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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Customer Centricism, Arranged Marriages And Shanghai

In a recent webinar, Ranjay Gulati spoke at length about customer centricity and how important it is in the post-financial crisis world. While at different points in history there were different factors that were motivators for customers and most of them eventually did become what Prof. Gulati calls “Hygiene Factors”; what is important to understand is the fact that the financial crisis has dismantled the aura surrounding some of the fat cats of the corporate world in an unprecedented way.

Being, or pretending being customer centric used to be a sureshot way for an organization to win customer confidence, and, subsequently, survive. Customer centricism was the key differentiator, the buzzword, the mantra for running a successful venture. Of course there were factors like innovation, price, or monopoly etc that could ensure that a firm can survive, “customer-driven”, or “customer-focused” or any other fancy term was the clincher. This was the catchphrase that most firms, in a desperate attempt to attract customers used to cling onto hoping that the customer will listen. But, mostly, that was where it ended. CRM was limited to spending just enough amounts of resources that would prevent the customer from suing the firm, especially post-delivery. But, as more and more firms are realizing the hard way, those fancy terms have moved from being Motivators, to being Hygiene Factors. Being customer-centric is not how you succeed in business anymore. It is how you survive in business.

Businesses can no longer hope that the customers will keep coming to them as long as they maintained their edge in the business, which could be a smart product, a strategic location, great prices or even lack of competitors. The only reason why a customer now would come to you is because you care. Because your entire business, your products, services, strategies are designed to ensure that the customer not just feels, but IS at the center.

In the much-ridiculed, and to some extent rightly so system of arranged marriages in India, once a daughter is married, her parents and their families do not just wash their hands off her, but spend most of their lifetimes strengthening ties with the daughter’s husband’s family. There are greetings, gifts, favours and all kind of support that is directed to the groom’s family for generations. The groom’s family receives the pride of place in every social gathering at the girl’s place and has a lot of weight attached to everything they say. This is not done just to ensure that the daughter is treated properly in the groom’s household, but also to extend contacts, resources, networks and, perhaps most importantly, to have a good name in the society which might help in further alliances. The relevance of this reference is left to the reader’s discretion.
If a firm is a stool, Product, Value, and Relationship are like its three legs. You can’t have one shorter or longer than the other. Relationships and Value to customer have to be two-thirds of your organizational structure, the third, of course being the product or service that you offer.

Customer centricism is not just the cute receptionist anymore. It is the big guy sitting in the corner office. Moreover, the criticality and urgency of this realization is not something that should be confined to the board room or should be drilled into the heads of the customer-facing employees during induction. It has to flow in the lifeblood of the organization. It has to be something that every member of the organization swears by. It cannot just be a part of the mission statement. It has to be engraved in the psyche of a firm. It is not enough to just move from the four P’s to the four C’s. You have to align the firm so as to drive real value to the customer, as defined by the customer.

In Shanghai, I used to frequently visit a small restaurant called Hannah’s partly because of the ambience, food and the crowd, but mainly because of the way Hannah – a lady in her fifties – used to just light up seeing me. She would come over, have a small chit-chat, ask what I would like to eat, and then start preparing it. I once, out of sheer habit, took a can of coke from the refrigerator of her restaurant, and walked out forgetting to pay for it. Later, when I realized it, I came back embarrassed to her joint and asked her to take money for the coke. She said it was perfectly fine and I could have the coke free of cost as a gift from her. I went to her restaurant till the last day I was in Shanghai. Again, the relevance of this reference is left to the reader’s discretion.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rise of Facebook – And Why Google Is Worried.

The recent change of command at the Google headquarters has made one thing clear – that Google, for the first time in its history, is rattled and has acknowledged a serious competition to its decade-long dominance over the internet. With erstwhile CEO Eric Schmidt making way for the notoriously media shy Larry Page, Google sent out the clearest signals that there has been a clear shift in Google’s strategy, and that it is going to be more pronounced in coming days. 

