Dec 24, 2009

Indian Summer by Pratima Mitchell

Pratima has painted a beautiful picture of the hilly region of Daroga, the characterization of the two female protogonists, their lives and contradictions in this interesting novel "Indian Summer". The title had caught my attention that I immediately borrowed from my library. The storyline is simple - Sarla, the teen protogonist was really looking forward to her summer holidays but her plans were shattered when her mom had to travel on account of her work. So she decided to spend her holidays in India with her grandparents. She meets Bina, the granddaughter of her grandparent's caretakers. Although there was friction initially between Sarla and Bina owing to the different environment in which they were brought up, soon they become understanding friends and they began to discuss their problems and secrets. Having brought up in a foreign country, Sarla comes to terms with the way women were treated in India and was able to provide a helping hand to Bina on the different problems she had to deal with. After a few eventful incidents, their lives end in a happy note. Though not a gripping storyline, relating to one of the two characters should be easy.

The author has portrayed the individual behaviors of these two characters in simple words. She has written in a first person view from both the character's voices. So unless you read the chapter title, you might get a bit confused as to whose character you are reading about now. As this was the first time I'm reading a novel of this style of writing, it was a bit of strain.

"Indian Summer" is worth reading for its simple storyline and the portrayal of contradictory characters in Sarla and Bina.

Dec 13, 2009

Ready to lead?

With textbooks taking a safe place in my wardrobe, it's time to get back to reading other books. Last week, I finished reading a simple and insightful book on leadership. One of my colleagues recommended me this book three years ago. Although I purchased it then, it was safely tucked inside my bookshelf. "Ready to lead?" by Alan Price narrates the story of Mark Gibson's journey into becoming an effective leader in his organization.

Facing a daunting challenge of fixing a loss making division within his organization, the story takes you through Mark's attempts in understanding leadership. It's a simple story told in simple words. The concept of having your own definition of leadership is relevant. Although books might tell you what leadership is and what it is not, it is important to have one's own definition of leadership. Ever since I read this book, I have been introspecting on what my definition of leadership is.

The author clearly distinguishes between drive and passion. "When I'm driven, it feels like a powerful push to accomplish something. It's like the force of my determination pushing me to go ahead. When I'm passionate, I feel like  I'm pulled by the project".

One more distinction I liked is the difference between management and leadership. "Management creates a story to make sense of the past and guide our actions in the present. Leadership creates a story of the future that makes our present actions meaningful".

Another insightful distinction offered in the book towards the end is "Leadership builds a community of purpose. Management builds a community capable of purpose".

Simple words, good insights and a short story revolving around leadership make this book an interesting read.

Dec 10, 2009

Note taking

As a product manager, I receive information from different sources at all possible times of the day - emails, action items, random ideas/thoughts, meeting notes, telephonic discussions with various stakeholders, interesting nuggets of information from blogs and news sites, useful links for future references etc. Having made the shift from an engineering role to a product management role, the first challenge that I had to face was to manage this sudden pile of information. I initially made notes in a single text file and searched through this file whenever I need to refer. But this was proven to be a cumbersome task when I had to organize this information into clear groups. Then I shifted to a model of creating separate text files based on the categories - Project Ideas, Tasks, Meeting Notes, Conference call discussions etc. This was working well for a while until I realized it wasn't easy to transfer the information collected in this manner across different computers.

I stumbled upon this application "Evernote" while reading through one of the productivity blogs. I fell in love with this application instantly and it has been a constant companion for the past one year both in my professional and academic life. I can access my account across multiple computers and synchronize the contents. This had solved the immediate painpoint that I had faced in note taking using text files. The interface is very intuitive. I can create multiple notebooks to organize the different categories of information that I want to track. I have created a notebook named "Inbox" to capture every kind of input that I come across which has to be tracked for future reference. Then I just drag and drop the individual notes from this notebook to other notebooks depending on the category they belong to. I can clip images, web content (from Firefox) and emails (from Thunderbird) through the plugins that Evernote provides. Whenever I attend any meeting or conference call, I quickly jot down all the points being discussed and capture the action items. Checkboxes can also be added in front of the action items in case one wants to identify the tasks to be taken up after the meeting.

Before I have a discussion with either my manager or my peer, I note down the questions and points to be discussed. During the discussion, I capture the responses either in a different font or color. This helps me to quickly go over the points discussed and plan the next steps accordingly. Search feature is very useful given the humongous amount of information one has to deal with on a daily basis. Although many Evernote users find the tagging feature very useful, I still haven't found valid use cases for myself in order to use this feature. My current setup seems to work just fine.

The value provided by this free application is just tremendous. Definitely worth giving it a shot!

Dec 9, 2009

Chequered flag

It still hasn't sunk in; the feeling of not having to go to IIMB every Fri and Sat, attend fantastic lectures, work on assignments and projects. This has been my weekend routine for the past 2.5 years which has finally come to an end last week. My classmates who have one more term to go ask me how do I feel. "I feel relieved, yet I know I am gonna miss something" is my standard reply for now. Looking back, these 2.5 years resulted in creating some memorable experiences.

Unless you are interested in knowing what the hell I did in these 2.5 years at IIMB, you can skip this post.

After I joined work immediately after completing my Engineering degree, I didn't have any BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals) except for the fact that I wanted to do my post graduation. One of my well wishers told me that once I get involved in work, I may just drop the idea of pursuing my higher education. She asked me to keep looking for opportunities for higher education. As family commitments prevented me to move to a full time post graduate programme, I had narrowed down my options to part time offerings. I was more interested in management than technical education. I had even written about my perspectives a while ago on this topic

Having narrowed down on part time MBA as my preferred choice, I came across PGSEM which is the appropriate option for me. One of my PGSEM seniors and also a colleague at work suggested that it is good to join PGSEM only after 4-5 years of work experience. I'm glad I got this advice at the right time. I felt 2007 was the perfect time to join this programme as I had 5 years of work experience by then. I took the PGSEM admission test (similar pattern to that of CAT) and the faculty interview also went well. I still remember the day when I got the email indicating the offer to join the school. I was so excited to join a premier B-school and get back to being a student.

The orientation session created a lot of jitter when seniors scared us on how tough the programme is and how one needs to balance four aspects of life - work, studies, family and Bangalore traffic. To get used to the case based pedagogy, we were given a case to prepare in advance. Prof.L.S.Murthy's superb analysis of the case brought out many insights and created a lot of interest to learn more using this approach. We were given a pile of books for the first quarter at the end of the day. At the end of the orientation session, I realized this journey is going to be fun and exciting.

The first year was packed with core courses and we had some excellent Professors. Some of them are brilliant in their respective domains - Prof.Rishikesha Krishnan for Strategic Management, Prof.Ranganathan for Microeconomics, Prof.Sourav Mukherjee for Managing Organizations, Prof.Mahadevan for Operations Management. The scope of my understanding of business definitely widened, thanks to all the Professors. The education methodology was a stark contrast in comparison to my Engineering days. As someone rightly said, "you take from an MBA as much as you can give". I realized how true this saying is. As I had very minimal understanding of Finance before MBA, I paid a lot of attention to financial accounting and corporate finance courses. Our FinAcc Professor Prof.MS Narasimhan was brilliant in explaining complex accounting principles with simple examples. Although I fared well in both the finance courses, my areas of interest were definitely Marketing and Strategy. Somehow I started to appreciate the case based subjects more than theory.

This led to my selection of marketing and strategy based electives in the second year. Among the various marketing electives I took, the two interesting courses from Prof.Ramesh Kumar (Consumer Behavior, Behavioral dimensions and marketing strategies) triggered a lot of interest in me to dive deep into this fascinating subject that links how individual behavior towards various products and services can play a vital role in formulating a firm's marketing strategy. Professor really inspired us to think differently as part of our case analysis and assignments. Once one accepts the rigor of these two courses, there is a lot to be learnt from class discussions and Prof's lectures. Sometime in the near future, I am really keen to pursue my doctoral dissertation in this fascinating subject of Consumer Behavior and its role in Marketing.

One of the other courses that really inspired me is "Reinventing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial leadership" by Prof. DVR Seshadri. Professor really made us look at life from a different perspective. The initial few lectures in this course were just mind blowing, with many AHA moments. Many of the Professors have such a vast experience in their professional lives that the examples they quote from their own experience is definitely worth listening.

In the third year, two of the electives I took were just amazing and both were from the finance domain - Prof R Narayanswamy's Financial statement analysis and Prof PC Narayan's Banking, Financial Markets and Systems. When Professors are humorous and give lot of examples to explain complex concepts, the courses become so interesting. If my interest in Finance domain is kindled now, I owe it to both these Profs. Having completed these 2 courses, I can only regret why I haven't chosen them earlier in the 2nd year.

Though I have been talking only about courses and Profs, it doesn't mean the program is only about learning. I have met interesting people, made some good friends and shared a lot of fun moments. The Cafe Coffee Day counter at IIMB knows about all the stories and gossips we talked about!

PGSEM journey is definitely one of the best times of my life. My perspectives have broadened. I have started to look at life differently (no exaggerations here). I no longer dread reading any of the business newspapers or magazines. I have become better at managing myself, my time and my efforts.

