The “Next Monday” syndrome!!!

I don’t know why, but Independence Day season is the time I find most of the gyms in Mumbai promoting aggressively for getting new members. This year also is not an exception as I see many handouts fluttering in front of me announcing discounts and other throw-ins like free massage, diet counselling,… for members joining before 15th August. Except for a bit of rhyming what’s the connection between “Freedom” and “Fitness”??? I would have thought that the time around New Year would be a more appropriate time for this, isn’t it??? My own unscientific survey suggests that 8 out of 10 resolutions around a New Year is around knocking off a few kilos in the New Year. And joining a gym/yoga class/starting the morning walk routine,..,…. (All except eating less😃) are usually on top of the mind that time. Then I realized that marketing theory suggests that you don’t do a promotion during peak season. So in Dec. end, you see a lot of ads around New Year resolutions & Gymming,.. but sans offers/discounts. A resolute mind anyway pushes the head to join a gym– discounts or no discounts I guess.

It was one August may be 11/12 years ago, I saw such offers and thought for the 1st time that the time has come to work out and reduce. So I did the rounds of a few gyms in and around my place and finally settled with one. It was a Sunday when I paid the money and joined the gym. The girl in the front desk asked – “Sir, do you want to start working out today??” “No, No – I will start next Monday. I will have do some shopping 1st of all” – I said. The girl gave a wry smile and said “Next Monday😖???” I didn’t comprehend that sarcasm then😞😞

I did the customary shopping and turned up at the gym the next Monday. Being the 1st day they assigned an instructor who took me through some stretches and explained the different basic equipment there and how to use,…,… The one hour went off nicely and all was well until the next morning. The moment I woke up I found most parts of the body aching. “Should I go to the gym today with this pain? Lets’ see Next Monday”. In this 1st battle between the body and the mind, the body won. And it kept winning most of the times in the times to come.😝😝

Next Monday comes but I had forgotten to set the alarm and was late to get up. Tuesday comes and the mind says – “How can I start now mid-week. Let’s start Next Monday”.😝

This time the alarm is set and everything goes well, well almost. With a lot of zeal, I get to the car and start. The car sort of wobbles. Damn – A flat tyre that day screwed up my hope for a flat abs😔 ‘Saguname sari illa’ (The signs are not good). I get back and start worrying about what’s in store for the day and week. Gymming can wait for now. Well, actually ended up waiting till Next Monday.

The Next Monday comes and gym happens. Managed to go on Tuesday as well. Then a same day return business trip strikes. Back on Thu morning, the alarm goes off early in the morning only to be slammed hard. The living alarm goes next. ‘Gymmukku pogaliya’??? (Not going to the gym???) It’s the wife. ‘Adutha Monday paakalam’ (Let’s see Next Monday)

Come Monday, the rhythm has been sort of disturbed you see,.. and you don’t go for few weeks. Then a call comes from the gym –reminding you of a place called Gym. “Thank you for the call, I will start Next Monday”. The girl again giggles.

The coming Monday, in the morning battle, for a change the mind wins and you end up at the gym. “Hi, welcome back, long time no see??” A regular at the gym smilingly irritates you and moves on without waiting for your answer. His day is done I thought. I had a point to prove and the next 2/3 days the gym sees a determined me. Come Wednesday night as I was setting up my gym bag, the wife reminds me of the arrival of my parents the next day in the morning flight. “You don’t have to pick them up???” Oh yeah! So the gym bag is put in its place till the Next Monday ofcourse.

But many Mondays come and go after that. Its’ festival season in India. The body refuses to yield, get up and go to the gym on a holiday I tell the wife. (As if it does on other days, the wife nudges). And holidays are many from Oct. Either you have an Off or the Gym has or both😁😁

Its’ now December end/New year time. The season of slimming. Or more appropriately season of many slimming resolutions. On a Monday in January you start again only to find the gym overly crowded. The treadmills are all occupied. And there is a line for all machines. So the solution is to start 15 mins. earlier than usual 5.30 am! For 2 days 5.15 am happens. 3rd day it doesn’t. In the wee hours of the morning you realise the importance of 15 mins. when the body craves for that additional sleep😔😔

But not to worry. Things soon settle down at the gym. Come Feb, the gym is peaceful. Few new faces who beat the New Year resolution syndrome become familiar faces now. But you soon become unfamiliar to them. Because, early mornings are dark and cold even by Mumbai standards. So waking up early is not in the cards.

