How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Name:
Location: India

Monday, January 30, 2006

'Rang de Basanti'

I watched this much-awaited and much-commented-upon film yesterday with the gang at Novelty theatre, Aliganj. Although much of the story was known to me thanks to a front-page story in the Times of India, I found the film to convey something more than can be captured in a telling of the story. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (who belongs to, what I have termed, the 'YACS Club' - Yet Another Curious Spelling, that is thriving in the entertainment industry these days), it conveys effectively the indecision in the minds of youth today, who, despite realizing that there is a need to do something to combat India's current problems, are not really sure of how to go about the task. This essence of the film is described well in this review by one of my batchmates.

Some of the more prominent issues in India today are lined up in the film - the moral police, communal hatred and distrust, politician-industrialist nexus, the irresponsible and callous politician, police atrocities. Urban youth, as represented by Aamir Khan (D.J. or Daljeet) and his gang, are shown to be cynical in their assessment of this country's prospects. That is, until a Britisher, ironically, inspires in them a sense of the value of the freedom that India got. Alice Patten (Sue) comes to India to shoot a documentary on Chandrashekhar Azad and other revolutionaries and casts this unruly group of friends in her film.

The device used to show the gradual transformation of the group into serious, thinking individuals is this: their actions, following an incident which brings them face to face with harsh reality, mirror those of their characters in the film. The path they choose to come to terms with the reality and to 'set things right' is one of violence, though the ending of the film is such as to preclude the conclusion that this is the only means left to solve our problems. It is this non-preachy nature of the film that actually makes it more effective by urging the viewer to think for himself/herself.

The performances are all very good, including that of Alice Patten (who does indeed speak nice Hindi). Aamir Khan, though not quite successful at looking young, infuses energy into his character of DJ, totally carefree initially and the angry young man later. Kunal Kapoor's performance as Aslam and Atul Kulkarni's as Laxman Pandey are essayed well. I am beginning to really like Atul Kulkarni's performances. Even Soha Ali Khan Pataudi (who resembles Tiger quite a lot, in some shots) impresses in the role of an optimistic young woman. Waheeda Rehman, as Madhavan's mother, does not have a major role, but carries it off with the dignity of an armed-forces-wife and mother.

A. R. Rahman's music is in keeping with the nature of the main characters and with the situations, and must be one of his most varied scores, though it is not really my favourite. Adman Prasoon Joshi's lyrics are quite remarkable, and it is clearly an inspired effort. A good description and review of the music can be found on J. Ramanand's blog here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

'Men, Ideas & Politics' - II

Two very good essays emerge from Drucker's own experience with Japan and the Japanese. In 'Japan Tries for a Second Miracle', Drucker outlines the astonishing economic progress Japan made in the decade since 1952, and attributes it to five things: new investments, creating a mass market for goods, advances in agriculture, in education, and in health. He outlines the new challenges for Japan - creating new markets in Europe, and in return, opening up their domestic market to foreign competition for the first time; solving the problem of Japan's high-cost economy; problems caused by such practices as lifetime employment; and, the need for able political leadership.

Eight years later (in 1971), Drucker wrote 'What We can Learn from Japanese Management', very lucidly outlining three traits of Japanese management that made Japanese business so effective - the importance of consensus, not so much in making a decision, as in actually understanding a problem and the need for a decision; the practice of lifetime employment and how it harmonizes job security with flexibility in labour cost; the Japanese mentorship tradition in organizations and how that results in developing able leaders for the future.

Drucker includes two obituaries in the collection. The first is that of Henry Ford, who he credits with bringing together isolated ideas of the 19th century to evolve the technique of mass production, thereby solving a lot of the problems associated with typical capitalist society of the 19th century which led to the birth of Marxism. Mass production, Drucker says, was not just a production technique, it was a technique of social organization. It gave birth to its own problems, during Ford's lifetime - no worker having skills to produce something entirely on his own, etc.

The second obituary is that of John Maynard Keynes. Like Ford, Keynes is also seen as a great man in his field (economics) who saw the grand success of his theories but also the failure of his economic policies during his lifetime. Keynes' introduction of the idea of money itself being an important psychological factor in man's economic decisions (and not just the economically rational factors of supply & demand) was revolutionary. It helped explain the phenomena of depression and unemployment, at a time when it was most required. At the same time, the economic policies he devised for Britain, and later, proposed for the international economy, betrayed the fact that his political belief was still that of the classical economist - a laissez faire economy with government doing only some slight nudging and pushing, and even that on the basis of purely economic indicators and not political factors. The failure of such policies was immediately visible in America's New Deal.