From the heady days of redefining the internet and becoming one of the greatest companies in the world, to a time when the Google trio of Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt was the most formidable group in Silicon Valley, Google met with plenty of obstacles and successfully overcame them. 
In the beginning, Google, like the proverbial David, took on the reigning rulers of the information technology world (read Microsoft) and took away first their internet search business, followed by the web-based mails and then the Browser Wars and forced Microsoft to concentrate on their core competencies of Operating Systems and Enterprise applications. The next victims of the Google juggernaut were the web-based instant-messaging clients like yahoo messenger and msn messenger who faded into oblivion thanks to the pristinely simple and effective Google Talk.
This and a host of innovative products like Android, Google News, Google Earth and Blogger ensured that Google was the first word that popped into a user’s mind the moment they logged onto the internet for anything. The Google impact was so strong that internet browsing and searching for information started being referred to as “Googling”.

During the course of its journey, Google also ran into issues with governments and legal agencies over screening of its search results and sometimes over privacy issues, especially for services like Google Maps. Detractors called its motto a façade, its technical capability a sham and its business strategy directionless, but Google kept flying high. On the power of amazing technical innovations, great user experience, smart revenue-generation mechanisms, strategic takeovers and a largely unblemished reputation, the prices of Google’s stocks consistently performed way ahead of the competition.

Google, during its expansion from a two-member Stanford dorm-room company to a 24,000 plus California corporate house, also had its share of poaching allegations but kept attracting the best talent from all over the globe and kept being named as one of the best places to work. Everything seemed perfect. 

Then, a curly-haired, 20-something kid from Harvard arrived on the scene.

The web2.0 revolution made one thing clear. The days of static web pages and sponsored content were over. This age was defined by the generation that had grown up with the internet and wanted to and could generate its own content online. I have always felt that this was something that many companies, Google included, failed to read early. True, Google created Orkut and did meet with some success in the non-US market; and Myspace did enjoy considerable success in the early part of the last decade, something was always missing in the way these products reached out to their users. 
Essentially, Google was, and remains till date, a search company. It’s great at creating crawlers that would read the entire World Wide Web and its pockets so that you can have just the information you want in a fraction of a second, free of cost, but I’m not sure how well Google reads its users and their social trends.

To say that Facebook just happens to enjoy a colossal stroke of luck is to do a bit of disservice to the man behind it. Facebook has proved that at the end of the day, people don’t just want information, they want to share it. I think it’s the second-best example of how user-generated content is preferred by users over organization-generated content, the best example being of course, Wikipedia. And after all, isn’t that what the internet was meant for- sharing information?

Facebook and Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg) didn’t really start off wishing to change the world. On the contrary, Zuck just wanted his friends to look at pictures of girls and vote if they thought the girl was “Hot” or “Not”. In a way, this was an example of the brilliance of Mr. Zuckerberg when it came to, among other things, knowing what people wanted. Today Facebook has over 600 million active users signed up with it who are talking, sharing, watching, planning and, potentially carrying billions of dollars of revenue for anyone who gets their attention.

Somewhat unwittingly, facebook has made a dent in Google’s throne. Google, for a while now, has been struggling to get its social networking business up to a standard where it can be called a Google business without sounding apologetic. It tried first with Orkut which could not take one blow from Facebook and then with the biggest dud in the history of Google – the Google Wave.

Though it still had search, and image sharing, and YouTube and Gmail and gtalk, the day Facebook surpassed Google to become the most visited website in the world, Google knew this was no stroke of luck – this was different.

If you are an active Facebook and Google user like me, you might not have even realized that we don’t really search Google for weather updates, film/restaurants reviews, and holiday planning anymore. We don’t even upload our pictures on Picasa or videos on YouTube. Heck! We don’t even ping our friends on gtalk! 
Why? Because all that is already there by them on Facebook! The gateway to the internet for a user is no longer Google, it’s Facebook. And when Facebook recently refurbished its messaging service to extend functionalities offered it made clear that Facebook is going to rewrite emailing too.

Gradually, step-by-step, and while Google was happily sleeping in its Ivory Tower, Facebook has become the new destination of choice for netizens. The IPO frenzy that Facebook’s IPO plans caused resulted in the IPO being postponed altogether. Mark Zuckerberg has been named the Time Person of the Year 2010. The movie “The Social Network” based on Zuck’s life is nominated in 8 categories for the Academy Awards and has already won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Users are organizing trips, meetings and even revolutions on Facebook- Facebook is everywhere! Just the way once Google was.