Finally when the so called winter is over, the Next Monday I am at the gym by when the year-end pressure at work mounts. Amidst achieving work targets, weight loss target goes for a toss.

Few weeks and then its summer and vacation time. You go on a week/10 day long vacation. Pile up the holiday fat and return on Sat/Sunday. The holiday hangover continues for few weeks and when the guilt pang hits you on a Friday – you decide to start hitting the gym again – the next Monday. The girl at the front desk welcomes you and starts explaining the different packages. You then remind her that you are an existing member.😒

Since you restarted on Monday after a gap, next morning you end up with a real pain in the neck. Again you decide to start the Next Monday.

By now the summer in Mumbai wanes off and monsoon sets in. You get up on Monday and then Tuesday, Wednesday,…,.. to see heavy rains in the morning. “Where you are going to the gym in this rain?? Just enjoy the rain and the hot tea”, the wife says. The mind readily agrees and junks any idea of going to the gym. As in the Indian parliament these days, the monsoon session turns out to be a washout😜😜

Somewhere in September, you run out of excuses and press the restart button for the gym. With some firmness Monday and Tuesday go off successfully. On Wednesday you see the invite for an early morning conf. call at office with the Head Office US team!!! With such legitimate reasons for skipping the gym, you have no guilt,… and you decide to go to work out the Next Monday😜

That Monday and many Mondays come and go. Been travelling excessively. The gym is forgotten. Till the call comes for renewing the membership again in the month of August. The wife reminds that looking at the number of days I went to the gym in the past year – it must be the most expensive self-indulgence😜. I ignore the taunt and renew to avail of the discounted package!

Now with absolute resolve to gym come what may – I hit the gym on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday – 3 days at a stretch is sort of a personal record. As I am walking out I see the notice – “Gym closed for 2 days for routine maintenance”!!! So now – Next Monday😜😜😜

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The “Revenge of the Mamis”!!!

Ever since I wrote a piece on the Mamas“My close encounters with Mamas” (read here) – their counterpart, the Mamis stopped being kind to me. “Ennada, engala pathi ellam ezhutha maatiyo??” (You will not write about us and all??) – was the usual refrain wherever and whenever I met them. Though my immediate reaction was – “Oh so these people are reading my blogs😃”- I thought to myself that I must soon set this imbalance right. Hence this attempt. Typically in Tamil Nadu, any married lady from the Brahmin community is referred to as Mami sometimes in reverence, sometimes with scorn and sometimes in jest. For the purpose of contextualization, Mamis being referred so in this piece are ones who are now in their 60’s and may be early 70’s. And there is a reason for this funneling which will reveal itself at the end.

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For decades, the Mamis were generally a subdued lot – sacrificing their interests, their choices,..,… for the sake of the family and single mindedly pursuing their husband’s and children’s interests selflessly. They took pride in the achievement of their kids and remained contended in whatever they were doing. But since the late 90’s the Mamis started taking a different avatar. It would be tempting to attribute this change to the overall rise of India and the Indian Middle class post liberalization. But I would ascribe this change to the rise of India as an IT behemoth and the subsequent changes it brought to the typical Tambram household. In a book titled “Indian Express” by Daniel Lak, the author quotes Kris Laxmikanth – a headhunter specializing in IT in Bengaluru saying that the ascent of India in the domain of IT can be owed to the “revenge of the Brahmins”. And may I say that the ascent of IT in India has led to the “Revenge of the Mamis” in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere😃😃. This revenge saga manifests in few ways:

  • Far from being limiting their sojourn to pakathu veedus (neighbourhood), Kovil (Temple) and Kacheri(Concert), today the Mamis travel around the globe and if need be alone.
    • If its 1 year in the Washington in the US to meet up with the elder son, then its Wellington in NZ the next year with the daughter!!! “Ennoda passportla pages romba seekram theernthu pogarathu😓” (The pages in my passport get over very quickly) is a lament you can hear if you overhear 2 Mamis conversing. And the other Mami quipping – “Naan oru Jumbo passporta vaangi vachundurikken” (I have taken a Jumbo passport)

     