'Men, Ideas & Politics' - I

This is the first complete book by Peter Drucker (Basic Books, 1971) that I read recently. It is indeed quite strange that one can go through an entire B-school curriculum without encountering Drucker's writing anywhere. Reading this collection of essays, I also felt that Drucker was the only eminent thinker on management to have knowledge and interests much vaster than this field. Consequently, he could make sense of and understand the significance of things others would ignore, as far as management thought goes.

This is a collection of essays written at various times, but all revolving around the theme of 'social ecology', as Drucker called it. It refers to the interaction of economic, political and social thought and action. I will touch upon some of the essays here.

In 'The New Markets and the New Entrepreneurs', Drucker does what he was considered great at - prediction. It consists of insightful observations about the next age of markets and consumers, the new workforce (for which he uses the term 'knowledge workers', which he
coined), the age of the multinational company, etc.

'The Unfashionable Kierkegaard' is on a totally different wicket. It's about the philosophy of the 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard - that man's existence is one of constant tension between his individuality and his citizenship in society. It is therefore fundamentally different from Marx's, Rousseau's and Hegel's ideas of man's existence having meaning only through society. It is the fact of death which makes Kierkegaard's ideas more believable, for in death man is ultimately on his own. The philosophy envisions man's existence as essentially tragic, but Kierkegaard proposed faith as the means to overcome the despair resulting from the tension of existence.

In 'Calhoun's Pluralism', Drucker outlines how the American government at the Federal level works. He asserts that American democracy functions in a unique way - through allocating work on all important issues to various Committees and Sub-Committees of the Congress. Each
Committee actually represents a special interest group, and thus the allocation of work to different Committees itself gives an indication of what kind of legislation might appear. Thus, the US is governed by the principle of 'sectional and interest compromise', rather than a clash of different ideologies. It is the kind of pluralism that the 19th-century thinker John Calhoun first wrote about.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Manfest - IV

Talk by Mr. Ashok Desai

On the 22nd, I attended an impromptu talk by Mr. Ashok Desai. He is a person who speaks his mind, and clearly expressed his irritation with the way the previous day's panel discussion had gone. Whatever he wanted to say at the discussion, he would say now, he stated. It was only a 40-minute session, but Mr. Desai put forth certain ideas related to India's position in the world.

The two main ideas that came out from his talk were: one, that corporate India's earnings growth over the last several quarters has been helped a lot by India's favourable forex reserve position and low interest rates, besides increase in internal efficiency of enterprises; two, that India should allow Bangladeshis free entry and exit into and from India, arguing that their contribution to India's GDP would be more than the cost to the country of maintaining them, and of the cost of keeping them out. Dwelling on the first idea, he predicted that this high earnings growth pattern would slow down some time in the next financial year itself. It was a little difficult to agree with his second view. He argued that the Bangladeshis who came to India would go to places where jobs were available (like Mumbai and Gujarat) and do something, anything. Mr. Desai said he did not believe that there was a labour surplus in India, as everyone was involved in some kind of work (even if it was vending peanuts) to make a living. He did not consider the social cost of even more people emigrating to already overcrowded cities, competing with Indian people, and creating social tensions thereby.

Finance panel discussion

A panel discussion on the Indian financial markets went much better than the earlier discussion, but that too, was only because of the first two panelists mentioned below: Mr. Arun Kejriwal, equity market analyst and founder of KRIS, who also moderated the discussion (incidentally, his son is our batchmate here); Mr. Harihar, from the Derivatives unit of Karvy Stockbroking; Mr. C. V. Rao, a senior executive with SIDBI; Mr V. K. Garg, CMD of Power Finance Corporation; and Dr. M. Ravi Sundar, V-P of Morgan Stanley India, and till recently, professor of finance at IIML.

The first two panelists fielded most of the questions on the Indian equity markets, like: the regulatory setup and how it compared with the rest of the world; the valuations in the markets today; whether the current bull run is sustainable; whether and when global liquidity might stop flooding India; the trend in specific sectors like sugar, etc. They answered the questions very crisply and made their position as clear as possible. As for the other panelists, their contribution was not substantial.

Performance by Naveen Prabhakar

Naveen Prabhakar is a stand-up comedy artiste who has appeared in the TV show 'The Great Indian Laughter Challenge'. His hour-long performance was quite amusing. His jokes were pretty crude actually, but I liked his mimicry skills. The highlight of his performance was the way he produced the sounds of the ankle ornaments: the paayal and the paazeb.

