Saturday, August 30, 2008

Earning from the evil

Should you earn by selling poison while telling people not to use it? Never; that’s plain, impeccable logic. But the government’s business sense says sell it, earn huge taxes and at the same time spend a tenth of it on “educating’ people about its harmful effects. Like in case of tobacco, for instance. It is highly addictive and has diabolically dangerous effects. Long back, a well known columnist wrote in a national daily that our future generations will wonder that tobacco was once legally allowed. Perhaps the same way as we look with awe some bizarre things and practices of past.

Similarly, government cries hoarse against the environmental havoc from polythene bags but tells people to shun their use instead of stopping their production altogether। Or, it encourages consumption of alcohol through various measures but simultaneously launches campaigns against alcohol। It seems campaigns against profitable evils are but a formality with the covert agenda of maintaining the revenues। But then, why not legalize the narcotics: that may fetch still bigger revenues?
But plain truth logics get lost in the maze of government rules, policies, statistics and jargon, and succumb to the lobbying power of industry. Government dishes out bulky figures on the jobs and revenues generated by these trades, political fallouts of bans, etc. As for public health or environment, the government fulfills its duty by putting the onus of the perils on the public itself through advices and warnings. Who is bothered of them anyway as long as taxes from such industries are pouring in? Government runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds.
People had better take care of themselves before it is too late, by voluntarily abstaining from these evils. And nothing can help one quit them unless he wants to quit.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Of Chutzpah and 10 Commandments!

Recently, I was browsing through a widely read Hindi family magazine meant principally for ladies. It had an impressive index page, with contents ranging from tips on beauty to recipes, child care, furniture, pets, financial investment, computers upto horoscopes, and much more. The recipes mostly were vegetarian with a list of the festivals they are generally prepared on. There were also features on health and fitness (both physical and mental). Over all, the magazine was quite a good read for its price. And that very day I also happened to see its English cousin, again a hot selling magazine for ladies. It was priced much more and the papers were quite glossy, with lots of pictures and cartoons of ‘modern’ girls. The topics there too, ranged from recipes, horoscopes, fashion to investment etc. But, what I feel worth mentioning is the huge difference in their core ideologies, suggestions, as well as the themes and ideas of the published stories.

Now, this modern and sophisticated counterpart had a different ideology altogether. Instead of complying with the Indian social norms, it urges readers to create their own, as and when they wish. So, it advises you to be independent, have a thinking of your own ignoring everyone, (literally!), who objects, your family members included and to stay with your loved one avoiding the hassles of living with your in-laws (except when you wish to save on the rent of a separate apartment and/or the expense of keeping a baby sitter); to be financially secretive and trust no one else but yourself; be bold enough to have an extra-marital relationship if you are feeling suffocated in your current marriage. It also tells you how to be fashionable, to buy high profile imported cosmetics and designer wear, even on credit, to impress your colleagues, how to give dating tips to your teenage daughter and of course how to cook unpronounceable western and oriental dishes. In a nutshell, how to be a ‘modern’ woman who has arrived in life and is a potential candidate for being the brand ambassador of India shining.

The ideology can be summed up in the form of these 10 commandments:
1. Thou shall not trust anyone; it’s a big bad world out there that is always conspiring to attack you (didn’t you know this before? take care of your GK!)
2. Thou shall only cook weird recipes with ingredients hard-to-find and difficult –to-pronounce names.
3. Thou shall keep an answer ready in case anyone dares to pass an honest comment ( or an advice or a remark : everyone is jealous of you)
4. Thou shall invest only upon yourself.
5. Thou shall believe upon yourself and only yourself.
6. Thou shall consider thy in-laws as guests.
7. Thou shall go for holiday only abroad, even if it means credit.
8. Thou shall wear the ‘in-thing’ even if werability is not a criteria
9. Thou shall become as modern as you can
10. Thou shall be proud of your chutzpah.