All these wouldn't have been possible if not for my supporting and encouraging husband. He stood by me during the challenging times when I had tonnes of submissions and project work lined up. He was very understanding when I wasn't available for a leisurely activity on a weekend.

I should definitely mention the support offered by my organization and all my managers during these 2.5 years. Not once they asked me to skip classes to attend a meeting at work on a Friday morning.

If you are interested in pursuing a part time MBA filled with interesting experiences and learning from fantastic faculty members and you have the support of your family and organization, then this programme is a perfect fit for you.

Dec 8, 2009

A one day drive to Talakad


To celebrate the completion of my exams in the last term of PGSEM, my husband and I decided to go on a one day drive last Sunday. We narrowed down on Somnathpur and Talakad the previous night and set the alarm clock at 5 AM. Our plan was to leave home at 6 AM. As luck would have its way, we ended up switching off the alarm and dozed off until 8:30 AM when our maid came home and rang the door bell. Although we were a bit disappointed, we decided to go ahead with the plan and left home at 10:30 AM. Hubby had browsed through google maps and neatly taken a printout of the route. Although I like to browse through maps, I don't really believe in following the map to the finer detail. I let the route and the directions on the way take the lead.

The traffic wasn't bad and we hit the NICE Road and later Mysore Road in less than an hour. This route is a familiar one as we have done such short trips earlier. We stopped at Hotel Kadu Mane for breakfast and packed lunch for the trip. After reaching Maddur, we took a left turn towards Malavalli and reached the lake as per the map. From this point, we took a different direction and got lost for a bit. It was already 2 PM and we couldn't find the route to Somnathpur. Luckily, we spotted a familiar KTDC yellow direction board pointing towards Talakkad. It was a nice stretch of road, with green fields on either sides. The road was a deserted one, with no traffic or people. Although a few stretches were bumpy, overall the road was fine. We hit the T junction with Somnathpur and Talakkad on opposite ends. As visiting both the places is out of question, we took the left turn towards Talakkad. By the time we reached the gate that leads towards the temples, it was 3:45 PM. It's a long walk for about 2 kms from here. There were a few auto rickshaws available at this junction. They typically charge around 30-40 Rs for a ride to the temple. We visited the sand temples of Lord Shiva and returned back to the parking spot. It was high time we had lunch. We drove down a little bit and parked at a beautiful place with paddy fields. The long walk and fresh air had increased our appetite so much that the pooris we packed in the afternoon tasted divine.

The return route was a different one as we took a longer detour but a very beautiful road.


The maps that we decided to ditch were lying on the dashboard. The villagers were so helpful in giving accurate directions that one doesn't need GPS or Google maps. After a coffee break at Cafe Coffee Day, we headed back home. Overall, it was a good drive, with nice scenic routes. It would have been much better had we started early.

Nov 26, 2009

a sudden surge of memories

Dear Grandpa,

Your memories struck me all of a sudden in my dream during a quiet, afternoon siesta today. I woke up with your image clearly lingering in my eyes. It took me back to some of the best moments of my childhood during my days with you and Grandma.

As a playful kid, your strict disciplinarian rules made me hate you a lot. Now looking back, those days are funny; days when you chased me and my brother while we were climbing the guava trees, when we used to jump on the fresh sand you had bought for some construction work and so on. Although everyone else seemed to have ignored you or your words, for a change I was intrigued by you.

How did you manage to be so disciplined even when you were in your 70s, grandpa? I do sometimes struggle at this aspect at my young age, thanks to my laziness. I still remember those days when you never used to miss hearing the 6 o'clock morning news from your radio. Being self sufficient is something I had learnt from you. Managing your own type-writing institute post retirement, incentivizing your grandkids to get their help in correcting the typed papers, your whistle to announce to the whole street that there are mock exams happening in your institute, your way of organizing the corrected and uncorrected papers everyday and many more vivid memories. There were times I used to just sit in front of you and watch your habits keenly. Being organized and methodical is something I saw in you everyday.

Remember the time when you helped me with an essay competition in school! We sat together, gathered a pile of your old history books in front of us and you typed out a whole essay for me. Being in this Internet age, the essay you helped me write just by referring to your old history books now seems like a spectacular task, though it was very obvious to you then. I wish I had saved a copy of your hand typed essay.

Doing more with less is something I learnt from you, grandpa. You saved up one sided papers, you tried to reuse as much as you can. These habits somehow got internalized in me as well. Your excitement and fun during the event of Bhogi is still vivid in my memories. How you used to bring things of no use from nook and corner of your home so the kids in your home can burn them and have fun on Bhogi! I recollect those days when you were having a lot of interest in gardening and you used to give away bunches of curry leaves and drumsticks from your garden to the neighbours.

Although I didn't understand many of your words, some of them are making sense to me now. "Money gets more respect than people" - this is something you were murmuring every now and then. I didn't get it then but I get the deeper meaning of that phrase now. It's been a few years since you left your home to meet grandma in heaven. I have never returned to your home after that day. I cannot bear to see your home that personified you and characterized by these beautiful memories, now being renovated and remodeled as a modern day apartment.

I never got a chance to meet or interact with my paternal grandfather. You filled the gap in many subtle ways. Thanks for the many memories that made my childhood the happiest phase of my life.

Yours loving granddaughter.


Nov 16, 2009

Share the risk

It's interesting to analyze the low penetration of e-commerce in India from a consumer behavior perspective. Why are Indian consumers not really buying this idea of e-commerce? What are the critical factors that prevent them from becoming an actively engaged buyer in the Internet marketplace? Although the factors could be many, I would like to look at it more from a risk perspective.

Pick up any text on consumer behavior and you will come across this relevant concept called "perceived risk". Schiffman and Kanuk in their book on consumer behavior define perceived risk as "the uncertainty that consumers face when they cannot foresee the consequences of their purchase decisions".

Although Internet has become a powerful tool in enabling information search and content aggregation, many consumers still prefer to make the final transaction by visiting a store. There are certain uncertainties in the minds of consumer that need to be addressed.

Consumers think about the following consequences before transacting online:

- Is my financial information secure? Has the correct amount been debited from my credit card? What will happen if there is a network issue and the financial transaction between the e-commerce provider and my bank is incomplete? How do I resolve such issues?

- Will the product that I order be delivered on time? Will there be any issues with the quality of product delivered? What if I'm not happy with the product? How do I return?

The first set of questions can be classified under "financial risk" while the second set of questions can be classified under "functional risk" or "time risk".

How can e-commerce providers ensure the financial risks are mitigated? Although transactions using standard payment gateways are secure, the firms need to ensure the consumers are made aware of the facts in case of any issues. The e-commerce providers should take responsibility to enable safe transactions. In case of an issue, the provider shouldn't delegate the responsibility of issue resolution to the consumer. Instead, he can help the consumer in resolution by working with the bank and payment gateway providers. This will help a great deal in increasing the trust levels of the consumer. Completion of a financial transaction in a safe and secure manner is a basic hygiene factor that e-commerce providers should take care of. They should work with banks and payment gateway providers to identify and set the right performance SLAs.

The time risk elements can be alleviated by letting the customers know in advance when exactly the product is expected to be delivered. The e-commerce provider has to be specific with the timelines. Individual status tracking notices such as "Product dispatched through XXX courier service - tracking ID yyy" can also be emailed so the consumer doesn't get anxious.

Return policies and warranties should be provided to the consumer as part of the transaction flow so the consumer can review them and continue with the transaction only if he agrees with the policies set by the e-commerce provider. The risk levels could be reduced by being transparent and providing the required information as part of the buying cycle even though the customer may not have asked for such details explicitly.

As a service category, if e-commerce has to evolve and grow, these perceived risks ought to be resolved so that consumers find the service to be more credible and trustworthy. Unless these basic factors are taken care of, the industry will continue to face challenges in growth.

Navigation for your mind

I'm an ardent believer of mindmaps. I have been creating a lot of mindmaps in my professional and student life. Whenever I need to work on a presentation or a report on a relatively new topic, mindmaps have proved to be very helpful. As I read up on different aspects related to this topic from various sources, I create nodes with the information I have collected. After a thorough research, my mindmap is filled with little nuggets of information in a somewhat organized fashion. Once I sit down to write the report or make the presentation, I just need to refer to this huge mindmap and prepare the material as needed. This last step takes little time compared to earlier days when I used to open a document and start collecting my research notes directly and then organize the content in a presentable manner.

In projects or tasks where you have little prior knowledge or the outcome is not very clear, mindmaps help to take the next set of actions and capture the details in a single place. At present, I'm working on a presentation on an industry about which I have little prior knowledge. I have been doing a lot of secondary research, reading up market research reports and press releases. In my mindmap, the root node is the industry. The first level child nodes are market statistics, key players, revenue models, current differentiating factors and challenges.

I also have two child nodes -
- Ideas to capture my personal thoughts as I work on this project and
- parking lot to capture interesting tidbits and facts

These child nodes then branch further into more data and information gathered in the past few days. I also highlight important points as I build the mindmap. When I work on the powerpoint deck, I find it extremely easy to sort out the relevant details and organize the presentation.

