The Maha Gam(e)ble!!!

Its’ been a real long while since I studied Game Theory. But since the last few weeks in the run up to the State elections in Maharashtra, we have been witness to a live demo of its application by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its now former ally the Shiv Sena(Sena). From the results which have just come today and the possible outcome, it appears that the BJP played the game well and has come out trumps.

Theoretically speaking, Game theory refers to the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants.

Looking at the sequence of events in this election, the moves by the BJP could fit in the above definition. Right after the big win in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP clamored to be the bade bhai in the BJP-Sena alliance in the assembly polls. The reasoning was quite simple. With Modi, they had a winning horse and they believed that Sena owed it to them for in a way reviving the fortunes of Sena in the Lok Sabha Polls and for relegating the other Sena to the corner. Sena, however wanted to continue with the old existing formula conceived by Bal Thackeray and Pramod Mahajan 20 years ago whereby BJP will contest more seats in Lok Sabha elections while Sena will contest more in Assembly polls. And when the alliance won, the CM will be from the Sena. This formula worked well as along as BJP was not the dominant party as it is today. So in the negotiations that followed, conclusion eluded and the old alliance broke resulting in BJP and Sena going alone competing against each other.

Sena

There were many who felt that this was a big gamble by the BJP and the Sena as a split vote may help the Congress/NCP. (In a very, very strange move almost leading to conspiracy theories, NCP also announced break up with the Congress the next day). Here’s where BJP applied the funda of Game theory and applied it well. As per me it would have been better for the Sena to have kept the alliance together at any cost and if it was just giving away a few more seats than last time they should have. For the BJP, breaking the alliance was a win-win-win deal looking at the probable outcomes:

  1. If they get absolute majority by themselves, nothing to complain.
  2. If they fall short of the majority and emerge the single largest party, they could still form the Government taking support from either the Shiv Sena or NCP or MNS depending upon the number picture.

If the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would have continued it would have been a landslide victory for the combine. But for the BJP, it would have been less than 100 seats and with no CM post. Sena by virtue of contesting in more seats had a better chance of winning more seats and retain the CM post. Perse additional numbers in the state assembly helps the cause of more Rajya Sabha seats which is another requirement for Modi i.e to establish majority in the Rajya Sabha sooner or later.

And the other subtext is, had the BJP-Sena alliance continued is that it would have been inconclusive as to who is the bigger brother.

By going it alone and by winning double the number of seats as the Sena, the BJP has clearly established how the wind is blowing. Now the option is with the BJP being the single largest party though without a majority to co-opt Sena in the Government and run the state.  For many who believe that the BJP-Sena coalition will be as disastrous as the Congress-NCP combine, the difference is stark. In the former case, BJP is heading the Government at the Centre with a clear majority and a supreme leader unlike the UPA.

Unlike many who believe that a decisive mandate in favour of BJP would have been better than this fractured verdict, I have a different view. In this scenario of Maharashtra where BJP and Sena have been allies till now, if BJP got the majority mandate, Sena would have become the main opposition party. For Sena’s own survival they have to dig in to the same “constituency” to create any impact. Having followed Sena’s politics in the opposition it would be a major distraction for BJP to handle the Sena’s antics every now and then. By making it part of the Government, hopefully Sena will behave more responsibly and try to catch up for the time they lost in the middle without being in power.

For the Sena it is not a bad deal either. They get to share power after a lonnnnnnng while. Uddhav gets to establish his supremacy within the Sena finally. Gets an opportunity to pitchfork the 3rd Gen tiger cub ahead. And got to silence the “other” Thackeray once for all.

At the end of the day, for the BJP,

  • Their vote share has doubled
  • They have added 65+ seats compared to 2009
  • They have emerged as the single largest party in terms of vote share and seats
  • They have successfully got the Sena off their back

So for the BJP it was it was not a Gamble as it is touted to be but a thought out “Gam(e)ble.

