Selling Skills

The ability of Indian businesses to change their business strategies in response to the pulls and pressures of the marketplace has never failed to surprise me. From moment to moment. Businesses in India are a flexible lot and standard bearers for the free market.

The truth of this statement is never more apparent than when one goes to a retailer to buy something. Like I did yesterday. To buy an electric box. The one that you instal on a wall and on which you mount the sockets and switches you need. Where the front panel is visible, almost flushed with the wall, while the rest of the box is inside the wall, with all wires and connectors.

For readers unable to follow my intensely descriptive, well, description, this is what it might look like:

electric box

I went looking for electric box made by, let’s call the company Fraser to avoid giving free publicity to the real name, even while some company by the name of Fraser gets free publicity. Fraser suited us as the other electric boxes in the house were of the same make which meant that the look and feel of electric boxes across the house would be similar, and my wife and I had a good opinion on their durability and functionality,  though the reasons for selecting Fraser are not really important in the larger scheme of things, namely this post.

“Fraser does not make electric boxes.” Stunned silence followed the statement from the salesperson at the first shop we enquired. My mind went blank and my eyes glassed over. Images of electric boxes around the house, embossed with the name Fraser, flashed in front of me. Had I unwittingly become a participant in a grand contraband operation of an epic scale lasting decades, considering at least twenty such boxes in our house were labelled as Fraser, and bought from different stores at different points of time?

“Any more,” the salesperson added, to soften the blow, perhaps moved by the shock, if not awe, on my face, and fearing he might have triggered a heart attack.

“But how is that possible?” I argued feebly, the foundation of my existence shaken by the opening comment, since I had bought the last one just three months back.

“I am telling you.” As a clincher in a series of objective, reasoned arguments, this one has few parallels in Indian retailing. Or Indian anything for that matter.

The pride of place, though, in the world of objective, rational, reasonable statements, in the world of Indian retailing, is taken by the magnanimous, sweeping statement that dates back to the time when one had to get a physical warranty card issued while purchasing a covered item, typically an electrical or electronic appliance or gadget. “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” that translates to “Hey, we are sitting here”, with a grand wave of the hand dismissing you the customer’s request for a warranty card as meaningless and cheap since ‘they were sitting there’. With a sheepish grin at having missed such an obvious point, I would walk out, since ‘they were sitting there’, without the warranty card.

I miss those days. Of walking out of a retail outlet with an expensive electronic item, and without the warranty card since ‘they were sitting there’. Of going back for repairs if needed and being asked to pay for the repair since I did not bring the warranty card that I did not have since ‘they were sitting there’ and the ‘they’ did not recognise me any more. We look upon digitisation and globalisation as a solution for all our problems. Rarely do we stop and think about what we are losing as a result. Experts opine that diversity in languages is fast disappearing as a result of globalisation.  I claim first-hand experience of the same. “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” is one phrase that has been lost to the world. Globalisation is to blame.

A close second was “ajee hum kahan jaa rahe hain?” that translates to “where do you think we are going?” Another objective, rational response to the customer’s, “Can you please give me the warranty card for the TV I have purchased?” This has been known to be used by retailers when the situation was such that a mere “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” could not do justice.

Back to the electric box.

I reeled under the impact of the news and clutched the counter for support. But rational and objective people like me don’t give in easily. There had to be a logical explanation. I gathered myself and walked out of the shop along with my wife, in search of it. The logical explanation, as well as the Fraser electric box.

“Fraser does not make electrical equipment,” boomed the shopkeeper’s voice in the next shop as I went about asking for my favourite electric box brand. “They never have,” he said in a tone of finality, much like judges of yore breaking the nib of their fountain pen while pronouncing a death sentence.

I reeled again and had to sit down on a chair. The change of Fraser’s business strategy all of a sudden was too much to handle. Ten minutes back the strategy of Fraser had changed from making electric boxes to not making them. All of a sudden, and without warning, the strategy had now changed to not making any electrical equipment. That too with retrospective effect. It was not fair.

Perhaps sensing my delicate condition under the impact of this revelation, which was confirmed as fact when the shopkeeper said, “I am telling you,” he quietly said to me, “The best one in the market at this time is Sparta (name changed to avoid giving free publicity to the real name).”

Not sure of anything anymore, I feebly said, “Can I take a look at one?”

He brought it out and cheerily said, “You happen to be in luck. We have just a few pieces left.” I smiled feebly at this turn in my fortunes. I was the desert traveller who, on the verge of collapse from thirst, had found his oasis.

Normally I would have bought just the one piece that I needed. But I drank hungrily from this oasis. I bought several electric boxes from the shop, to quench the thirst that would perhaps never even arise. I thanked him profusely for coming to my rescue. Who says the milk of human kindness has dried up?