How Larry Page – so far the man “behind” most of Google’s innovation and products takes upon arguably the toughest challenge of his illustrious career remains to be seen. But one thing is certain- that we are going to see plenty of action in the coming days from both the sides. In a way, it’s good to have competition as that’s how you keep moving. But every time something like this happens, I wonder if David and Goliath are really two different characters of just two different phases in the life of the same entity!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Shanghai Sojourn

The S3 Asia MBA is a very unique course in more ways than one. On one hand is the wealth of knowledge that a student stands to gain from studying in three amazing universities, and on the other is the priceless opportunity to live in places like Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore. I embarked upon this journey with a lot of preparation. I had tried to imagine the various situations that I might land in and how I would deal with them. In retrospect, I was being utterly stupid! For nothing I could ever imagine would have prepared me for what was in store for me.
 The first thing I felt upon landing at the Pudong International Airport, Shanghai was a rushing sense of being an Indian. It was my first international travel experience and, as destiny would have it, I was in China. Here, I looked different from everyone else. They spoke a language that was nothing like anything I’ve ever heard before. Everything was built gigantic in proportions, the traffic was right-handed and the food- well, let’s leave that for later.
We arrived, settled and started the semester with a lot of enthusiasm- both from the students as well as the university. I can never forget the three-day orientation that Fudan organized for us. The accommodation – Tonghe International Student Village – lived up to its name by proving to be a truly international experience.
Tonghe and Chartre's Deli
 The route everyday from Tonghe to the School of Business gave us an opportunity to walk past the GuangHua Towers. At least to me, the towers remained an awe-inspiring view throughout the semester. The entire Fudan campus has this amazing energy and sense of purpose about it which is reassuring and humbling at the same time. Then the classes started.
GuangHua Towers

With classes, came group studies, assignments, exploring the surroundings, and of course, parties! Tonghe is the perfect place to live as an international student studying at Fudan. The place is perfect in terms of amenities, location and independence. You can study at anyone’s apartment, meet at Chartre’s Deli for a quick meeting over coffee and party like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to cook, there’s a kitchen in every apartment and if you want to eat out, there are plenty of options around to choose from. I would like to make a special mention of a little joint called Hannah’s near Tonghe run by an angel of a lady called, well, Hannah. In case you are an Indian and want to eat healthy food outside on a regular basis, Hannah’s is just the place for you. The lady, thanks to some of our friends, had become so fond of Indian students that she prepared a separate Indian menu with stuff like vegetable rice and chicken curry rice in case you are selective about what meat, if any you wish to eat.
Shanghai has the reputation of being one of the best cities in the world and it totally lives up to it. The city has everything for everyone, there’s great transport, amazing infrastructure, an exciting nightlife and all that jazz that makes any cosmopolitan worth living. There will be small issues sometimes like communication or cuisine if you are conservative like me in the kind of food you eat but, the overall experience makes up for all that and does so nicely!
Now comes my favourite part – the people. In my experiences, I found the Chinese people to be extremely friendly, approachable and understanding. From the cabbie who sang Awaraa Hoon to professors who offered to conduct the same paper twice because some students were flying earlier; from the total strangers who would approach you and start talking to the nightclubs that would play Himesh Reshamiya’s version of Ek Hasina Thi (!!!), the people of Shanghai  came across as a very affable lot. With the students, there were cultural confusions in the beginning of the semester but as time passed, we started understanding each other better thanks to the various cultural days organized by students from each country and Varun’s dance classes the overall group turned out to be extremely coherent.
As I wait for the next semester to start in Seoul, I sometimes wonder if times or going to get better or worse. After a start like this, your expectations start soaring new heights and that is when the pessimist in you also starts questioning everything. I am really not sure how it is going to be. But, I’m glad that I got a chance to study in a city like Shanghai in a university like Fudan; and that’s something that is going to stay with me always.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


"मुस्कुरा लिए ज़रा सा, थोड़ी सी साँस ले ली, 
हम वहाँ वहाँ हरे हैं, बूँदें गिरी जहाँ जहाँ."

"जो ठहरा हुआ था मंज़र.. उसके निशाँ मिले..
खाना -बदोश जज़्बे , जाने कहाँ चले..
इक साज़ उठा था कहीं, धुन थी कहीं सुनी..
सेहराओं  के दामन में, तनहा से गुल खिले..
ठंडी सी रात का सफ़र, कटते नहीं लम्हे...
एहसास सर्द कर दे जो, कोई ऐसी हवा चले."