I have two mindmap softwares in my laptop - XMind and FreeMind. Both are easy to use and very intuitive. You can also export the mindmaps to jpg files or pdfs.

Mindmaps help to sort out relevant knowledge from the overload of information we get from various sources. I highly recommend using mindmaps for any kind of research, exploratory or academic work.

Nov 12, 2009

Infinite blessings

My contribution to 3WW

monsoon rain tapped my windows
I opened, a flurry of drizzly rain
on my dry face and frizzy hair
a fresh feel, it was

hankered for such a moment
I stepped out, leaving behind
the colorful blue umbrella
with a dejected look

the empty roads, no longer murkier
an errant walk in the rains
dancing and getting drenched,
my palms gathering droplets

infinite blessings from the sky!

Nov 10, 2009

Realization

She is lost in her deep thoughts. The bamboo swing gently sways due to the cold monsoon breeze. The effects of the distant drizzle and the dark clouds creates a slight shiver but aptly alleviated by the steaming ginger tea held tightly onto her palms. The complimentary effects are sublime and soothing. Her gaze is directed at the tiny squirrel running on the grills of the balcony. "A very active creature", she wonders. Her woolen shawl wrapped nicely around her shoulders provides the much needed coziness. A pink colored journal and a blue fountain pen on the side table are her best friends in these pristine solitary moments. She rambles everything that was going through in her mind - her dreams, her wishes, the past and the present.

The doubtful sunshine peers through the dark clouds once in a while announcing its erstwhile presence. The gentle breeze transforms into a sudden wind, wiping out the dark clouds in a jiffy. The clear sky with patches of clouds interspersed in a random fashion becomes visible to her dreamy eyes. A sense of clarity emerges. She quickly picks up her journal and writes as though there is no end to her sudden realization.

"My morning walk around this beautiful lake gives me a refreshing feel. With the peak season in the vicinity, this lake will no longer be my possessed asset. I have to share it with the rest of the world. The motor boats will cause a deafening noise, disrupting the serene surroundings.

As expected, the peak season started and the tourists thronged from all possible directions. Some were in a hurry, picking up tickets for the boat ride, hiring the fastest motor boat and racing past everyone and experiencing the adrenaline rush as navigated by the boatman. Some were not so in a hurry but impatient, yelling at everyone to maintain discipline and stand in a queue. When their turn came, they chose a colorful big boat and a skilled boatman who can paddle very well. Some more people wanted to experience the ride on their own. They hired a pedal boat and slowly pedaled through their way on the lake. Their feet hurt a little with constant pedaling but they seemed to enjoy the pain in return for the pleasure of their self drive. There I was, standing amidst these different sets of people, wondering where I belong. "What kind of a boat do I want to hire? Is there a need for a boat? What is the higher order purpose of this journey?", I asked myself. Valid questions to ponder over. That's exactly what I was brooding over during those long morning walks.

With a few skills picked up earlier, I trusted my instinct and went back home to the basement. There it was, the old rugged canoe, unused and untouched for a long time. It was heavy but I decided to lug it over towards the lake. My shoulders hurt because of the heavy weight of the canoe but I was determined. "Let me be the one who rides through my lake", I made up my mind. The accessories were neatly wrapped around in a cloth. I walked slowly, panting for breath and took breaks every 15 minutes until I reached the lake. Having placed the canoe in a safe spot, I returned back home to bring the accessories.

It was my turn and I slowly pulled the canoe onto the lake, with a thick coir tied to a metal handle on the shore. At first, it rocked and looked like it was about to topple. But I balanced its position and slowly untied the coir. I clutched the paddle tightly and started to steer towards the direction I wanted to go. The old canoe seemed to have understood my intentions and we moved, slowly and steadily. After a while, my hands started to hurt but I started to appreciate the pain. We ventured out onto areas typically unexplored by the other boats - the quiet corners filled with white lilies, the low hanging mango trees on the sides of the lake. At some spots, I lost the balance and was about to topple but recovered at the last minute. I slipped into the lake once and was holding onto the edge of the canoe and after much effort, I pulled up myself and got onto the canoe. Quite an experience, I should say.

I paddled towards the center of the lake where the tourists were sitting on their row and pedal boats and clicking pictures. I waved at them and gave a big smile. Some of them responded by waving their hands while others seemed to be in a grumpy mood, either unhappy with the boat, the boatman or the journey itself.

After spending the whole evening, I steered my canoe back to the shore. The sun had already set. I looked all wet and dirty but the experience I gathered in the past few hours was rather memorable and exhilarating. It was my own effort using my own boat. I was in the driver's seat and I decided where to go and what to do than leaving the fate of the experience in the hands of a boatman. It was a satisfying ride and I went home for a peaceful sleep...."

Nov 3, 2009

Healthy breakfast in multiplexes

Years ago, when there were fixed timings for movie shows in cinema theatres (11 AM, 3 PM, 6 PM and 10 PM), a bag of popcorn and a glass of pepsi were an ideal combination to munch and enjoy the movie. With the proliferation of multiplexes, there are shows at different timings starting from 10 AM. Some of the screenings are at odd hours - for instance 12:30 PM show. It is too early to have lunch prior to the movie and too late to have lunch after the movie, especially if the movie runs for 3 long hours. The same problem occurs with a Sunday morning show at 10 AM. Sundays being the only days where most of us get a chance to enjoy sleeping until the sun rays start to peep in through the window. Mornings are also the times when the ticket rates are relatively less expensive compared to other show timings. So what do we do? We end up waking at around 9ish, have a quick bath and rush to the multiplex without breakfast. Although popcorn and pepsi is the perfect combo, that's not healthy at all and can never replace a breakfast.

How about idlis chopped into manageable chunks that you can eat them using a fork while watching a movie? I'm not talking about regular idlis here but the different flavored ones like podi idli (sprinkled with spicy gunpowder) or whole moong idli that doesn't really need a sambar or chutney as accompaniments. Maybe, stuffed paranthas can also be split into pieces and sold as a pack. Before entering the cinema hall, one can grab a pack of these idlis or paranthas, enjoy the movie without the guilty feel of skipping breakfast and enjoy popcorn and pepsi during intermission.

Probably, Mr and Mrs.Idly can explore this idea further and test out this concept in prominent multiplexes like PVR or Inox.

Is this a plausible business idea? Or am I just thinking about a painpoint I faced as a customer of PVR Cinemas?

Notes from Nasscom Product Conclave - Oct 2009

Last week, I attended the Nasscom Product Conclave on Oct 27 and 28. Although I couldn't attend all the sessions as they were overlapping, I managed to attend a few interesting sessions and panel discussions. Most of the discussions were focused on issues related to startups, business plans and GTM strategies. Focus on specific product related issues was rather missing. But overall, it was a set of useful discussions.

The twitter session was entertaining but I don't really agree with some of the strategies suggested by Guy Kawasaki in using twitter as a marketing tool. Bombarding the followers with interesting links will just be an overkill in order to add more followers. But Guy is an entertaining speaker and definitely a good marketer. I'm sure the number of pageviews to Alltop would have increased in the past one week.

Raw notes from the sessions below:

Guy Kawasaki's key note (The art of the start)
  • Put everything in the cloud
  • Ship, then test
  • Use TweetMeme in your blog
  • Forget venture capital
  • Niche thyself (I agree with this completely)
  • Don't let the bozos grind you down
  • Position yourself in a 2*2 where you are high on uniqueness and high on value
Workshop on Marketing and Branding Strategies for Product Organizations
  • "Product made in factory, brand is what customer buys" - David Aaker
  • "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win" - Mahatma Gandhi
  • Brand communication should make you relevant to your customer and different from your competition
  • Media and Public relations have been leveraged well by Infosys to build their brand
  • Three customers of your brand - Investors, Consumers and Employees
  • Consumer Experience - more important than brand identity or advertising
  • There is very little or no difference among products which creates the need to identify the unique value proposition (UVP)
  • UVP includes everything that engages a customer
  • Always stay in touch with consumer and buyer behavior
  • Product has become the minimum hygiene factor for all product companies. Uniqueness has to be derived outside the product
  • In the initial stages of the company, the brand is "YOU"
  • In many of the business plans, questions like "Who are you building the product for?", "Is there a need?" are not answered well
  • You need to justify the marketing spend in terms of RoI when you mention your marketing plans as part of your business plan. Calculate the marketing spend per acquired customer and the revenue gained per acquired customer
  • Keep asking "How will I get my first customer?"
  • There is a need for an evangelist within the company for brand creation
  • You need to identify points of dissatisfaction. You cannot sell to a satisfied customer
  • Customer service also helps a lot in building your brand. People don't have problems with problems but the ability to respond to problems and being honest about them is critical for a start-up
  • Keep questioning "Do I really want to build my startup in a crowded marketplace?"
  • During customer presentations in a B2B scenario, do not directly pinpoint the customer's inefficiencies. Let the customer open up and talk about the issues they are facing. Ensure you are able to steer the discussion to get the customer to talk and then explain how your product can solve the customer's issues
Panel discussion: Product Strategies in the telecom sector
  • VAS contributes to 8 to 10% of operator revenues in India compared to 20% in LATAM
  • Product Management capabilities needed in the sector to build products and sell to international markets
  • Identify the right partners in delivering end-to-end solutions. Ensure there is effective agreement on content aggregation with providers
Keynote by Pallab Chatterjee - MD and Operating Partner, Symphony Technology Group
  • Curtis Carlson's definition of innovation - Creation and Delivery of new customer value in the marketplace with a positive return for enterprise
  • Value proposition identification (using NABC model)
  • - the important customer Need
  • - the unique, compelling Approach
  • - the superior, customer Benefits per costs
  • - when compared to the Competition
  • Innovation Index = Value/(Cost*Time)
GTM strategies for product startups
  • Web presence more important in the consideration stage of buyer lifecycle
  • Product knowledge and passion to sell are just not sufficient for selling
  • Connecting to end users should be continuous either through newsletters, new product releases etc
  • Ensure enough efforts are spent towards sales resource readiness
  • Price = Value = Perception
  • Tools for GTM
  • - Affiliate Marketing
  • - Paid Search
  • - Organic Search
  • - Free Trial
  • - Brand advertising
  • - Email
  • - A/B testing
Panel discussion on Accelerating Product Innovation
  • Innovation must be to India what quality is to Japan
  • Mindset towards innovation - deference to the developed world, deference to industry giants and deference to industry and market trends
  • Innovation starts with a challenge and capabilities are acquired next
  • Deference v/s Positive Irreverence
  • Secondary research or brainstorming not sufficient to validate a new product idea

