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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Strike! Strike!!

"Bandh Karo!"

Certain days which I always looked forward to as a young student in Calcutta and then as I was just starting off in building a career was what is known as 'Bandh'. For those who came in late 'Bandh' is a strike conducted by any and random organization to protest against any and random issue that catches his/her fancy. This Hindi/Bengali word literally means 'close' and is a euphemism for bringing a city or a state to a 'close'. If you assume this is going to be an exercise in outraging about 'Bandhs' leading to economic loss, loss of mandays, loss of opportunity, how it keeps a daily wage earner hungry, loss of 'image' of the city/state/country then you are doing nothing more than betraying your ignorance! What I propose to do is to open your eyes to the benefits of bandhs.

Ma, Maati, Maanush, Michil, Mushkil!

Organizing a 'bandh' is not a child's play as you would imagine. There is a whole lot of science involved in the same. No! The reason to call a 'bandh' is not the toughest among them, in fact is the easiest. From protesting against petrol price hikes to price rise in general to saving 'secularism', our political landscape gives enough and more reason to protest. The difficult part is to select the day to go on a 'bandh'. Any random day will not work. You must first give advance notice to the people so as to enable them to 'spontaneously' support the bandh. To be doubly sure of peoples' support, you must organize 'michils' for a week before the actual bandh which should throw the life of the citizen topsy-turvy. This will ensure they are trained to be in the right frame of mind to support the noble cause. Secondly, you must schedule the bandh on a Friday or Monday so as to ensure you present a long weekend. This gives the people ample time to support the strike by leaving on a holiday! The other logistical nightmare is to ensure sufficient foot soldiers are on the ground on the day of the action to 'persuade' any shop/office/factory which in its ignorance decides to function on the D-Day. Usually a well placed slap to the owner of the establishment, a well directed rain of stones on the shop window makes them see the larger point of your noble fight against the 'American imperialism". The most crucial piece of planning  while organizing the bandh is to ensure the your friendly neighbourhood bootlegger is well stocked and is exempted from observing the strike. Nobody will work for you to make a bandh successful without his quota of 'hooch'. The other item to be ticked is to ensure the establishments under 'essential services' are well protected. No! Not hospitals, medical stores, ambulances but the 'chai shops', 'theks' 'paan-biri' kiosks. I would not support  no cause however noble if I am denied my peg-sheg, soota or an opportunity to socialize in an 'adda' over 'moodi-chop-cha'!   

If you get a feeling I am a fan of 'bandhs' then you are right. Every year during my stay in Calcutta it used to add a few days to the annual 'holiday' calender. A 'paid' holiday to boot! Once before the visit of the Boss from Head Office for what was likely to be a particularly messy meeting, we in the Calcutta branch office ganged up and persuaded him to cancel his visit. We invented a very very plausible reason for the cancellation of the visit, a 'proposed' bandh on the day of his arrival! And he swallowed the bluff without battling an eyelid! 

What Shivaji Park? G.T.Road it is!
Those of you who have been following my memoirs here know that I am a great fan of Cricket. And like all cricket enthusiasts in India, I too started with gully cricket. However my cricketing ambition was bigger, much bigger. I wanted to graduate into the big league. Not for me the suffocating 'gullies' of Calcutta. I wanted a much larger canvas to express myself. I wanted the wide spectrum of the National Highway! To bowl a few and bat a few more. Thanks to the 'bandhs', I realized my ambition. Many times over! On the Grand Trunk Road no less!

As I always say, my glass is half full. And many a times I dig deep into this dictum to make use of the positives that a bandh offers! However much some ill informed politicos like Shashi Tharoor and his small band of merry men may try and dissuade me with his #SayNoToHartal campaigns, I will continue to enjoy the fruits of 'bandhs'. Poor Shashiettan! How is he to know that me and most of us country men, we are like this only!

Say 'No' to 'No Hartal'


PS: 'Bandhs' are banned in India as per a Kerala High Court ruling. However we smart Indians renamed the 'bandh' to 'hartal' and ever since it is business as usual. Now you know where Hafiz Saeed and LeT/JuD got their idea from!


Michil : Protest rallies
Hooch : Country liquor
Chai : Tea
Thek : Dens selling country liquor
Paan : Betel Leaves chewing of which is popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Biri : Filter less cigarettes.
Peg-Sheg : Colloquial for 'pegs'.
Soota : Puff of a cigarette.
Adda: An informal get-together.
Moodi-Chop_Cha : Moodi (Parched rice), Chop (Spicy fries similar to Bajji/Bonda), Cha (Bengalese for tea)
Shashiettan : Shashi (Name) Ettan ( Elder brother) 
Hartal : General strike 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Enemy Under My Roof!

