Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Love Apple!

Earlier this month, Steve Jobs unveiled the second generation iPad, the iPad 2.
I remember when our love affair with Apple started - that was when we bought out our first Apple product - an iPod Shuffle, way back in 2007. When Neeti opened the smart packaging, I recall her squealing with joy and amazement at the new gadget. Imagine 1GB, 260 odd songs, ain't that great!!!
Then, Apple moved into phones with the iPhone 2G. The first iPhone I saw was a 2G that a colleague had bought. The excitement that was generated that morning in office when he walked in with his iPhone 2G is indescribable and was something to be seen and experienced.
Apple turned me and Neeti into gadget freaks. The love affair was officially consummated when iPhone 3G "officially" came to India much later in late 2008 or early 2009.
Living with a telecom and devices aficionado, Neeti, who lives and breathes technology, discussions at our dinner table revolved around 3G, Android, Apple and all that stuff. Apple's iPad naturally found its way into our discussions. And gradually we veered around to the idea of waiting for the then to be released iPad 2 to be launched in India officially. News sites were rife with speculation that the new version would have - 2-way cameras, USB ports, retina display, so on and so forth. And we knew it that iPad 2 was the thing for us.
And so waited with bated breaths.
As the unveiling ceremony was on in San Francisco, we logged in, on to CNN's webcast of the event and sat through the entire event.
Wow, what a device!
But there is a certain stubbornness associated with Apple's devices. For instance, none of the Apple devices support Adobe Flash. The iPad 2 still does not have a USB port, as many expected. The battery is not replaceable by the user.
I recall our visit to Croma's store at High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel, where Neeti and I were checking out the first version of the iPad. Quite obviously, a Parsi girl, I would imagine between 10-12, tugged in her mother into the store to check out the device. The girl and her mom moved in next to us and the girl started "experiencing" the iPad like the way a duck would take to the water. Her mom called a store assistant and rattled off a number of questions.
"Isme Tata Photon lagega?"
"No ma'am, you will need a 3G SIM card or a Wi-Fi connection."
"Ohh, can I print files from this 'computer'?" -- as she called the Tab a computer, her daughter turned red with embarrassment and glanced at me slyly hoping I did not hear what her mom said!!!!
"No ma'am, you can't fire a print from here."
"Can I transfer photos from my digital camera directly to this computer?" -- now this freaked out the kid, she was almost in tears on her mom's ignorance.
"No, ma'am, you need a PC to sync data."
I looked at the mom and smiled. She looked at me, smiled and then turned to her daughter "What use is this thing, if we still need a PC?" and looked at me for approval..... That was the ultimate embarrassment for the cute little girl who had expectantly tugged her mom in to Croma to buy her the iPad. I bet, she would have protested by skipping dinner that night.
What impresses me about Apple is the way Steve jobs has inculcated a culture of defining the curve, before "me-too's" are able to get the plot. The secrecy surrounding their products is joked about as being stricter than that of the CIA itself! They know they have their aficionados, who will be there and they will never be disappointed. The news also had reports of people queuing up hours before store opening time to get their Apple first! In fact, one person sold her position at the head of the iPad 2 queue for over USD900 - she smartly recovered the cost of her Apple gadget twice over.
But what baffles me is perhaps Steve Jobs has not really understood the potential of the Indian market. How cheated do Indian Apple fans feel when they officially get the original version of the iPad, just about a month before iPad 2 was launched. So, is Apple dumping unsellable original fist generation iPads in India?
Also Apple chooses to remain silent on dubious employee practices at their manufacturer's end - Foxconn (HonHai), the Chinese contract manufacturer, gained notoriety for labour practices which pushed a lot of their employees to suicide.
Having said that, it is hard not to appreciate Steve Jobs for his spirit to fight back whatever odds come his way. Battling ill health - cancer and liver transplant, he steered Apple to invincible heights. And he came back from his indefinite medical leave to launch the iPad 2. Such is his passion. I can never forget seeing his 2005 commencement address at the Stanford University, where he talks of "finding what you love" and "staying hungry and staying foolish" - questioning the convention. The passionate speech would leave anyone spellbound.

The problem is that such leaders have an aura around them that it does indeed become difficult for the second rung to outshine the spiraling expectations of the environment.
