When Coffee Kills : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

As the business fraternity in India tries to recover from the shock demise of Café Coffee Day Founder VG Siddhartha, lets take a look at some unaddressed issues facing the society at large.

Siddhartha, through Coffee Day was one of the shining stars in India’s entrepreneurial circuit in the late 1990s. From the first Coffee Day in 1996, the chain had expanded to 1600 outlets as on date. A phenomenal achievement considering the modest beginnings. The rise of CCD as a youthful, aspirational brand coincided with the rise of India’s middle class with higher disposable income. Siddhartha had most things going in his favour – a strong business case with a first mover advantage in a then untapped segment ( pre Starbucks, pre Barista, pre Chai Point), a good customer experience offering by and large and strong political contacts. Very little could go wrong, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, running a business in India is not as easy as it seems. For every celebrated entrepreneur, there are untold stories of five to six failures. You not only need to compete with competition, but also with political and regulatory uncertainties. On top of it, working capital challenges crop up. The desire to grow top line, bottom line quickly leads to more debt, leading to increased exposure and when the engine stops due to a seemingly small issue, the vehicle comes to a halt. The desire to become a cult celebrity may force people to take risky paths.

While various angles are being probed into Siddhartha’s death –  tax terrorism, investor pressure, political vendetta, what I fail to fathom at the core of this issue is this. As per the unverified letter written to the shareholders, Siddhartha acknowledges huge debts and declares enough assets to pare the debts. The huge debts could have been a reason to sell off his Mindtree shares. If he was so sure of him having enough assets, why then end his life? He cites pressure from a certain private investor along with tax harassment. Is the pressure unjustified? Was there financial fraud, which not many were aware of? With a new BJP government in Karnataka, was he fearing the worst of times for him? Only Siddhartha knew the answers and hopefully a thorough “un-tampered” investigation will reveal finer details.

With a huge debt burden ballooning and banks tightening credit norms in the wake of the ILFS crisis, Siddhartha had a huge task at hand. Siddhartha’s story is very similar to Ramalinga Raju of Satyam. Great brands, great promise but the owners confessed shockingly when nobody expected them to. And until they confessed, the world did not know that things were murky. They took that step because all roads led to a dead end.

It is saddening that Siddhartha chose to take the most extreme step when cornered. He seemed to have decided that ending his life was better than suffering in possible disgrace. When stress gets the better of the mind, then all hell breaks loose. The most important organ in the human body, aside of the heart is the human mind. Unfortunately, most of us give least importance to maintaining the mind in good condition. When we have the slightest of physical pain, we reach out to a doctor, take tablets. But when something troubles our mind, we decide to keep it to ourselves. We somehow feel that by confessing to a mental health specialist or a counsellor or a psychiatrist, we may be “labelled” as “mentally ill”. I wish Siddhartha had explored these options. I wish he had a coach who had guided him, along the way , when he was taking some crucial decisions. Very few organizations today focus on “mental conditioning” – training the mind. When we know that uncertainity is going to be a recurring theme in the business context, why not accept it and try to work on facing it? The mind, if relaxed and conditioned, can take effective decisions and restrict problems to be viewed just as problems, not life-threatening obstacles. Organizations spend time and money training people on data analytics, presentation skills, managerial skills but ignore the most fundamental skills required to survive in a complex environment – the Wellness Quotient (Physical and Mental). In fact, the word mental is seen as a stigmatic word in our society.

The other unaddressed angle is the whole media hype around quarterly earnings and results. This phenomenon is worse in the developed countries where a CEO’s fate is decided by his/her Wall Street performance every quarter. One bad quarter and you are out. Thankfully, India does not seem as cruel but we seem to be heading in the same direction. The pressure to report sustained growth quarter after quarter results in short-term decisions gaining preference. Unless the obsession with this stops , we will continue to see a bunch of stressed out individuals leading a highly stressed life.  Why would one aspire to be a CEO if life at the top is lonely, ever stressful and one mistake pulls you down and impacts your well-being? What’s the point of earning truckloads of money if you continuously are under the scanner?

There are no easy answers out there. But Siddhartha’s reaction is yet another warning of a deeper systemic malaise which is not being addressed at all. Today’s Indian CANNOT cope with excess stress and the environment is not conducive for discussing or managing stress. This coupled with the media fetish for instant celebrity-dom and quarterly earnings growth is enough recipe for disaster. Hopefully, the Siddartha file leads to a national debate on these two areas as well instead of trivializing it as a case on politics, financial ethics, tax terrorism , or ease of doing business , all of which are relevant but not the only issues.

