount of premium on durable people, and folks who can last it out – like the ones I have mentioned above. Read on to understand the theory of my case, so to speak!

I personally know of people in industries such as banking, automobile & manufacturing in general, and consulting, who have spent their entire lives in one organization. All of them share a common theme - they now hold/have held extremely senior positions in their respective industries, and are known by their first name by the newest entrants into these industries. These are people who have built such a long innings in their careers in one firm -by the sheer dint of their merit, hard word, sweat, blood and toil.

Yes, there are the biased views that these senior people did not necessarily have the multitude of opportunities that we youngsters are perennially faced with today. But, what these veterans managed to achieve in their environment was truly legendary -. they did not have the various opportunities of today, during their time; yet, they used their careers in building some very core capabilities and skills that make them the legends that they are today. This is so unlike the numerous fly-by-night, short-term, job-hopping careers that many of us in the current generation are possibly guilty of.

These veterans command respect not merely by the titles/designations they hold, or the positions they currently hold/have held in the past. If anything, they command respect for what they are, for what they know, for what they have contributed, not to mention, for their personal credibility. I personally know of one of the senior most banking executives in India, whose word was law in commercial banking i.e. if he refuses a term loan to a company, most executives in many other banks would refuse loans to that company (despite their individual due diligence teams) - such is the credibility of this banking legend that I am talking about. Amazing man! This banking giant is now retired, but enjoys so much credibility that people in his industry still recall his contribution over a 3.5-decade career, as one of the legendary performances seen in Indian banking history.

Similarly, I know of a legend in consulting - in fact my first, big boss - who can literally pick up the phone and speak to the who's who of corporate India today. But the man never misuses his position, is an extremely down-to-earth individual, has his head firmly on his shoulders, and is a person in front of whom, I stand speechless - not because I am scared of him or anything, but purely because I am amazed and inspired at how one individual can achieve so much in a span of 30 very hard-working years. I remember how stunned I was, when he recalled my name and spoke to me for 5 full minutes at Bangalore airport, a year ago, when we crossed each other on our way to our different flights. I mean, a man who consults with people who decide things in corporate India, actually remembered me – possibly, the youngest consultant/trainee he had ever encountered in his life & to remember me by my first name! Stupendous!

At the end of it all, I have decided that it pays to stick it out in the middle, despite the challenges, despite the limitations imposed at various points in time. What is durable is vision, the sense of looking at times to come, the ability to see the larger picture, and to guts it out in the middle. Whether there are bouncers, yorkers, seam-up, spin or full tosses, it takes a combination of all these (if not more), to achieve personal credibility in an industry and be called as the last word in your area of specialisation. Infact, it makes me feel very proud that we have such people in our midst; people, who have proved to me what it means to build an innings and last it out.

The other common thing with all these 3 legendary people is that they are exceptionally committed, sincere and hard working people, who have risen the ranks from being a nobody. All of them were not born with a silver spoon and grew in their careers (and in the eyes of people who know them), by the sheer dint of their individual performance and capabilities. It is actually quite spectacular that they were able to tide over such tough market conditions such as the license raj of the 1980s, adapting well to the changing dynamics of liberalization in India, after 1991 etc. For e.g., these are people who are any day more comfortable making calculations in their native language; or any day more comfortable in writing out a business plan on paper and thinking through the various steps; any day, more comfortable in building systems and processes using good, old-fashioned manuals/process documents etc. That is because their fundamentals were strong and their learning curve was steep. But, they adapted to information technology; to jazzy presentations; to videoconferencing; to conference calls; to jet-setting lives etc. And given a choice, all 3 of them, prefer their simple lives, outside the premises of their respective offices.

And the one final thing in common amongst these 3 veterans is the variety of hats that they donned within the same organization in their careers. They joined at the junior-most levels in their firms and joined with absolutely no backgrounds suited to those industries back in the 60s and 70s. They learnt the very hard way -people may have been there to teach them, but these people had to grind it out. And it was harder than we think it is - no free market economy, highly regulated markets etc. For e.g., I know of one such case, where importing a computer needed permissions from at least a handful of ministries, not to mention the steep customs duty involved. Interestingly, today, all these legends know so much about their industry, that they are called to campuses and internal training centres in their firms, to deliver lectures about their industry at large - not just specific to their company! Of course, all these people worked/are working in gigantic firms within their industry, which in itself, gave them the room to navigate across different roles, functions, departments, locations and types of work.

I am also convinced that their humility and acceptance of the fact that they did not know anything about their industry when they first started, helped them in shaping their careers i.e. learning at every step of their career, in whatever position they may have held, be it a specialist position or a general management position.

Amazing folks, and people who are truly inspirational! After having changed a few jobs in my life, I am more than convinced that its better to don different hats in one large organization and build that personal credibility over the long-term. Not that this is not achievable in a start-up or in a smaller firm - but just that, the certificate of credibility is a bit more over-powering when such a background is built in some of the better known firms.

Hats off to these 3 people I know - the automobile genius, the consulting magician and the banking legend that I have talked about here. They have made me realise the value of durability in its very essence. And having seen it, I can easily say, that it is worth being known as a credible, honest, sincere and good human being. That's the bottom line, rather than flashy designations and quick money.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thrilled to be back!

Home sweet home! Back after nearly 4 years! Away from the razzmattazz of the mad world outside, into the sweet and safe confines of home.