"निकला था जब मैं घर से.. तुझे सीने में भर लिया था.. 
एक अरसे बाद जा के, फिर आज साँस  ली है.."


He was standing in his usual spot – the corner of the terrace that faced the sea. He loved that spot. Every time he was at Sharon’s place, which happened almost every Friday night thanks to her talent of finding reasons to party (today was because a friend of hers, an Australian photographer cum guitarist named Fred, who was holidaying in Goa had struck a deal with a local band to perform part-time), he would invariably end up at that particular spot, with his glass resting on the boundary of the terrace, his cigarette in his left hand with its smoke gradually rising up in the dark night, first in a straight line, then just getting lost in oblivion. He always felt that the path that the smoke trailed resembled his life. The fact that he could never make clear rings of smoke reinforced his belief.
“Nice view! I wonder why there’s no one else here.” He heard a voice and looked around. He saw her standing there – wearing a satin blue evening dress and a glass of champagne in her right hand – facing the sea with the winds caressing her long, curly hair and her chandelier earrings dancing to their own tune in the wind. He smiled at her and said, “Just that the party is inside”.
“Yeah... whatever. But it’s nice here. I like the sea. Makes me feel alive.”
“I just like the noise the waves make. It’s so quiet.”
She looked at him for a while, her eyes fixed at his face. He stood there, first looking at her, then focusing his gaze at the sea again, his frame silhouetted against the full moon. “I’m Vishakha.” She said. “Anubhav. Nice meeting you. Are you Sharon’s friend? Haven’t seen you here before.”
 “Actually I’m on a holiday here. A friend of mine – Vini – is Sharon’s friend. I just came with her since we had nothing planned for the evening.”
“Vini Mathur?”
“Yeah. She and Sharon are old friends.”
“Ya I know Vini. She’s fun.”
The sea was getting calmer as the night progressed. Their conversation had moved on too. They were sitting on the terrace wall with her stilettos playfully dangling from her toes. Her glass was empty and rolling beside her. His glass was largely untouched.
She said, “Have you noticed the way these little boats venture out in the sea during night? The fishermen need to leave early to be able to catch fish early in the morning in order to sell them at a good price. For them, life is a never-ending battle for survival. Each day brings an opportunity to do things differently, to try something new – even though the goal of each day is the same.” He said, “If you look at it, we’re all fishermen here in the sea of life. Except for those who choose to stay at the shore and wait for the waves to stop.”
“But waves never stop, do they?”
“Nope, they’re the heartbeats of the sea.”
The wind kept blowing. The sea breeze carried her fragrance to him – the all too familiar Chanel Allure. He tried not to pay too much attention to it, but it was something that he was still grappling with. He emptied his glass in a long swig. “I think I need another drink. What about you?” He asked.
She replied, “I think I’ll just go down. Vini must be looking for me.”
Looking at his watch, he said, “Yeah, we’ve been here for quite some time. Actually more than two hours!”
“Seriously? It hardly seemed so! Anyways, nice talking to you. Let’s catch up sometime.”
“Sure! You carry on; I’ll go down in a while.”
“Bye, but don’t stay here for too long. It’s getting colder.” And she left.  He knew he was never going to see her again. At least he hoped so.