Oct 26, 2009

Trade-off

Rigorous Advertising and Promotional offers seem to be working well for the organized retail players in Bangalore. If Star Bazaar and Total Mall were going gung-ho with their promotional fliers, last weekend, we saw a flurry of activity from Spencers Hyper Market that has opened up in Sarjapur Road. The crowd was thronging the new groceries outlet from the day of opening. A special counter called "Collect your free gift" was crowded even more. It's something that I can never miss.

Hubby and I visited this hypermarket yesterday, looking at different varieties of imported sauces, canned foods and snacks. It's good to see that we can now prepare Italian, Mexican or American cuisine with as much ease as Indian delicacies, what with all the malls stocking up the raw materials required. On the flip side, some of the practices that have been damaging the environment are also on the rise.

For instance, the plastic covers at the vegetables and fruits section. I seriously wonder how many rolls of plastic sheets are being consumed on a daily basis from these malls. Whenever I tear up a plastic cover from the roll, I feel guilty but I try to overcome it by storing these plastic covers and reusing them wherever possible. I also try my best to shop at local vegetables and fruits market where the vendor puts all the items in a single plastic bag. I come home and wrap the vegetables in the plastic covers that I have collected. Although I'm not eliminating my usage of plastic, I'm trying to reduce my consumption as much as I can.

One way to cut down on plastic consumption in such situations is to have a similar setup as a vegetable market where a vendor (in this case, a hypermarket employee) can measure the quantity and drop the vegetables in either a cloth or a jute bag. Once we bring the vegetables home, we can wrap them in zip pouches and put them in the fridge. Since we "pay" for the zip pouches and the quality of such pouches is good, I believe we wouldn't feel like throwing them away as we get rid of low quality plastic bags.

Small steps taken by each of us can help a great deal in preserving the environment. We are in a situation where we have to make a trade-off between protecting the environment and our convenience. What's going to be your choice?

I came across this picture on "The Great Pacific Garbage patch" recently and it definitely looks disturbing.

Oct 22, 2009

Get things done

I'm not as crazy as Monica of FRIENDS when it comes to organizing things but I do like to be organized and meticulous. This characteristic of mine has been very helpful throughout my professional and personal life. Before I start any initiative, I sit down and prepare lists with the tasks and actions along with tiny little check boxes right next to them. It's an awesome feeling to put a checkmark once you are through with the task. At the same time, it can also be an anxious and frustrating feeling when the boxes are unchecked and the list keeps expanding.

I have tried simple paper based lists in tiny notebooks that I used to carry all the time. But this overwhelming feeling has always been there when I look through the list of things to be done. Being a person who likes to dabble with many different things, the list is always huge with immediate actions to big, hairy dreams. I have also explored list managing tools from MS Excel to Outlook task manager to many such similar applications. Although I was able to execute on many of the action items, I always had the feeling of getting lost in different tools, notebooks, papers and post-its.

Sometime back in 2006, I came across this book "Getting things Done" by David Allen from one of my favorite blogs (Steve Pavlina). I went to a book store and was shocked to see that this book is priced at around 460 Rs. I didn't buy it but after a few months, I changed my mind and bought it. I started reading it over the next weekend and was able to appreciate some of the principles like "Mind like water", "Context based lists", "differences between processing and doing" etc. I started implementing the productivity methodology using pen and paper. After the initial excitement, the enthusiasm had died down and I went back to my old ways of random lists.

For three years, I didn't go back to this book or the methodology again. About a month ago, when I seriously decided to work on many things that I really want to work on, I went back to this book, refreshed the methodology from blogs and David Allen's website. This time, I wanted to be serious about it and not give up in between.

I'm a fan of Evernote and have been using it as a primary notes management application. I experimented with using Evernote as a GTD tool. It gave me the initial push and I was able to follow the methodology and accomplish some of the action items that were long pending. After a couple of weeks, I stumbled upon this fantastic GTD tool called ThinkingRock (I love their logo!!!). This tool is built for GTD and follows the same workflow as what David Allen has proposed in the book. I've been using this tool for the past 3 weeks and I'm making good progress on many of the open loops and projects. My mind seemed to have reduced the chatter of constant reminders of tasks that ought to be done, thanks to GTD and ThinkingRock.

While I'm working on my laptop, when a thought/action item/idea occurs, I immediately click the ThinkingRock app (It's open as soon as I switch on my laptop), press F6 and record it (Collect Phase). I know I can come back to this recorded item later. This doesn't disrupt my normal flow of things.

On a daily basis, I spend some time, looking at the collected items one by one and decide what needs to be done. I can either classify it as a project (if it involves more than one action) or a next action (Process Phase). I set the context and decide if I can schedule it to a specific date, delegate it or mark it as ASAP.

Whenever I need to do these tasks, I just look at the list of tasks, grouped by context and start completing them one by one.

For a detailed understanding of how this methodology works, buy the book and read it. I highly recommend it. If not, there are tonnes of resources available in the web and in David's website. Leave a comment if there are any questions on GTD, I'll be glad to help you out.

Oct 19, 2009

The visible jinx broken

The story plot that has been lingering in my mind for sometime now is finally taking some shape in the form of written words. I have started out on my very first novel. It's not my childhood dream to become a writer but ever since I started blogging in 2004, I have been enjoying the process of writing. It's a fulfilling feeling to see thoughts taking a tangible shape. I'm learning in the process as I churn out grammatical errors and improve my vocabulary.

As with any new initiative, there is always an initial hesitation to get started and see some output coming through. Excuses float around in all directions. We divert our attention on purpose by working on numerous other tasks except this new initiative. I decided to break this barrier by not allowing any excuses to crop up. Having started with implementing the GTD methodology(I have a next action item to write about this technique this week), I could see good progress with many open loops in my life.

I now feel so relieved, having penned down the first ten pages. Sometimes all you need is a little solitary time to push you towards the right direction and wake you up from procrastination. With Kishore-da and Lata-ji's yesteryear melodies for company, the experience has been unique with me getting into the life of my protogonist and characterizing the qualities.

My plan is to have the first draft of my novel ready by end of this year. One of my colleagues mentioned to me sometime back that I'm a good finisher. Hope I could continue to remain true to this nature of mine.

Oct 15, 2009

It's blog action day

Climate Change - a very relevant topic for this year's Blog Action Day. In my existence so far in this beautiful planet, I have noticed the changes and the drastic impact climate change has started to create. There is enough material available in the web to discuss about the causes of such climate change that's happening in the world. Through this piece, I want to let the world know of the tiny little steps I'm taking to reduce the impact of climate change. I know these are very miniscule efforts and there is a long way to go.

I'm a believer of public transport and have been using the public buses in Bangalore. Though the buses get crowded in the peak hours, there are different options available in the form of Big10, Volvo buses etc. The ticket prices are affordable and doesn't burn a hole in my purse. Also it gives me a bit of satisfaction that I'm reducing air and noise pollution by not hiring an auto rickshaw.

At home, I collect the water that I use to clean rice and vegetables and reuse the same water for the plants in my garden. With water supply restricted through tankers, I have no other option but to reduce the water consumption as much as I can.

I do not print unless it's absolutely needed. I'm fairly comfortable reading from my laptop. Thanks to libraries, I prefer to borrow books than to buy my own copies. I reuse one sided papers and bills/receipts for making shopping lists and rough notes.

I'm trying to reduce the clutter that gets accumulated in my home by consuming less. I highly recommend you to watch this brilliant video called Story of Stuff of how more consumption can in turn lead to severe outcomes of climate change.

