Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coffee & Cups

This story was sent to me by Neeti - it has a very special message for all of us and I thought of sharing this on my blog. Here goes:
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite - telling them to help themselves to hot coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups and were eyeing each other's cups.
Now if life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn't change. Some times, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it."
Don't let the cups drive you...
Enjoy the coffee instead.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Long Live The Maharaja, The Maharaja Is Dead!

If anyone would ask a person from the generation of the 1970s or the 1980s, they would recall a few brands like Air-India being truly iconic. But it is really sad how these iconic brands can die, Air-India stands testimony to that!
In the 1980s, the airline was truly a symbol of India's pride. Being a pseudo-socialist state in the outer orbit of the Soviet system, India as a country had little to project to the world.
But Air-India took India to the world, with its unique mascot, the Maharaja, with its trademark tongue-in-cheek adlines. The airline had a young fleet, straddling the world from the Pacific and North America to an extensive network in Europe and Africa. Traditional Indian motifs in the cabin, its classic livery, exceptional customer service made the airline a real treat.
As kid, Air-India was special - it always fascinated me for its lovely livery, its Jumbos and the toys they used to give kids on-board.
The airline was a pioneer of sorts - it was the first all-jet airline, with the induction of Boeing 707s in the late 1950s, the first Asian airline to cross the Atlantic to being one of the first Asian airlines to have Boeing 747s.
I can say for sure that the airline was always preferred for its customer service. Fact is that my folks always preferred Air-India when they actually did have the choice of other carriers.
But Air-India's fall from its lofty, prestigious position has been tragic to say the least.
And news (or say some may say rumours) has been sneaking in that Air-India's long overdue induction in to the Star Alliance may not happen at all. The deadline expires tomorrow, July 31, 2011. (The induction into the Star Alliance would have been a major plus for Air-India - branding abroad, seat-sharing, seamless connectivity, etc.
Even more depressing was the news yesterday that employees were not paid for months and are being forced to liquidate their assets to survive. Mr. JRD Tata, the airline's father, must be turning in his grave.
If one looks at Air-India, it has always been at the mercy of the Indian government. Government policies have dictated that the airline provide services for ferrying VIPs, by taking them off their scheduled services (and not getting paid for these VIP operations!).
The government had forced the airline to get into subsidised flights for Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. The airline also had to evacuate Indian citizens from warzones in the Gulf, a feat for which it holds a Guinness World Record.
While the airline was implementing the government's agenda, it barely had any autonomy to operate flights on commercial considerations.
The airline had been seeking permissions to fly to Melbourne, Australia (primarily business and visiting friend and relative traffic) which was not forthcoming. However, Qantas flies full from Bombay to Australia three times a week. What was the logic in denying the rights to fly to Melbourne?
The Bombay-Dubai route is a heavy load route. Now Air-India operates only two Airbus A321 flights a day on this sector, the aircraft seats just about 170 passengers. But on the other hand Emirates operates 5 flights a day on the same sector with Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s - both have a capacity of about 300 seats each. That makes the Emirates inventory on the route about 1500 as against Air-India's 340 odd. Even Jet Airways has 3 daily seats on this sector - a total inventory of about 450 seats. Clearly Emirates is milking the market, but Air-India cannot operate any more flights. Does anyone ask why?
Other routes tell the same story. Air-India pioneered the Bombay - Johannesburg route in the mid-1990s. By the end of the 1990s they exited citing commercial reasons - poor load factors or what ever. But now, South African Airways and Jet Airways flourish on this route - Jet has daily flights while South African flies 4 times a week, both have decent load factors. The same story holds true for the Bombay - Tel Aviv route, where Air-India withdrew completely but El-Al flies full, thrice a week on the same route. Air-India pulled out of the Bombay-Nairobi route recently, but Kenya Airways flies daily on this route.
Now Nairobi, like Johannesburg and Addis Ababa is a gateway to Africa, which has a large Indian expatriate community as well a diaspora. There has to be a good traffic, that's logic, that can be seen at Bombay's airport, but that is something that Air-India fails to see or is unable to do anything about.
Business - technology and defence and tourism between India and Israel is booming. So why can Air-India not fly to Tel-Aviv. Has anyone asked why Air-India cannot fly to San Francisco (IT traffic) or Turkey / Switzerland / Mauritius (tourists) or Antwerp (diamond trade)? I don't think so.
The business opportunity is there (India being a growing market, increasing globalisation, etc.), but is ignored, while other airlines make money.
That is evident when Air-India's marketshare of outbound traffic slipped to a lowly 4th or 5th position.
Then they say Air-India is not profitable, cannot make money and therefore should not expand. Today there are question marks on the Boeing 787 deal - are the aircraft really required?
How can you run an airline without a new fleet and without a motivated staff? You cannot.
Well if you ask me, the airline, which has a magnificent brand, is being killed. Not only is it allowed to operate on profitable routes, but rights on those routes are ceded to other carriers. Then, the airline is not allowed to renew its fleet - in today's market, a newer fleet gives an airline efficiencies as well as a chance to offer the passenger a better experience.
And the last nail in the coffin would be the denial of entry into Star Alliance - most likely Jet Airways will take Air-India's place there.
If anyone has to be blamed, it is the government for letting a national identity wither away. Long live the Maharaja, the Maharaja is dead!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Femme Fatale Came Calling!