Postscript: While on elections, today has been the counting day and if at all if there is one winner who defeated all panelists, experts,… it is Arnab Goswami. No Game theory and all here :) :)

Toon courtesy :  http://www.newsmobile.in

For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the kickoff of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India on the 15th August this year, India has been on a cleaning overdrive. Routinely we have been seeing ministers, netas wielding the broom and doing a cleaning act. It culminated in the actual launch of this new social awakening campaign by the PM on the 2nd Oct where he himself did a bit of sweeping. Its’ been a while since India actually saw the top leader championing a social campaign which Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shashi Tharoor in their articles refer to as the “Bully pulpit” a phrase meaning to drive change top down. Close on the heels of the PM, we saw many ministers, MPs, MLAs, officialdom, volunteers from NGOs, celebrities and general public doing their bit of Shramdhan on the 2nd Oct in cleaning in different parts of the country. So far so good.

bharat

But the moot question is does a country become clean by cleaning alone?

Among the many countries I’ve visited if I have to pick up one country which stood out for its cleanliness it will obviously be Japan. Many who have been to Japan agree to this. Is Japan spic’n span because they have more people to clean and for longer? Or do they put technology to use to ensure cleanliness? May be they do. But the fact is Japanese are extremely particular about cleanliness not just within their homes but in public spaces as well. So what they do is not just cleaning but not creating many opportunities for cleaning. They just don’t litter.  The cleaning up of the football stadium during the FIFA World cup by Japanese fans that too after their team’s exit from the World cup is now part of WhatsApp “forward folklore”. I’m sure most of the litter must have been generated by the Columbian fans!!! From having a small personal ashtray in their pockets to having 4 or 5 waste bins in every nook and corner to separate wastes, cleanliness is one of their two biopolymer strands in their DNA!!!

Contrast that to we Indians, forget DNA, cleanliness need to be searched in our hair strands!!!

I was walking down the stairs after leaving my daughter in a class yesterday. This was when the country was still reeling under the Swachh Bharat mania. A young man must be in his 30’s was standing on the edge of the stairs talking on his mobile phone. As I turned to exit the building, he used all his energy to spit the red juice of the paan he was chewing, on the floor.  I stopped and gave a long stare at him and asked him “Swachh Bharat”??? He started smiling and I felt like slapping him then and there. Now the red remnants of the “paan art” will be cleaned by someone someday. But the stains will remain to remind the world of our dirty etiquette.

For a while, I was of the view that public etiquette is an education thing. After seeing the walls and corners splashed in red in Mumbai, I have concluded that it is not. Day in day out in Mumbai (and indeed in many parts of our country) gentlemen “paint the city red” by spitting after chewing paan in public spaces and wherever they are.  In most walls, the warning sign goading people not to spit is submerged in paan stains.

For us Indians, by and large cleanliness is within the four walls of our homes. Beyond that is not our concern. This is the core issue and the reason behind the pathetic state of our public places.

If Ganga is dirty, it is not for want of cleaning. In the past Governments sanctioned crores of rupees on Ganga cleaning project and I am sure a fraction of it indeed would have been spent on cleaning. But if we don’t stop littering, then this cleaning is of no use. Like Shashi Tharoor in his article says, in the past also they have been different campaigns for a “Clean India” though not necessarily as visible and of this scale as Narendra Modi’s. They have not yielded results for the same reason that people don’t feel the need of a clean surrounding beyond their four private walls whether they are bus stands, temples, railway stations, airports, parks, gardens, schools, hospitals,… ,…

To be realistic, we cannot expect the PM to keep cleaning his surroundings in public every day in public view. And similarly the ministers, babus, NGO workers,.. . Even I heard that once the programme was over in Delhi, it left behind a trail of of water bottles,.. When the optics fade out in a few days, it will be back to the municipality workers to pick up the thread and litter literally.

So are we to stay condemned with a dirty India? Certainly not. From that point of view, the PM’s initiative is extremely laudable in creating awareness about cleanliness. This awareness needs to be transformed into an awakening by us citizens by educating our children right from the young age about the need to have clean surroundings wherever they are. I don’t have much hope on the current grown up generation to give up their few minutes of self-pleasure and stop chewing paan and spitting from tomorrow. That will continue. And for that may be the PM’s push to all to spend few hours in cleaning every year may help.

But, what will make India a Swachh Bharat though not in 5/10 years but may be in 20/25 years is when attitudinal shift happens in generations. For that we have to follow as per me the most vital part of the pledge which is “I will neither litter or let others litter” and drill this in our children.

Swachh Bharat is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning!!!

