Monday, September 30, 2013

The Indian Gold Obsession

When you think of Gold and Indians, the first image that probably pops up in your head is that of Bappi Lahiri. Well, remove that memory now and try to think that image never came into your head.

A couple of weeks back, I went out shopping with my mother who wanted to buy something for her friend who was retiring. And what did she choose to buy? Silver. I couldn’t quite understand the Indian obsession with buying/gifting Gold and Silver and an argument ensued in the shop, about the sensibilities behind buying something that you very rarely use anyways.

And here’s the conversation that followed.
Me       : Why are you buying this piece of silver?
Mom   : It is a silver lamp da. They’ll find it useful. They can light it every day in their house.
Me       : Oh really? How many Silver Lamps have we been gifted?
Mom   : That’s there da. Quite a few I guess.
Me       : And where are they? I haven’t ever seen them at home?
Mom   : Illa da. It’s not really safe these days. They are all safely locked up in the bank locker.
Me       : Wow. And you expect your friend not to do the same with this one you are buying them?
Mom   : <Nearly agitated> See, don’t hurt my sentiments.
Me       : Now this is a sentimental buy and not a useful one? What will you do with the Silver stuff that we were gifted? Don’t they all blacken in the locker?
Mom   : Well, some of them do. These shops have exchange offers no. We come back and get it exchanged for something new at a minimal cost.

**Salesman in the Gold Shop gives a vigorous nod and talks about how high a price they give in their exchange schemes**

Me       : Wow. So someone gives you a gift in the expectation that you use it. You put it in the locker to keep it safe, and then when it blackens, you exchange it in these shops that give you an Extra-ordinary price! And buy something that you gift to someone else, who probably will do the same. I see only one beneficiary in this whole process. This sales guy and his shop!

**And the sales guy gives me a wry smile to indicate I am a mad guy to be arguing against the Holy Indian Sentiment of buying Gold & Silver**

The argument in the shop ended but I kept probing my mom and dad, and a few others on why people buy gold! And here are some of the arguments I got.

“Gold is mandatory for a girl’s marriage. So, I have started buying up now. What if the Gold Price increases later?”

What if the guy turns out to be good and doesn’t want gold. What if Gold is no longer the in-thing then, and people want platinum or diamonds or whatever. What if the rate of gold hits a rut by then and you end up getting it a lot cheaper then. And more importantly why the hell is Gold mandatory for a girl’s marriage. If at all you want to shower your love on her, give her and her husband something that they’ll actually use no? Not something that they’ll keep safely in the locker and use when their kid reaches marriage-able age!

“Gold is a form of showing love.”

What do people do with the silver and gold articles that you gift them. Put them in a locker and keep them safe, and then pass it on to their kids. What do they do. Wait till they start getting bad, come back to the jewel shops, return them and buy something new and put it back in the locker hoping for some fine day when they can do a Bappi da impression or buy something else to gift someone else!

“Having gold is auspicious. That too buying Gold on Akshaya Tritiya means wealth will flow throughout the year in our house”

And then you laugh at today’s generations who ‘celebrate’ Mothers Day, Fathers Day and XYZ Day. Are you sure this isn’t one of those more elaborate ancient versions of the ‘Archies-Hallmark Holidays’ like Rose Day, Teddy bear day and whatever crap? Isn’t this whole brouhaha around Akshaya Tritiya like those ones around the Special Discount seasons when sales get low. Because there aren’t enough marriages happening in that time, and gold sales may plummet?

“Gold is a form of savings/investment.”

Well, if your intention is to save money or investment, then do some actual investment no. Why not actually save or invest by putting the money in a bank or in a mutual fund/stock market or in the worst case one of those Fixed Deposit schemes run by Nationalised Banks and Post Offices? Or if you want to invest by buying something, buy something that you might actually use and is of value to you no.

And last but certainly the worst! “When you wear gold to marriage, you show you are doing good. That your family is treating you well”

So, if you wear gold when you go to a marriage, you display that things are going well. That you are well off. And want to flaunt your excesses through dazzling gold jewels. Why live for the society or to create a perception that you are well off, and can buy gold.

And today the Indian gold obsession has manifested itself in multiple forms. EMI schemes to save up gold by the time your daughter is of ‘marriageable’ age! Buy gold at today’s rates in the future. Gold SIPs. Gold this, Gold that and Gold what not!