    • Recently I went to a concert of Sanjay Subramanyam, where the hall was filled with Kanjivaram saris of different hue, one could overhear Mamas discussing Modi Vs Manmohan while the Mamis were comparing Sanjay’s rendition in Thyagaraja Aradhanas at Cleveland Vs Austin. “Kalyani la antha “Bajare Re Chitta” Clevelandla pona varsham paadinaar paarungo,. Romba nanna irunthathu. Austinla Kalyani paadala,..,…,..(In Raga Kalyani, the song he sang in Cleveland was very good. But in Austin he didn’t sing Kalyani)
    • Gone are the days when Mamis used to talk about going to Srirangam temple for Vaigunta Ekadasi and cross the ‘Swarga vaasal’. Now its “Pona Vaigunda Ekadasi annikku Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi kovil poyittu apparam we had a Potluck party. Naan puliyodarai pannindu ponen😆. (Last year on Vaigunta Ekadasi we went to Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi temple and then we had a Potluck party. I prepared Tamarind rice)
  • In my general observations, I have noticed that the Mamis have far better comprehension of Geography compared to their counterparts. When the Mamas struggle to figure out if SFO was West coast or the East, the Mamis have no such confusion. “LA state na Louisiana state pa, Los Angeles illa” (LA state means it is Louisiana state not Los Angeles) – I heard a Mami clarifying to one MS aspirant the other day! And added in some measure “intha loosu payyan Bobby Jindal irukkaane – he is from there only” 😆😆 (This nut Bobby Jindal is from there only)
  • The other thing where Mamis completely overwhelm their better halves is in the domain of health.
    • Mamis are invariably troves of medical knowledge. Finding answers on complex health questions real time with any Mamipedia is more accurate and faster than any other “pedia” in the worldwideweb 😆
    • I can confidently vouch that most of the Mamas have very little clue on their ailments, dosage of their medicines,.. and are completely dependent on their Mamis to guide them on these. “Intha tablet saapaatukku pinnala. Itha poi saapaatukku munnala pottu karele”?? (This tablet is supposed to be taken after meal. You are taking this before???) – is a dialogue one can hear often in Tambram households.
    • On a visit to the Doc for routine checkups, it is mostly the Mami who does most of the talking. Young Docs have confessed to me that they get tensed and their BP starts shooting up when they see a Mama walking in with the Mami beside for consultation. “Dr, last time his LDL was 200 and still you didn’t prescribe any Statin! You better prescribe one this time!” (Why are you coming to me is a question the Doc usually avoids under those trying circumstances😜)
  • For long the Mamas have been masters of the Queen’s language, the kadichu thuppara (bite & spit) accent notwithstanding😜. Now it’s the Mamis who apart from being good at English, have mastered the accents as well. If they give the TOEFL today, they will come out with flying colous! Oops colors nope colours😜😜
  • In the age of social media, it is usually the Mami @ home who is more savvy than the Mama. While the tryst of the Mama in SM is by and large restricted to checking updates, it’s the Mami who is proactively active :). From sharing recipes of now extinct items like Thavala vadai to pics of their trip to Batu caves in Malaysia for Thai poosam to colourful and exotic Kolams (put in front of their daughter’s condo in Singapore for Onam😜)Mamis are in the forefront of the social media evolution and their own evolution.

In the times of Bahubali, the “Revenge of the Mamis” is happening full on. After years of being submissive, it’s their time of reckoning. And they are clearly enjoying it. And the Mamas have accepted it gracefully. Was there a choice??? What is that medicine post dinner???? 😜😜😜

Postscript: I mentioned that this piece is about Mamis in the 60’s and above. What about the younger lot? Ladies in the 30’s/40’s and 50’s?? Well, do I need to stake my personal future, writing about them in a post that too in the context of revenge,…,…??? 😝

Escape,………………………………………………………………………… 😝😝😝

Disclaimer: Satirical piece – hence pardon the sweeping generalisations and stereotyping with no intention to harm anybody.🙏

“Katti-Batti” on the treadmill!

In the innocuous lexicon of innocent children in Hindi, Katti means “We are not friends” and Batti means the opposite. I see my eight year old daughter declaring Katti and soon Batti within a few minutes to her friends and they to her, many times over in an hour and this happens every other day. As I watch the Indo-Pak relations over the years I wonder if the two neighbours have taken a leaf from children and invented a new type of diplomacy called “Katti-Batti” diplomacy and gained mastery over it.

Indo Pak,wwwpakistantodaycom

For so many years or rather decades, the happenings between India and Pakistan have fallen into a pattern. Some ceasefire violation or terrorist activity from across the border happens in India. India announces cancellation of talks or any peace initiatives. In effect declare Katti! Then in a few months the top leaders from the 2 nations meet in the sidelines of a multi-lateral summit, talk for a few minutes, pose smilingly for a photo –op, release a joint declaration of resumption of a dialogue process – in short declare Batti!