Bu Apple has been a success for being on the cutting edge, defining the market and also for its investors. I recall a quote from the lovable movie, Forrest Gump, where Forrest says "Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don't have to worry about money no more. And I said, that's good! One less thing."
The lesson here for the corporate world is that operational performance has to precede stellar stock performance, as Apple has shown when compared to the performance of US stocks.

So, everyone loves Apple, so do I!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Band Bajayega Bollywood

After a hiatus of over three months, we had a lot to catch up on the movies department. That opportunity came last week, when on a whim Neeti and I booked ourselves two seats for Band Baaja Baraat!
Being away from home, any
movie that shows life in North India, particularly Punjabi culture and Delhi is uniquely appealing for us. Band Baaja Baraat seemed to be exactly that kind of a movie, from what the reviews said.
The other reason why I was particularly keen on the movie was because I have quite liked Anushka Sharma ever since her debut, as Taani Ji, with Shahrukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in 2008 (I can never forget a classic - Shahrukh blurting out syaapa, when he tugged at his laptop through a pen drive which was looped around his neck!!!). But Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was a different ball game, obviously Anushka was overshadowed by Shahrukh in the movie.
Anushka is the quintessential girl next door, with an unusual spunkiness that makes her breeze through her character. I would concede that Deepika Padukone too does score high on the girl next door kind of a look, but clearly lacks Anushka’s spunk to pull it off, though I would still rate her high.
I do remember telling Neeti after her debut that Anushka would make it big in tinsel town, and reaffirmed that after Badmash Company, on which I got a standard “okay, may be” kind of responses. While Neeti would never speak greatly about my preference of actresses, she did choose to remain silent on Anushka, which gave it away – she does agree with me on that.
Another distinctively feature that Anushka has capitalized on is her very apparent Punjabi looks – that is a bit odd as she’s a Garwahli. But she pulls it off real well especially when she’s in Patialas.
Having said a lot on Anushka, its time to get back to Band Baaja Barat. A simple plot woven into magical imagery on the screen, it certainly was not Ainvaiye Ainvaiye!!! I would give half of the credit for that to Ranveer Singh who complemented Anushka on getting the real feel of young college going North Indian kids, and their kaands. Sex was an integral part of the plot and it was handled very very succinctly, very sensuously. I have seen very few Indian movies that have handled sex as maturely as this movie.
Immediately after getting out of the multiplex, we booked ourselves for the next day’s show of Tanu Weds Manu, which was entertaining in parts, but no way close to Band Baaja Baraat. Though Kangana does score a 10 on 10 for stylishness, she does need to go a long way on dialogue delivery but is zero on spunk. Madhavan as always played his part well, mature, yet boyish, sophisticated yet flirty!
It does seem that Bollywood is coming of age, breaking out of that NRI-esque mould, the Karan Johar concocted melodramas, especially when one sees movies like Band Baaja Baraat or a Do Dooni Chaar or a Khosla Ka Ghosla, which are based on the struggles of real people, the middle class – they could be you, the ones next door, the ones sitting next to you on the Metro or wherever. Obviously, you don’t need a “Main Zandu Balm Hui” or “Shiela ki Jawani” kind of songs to make the movie a hit. (Let’s accept it – such songs do have some utility as I figured out when my colleague told me that his 7 year old son likes “Shiela ki Jawani” very much and therefore he and his wife were relieved because their son “noormal chhe” and is not gay!!!!).
Surely much better cinema is in store for us - Band Bajayega Bollywood!!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Off The Cuff

Recently, I came across this anecdotal, "in your face", inspirational and witty speech delivered by the late Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, to the Sri Lankan cricket team in the United Kingdom during the World Cup of 2003.
I sometimes wonder whether our sissy politicians would be savvy enough, or rather would have any time from their innumerable scams to take time out to inspire Indian youth. I would imagine no. But it appears that India's engine of enterprise, be it civil service, business or sports, would go on and on, despite or inspite of the government and our senseless politicians.
I can never imagine our "esteemed" external affairs minister ever taking a principled stand on supporting sportsmen on doubtful decisions. Knowing fully well that India is high on cricket now, as the World Cup in on right now, I have reproduced the speech in full over here, as these emotions are what all Indians would have:
"Captain Atapattu and members of the Sri Lankan team, Members of the Sri Lankan community, Friends of Sri Lanka, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some historians say, I think uncharitably, that cricket is really a diabolical political strategy, disguised as a game, in fact a substitute for War, invented by the ingenious British to confuse the natives by encouraging them to fight each other instead of their imperial rulers.
