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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is in a name?

..or a post-name?

I am a member of a certain group in Google, which is pursuing a noble mission back home, and I resort to using first names when I reply to the group mails.

Most people in the discussions refer to each other as 'Da'. (short for Dada= elder brother) Though I do not know most of them personally, I know for sure that there are some people for whom the appropriate suffix would be 'Kaku' or 'Jethu' (Uncle)

When I first joined my B-school, my Program Director insisted that I use his first name (that too Bill, instead of William) and not 'Sir'. It took me some practice.

That reminds me of the time when I was in middle school and I used to dig this tv series called 'Blossom', where the daughter called her father by his name. I demanded that I be allowed to call Dad 'Amit' (short for Amitabha)

Mom was scandalized( who had once shocked her mother-in-law by calling Dad by his name after marriage.) Dad, as usual, indulged me saying: It's not what you call me that matters. I don't think you'll respect me any less if you call me by my first name. I didn't continue with it- partly to save Mom from concussions, and partly because the fad didn't influence me enough.

However, I have a severe aversion to the pronoun 'tui'. (Hindi: equivalent 'tu') I feel it is derogatory. Though I use it to address my elder brother and some of my really close friends, most of the times, it is ' Aap'. In fact, we still laugh about the time I called my roommate ' Aap' the first day I met her.

Tumi or Tum is relatively safe. What do you think?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seasons of love

Click on image to enlarge
A : Chori Chori jab...

You need a little background for this. At least, you need to watch the song Chori Chori from Kareeb in this video around 1:45-2:27.

Back in 1998, when the movie got released, I was in the eight or ninth grade. My elder brother, who was pursuing his undergrad from Allahabad, had come home for his vacations. Needless to say, this song was a hit among youngsters and my brother insisted : Sis, you gotta watch this ! one day when it was being played on the TV.

I made a weary face and demanded: What is there to watch? A girl and a boy are getting wet in the rain and are getting paid for doing it.

I probably loathed the unnatural depiction. But my maternal uncle who overheard the whole conversation, looked at me in great surprise : Rashmi, tui boro hoye gechis! (Rashmi, you have grown up!)

Didn't know about that. Don't feel so sure even now.

Love was commercialization by dream merchants.

B: Bawre se is jahan mein, bawra ek saath ho,
Is sayani bheed mein, bas, haathon mein tera haath ho

Then came the age of miracles, when the diet of romantic comedies that HBO and Star movies fed me with, finally began to take their toll. I did begin to believe in a Prince Charming. Not necessarily a knight in a shining armor on a white horse, even a rugged looking chap on a mule would have sufficed- but it didn't happened.

I probably made the mistake of giving into that nudge of looking for Mr.Right.

Listening to Annie's song transferred me to a world where I'd lie on dew kissed grass, with a starry night sky above me- imagining the face of a stranger, lying beside me and holding hands.

But I soon got disappointed. My imagination imposed unwarranted virtues on a person- raising him to the status of a demi-god, and I felt let down easily. Maybe I 'expected' to be disappointed.

Love was Annie's Song.

C: The melody stops here

Now, I feel that it is not possible for one person to be everything you want to be. In fact, you shouldn't expect perfection from anyone else except yourself. Focus on evolving yourself. When you pine your hopes on someone else, you are likely to get hurt easily and unnecessarily.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to being the dreamy eyed creature in Phase B but I can't fool myself. Yet, I smile when I see old couples holding hands or kissing each other.

Love is something that stands the test of time.

Disclaimer: 'Love' has been used in the strictly romantic sense. It is not the emotion you experienced when your mother gave you an extra helping of your favorite rice pudding. Thank God, I believe in that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Culture Code

The author, Clotaire Rapaille, an internationally acclaimed cultural anthropologist and marketing expert, shares some techniques he has employed in scores of Fortune 100 companies to effect the bottom line - profitability.

Freudian philosophy dictates that individual unconscious guides each of us in unique ways. Jungian philosophy professes that collective unconscious guide us as members of the human race. The book illuminates a third unconscious - the cultural unconscious.