All this has set me wondering whether we are ready to subscribe to such views, given that even today we have our traditional Indian values and ethos seated somewhere deep inside our psyche which govern our basic thinking, because of which we maintain a unique ‘Indian-ness’ even in our most modern life style.
image source : Pocketsoap
& Greenportflowergarden

Monday, August 11, 2008


All the news channels are busy with Olympic news, carefully and competitively covering each and every aspect of the gala event as well the Beijing city, which has now got an amazing makeover. One such aspect is fashion; very important, in fact it’s a reflection of one’s personality. It has been labeled as frivolous by many a critic who emphasize on the quality rather than the appearance. But a little deeper one goes, he finds that the outward appearance is actually the mirror of inner self. This is true of individuals as well as countries. Moreover, fashion is a major money spinner for the companies who are trying hard to link themselves directly and indirectly with this major event. China had 15,000 artists performing at the opening ceremony on August 8th. And as expected, a lot of emphasis was given on their fashion overall (makeup, outfits, accessories etc.). Similarly, USA had designer Ralph Lauren design the US Delegation's outfits for the opening ceremony. And other countries like France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain displayed their fashion too. But that’s about the guests; the host was also not lagging in this race.
Adidas is responsible for the outfits of the Chinese staff and volunteers. Global leather fashion brand Aokang is the official leather goods suppliers, whereas China’s local sportswear giant Li-Ning has chosen the indirect route of advertising through posters and billboards of its own brand ambassadors.
[1] For these companies, such major events provide the dream opportunities to increase their brand awareness by reaching the potential customers across the globe. And no company worth its name would miss such golden opportunities.

[1] The week magazine

Yung and (in)famous

Christian Ward, better known to the world as the rapper Yung Berg, has been arrested on charges of criminal possession of weapon, narcotics and for misbehaving with police who caught Yung with his four friends after they entered into an altercation with another driver.
Celebrities often earn bad publicity by such ugly display of rashness and have even got into trouble with law enforcing authorities. Well known model Naomi Campbell is notorious for her tantrums. Paris Hilton was penalized for driving under intoxication. Back home also, there is no dearth of such examples: an actor ran his vehicle over sleeping poor footpath dwellers; scion of a multimillionaire crushed pedestrians under his imported car. For our criminal-politicians the less said the better.

Such conduct of influential people stems perhaps from their audacity and (mis)belief that they are too big for the laws meant for common man. When they actually get caught they fall from their dream towers of ego but are too vain to accept the treatment they deserve. The result: all their pride and ego burst out leading to such behavior which makes hot headlines but bad example for commoners.
But the silver lining is, that of late such spoilt brats are gradually coming under pressure thanks to the vast mobilization of mass opinion by media, which virtually forced law enforcers to act, as we saw in Jessica Lall and Pridarshini Mattoo cases.


A lot of debate has been heating up on this topic. It has now become a favorite of the corporates and is finding prominent places in the marketing strategies of most reputed business giants ever since these astute planners have discovered this dormant ‘bhramastra’ with a wide usability like
Ø To outsmart other very smart competitors
Ø To gain customers trust
Ø To market the product and/or service
Ø And most importantly, for satisfying the most basic Indian urge: flaunting

This hot flavor of the corporates is none other than the CSR or the Corporate Social Responsibility. Also, it has now found a prominent place as an entire chapter in the B-school textbooks and in some cases an entire textbook itself so that the future czars of the corporates can market the products and/or services more ‘ethically’ and within the boundaries of ethical business practices set by their weaker and less astute, may be less luckier cousins.

CSR basically is a set of (no benchmarks yet available) duties and responsibilities a business entity should fulfill toward the society. It may come in the form of a school or of a self-service group or in any other mode through which it helps the poor and underprivileged to make them achieve a level of self sufficiency and /or helps the environment (ideally!)

There are but, different school of thoughts on CSR. Some view it as a mere selfless disposal of duties towards the society the business entity is flourishing in and some perceive it as a long term brand building and marketing investment with impeccable positive brand equity and gains it provides to the business entity. There are different views of different honchos and different modes of dispersing.

The Lever brothers including the William Hesketh Lever, way back in 1925 (having 282 operating companies, over 5 continents and employing 60,000 people) did something much ahead of their times and contemporary thinking: they made 18,000 employees the profit sharers of the company and also developed a state-of-the-art housing colony for the employees in 1905. This can also be tagged as a CSR by the then prevailing standards of employee care and most importantly, the vision for the same.