No country for old men weak minds

Jai Hind

Diary of a “Stay-at-home” dad : Freaky Fridays – weekly blog

6 months ago, I decided to take a bold and impulsive decision of quitting my job without another job in hand. Initially, I thought I would apply to other jobs but as my wife’s delivery date drew closer and closer, I decided to take a “break” from corporate. I had resigned from my current job and applied to a few jobs but secretly, I hoped that I would not get through any of them so that I did not have to join soon. My wife was supportive of this decision. Her only concern was finances and having saved enough for 6 months, I took the decision to be a temporary “stay-at-home” dad.

Now-a-days, sabbaticals and breaks have become common. Different people take it at different points in time. My friends, who were not in recent touch with me, thought I had taken a “sabbatical”. For those who are not aware, a sabbatical ensures you have not lost your job and can rejoin the same organization after the specified duration, in any available role. Most organizations have a sabbatical policy for people who have completed a minimum tenure. When I told a few of them that this was not the case, quite a few of them told me that I was taking a big risk by quitting without a back-up job and a back-up plan. What would I give as a reason for the break for potential employers? What if the gap becomes a problem in me finding another job?

Nonetheless, I moved on as what mattered to me the most was what I was thinking. I was venturing into “unknown” territory. There was no reference point for me – no one in my close circle had taken a paternity break. Maternity breaks have been the norm since ages. In my head, I was clear that I wanted to give all possible support to my wife and help her through a transition. I was not so much worried about the future.

I resigned in January and my wife’s due date was 6th of March originally. But the doctor had told us to be prepared from Feb 20th onwards. Having worked for 9 years, the month of February was a pleasant surprise for me. I felt I was like one of those “retired” Public Sector employees who seem very contented with life and who walk the race of life at their own pace, unlike the younger generation which just keeps running without any idea. The running race starts from school, where we are told class 10 is a big hurdle, then IIT/medicine, then post-graduation, job, marriage and keeps going on and on. The comparisons about how others are doing keep happening and make us run harder and faster. All this stopped for me in February and life was different.

I would get up early, hit the gym for almost two hours, do some house chores , read the newspaper and wrote chapters of my book. For the first time, I had no serious goal to target. I just wanted to enjoy the time till it lasted. The baby had not yet arrived. I would go for walks daily with my wife and just try to not discuss the fact that we would soon be parents. To distract her , I would discuss the chapters of my book , the people in my gym etc. I also did a few online certifications. I started using Instagram more often. Life was good even without a purpose. I started blogging regularly. This was month 1.

On the 27th of February, our little bundle of joy arrived. It finally hit me that I had become a parent. My wife had started preparing herself to be a mom since the time she discovered she was pregnant. For me, the realization dawned only when I held the little one in my arms for the first time. Post that, life started zipping. Quite a few of my friends told me that life would no longer be the same and I would not get time to sleep, would have to let go of a lot of hobbies etc etc. I was a bit apprehensive at hearing all this. But what happened with me was completely different. As I was not working, I had enough time to do a lot of things. I would burp the baby, do a few household chores, watch sitcoms and in my free time, would start writing chapters of my book. The first two months were very hectic, especially for my wife, as the baby would feed every two hours and she would get very tired. But gradually, things improved and she was able to get better sleep.

As far as I was concerned, the break made me try a lot of creative things. I made my first DIY wall clock from  a used iPad cover, wrote the manuscript of my first book, tried working on a couple of whacky ideas ( a Youtube finance video series and an education start-up). The last two ideas didn’t go through as I had to depend on other partners and it didn’t work out. But I became fitter, stronger and much more creative as a person.

As a dad, my primary KRA was to put the baby to sleep every night and play with her during the day. It was fun and I was in a utopian world. I had all the time in the world – to take care of my body, my mind and family. I secretly hoped that I could extend the break for another year or two. Why would I want to let go of the new found freedom of not running a race against time?

But six months later, practicality kicked in. My savings had almost been utilized and there was a burden of an EMI. I had no option but to start working again. The break was not pre-planned and it had to end sooner than later. I joined in an organization two weeks ago and things have changed again.

“Time”, which was in abundance with me  during the break, is now a luxury. I barely get to see my little one. By the time I am back home, she’s asleep. I hardly hit the gym now. I rarely am in a frame of mind to write creatively as most days I come back exhausted. I have not read the newspaper. Weekends fly away with my wife and baby as that’s the only time I get to spend with them. Slowly, I am getting back into the race of life. The future on the work front looks scary –travel, resolving issues, late nights, burn outs , appraisals, lay-offs, promotions. It looks as if the juice is going to be sucked out. I have not had the time to plan out my book launch. My biggest fear is I will stop doing the things I love – writing, reading, gymming, cleaning and playing with the kid. I hope it doesn’t come true. Secretly, I pray to God that all my worst fears do not come true and I continue to create time to do the things I love doing.