After thought: If Swachh Bharat Mission leads up to this type of cleaning no complaints though :) :) :)

cartoon

Cartoon courtesy : Satish Acharya

Mandolin loses its “Middle C” 😢

It’s about 10 days now since music lost one of its great ambassadors – Uppalapu Shrinivas and we, a musical genius. In these times of 24*7 news churning, the sudden, untimely demise of Shrinivas has already moved out of the headlines. In the last one week, “Modi” has submerged the sounds of the “ManDOlIn”. That the King of Mandolin is not around anymore has still not sunk in me which explains this rather late obit piece – a very basic attempt to keep his memory alive by an ordinary remote rasika.

I don’t have to crank my memory hard to recall the first time I heard Shrinivas live. It was around the year 78-79 in Trichy. He was may be all of 10 years and had come to play as part of the Kumbabishekam celebrations of the majestic Rock fort temple there. In that one week long festival there were music, dance and drama programmes every evening. Giving him august company were veterans like Thiruvizha Jayashankar (Nadaswaram) and the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan (Violin). I had just read about this young kid who was making waves in the Carnatic circuit in Madras and wherever he went. I am not sure but may be that was his first major concert in Trichy. The memories I have is of a boy clad in spotless white Kurta and Pyjama with a paal vadiyum mugam (extremely innocent face) taking the stage with an instrument resembling an electric guitar which later I was told was a mandolin. Till then I never had seen a mandolin or for that matter a western instrument being used to play classical Carnatic music. Little did I realize then that it was just the beginning of many a ground breaking things this lad was going to accomplish. His dad was there right behind him helping him with the sruti (sur) and also with the much needed energy boosters from a thermos flask.  Every now and then as his little fingers swayed with effortless ease on the strings, he used to see his dad’s face as if seeking for some kind of approval or encouragement.  Which his dad provided with an appreciating smile.  On the other side the crowd started gathering in huge numbers and with every kriti/ piece he played, accorded the approval and appreciation with raucous applause. After every piece he used to do a big Namaste to the crowd, constantly reminding us of his humble upbringing. The ‘Chinnanchiru kiliye’ piece of Bharathiyar which he played at the end of the programme still resonates in my ears.  That day it signalled to me the arrival of a ‘Chinnanchiru’ genius on the music scene whom I started following very closely though from a distance.

19IN_MADOLIN_PIC_1_2115510g

After that, I listened to him live in few more programmes and saw him grow taller rapidly, in musical stature that is. Accolades followed. Appreciation from fellow but senior musicians like Dr.Balamuralikrishna, Dr.T.K. Murthy (he famously removed his ring and put it on Shrinivas’s finger in the midst of a programme in which he was accompanying Shrinivas on the mridangam),… ensued.  As I moved out of Trichy for higher educational pursuits, opportunities to witness his concerts became rare. And there came the audio cassette albums and CD labels to the rescue to be in touch with his musical notes.  From “Mandolin Solo” to “Shrinivas Vs Shrinivas” to “Mandoin Trio” and his “fusion experiments” my cupboard craved for more and more space to store his releases.  By now Shrinivas to Mandolin became akin to Xerox in photocopiers. Mandolin = Shrinivas and vice versa.

The last I saw him live was in Mumbai couple of years ago and that too in a rare programme with Shankar Mahadevan, Vikku Vinayagaram and Sivamani.  He still looked the next door lad. But the way he played the mandolin was as if the instrument was a lifelong slave of him. He kept smiling at his co-artists but this time without any need to seek their approval. On the other hand it was Shankar who was falling at Shrinivas’ feet (in jest though) trying to match his artistry with the fingers with his own vocal chords.  From a higher octave to lower octave, music was just flowing. In Mumbai I keep ruing the fact that most of the classical concerts happen in week days making it difficult to make it.  But this programme happened on a weekend and today I am glad that I got to attend this one.

In one of his interviews very early as a kid a shy Shrinivas said that Bahudari was his favourite ragam.  I am not sure if it remained his most favourite till that fatal lever failure consumed his life.  In that most famous piece in Bahudari“Brova Barama Raghurama”Thyagaraja asks Lord Rama“Will protecting this frail Thyagaraja prove an intolerable burden on you and tax you???” I’m wondering if as fans we should have asked this to the Almighty many times over about Shrinivas. May be he would have been with us today.