And question all these with your parents or elders, they will say ‘You won’t understand now’. Next stage ’As if you not buying it as a single person is going to change the society’.
And the final bombshell: ‘Won’t you ask for gold when you get married’

Well, why the hell would I! 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chronicles of a Travelling Salesman #2 - IIM Ahmedabad? What IIM?

Pillion-riding in the heat and the drizzle; eating at every eatery - imaginable and the unimaginable; passive-smoking more in the last two months than I probably would have across the 24 years of my life; trying to make sense of what I learnt at BSchool and implementing at least pieces of it on the field. Sales has been a complete revelation. From what I heard in pre-BSchool life and BSchool life, my view of sales had varied from 'Running from Door-to-door to sell soaps and razors' to 'Buying a couple of bottles for the distributor to make up for the month-end dumping at his doorstep'. 

Sir, Good morning. I am Shrinivas from Airtel!
On a tangential view, sales has been a revelation in other terms as well. (And before someone asks, all the conversations obviously happened in Tamil)  

Retailer to me - 'What have you studied, son'
Me - 'MBA from IIM sir.'
Retailer introduces me to his wife a few min later - 'This is new Airtel guy. He has done degree from IIPM'
And turns to me - 'Sir both are same no!'

Well, BSchool did teach me about the power of advertising in the mind of consumers. But this was an eye-opener indeed, by all means!

Me: Sir, good morning. I'm Shrinivas from Airtel. 
Retailer: Good morning. New ah? Nice! Hope you service my outlet properly. What have you studied?
Me: Sure sir, I'll ensure that. I've done MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in Gujarat. 
Retailer: MBA in some other state, and then you are doing this 5000 rupee job ah? Why? You didn't get any government job? I have connections. Shall I recommend you for a better job? 
Me: *Erm*

Me: Sir, Shrinivas from Airtel sir. 
Retailer: Super pa. Come in. 
Me: Thank you na! 
Retailer: What have you studied pa?
Me: I did MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in Gujarat. 
Retailer: Gujarat? Tell me about Narendra Modi pa! Is he so good? Will he actually make our country like US and China?

Me: Sir, Good morning! How's the business going sir? Any issues?
Retailer: Come pa. The last time you came, you were saying you were from Ahmedabad some college no? Is it the one where Laloo Prasad spoke?

Me: Hi! I am Shrinivas from Airtel. 
Retailer: Vanakkam sir. You look new. When did you join? Where were you working before this? 
Me: Sir, I did MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. This is my first job sir.
Retailer: Why pa? You didn't get admission in any Tamil Nadu colleges and all ah?

Me: Anna, I did my B.Tech in Bhopal and MBA in IIM Ahmedabad. 
Retailer: Ohh! My friend also wanted to do MBA. Can you get him some management quota seat in your college? You'll know people there no?
Me: Illa na. You have to take entrance and then go. There are classes for it as well. 
Retailer: What pa. Tell me you don't know the people. Even this TN Engineering entrance is there. But people still pay few lakh and get in through Management quota no? It will be there in your college also. Ask and tell me. Here's my number. 

Me: *introduced myself to retailer*
Retailer: Oh! IIM! I've heard of this. Similar to IIT no? But I though IIM people go into hi-fi jobs and earn in crores. Why have you come to Sales?! 
*gives exasperated look*
My mind voice: Ah well, screw you media houses for this predicament!
Me: No sir, those crore packages include variable and are in foreign currency. So it isn't right to compare. 
Retailer: Enna pa. Just because you didn't get; don't badmouth your friends who are earning more than you. 
Me: Argh! 

Me: I did my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad sir. 
Retailer: Ahmedabad? Gujarat? Wow. Nice! Gujarat is like foreign countries no? I have seen pictures on Facebook. 
Me: Ohh! Is it? The cities are good, yes.
Retailer: Yes yes sir. That Narendra Modi has to become our next PM. He rescued 15000 people from flood and all it seems. He will rescue our country from this drought. 
Me: Sir, that and all is false sir. You didn't read the paper later ah?  The paper gave apology and all to Modi. 
Retailer: You are a Congress supporter ah? I like Modi pa. See. I am running a special offer for his Birthday. 
*And proudly shows me a Printout that says 'Special offer on the occasion of Tomorrow's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday. Airtel SIM - 60 Rupees 99 Talk Time' 
My mind voice: I thought this population was restricted to Twitter alone!

And thus goes Life in Sales! Learning every day, everywhere. The learning is a lot to do with your attitude as well, as some times we guys from the ‘Top’ BSchools land up in Sales roles with a sense of entitlement and expecting royal treatment for the diploma that we have completed.