Time and tide waits for none. I hope the tide turns in favour of me sooner than later. Hopefully, the next break will not take another 9 years and hopefully, I will find the time to keep writing. One of the songs playing in my head right now is…

“ Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen… humey darr na hum kho na jaaye kahin”

-Jai Hind

Guest Blogger : 10 unconventional parenting gifts : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Money, real estate, gold are cliched. Here are 10 non-monetary assets that we could will to our children

Folks – starting this week, guest bloggers will be contributing to this blog to share different perspectives on various topics. So if you are someone is passionate about writing on anything under the sun in a simple and non-technical topic, please get in touch with me.

This week’s guest blogger is Preeti Iyer. She is a content specialist in the financial services domain. She has written blogs on topics such as parenting, philanthropy, and spirituality. She also reviews books and occasionally dabbles in poetry.

Today’s blog is on one of my favorite topics- parenting. Here you go

Ten unconventional bequeathals for the coming generations

The first cry! And we are hit by a mixed bag of emotions – tears of joy, overwhelmed by the arrival of a new member, sleepless nights to follow, moments of anxiety, host of responsibilities, and the list is endless. The baby, which has just tiptoed into our lives, needs our full attention and time, and needs to be nourished, educated, and reared, and taught the right ways to lead his/her life.

We open several piggy banks for the most precious jewel in our crown, in the form of fixed deposits, systematic investment plans, children’s education plans, and invest in long-term assets, including gold, property, and equities… all this to ensure that every need that can be envisaged, right from infancy, toddlerhood, basic and higher education, medical insurance, teenage, marriage, and last but not the least, inheritance. 

But hang on!!! If you bequeath a crore of rupees as cash, or a mausoleum of a house for your child, does that mean you have topped the University of Parenting? Maybe you have provided for every potential need of your offspring, but how does this ensure his/her evolution into a knowledgeable, talented, creative, nature-loving personality. 

Here are 10 unconventional bequeathals which can go a long way in shaping the personality of a child, and making him/her a more responsible, sensible, sensitive and mature individual.

1. Discovering the joy of reading: The child who reads today, will be an adult who thinks tomorrow. Introducing your child to the world of books and joys of reading in the growing years, can probably help them find their best friend, philosopher and guide for a lifetime. Reading can nourish their brains, and instill a sense of curiosity and quest for knowledge and information. A gargantuan library, be it in the form of physical books or maybe a kindle, can be one of the best assets that several succeeding generations can also benefit from.

2.  Initiating the love for music: The sapta swaras, when woven together, can produce the most melodious tunes. Inculcating love for music, helping them learn to sing or play an instrument, and more importantly, teaching them the right way to appreciate music and talented musicians, can provide them a calming escapade from their hectic schedules, and offer access to one of the most effective stress busters. It doesn’t really matter which school of music they may want to pursue – Hindustani, Carnatic or Western. End of the day, all forms of music are bound by the same thread of seven notes. If the love for music culminates into a passion for dance, that’s equally or even more rewarding. So, how about extending your CD collection to your children and their families further on?

3. Fostering art and craft: Be it a traditional form of art like embroidery or crochet work, Warli or Madhubani paintings, or making murals, or more modern pursuits such as quilling, paper craft, candy stick art, or beadwork, any form of art and craft fosters creativity and imagination and offers immense satisfaction. And definitely, every family will have certain hidden arts and artists, who need to pass on the talent to their younger family members, so that the legacy can continue.

 4. Encouraging philanthropy: The joy of giving can only multiply if we ensure our children understand the need to care for the needy, and provide for them in as many ways possible. Though companies and hence, employers, these days are becoming more socially responsible, what could be lacking is the personal touch.

So, take your child to a local orphanage or home for elderly, and initiate the practice of offering food, clothes, books, and other items of utility to the inmates. We need to ingrain the fact that these are individuals who are not less-privileged in any way, but are those with immense potential and dreams, who only need the means to fulfill their aspirations, may be in the form of money or valuable guidance and moral support.

5. Building a connoisseur’s paradise:  Old is gold and will always remain so. Few decades ago, many of us and our parents or grandparents loved collecting rare stamps, coins, photographs or paintings. Whenever someone would pay a visit, maybe an old acquaintance or a distant relative, we would find great pride in showcasing our repertoire. However, the current generation of kids rarely display such inclination or enthusiasm. Perhaps the advent of internet or technology consumes their mind and mental pace to an extent, that there is less physical room for accumulating and storing such assets.

 6. Preserving antiques and family heirlooms: Can you ever find in the local bazaar or the virtual e-marketplace, the vessel in which your grandmother made her signature kheer, or the ancient bell that hung in the courtyard of your father’s home in his native place? In most of the cases, the answer would probably be no. Certain things, like wine, become worthier with age. And our family heirlooms and antique pieces are no exception. The gap however, arises when our progeny fails to perceive value in such objects because they perhaps do not know how precious these collectibles are, both in terms of monetary value, and as a souvenir.