But as usual, Indian scenario is slow to adapt positive changes. Recently what the chairman of a famous Indian automobile giant remarked was depressing not because of its content but more because it was coming from a man holding such a revered position and authority. This corporate czar puts CSR to be the “Functions necessary to prevent a firm’s bankruptcy and all the strategies for long term branding building” The more perturbing fact is that most of his contemporaries today seem to think alike.

But that is only one aspect. Ultimately in such a CSR philosophy, most of the benefits and gains get steered towards the company itself and the society receives only a miniscule part of them. When the core ideology of dispersing the CSR is business, pressure from the environment and markets, it (CSR) is reduced merely to just another strategy implemented for company’s own sake only. But on the other hand when CSR is done keeping in view the gains and benefits of the society at the front and it is followed as the core aim then it (CSR) comes out and acquires a full fledged form that in itself encompasses the benefits of the society as well as its positive ripple effects on the brand(s) too. Companies, like individuals, are each a separate entity. Their survival in a society gives out a ripple effect. They effect and are affected by their direct and indirect environments. Though the companies are the epicenter of business activities that move with the core aim of making money and raising the bar of the bottom line continuously year after year, they owe a part to the society too. The environment they derive their resources from as well as the society they get the ever rising bottom line from now demand a sizable amount of company’s time and resources.

Another major Indian automobile giant has done CSR in its right spirit: opening schools, educational institutions and hospitals for the upliftment of the rural areas and helping the poor and the backward to become self sufficient. Though all these activities do not directly contribute to the balance sheet of the company, they do contribute a lot in the long term brand building. Also, the employees feel an innate urge to try and perform their part of CSR and to become an asset for the society and the environment. This is the right spirit of the CSR wherein the social aspect is the core aim, not the firm’s profits. Also, unlike what most companies are doing, the funds for the CSR activities should come from firm’s profit and this cost must not be passed to the customer, for it would simply mean a sort of covert diversification by the company into the “welfare business”. For example if a firm makes a profit of INR 80 crores, the funds should come from this only rather than increasing the price of the product to fund CSR and passing the entire cost to the customer.

Thus a good CSR policy is one that is helping the people and the environment primarily and brand building is just one of the by-products, rather than vice-versa which is now prevalent. Also, CSR operates at 2 levels, an individual level and the societal level and both compliment each other.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I still do not fully understand the logic behind launching Tata Nano, the much touted Rs. 1 lakh car. The entire set of strategies is steered towards Tata’s own benefits and profits to the company. Mr. Tata should also show some concern towards the consumption of petroleum that is already burning a hole in the Indian economy, for our roads that are lightyears away from the state of readiness for welcoming millions of Nanos, and also for the severe scarcity of parking spaces. Launch of Nano has triggered a race in the Indian car market for mini cars. Are more cars the only sign of development? Mr. Tata may have designed an excellent online sales strategy but the arrival of Nanos and such similar vehicles will only aggravate the already existing problems. Also, most importantly these flashy cars are being made on the land forcefully snapped from the poor farmers, the 600 acres of agricultural land that once belonged to the farmers of WB, who have now been compensated with money. But is forcefully snatching their land for a private car maker and then providing monetary compensation justified? I think not. I feel it’s unethical and wrong. Rather, why doesn't Mr. Tata try to put all the marketing brain behind something that is much more environment friendly and useful to a common man?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cinema and society

The cinema and television are the mirrors of the society together with its changes. Take for example the humble, illiterate ‘ma’ of the Hindi movies of 60’s and 70’s till 80’. The ‘ma’, who burned the midnight oil to stitch clothes to afford two meals and to pay for the hero’s BA degree, has slowly got replaced with the modern and educated ‘mom’. According to a research report I happened to read, children, especially boys, are proud of working moms. Such a generation obviously is liberal towards their own wives too and is much more understanding towards the career needs, demands, and most importantly the aspirations of their young working wives usually having the same intellectual levels and academic degrees.

The heroine, the simple homely girl got fast replaced by this superwoman, educated, bold and confident about her sexuality. The hero, transformed from the chocolate heroes of the past who fell in love with a innocent- in- the- extremes and uneducated gaon-ki-gori, has now got replaced by a simple boy next door with no palaces to live in, with human capabilities, similar aspirations and lots of guts. The result is that the audience can now easily relate with the lead characters of the film. Both girls and boys now carry huge aspirations and confidence to turn them into realities.