"A femme fatale is a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly archetype of literature and art. Her ability to entrance and hypnotize her victim with a spell .... seen as being literally supernatural...having a power akin to an enchantress, vampire, witch, or demon.....phrase is French for "deadly woman"..... tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure."
(Source: Wikipedia)

Just as we in Bombay were kind of coming to terms with the volley of attacks orchestrated by our ridiculous neighbour, the Femme Fetale, Hina Rabbani Khar, came calling on India.
Now that is quite hard sounding name for a particularly svelte lady. The name rather sounds like a battery of nuclear tipped missiles imported by Pakistan from North Korea, clandestinely, and passed off as their own.
But quite frankly, the Rabbani lady was quite a missile that the Pakistani government had unleashed upon India! And it worked - the naive Indian media was simply swooning over her, her looks, her locks, her pearls, her shades, her Birkins and what not - I would not tread any further on that!
We forgot, simply forgot, about our blood that these bloodsuckers had sucked over the years and more recently two weeks back! We forgot about our vows to put to justice, the perpetrators of terror that Rabbani Khar's country shelters!
It is indeed ironic that a country which goes about begging for sustenance has a foreign minister who shamelessly carries around Hermès Birkins of over USD 10,000 and pays just 7000 units of taxes in the worthless Pakistani currency.
But what does that Khar lady seek to achieve in India? Get our geriatrics go weak in their pants, while thousands of Mukhtar Mais are gangraped in her own country?
Principally there is no point in talking to Pakistan, more so when we have such pathetic distractions for our media!
I quite liked the idea that someone on Twitter had - the only way to counter the Khar lady is to have Emran Hashmi as our foreign minister! (Emran is the serial kisser of Bollywood!)
But I have even more interesting scenarios - keep guessing what wold happen if Hina were to visit Berlosconi's Italy? Or for that matter meet Bill Clinton in a blue dress, just like Monica Lewinsky! Wonder how her countrymen would react to all this? How many fatwas would she unleash?
But for now, its "Mission Accomplished" in India, in classic Femme Fatale style! We have coolly forgotten about all this pain this blood sucking mosquito of a country has inflicted upon us and have been distracted by her! Such a stupor can be fatal for us!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

In Praise Of The Humble Khichdi!