As a prodigy in the strictest definition of that term, Shrinivas was never late in arriving at the musical scene. But in life, it is numbing to realize that he became “late” so early in life leaving an empty space in the hearts of his well-wishers. If I say that with his untimely demise, Mandolin has lost its “Middle C” and Carnatic music its “Adhara Shadja” it may be termed as gross exaggeration. But the feeling is one of that. Prayers for his soul to Rest In Peace. And his music to continue reverberating.

Listen to Shrinivas’s “Entharo Mahanubavulu”here.

“Cut” Uttarakhand, “Paste” Jammu & Kashmir!!!

In my 1st post this year (Read here), one among my wish list was to have a “Natural calamity free 2014”. But that is not to be. As I write this piece, most of Jammu & Kashmir is under a deluge. The fury of the rains has ceased but not before leaving a trail of destruction. The armed forces are pulling all stops in an attempt to rescue even the last human standing. The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact number of people who have been affected.  For most of us in India what is panning out is a very familiar sequence of events.  Just that it was Uttarakhand last year, Andhra couple of years ago, Kosi floods in Bihar few years back and Jammu and Kashmir this year.

With so much money spent on Science and Technology and regular chest thumping announcements of firing rockets and satellites into space we still don’t have a reasonably sound weather forecasting system in place. Most of the satellites we put in the orbit are meant for peaceful purposes including that of capturing imagery which will help in predicting changes in weather patterns,.. But year after year (exceptions like Cyclone Phalin apart) we have never been able to comprehend the scale of Nature’s fury with any reasonable amount of accuracy.  Pardon me for my ignorance if indeed we knew in advance of these floods in which case it is far more worrisome – that we knew what was coming and still we didn’t take adequate precautions.

As cynical as it may sound, in India our approach and response to natural disasters follow a very set pattern. Once a calamity strikes we seem to have a ‘Standard Operating procedure’ the main problem with it being so “Standard” that it can be summarized as “Chaotic”.  I had written about this last year as well. Read here.

First will be the local administration’s efforts to do some rescue without realizing if they have the capability and resources to do it. Followed by the Chief Minister’s visit to the affected areas and then appeal for support from the Central Government. Then the Centre pitches with its support which includes calling the Armed forces to get into rescue. This is followed by normally an “Aerial survey” by the Prime Minister and then announcement of Aid amounts to people who lost their lives,.. As the fury unfolds, media circus under the guise of informing the public gets into a “Coverage rat race” the underlying objective being “TRP rat race”!!! Then there is the blame game between Centre and State if they are from different parties. Then follow the “Photo ops” by politicians and PR plugs on their efforts.  And these days you have the social media “forwards” which add to the frenzy.

Jammu-Kashmir-floods-Rajnath-Singh-makes-fresh-look-2

In all this few questions arise:

  1. For a country like India which has seen so many natural disasters year after year predictably in the same time periods, is it difficult to predict a pattern in Nature’s fury? In the so many crores of money we spend on Science and Technology, Research,.. can we not allocate few crores to “outcome” based projects for example better methods of weather forecasting? If we are already doing it, the concern is on the effectiveness of these spends.
  2. Once the calamity strikes can we not have a method to the madness? Instead of first the Municipality trying to do some relief and then the State trying to pitch in and then finally getting the army to assist,.. can we not have a central nodal agency take over rescue and relief operation irrespective of the scale? Not that we don’t have nodal agencies. There is one called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the PM as its Chairman and till I last heard with a politician as the functional head!!! The Vision of this agency as per the website is a classic case of trying to do so many things and ending up doing nothing. Its vision says “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation”.  With so many adjectives and jargons doting that long vision – it’s clear that some management consultant has made a killing in helping the agency draft that impressive vision statement! For instance do we know what role is this NDMA playing in the J&K situation?
  3. Can we not have one Co-ordinating agency on the ground? What is required is an agency which effectively becomes a single point co-ordinating agency in all the post calamity efforts – the 3 R’s. First the Rescue, then Relief and then finally Rehabilitation. Once this agency steps in, even the CM of the state must go thro this agency if he wants to pitch in with any relief effort. It is admirable to see civil society pitching in remarkably. From common public to NGOs there is assistance galore. But without a central co-ordinating agency the nature of assistance can turn chaotic as we saw last year in Uttarakhand and as we see now in Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Can we not have a process by which anybody who wants to be part of the 3R’s as above must report to this central co-ordinating agency on the ground first? This agency then channelizes resources including men and material according to priority and gravity of the situation on the ground. Today we see many agencies doing their bit without any co-ordination among themselves resulting in a bit of chaos.
  5. Can we stop forgetting once the event is over? While the media goes over the top in coverage for a few days when the action is hot – it completely forgets to follow up after a few days except for revisiting for a day on the Anniversary of the event. After all that what happened in Uttarakhand last year, do we now know if the lessons have been learnt and sufficient precautions have been taken while reconstruction?? Can we say with confidence that come another flood, the scale of destruction will be much smaller?