Children now are far from being innocent. According to a report girls now reach puberty at the age of 11 years. Unlike in the older movies wherein children were shown to be innocent and obedient, today’s IT era kids are smart and have a mind of their own. Most of them are precocious with all the material comforts and parents who spoil and pamper them a lot. Increased pocket money to spend as and when they wish, full access to the latest gizmos and least interference in their personal lives are some perks given by the modern urban parents to compensate for the lesser and lesser time they can now spare for their kids, thanks to the double incomes. In the recent movie ‘Partner’, the character played by the ex-Miss Universe Lara Dutta was that of a single mother who has a son and is a journalist and is mostly outstation because of work but still manages the home beautifully. In the same movie the character played by actor Salman khan was that of a bachelor playboy who has no qualms accepting the mother along with the son. This change points towards the ever expanding modernity of relations that is to some point good as well, and has its own positive aspects as it provides womenfolk with a freedom and independence that their earlier generations could only dream of.

These aspects are not difficult to find in the real life and if you peep into the life of any urban young thing or a simple city household, such events, characters and situations do exist though their intensity differs from SEC to SEC (socio economic classification: a system of classification based on the education and income levels) and city to city. Women of today are much more confident and bold as compared to those of 80’s and earlier. Though according to a research only 23% women in Delhi are working, still given we are a huge population, that’s still too much. People, especially in the smaller towns are now keen to send their girls to schools and mothers do not want their daughters suffer the same fate of dependency as they did. This attitude is getting wider generation after generation. I happened to speak to people in a remote area of Gujarat. The person I was talking to was a poor weaver, just hand to mouth but to my surprise, was far too sensible than most of the proud urbanites. He had only two children, a boy and a girl and both were studying. He wanted them to become doctor and engineer and was equally ambitious without even a trace of partiality between the sexes. His wife, I noticed carefully, carried an expression of contentment on her small face, shrunk by poverty but with her small eyes glowing because of, may be satisfaction of a good household, a sensible husband, obedient children or whatever. Now, in how many urban homes do we find this? Most of the housewives are either bored, or are sick of spying on their spouses, have children who are usually out of control and juggle jobs and home irritatingly. In spite of having a lot of material comforts they are far from being satisfied. The increasing white collar crime rate is one depressing but a real evidence of this. The villagers too are now depicted as educated and modern often carrying more business sense than paid managers of big corporate houses. They drive big cars and wear designer clothes. They have fields spread over acres and homes full of state-of-the-art luxuries, their children studying in big cities, and not being conscious of their small town labels. Such situations too exist, with most north Indian villages having much more per capita income that most urbanites who usually look down upon them.

Cinema and movies, I believe are the true reflections of the society and what we see in movies, usually those jaw dropping scenes actually happen, otherwise where do these film wallas get their inspiration from? Movies now portray live-in relationships, girlfriends and boyfriends, pre-marital sex, corruption and every member of the family having a life of their own without wanting anyone’s interference; parents are shown to be very liberal, colleges are depicted like dating parties and professors like friends. Though no points for saying it’s exaggerated but the core idea has come from the society itself, obviously blown up to form a motion picture with drama, suspense and comedy, to attract the spectators.

The entire society is changing and these changes are echoed in the cinema. The change is faster every year but is slow, it’s a mix and is very confusing: most of the girls though bold and brash still carry good old ‘sanskars’ that are automatically activated when they get married. Modern and educated boys still look for innocent and, as far as possible, virgin brides. This double nature of Indian youth is very difficult to understand and decode but is happening in front of our eyes we have all the proofs and we cannot deny it.

But there is a different aspect as well; cinema itself can herald changes in the society. For instance, inspiring the fashion (mostly in the form of aping the actors) and crimes inspired by the movies. But, there are some better changes too like the recent change in the old policy of CBSE as a result of ‘Tare Zameen Par’: it is now giving extra exam writing time to the dyslexic students in the Board exams. Similarly, renewed public interest in hockey is clearly visible after the hit ‘Chak De’.

We should accept the change, for we do not have any choice except to accept, and flow with it.