He was staring at the wall of toothpastes on the shelf. There were at least twenty different brands with each offering 5 different types of toothpastes. There were flavoured ones with superheroes printed on them as well as herbal pastes claiming to be eco-friendly, though nicely packed in plastic bottles. “I just want something to brush my teeth with twice a day!” he muttered under his breath. “Hey there!” someone called him. He turned around and saw her standing with a full shopping cart.
“Hi! Vishakha, right? What are you doing here?”
“Well, much as I’d like to say I own this store chain, the truth is that I’m shopping for my return journey.”
“I had a feeling that you’re from a different planet when I met you at the party. Looking at the stuff you need for the journey, I’m kinda sure now!” He said smiling. She burst out laughing. “Actually most of this stuff is for Vini’s apartment. She was busy so I thought I’ll pick them up for her. I just needed some toothpaste for the journey. I have an early morning flight and I hate talking to people without brushing my teeth.”
“Aah, the toothpaste! Join the club. I don’t understand why we need one hundred different types of them!”
“I know! It’s as if life isn’t complicated enough already!”
“Actually it’s pretty simple. We seem to be hell-bent on making it complicated.”
“So you’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Yup. Taking the 5:35 am Kingfisher flight.”
“That reminds me… I never asked where you’re from.”
“I’m basically from Jaipur, but I’ve been living and working in Bangalore for past couple of years. What about you?”
“I’m from Lucknow. Came to Goa to study management and then started working here as well. I work for a chain of bookstores, looking at their management and promotion related stuff.”
“Nice. Sounds good. I’m into teaching. I teach Biology at the Christ College.”
“It’s a nice place, Bangalore. I’ve been there a few times for work. I love the greenery there.”
“It used to be greener. And much more pleasant. Past couple of years the city has just bloated like a hot air balloon. Thanks to the IT revolution.”
“It’s the same everywhere. Goa used to be very different when I came here too.”
As they were talking, Anubhav, for the first time, took a good look at her. She had a round face, curly hair and round, dark eyes. Her frame was petite and skin was wheatish fair. At five-foot three, she had the appearance that could look average or striking depending on how she wanted to look. But the one thing that Anubhav could clearly tell was that there was a very poised, graceful feminine air about her that commanded respect without making the other person uncomfortable. Anubhav knew what it was. She had class.
He said, “Would you like to have some coffee? I know a place in this mall where we can sit and talk. And of course the coffee is pretty decent.”
“I’m not sure. Vini must be getting back home”
“Well knowing Vini if she comes to know that I didn’t treat her guest with some coffee, I’m sure I’ll be in a lot of trouble! Besides, it’ll be an absolute honour and pleasure. But if you’re getting late, I totally understand.”
“Umm… well let’s go. All this toothpaste selection has made me dizzy anyways!”

They walked into a bookstore on the ground floor. On the right, there was a section where one could sit across low-set couches with tables in the middle and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. There were paintings on the walls and soothing lights. She said, “Nice place. Hang on; you said you work for a bookstore chain. Is this one of their stores?”
He smiled. She asked, “And do these people know that you’re their boss?” He replied, “No they don’t. And I’m just another customer right now.”
They sat facing each other in a corner. As they talked, with the conversation ranging from books to music to business to arts to philosophy, Anubhav couldn’t help noticing her wide knowledge on each topic as well as her amazing conversational skills. He felt the promise he had made to himself three years ago, gradually fading away. And he knew that he was being stupid. Again.
They finished two cups of coffee each, talked for close to three hours and by the time they looked at the clock, it sun was setting outside. She exclaimed, “Oh God! It’s almost evening! I had promised Vini that we’ll go out for dinner and I’m gonna be late! Man! I gotta get myself a wrist watch!”
That was when Anubhav noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wrist watch. That was also when he noticed a beautiful diamond ring on her right hand ring finger. In that fraction of a second, he went through hope, happiness, disappointment and delusion, all mixed together. He also realized that he was smiling, somewhat idiotically. He said, “Oh! I’m so sorry! I totally forgot! How’re you planning to get back?”
“I’ll just get a cab. Could we please leave? I’m really sorry but I hope you understand.”
“I could drop you home. I haven’t met Vini since the party so I’ll say hi to her as well.”
“No its ok. I have to finish some work on my way too.”
He said, somewhat restraining himself, “Fine. Let’s go.”
She rushed out of the mall, hurriedly called for a cab and got in. As the cab left, she said, “Thanks for the coffee! Bye!”
He said, “Thank you.” And smiled.