We end up meeting a lot of people who are a lot more experienced, and knowledgeable about the field than we are; but are paid lesser (?) because they don’t have that diploma that we have. And I have seen a few BSchool grads display this ‘What do you know man. I have this diploma from a B School. I know a lot more than you do, with your years of experience selling jams and shampoos’ attitude

Life in your sales stint acts as that leveler, to bring you back down to earth from the high horse that some Top BSchool graduates fly on, post the lucrative ‘cattle fair’ that placements often are.

PS: This isn't meant to demean anyone or display a 'I am better than you' attitude and what not. I know it is too much to expect people in such areas to know a post graduate institute in another corner of the country; and acknowledge the fact as well. This is just a collection of anecdotes of my interactions with people; and what they said when I did my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. All meant in good humour. Pardon any hurt caused. :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Chennai Auto Meter Conundrum

When you think of Chennai, the first few things that come to your head – The weather, the language and the auto drivers. The auto drivers and their non-existent meters. Every train journey of mine used to end looking forward to that conversation bargaining with the auto drivers at Central station. It was quite some fun actually, the meaningless arguments I had with them; and at times a good bargain actually gave me a kick. Though most of the times that was never the case.

“Sir, where do you want to go?” an eager autodriver would ask, sensing his prey. “KK Nagar. How much would it cost?” I’d ask with the teeny weeny hope of finding an honest auto driver someday. The reply would almost always range between 250 to the outrageously high 400.

“I only wanted a drop, not a return back to the station once again,” I’d say to the normal ones. Some of the extremely pestering ones earned the barb of “Sir, auto la do you have an AC fitted or something?” And once I got so mega pissed that I pulled off a North Indian impression on an auto driver by replying in stuttering Tamil to the ever so eager “Sir, where do you want to go?”

One could actually see the guy’s eyes literally light up, sensing that he had found his bakra for the day. “Sir, 500 sir. Punch So,” he replied. I bargained with him a little in my broken Tamil, and English. And then when he refused to climb down below 400, I asked “Enna pa, veli ooru na orediya emaathuvenga pola” (What bro, if its some outstation guy, you’ll literally fool him?) And that was the last I saw of the guy, who said “Sorry boss” and made a quick escape.

With such a multitude of experiences with auto guys, and their general averseness to meters in Chennai, I was really curious to see how the recent government order mandating meters in Chennai would work. My initial thought was that it would go down the drain like most other previous attempts. But boy, they seem to have done their homework real well this time.

I began my walk from outside the bus stand today, to look for an auto. The eager faces that would crowd around you were missing. Probably realizing that the place would no longer fetch them the lucrative amounts it once did. Outside, I called for an auto; who came over. “Meter?” I enquired. “No sir, not working. I’ve given it for repair. You tell me, how much are you willing to pay, we’ll go”

I asked the auto guy again, if he’d turn on the meter. He stood his stand, and I asked him to move on. Two more autos passed. One asked me for 20 bucks more than the meter, quoting the usual old excuse of a one-way road on the way back. And the other auto didn’t have a meter at all, but the rate card alone! “Sir, government has themselves given us time for implementation. What is your problem? Wait for it to get implemented,” he told me.

With slight disappointment, and the frustration of having been stuck in the traffic for a long time, I thought I’d give it a go this time; and started. “I’ll give you 70.” An old uncle behind me who saw me struggle walked up and told me, “What pa. You look educated and all. From here to KK Nagar will just be about 50 bucks. Don’t trust these fellows. They’ll tell you the meter won’t work, and once you climb in, they’ll turn it on so that they don’t get caught by the police”.  And it was then that something struck me. 

Finally, after a ten minute wait, an auto driver came up to me. “Where do you want to go sir?”. “KK Nagar,” I replied and asked him how much it would cost. He silently pointed at the meter, and asked me to get in.

And then and there, I decided I was never going in an auto without a meter ever again. After all the posturing all over the place about how Chennai autos are terrible, I still see plenty of people bargaining with auto drivers who have a meter. Or at times, travel in autos without a meter. If people refuse to get into autos that don’t have a meter, wouldn’t the auto guys be forced to get a meter fitted; or suffer from a lack of business? As long as there are people who still walk into the auto at the rates these guys quote, there would remain auto drivers who would still game the system, like the ones who run the meter just for the heck of it, just to escape the eye of the policeman.