What I missed

Apart from attending or participating in all the events mentioned above, I also missed a few. I missed the opening ceremony with a talk by Mr. Ishaat Hussain, finance director of Tata Sons. I also missed, though deliberately, a talk on the Indian retail sector by Mr. Arvind Singhal, MD of KSA Technopak. Due to a clash with the Business Quiz prelims, I could not watch the stage play. I could not attend a talk on trading and investment in equities delivered by Mr. Harihar of Karvy, which was crisp and informative. I gave the performance by the rock band Parikrama a miss. And I also missed the party which began in the wee hours of the morning of the 22nd, and which people say they enjoyed a lot.

Manfest - III

Theme panel discussion

The theme of Manfest this year is "India: Global Torchbearers" and there was a panel discussion on this theme. The panel comprised of eminent people: Mr. Ashok Desai, currently consulting editor with The Telegraph, and earlier with Business Standard; Mr. P. Mohammed Ali, eminent NRI (or Pravasi Bharatiya) from Oman; Mr. C. R. Prasad, former Chairman of GAIL; and Ms. Shelby Quast, a visiting professor at IIML in the field of International Law and Business Transactions. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Chetan Sharma of NDTV. The panel discussion on Corporate Social Responsibility last year had set high standards and this year's discussion failed quite miserably to live up to those standards.

The problems were basic: one of the speakers had prepared a speech on India's energy needs and natural gas as the fuel of the century (which was great except that the connection to the topic was not absolutely clear; plus, it was a presentation, and there was no discussion). Another speaker spoke for quite a lot of time without really answering the questions posed by the moderator. After half an hour, the discussion was going nowhere, and I had to take the extreme step of walking out.

Session with Mr. Sunil Handa

We had an interactive session with serial entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneurship at IIMA, Mr. Sunil Handa. The session was totally free-form, as Mr. Handa, after a brief introduction to the course he teaches at IIMA (one of the most popular on campus) and the methodology he adopts (one-to-one interaction, no case studies), settled into a question-and-answer format. The attendees' questions relating to entrepreneurship were answered by Mr. Handa in a typical style which was at once entertaining and inspiring. Mixing Hindi and English freely, Mr. Handa gave his views: why it was not essential (or even desirable) to pursue a job for a few years before starting up one's own venture; how an entrepreneur had to have the ability to cope with failure, move on and identify new opportunities; the importance of negotiation, cost-cutting, and continuous improvement capabilities; the importance of honesty in the long run, etc. It was a relatively short session, so he could not deal in depth with questions like how to identify opportunities; how to select an opportunity from among several alternatives available, etc. On the whole, it erred a bit on the side of exuberance, but then, in a short session and talking in general on the subject, I suppose the job that could best be done was one of inspiration than delving into the nitty-gritties.

Musical performance by KK

The main attraction on the evening of the 21st was a musical performance by the playback singer and artiste KK and his troupe. I like this man's voice. It is fairly versatile, has a good bass, and is able to scale a fair range of pitches. As he performed one song after another, I realized that he now has a sizable number of hit movie songs to his credit. His performance was received quite well by people and it was clear from his face that he was happy with the response he got, although he did seem a bit tired near the end.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Manfest - II

Stage play

Last year's stage play based on Vijay Tendulkar's 'Shaantataa, Court chalu aahe' was memorable. This year's play, again directed by Ms. Neelam Gupta of the NSD, and enacted by IIML students, was based on a comedy by the great French satirist Moliere. Its title in Hindi was 'Bichhchhoo'. Unfortunately, I could only watch the final 20 minutes of the play because of the (fruitless) time spent on the second round of the Business Quiz. So it's not quite right for me to pass judgment on the whole play, but somehow, I did not find it quite that good this year. As the director said after the play, comedy is not easy even for professional actors, and these amateurs were overacting, it seemed to me. This is not to say that they did not put in effort. The story too, did not seem to carry much import or make any biting comments on society, something that makes satire so insightful and enjoyable.

Sporting lessons

It was a pleasure and an honour to listen to two of India's best sportsmen in their respective fields - Geet Sethi and Lt. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Incidentally, both their sports (billiards and shooting) involve the crucial faculty of mental concentration, and they both dwelled on similar themes of achieving success or excelling through emphasis on concentration and on the process of performing. What they said applied more or less to most non-sporting careers as well.