I am not sure may be these are empty rants of an individual which may not be practical. But I am certain that for a country like India which generally thrives on chaos, it can do without that in the times of natural disasters atleast. As Nature “Cut” Uttarakhand and “Pasted” Jammu and Kashmir this year it could be another state next year. It will be good to see some lessons learnt and new initiatives taken under the task master Prime Minister.  I will then vouch for the arrival of “Ache Din”!!!

You could play a part in the R&R efforts in J&K. You could send in your donations if you wish to

  1. Prime Ministers Relief Fund – Visit here for Online donations.
  2. Uday Foundation – Link here.

Madras 375 – Not out!!!

HappyBD MAdras

I’m not a Madras boy. Not born there.  Didn’t quite spend my formative childhood years there.  Have not worked for long in that city as well. But have been frequenting Madras as a visitor since the late 80’s enough to suffer from “Madrasitis” :)  Ergo, as Madras, the oldest city the British built in India celebrated its 375th birthday last week I couldn’t help recount the different vignettes imprinted in me around Madras. I am aware that at best that can only be an inside view of an outsider, nonetheless an honest one I promise.

I have very foggy memories of the first 4-5 years I spent as a child in the 70’s.  So, nothing much really to recall except that we were staying few minutes away from Luz corner at Mylapore which is today stereotyped as the cultural nerve centre of Chennai.  So my account is all from the 2 years I spent in Madras when I worked in the 90’s and the few days I spend on and off every year mostly on business and at times otherwise.

Conservatism was at the heart of Madras. Keeping a low profile, being simple, not showing off and to some extent being subservient were drilled into as essential behavioural requirements for children. This drill over a period of time got into the genes and brought up Madras as a quintessential traditional society. A talented A.R.Rahman or a Superstar Rajinikant or a brilliant Maniratnam all products of this Madras would always be grounded even while flying high in their respective careers.  This conservatism had its share of problems as well.  Bachelors would find it difficult to get accommodation. Survival in Madras for outsiders if you didn’t know the language was a nightmare.  The opening up of the stock market in the 90’s and later the IT boom slowly brought what is today a cosmopolitan cut to the once traditional Madras. But there were other good things which didn’t have to wait for long. The beaches for one.

The Edward Elliot’s beach in Madras just few kilometres away from the more famed Marina beach was not as popular but had a quaint appeal to it.  With not many shops or eateries as it is today, the beach was clean and was a jogger’s delight. The sea with its characteristic rough and not so rough demeanour was inviting to even a diehard hydrophobic. As a child, standing in the water and getting lashed by the waves was an exciting pastime. Little one realized then that it would be the same even when you grew up. The mobile Aavin Van booth at the beach served the best fresh flavoured milk in town then.  The Marina beach ahead had a different flavor. More crowded, more eateries, more noise and more love birds hiding behind boats and under fishing nets only to be discovered by young boys selling ‘Manga Thenga Pattani Sundal’ a unique recipe of Sundal (Peas) generally sold only in the beach. As the evening fades and the dark sets in, the rotating light from the lighthouse gives you the signal to start packing off – and you do so reluctantly only to come again another day.