He stresses that emotion is the energy required to learn anything. For example, when parents forbid a child to go near a hot pan, the child might not fully comprehend the magnitude of danger until he touches it- experiences the pain and learns actively. The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something widely known as an imprint. ( A term first applied by Konrad Lorenz )

The author was working with autistic children in Paris. The following is an excerpt from the book:

After one particular lecture at Geneva University, the father of a student approached me.
"Dr. Rapaille, I might have a client for you," he said.
Always intrigued at the possibilities offered by another case, I nodded with interest. "An autistic child?"
"No," he said, smiling. "Nestlé."

At the time, focused on clinical and scholarly work, I barely understood what the word "marketing" meant. I therefore couldn't possibly imagine what use I would be to a corporation. " Nestlé? What can I do for them?"

But he did when he went ahead with the assignment on a sabbatical. The Swiss company was trying to sell instant coffee in Japan without much success. During his sessions he discovered that most Japanese, in a tea drinking nation, didn't have any imprints of coffee.

Nestlé devised a new strategy and created desserts for children infused with the flavor of coffee but without the caffeine. The younger generation embraced these desserts. Their first imprint of coffee was a very positive one, one they would carry throughout their lives.

Similarly, when Chrysler wanted to launch a new vehicle, American consumer surveys mentioned gas mileage, handling, and cornering ability etc. None of which the author believed because he claimed the answers were driven by logic. However, after his discovery sessions, which inevitably include:

One hour of playing the alien or 'professional stranger' where he asks the participants to explain what a product is and for what purpose it is used. By the third hour , where participants lie on the floor with pillows and listen to soothing music - people separate themselves from their cortex or the 'logic brain' and finally begin to say what they mean.

The American code for cars is IDENTITY. And this gave birth to PT Cruiser, an aggressive car but with average gas mileage and safety ratings. When the Stuttgart based company Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler (I'd say around 1998), PT Cruiser was under production and the new executives of Daimler Chrysler predicted it would fail, because the German code for cars is ENGINEERING. Believing it would be a marketing disaster, they relegated production to one plant in Mexico.

This turned out to be a huge (although understandable) mistake. German executives responded negatively to the modest quality of the car's engineering. American consumers responded positively to the car's high level of identity. The plant in Mexico was ill equipped to keep up with demand, and there were long waiting lists. If the new executives at Chrysler had understood the American Code for cars, and had relied on it rather their own Code, they would have avoided the many problems they had getting the desired number of PT Cruisers onto American Highways.

The pages are filled with many such wow moments and you are fascinated by the acknowledgment of differences in target markets based on cultures. A chapter in every basic Organizational Analysis class, but something we often overlook while formulating business strategies. This book makes an interesting read for both Marketing majors and non-business folks alike.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A birthday present for me

I don't expect you to feel the way I felt while reading it, but maybe you'll know why it is such a special gift. Thank you Dad, I'll treasure this for years to come. And yes, I don't think anything else speaks of me so completely- including my greatest vice.:D

"She is like a multifaceted diamond, meaning many things to many people, but to me she is a daughter and good friend. Today, on her birthday, she is thousands of kilometers away from her mother and me and this testimonial is the only present I can offer her.

Do I know her from the first day in her life? No. When she had been born I was away and controlling a law and order problem created by an awful S. H. O. under me and my boss would not just allow me to leave my headquarters. Add to it, a flood which washed away all the bridges around my headquarters. I came to see my little new-born angel fourteen days after her birth. My wife was not, naturally, what you would call an idol of calmness to see my face. Little did she know that day - or for that matter- knows even today- that I had to drive my jeep, do more than some balancing acts twice across iron beams placed as improvised bridges over two turbulent rivers. My driver was hardly interested to drive the jeep across the rivers saying he did not want commit suicide so early in life.

And then, I saw my little darling slowly grow up and blossom into a lovely creature any father would be proud of. She is a great loyal friend to her friends; gorgeous and adorable goddess to some; has two solid shoulders to cry on and is a wonderful listener of sad tales to some people. She is conscientious from her childhood and did not have any confusion about gray areas in life – she knows whether an object is black or white.

A dreamy girl, she always had some dreams, dreams of different kinds and some of them may make her laugh now. After watching ‘The Sound of Music’ she decided that she would become a nun, someone like Mother Abbess. I am sure she has given up the idea now. After she has been to the USA for her MBA she has changed a lot and has become a more pragmatic woman. She has been pursuing a dream of a different kind now. I know that she is faithful to her dreams and will pursue them till she achieves them.