The world is divided into two camps - those who revel in the intricacies of cricket and those who are totally baffled by it, who cannot figure out why a group of energetic young men should spend days, often in the hot sun or bitter cold, chasing a ball across an open field, hitting it from time to time with a stick - all to the rapturous applause of thousands, now millions, of ecstatic spectators across the world. The game has developed a mystical language of its own that further bewilders those who are already befuddled by its complexities.
In the course of my travels I have a hard time explaining to the non-cricketing world - in America , China , Europe and Russia - that a 'googly' is not an Indian sweetmeat; that a 'square cut' is not a choice selection of prime beef; that a 'cover drive' is not a secluded part of the garden; that a 'bouncer' is not a muscular janitor at a night club, that a 'Yorker is not some exotic cocktail mixed in Yorkshire or that a 'leg-break' is not a sinister manoeuvre designed to cripple your opponent's limbs below the waist.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me see whether politics and cricket have anything in common. Both are games. Politicians and cricketers are superficially similar, and yet very different. Both groups are wooed by the cruel public who embrace them today and reject them tomorrow.
Cricketers work hard; politicians only pretend to do so. Cricketers are disciplined; discipline is a word unknown to most politicians in any language. Cricketers risk their own limbs in the heat of honourable play, politicians encourage others to risk their limbs in pursuit of fruitless causes while they remain secure in the safety of their pavilions. Cricketers deserve the rewards they get; the people get the politicians they deserve. Cricketers retire young; politicians go on for ever. Cricketers unite the country; politicians divide it. Cricketers accept the umpire's verdict even if they disagree with it; politicians who disagree with an umpire usually get him transferred. Cricketers stick to their team through victory and defeat, politicians in a losing team cross over and join the winning team. Clearly, cricketers are the better breed.
It is said that the task of a foreign minister is to lie effusively for his country abroad. That may be true, but it is certainly true that he has to fight for his country and defend it at all times. Our cricketers may recall that in the run-up to the 1995 World Cup , Australia refused to play a match in Colombo, citing security reasons. Shane Warne said he wouldn't come to Colombo because he couldn't do any shopping there. The press asked me for a comment. I said "shopping is for sissies". There was a storm of protest in Australia. A TV interviewer asked me whether I had ever played cricket. I said I had played before he was born - without helmets and thigh guards, on matting wickets that were full of holes and stones, and I had my share of broken bones to show it. My friend the Australian foreign minister was drawn into the fray and phoned me. We decided to cool things down. A combined India/Pakistan team came to Colombo at very short notice to play an exhibition match in place of the Australian match. It was a magnificent gesture of South Asian solidarity.
Against strong security advice I went on to the field to greet and thank our friends from India and Pakistan . When the whole episode was over I sent a bouquet of flowers to my Australian counterpart. Flowers are also for sissies.
I remember vividly the incident that occurred in Australia when Murali was called for throwing and Arjuna led his team to the boundary, in protest, but cleverly refrained from crossing it. I was watching TV in Colombo. As a past captain I asked myself what I would have done in Arjuna's place. In my mind I had no hesitation in supporting his decision. A few minutes later the phone rang. The President of the Board called to ask for advice. I said Arjuna was right because a captain must, on the field, stand up for his men and protect them, but the consequences must not be allowed to go too far; good lawyers must be engaged and a reasonable compromise must be reached. That was done.
During that tour I paid an official visit to Australia. My friend the Australian foreign minister in the course of a dinner speech invited me to go with him the next day to Adelaide , his home town, to watch the final day's play. I knew what the result was going to be. In my reply I said that at the end of the match I did not want to be the one to tell him that Australia had "won by a Hair". Accordingly, I went back home, as planned, to maintain the good relations that we have with Australia..
Foreign ministers sometimes find themselves in very difficult situations. Take the case of the Foreign Minister of Uganda. President Idi Amin told him that he wanted to change the name of Uganda to Idi. The minister was asked to canvas world opinion and return in two weeks. He did not do so. He was summoned and asked to explain. He said: "Mr. President, I have been informed that there is a country called Cyprus. Its citizens are called Cypriots, If we change the name of our country to 'Idi' our citizens would be called... “Idiots". Reason prevailed.