Then the cycle repeats. As it has been for decades. The result is we never seem to have a normalized relationship with Pakistan even after so many years, changes in the theatre and the lead actors in the 2 countries notwithstanding.  I am no foreign affairs expert and diplomacy isn’t everybody’s cup of chai including mine. But a cursory read of the history of relations between the two countries is enough to conclude that at the end of the day “Playing safe” rides upper most in the minds of all the stake holders involved in the discussions. As a natural progression maintaining “Status quo” emerges the safe option for both sides. This results in the Indo-Pak relations being on an eternal “tread mill” as one of the saner voices from PakistanHussain Haqqani (Ex Pakistan Ambassador to the US) puts it aptly!!!

And the other interesting aspect in the dialogue process what I have noticed is that what is discussed among the top leaders is secondary and what is more pertinent is what is dished out as the “Joint declaration”. Whether it is Shimla, Lahore, Ufa or the infamous Agra Summit more time seems to have been spent on drafting the declaration than on the talks themselves!!! And a summit is declared a success if a mutually acceptable declaration is conjured up at the end and a failure if it’s not. The Indian side is happy if the word “terrorism” appears and Pakistan side if the word “Kashmir” is part of the joint declaration. All the other aspects of the joint declaration like Trade relations, people to people contact,.. are subjects of routine.

With the kind of history attached to the Indo-Pak relations, I do feel that the politicians, diplomats and other stake holders are stuck in a time warp and hence a veritable solution is difficult to emerge. Unless the baggage of the past are left behind. And one of the most important baggage they carry for any out of box solution is if that will be acceptable to the people back home.  Has the time come to question some of the stated positions and look for alternatives?

  • Like having an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan. So no Katti even if there is a provocation. Instead of saying “No more talks”, why not “We Talk more” and “Talk louder” if there is one? An uninterrupted dialogue gives an opportunity to review progress made in the previous talk. On the other hand, an interrupted dialogue gives only an opportunity for an excuse for not making progress in the guise of starting afresh.
  • Like we change our stance on 3rd party mediation. All along, we have maintained that Kashmir is an internal issue and there is no place for 3rd party mediation. When we are unable to find an acceptable solution among our own people regarding Kashmir and Pakistan for 50 odd years, will not a 3rd party help in getting a different perspective and solution which can be sold to the domestic constituency as well?
  • Like we go to the public and ask what they actually want through a referendum. In India we keep saying that through the elections which are part of a democratic process we take people’s opinion and hence no referendum is required. At the same time, we see that there is a public boycott in many parts of Kashmir (though the participation is increasing with every election). Why not call the bluff of the separatists by conducting a pointed referendum in both sides of Kashmir and go by the outcome. Times are changing and as we saw in the case of Scotland the cry for an Independent Scotland eventually met with a “No” in the referendum.
  • Like we ignore Pakistan and focus on our domestic economy and improving relations with other neighbours. No Katti and No Batti. Imagine what would have happened if at Ufa, our PM just said a “Hi” to Nawaz Sharif and moved on. Ignoring Pakistan while making our economy growing will be the ultimate signal to Pakistan that India has moved on and has got more important things in the plate. Ofcourse we have to be prepared to safeguard ourselves from more ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks. I thought that after breaking the ice with Pakistan by inviting Nawaz Sharif for the oath taking, our PM Modi was following this “Ignore Pakistan” route. While at the same time improving relations with all other neighbouring nations. So in that sense our move in Ufa which signaled our return to Katti-Batti diplomacy was a surprise to me.

I’m not saying that these are “the” only formulations. There could be many more. The essence of my submission is that the time has come for a change in approach from all sides. The sooner the better.

Managing relationships between neighbouring countries which have been to war a few times ofcourse is not a simple subject. (Even Bollywood thinks so – #Bajrangi Bhaijaan)Ergo, cracking a solution to the long and vexed problems may not be as simplistic as we think. But then following a staid pattern of “On-off” engagement only means we will only continue to add to the “declarations” we have among our two countries. Ruling parties may change, the leaders may change but ironically our countries may not outgrow the Katti-Batti syndrome. I am certain though my daughter in a couple of years will.

Postscript: In the meanwhile our Bhai Salman Khan has helped a Pakistani girl to return to her homeland Pakistan against all odds in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and declared Bhatti. Now awaiting Sunny Deol Paaji to announce a loud Katti and resurrect his sagging career!!