The government, has done its part. There are gaps, yes. But the ball is in our court. While the government will do its part to implement the change or any change for that matter, the old uncle today taught me an important lesson. 

Do your bit as well.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chronicles of a Travelling Salesman

The sun shone down endlessly, without any respite, as if with a vengeance to absorb every drop of water that existed around the area. Despite the heat, I walked around with a determined look from one shop to another in the village, talking to retailers and taking a sip of water from my mineral water bottle to replenish the water I was losing quick and fast. My mind ran back to my CAT preparation days “Water in a tank is leaking from a hole. A motor running, pumps in water to the tank at a particular rate … and so on” and I gave myself a wry smile and walked to the next store to continue the never ending push for targets.

“So how is the business going?” I ask the old man who is running the store. “Ok types sir. Just about enough to rotate money and run my family. Things aren’t looking so good.” I probe him a little about his business. “Sir, my son used to run the shop before. Now it isn’t really enough to sustain the entire family. So he has left to Chennai to look for a job and I look after the shop. But he isn’t liking it there. He says things are too costly and he might have to go abroad to work for a bit.”

The road never taken :)
“Where is he going abroad?” I ask. With the look of a proud father, the old man said, “This Saudi, Dubai somewhere sir. So there are many construction jobs there. He will work there for a few years, save up some money and return to expand this store into a much bigger one; and also get married.”

How much did he study?” I ask, with the hope that recent emphasis on Right to Education etc. did have some impact. “Sir, with great difficulty I made him study till his 10th. After that, neither him nor me saw any point in continuing his education, as the money I would have spent on his college fees and all that; was better off being spent in running the store. So he joined me in the store to work with me.”

I sighed, and wondered what if my parents had thought about it the same way. What if I was born in a place like this? And I moved on, towards the next shop. There was a government school, with kids in the maroon uniform running around the playground; and a few of them ran out of the school when I reached there in my cab. “Anna, anna, oru ride kudunga” (A ride please). With the formal tucked-in shirt and dusty shoes, with a company ID card slung around my neck, I looked like someone who had landed there from an alien world.

Jobs never done before!
I gave them the joy ride they wanted, and the smile on their faces made my day. “What do you study?” I enquired. “History, Geography, Tamil and all na!!” I was curious about what the kids do to pass their time. “Facebook, Youtube videos and we listen to songs.” Internet penetration has surely increased and these government laptops are definitely doing a world of good in these small villages. Their joy ride was to the town nearby, vacation was to Madurai, and Chennai was like the new world they’d land up after crossing a few seas.

I met a few village elders, who spoke about how they rain had dried up there was not much agriculture happening. “Income is drying up here sir. A lot of fights are happening these days. Thieving has increased over the last few months. People want to get to money somehow.” I ask them if the government does nothing about it. “Sir, there is drought relief money given. But we have to run from pillar to post to get that. Even to get the form, it is quite troublesome. The government guys come here just for the votes, and after the elections they don’t really bother much.”

I move on to the next village which is quite close to a fireworks factory. There’s a guy at the retailer talking in broken Tamil. I go over to him, and start making small talk in Hindi. And the guy is quite eager to talk to me. I ask him how he sends money home with the thought of pitching him Airtel’s m-commerce offering. “Mera manager hi bhej deta hai har mahine ghar ko. Free ke liye.” And I had hit a dead end. But I was quite surprised with myself that I managed to walk up to a random guy and speak to him. Things sales does to you!

Evening came, and with it, better weather and a slight drizzle. The smell of chemicals hits the air immediately. My activity for the day involves a kiosk for selling SIMs. People walk up to enquire, and most of them have a silvery tinge to their hands, from hours of stringing together crackers. A guy purchases a SIM, and has trouble putting it in his phone. I offer to help, and open his phone’s cover, and a spoonful of the hazardous cracker chemical falls out into my hands. I ask him if this doesn’t harm him much, given he talks with the same phone. “Sir, we are used to this now. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Our kids will probably end up stopping their education midway to join the same business.”

There had been a fire accident nearby a few days back, and hundreds of people had a lucky escape as no one was in the factory when it got blown up. I enquire about the frequent accidents and how people still end up working there despite the threat to their lives. “No other choice sir. What else can we do to earn a respectful livelihood? We are not educated like you and all. This is all we can do to get our food for the day. And things are improving slowly, after every accident. Roads are now atleast wide enough to accommodate fire engines. There have been tragic cases where the fire engine has not been able to approach the factory and hence a lot more lives have been lost.”