7.   Instilling the need for spirituality and meditation: One of the saddest ironies in today’s fast-paced, mechanical life is that we try to discover everything around us, except our own selves. What does it take to take a moment, sit down and pause, and dwell on our thoughts? Most individuals, especially children and teenagers, are trapped within walls of peer pressure, advices (some irrelevant or unsought) and an overload of information on the Internet. If they fail to wake up to their inner voice and calling, they may end up in the wrong professions and living someone else’s dream.

Let us introduce our scions to the universal force that binds all of us, to the ways by which we can reach out to the Almighty, share our concerns with Him/Her, and find a pathway to peace and equanimity.  This could help them identify their strengths and weaknesses, choose careers that are aligned to their talents and aptitude, be unruffled by constant challenges or any negative feedback, and remain grounded to their roots, so as to achieve their goals and reach for the skies.

8. Handing down cherished memories and the Family Tree: Not sure how many of you would agree with me, but black-and-white pictures of our parents and grandparents, the ancestral home, the well and cow shed in the backyard, the paddy fields and plantations, have an unmistakable charm. Why lose it to hi-tech scans and personal drives of laptops? Why not print them (if negatives are available), paste them in albums, write down catchy and meaningful captions, and pass it over to the youth of tomorrow? This could help them recall and relive those occasions, appreciate and preserve some of the practices, and maintain tradition and culture.

9. Sharing traditional lip-smacking recipes and culinary secrets: The secret ingredients that go into the chhole prepared by your favourite aunt, the recipe for making perfect modaks for Lord Ganesha, or the tried-and-tested method for making melt-in-the-mouth Mysore Paks… does anyone know these culinary secrets? This is possibly the only way families can ensure that the taste of the quintessential Dadimaa ka Khaana lingers forever, not only in the minds of kith and kin, but also on their tongues. This may also ensure that the nutritive value of food is well-preserved, and the body gets the required nourishment, in a world that is increasingly dominated by fast foods and crash diets.

10.Creating the urge to protect nature and the environment: If we closely examine our surroundings, environment and nature, we could comprehend the pressing need to maintain the ecological balance, use natural resources sparingly, and conserve every drop and aspect of Mother Nature. Depleting forest areas, climate change and global warming, receding water levels, and increasing pollution in air and water, may suffocate those stepping into adulthood few decades later.

So, the answer lies in acting now, before the situation bommerangs into a global crisis. Let us bequeath the strong urge to protect our natural resources, and prevent further damage to the environment, to our children, so that they grow into socially responsible and sensitive human beings.

And after a long blogpost, here is a short disclaimer. The purpose of penning down this blog was to share some of the ways by which we can help our successive generation, learn from and preserve the past, sustain their present and succeed in their future. Feel free to add on to your own list of bestowments. The list is inexhaustive and options are raised to infinity, if only we look at the world after taking off the glasses tainted with materialism, possessiveness, and constant comparison and competition.

Good luck and God bless!!!

Preeti Iyer

http://preetypoint.blogspot.com/

The curious case of the 3D Glasses – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Since the past two days, the cricketing world has been abuzz with the sudden retirement of Ambati Rayudu, who decided to hang up his boots after being snubbed by the selectors. Time and again, the BCCI and the Indian team management (read Kohli, Shastri and co) have made a mockery of their own people by taking ad-hoc decisions. Let’s take a look at the sequence of events leading to Rayudu’s shock retirement.

About a year ago, Kohli issued a statement that Rayudu is the answer to India’s middle order woes . Things were rosy until the New Zealand tour in January 2019 where Rayudu has scored a Man-of-the Match 90 after India were 18/4 and helped the team put up a good total. With just 5 ODIs to go in a home series against Australia , and an average of 48 with 3 centuries and 10 fifties , Rayudu looked to be a certainty at no.4 . But things didn’t go well in the home series against Australia. Rayudu couldn’t do much in the first two matches and he was dropped for the next three matches. Kohli did a U turn this time and said that the middle order needed “solidification”. In quite a few matches, Rayudu had failed to up the scoring in certain situations and I guess this had been his undoing. The Indian squad was named in the middle of the IPL and as per chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, the “3 dimensional” Vijay Shankar was selected over Rayudu and Rishabh Pant for the no.4 slot.

Then, came the “3-D” moment on Twitter. An understandably disappointed Rayudu tweeted that he had just ordered a set of 3D glasses to watch the World Cup. This was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at MSK Prasad’s justification. Rishabh Pant was silent on social media and continued his good form in the IPL and smashed a few fifties to build a strong case for himself. Both Rayudu and Pant were named in the reserve list for the World Cup. When Dhawan got injured, Pant was asked to join the squad. When Vijay Shankar got injured, out of nowhere, opener Mayank Agarwal , who was not even in the reserve list, got selected ahead of Rayudu and a day later, Rayudu announced his retirement.