Indo Pak 2 Neelabhtoons ibnlive

Toon Courtesy: ibnlive.com, Pic Courtesy:pakistantoday.com

“Broken” News!!!

It’s a common belief that “The More the Merrier”. Particularly if you are a consumer. One always gets a better deal if there is choice. The fact that you can exercise your freedom of choice makes marketers to provide a better deal in terms of Quality, Quantity, Value for Money, the works. It is also said that in a crowded market place, brands try to differentiate themselves. Differentiation by way of form, quality, price, positioning in the mind or overall offering and vie for the consumer’s wallet. But in India, there seems to be one product category which defies all these economic fundamentals. Here More is actually Less!!! Even in an overcrowded market place there is hardly any product differentiation. From one brand to another, they only provide good advertisements for “Cloning”. And when the number of players increase the overall quality keeps falling. Irony dies a thousand deaths at our drawing homes every day and night. Yes, welcome to the world of 24*7 News channels in India!!!

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I belong to what I refer as the Doordarshan generation. A generation which grew up without much choice for anything but stayed contented. During our growing up times, DD was the only source of entertainment as well as visual news. So the 9’o clock prime time news bulletins were indeed bulletins which walked us through the important happenings of the day. The news readers were news readers and not “Anchors”. They were reading news and were not engaged in endless hysterical debates. At our homes, one of our favourite games at the dinner table used to be guessing who will be the newsreader that night – Among people like Minu, Geetanjali Iyer, Rini Khanna, Tejeshwar Singh, Usha Albuquerque, Sunit Tandon, Neethi Ravindran,…,… Blame it on my memory if I missed a few others.  Apart from consuming news, as youngsters we also had the opportunity to imbibe the way they modulated their voice, their English diction and the overall presentation.  Even sans the choice the prime time news bulletin served its purpose effectively of keeping us informed of current affairs in India and abroad.

Now cut to what I call as “Boredarshan” times and rapidly transcending now to “Boordarshan” times!!! Today, in the 24*7 news channel space we are spoilt for choice.  Or are we???

At any point in time, try to exercise that power of your choice. Across all channels invariably prime time news will start and end with debates where the participants across channels will be the same. I guess for the political parties, it is easy to prepare one spokesperson for a topic and make him/her parrot the same arguments across all channels. In any case as he/she moves from one channel to another, he will anyway meet the same counterpart from the opposition as well!!! Not just prime time debates. A new book is hitting the store? Between 2 days you will find the author providing “exclusive” interviews to 10 different channels! (As per English dictionary, the word “Exclusive” in its noun form means ‘an item or story published or broadcast by only one source! So how does showing up in different channels is termed exclusive has been elusive to me).  Come Friday and a new film is being released? You will see the film crew parading from one studio to another in the National Capital Region doing the same silly things in the guise of “Promoting” the film! And somebody emerges as the newsmaker of the day? You could meet her/him in all channels that day. (Except if the newsmaker is Lalit Modi 😃 He only gave interview this time to one channel that too in Montenegro! While the other channels also reached the Adriatic coast he changed his mind and refused to oblige). The questioners sound the same. The questions sound the same. There is a race among channels to get interviews from the newsmakers that very same day. And on weekends the channels dish out similar content like Retro Bollywood stuff, Tech reviews,…

Not just content. If you look at the style – Among anchors and reporters there seems to be no differentiation.  All anchors by and large keep interrupting and do not allow the participants to complete one sentence. As I had penned in my earlier post DA 24*7 (Read here) we find Devil’s Advocates in all hues 24*7 in news channels. Come weekends all the “Star” Devil’s Advocates take a break and leave their fiefdom to their juniors who undergo on the job training to what else – interrupt!!!

Even on form, differentiation seems to be zilch. The template across all channels seems be a crowded screen with too many details populated.

And oflate their own marketing and advertising also look similar. Every channel claims to be No.1 in viewership😲 Damn the devil which is in the “*”!!! And all of the channels cry hoarse against Noise, Sensationalism,… and exactly do that. Day in and Day out!

So what’s going wrong here? One could blame it on the TRP driven advertising revenue model for the channels. So when one channel with a certain content/style/form gets high TRPs, the others follow the same. But I would blame it on the “TRP model” itself. I am not too sure if the present TRP system captures the preferences of the viewers accurately. For a diverse country like India, I do feel a more heterogeneous viewership capture system is the need of the hour. Lest in the garb of “the Nation wants to know” we will continue to hear more noise and less news – across all channels. And if you still recall  “broken Record” of yore, news will continue to be that – “Broken” News as you switch from one channel to another😞😞

Postscript: Recently I was forwarded this clip on WA. Wonder if we will ever get to see such an interviewer who doesn’t interrupt and an interviewee who doesn’t get flustered and stays calm throughout, in these times in India. Check it out.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MATAqeiL-4)

Shuddh Desi Maggi!!!