It’s time for me to call it a day. I say goodbye to him for his anecdotes (some of which I couldn’t write down here as he didn’t want me to) and pack up. He gives me a chemical filled handshake, and walks away into the sunset. “Sir, if you are born in Sivakasi, your death will be at the hands of these fire crackers sir. That’s our fate”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Five things I learnt from Rafael Nadal

While the amazing (in every sense and tone) institutions that I was privileged to be a part of taught me a lot, Sport – though I play no game – has taught me plenty. In particular, two guys taught me plenty of the values that I hold close to my heart till date. Two of my role models in life – Rafael Nadal & Rahul Dravid. Incidentally, to me what impressed me the most about both these guys is near about the same thing. So much that you could take out all instances of Rafael Nadal from this article, and replace them with Rahul Dravid. And the article will still make complete sense. (Ok, the tennis and cricket examples too!)

Never say die attitude:
“Wherever the ball goes, Nadal will follow.” Not once, not twice; but for every single point in the game. Every impossible angle on the court, just when the player at the other end of the court thinks he has finally got one past Nadal; Rafael pulls out a lunge and manages to keep the point going.

And never say die cannot be complete without his amazing ability to pull out all stops at the most crucial juncture in the match; when he is a few points away from defeat, he kicks on his best tennis. Every blow of the opponent is absorbed, and the punch that is landed in return; is a killer blow. Just how many matches do you remember where Nadal has won in 5, after being pushed to the brink. Sample this year’s French Open semifinal against Djokovic. Or this year’s US Open final. That one set where he came back from 4-1 to win the match. That probably summed up Nadal’s career. Keep going, keep going and never give up. You’ll manage to find a crack in the opponent’s wall.

How many times, has he made critics who felt his career was over, eat their words; and 
come back stronger than ever before every single time.

“Sorry for today. I know how you’re feeling right now. It’s really tough. But remember you are a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you’re going to improve the 14 of Sampras,” said Rafa after beating Federer in that Australian Open final that left Roger in tears. 

And this one, “I may have beaten him (Federer) three times. But he's still the best. He's an unbelievable person and I admire him a lot.” 

And probably sample these against "This is probably my most dominant grand slam victory and it's already my 10th in such a short period of time. I amazed myself." Or this one when he had a 1-3 head record against Nadal: “I'm at the top of my game so, when I win or lose, I don't freak out...I don't think we can call it a rivalry yet. There's just too many great players around." 

And this: "I came so close [to breaking Sampras' record] and I could have chased it if I had wanted to. I didn't choose to.''

And finally: "It's always me who's going to dictate play & decide how the outcome is going to be. If I play well I will most likely win in the score or beat [Nadal]; if I'm not playing so well, that's when he wins."

Well, I know who the more humble champion is. Every match that he loses, credit is given to the opponent for playing well rather than a certain somebody who feels he did not play his heavenly level of tennis, and hence the opponent got lucky. Every question about the Greatest of all time, answered with such poise and humility. Ever grounded, never arrogant despite all the success and the records that he has. That’s what I like the most about Rafael.

With hardwork, comes success:
Rafa is one example to show that with hardwork, and some amount of talent; you certainly can reach the very top. He certainly isn’t the most talented player out there. Roger Federer and arguable Djokovic, Safin and the likes are/were more naturally talented tennis players than Rafa. But with the hardwork that Rafa puts into his game, the effort that he puts into every point, he has managed to not just reach the top but become one of the greatest ever tennis players of all time. Just goes to show that “Hardwork will beat talent, if the talent does not work hard enough”.

Look to reinvent all the time:
“Even if I have already peaked, I have to believe I can improve. I wake up every morning, and go to practice, with the illusion that I'm going to get better that day.”

“I always work with a goal - and the goal is to improve as a player and a person. That, finally, is the most important thing of all.”

“I tried to find a solution to the problem that I had, tried to find a way to start playing better.”

When he started off, he was branded yet another of those Spanish clay courters. After a few clay court triumphs, people felt he was probably a little better – a Clay Court Specialist; and later a Clay Court Bully. But Rafa, being Rafa managed to destroy Roger in his own backyard. A clay courter, who subtly reinvented his game to suit another surface.

Then came the talk of it being a one-off. That was sent to dust with another triumph in the Wimbledon grass. People accepted he was more than just a Clay-courter. Then Rafa reinvented himself, his serve and his attitude in the game to play better on Hard courts that were his greatest bane. And managed to complete the Career Slam and the Olympic Gold; faster than the “Greatest Player of all time” – Federer.