Firstly, let’s try to understand the plausible explanation behind choosing Mayank over Rayudu. The middle order has always been a concern going into the World Cup. While Vijay Shankar was supposed to be the No.4 at the time of his selection, things changed in the warm-up matches. KL Rahul got a century at 4 in a practice match and became the default no.4 choice for the first two matches. Interestingly, Rahul had made it to the team as a third back-up opener. The 3-dimensional Shankar doesn’t play the first two matches. Dhawan’s injury forces Rahul to open the innings and Vijay Shankar gets back at no.4. He doesn’t do well in two matches and is replaced by Pant. Pant puts in a decent effort in both the matches. India’s weakest link expectedly has been the middle order with both Dhoni and Jadhav not in the best of form.

Despite all this, when Vijay Shankar gets ruled out, the selectors in consultation with the team management bring in Mayank. The explanation offered is Mayank is a back-up opener as Rahul has had an injury scare. Nothing wrong but is the opener the problem or the middle-order? From now onwards, there is  a 3 day gap between each match and in case Rahul unfortunately gets injured, the guy can always come in. Clearly, the selectors and the team management didn’t want Rayudu. Why pick him in the reserve list and not give him his due especially when a second player has got injured? The 3D comment seems to have hurt everyone’s ego and Rayudu seems to have been “punished”.

The problem does not lie with the axing of Rayudu. There has been no communication made to the player over why he was dropped. This is a typical problem which we also see in the corporate world. We do not want to be transparent. Bad news is communicated in the worst possible form ( the incumbent comes to know of it through public announcements). Had Rayudu been spoken to by the selectors, then I am sure the “3-D” tweet would not have come in. In retrospect, the tweet was Rayudu’s cricketing death-knell. Had both parties kept their egos aside, we could have seen an attempt to solve the middle -order problem in the larger interest of the team and the World Cup.

India needed an experienced proper no.4 going into the World Cup. The likes of Morgan and Steve Smith occupy this position. But our team management let ego come in the way and now we have a risky proposition again. Why pick Rayudu in the reserve list if he was never in contention? Why not pick Shreyas Iyer, Rahane, Manish Pandey etc in that case? The BCCI and the team management never seem to stop behaving like cartoons. The problem with the Kohli-Shastri regime is too many selection blunders have cost the team dearly in recent times ( Bhuvi was dropped in a South Africa test, Rohit Sharma played ahead of Rahane in the same series). Let’s hope that the middle-order does not come to haunt India in either the semis or the finals. If it does, Kohli has no one else to blame other than himself. Ego and flawed logic can cost us the World Cup.

Let’s come back to Rayudu. Once he had been dropped from the squad, he could have just stayed silent and let his bat do the talking. But instead, he did the exact opposite. I wish he had consulted some senior player like VVS Laxman before tweeting. VVS was dropped from the 2003 World Cup but chose to put his disappointment behind and represented the county till 2013. Knee-jerk reactions backfire more often than not. The best way to weather a storm is to let it pass and live to fight another day. But Rayudu decided to be a social media hero.

This is not the first time Rayudu has reacted emotionally when the going became tough. Rayudu was tipped to be the next Tendulkar in his under -19 days. But he had a few disappointing Ranji seasons and had a brawl on the cricket pitch with Arjun Yadav, Shivlal Yadav’s ( former chairman of selectors) son. Amidst all this , he decided to join the rebel ICL at age 25. The others who joined were either India discards or people who had a very remote chance of playing for India. Rayudu was the surprise as he still had age on his side and one good Ranji season could have brought his national team aspirations back on track. But he decided to give in to the lure of playing with international players on prime time TV.

The Rayudu story is a classic case of everything wrong with Indian cricket. Talent needs to be nurtured and given a long rope. There should be a systematic assessment of the junior cricketers with specific performance plans for at least the first three years of transition from under-19. Everyone wants ready-made talent without wanting to invest time. Transparency in communicating decisions needs to happen. Indian society never celebrates failed attempts. Failures are still a problem and looked down upon. By incurring the wrath of the selectors and the team management, Rayudu’s future cricket options have also become bleak. This scenario could have been easily avoided if there were transparent chats and personalized counselling given. But since we cannot take sarcasm with a pinch of salt, we make a mess of things. The World Cup will soon be over and Rayudu will be a forgotten man but unless Indian cricket makes a systemic correction and works on logic, merit rather than ad-hoc random choices, we will continue to see such sad ends to cricketing careers. Rayudu for his bad reactions is equally to blame in this case but seeking advice would have been better for the overall benefit of Indian cricket.

Let’s hope that the middle order ghost doesn’t re-surface in the semis or the finals. Kohli and Rohit will have to continue amassing runs in these two games and hopefully, Pant, Dhoni and co will make bigger contributions. Else, the Men in Blue will bleed and the Shastri/Kohli/MSK trio will have no option but to wear 3D glasses on their return flight.