Benny was just being his usual self – funny and loud – starting with some old Hindi song and making a total parody of it without realizing it thanks to his pathetic memory. Raj, the Old Monk, was quietly sipping his rum with his iPod plugged in one ear and the other one open for abuse raining from Benny’s version of Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya. The three of them, they had been like this since their MBA days. And without ever saying in words, they knew that they were friends for life. No grudges, no secrets and except for Anubhav, no sense of seriousness towards life.
Anubhav said, “I met her again today, the girl I met at Sharon’s place last week.”
Benny replied, “Who? The one who works at the radio station?”
Old Monk said, with the iPod still plugged in his left ear, “No. this one’s Vini’s friend. And there’s no one he’s met who works at the radio station.”
Benny – “Ya, so?”
Anubhav – “Nothing. I kinda liked her. But turns out she’s engaged.”
Benny – “Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya…”
Raj – “Did she tell you?”
Anubhav – “I saw the ring on her finger”
Raj – “Which hand? Right or left?”
Anubhav – “Right. But how does it matter?”
Raj – “Actually it does. The engagement ring is worn on the left hand”
Anubhav – “What? Bull!”
Raj just gave him his iPod. Anubhav saw there was a Wikipedia page open on it with the title, ‘Engagement Ring’.
Benny – “Dude! Haven’t you seen DDLJ? Rani Mukherjee tells Shah Rukh about this fact in the movie.”
Both Raj and Anubhav gave him a cold stare and then burst out laughing. After a while, when Benny was more drunk and less noisy, Raj said to Anubhav, “Are you sure you liked her?” Anubhav nodded. “Then what’s the problem?”
“You know what the problem is.”
“Don’t you think you’re stretching this a little too far?”
“Yes you are.” Benny shouted from across the hall. He always had sharp ears and was always able to minutely follow things without ever really seeming to be paying any attention.
He continued, “What happened to Sarah was sad. And we’re all sad about it. No offences but I miss her almost as much as you do. And I’m sure the Monk does so too. But that’s life bro! You can’t deny yourself your legitimate share of happiness just because medical science does not have a cure for some freak disease! Have you ever thought how Sarah must be feeling looking at you from up there? And who do you think would she be blaming for this? Every moment of happiness that you deny yourself is also a moment of happiness that you take away from her, and from us. But how the hell does any of this matter to you? At least I never feel it does.”
Both Anubhav and Raj were shocked. After a minute of silence, Raj said, “I think Benny is right”. Anubhav went to the balcony. He always had trouble crying in front of people.
Both Raj and Benny had passed out. Anubhav was sitting in the balcony. The day was still fresh in his mind. Sarah was lying in her hospital bed, her beautiful face shrunk to its skull, her hair lifeless, and her eyes – those big, beautiful eyes – looking exhausted fighting against the pain for so long. He was looking at her. She asked, “What are you looking at?”
He said, “The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
She closed her eyes and gave a faint smile. He said, “Benny wanted to come, but had to go for some urgent work at the last moment.”
“I knew he wouldn’t come. When was the last time you slept properly?”
“Who? Me? I sleep like a log!” He lied. She gave him that look. He turned his face away.
She said, “Baby there’s nothing we can do about this. You have done much more than what was needed. We’re just too small for this. The best we can do is to accept it and move on. See, I’ve already moved on. I think the doctor who comes to see me is cute!”
He said, his face flushed, “if you ever use that phrase, move on, again, I’ll kill you.”
She said, smiling, “Anubhav, Move on.” And closed her eyes. That was the last breath she took.

It was four in the morning. Suddenly he felt that a load had been lifted off his chest. He felt that things were getting cleared up finally. He knew what he was going to do. He rushed inside the hall of his apartment where Benny and Raj were sleeping. “Guys, wake up!” Benny didn’t move. Raj groggily said, “Huh? What happened?” Anubhav said, “We’re going to the airport.”
Raj, surprised – “What? Seriously?”
Anubhav – “Yup. Seriously.” And smiled.
Benny said, without moving, “Dude I was just blabbering! You took that seriously? Go sleep it off!”
Raj – “Let’s go Benny. Otherwise he’ll miss the flight.”
Benny – “Flight? What flight?”
Anubhav screamed, “Just shut up and let’s go!!” and they ran out of the apartment.
They reached the airport in about forty minutes. On the way, Anubhav realized that he didn’t have Vishakha’s phone number or any personal contact information. And somehow he didn’t want to get Vini involved into this. All he knew was that she was taking the 5:35 am Kingfisher flight to Bangalore. After reaching the airport, he realized that the security check-ins had already started. His heart started beating faster. What if she’d already gone inside?