First the disclosures. I am not a big fan of the 2 minute wonder – Maggi Noodles ever to have hit the Indian palate and plate. In all my life, I would have tasted it may be a few times and I detested it every time. Even when mixed with curd as how Bollywood stereotypes we Madrasis to eat even Noodles 😠. I don’t have nostalgic memories either of how Maggi Noodles helped thwart hunger pangs during some mountaineering expedition,… like how some adults professed as part of the Maggi campaign. The daughter though loves it. And wants more of it. Much to the dismay of the mother and the father. I also don’t have any commercial interests going with Nestle nor do I have a Swiss bank account!!!

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But I have a lot of interest in India and the signals it sends across within the country and outside as a place not abhorrent to business.  In the last 2 weeks, we all know how one Pandeyji from UP got his 2 minute fame under the sun after he picked up few Maggi Noodle packs, tested and declared that the contents were out of set limits. Many other states followed and soon Nestle had no choice but to pull their 2000cr (US$300mn) flagship product off the shelves and indeed away from the mouths of many a child and even grownups.  Leaving many a moms feeling surreptitiously happy when they found a way to desist the urge of their offspring citing the ban 😃.

In India, Newton is a much misunderstood man. When it comes to anything foreign, his 3rd law becomes “For every action, there is an unequal and opposite knee jerk reaction”😄 Either we go gaga about something phoren or go suspicious. There’s nothing in between. I am not for a moment questioning the veracity of the ban or arguing that Maggi noodles is above-board.  I am also not taking the oft-repeated line that in India there are so many other food items if tested would flunk all norms. Just that if the same situation would have been handled in a more compassionate way with a perspective view by the authorities, the Indian republic would not be viewed as a banana type!!!

For example, what if the same situation had played out like this:

  • Pandeyji picks up samples of Maggi noodles, tests the same and finds that the contents are beyond norms.
  • He informs the Central agency – Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) about his findings. (Instead of going to the press and banning the same in UP. What if it was just a batch issue??)
  • FSSAI arrange to do its own tests to ascertain the claim and also make a foolproof assessment. And let us assume that they indeed find the lead content above specified limits.
  • FSSAI informs the Food ministry of the same.
  • Food ministry calls the top officials of Nestle India for a meeting and they inform them of the findings. And gives Nestle couple of weeks to do their own assessment and come back.
  • Now its upto Nestle to accept the findings or prove with their own test results that they are in the right.
  • And if indeed Nestle finds that they are in the wrong, the onus is on them to come up with a plan of action to correct the situation. Temporary recall, change of recipe,…,…
  • They work with the FSSAI authorities and change the recipe of the taste maker which is tested and approved as within norms.
  • Nestle does a launch of the Govt. of India Approved ‘Shuddh Desi Maggi” Noodles with an appropriate campaign and continues its business as usual.

Product recalls on account of genuine safety concerns happen world over all the time these days. A more calibrated approach would have allowed the company time to work backwards with their whole supply chain – producers of atta/maida, spices, suppliers of the atta/maida, the factories which produce the noodle, the factories which make the packaging, transporters, whole sales distributors, retailers, kirana shops,..,.. to minimize damage. I just read a news item today that 300 in a company in Moga, Punjab that supplied spices to Nestle India lost their jobs due the ongoing Maggi noodles tangle.  I am certain under the current uncertain situation, many more will follow. Quietly not just Maggi, but the entire category is off the shelves I am told.

Some are of the view that Nestle itself could have handled the situation better. But I thought that by voluntarily agreeing to pull the brand off the shelves without getting into arguments regarding the test methods,.. they did the right thing. Now from here on they could take some lessons from Cadbury – another brand which faced a much worse situation few years ago. The relaunch of the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate after the brand faced much ire when worms were found inside the chocolate wrapper is part of marketing case studies in India on the topic of “Recovery Strategy”.  The 2 minute Maggi Noodle must take a 2 months strategic time out and get the formula of their taste maker right not just for my daughter’s palate but also Pandeyji’s.

We have a Prime Minster who is desperately wanting to change the business climate in India and boost investments foreign and Indian. Unfortunately, episodes like the Maggi ban of this kind do not augur well for his intent.