1990 AD: The times were turbulent, the early 90’s. As a young man taking baby steps towards building a career in a city which Rajiv Gandhi once famously called the dying city. The life of a Salesman in a market which thanks to decades of imperialism of the Left Front was tough, very tough. As a youngster trying to transform my life hoping the Govt of the day in Calcutta or the one in Delhi would drive growth and opportunities, all I got was a potpourri of political turmoil caused by corrupt politicians, self seeking messiahs of the backward castes, people peddling Revolution of the Proletariat.  And jumping right into the cauldron were yet another set of ‘desh bhakts’ who insisted on ‘Mandir wahin banayenge’!

Mandir Wahin Banayenge!

I was then living in a locality which was physically divided right down the middle between the Hindu side and the Muslim side by the great G.T.Road.  It was easy for my young and impressionable mind which was reared on poor order-books and pressures in the business front and the sheer squalor and filth that one saw in the hugely populated ‘Muslim basti’ to volunteer and donate hundred bricks to an organization  collecting the same to build the grand temple for Ram in Ayodhya. The unchecked infiltrator from across the eastern border being the primary reason for all that was wrong with my life and the country.

Drishti pariharam Taaveez
1998 AD: My daughter was a sickly child. Once she was born my donations to temples and other causes close to my heart dropped drastically as all the spare cash and some more were donated to the well being of the neighbourhood MBBS. As multiple visits to the Doctor and the variety of concoctions that he prescribed failed to give any permanent cure, I was at my wits end. That is when I was prescribed an age old treatment in practice in many villages of Tamil Nadu. The man who donated bricks to build temples in a disputed area walked into the nearby Masjid dutifully to conduct a ‘drishti pariharam’ on my baby! And walked out with a ‘taaveez’ tied around her midriff.


2000 AD: He was a Muslim, a Malayalee, from Bombay. I was a Hindu, a Tamil, from Calcutta. And we met up as colleagues in Bangalore! Circumstances then threw us together and we ended up temporarily sharing the same house in Chennai. And as you would expect the scenario was one of immense dichotomy. A Hindu thrown together with the ‘enemy’ Muslim. Was it vice-versa too? I don't know, he never gave me any clues. A strict vegetarian sharing kitchen with a beef eater.  A teetotaler (he) breaking bread with someone who enjoyed the occasional drink (me). A Mallu and a Tamil under the same roof! Facts are stranger than fiction as they say. Thrown together in a city that was then friendless and unknown to both of us!  Circumstances threw us together and who could fight circumstances. The first thing that broke the ice between us was Marlboro! We were both smokers! And when not on work, we spoke the same language, Hindi! From then onwards, me waiting outside any random Mosque in Chennai till he finished his prayers or he being dragged to a pure vegetarian Iyer Mess took just about that much time. A new Sunday routine was also established. I buying him non-veg food and he buying me my weekly quota of beers. We shared our rooms for about six months or so till I shifted to a new house with my family. It was around the time of parting that I realized that the man who donated 100 bricks to build a temple to spite the ‘enemy’ was long dead! And the ‘enemy’ to date is one among my best ‘friends’!


PS: Once while travelling together with him by train from Mangalore to Chennai, he would speak to other people in Malayalam and I in Tamil. A curious co-passenger was annoyed that we were however speaking to each other in Hindi. How was this person to know that while my friend spoke no Tamil, I spoke no Malayalam! Mera Bharat Mahaan!

Desh bhakts : Patriots
Mandir wahin banayenge : Will build the temple right at that spot
Basti : Locality
Masjid : Mosque
Drishti pariharam : Ward off evil eye
Taaveez : Amulet

Mera Bharat Mahaan : India is great

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What ails INC!

The spate of election defeats in the recent and not so recent past both at state levels as well as Centre has reduced the once behemoth like Indian National Congress to the levels of also-rans in most of the political map of India. Suffices to say that there has to be something more than just anti incumbency at work here. For a party which much to everyone's surprise sent the NDA govt packing in '04 and then surprised everyone again by retaining power at the Centre in the past decade, it is indeed a sad commentary to be reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. All this boils down to one question, What ails Indian National Congress (INC)?

Obsolete like cyclostyling?