Sometimes simple things in life give you a lot of pleasure.
After a full two days of binging on spicy or heavy or meaty meals (English breakfasts included), typically Sunday evenings are earmarked for savoring simple delights.
As Sunday evenings approach, the binge of the last two days makes me crave for a simple delight, a comfort food that gives instant joy. Khichdi is one of such Sunday evening delights that I can relish even on a regular basis if it's made well.
Traditionally Khichdi is made of yellow skinned, split Moong Dal and rice dish cooked to heavenly perfection in a mushy consistency. Because of its lightness, in North India, Khichdi is considered to be an ideal wholesome meal for convalescing patients.
Even though I am technically "not unwell", Khichdi helps me recover from the excesses and get ready for the week ahead!
Having a nice warm mushy Khichdi is as delightful as having the best of meals anywhere. The ideal Khichdi, for me, is the one cooked with yellow Moong and pink Masoor dal, alongwith chopped tomatoes and them tempered with hing (asafoetida), jeera (cumin seeds), whole red chillies and coriander and red chilly powder. The meal is complemented with a dish of aloo sabzi - potatoes stir fried in sarson (mustard seeds), mango pickle and a bowl of curd. That brings the weekend to a satisfying end!
Khichdi is especially enjoyable on days when its cool and when its raining - the weather somehow brings out the aromas and taste making it even more satisfying to the senses, the mind and the soul.
Khichdi is such a versatile food that can be modified in many many ways. I recall visiting a tiny little eatery in one of the narrow alleyways of Girgaum in Bombay, called Khichdi Samrat, with my friend, Abodh, and my sister Neelima, way back in 2005. Khichdi Samrat caters to the Gujarati bens and bhais of the area. There were an amazing 70-80 varieties of Khichdis on the menu, some with vegetables, and wide array of lentils.
And that was the turning point. We carried back those very ideas from Khichdi Samrat to our little kitchen for our Sunday evenings. Our innovations married Khichdis to vegetables - the favorites being the ones with whole moong dal and spinach or fenugreek (Methi). That was a roaring success, as Neeti became an instant convert to Khichdism immediately after our marriage.
I can go on and on with my paens in praise of the humble Khichdis, but right now, I must end, because the intoxicating aroma of the humble Khichdi is in the air and I can't resist anymore!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Is that right, Mr. Tata?

The Retail Association of India (RAI) had recently come out with a notification to implement the Indian Government's initiative to curb the usage of plastic bags in retail. These changes were rolled out in the megapolis of Bombay this week. Buyers are now required pay Rs. 3 to Rs. 7 for taking plastic bags from stores in the city.
Yesterday I happened to visit the Croma store at Juhu knowing fully well that Croma had been handing out eco-friendly paper bags. So I decided not to carry bags alongwith me - yes, I would not be charged for paper bags - the Government notification being implemented by RAI is only for paper bags not the plastic ones.
Now Croma has an impressive lineage - it has been promoted by the much loved and revered House of Tatas - an Indian business group that is well known for its ethics and a principled approach to business. For years I had always looked up to the House, and Mr. Ratan Tata, their Chairman, in awe and admiration for their innate capability to stand up for what is right and what should be.
I was searching for some add-ons for my computer at the store. I picked up some stuff, the bill ran into a respectable amount - a couple of thousands.
I got into the queue. There was a couple ahead of me who had picked up a laptop and some accessories. Their bill was about Rs. 20,000. The cashier refused to give them a paper bag, instead asked them for a charge of Rs. 7 for a paper bag. This led to an argument between the cashier and the couple - don't the people who spend a decent amount of money have a right to an eco-friendly paper bag to respectably carry their stuff? I butted in in support of the couple to no avail. The couple relented and agreed to take their stuff without carry bags. In the course of the argument, the cashier did mention that there had been at least 20 irate customers who lodged complaints with the store manager, Mr. DJ (I am using the manager's initials to protect his identity) during the course of the day.
When my turn came, I demanded to meet Mr. DJ. My logic was that plastic bags were to be charged not paper bags. Croma had anyways been giving paper bags for over 2 years now and there was no reason to charge for that. The RAI notification prominently displayed at the store did mention that plastic bags were to be charged. If do spend a couple of thousands, I would not mind spending Rs. 7 on a plastic bag, but Rs. 7 for a platic bag is a rip-off and is in contravention of the norms.
After a while, Mr. DJ came to the counter. He looked reasonable and educated, but was utterly disappointed on how he had interpreted the RAI notification. Mr. DJ was stubborn to the point that he even refused to see the logic and spirit of the RAI notification.
I would like to ask Mr. Ratan Tata whether Croma is looking to juice out profitability from the sale of "paper bags" when actually they are going against the letter and spirit of the RAI initiative on plastic. In case it is Mr. DJ's narrow interpretation, I am prepared to accept the argument, however, if that's the Tata management's call, then God save them. And I will be genuinely concerned as a long-standing admirer of the House, and, as a shareholder as well!
In all, this was a lousy experience at Croma, Juhu!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Dreamliner Comes Calling!