I believe several such small efforts can control the effects of climate change. Let's join hands in making a positive impact.

Recent movies

It's been almost a year since I watched a Tamil movie in a cinema theatre, the last one being Vaaranam Aayiram. By the time I realize a movie is good enough, it's already out of the theatre in Bangalore. Nevertheless, I ensure I don't miss out on good Bollywood movies.

On our wedding anniversary, hubby and I took a day off from work and decided to watch either Love Aaj Kal or Kaminey. I'm so glad we choose the former. LAK is worth a one time watch as I like Saif's acting in such kind of movies. Hum Tum is one of my favorite movies in this genre. As everyone had already mentioned in their reviews, the "Kal" portion was just too good. Saif as a Punjabi has done a tremendous job, so does the actress essaying the role of Harleen Kaur. I couldn't believe when I came to know she is from Brazil. She fitted the role of a Punjabi girl perfectly. I never liked Deepika as an actress as I find her acting and voice to be too artificial. But she wasn't that bad in this movie. I liked some of the songs in this movie, especially the tunes of "Yeh dooriya". Though I wouldn't say LAK is a must watch movie, it's not a bad movie either.

If I have to call one movie as bad in the recent weeks, that would have to be Kaminey. I'm so happy I didn't spend 500 bucks to watch this movie in a multiplex. Thanks to Tata sky, I just spent 75 Rs but it wasn't worth this money and 2 hours of precious time. I couldn't understand what this movie was all about. Is it really worth the hype? A complete must-avoid movie, if you ask me.

Ever since Wake up Sid's promos started airing, it looked to me as an interesting story. The story is not very new as the first half resembles Lakshya to some extent. The protogonists in both the movies do not know what they want to do in life. They come from a rich background, their fathers want them to join their business, their mothers try to convince them to listen to their dads, their girl friends are the smartest and provide them the necessary support. But the screenplay is dealt in a light hearted and fun manner in Wake up Sid. After Konkana's entry, the visuals look colorful. Every frame seems to have a sense of beauty - be it her well decorated condo, her Mumbai Beat office or her experiences in Mumbai. The colors are bright and peppy. I loved the birthday scene where Ranbir makes a cake out of bread,jam and a matchstick. Both Ranbir and Konkana have fitted their respective roles nicely. Though easily predictable, the gradual turn around of events that take their relation from friendship to love is well made. I'm sure the song "Iktara" will linger in my mind for a long time,although I don't understand the lyrics. Wake up Sid is definitely a must watch movie.

Oct 13, 2009

2 states

What an interesting novel! Having read his 3 previous books, I was really looking forward to the release of Chetan Bhagat's 2 states. On my trip to Landmark at Forum, I saw this pile of books with a red colored cover page. I immediately picked up a copy for myself. It's no surprise that everyone waiting in the billing queue had their copies as well.

From the very first page till the end, the plot has been etched out in a very interesting manner. The story is not new to us as we have seen similar stories in Bollywood (DDLJ) or Kollywood (Jodi, Poovellam Kettu Paar, Abhiyum Naanum to an extent). But the way the plot has evolved and the witty dialogues ensure the novel is engrossing. I finished reading it in a 5 hour straight sitting.

It's a love story between a Punjabi boy, Krish and a Tamilian girl, Ananya. The main track of the story is the way they convince their parents to like each other and be present happily in their wedding. As I come from one of the two states, I could easily relate to the customs, food habits and dialogues when the boy meets the girl's parents. The specific part where Krish spends a few months in Chennai, trying to impress her girl's parents was just hilarious and was handled very well with every page having something to laugh about. On the contrary, Ananya's time in Delhi was a bit too serious. After a lot of interesting and funny moments in convincing their parents, the couple finally tie the knot. At the end of this book, I was so impressed with the characterization of Krish. Man, doesn't he love Ananya so much? Although the author says some of the incidents are from his personal lives, I couldn't separate out which ones are real and which ones are fictional. The best part is that he doesn't try to be too preachy about being one country and not multiple states.

It was a lot of fun reading this hilarious novel. If "Five Point Someone" made a lasting impression on you, I'm sure you would love the story of "2 states".

Oct 12, 2009

Nancy, the horticulturist

A new home, a new garden - this was something Nancy had been looking forward to for many months now. Her parents had purchased a piece of land in the outskirts of the city and their home was nearing completion. Nancy has always been fascinated by plants. In their current rented apartment, she used to admire her mom, Cynthia tending to saplings in mud pots in their balcony. She always used to volunteer to pluck tiny roses from the pots just before Cynthia begins her prayers every evening. "She will major in botany and will become a horticulturist!!" - Cynthia proudly proclaimed to her apartment neighbours about her 5 year old daughter.

The day finally arrived when they shifted to the new home. As promised, Nancy's dad Albert ensured they had a nice patch of fresh grass ready in their lawn area before they moved in. Nancy was more excited about the lawn and the grass than their new home. While Albert and Cynthia were busy setting up their home and arranging things, Nancy was joyously jumping and playing on the lawn. When she felt exhausted, she laid flat on the fresh grass, admiring the clear blue sky and singing the kindergarden rhymes that she recently learnt in school.

A month passed by quickly and Albert's family had settled down. It was a Sunday morning and a fat man named Balraj was standing outside Nancy's home. Albert stepped out to speak to him while Nancy was holding her dad's hands and listening to the conversation intently.

"The grass needs trimming and you also need to sprinkle some urea once you have trimmed the grass. Ensure the weeds are also removed. There seems to be some thorns as well. Clean it up nicely. If I like your work, I can think about hiring you as my regular gardener", Albert gave the instructions.

That afternoon, Balraj completed his job perfectly and Albert was impressed, "You seemed to have done a good job. Come over last Sunday of every month and ensure the garden is maintained properly".

The lawn was no longer soft and green. There were brown patches after trimming. Nancy hated the sight of her garden now. "Daddy, I don't like this gardener man. He has cut all the grass and it doesn't look good", she expressed her opinion. "It will grow soon, dear. You have to trim the grass regularly or else the lawn will look bad". Her dad's explanations were not convincing enough.

Month after month, Balraj did his job dutifully but Nancy just hated the sight of him. She was no longer interested in spending her play time on the lawn. Cynthia noticed it and wanted to ensure her daughter's interests in plants doesn't dwindle. It was a sunny evening and the sun was about to set. Nancy was playing with her soft toys, sitting near the portigo. Cynthia sat beside her, "Nancy, I don't see you playing on the grass anymore. What happened? Don't you like the lawn?"

"The grass is not good, mom. I don't like the brown patches. Grass should always be green. Why does the gardener come every month and cut it?", Nancy asked. "This is how one should maintain a garden, dear. You should trim the ends of the grass regularly for it to grow well. Think about this. Doesn't mom take you to the haircut lady every 3 months to trim the ends of your hair? Now, see how it has grown so well! It's the same thing", Cynthia loves to answer the questions her daughter poses now and then. Nancy seemed to have got convinced and was no longer feeling bad about the lawn. Whenever Balraj visits her garden, she started to question him on each and every task he was doing. "Nancy, the horticulturist in the making", Cynthia thought while observing the conversations between Nancy and Balraj.

Oct 6, 2009

Gadget gap

We have always been talking about generation gap for many generations. While I was thinking about different habits in my family, I couldn't help but notice that there is a strong gadget gap as well. Flashback to the late 80s! My father bought home a big Prestige pressure cooker. As a child, I was so excited about the sound of the whistle, while keeping track of the count. The cooker sat proudly on top of the gas stove as a king of the kitchen while the rest of the cooking utensils looked humble like its royal subjects. But this treatment lasted for just a few days as my grandma was completely uncomfortable with this giant new entrant in the kitchen. Although she was scared to use this gadget, she gave excuses like "Oh, the rice doesn't seem to quick properly in this cooker" or "the rice is very dry and doesn't taste good". After the few days, the cooker was safely kept in the topmost kitchen shelf. We were back to our good old ways of using the traditional brass vessel where it takes 30 minutes to cook 1 cup of rice. Yes, you heard it right - 30 minutes of time and LPG energy. It's of no use arguing with grandma for she felt very strong about not using pressure cooker. This continued for many, many years.

Coming back to the current decade, my father is very much comfortable using pressure cooker and when one seems to think the gadget gap is closed, yet another gap opens widely. My brother has bought a cute, little Black & Decker coffee maker. In a family where every morning begins with a hot cup of coffee, this should be a very useful gadget in the kitchen. Before this cute thing landed up, we have been using a manual coffee filter for God-knows-how-many-years. The gentle tapping on the head of this filter used to be my morning alarm. There is a strict and time consuming process that was followed using this filter. There could be severe repercussions if you don't adhere to this process such as spilled decoction, light flavor or burnt fingers.

An automatic coffee maker could solve many of these issues and one can grab a cup of coffee within 10 minutes and get on with the day. But it doesn't seem to be the case. Even though the process is cumbersome, my dad still prefers the manual filter as he believes that coffee from coffee maker is very light and doesn't taste good. I could notice a slight difference in the taste but nevertheless, it doesn't drastically cross my JND thresholds (just noticeable difference). But it's not the same with dad.