Moving away from beaches, the next thing which rings in your ear when you think of Madras is its moorings with classical music. Come December and the “Season” arrives with its characteristic charm. For the uninitiated the “Season” here alludes to the ‘Carnatic Music’ season. By the way Madras or today’s Chennai has 3 seasons. – Summer, Hot Summer and Music Season :) :)  So during this music season Carnatic musicians of all hue descend into the city and spread across 3 weeks play/sing “notes” of their lives in an attempt to get noticed. So much so even if you are a top notch Carnatic musician with acclaim elsewhere, you are a nobody until you have performed in this capital during the “Season” that too in the evening slots. Aspiring musicians pay money to sabhas to earn a slot in the mornings/afternoons just to be a part of the “Season”, I am told. Apart from performances, old mamas mostly and sometimes accompanied by mamis saunter across in the early mornings with mufflers and shawls (the only time in the year when you have to take these wear out in Madras :) ) to different sabhas to understand the nuances of Kalyani Ragam and its variant Yaman Kalyani or other such purists’ lookouts in “lecture and demonstration” sessions.  For lesser mortals there is always the difference between Sada bajji and Mulaga bajji to worry about :) :)  During the “Season” for many, the filter Kapi (coffee) at the canteen outside is as important as the ‘Kaapi’ raga rendition inside the auditorium. Just cannot afford to miss both.

The filter Kapi brings us to the next attraction of Madras which is the food.  The city is a vegetarian’s paradise. For all those who get carried away by the Idli/Dosa/Vada/ Sambhar dished out at the various so called south Indian joints all over the country, you haven’t tasted the real thing yet if you haven’t tried all these in Ratna Café or Saravana Bhavan or Sangeetha or that Murugan Idli Kadai in Madras. Today joints like Saravana Bhavan are in the forefront of transporting the “Madras culture” to various cities across the globe where our bright IT Engineers are writing codes to glory.

Any talk of “Madras culture” is incomplete without reference to Mylapore located at the heart of the city.  Time permitting, I don’t miss a visit to Mylapore when in Chennai even today.  The long walks to Kapaleeswarar temple via Luz from my house, the compulsory visit to Giri Traders to catch up with latest on classical music, the mandatory check at the Ambika Appalam store for any new item ( :) ), Coffee at Saravana Bhavan and the walk along Nageswara Rao Park smelling the Amrutanjan in the air and shopping at Rex Fashions are things which are etched well in my memory.

As I jog my memory further the other thing I enjoyed in the 2 years I stayed in Madras was catching up with Tamil plays in the weekends. The Mylapore Fine Arts was at walking distance and was popular with all the leading troupes of the day like Crazy Mohan, S.V.Shekhar, Y.G. Mahendran, Poornam Viswanathan,…  I am talking of a time when there were still takers for Drama.

Essay on Madras and no reference to the notorious autowallas??? I am told that “Amma” has been successful in implementing electronic meters in auto rickshaws this year and I hope the system is working. For years, one had to put up with the tyranny of autowallas in Madras. Those days when the train reached Basin Bridge, I used to brace myself for the fight with the autowalla at Madras Central Station. The autowallas knew to outsmart the passengers every time and ask for more. “Konjam Meterukku mela pottu kudunga, Sir” (Sir please pay more than the meter) used to be one jarring line one hated to hear. And the reasons for asking more than the meter were ingenious.  “Sir the destination is very far, Sir the distance is too short, Sir I will have to return empty, Sir you have 3 luggage pieces, Sir there the road is not good, Sir it is raining, Sir there is no light in that area and too dark, Sir the meter is not working, Sir prices have gone up, Sir Naan Pulla Kutti Kaaran (I have children),….!!!”  :) :) Invariably we were asked to fork out for the ills of everybody else!!! The advent of Call taxis and now the E-meters hopefully have put an end to this Autowalla tyranny.

I can keep writing on many other aspects of “Madrasitis” like the annual test match at Chepauk during Pongal, the influence of Kodambakkam aka films on people, the day long shopping by women for Silk Sarees at Mambalam, Woodlands Drive-in - the Salespeople’s’ adda, the poster culture eulogizing film stars then and politicians now (Witness “Amma” being elevated to a Durga one day Ganga/ Parvathi/Queen Mary/Radha/Kaali/Mother Teresa/,.. some other day in posters and cut-outs plastered all over the city) and so on.

This post has gone too long. But then 375th Birthday for a city doesn’t come every other day. Wishing our very own Madras (I’m not a fan of this changing names of cities when a party comes to power) while being 375 Not out many more runs and a long,…. innings!!!