Hey, I am not talking about our car, which we had nicknamed the Dreamliner!
I am talking about Boeing's new airliner, the 787 Dreamliner, which is touted to be the world's first major airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction.
The Dreamliner came calling here in India at New Delhi's T3, in the colours of ANA - All Nippon Airways, which is supposed to be the launch customer of the 787. The moment we all waited for was here - the Dreamliner was welcomed by the classic water cannon shower, a tradition which is religiously followed in commercial aviation!

The Dreamliner represents the newer philosophy in air travel that bigger is not necessarily better. Dwindling orders for the ultra large long haul carriers forced Boeing to look at newer cost efficient fuselages. The airline business suffered a setback after the New York attacks of September 2001, which further reduced the appetite for large capacity aircraft and airlines the world over started focusing on shedding weight.
But at the same time, when EADS controlled Airbus Industie was already in the midst of developing the Airbus A380. the crisis in the aviation industry struck, they chose to hedge their strategies with the development of the A350. It remains to be seen as how the competition in this segment shapes up as the A350 is still being developed.
The 787 Dreamliner is expected to join the ANA fleet by September or October this year. It is also expected to join Air India's fleet by the end of this calendar year, the second airline to have them. Air India's first two 787s are at advanced stages of completion at Boeing's Everett facilities and photographs of these jets in Air India's stylish livery have found their way on the internet - Flight Global's blogs actually carry the pictures of the first Air India 787, which has been registered as VT-ANA - any connection with ANA, I wonder. Jet Airways is also expected to induct the 787 Dreamliner sometime thereafter.

The 787 Dreamliner promises to be a different experience. The engineering and design of the 787 Dreamliners is kind of unconventional - the aircraft uses composite materials in fabrication of the fuselage, making way for lower fuel consumption by as much as 20%. The aircraft has a four-panel windshield, the engine nacelles are serrated to reduce noise (something that the Boeing 747-8i also features these) and an unconventional smoother nose contour. The nose contour is something that is something not easy to get used to, but slowly grows over you!
The interior mock-ups have built up a lot of excitement on what the final product would have - larger windows, LED mood lighting etc.
There is a lot of excitement that has been built up around the 787 Dreamliner as it does its rounds of demonstration flights around the globe. And it touched down at Delhi from Tokyo's Narita. It was scheduled to fly in to Bombay from Delhi, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the new beauty here. But sadly, the 787 Dreamliner flew back to Seattle directly from Delhi, as Bombay faced a high security alert following terror attacks.
My wait for the 787 Dreamliner seems to be a bit longer and hope I get to fly on them soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

For Everything Else There Is A MasterCard!

I had been thinking about this for a while now, how little, inexpensive things give us endless joy, somethings that even money can't buy!
This one tops my list! Think of getting up from deep sleep on an early hour in the morning, and you start planning for the day ahead, dreading the traffic to work and all. And then in a flash, you realise it's a Sunday morning. You can snooze off for a couple of hours at least. The realisation that it's a Sunday is priceless, no amount of money can buy you that kind of joy!
There is nothing that matches a cool lemonade on hot summer day - no cocktail, no fizzy drink can beat that taste.
There is nothing that matches the aroma of warm, freshly baked bread with butter and a warm cup of tea. That magical aroma will always be etched in my mind.
No gourmet chef can match a fresh warm puffed chapatti with a bowl of steaming tadka daal - I guarantee that this simple fare will tempt you to overeat!
There is nothing that matches the smell of the soil when it rains and nothing matches the joy of getting drenched in a cool downpour, providing you have hot ginger tea and pakodas waiting for you at home!
As I ran these little joys past Neeti, she rightly said, "For everything else there is a MasterCard!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Law of the Garbage Truck‏

A close family member sent this interesting email to me, which in a few sentences contains the basic lessons of life. Read on:
One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches!
The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. He was really friendly and smiling. So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!'
He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you.
Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.
Successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day. Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it!
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