Jai Hind

Fair & Obsessed – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

“Hi Handsome.. hi handsome.. hi handsome..” Do you recall this ad? Endorsed by Shah Rukh Khan, the ad shows a dark-skinned person not able to woo girls. SRK offers the guy a “Fair & Handsome” cream and in typical Bollywood style, the boy becomes fair in 7 days and has four girls “revolving” around him. That’s THE mantra to woo girls, if you are a not-so-fair guy that is. It shows a very typical Indian belief that if you have to win in life, you need to be “fair” in complexion. The ad is as much an insult to the female community as it is to the male. I will talk about the males first. Being handsome is equated to being fair. Neither brain nor brawn is required. Only color. As per the ad, that’s how a male thinks and we have the great SRK endorsing it. Nothing else matters in life. Equally insulting is the fact that the females falling head over heels with this approach and going ga-ga over the guy. So, in essence, “ Fair and Handsome” and the parent company Emami think that Indian males and females are a bunch of morons, flawed in their thinking that fairness equals handsomeness.

If “Hi Handsome” was all about the alpha male, then the female version gets even worse. There’s a stupid “Fair and Lovely” ad which shows a girl being rejected in acting auditions. Then she applies “Fair & Lovely” and says “Eureka”. She becomes a top actress with her photo on billboards. Unbelievable to think of such derisive marketing campaigns, isn’t it? But wait. There’s no point in blaming the campaign creators. The fact is that Fair & Lovely is a 2000+ crore brand in India. The fairness appeal cuts across regions and cultures in India. A cruder interpretation of the same is “ we are a bunch of fairness obsessed Indians.” The Indian fairness cream market is estimated to be upwards of 500 million $.

The problem does not limit itself to the youth. When I had signed up for a matrimonial ad in a newspaper, I was shown a few marriage ad templates. “ A tall and handsome Iyer boy is looking for a fair, slim and beautiful Iyer girl”. The Sunday matrimonial section of the newspapers had such ads all over. I was told by the experts that if I don’t comply with the same template, the opposite party may think I am not “fair” and I might not get “good” profiles. I must confess I went ahead with the standard template, party because of the fear that the experts’ words may come true.

It all starts with our mythology. In all the mythological movies, the Gods are fair and the Rakshasas are dark, fat and grumpy looking. Barring Ravana, have we ever seen a fair looking demon/villain? Kids growing up will obviously equate dark colour to evil. In teen-age, “Hi Handsome” takes over. The game ends by the time a matrimonial ad is released. Amidst all this, you have silly superhero movie titles like “Black Panther”. Why use the word “black”? Was there a white panther movie? \

The only plausible explanation I can think of for our society’s obsession with fairness is because of the British and American influence.  The Western society is a superior race, probably due to their fairness and hence we need to look fairer. The sad part is all of us using the fairness creams are educated enough to know that fairness and superiority have zero correlation. Otherwise Viv Richards, Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan would be nobodies. The irony is that the folks from the Western world think that a pale white skin is unhealthy and wanting for healthy food/drink.

The young brigade is not the only one obsessed with fairness. When our child was born a few months ago, a lot of “well-wishers”( so called elderly relatives, colony residents) have asked us “Colour aaya hai kya?” “ Is the baby fair?”. I wanted to reply “Hey guys – I have a paint box with me – Asian Paints Apex Ultima White. Will paint her white. You can also take some with you”. A friend of mine tells me that people would not come to see her elder sister during childhood as she was dark. I wish all these people were sent to Guantanamo Bay and tortured there.

Despite being a no-brainer, we will never stop our obsession with fairness I guess. If this happens, we will be a fairer society not by complexion, but by action.

Until then, let’s address each other as…

………

………

………

“Hi handsome.. hi handsome ..hi handsome”

Jai Hind

281 & Beyond – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

VVS Laxman was a soft-spoken and shy cricketer during his playing days. When I picked up his autobiography – “281 and Beyond”, I did not expect anything different. However, Laxman pours his heart out in a very candid and genuine account of his life and the book makes for a nice and inspiring read.

The book starts off with Laxman taking us through one of the most inspirational moments in Indian cricket history – the 281 Test Match at Eden Gardens in 2001. With Australia having won 16 successive Tests and enforced a follow-on, India’s chances of saving the Test were one-in-a million. But cricketers like Laxman and Dravid come once in a lifetime. India were at 232/4 when Dravid had joined Laxman and when Laxman departed, the score read 608/5. McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Kasprowicz were taken to the cleaners. Australia lost 7 wickets in the last session of the last day and India had pulled off a sensational victory. Since then, Indian cricket’s fortunes changed and under Ganguly, the team reached new heights.