I wonder how I would be 30 years from now. What kind of gadgets would come up that would make life easier but I would be reluctant to change my good, old ways? Will it be a robot that programmes as per the recipe details and prepares the meal on its own? Will it be a gizmo that reads from all my books and gives me a summary?

Sep 23, 2009

sinusoid

My entry for 3WW

languish of fierce storms
velocity of ferocious winds
the intensity mellows down

the high tides, quietens their pace
the full eclipse, crosses its prime
the darkness, fades away in a whisker

peace emerges and prevails
the canoe gently floats,
bound the horizon, reflecting

bright red rays of evening sun
stillness of the vast ocean
sinusoidal effects of life

Sep 22, 2009

Anything for you, ma'am

The first 50 odd pages were slow. The plot was going back and forth and it wasn't intriguing enough. But after crossing this initial hurdle, Tushar Raheja's debut novel "Anything for you, ma'am" is a humorous and interesting story. My hubby gifted me this book for my birthday. I hope he really meant the title :-) The Monday break for Ramzan provided me the right opportunity to catch up on this unputdownable novel.

The protagonist Tejas is an IIT student who is not studious and loves to play pranks whenever he gets an opportunity. That's where the similarity with "Five Point someone" ends. What follows is a hilarious narration of Tejas's journey that would enable him to meet his love, Shreya. The coincidences and ironies that Mr.Fate throws up on our poor hero makes one feel very pity for him but at the same time, these twists are what makes the storyline very interesting. His encounters with Prof.Pappi, the master plan he chalks out to skip his industrial tour, the eventful train journey and the people he gets to meet eventually ties the loose ends together. The "Bio Bull" bus also has an important role to play. I had a good time reading through the pages of Tejas's life journey. His narration makes me believe that life is interesting when there are these ups and downs and one gets to share these interesting anecdotes through life's novel. I highly recommend this book for its well connected plot and funny dialogues.

Sep 10, 2009

Liberated

My contribution to totally optional prompt

compulsions of the past
conformance to standards
follower of the herd
never before a rebellious attitude
swaying to society's ways

vagaries of monotony
hit her hard,
"impatient, idealistic",
they called her,
she started to wonder
purpose of her existence

slowly she turned
starts to question everything,
opinionated, execution oriented
eager to make a difference
to her life and others'

decided to chase her guts
a liberated feeling
an open window with the fresh breeze in,
breaks free, opportunities galore
for she had created her own walls
one life, one wish!

Sep 9, 2009

Unexpected visitor

My contribution to 3WW

A quiet, peaceful evening
monsoon rains simmered down,
TV volume blaring away
wrapping up a homely supper

a screeching sound out of the blue
I look around puzzled,
moving in the direction of noise
he peeks under the washing machine

the tiny mouse well engaged
on the slab with anxious looks,
he shakes the contraption violently
standing beside him, I start to scream

the little devil runs into my kitchen
confused and scared, hops on my spice containers
a state of mayhem, I run to a safe place,
the mouse giving me a chase

slamming the door hard
my voice still screaming,
the little brat more scared
than ever, hiding behind

"I am not disarmed", I convince myself
the shrieking scream to the rescue
he laughs, watching my reaction
towards the unexpected new visitor

Sep 7, 2009

Green is the colour

After the fabulous 3 day drive to Belur, Chikmagalur, Mullyangiri and Halebidu, my eyes are still relishing the visual treat. These places were part of my to-visit list for a while now. There are two types of vacations - one that is well planned and the other which is spontaneous. This trip falls under the latter. The key to breaking monotony is to do something spontaneous.

Until Thurs evening, we were not sure whether we want to take this trip. But then we decided "Let's go for it!". I'm glad we took this decision. After searching in the web for reviews, we picked a home stay "Nature Craft". We should have been lucky to get a booking there in the last minute. After quickly packing our bags, we browsed through various maps and narrowed down on the perfect route.

Although we planned to leave by 5:30 AM before Friday's traffic starts to pile up, we eventually left our home only by 6:15 AM. There was a lot of confusion from Kasturba Road to hit NH4 as we were roaming around for nearly 20 minutes with no clear indication of how to get there. Until Neelamangala, there has been a lot of construction work happpening. After we took the deviation towards Kunigal, the drive started to become easy and very pleasant. Long winding roads with greenery on both sides, white and dark clouds fighting to become dominant, a gentle breeze, a light drizzle and occasionally visible sun rays - it couldn't have been more perfect. After a quick breakfast at Kamat (after Channarayapatna), we continued the drive until Belur. It had started to rain and we were thinking if we should head straight to Chikmagalur. But then we decided to visit Channakeshava temple at Belur as we didn't want to miss out on the chance. The ancient temple was so beautiful, with nice stone carved intricate sculptures. We took the help of a guide who showed us around the temple explaining different facts. It was very interesting and informative.

The drive from Belur towards Chikmagalur was even more scenic and beautiful. It was nearly 2 PM when we reached Chikmagalur town and we were very hungry. Thanks to a blog recommendation, we went to Hotel Mayura for lunch. The food was so good that we came to this place for lunch the next day as well. After a little bit of detour, we reached our home stay "Nature Craft" around 4 PM. As we were pretty tired after the long drive, we took a short nap. The homestay was very clean and neat. The hosts were wonderful and very friendly. We chatted with our host Mr.Ansar and his mother over a nice cup of coffee. One could learn a few lessons on good quality of service and hospitality from them. I would highly recommend this place as they made our stay so memorable.

We also met a friendly couple along with their cute pet dog Lana. She was so sweet and intelligent. After this trip, I'm no longer scared of dogs as I used to be.

After breakfast the next day, Mr.Ansar gave us a map to Mullayangiri and Kemmangundi. Because of the revival of the monsoons, it has been continuously raining. Our homestay friends shared their experience visiting Mullayangiri. Although it freaked a bit, we decided to go for it. The roads were getting bad and the mist was engulfing the mountains completely. With 3 more kms to go, we had to decide whether to continue driving or park and walk the remaining 3 kms. We chose to drive and those 3 kms were so thrilling. The winds were blowing so fast. There was almost zero visibility and the muddy road was getting narrower. We were praying that no vehicle returns in the opposite direction. Once one starts to drive these 3 kms, there is no place to take a U turn. You have to go to the top and only then one can turn back. It felt like an adventure. Once we reached the top, the wind was just rocking. I could hardly open the front door of my car as the wind was pushing the door hard. What an experience it was!!

We returned, admiring the mist and wondering how the view would be when it is clear. I would definitely want to visit this place during winter when the sky is clear. After lunch, we headed towards Kemmangundi. Our plan was to just drive half way through the scenic route and come back as it was getting darker. There were coffee plantations on both sides with spectacular views of the mountains. Everything looked gorgeous, until we realized we had a flat tyre. It was in the middle of a deserted road, with a drizzle and wind blowing at a high speed. This was the first time hubby had to fix a flat tyre on his own. We (or rather "He") managed to fix it nicely and decided to turn back from that point as it would be highly risky with no backup tyre. It was a good learning experience.

After replacing the tyre tube, we headed back to our homestay. The Biryani during dinner tasted very good and we had a long chat with our new couple friends talking about dogs, cats and snakes. It's an irony that we get to meet interesting and friendly people at unexpected places and times. The sky seemed to open up the next morning for a brief time. I wonder why it doesn't rain in the last day of our trips. No regrets since the views were so beautiful thanks to the monsoon. After breakfast, we bid goodbye to the friendly homestay hosts. It was a nice gesture when they gave us a bagful of passion fruits and guavas from their plantation. It started off as a bright day and so we decided to visit Halebidu on our way. The Hoysaleswara temple is very similar to the one in Belur.

After a good lunch at Hotel Kadamba in Hassan, we drove back to Bangalore. This is a very memorable trip, with scenic routes, pleasant drive and ofcourse, the nice homestay and the friendly family of Mr.Ansar. I will definitely visit Chikmagalur again during one of the winters to experience the clear sky and views. There are still many places to see from here like Kemmangundi, Hebbe falls and BabubudanGiri hills.

Sep 2, 2009

Aug 24, 2009

Second attempt

It was my second attempt, hoping to be successful. I let the plan out to a few of my friends so I don't back out in the last moment like the past couple of years. I diligently noted down the step-by-step action plan after referring to a blog. I ensured I have the right ingredients to make this work. My preplanning skills came in very handy. I started out the process with hubby's strengths put to test along with the help of a strong hammer. The jaggery was broken down to manageable sized chunks. I dropped them all into a vessel which was getting heated and I kept stirring until the jaggery was melted. So far, so good! Hubby came over to inspect the proceedings and as an expert who has seen umpteen number of cookery shows, I intelligently explained the meaning of "kambi padham" (the jaggery should drop from the ladle as a copper string) and how it indicates the jaggery was done. Hubby should have been proud that his wife had actually learnt something from those cookery shows and not just pretending for the sake of taking control of the TV remote.