Postscript:  People in Madras are known for their tongue ’n cheek wit and humour. This is one sample:

James Bond comes out of British Airways at Chennai, goes to his waiting driver and says “I’m Bond, James Bond. James to you”.

For which the driver replies “I’m Subramaniam, Bala Subramaniam. Balls to you…”

:) :) :)

Celebrating India’s (food) festivals!!!

It’s that time of the year in India. The scorching heat of the summer is behind us and the monsoon wherever applicable is in its last lap. Come August and the general mood in the country changes in line with the changing weather.  Though we don’t have a pleasant spring as a season in India (except may be Kashmir), in this time of the year, there is a spring in everyone’s feet.  Starting with Id and then the Rakshabandan it’s an avalanche of festivals in India from August till Feb next year.  One can see this festival spirit manifesting itself in the media, in streets, in shopping malls and where have you. What I have noticed in the last many years is that irrespective of the state of the economy, the mood of the people in this period is in a state of buoyancy.  Then it dawned on me that the day-today lives of millions of people is also linked to the economics of festivals – the increased spending on clothes, on festivities, religious ceremonies, investment in real estate, starting of new businesses, renovation/painting of homes, feasting on food,…,… So festive season is one happy season for all.

The difference is while most of the countries in the East and West and the Middle have just one or two important festivals in a year, we in India are blessed with many. Thanks to the number of Gods we Hindus subscribe to. This is one thing in which we are clearly the envy of many countries.  And thanks to our regional identities, we don’t have the concept of one important Pan – Indian festival which we all celebrate but many. If it is Diwali in the North, it is Durga Pujo in Bengal, Onam in Kerala and so on. In my earlier company, my Japanese friends were bemused and amused to see different holiday lists for our different branch offices.

In all this, one thing which cannot be missed is the connect between the Pet (stomach) and Pooja.  It is interesting to note that just like each festival has its own link with a God, it also has associated unique food items going with it :) These are supposedly meant for offering to God which eventually ofcourse find its way to our stomachs. So if it is Kozhakattai (Modak) for Ganesh Chaturthi, it is Appam, Cheedai for Krishna Jayanti, Pori Urundai for Kaarthigai, Different types of Sundal for Navrathri, and so on. So much so for many years I didn’t know why Kaarthigai was celebrated but knew that Karthigai means Pori Urundai :) :)    In fact celebration of Onam festival is never complete without the traditional “Ona Sadhya” which with its array of dishes on the plate or rather leaf challenges the digestive ability of many a stomach of this generation.

Sadya

One really wonders how our elders came up with this timetable of different dishes for different festivals. Safely I inclined to conclude that they saw themselves in God and came up with things what they liked depending upon the season.

This brings me to the old or rather our youth times when at home the mother gets extremely busy during festival times trying to do justice to the “Naivedyam”(Food offering) specifications for each festival by preparing all at home.  The preparations usually start 1 or 2 days in advance. Keeping the prepared items from our prying eyes or rather mouth till the Pooja / Naivedyam are over was always a mission unaccomplished for the mother :) :)  The festival times also provided opportunities to showcase their culinary skills to friends and neighbours by distributing the home-made stuff and earn ‘likes’ in a pre-Facebook time.  Among the neighbourhood, it was always few mamis’ stuff apart from our mother’s which were in demand. I vividly remember in the 9 days of Navrathri the houses we choose to visit depends upon the cooking skills of the mamis :) :)

These days the mothers have different challenges. Since the entire process of preparing appropriate dishes for festivals has been “Adayared” (If outsourcing and losing of jobs to Bangalore is called “Bangalored” then outsourcing of the preparation of food items to ‘Adayar Ananda Bhavan’ is called” Adayared”!!!), knowing where to outsource/source what for different festivals is the biggest challenge.  At home, we as children displayed humongous appetite to polish off things prepared in quick time. These days the children have little interest and less appetite to gorge on the different offerings which come along free with festivals.  So gradually the linkage between pet and pooja is gradually dwindling I guess.

Today is Krishna Jayanti. Time to wind this up and time to finish the Pooja of Lord Bal Krishna, do Naivedyam and then launch into next Pooja i.e Pet Pooja :) :)

Postscript:  While we were discussing about Gokulashtami,… this morning, my 7 year old daughter asked her mom, “Even after eating so much butter, how is Krishna not fat???”  For GenY, Pet poojas can wait I guess.