INC today faces some of its toughest days ahead. A brand which started off as a virtual monopoly at the time of independence, its current status where its very relevance is questioned is a story worth telling. It is not that INC has lost its relevance, it still enjoys a substantial voteshare pan India and its core values of development of all, including the last man is still a work in progress in this country. To give you an analogy, INC does not find itself where Cyclostyling Machines or Electronic Typewriters find themselves, obsolete due to the advancement of technology. What ails INC primarily is brand fatigue. An example of how some of the oldest brands have tackled fatigue is Uniliver and its brand Lux. Lux from time immemorial has been promoted as a beauty soap. Remember the famous tagline 'Filmy sitaron ka saundarya saabun'? Where Lux has been different is through constant churn of  'New faces' to endorse the brand it has positioned itself as a contemporary brand without losing its core values. INC needs to rejuvenate itself with programmes which will make it contemporary and find traction with new voters.

Youth, Icon or Youth Icon?

The other issue which INC seems to have missed sight of is what is called the 'Young India'. Given the demographics, India populace is nearest to what the Americans once called themselves, the Baby Boomers. Voters who are of the post libaralization era, aspirational, ambitious and in a tearing hurry. The INC from an unaffiliated voter's perspective appears to be steeped in the License-quota-Subsidy era while the voters have moved on. While a well targeted subsidy scheme still has an important place in Indian society steeped in inequality, the presentation of just this aspect without appearing to address the concerns of the youth of India has led to a disconnect with the largest growing segment among Indian Voters, the middle class. A possible way to crack this issue, one may look at Pepsi. Pepsi has positioned itself against a well entrenched Coke through what is known as 'Youth' platform. And has gone about recruiting brand ambassadors who the target consumers are attracted to. The difference is Pepsi has dropped stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and the likes to latch on to the next youth icon on the horizon, Dhoni to Kohli and Ranbir Kapoor. All this while, the fact remains Tendulkar and Khan are still some of the biggest draws in India, the only hitch, they are no longer 'youth'. INC needs to reiterate its commitment to all sections of the voters, young and middle class included by churning out programmes of their concern too in a language which is less of a sermon and more 'Happening'. And age of the leadership is a non issue. Remember Rahul Gandhi is lot younger than Narendra Modi and yet the voters endorsed the later overwhelmingly.

Who is the next Regional Manager?
Any marketer worth his pay check will tell you that a strong distribution is a key to acquire/gain/improve/retain marketshare. A robust team spread across the length and breadth of the market delivering superior services at the convenience of the customer makes successful brands. While a product may face competition from a 'me-too', a well oiled delivery mechanism helps reach more customers and create entry barriers for the 'me-too'. While start ups like Kavin Care innovate with products and packaging, the larger MNCs copy the same and go national in no time. Distribution to a political party is the organization at grassroot level, in electoral terms at booth level. When was the last time you heard of an INC win due to this strength. Today it is the BJP which is making more noise in its attempt to enroll new members while being in power in half of India and at the Centre! The other part of the market infrastructure is the regional/state level leadership. In markets where you lose ground, it is difficult to regain the market share without a Regional Manager/ Zonal Manager who can stem the rot, regroup the team, strategize and  push forward its agenda of becoming market leader again. It is not as difficult as it appears. Remember despite BJP retaining power in Gujrat three times spread over a decade, INC still enjoys a 40%+ voteshare in the state. One well thought out, well coordinated push and INC could be back in power in Gandhinagar. A 5% swing towards INC might end in a windfall for it in a two horse race.

No longer top of the mind!

The last thing INC would hope is for the ennui to set in deep. Remember Lacto Calamine? The once market leader in the skin care segment is now rarely visible on the shelves replaced as it is by newer enterants. While brands like Surf/Wheel took on the upstarts like Nirma to flower further, Lacto Calamine is no longer the top of the mind brand in its core segment. When INC doesn't fight back, regional/local parties occupy the space vacated by it. The old market dictum is that the No.1 and No.2 brands are in the reckoning for spoils and No.3 and others make up the numbers. It has happened to INC in many a state, could well happen in others!

Finally as yet another market dictum goes, marketshare doesn't  come easily. It calls for single minded approach like that of a rifle and patience of a vulture!

 PS: The other way for INC to come back to relevance is by allowing BJP to commit enough mistakes and wait for the anti-establishment votes!


Filmy sitaron ka saundarya saabun : Beauty Soap of Filmstars!