I gently dropped the grated coconut into the melted jaggery and stirred even more aggressively. I got the slight doubt that I might be overdoing the process since I noticed the blackening of jaggery. But then I was hoping for the jaggery coconut mix to become a nice dough without any watery feel to it. My doubt was confirmed after a burnt smell started to emanate. I quickly switched off the gas stove and kept the vessel away for it to cool down. "Once it cools, it should be okay" - I reaffirmed myself.

I started to prepare the white covering for the kozhukkattais (by now, you should have guessed what I was upto!). The rice flour was made into a soft dough. This was the step I made a blunder during my first attempt a couple of years ago. But this time, I got it right. "You are getting better at this, dear!", some cheer from my heart. I called hubby to help me fill the white covering with jaggery-coconut mix. I took a lemon sized ball of rice flour dough and flattened it on my palm. I asked my hubby to take a spoon of jaggery mix and place it on the center of my palm. The instruction was loud and clear. "I couldn't take out this spoon, it got stuck. And this doesn't look like what it is supposed to be. Looks like some kind of thick dark chocolate", hubby explained. Something went horribly wrong. We tried making 4 pieces of kozhukkattais with great difficulty since the jaggery got stuck to the bottom of the vessel. "Dum laga ke haisha, zor laga ke haisha", we shouted hoping to scratch a spoonful of jaggery. It wasn't worth the effort to complete the remaining dough. I steamed the 4 pieces and offered them to poor Lord Ganesha. Thankfully, I had some fruits as a backup for the offering. "Please don't be offended by these disastrous kozhukkattais", I prayed to my dear friend. Meanwhile, hubby was making fun of me imitating the way I taught him seriously on what "kambi padham" means!!

"I am not going to let this jaggery go as a waste. I'll convert this to a payasam" - my putting-things-to-efficient-use part of my brain got activated. Despite hubby's suggestions to throw it, I didn't want to succumb to the defeat. I added milk and started boiling. Slowly the jaggery was remelted and the ladle started to become visible. I exclaimed "See, it works!". After a while, the jaggery was melted completely and the ladle was rescued. But to my surprise, it didn't look like how jaggery payasam was supposed to be. Hubby looked at it and said it looks like Boost (the energy drink). I tasted a little bit and it was so badly sweet. I didn't want to add any more milk to it as I was sure I cannot recover from this disaster. I accepted the defeat finally and enjoyed the afternoon watching the movie Ratatouille. Ironically the tag line of this movie is "Anyone can cook" :-)

As people say, third time is the lucky charm. Maybe next year, I will get it right!!

Aug 16, 2009

A fantasy dinner party

My contribution to Sunday Scribblings - #176

That's an interesting topic to think about on this beautiful Sunday evening. Let me think about the seven people whom I would want to invite to my fantasy dinner party!!
  1. My hubby
  2. Sachin Tendulkar
  3. Rajnikanth
  4. AR Rahman
  5. JK Rowling
  6. RK Narayan
  7. Bharathiyaar
First, my hubby. I haven't been able to think of any special occasion without his presence in the past seven years. He is my fantasy man and his presence means a lot to me in this dinner party. Also it would be fun to watch him while I interact with my teen crush Sachin :-)

The reason why I started to like cricket is because of this one man Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Many of my friends and colleagues know how much I like to support him amidst all the media hoopla about his poor performance in the past few matches. I admire his humility and dedication. His hardwork and his ability to handle pressure from such a huge fan following in this country can never be undermined. My plan is to learn a couple of front foot strokes like the straight drive and cover drive from him when we meet at my dinner party.

The Superstar of Tamil cinema is my childhood favorite. I love all his movies and have watched them over and over again. His style quotient and charisma stand out so prominently that his heroics are still admirable even after many years of being present in the Tamil Film industry.

What's a party without some lovely music? Who else can play my favorite music other than Rahman? His music has always been with me - during times when I am happy, sad, delighted, depressed, contemplating or relaxing. He is not only a brilliant musician but also a very talented singer. I would request him to sing my favorite song "VeLLai pookkaL" when he comes to my dinner party.

Her books have kept me hooked onto them for hours together. Her attention to detail and her words which could transport one to the magical school of Hogwarts is inspiring. JK Rowling's Harry Potter books are very special to me as I enjoy reading the books and watching the movies many times.

RK Narayan's simplistic writings and his fictitious town of Malgudi can never be taken away from my life. My reading habit began with his book "Swami and friends" as I wasn't a big fan of reading novels or stories before I came across this lovely narration. His novels kindled in me an interest towards reading which has now become one of my hobbies. He is an inspiration to many aspiring writers like me.

Last but not the least, my favorite Tamil poet Bharathiyaar or fondly called as Bharathi is invited. His poems on different genres such as patriotism and love are truly master pieces. Having been a fan of film songs with good lyrics, I can positively attribute the reason to Bharathi's poems that I learnt as a kid.

That's my list of people I would like to invite for my dinner party. It would be one memorable evening to remember!! So who's on your list?

Jul 30, 2009

A disappointing Half Blood Prince

It has been 2 years ever since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie was released. I have watched the 5 DVDs over and over again and couldn't wait for Half blood Prince movie to be released. It was a disappointment that the release was postponed for nearly 7 months. When it was officially announced that the release date is July 16th, I decided that I should watch it on the very first day before tonnes of reviews pop up everywhere on the Internet. Having searched through the ticket booking sites a week ahead, the tickets were opened for sale only 3 days earlier in PVR Cinemas. I was eagerly awaiting the evening and was pretty excited to watch HP6 on the first day. At the end of the movie, I wondered if this hype was all really worth it.

First the positives of this movie. A fantastic opening where the Muggles were being attacked by death eaters. The collapsing of the bridge was shot really well. The actor who portrayed the role of Horace Slughorn was perfectly fitting and his introduction was awesome. After the initial excitement, there was a lull until the intermission. The movie was pretty slow, with more importance given to teen romance. The focus on Half Blood Prince was completely lost. Where is the memory of Voldemort's past and his parents? It was disappointing that these were completely eliminated from the movie. To top it all, the climax when Dumbledore was being killed by Snape is next to nothing. When I read the book, I didn't expect this climax and so it made an enormous impact that I ended up in tears the evening I finished reading the book. I'm not expecting the movie would repeat invoking such emotions but it should have created atleast some impact. Harry and Dumbledore's journey to the lake in search of Horcruxes and the following Inferi attack could have been picturized well. Those scenes had the potential of bringing Rowling's words onto visual images in such an appealing fashion but the director failed there.

I agree that the sixth book is really a bridge connecting Voldemort's return and the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. So the action scenes were really less compared to other books. But the few opportunities could have been picturized well. I hope atleast the remaining 2 movies would be good. I still stick to my earlier comment that the first three movies were the best and the remaining three have been a disappointment.

Jun 29, 2009

the journey...

My contribution to Cafe Writing - May/June project - Option #4

A regular Monday morning
I muddle along
the crowd walks past
I wander around

faithful to my instincts
I board the train
dare to travel
wherever it takes

not much to ponder
I take the plunge,
brain seems to wonder
is this who I am?

spontaneous decision perhaps
I am hit by the buzz word
the "bear run" ends
not in the capital markets sadly

the wheels start to move
going direction uncharted,
leaving behind its trails,
the journey is the destination

Jun 24, 2009

A memorable trip to the Northeast

"This is not right. How come she is awake so early? It's still dark outside. Has something catastrophic happened? Or is it one of those rarest possible occasions?"
"You bet it is! Now run away and hide inside the crevices. I don't want to start off my vacation by hitting you"

This is the conversation that happened between me and the confused fat cockroach at 5 AM on Saturday, June 6th. Only a vacation can motivate me to wake up before the sun rises. A month long planning to identify new places, arrange logistics and pack stuff needed for a week has finally culminated in a perfect vacation to the North East region of India. Our taxi arrived on time and my husband and I left for the Bangalore International Airport. This was our first flight from the new airport and we were thrilled to see the beautiful roads and a nice airport of international standards. After the usual checkin procedures, it was time for breakfast. We were horrified to see a dosa priced at 90 rupees and a cup of tea (prepared with a tea bag, mind you!) for 60 rupees. Though the airport has many restaurants, the pricing seems to be standardized at this range.

The flight was on time and we reached Kolkata airport around noon. My dad and my brother had reached Kolkata directly from Chennai and were awaiting our arrival. We had two options - either to book a hotel for the day or roam around Kolkata the whole afternoon since our train to New Jalpaiguri was scheduled to depart at midnight. We went for the second option and hired a taxi. The driver took us to a perfect place for lunch - Haldirams. This place was just like a supermarket, the only difference being that sweets and savories are displayed on many different aisles. The restaurant inside Haldirams served a sumptuous thaali and we helped ourselves to yummy rasgullas. Our ride around Kolkata began with a trip to the Science City. With humidity at its prime, we prefered to lock ourselves in an air conditioned room. What better way than to watch a show about oceans inside the auditorium! It was an hour long interesting show on oceans and fishes. After Science City, we went to Kali temple but had to skip going inside since it was too crowded. Having roamed around the city, taking a glimpse of the Eden Gardens and the Howrah bridge, the taxi driver dropped us off at the railway station at 7 PM. With 5 hours to kill, we took refuge in a AC restaurant, ordering milkshakes one by one and sipping it slowly. There was another guy sitting next to us, sipping a can of Mountain Dew for nearly an hour. We were wondering how accustomed we have become with Bangalore's cool and pleasant weather.