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Curated

Every time I look, the world seems to have changed. When I looked recently, I found that I was being assaulted by curated products and services from all sides. Not products and services. Curated products and services.

Like onboard a recent domestic flight where I was offered a curated food selection that I had to pay for. Curated omelette. Curated bread roll. Curated fruit bowl. Curated cup of tea. It was a morning flight else they might have offered curated rice and curated ‘daal’ and curated chicken curry as well.

“Can you please pick up your cup, sir?” It could no longer be considered a request, considering the tone it was spoken in, even though a ‘please’ and ‘sir’ had been inserted in the sentence. It was the flight attendant, looking cross, almost shouting at me. Passengers seated around had stopped eating and were looking in our direction, hoping for entertainment on a flight with no video screens. Apparently, she had said it thrice already, as I was informed by a co-passenger.

On seeing the curated food on offer, my mind had wandered off to the good old days of flying. Though, on the back of the recent experience, no sane person would qualify them as the ‘good old days of flying’. Tell me which airline served curated omelette on a morning flight? No sir. Not one. Or curated bread roll? Or curated tea? Or even a curated fruit bowl? Flyers had to make do with uncurated omelettes and uncurated fruit bowls and uncurated bread rolls and uncurated cups of tea. Still want to call them the ‘good old days of flying’? Not me. No wonder we did not have to pay for them. Some mysteries get solved only when enough water has flown under the bridge. In the harsh glare of looks from other passengers, I picked up the cup from the tray in front of me and the attendant splashed curated tea into it and walked away.

Flipkart and Amazon are passe. What is not are curated shopping websites. These websites, as I read online, tap in the time of people and showcase them products selected wisely which saves a lot of time and also leads to the discovery of hidden gems floating around the internet. Curated web service offers effective personalized shopping experiences to make shopper’s shopping more enjoyable. And they, I understand, are able to do this because they are curated. 

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The traditional shopping websites must have been putting mascara under electronic products and mobile phones under books. Just to ensure that visitors waste a lot of time while searching for a product. And what about their Vision and Mission? I bet one of the statements in there somewhere would be, ‘To make the shopping experience hell for our visitors and ensure they never come back’. They aren’t curated, are they?

Though I never quite understood the meaning of the word, in my own objective and rational manner, I had associated it with something classy and exclusive. The reason perhaps is that my main exposure to the word had been in connection with ‘curated’ exhibits and ‘curated’ collections in museums in Europe. Like The London International Surrealist Exhibition curated by a group of artists and poets including Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Andre Bréton, Man Ray and Paul Éluard. Like the Russian Art Exhibition (Erste russische Kunstausstellung) in Berlin that featured Russian Constructivism and curated by artists David Sterenberg, Nathan Altman, and Naum Gabo.

No, not based on visiting and experiencing those exhibits in museums in Europe, but reading about them online. Cannot clearly recollect if those were curated or not. The online articles silly, not the museums and their exhibits.

Uncomfortable with indiscriminate application of a word I associated with class and exclusivity, I lost no time in trying to find out more about it. To my utter shock and surprise, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined curated as: carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.

The pieces were starting to fit in. I was realising why businesses had to start curating products and services. Clearly airlines in the ‘good old days’ merely carelessly decided the menu for a flight, and presented it in a disorganised and thoughtless manner. Because, like other uncurated businesses of the time, they were running a business that was trying to make its customers unhappy and lose money for its owners as fast as possible. And stores would have made it a point to stock random items that were of no use to their customers so that they rapidly went out of business, paving the way for curated businesses to emerge.

Simply put, the avenues it opens up boggles the mind. Imagine buying a curated 42 inch flatscreen curated TV of a known brand. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated 42 inch flatscreen TV of the same known brand. Or a curated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. Simply put, the human race has risen above challenges threatening its existence and found a path to progress on.

I hope you liked this specially curated post. I must stop here. Need to run to Delhi to buy groceries as my neighbourhood green grocer has refused to supply me ever since I told him I will buy from him only if he stocks curated potatoes, onions and tomatoes. He doesn’t get it. I hope you do.

Patriot Acts

I think the society management team should cancel the DJ (loud blaring music that needs to be heard by people not participating in the event the DJ is playing in) during the Holi party that has been planned, as a mark of respect to the martyrs,” beeped the message on our housing society’s WhatsApp group.

The reference, for the uninitiated, was to the terrorist incident on 14th February this year when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives laden car into a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Pulwama district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the death of over forty personnel of the CRPF apart from the attacker.

And Holi, which falls on the 21st of March this year, is perhaps the most widely celebrated festival in India, after Diwali.

Though the tension has since eased off, for a few days, the nuclear powered neighbours had stood eyeball to eyeball, primed for escalation of hostilities. Ably led by politicians who, protected by hundreds of armed elite security personnel, were fulfilling their constitutional duty and ratcheting up the patriotic ante by making angry, threatening speeches and sending other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory for the nation.