Laxman recalls how he had almost missed that match due to a back problem and how Andrew Leipus (then physio) and God ensured that he played the match and re-wrote history. Reading this chapter made me take a trip down memory lane – I was in class 8 when 281 happened and we were all in shock and awe at the turn of events on day 4 of the match. After that victory, Indian cricket under Ganguly reached new heights and India became a force to reckon with in Test cricket away from home as well. There is an interesting anecdote mentioned where Ganguly, decides not to expose Harbhajan Singh further in a warm-up game before the start of the series, after seeing him bamboozle the Aussies in the first innings of the match. Harbhajan gets picked in the squad and doesn’t bowl in the second innings. It gives an insight into the planning that goes behind-the-scenes. Laxman also analyzes the captaincy and mindset of legendary cricketers like Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, Anil and MSD, having played under all of them.

Born in a middle-class family to doctor parents, Laxman talks about how he had to make some difficult career choices – to skip pursuing medicine for the sake of cricket. He also gives a vivid account of his journey in his club cricket days – how being the junior most team member, he would religiously lay down the mat on the pitch and take it as a learning ritual without any cribbing. His Ranji trophy journey of building a career brick-by-brick and putting in the hard work day in and day out , the importance of a mentor ( his uncle) is a lesson for every youngster that there is no substitute for hard work.

Although Laxman was a middle-order batsman in first-class cricket, he was selected as a Test opener in his initial years as that was the only slot available. Playing for the country overcomes individual aspirations and while opening was not his natural game, he still tried his best and came up with a few good knocks. After a few years as an opener, a frustrated Laxman decides enough is enough, puts his foot down and convinces the team management that he is best suited in the middle order. This part of the book makes for an interesting read as it reveals a tenacious and gritty side of VVS, which is not known to many.

Laxman also speaks his mind regarding the match-fixing controversy and the Greg Chappell era. His take on Greg Chappell’s “divide and rule” style of management is candid as well as shocking to read. Like all sportspersons, he also has had his share of disappointments. He pours out his frustrations at not being selected for the 2003 World Cup and not able to win a Ranji Trophy championship for Hyderabad. He also talks about his unwavering belief in God helps him tide through various setbacks in his career.

For a man who averages 46 in Test cricket, with 135 catches, 17 centuries and close to 9000 runs, Laxman’s place was always under the scanner. Despite that, Laxman has featured in quite a few victories – Johannesburg ( where he played with the tail to set up a huge lead), a last-wicket victory with Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma against the Aussies in Mohali, the famous Adelaide win in 2003 with Dravid are some of the ones he recalls. His last match was in Adelaide and it feels sad that he could not play his farewell match on Indian soil. Laxman also describes the mixed emotions in announcing his retirement just ahead of a home Test series against New Zealand.

Unlike a few autobiographies which tend towards self-glorification, this one is a genuine and honest account of a cricketer who made it big with his hard work, dedication and commitment, became a household name after 281, had an up and down journey but was always humble , simple and genuine. A man who gave up his status as an “icon” player so that his IPL franchisee could use the money for buying players, a man respected for his behavior on and off the pitch, a man who took his father’s words “The profession doesn’t glorify you.. YOU glorify the profession” and gave it meaning, Laxman will always hold a “Very Very Special” place in every Indian cricket fan’s heart. “281 and Beyond” is a reflection of this selfless cricketer. It’s a must read for cricket fans.

Jai Hind

RKR – Father’s Day Special Blog

Rasa-kudi Raghuraman ( RKR) in Hindi , loosely translates to Rasam Peene Wala Raghuraman. In my family, RKR was as big as SRK or MSD or SRT or GST. Even before these acronyms became famous, there was a certain gentleman, who had earned the nickname RKR in the 90s for his Rasam drinking abilities.

RKR had earned this nickname because he could drink 2 or 3 glasses of rasam back to back after having eaten a bowl full of rasam rice. He could easily devour a vessel full of rasam single-handedly. For him, drinking a full container of rasam was as easy as Federer winning Wimbledon on grass. The title RKR was bestowed on him after many such conquests and no one in our family has ever close to taking away the record from this gentleman.

And he was doing this routine, day in, day out just like how Sachin would go out to the nets daily. Harsha Bhogle has spoken a lot about talent, born vs acquired and the relentless hours of practice, which differentiates the champions from the ordinary. If Harsha were part of our family and he would see RKR drinking rasam, he would write an essay on talent, consistency and practice looking at this.  RKR, the phenom, has been doing this since childhood, continues to do this daily and he cares a damn about what others think about this quality of his.

RKR is an amazing athlete as well. I did not know of this hidden talent of his. One Sunday, me and RKR were walking out of our aunt’s house. RKR was scared of dogs, like me. As we came out of our aunt’s house, me and RKR saw a white Labrador barking at us. A teenaged boy was holding it. Both me and RKR were scared. We told the boy to hold the dog tightly so that we could walk out to the main road. As soon as RKR said this, I don’t what happened to the boy. The boy was trying to hold the cuff and keep the dog with him but the dog broke away and came at us. Me and RKR looked at each other for a second. We ignored our mind’s rational decision to stay still and instead, decided to listen to our instinct and decided to run and save our life. We equated the dog to a man-eating Royal Bengal tiger and ran for our lives. We didn’t even look at each other. The dog was coming at us. The boy was running behind the dog. Me and RKR were running without looking back. Usain Bolt would have been proud of our running. PT Usha would have nominated us to the Indian athletics team just seeing our 30 second sprint. The gully road led to the main road via a T junction. As me and RKR neared the main road, the road opened into two directions. I ran to the left. I did not see RKR.