Postscript: A friend told me that the Maggi ban and strangulation of Nestle is our Govt.’s trump card to make the Swiss authorities co-operate and reveal the black money offenders. Wah! “Covert” operations under the Modi regime have gone to a different level I must say😊😊

Image courtesy: NDTV.com

Marketing of “Acche Din”!!!

No other phrase has caught the imagination of the public – intelligentsia and others as this Acche Din” (Good Days) in recent memory in India. The only others I could think of are – Big B’s ‘Lock Kiya jai??’ during the heydays of KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati). For few years post KBC-Season 1, we Indians were only “Locking” instead of “confirming” or “making sure”😃 . More lately, when Aamir Khan insisted on “All izz well” in Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots, “I am fine”, “Sab teek hai”,.. got paraphrased by “All izz well”. (“All” being pronounced as “aal” ad nauseum😠)  So similarly these days, it’s raining Acche Din!!! Our Prime Minister has turned out to be so good in marketing that his Twitter bio could very well read – “Narendra Modi. Prime Minister of India. And a Marketing Maven”.

And this is exactly what has set the discourse in the media in a wrong track. Once again. “Your Government is all about marketing and packaging” is a refrain the NDA ministers were subjected to in all the interviews they gave around Modi365. The anchors were different, the channels were different, and the language was different. But the shrill accusation was the same. That this Government indulges itself in Marketing and loud at that.

As if “Marketing” in itself is a crime inflicted on society. And this notion is not something which has sprang up with the advent of Modi Sarkar. In general there is this subtext that marketing is nothing but a con job!! That marketing goes well with people with the Gift of the gab!!! And that marketing is all jazz and no mass.

For a long time I used to wonder where this impression came from! Gradually, I got the answers. First, in general Marketing and Direct selling (one to one selling) are often used interchangeably. That selling or sales is just one aspect of Marketing is a lesson which gets drilled in the first few pages of Philip Kotler. However in real life, people who are in say selling of Insurance policies or vacuüm cleaners or Time share holidays on one to one basis are often called as “Marketing” people. In direct selling situations more often than not we end up buying the product just to ward off the salesperson’s thollai/parishan (torture)😞😞. And the thought keeps lingering for quite some time that he/she has conned us into buying.  And hence the belief that marketing is just that – A royal conning!

Second, Marketing is also equated to Advertising. Even in B-schools many aspire to join marketing stream with a delusion that they will be associated with creating ads all the time in their career. In reality, advertising is just one part of marketing. When we keep seeing ads of toothpastes which promise “Crystal White teeth” in 45 days or commercials for Nutritional drinks which promise to grow children tall automatically in few months and nothing close to those anyway happen – we conclude that “Marketing” is all about taking people for a ride.

(And there is a third one which I get to see these days often. I.e using the word marketing for “going to the market for shopping”😜😜)

Thanks to the above fallacies, Marketing has got a bad name. In truth, Marketing is not hard selling. Is not advertising or for that matter shopping!! But is a more complex process of creating, communicating, and delivering something that have value for customers. (Ouch, that was a gyan overdose😜). Even a damn good product requires damn good marketing of the same.  In political context, the 1991 reforms which are now seen as the game changer for India now, were never marketed that time. So much so, even among the Congress there was such a backlash that Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister had to claw back on the reforms push. If the benefits of the reform programme were marketed well the phrase “Economic Reforms” in India would never have taken a negative connotation. Same is the case with NDA’s disinvestment programme during Vajpayee regime. So this brings to the fore the importance of “Good Marketing” (like the need for good cholesterol – for the sceptics) in politics for Pro bono.

Hence to a large extent, I am glad to see the present Government and the PM going all out to “market” their initiatives whether it is Make in India, Jan Dhan Yojana or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.  Or for that matter packaging the 1st year achievements as ‘Saal Ek Shuruaat Anek’. As long as the PM and Government are good at last mile delivery of the products as they are in marketing of the same, I am certain Acche Din are round the corner for India. And I am also certain that the PM is also aware of the repercussions otherwise. That Abki Baar Modi Sarkar would be branded as Abki Baar Jumla Sarkar the next time around😆😆

Acche Din toon

Postscript: My apologies if the title made you to believe that this post is another post mortem of the 1st year of Modi Sarkar.  There has been 100’s of that in the last few days! So didn’t want to add to the clutter. On the other hand, Perception management is one part of Marketing. I thought Marketing itself needed a dose of perception management 😆😆

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya

“Chinpressions” – Impressions from another of my China visit – Part 3!!!