Injuries came and injuries went, and every time Rafa tweaked some part of his game, reinvented himself and it took him to greater success.

Intensity and passion in what you do:

Bjorn Borg said about Nadal: “Every point he plays is like match point.” Every small and important point that he wins, is punctuated with the fist pump, and the war cry “Vamos”. Few players are more passionate and intense during a game. Every point is contested, and there are no free points to pick for the player at the other end of the court. Even at 0-5 and 0-40, the point is contested like it meant the world to him. And every single point, be it the last point in a 5 hour epic, sees him run around the court like it was just the first point of the game.

Fewer better role models, and none better for me atleast! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

And here’s how I fell in love …

Everyone remembers the moment they were first hit by love. And I do too, vividly!

It was another of those boring days in school, where the only respite was provided by the Computer Lab session in the evening. Even the joy of sitting in front of the computer and working on exotic software like Power-point and Word in Comic Sans was made slightly torturous with a 40 minute long theory session where we were taught how to click on the start button and open Word, and the various options in the menus in MS Word!

Those were the days when PSBB had started this USN system – which was a precursor to Aadhar to give one single number to every student to identify them even after they graduate – instead of a roll number every year, and photographs of all students were stored in a ‘secret’ folder in the computer lab.  The prospect of hitting upon the entire database of photographs of the school’s students was too enticing for a bunch of kids who had just hit adolescence. And we did just what kids could. Check every hidden folder.

And it was during that hunt, that I struck gold. I had heard about it before, but had never given a thought as I found it too boring. Just through sheer boredom of having no better thing to do, than make an ‘Action Button’ on Power Point to take my Presentation to the next slide; I opened the file. And it was love at first sight.

The stylish guy from the 'Sharp' team
The green field. The good-looking face and the hair-style. And the curve! The curve that the ball took before landing over the head of the goalkeeper who had no idea what to do, than just back-track and watch. The name below said ‘David Beckham’ with a jersey of what I thought then; was the ‘Sharp’ team. The famous goal from the halfway line, that brought me to the game of football. 

It was around the same time as the 2002 World Cup in Japan, and the frenzy that followed with Beckham’s arrival in Japan; and the full page feature that The Hindu’s Young World did on him. And I caught on to the bandwagon. More exploration of THE folder followed in the weeks to follow and I caught up with a hairy chested man who ran like crazy after scoring an unbelievable goal. By then I knew enough football to identify Manchester United as the team, and my team for life.

Around the same time, FIFA 2002 happened, with a spanking new PC at home with 256 MB RAM and plenty of free time to kill. And the interest only grew. I became yet another of those guys, from my generation for whom football started with David Beckham, and thus Manchester United. Hours of video downloading, courtesy the super-fast 256kbps broadband followed. Freekick after freekick. Long range goals. Amazing assists. Of course, the celeb-dom that led every move of his being under scrutiny.

One love! :)
It was around the same time that EPL started becoming the new ‘hipster’ thing in school, and everyone was discussing the games and players. Red was the new colour of choice. Arguments ensued at home to buy a Man United jersey and I ended up buying one of the cheaper 200 bucks ones; along with an England Michael Owen Jersey as my mom felt the United red was too gaudy to be wearing around! And I was well and truly in love.

With the player, and more so with the team; who seemed to have a great history of winning things. And winning things from unbelievable circumstances. Like the Champions League final. The memory of which serves as a lifetime inspiration for me to never give up, or lose hope; however bad things seem.

Like every love story, the honeymoon period soon came to an end. The famous boot-kick happened. And David Beckham was booted out of United. Tears were shed. And a new favorite who had a knack of scoring goals all the time, was instated. Ruud Van Nistelrooy. And soon, things got worse. The team stopped winning, and things went from bad to worse. And for a few moments, there seemed like there was no coming back, with the Moneybags revolution in the EPL. The Sportstar and the Hindu’s miniscule coverage and Brian Glanville’s tremendously pissing off columns about United being a team in a decline, added to the misery. A terse few years followed, and the lows went on to make the ‘relationship’ stronger.

The Carling Cup win gave some hope. But the most vivid memory of hope returning, remains Middlesborough defeating Chelsea 2-1 in the 2006-07 season; with United winning the same Gameweek with Ole Solksjaer returning to score a goal. TV access was missing, but just reading the half page report in the Hindu, gave me a surge of hope. Something that coincided with a particularly bad personal streak with a flunk in a Physics exam in school! If United can, so could I; was the motto those days.