Stir up to Sell – The New Mantra(d)!!!

 I don’t recall many ads in the recent past which have kicked off such a huge debate as the new Airtel ad which went on air last week.  If you are one to miss that, do watch it here.  Twitterati is divided in the middle as to if the ad is reinforcing male/female stereotypes or breaking. Or for that matter if the ad is trying hard to be feminist when it is not and so on. As is the wont these days, when social media buzzes on something, can the main stream media be left far behind?? I must have pored into atleast 10 columns trashing or eulogizing the ad.

This is one interesting debate on TV !!!

While the ad breaks new ground in showing a successful woman who is giving stern work instructions to her male subordinate in the 1st half, in the second half, the same lady is shown as a better half cooking dinner for her husband who is incidentally the same subordinate at office. The common critical take in the social media is questioning this apparent stereotyping of women – as submissive where the lady inspite of being a successful career woman has to don the dutiful wife role at home and cook food.  Coming on the heels of the now famous quote of Indra Nooyi that “Women can’t have it all” the response to this ad has been pretty predictable. Somehow the narrative of a successful career woman but cooking food for her partner at home has not been consumed well.

airtel ad

In all this debate on the ad what is being missed according to me is the strategy behind the narrative of the ad itself. Which is, to take a contrarian position, stir up a storm and be top of the mind for a good few days there by get more bang for the buck spent. And this trend in advertising has not started with this Airtel ad. This goes back quite a few years. In the past marketers were more circumspect in adopting this “Stirring up a storm” strategy to sell their products. So you saw this once in a while like the Liril waterfall ad of yore or the ad for Tuff Shoes where the models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre were wearing just a snake and so on,..

But oflate, I guess marketers and their advertising counterparts have become more belligerent in adopting this strategy to hawk their wares and get their space under the Sun.  So we now get see more and more ads which go against established stereotypes.  As per me, in Indian advertising Balki of Lowe and his team has been one who have used this quite effectively and often. The Havells ads for fans usually go against the grain. Same for some of the “What an Idea, Sirji” commercials for Idea Cellular.  The Jaago Re campaign for Tata Tea also I would say fall in this category of ads.

Few months back, Tanishq the jewellery brand from Tata kicked off debate and interesting conversations in the media with their ad celebrating remarriage of a woman. Watch it here. Again clearly a story which charts new territory, (shows a dusky bride, bride walks along with a small girl to the mandap, the girl is her daughter, the groom carries the small girl along while doing the pheras,…)  sparks a huge debate and eventually garners a lot more interest for the brand. (Incidentally Lowe has been the agency behind all these campaigns!!!)

This recent ad for Brooke Bond Red label tea by Ogilvy India is another example of going against the tide to garner attention. The Hindu-Muslim plot (normally avoided in commercials) in the story is the new twist. There is always this threat of a strong over powering story shadowing the brand itself in ads. Like in this case while I remembered that it was a tea ad, had to drink few cups and wake myself up to recall the brand :( :(  This happens.

Recently, the series of ads for Kaun Banega Crorepati  (KBC) by Leo Burnett India have also been treading this path and have met with a lot of keen interest. The two spots I saw (see here and here) as part of the campaign shatter established stereotypes.  Not that great ads are required to evince interest in a successful show like KBC with Amitabh Bachchan as the anchor. But I guess they also have to sustain the interest after so many seasons.

Coming back to the Airtel Ad conceived by the agency Taproot India, my own view is that it is a sweet ad, executed very well. There is nothing in the ad which goes against woman as the social media debates make us to believe. As per me, there is nothing regressive in a woman cooking and as long as she wants to cook a nice meal and enjoys what she does (like it is shown in this TVC) to demonstrate her love to her hubby, there is nothing wrong.  Same is true if its vice versa – husband cooking at home.  I have to allude here to my earlier post – By hook or Cook!! here :) :)

So want your ads to work big time?  Take a contrarian position, stir up a storm and the idle armchair minds in the social media (me included) will debate and do the needful for you. As far your brand, with all the unpaid buzz around the ad, will laugh its way to the coffers.  That’s some home cooked food for thought :) :) :)

P.S: Now, only if Airtel can make their network as effective as their ads :( :(