"Once we board the train, we can just doze off", that was our plan. But it was not intended to be so. I would like to meet the famous guy who came up with this brilliant idea of having a side middle berth in train compartments. People were arguing and fighting for their seats for 2 hours. The seat numbers were assigned for a 81 berth compartment whereas the bookings were only done for 72 berths. Sometimes, people get more agitated owing to their egos that simple math and common sense no longer makes sense to them. It was a long and tiring day and finally the confusion over berth numbers ended at 2:15 AM.

The train was delayed by 90 minutes and we reached New Jalpaiguri around noon the next day. The Yatra representative (travel agency through whom we had booked the holiday package) had been waiting for us and he gave us all the details we need for the trip. After the first glimpse of the Himalayan hills, we felt refreshed, watching the flowing Teesta river and the greenery all around. Having skipped breakfast, we found a nice little place for lunch on our way to Kalimpong. We had been traveling for almost 2 days now and as soon as we reached the resort, we took a shower and slept like logs until evening. After taking a walk around for a while, we had dinner and declared the end of the day.

The next morning, we left the resort for a sight seeing trip around Kalimpong and planned to travel directly to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Kalimpong is a little town with spectacular view points around the mountains. The half a day sight seeing trip took us to places such as the Deolo botanical gardens, Hanuman Mandir, nursery and a monastery. The numerous hairpin bends leading to uphill and downhill maneuvers finally took us to the border of West Bengal and Sikkim. After a light lunch, we set off on the beautiful roads of Sikkim with Teesta river accompanying us. We reached Gangtok in the evening and decided to stay at the hotel for the rest of the day. Little did we realize that was a mistake. The next day (Tuesday) was an official holiday in Gangtok and all the shops were to remain closed. We were unaware of this fact as we decided to roam around the market on Tuesday.

Our jeep arrived on time the next morning which would take us to Tsomgo lake that is considered sacred by the local people. The misty mountains, the clear streams and waterfalls created a pleasant feel to the 2 hour drive. After stopping for tea (BTW, we had loads of tea during this entire trip), it was another 30 minute drive on really bad roads. The Tsomgo lake was clear and beautiful. The blue sky created a magical reflection on the lake. There were yaks nearby the lake on which we sat down and took photographs, wearing a cowboy hat. There are some shops around where one could buy souvenirs of Sikkim. We bought a few paintings and also ate some spicy noodles. The Wai wai noodles is the most famous brand in Sikkim that you get them wherever you go. After returning to the hotel, we had lunch and played cards for a while. Having set a well laid out plan that we would go for shopping, we were disappointed because of the public holiday. This is one main glitch we found in the Yatra itinerary. If they had informed us about this fact, we could have planned accordingly. With sudden heavy downpour, the cold weather literally pushed me to dance on the streets of an empty MG Marg.

It was a short stay in Sikkim and I wish we could have stayed a few more days. Sikkim has been added to my visit-again list. I have heard some good feedback on other places of Sikkim. Anyway, we left for Darjeeling the next day. With summer season all around the country, both Kalimpong and Gangtok were not that cold as I expected them to be. Probably the best time to visit these places would be winter, I guess. As soon as we reached Darjeeling, we set out for a half a day sight seeing trip to a Japanese Temple, Buddhist Peace Pagoda, the Zoological park and Himalayan mountaineering institute. With a thick mist engulfing the town, we wanted to return back but the driver insisted that we visit the tea gardens. For the first few minutes, the visibility was close to zero but once the mist started moving, the tea gardens were a visual treat. We bought some tea packets and then roamed around the market area. The woolen sweaters and shawls are good stuff to buy in Darjeeling.

According to the itinerary, we were supposed to leave for Tiger Hills at 4 AM to view the sunrise over Mt.Kanchenjunga. I was excited about this trip but the mist played spoilsport that we could hardly see the sunrise. The driver suggested that the best time to visit this place would be between Sept-Nov. Yeah, point noted! Nevertheless, I bought a postcard which had the spectacular view of Mt.Kanchenjunga. On our way back, we caught a glimpse of the Batashia war memorial and Ghoom monastery. The logistics didn't work out well for the heritage rail ride and so we satisfied ourselves with pictures next to the train in the railway station. The Lloyd botanical gardens was a long walk through narrow lanes and in contrast to many botanical gardens I have visited so far, this was just empty with no tourists. It was a pleasant walk inside the gardens but the route leading upto it was bad.

After a short walk through the local market, we left for New Jalpaiguri and after a similar route of NJP->KOL->BLR for 2 days, we returned home. What a nice trip it was! With no access to laptop or Internet for a week, this vacation was just great. As a person who likes to plan trips and also loves to travel, I enjoyed this trip to Northeast. There are many such new places I want to explore.

Jun 3, 2009

Recent reads

It's a long pending book review, drafted in my mind but has taken a while to pen it down. A few weeks back, I managed to read "The tales of Beedle the Bard" by JK Rowling. Having been a huge fan of Harry Potter, I've been wanting to read this book of short stories ever since it was released. At a price of 600 rupees, I have almost been to the verge of purchasing it whenever I'm in a bookstore but dropped the idea at the last minute. Luckily I got hold of this book in my office library and finished reading on a lazy Sunday evening.

There are 5 short bedtime stories that are popular among the non Muggle kids. Every story is followed by Dumbledore's commentary who gives a background on the story and how it was perceived by the young witches and wizards. You could call it the Cinderella or Snow White of the wizarding world. Out of the 5 stories, I liked two of them - fountain of fair fortune and tale of three brothers.

In the past month, I also happened to read 'The Nordstrom way' as part of my book review assignment. Although it's not really an engrossing book, it paints a good picture of what customer service actually means and how Nordstrom was able to successfully deliver excellent customer service. The book brings together the elements that tie together the strategy and human resource functions of Nordstrom.

After a long time, I read Sudha Murthy's 'Gently falls the bakula' and finished it in 3 hours at a stretch. At the end of it, I felt like I'm returning from watching a Tamil movie. It's a typical story of boy-meets-girl, childhood friends, love and wedding. I admire Sudha's simplistic writing as a story teller and her great admiration for India. She has described many historical places and monuments and interwoven them into the storyplot nicely.

I have started reading RK Narayan's collection of essays that he had written for the Hindu in the 1940s and 50s. I can never get bored of his writings and am glad I have my own copy of his collection. I'm planning to finish this book in the next couple of weeks before my third year of PGSEM officially begins.

Jun 1, 2009

Nice weekend

Although two was the target for May, I was able to plan out one weekend trip at last. Two trips would still have been made possible, if only my neck didn't get sprained from my third swimming class. For more than a week, I could hardly move my neck and as a result, I had to pause my swimming lessons. Hopefully I can get back to the pool soon and learn to float in water.

When I was looking out for short weekend trips from Bangalore, there are many places that popped out on the web. Out of the many, Yelagiri grabbed my attention. I love the hills and mountains and one of my life time goals is to visit all the hill stations in India. I'm almost done with most of them in the South and hopefully can cover a few in the East pretty soon ;-)

Hubby and I left for Yelagiri around 2 PM after packing some munchies for the road trip. Although not really a hill station, Yelagiri is on top of a hillock with 14 hairpin bends leading the way. The roads were just superb after one crosses Hosur. We stopped for a late lunch at Adyar Ananda Bhavan near Krishnagiri. As planned, we reached our resort (Taj Gardens) at 6 PM. It's a nice place with lots of trees, especially mangoes, guavas and jackfruits. We decided to take a walk immediately after we checked in. One of the employees of the resort suggested we could go to Nature Park and watch the musical fountain. The weather was pleasant and the chirping birds were a music to the ears. By the time we reached Nature Park, it became dark and we headed straight to the fountains. It was a 30 minute fountain show and if you had already seen the one in Brindavan Gardens at Mysore, then there is nothing new to see. It was a spooky walk back since it was pitch dark and there wasn't a single soul on the road at 8:00 PM. It's amazing that this place is so quiet with very few commercial establishments. The flip side is that one needs to rely on the resort for all meals. Thankfully, the food provided at Taj Gardens was palatable. The staff was courteous and it was good to see many families in the resort.

After a good night's sleep, we had a quick breakfast and walked towards the lake. We went for boating and took a long walk to a nearby Murugan temple. The sight of a small temple amidst forests and hills is so beautiful. After lunch, it was time to pack our bags and return home. It was a good and relaxing trip with music giving us great company. The irony is that the last song my iPod decided to play before we reached home was "Yunhi chala" from Swades. Kitni aseen hain yeh duniya!!!

Once again, I enjoyed being the travel planner, reading reviews from travel sites, looking at maps for the routes and calling up hotels for enquiries. I hope to plan more such weekend trips in the near future.

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