And United did. In style, notching up a Premier League title. And my first Title triumph after I actually understood football. Noob-dom marked the first, where a Sportstar article saying Ronaldo (fat) had won the European Player trophy left me wondering how a Brazilian could be the European Player of the year!

Every United win has been followed by euphoria and a kick like nothing else. And every defeat, in sullen moods and depression! And the time before an important match, is spent praying for a United win. Like today’s Liverpool game; with the hope that a United defeat doesn’t end up ruining my birthday! J

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Moyes-siah or Dithering Dave?

As Samir Nasri’s strike hit the back of the net at the Etihad stadium, you could hear the loud groans and swearing of United fans across the world; and the silence of the switching off of the TV/Live Streams that followed.

Those doubts that swirled around every United fan’s head when Moyes was announced as the replacement for Sir Alex, surfaced yet again. Will United’s winning times come to an abrupt end? Will Moyes be able to replicate what Sir Alex did? The semi-catastrophic transfer window with United chasing ‘unrealistic targets’ or placing ‘derisory bids’ hardly did anything to cool people’s nerves either!

Starting Trouble?
With the worst ever start in 10 seasons thus far, and with just a solitary point gained from clashes against Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool – the worst ever in the last 12 seasons (when Chelsea/Man City/Liverpool have been strong enough to be considered), things have looked quite abject. Fans on social media have been going ballistic on Moyes due to his persistence with Ashley Young & reluctance to give Kagawa or dazzling youngsters like Zaha or Januzaj, a similar run in the first team.

Doubts persist with regard to United’s midfield quality despite Fellaini’s signing, and the fans feel hard done given the winning habit that they have got into in the past – 5 title triumphs and two missed by GD and a solitary point – over the last 7 seasons. The ‘winning mentality’ that Sir Alex seemed to have forged into the team’s DNA looks to have gone missing, with most of the team looking clueless against Man City’s brilliant display.

Facepalm, Dave! :)

All said and done, Moyes does seem to be at fault, at least partly, for what has happened. But shouldn’t he get the time and the benefit of doubt to build his own team, his own players and his style of playing? Wasn’t the call that was taken with Moyes’ appointment, one favouring Long-term stability over Short-term success? One should remember that some of the issues that Moyes faces today, with the team have existed even from Sir Alex’s days at United. The lack of a quality central midfielder. Atleast Moyes has attempted to solve them, with his signings.

When he retired, Sir Alex exhorted the fans at Old Trafford; and the rest of us listening on with teary eyes – "I'd also like to remind you that when I had bad times here the club stood by me. All my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, you stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important."

Didn’t Sir Alex’s team crash to that devastating 1-6 defeat to City? Or the 1-4 to Liverpool? Everyone has their share of bad days, and Moyes is probably having a good share of them early on in his time at United. Or maybe he isn’t cut out for United at all. 

But let us at least give him the time and the support to show his mettle, right?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Three months into my first job ...

It was yet another of those tremendously hot days in Gurgaon where even a cold drink every couple of hours wasn’t enough to help my thirst. I had an appointment to keep, with a client to get some information for my summer internship project at HT Media. And I walked out of the metro station, cursing my luck for having ended up in the concrete hell that Gurgaon is; only to be swindled out of more cash by the autowallah to take me to the client’s office.

And as the auto entered the Gurgaon-Delhi highway, the client’s office came into my gaze. Something a little different from the general glass-front-tall-tower buildings of DLF that Gurgaon is filled with. And as I gazed longingly at the building and clicked a snap of it for my presentation; I stopped to wonder if I would get to work in a company with a similarly exotic-looking office building …

Little did I know what life had in store for me later, as I ended up getting through into a Sales and Marketing Role, in that very company in the final placements; and as I came out of the interview room with the offer, my mind went back to that very day standing in the Airtel building and gazing upwards at the painting that stretches across five floors of the building.

Life in Airtel, apart from the first 20 odd days of induction has been spent far away from those corporate cubicles that I wanted to be a part of. But somehow, I don’t quite miss the AC room that wanted to be in. The sweaty life, roaming around green fields; roads that aren’t quite roads unless you ride in your vehicle on them and talking to over 50 retailers in villages (Ok! Pan Shops I mean) and returning back to the hotel room, all alone in the evening has been quite satisfying.