Ably supported with minute by minute strategic guidance to the armed forces provided over WhatsApp messages to each other, by a vast populace just as willing to send other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory in the service of the motherland. Their job made twice as difficult by having to continue pursuing their regular money-making professions of selling flavoured, coloured sugar-water or a revolutionary, newly invented shampoo, in the service of the nation, even while providing this strategic guidance to the armed forces and telling them to “kill them in their own lair” and “they should know we will hit back”. All so brave. From the confines of their bedrooms and warmth of their kitchens.

And then, as soon as the situation had escalated, it eased off. Perhaps you can send other people’s children to die for the nation only for a few days at a time. Perhaps the untimely death of forty security personnel can only fuel patriotism for a few days at a time.

But the dovecotes had been set aflutter. Once more.

Why only DJ?. If we want to pay a tribute, we should cancel the entire party,” came the riposte.

A hush fell on the group. The bar had been moved up in a flash. “Sorry for the late response. Just got back after celebrating my husband’s fortieth birthday with some friends over drinks in Cyber Hub. Why Holi? I think we should cancel the Diwali celebrations. Would that not be more appropriate?” came the next message.

The bar had been moved higher yet. Diwali was at least seven months away. But it was the biggest festival.

And Eid and Christmas too.

Why leave out Budh Purnima and Gurpurab?

How much higher could the bar go?

Hey guys. Have you heard about the shooting in Christchurch? Over forty feared dead in a gun attack in peaceful New Zealand. What does the society plan to do about it?

Till I received the message I had not realised that it was our housing society’s responsibility to do something about the terror attack in New Zealand.

But that happened in faraway New Zealand. Why should we cancel the DJ for that?

By now apparently it had been accepted that cancelling the DJ would become the society’s main method of honouring the memory of the deceased.

You mean if our soldiers die in battle in Africa, you will not cancel the DJ for them? And I believe there were several Indians among those killed.

I agree. We have to get over our parochial mindsets. A life is important. We should show solidarity with the global community.

What about casualties of the civil war in South Sudan. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed in the conflict in the last four years. I think we should show that we care for them.

But we cannot cancel the DJ for both Pulwama and Christchurch, can we? Would that be the right way of honouring the memory of people who met an untimely death at the hands of a deranged fanatic?

More silence.

Sorry I had to travel to Bangalore for an important meeting. I think we should take out a cycle rally to honour the memory of those killed in Christchurch. I will be in a business meeting but my thoughts will be there with the cycle rallyists.

Guys, guys, guys, why are we not thinking of a candlelight vigil?

More silence. Possible struggle with internal shame for not having thought of a candlelight vigil to honour the martyrs’ memory.

What about the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008?

What about it?

Why don’t we cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those killed in that attack?

But that was more than ten years back.

So? You mean the people who lost their lives became irrelevant to us after a month? Or two? Is there a cut-off date to honour the memory of martyrs?

More silence.

Have we already forgotten that at least nine CRPF personnel were killed when Maoists blew up a vehicle with an IED in Chattisgarh just a year back? I don’t recollect cancelling a DJ ever for that incident?

You want to cancel a DJ for nine CRPF personnel killed? Nine? Do you realise we may need to start honouring every two or three or four poor people on the footpath run over by expensive SUVs driven by drunk drivers?

IS THERE A MINIMUM THRESHOLD IN TERMS OF LIVES LOST THAT QUALIFIES FOR RESPECT AND HONOUR?

The all Caps had its impact. “I am sorry. Did not mean to offend. Just wanted to clarify. I agree. We need to cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those nine brave CRPF personnel.

Silence.

The management committee of our housing society, I believe, has decided to book ten different DJs for the planned Holi party and then cancel them to mark different terror incidents.

Like religion, what good is patriotism if it cannot be made a show of or foisted upon others.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

via #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

My guess is that many of the readers of my blog are writers themselves.

And, much like me, I have no doubt that as writers, you would be facing your share of difficult days for writing.

Sharing a post from my long-time blogging friend Jacqui’s blog that might help us through some of those days. She is a treasure trove of nuggets of information for writers.

 

To India, My Native Land

Where the nose breathes unhindered and lungs fill up with joy;

Where clean air is free;

Where the tongue craves taste and the stomach eats without concern;

Where food is safe;

Where winter fog envelopes all beings in its mysterious, soft embrace,

Free from the tentacles of its cousin, itchy smog;

Where sunlight, life-giving, source of brightness,

Has not been replaced by Vitamin D tablets and LED lamps;

Where clear streams of water gushing down Himalayan heights,

Have not been polluted by toxic waste and industrial effluents,

Where the world has not been divided,

Between cocooned, paid for life

With managed water, managed food, managed air, managed light that are safe,

And gushing water, unpesticided food, free air, abundant sunlight, that is not;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of salubrity, my Father, let my country awake.