She is highly possessive of her near and dear ones. Only about ten years back, one day, she saw a little neighbor girl hugging me (I was not hugging her). She became livid and demanded to know the reason for showing so much affection to a neighbor's daughter. She was so angry that she misjudged her steps on the stairs and fell down. Imagine! If there is a word beyond ‘livid’ the word has not been invented yet. And this little story is only a warning to my future son-in-law – be prepared to be killed for infidelity.

When time demands she is ready to work 24/7 and at times she can be very relaxed and lazy, enjoying herself. Probably that’s how life is meant to be. When she got her book, ‘The day I was proven wrong’, published she really worked very hard to change the SMS lingo of her blog to proper book language. After reading her blog and then the blook a journalist friend of mine remarked, ‘She is our own Arundhati Ray’. I know she does not like such comparisons and wants to become only ‘Aparna Kar’, but there is a long way to go before she becomes ‘Aparna Kar’. She is a natural story teller but needs a good publisher with aggressive marketing, lots of which are in attendance behind all best-selling books.

Well, I can keep on writing with no end in sight but there has to be an end to everything. At the end I must say that she is a rare character in the present age because you don’t always find people who are ready to tell the truth even at the cost of harming themselves. Yes, that much of impracticality is there within her but the moment you know her you know that she is not a fake creature, she may be intelligent, smart but she is just natural herself, simple and reliable – and I am proud to be known as her father. I don’t believe in rebirth – otherwise it would have been easy for me to say that I want a daughter like her in every birth. "

Monday, September 08, 2008

When tomorrow comes: chapter 3

This is the third installment of the series.

It was years ago, but it felt like it had happened yesterday. The smell, the sight, the colors were so well etched in her mind- she could almost live them again. Suddenly, she was glad to be going home. Even if it meant that a lot of things would have changed over the years, and the snapshots from her memory would have hardly any semblance to what she would see. She knew of the possibility- but it didn't disappoint her anymore.

Truly enough, a lot of things had changed. The airport of the small town had expanded and gnawed into the surrounding forest. She didn't remember seeing so many flights taking off or landing either. It was the mark of progress -or that is what some would have liked to believe.

She met her parents at the airport lounge. Her father brought her a bouquet of her favorite flowers and her mother smiled and hugged her quietly. She had always been a silent woman- appearing almost stoic. It took Pri years to realize that she was conditioned to be so. Expressing emotions openly was considered vulgar in the family her mother was wed to.

Pri loved the way her mother smelled. She had a unique fruity fragrance- her body esters. As a kid, she missed her when she went out to work and Pri would cling to her clothes and go to sleep in the afternoon.

She walked out with her parents. The luggage was taken care of. She greeted Dinesh Kaku who had been driving for them since she could even remember. She sat in the back seat between her parents. The usual questions followed. Dad asked if the flight was ok and the food was good. Mom kept smiling and looking at her with a smile that only a mother knew how to flash.

They crossed their old school on the way and she promised herself to find some time to visit it and the teachers who had taught her. She saw a yellow bus with her school's name on it. She looked at her father questioningly. He said: It's a State Government regulation now- all school buses and other forms of public transport are to be painted yellow -has been almost years since they have implemented it.

She sighed and thought of the bright colors the buses had when she was in school. Each one was painted in a different color- red, green, yellow, fawn. And each one had a name- after the sisters of the missionary school. The standardization made them look all alike and soulless. They lost their individuality.

Individuality. Identity. Those had been the mantras of her life. Her parents had made it very clear to her as a child that the only way a middle-class family kid could make a mark was by excelling in something. She look the advice seriously, and all her life till then, she had tried to raise herself to the next datum plane of existence - in every possible way.

Her father had gifted her the book ,'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' on her 16th birthday. And she believed truly that Jonathan lives each one of us. Now, she looked back and felt maybe it wasn't enough. She had done everything possible to be a perfect woman- and yet she wasn't happy. Something was missing. Something she couldn't put her finger on.

And then she knew..

(to be continued)