A story goes that a shark was asked why diplomats were his preferred food. He replied "because their brains being small are a tasty morsel, their spines being supple I can chew on them at leisure - and they come delightfully marinaded in alcohol."
Ladies and Gentlemen, as I approach the close of this brief address I wish to speak directly to our Sri Lankan team. Today we lost a match. But you lost to the rain and Duckworth and Lewis. You did not lose to England. Only a few weeks ago you had a resounding victory against South Africa. You will win again tomorrow. What is important is to keep up your confidence and spirits.
All of us, your fellow countrymen and women, have been enormously impressed in recent times by the commitment, discipline, athleticism and determination that you have displayed in the field. The people are with you. We all know that each and every one of you, are constantly busy honing your skills. We can see that you are maintaining a high standard of physical fitness. When the people see this it gives them not only immense pleasure but the moral upliftment that Sri Lankans are capable of in rising to the challenge of sustained performance.
Every team loses. It takes two to play a game. One has to lose. It is the manner in which you play the game which gives the promise of success to come. It is a great pleasure to see how youngsters are being drafted into the national team. Our team is united; it reflects all the races and religions of our country. Cricket, like all international sport today, is highly competitive; and so it must be, and so it must remain. It must always be regarded as a very high honour to represent one's country at any sport.
All of you are role models for our youth. They will be looking to see how you take defeat. To exult in victory is easy, to remain well balanced in defeat is a mark of maturity. Do not allow yourselves to be disturbed by the armchair critics who will no doubt engage in a display of theoretical learning on how the game was played. Many of these critics have never put bat to ball. It makes them feel good to indulge in the past time of amateur criticism. They do not know what it is to face fast bowling in fading light; to engage in a run race against daunting odds; to find the stamina and sheer physical endurance to spend concentrated hours in the field of play. They know nothing of the psychological pressure that modern sportsmen are subject to. Therefore, my advice to you is - ignore them. Go your way with customary discipline and methodical preparation for the next game, the next series in different parts of the world under different conditions.
For me it has been a great pleasure and an honour to be here with you tonight. When I was invited to be the Chief Guest at this occasion on my way to New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations, I accepted with eager anticipation of meeting our cricketers and relaxing for a moment.
Nobody told me that I had to make a speech, until last night when it dawned on me then that there is no such thing as a free dinner!"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Time To Introspect....

There have been a few publicized crimes that have made my blood curdle. The Arushi murder case and the Aruna Shanbaug case are among them.
The Aruna Shanbaug case in particular gave me a lot of sleepless nights, in the run-up to the Supreme Court verdict on euthanasia.
It's indeed horrifying to read Aruna Shanbaug's story, a story of a violent twist to a fairy tale of hope, love and humble beginnings. The only question that lingers in my mind is how could a human be so brutal to rape the embodiment of hope.
What's sad is that the perpetrator of the crime walked away with just 7 years in jail, that too for assault and attempt to rob and not for the heinous crime that brought the pretty Aruna to this vegetative state.
The Supreme Court in its verdict has shaken the country's conscience by legalising euthanasia, but I wonder if it is human to let Aruna live, especially if she's not brain dead, as the doctors have testified. Imagine, if she still can think, she must be reliving the horror of that fateful night over 37 years back, that dashed her dreams. To have her relive that tragedy day after day for nearly 4 decades is a travesty of the basic principles of human justice.
But, the country has to doff its hats for the staff of King Edward Memorial Hospital, Bombay, who have tenderly taken care of Aruna for all these 4 decades.
As the world celebrates Women's Day, it is worth a debate whether India can let violators of the fairer sex get off lightly. In my opinion, such people deserve nothing less than a castration, followed by death, to prevent emboldening of wayward men.
But getting that legalised will be tough, when a number of our lawmakers themselves have blood on their balls. It is shameful to have had rapists like Taslimuddin heading union ministries and lawmakers who condone violations done post midnight.
I hope that the Honourable Supreme Court nudges the government into legislating watertight laws on rape.
It is indeed the time to introspect - what is the kind of society we need, one that looks the other way, while the crime is tolerated or one where respect for the fairer sex is recognised by law?
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