There, I did it! Wrote a poem. But I confess. The words are mine but the form that of  a poem by 1913 Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, fondly known as ‘Gurudev’, titled simply as Poem 35, when it was published in the English version of Gitanjali, by the Indian Society, London, in 1912. Written before India’s independence, it represents the poet’s vision of a new and awakened India. This poem was most likely composed in 1900. The English translation was composed around 1911 when Tagore was translating some of his work into English.

I don’t know whether Gurudev, if he were to see the nation today, would consider his century-old vision articulated in the poem having been fulfilled or not. But I am taking the liberty of putting out this modified version of Gurudev’s poem on the occasion of the 70th Republic Day of India, as my own vision for a new and awakened India.

The title used is the title of  a poem by Indian poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio in 1828.

The English version of Tagore’s poem:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Best wishes to all readers on the occasion.

Road to Happiness

There was once a happy stretch of road. Road1

It used to witness lots of happy people in happy cars go back and forth.Road2

There was a place where the road crossed paths with a railway track. It was called a level crossing. For protection of road traffic (a train is much bigger!!) a barrier was put on the road to ensure no one crossed the railway track when a train was passing.Road3

Cars waited patiently when the barrier was lowered to block the road and let the train pass. When the train had passed and the barrier was raised, the cars went past on their way. Happy people in happy cars on a happy road.Road4

One day, there was an impatient man waiting at the railway crossing and getting more and more restive as time passed. He did not like waiting for the train to pass. He did not like waiting. He believed he had important things to do while others did not and it was the world’s responsibility to make him succeed. He had a manic need to prove that he was better than others, all the time. He was second in the queue on one side of the track.Road5

Determined to get ahead of others, as soon as the barrier was lifted, he swerved his car to the right, overtook the car in front, swerved left again back to his lane, before the first car from the other side could reach him.road6

He was thrilled at his cleverness. And at the stupidity of the others. And that he had once again bested the others, who were following rules. He thought he was the smartest of the lot and would always stay ahead of others, as was his right. He looked back in glee at the car he had overtaken and drove off.

His feat had not gone unnoticed. Occupants of the car ahead of him, who he had overtaken, mine, were upset. Not so much at being overtaken, but overtaken rashly and then being mocked by the errant driver.  The cars on the other side who could see this manoeuvre also noticed. They thought if that guy could get away with it on his side of the road, so could they on their side. They made a mental note of adopting the same strategy next time an opportunity arose.

As luck would have it, in the not too distant future, their cars were arrayed at the railway crossing exactly as they had been earlier. This time, however, he was not the only ‘smart” one. Everyone on both sides of the track had been smarting and turned out to be as “smart”.

Before the barrier opened cars were positioned in their lanes.road7

As soon as the barrier opened, the car ahead of the “smart” car, mine, moved up swiftly in order not to allow him space to move back into the line ahead of him. The second car on the opposite side swerved right in heroic fashion, to make a dash for cutting back into the lane ahead of the car that was in front. But the car in front moved up swiftly to block the space in front.road8

At the same time the cars behind on both sides came on fast, and filled up all intervening spaces, whether in the right lane or the wrong one so that no smart driver could manoeuvre in. The result was that while they moved into the wrong lanes, they could not now come back into their own lanes.road9

Nobody on either side was able to move. They remained there for hours, honking and arguing. Some got out of their cars and started fighting with others. There were babies and sick people in some cars who were crying and getting uncomfortable. There was even an ambulance stuck in the traffic. But nobody could move.

The administration was forced to place traffic police at the intersection, incurring an unnecessary expense for the state exchequer, eventually paid for by everyone through taxes. The “smart” drivers were thrilled. They knew this was a smart move by the administration to help “smart” drivers” like himself, while the cost is borne by everyone. The traffic police, whose job was to ensure movement of traffic, ensured that the “smart” drivers got clearance before others so that oncoming traffic could be released. Punishing the errant for causing the problem, it seems, was not their goal.

Good news travels fast. Each driver involved in this episode took upon himself the task of teaching the same “smartness” to drivers at other level crossings they happened to pass, through personal example. Today, all level crossings are “smart” crossings, where traffic has to wait for hours to be on their way. Sometimes traffic police shows up to ensure “smart” drivers get right of way in the melee.

Roads everywhere are full of idiots behind wheels. Like me. Could I not have let the “smart” driver overtake me rashly and be on his way? Could the idiots in cars on the opposite side not have avoided this unhealthy competition and allowed the “smart” driver to be on his way. Disturbing questions.

One idiot is often all it takes.

 

Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.