As he was not behind/beside me, I assumed he ran to the right. After about 30 seconds more when I was gasping for breath, I stopped. I suddenly realized that I had lost RKR while running and I needed to find him. I started walking briskly to the other side of the T entrance to the main road. For a few minutes, I did not find RKR. I suddenly started panicking. All sorts of weird thoughts started entering my head. What if the Labrador had bit RKR and RKR was hospitalized? What if he had ran and met with an accident?  I was lost in these negative thoughts for a few seconds.

I felt miserable that I had not run holding RKR’s hand. That way at least both of us would have met with the same fate. It is in such situations that one realizes the true value of one’s father. RKR was after all my dad, who was instrumental in bringing me to this world.  Dejected at the entire chain of events, I was cursing the boy who could not hold the Labrador with him. Neither the boy, the dog, nor RKR were anywhere to be seen. I kept walking in the faint hope that I would see RKR coming from the opposite direction.

I had walked a few metres when I reached a cricket ground on my right. On every third Sunday, a league match would be played with players clothed in whites on a green mat. It would resemble a Test Match ground. I was staring at the middle of the pitch through the grilled fence . All sorts of thoughts started wavering in my head.

As a child, my dad had given me everything I had asked for. All my early memories like my first audio cassette – Darr ,my first animation movie – the Lion King ( my dad had promised me that if I came first in class, he would take me to a nice movie), the Sunday visits to the aquarium with him near Hussainsagar lake and many more memories started surfacing. I was kicking myself for being selfish and not looking at where my Dad was running. I was totally annoyed with myself. I dint want to go back home. What would I answer to my Mom, my aunt, my relatives?

As I neared the stands, I heard a familiar voice shouting at me “ Hari …” . It was RKR’s voice. It was such a relief. I was confused as to how did he land up as a spectator in this match, when a few minutes ago, he was running for his life. He seemed to have read my thoughts “I ran so fast and I could hear the dog coming after me, so I decided to climb up the grill and get into the ground so that the dog could not chase me” When both of us came home and narrated this incident, my Mom couldn’t stop laughing.

That incident, funny as it may sound in retrospect, made me realize the value of my dad. A few children are closer to their mothers, while for a few, it’s the other way around. I was and still am momma’s boy. Because my dad used to work and mom was a house-wife, most of my up-bringing was done by her.  My dad may not be the most perfect dad, but I think I am fortunate that he is still with me. Initially, I used to crib a lot about his imperfections and how he could never equal my mother.

We realize the true value of things when those things are no longer with us. When a few of my friends told me that they had lost their parents at a young age, I realized how lucky I was to have both my parents raising me .Thankfully, for me, the realization has come sooner before it’s too late. We all have our imperfections and, in our eagerness, to compare everything and everyone, we forget that each person is unique in their own way and continue to be judgmental.

Now, the wheel has turned full circle and I have become a dad and I can see my child thinking about me in future in the same lines a few years down the line. There are times when the baby is crying loudly and I am deep asleep. Its not that I intend to but it just doesn’t happen.

Becoming a dad also has made me realize the importance of one thing which most of corporate India has neglected – paternity leave. It’s really sad that most of the board members in the corporate world do not consider this as a priority. The situation is worse in some hospitals -where I am told even maternity leave is a luxury, forget paternity leave. There are a few bright spots like Zomato ( which recently announced a 6 month paternity leave for both men and women)  in an otherwise sad scenario . In today’s times, it is impossible to expect a woman to raise a child independently. The first six months of transition for a woman from wife to a mother is extremely difficult and the basic expectation from her is if the husband /dad spends “time”. There are various things organizations can do – something vary basic like paternity leave, to arranging sessions on how to transition to parenthood, career customization for new parents etc.

My dad worked in a PSU, which was pretty much a 9 to 5 job therefore I have a lot of fond childhood memories . In today’s times, someone who comes in at 9 and leaves by 5 is perceived as “not hungry for growth”. People who stay late , work on weekends, take calls post office hours are perceived to be more “hard-working” and rewarded with promotions in a lot of cases. Unless the culture in corporate changes from the top, there’s a grave danger that our future generations of kids may not have as many memories of their childhood with mom and dad, as our generation had. Father’s Day will become another tick-the-box activity. Let’s hope the future changes for the better.

Happy Father’s Day

Jai Hind