She hadn’t gone inside. She was still waiting outside, though a little far from where he was, not quite sure what she was waiting for. At one level it felt strange and childish, at the other level, it felt absolutely real and definite. But with every minute that passed, her hopes diminished and she felt more and more silly.
He finally saw her standing in the distance, looking in the other direction without really looking at anything. He walked up to her, his heart pounding. Just when he reached near her, as if on cue, she turned around. They stood there for a second, looking at each other, then finally he said, “Hope you didn’t forget to brush your teeth. I’d love to talk!” and she again burst out laughing. Finally she said, “I wasn’t sure if you’d come.”
“Neither was I” he said, “But not anymore.” She smiled at him.
He said, “Sorry I couldn’t get any flowers for you, but I got this instead. Hope you like it.” And extended a small box to her.
It was Chanel Allure.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Last Year, This Time

It was the same date last year. Recession had hit everyone in more ways than anyone can ever describe in one blog post. I was desperately trying to find another job before I was thrown out of my current one. Needless to say, I was not meeting any success and with every passing day, my options, and hopes, were diminishing. I had everything just a few weeks back. A well paying job, great friends, a comfortable flat that I had so enthusiastically set up and all of a sudden it came crashing down. It was not just a job loss. It was a phase which I never imagined would come in my life. I always thought I was too smart, well-connected and secure to feel any threat whatsoever from the recession. I used to tell everyone how one could still manage to survive and thrive in the industry if one were smart enough. And yet, there I was – begging anyone and everyone to arrange a interview call for me, attending any interview call that I could manage to get and praying, desperately, to the Gods I never believed in.  And yet things were not showing any signs of improvement.
 My parents had come over, as they usually used to do in the summers. By the time they arrived here, I was on a paid leave from my employers which basically meant that I had to wait until they asked me and half of the rest of organization, to formally resign and fend for themselves. It used to be a different scenario in earlier summers. We used to have a great time together as a family. I got to spend time with my parents the way I never could before I started earning. A boarding school upbringing though teaches you so much about life, it deprives you of those childhood memories that most kids grow up with of their families. So when my parents used to arrive, I used to spend a lot of time with them. Buy things for them, take them to various places and connect with them on a level which I never thought I could earlier. And the joy that you see in their eyes when they see you doing well in life. But this year was different.
This year, everyday, I used to wake up, check my mails hoping to see some positive news from anywhere, and then spend the rest of the day sitting, pretending as if nothing had happened. But we all knew too well what was happening. And what it was doing to all of us. Then the day came. It was a Friday. My father is an avid tabla player. And as this was a longer trip to Bangalore, he had carried his tabla with him. Everyday post lunch he used to play it for a couple of hours and for him, that Friday was no different. I got up, got dressed and reached my office where they had called us for a “meeting”. As expected, they told us that they were sorry that they could not do anything for us and asked us to formally resign. I resigned and came home. When I reached home, dad was playing the tabla. Looking at me, he asked me how the meeting went. I told him that I have resigned and sank into the sofa. He said “ok” and started playing again. I was shocked. I told him, “I have resigned and I don’t know what I’m going to do now.” He said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright”, and resumed the tabla.  I was not sure how to react to this whole situation. Two hours later, I got a call on my mobile. It was Chetan LS – then VP of HR, Aditi Technologies. He told that he came to know that I was looking for a job change and asked if I could join Aditi again. All I could say was “yes”. He said, “fine, let me roll out an offer for you, can you join us on Monday?” All I could say was “yes”. And then I looked at my dad, he was still playing the tabla, smiling.
It’s been a year from that incident. Things have changed a lot, and, thankfully, for the better. When I look back at this date exactly a year back, I realize that I grew so much as a person in those couple of hours. In those few hours, without saying anything, my dad taught me the importance of staying humble and positive, and the importance of staying calm in difficult situations. He taught me that irrespective of how tough the situation is, it always changes. What matters is how we handle the change. And how we hold our nerves while the transition is happening. And yes, how important it is to know how to play a musical instrument!
As I take another huge leap of faith in my life, I feel a strange calm surrounding me. I know that no matter what I come across in future, I will survive. And the music will play on!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I am..

It’s a Saturday afternoon… I’m on my bike going somewhere on the Outer Ring Road... I’m doing somewhere between 75-85..( can’t be precise as the speedo stopped working sometime back)..
There’s Timberland and Timberlake blaring Carry Out in the earphones… I can feel the warm sun on the back of my neck…it’s a beautiful day..

I see an SUV trying to take over from the left..i loosen the throttle a bit.. the SUV pedals to catch up.. I lazily let go of the throttle fully and can see the SUV diminish into the distance..

 as I cross it, I give a lazy, dismissive nod to the driver and move on.. the music still pumping in my ears.

I might be nothing. I might have been a loser all my life. But, in that one moment, for those few seconds… 
I am The King of Cool.