Though I’ve wanted to write a blog post every week, I’ve ended up doing none so far. Laziness, work, sleep, travel and that devil called Facebook and Twitter; where I end up live updating has ended up meaning I don’t! Here’s a motley of saved drafts or thoughts in my head, about sales life.

Sales! After about 2 months in the field, my respect for those Aquaguard fellows who used to randomly disturb my sleep on Sunday afternoons has risen many fold. Persistence! That is the first thing you learn in this field. The guy used to visit over 100 houses and knock at the doors, and be greeted with angry customers like me; and still made a pitch; and if he was lucky, a sale. Every time I feel a little frustrated and hit a dead end, I think of that; and suddenly my work seems like a casual stroll in the park!

Talking, and making small talk with people you hardly know. For someone who is hardly a glib talker and is highly apprehensive of initiating conversations with random people; sales life has been a revelation. I’ve ended up walking up to migrant labourers on a road to talk, made small talk with 100s of retailers and did the unthinkable by sharing a lunch with a complete stranger (and North Indian stuck in South TN for work) who I just met at the hotel table. For someone who used to talk very little to girls, I had to go and talk to a bunch of college girls for some market research. And the worst happened, as a person came to warn me not to; to avoid being apprehended for eve-teasing!

Targets, targets, targets and the chase for the elusive growth in today’s climate is what life is about. Carefully made plans to achieve them go to the drain when there’s a sudden downpour for a couple of days; and the walk-ins into stores reduces, leading to all your carefully made plans to for a toss. The countdown starts from day 1, and the chase though is quite exciting when things are going your way. Like a friend said, in sales life; the salary/incentives become the drug that keep most people going.

Eating, and eating everywhere. From bhajjis for 2 bucks each to villages that did not have even a single hotel that served vegetarian food; to local delicacies at dead cheap rates. Just the minor problem of an ever expanding waistline. At times, my mineral water expense for the day used to be more than the money I spent on my food!

Rural India, was a complete eye-opener to me though; and I learnt a lot. The image that I had of open drainages, cows that roamed everywhere, green grass and huts turned out to be partially true. But there were a lot of surprises too.

Very few people recognized an IIM, but quite a few knew about IIPM and even thought it was the same as an IIM! IITs though are quite popular given India’s obsession with engineering, and the presence of one in Chennai. People were quite surprised that I had gone away from Chennai for my education; given everyone in their villages aspired to go to Chennai to study or work.

Talking to a few village kids (who gave me looks like I was an alien who had intruded their space!) taught how this ‘Small world’ thing is something that is quite restricted to ones in the urban areas. For them, a trip to the nearest town was a vacation in itself; and a trip to the nearby city – a holiday; and a Chennai trip, was to most a dream. Something like that Swiss vacation we dream about.

A whole bunch of completely unexpected people were on Facebook; and using “Googal” to explore the world of internet. People as old as my mom, village kids going to government schools and who not. The free laptops doled out by the TN Govt have opened up an altogether new world to these people!

The dark side of the country was not too far away though. I saw an old lady attempt to throw out her daughter’s baby from a moving bus; and thankfully the baby was saved from a gory fate by quick action from the other passengers on the bus.

The highlight of the rural stint was a conversation with a woman in a deep rural village in South TN when she came up to our sales kiosk and asked me “Sir, do you sell SIMs to women?” My nod was met with a look of extreme surprise, and she told me how women in her village were under the impression that SIM Cards were sold only to men. Watching her joy on purchasing a SIM under her own name, made my day!

With the elections round the corner, political talk wasn’t too far away with people wondering if Narendra Modi was actually as good as the papers were telling him; and if Gujarat was that wonderful a place. It was quite surprising to see people interested and aware of a BJP leader in this part of the country, given the party’s next to zero presence in the state. And I am not sure I did NaMo-ji any favours either, with my reply to the people who asked me about him.

Being in a majorly service-based company, the customers weren’t too far off; nor were the retailers. Having been a frustrated and angry customer myself on quite a few occasions, I felt the heat from the other side of the table on a few occasions. Irate customers who called me up to abuse me for some issues, retailers who let lose some of their choicest words on me, after having faced an irate customer in their shop; and of course, the multitude of Facebook status messages of friends and Tweets where I was tagged on to, for issues I had no clue about!

Life in the corporate world also taught me to be ever-ready. The con-calls when I was out in the market were quite the subject of amusement of onlookers, as I stood by the roadside jotting down notes! And now on this bus from Ambur to Chennai; where I typed out this blog post …