Back to life of zipping around in my car all over town listening to my favourite FM radio channels (and sweet voices of the RJs!):). Back to my old friend's circle. Back to my active social life of enacting dramas, watching plays, going to live recitals and shows. Back to the roots of some cultural ethos and reinforcing my old belief that while modern outlook and growth in life is a must, so is the need to retain old values, traditions and ethics.

Back to my favourite food joints in town - especially the ones near home such as the legendary Veena Stores or the CTR or and Janata Hotel, not to mention the evening chaatwala on 8th cross! Back to getting drenched in the rain without having to worry if there are dry sets of clothes at home or not.

Back to times where I can catch up with old friends and just be myself and have some serious quality time together with people who have mattered for a long time in my life! Back to parents and being a support structure for them in the latter phases of their lives - its never hit me harder that they are the 2 greatest individuals I have ever met & the number and quantum of sacrifices they have made in bringing me up is something I genuinely treasure. Time for me to take care of them and be there for them now!

Back to life where there is time to write in my blog and think of newer ways to keep myself engaged. Back to the times when I can stroll down MG Road and Brigade Road on a Saturday evening and enjoy the sights, sounds and colours around!:).

In a nutshell, back home!!!!

Why its important to stay away from home for sometime...

I never expected to be writing on this theme. But having gone through this phenomenal experience in my life, I couldn't hold back from expressing it.

The context for this particular blog piece is that I have been away from home for over 4 years and just got back to my lovely Garden City a few days ago. Of course, I have been making periodical visits during these last 4 years, but the feeling of being back in the place where I belong is something else. It’s hitting me quite hard and I also see this place so differently now. I mean, the old landmarks are the same, the roadside corner shops are still the same, the tree-lined street near my house is still the same, the sense of familiarity and happiness while cooping up in my old bed is still the same (if not, enhanced due to the home factor!). Yet...there are changes.

The changes are in the way I view my lovely hometown now. Bangalore is not what it used to be. It no longer is the pensioner's paradise that it used to be. Reams of paper have been spent in writing about the growth of this silicon city of India. But for a local like me, the change is apparent - growth has both its pluses and minuses. And more importantly, having been away from home for a while, I view home differently now.

Quite differently, actually. There is a great sense of appreciation for home. There are a few million things that I had to do all on my own in the last 4 years in the different places I stayed in - all of which are just taken care of down here at home. No need to run around in paying bills, no need to hunt for a house, no need to save up extra cash, no need to pay rent, no need to hunt for a reliable servant...the list is endless. And these are the charms of life back home that I have begun to appreciate even more than I did before. Possibly because, I had to not only manage my career, bosses, clients, teams, what have you, in the last 4 years, but also had to manage my own self and things associated with my life outside of a career.

But, those experiences of having struggled through the last 4 years and having been through my own set of unique experiences, has taught me the value of going through that phase. It has convinced me that everybody needs to have a stint outside of his/her home, in order to learn about many things in life. It is not that these things cannot be learnt sitting at home, but the learning curve is steeper and faster, if one moves out of one's comfort zone. There are experiences, which maketh the individual and contributes to the shaping of a personality. Staying away from home has taught me many things - while the list is quite long, the ones I immediately recall are that I have learnt to manage myself better; staying away from home has taught me to manage my finances; it has inculcated the good habit of saving for a rainy day; it has made me learn the meaning of investments; it has made me extremely self-reliant; I have become very, very confident to tackle life; staying away has made me learn that everything in life is not offered on a platter & that one needs to work hard and literally, "earn" one's living; staying away has taught me that the world is full of inequalities and imbalances and imperfections; that situations are circumstantial; that things change at the rate of knots; that there are things one can exercise control over, and there are things that one can do nothing about.

In the course of staying away from home, I have learnt to speak to people from different backgrounds. I have tried to see how different people approach life; how their backgrounds, compulsions and experiences contribute to the way they see the world. The simplest example, I can think of, is the assumption I had of laptops and computers being the ‘common-est’ thing possible. But no, there are places and people, who find it hard to get a phone and manage it. There are people who don't know English (another thing I had thought to be the most common thing possible). There are people who are uneducated. There are people who cannot afford the luxury of even a budget airline in the I said, staying away from home has taught me many, many things - the list is truly endless.

I grew up in the comfort of my parents' abode, where we had all the facilities in the world, thanks to my dad's employment in good positions in India's biggest bank. There were so many things I took for granted - car, driver, servant maid, good houses, great campuses, access to facilities, etc - am not saying that I was a spoilt child, but I did not necessarily understand that there is a world beyond this where there are millions of people who are deprived 2 square meals a day. That is what I have learnt, having stayed alone for the last 4 years - I mean, I always knew it, but having survived and having fended for myself, I now know the meaning of hard work.

Having been through all this, in the first quarter of my life, I am convinced that each individual needs to see life in its elements for himself/herself - and staying away from home is one of the greatest ways to learning all that. Not everybody can do that - some people come from the privileged race and may not necessarily be accommodating of the lesser privileged (am not generalising here, but just stating that such people exist). Others, may not be able to do it i.e. stay away from home, due to compulsions in their lives. But, it is important to see the world. It is important to know that there is a big world out there, full of imperfections and things that many of us just assume to be so normal. For me, at least, staying away from home for 4+ years, was an eye-opener. I am a much improved person now in terms of my ability to understand things and look at alternative opinions and feelings.

I am extremely tempted to join the Teach India initiative that the Times of India has started. I don't think I want to let the hard lessons learnt in the last 4 years, go wasted.