It was about 3 years ago that I made my 1st visit to ChinaShanghai and wrote the 1st part of Chinpressions. Read here. In between that and my last visit this week, many more visits to China happened. Ergo, 3 years hence what are my impressions?

The visit this week coincided with Narendra Modi’s another foreign tour – this time to China. So obviously India was in the news. As is the wont these days in our PM’s abroad visits, he was in “Rock star” mode in China as well with local Chinese craving and crowding to take selfies with him. It’s obvious that in the last 1 year Modi has single handedly changed the perception of India for the better outside of India.

I had mentioned that in my last post that Shanghai was devoid of emerging market symptoms like touts at the airports,… I realized now that it’s not the case. There were the touts on arrival at the airport chasing you for taxi/hotels,… just that they were of the “suited and booted” types 😜 😜. Similarly I had the impression that Taxis were on meters always. Well, yes most of the times. But not always. This time much to our chagrin, we realized that beyond 10 p.m the cabbies were upto fleece passengers demanding 4 to 6 times the normal fare!!! While on cabbies, I couldn’t understand why the driver was always enclosed in a cubicle of sorts making it difficult to communicate with him/her even in sign language. (Trying to communicate in English is a horror left unsaid :( :( )

For all the heavy duty infrastructure and the investment led growth strategy Chinese government has been adopting all these years with a fair degree of success, it is now clear that the growth is stuttering.  A 7% growth is being touted as the new normal. Print media is agog with articles questioning if the world’s 2nd largest economy is heading towards a protracted period of subdued growth.  China has now become the latest example to explain the Economics theory of the Middle Income Trap”

It’s clear that despite the pretensions of the Government taking China to being in the league of developed nations, it is still haunted by a few trappings of developing/underdeveloped countries. Which the people are yet to shrug off it appears.

  • Like the locals not caring about courtesy to others and smoking to glory in public washrooms.
  • Like the drivers continuing to smoke while driving in cars inspite of requesting them not to. (Blame the language)
  • Like invariably the noisy scenes you get to see in restaurants when Chinese get together to dine and drink. (Something like we Indians I must say).
  • Like the rounds of bargaining one has to do some times starting with 10% of the quoted price to purchase stuff mostly the imitations at the fake markets hawking branded stuff from I phones to watches to bags to clothes to everything. China’s tryst with IP regime may prove to be its Achilles heel sooner or later. Just couple of days ago while in China I read the news that top brands like Gucci were suing Alibaba the E-Com giant for sale of counterfeits through its marketplace.Like getting to see touts trying to sell I Phones at US$100 around to gullible passengers even inside the Shanghai’s Pudong airport terminal!!! I was surprised to see these guys inside the airports after the Check-in Area moving around looking for their customers!!! (This doesn’t happen in India even)
  • Like being amused to see empty chairs placed in sides of the road meant as parking lots. Something like placing the chair to reserve that lot. Reminded me of our Indian habit of placing towels/kerchiefs,.. in buses to block seats :)
  • Like for all the fascinating sights at “The Bund” at Shanghai (Clean, colourful, Hawker free,..,…) the urinals are still the old world style not seen even in towns in India these days.
  • Like finding grills in windows in residential apartments a la India type just that they were more uniform and still not spoiling the elevation of the building unlike in India where grills of all types and sizes spoil the frontage of most buildings.

Most of the above fall in line with the definition of “High Context Culture” as defined by Edward T. Hall in his seminal work – Beyond Culture, I feel. So not surprising.

But, these are just symptoms waiting to disappear soon I guess. Despite the current ills like ever rising labour costs, China continues to be the factory of the world. Global companies don’t have an option but to court the Chinese. Like Apple’s Tim Cook was attempting to do when he was in China last week logging on to “Weibo” – the Chinese microblogging site akin to Twitter. (Modi did the same on his run up to his China visit). The ever increasing aspiring class is a segment of the world’s largest population that just cannot be ignored.  But one thing which continues to amaze me in China even after being the world’s largest populous country is – Where are its people?? For example in Shanghai the world’s most populous city – you don’t get see crowds in the roads, in the malls, in super markets, in train stations,.. So where are they???

Let’s see if that mystery unravels in the next visits.

3 years hence, the impressions are still very good but may be the shine has worn a little bit.

 Postscript: Heard that the PM’s baggage on foreign tours will now have a “Selfie stick” 😜 😜