Geet Sethi emphasised the point that your lifestyle determines your ability to concentrate, giving the example of the lifestyles of himself and of Prakash Padukone when in their prime. To him, excellence in an area of interest, or a job well done, was 'success', and to achieve it, one might have to go to the extremes of austere lifestyle. Concentration, consistency, and co-operation or humility, were the three virtues of the sportsperson (and indeed apply to other fields of endeavour). He also dwelled on what he called the 'sweet spot' - something which gives immense satisfaction when achieved. The frequency of hitting the 'sweet spots' increased with one's ability to become more single-minded. He reserved a few chosen words for the mobile phone, which he believed was a curse to mental concentration. He also touched upon stress, whose cause he defined simply as the tendency of the mind to wander into the past or the future instead of carrying out the present task as well as one could. Setting tight deadlines led to increased stress primarily because the mind would then tend to have one eye constantly on the future, decreasing the total concentration over the task at hand. He spoke forcefully and put across his point quite well.

Lt. Col. Rathore too, dwelt on success as being a very personal thing. Pursuing success as defined by others or by society, would not be much different from chasing a mirage. Single-minded effort on the present task was again emphasised. He said he had an 'I CAN' (Improvement which is Constant And Never-ending) philosophy. He derived his inspiration from certain individuals as well as through books. The important point he put forth, and which I liked, was that of a personal value system and the importance of means. As much as ends are important, means are equally so, and so personal ethics were all-important.

Manfest - I

As I had said in my last post, the last three days (including today) have given me some good material to write about, as IIML's annual management fest - Manfest - was held. Besides some thought-provoking talks and panel discussions and some entertainment, this Manfest has also enriched me monetarily :).

Capital gains

I took part in two quizzes and two other competitions, and won quite a lot of money. In the Business Quiz, conducted by Gautam Bhimani, the man from ESPN-Star Sports, our team consisting of Samrat and I did not qualify for the finals. However, we won the General Quiz conducted by one of our alumni of the 2004 batch - Gaurav Sabnis (he maintains a very popular blog here). In another contest billed the 'Battle of B-schools' - a team game consisting of solving a series of puzzles, etc. - we again did not qualify for the final round. And finally, in the well-known Beer Game - a game on supply chain and the so-called 'bullwhip effect' - we won and collected a handsome amount.

Quizzes

I'll dwell on the quizzes first. Last year, the Business Quiz was a hit with the general audience because of its entertaining character, while the General Quiz could not have been worse. This year, it was the opposite, at least for me. Gautam Bhimani may have given it his best effort, but it failed to make the quiz very interesting. In fact, it resembled the well-known 'Brand Equity quiz' more than a business quiz. Most questions were of the fact-based, you-either-know-it-or-you-don't variety. There were a few good questions thrown in, to be sure, but they were too few. Advertising, marketing, brands and sports dominated the quiz. To be frank, I had set a much better business quiz last year in the inter-hostel event called Tansen. I don't understand why connects and other more exotic formats generally used in quizzes are hardly ever used by these professional quizmasters. Business history and business environment are very fascinating subjects, and they deserve a better deal. No team from IIML made it to the finals, which decreased the popular interest in the quiz somewhat.

The General Quiz more than lived up to expectations. Gaurav Sabnis had set up a very enjoyable quiz, spanning a wide variety of areas, with intelligently set up connects. These were the best couple of hours of quizzing I have had in a long time. The contest was also close between our team and another IIML team which eventually came second, so the quiz was alive till the last round. We were both in good form, so winning gave added satisfaction.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A 'place' in the sun

This ten-day long break is the longest that I have taken on this blog. The reasons are twofold and apparently contradictory (but not really so): nothing much is happening, and the lateral placements process (for which I am eligible) are going on. So something is happening - people are getting jobs, daily talk is dominated by who has got an offer from which company, whether he/she will accept it or not, and the merits and demerits of his/her decision. Yet this is not too different from the routine that placements in B-schools in India go through, so there is nothing extraordinary to report. I had applied selectively to only a few companies, and have so far failed to make any headway. So in the words of lyricist Shailendra (writing for the film 'Naukri'): 'ek chhoTii sii naukarii kaa talabagaar huu.N mai.n' :). Of course, students here don't desire a 'chhoTii sii naukarii' (expectations of IIM students being quite high and all that), so bargaining over pay and profiles is very common.

As IIML's annual management festival - 'Manfest' - approaches, there is hope of getting a lot of material to write about, as there are a lot of good speakers coming down to campus.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sportsline

The last week has seen little activity except in sports. The inter-section sports tournament consisting of table-tennis, badminton, volleyball, cricket, basketball and football has been keenly contested. Although the situation is that, with football yet to be played, the positions of the four sections have already been established, each game was played with a competitive mindset. Our section has not done badly at all, emerging second through the tournament. Every day, a couple of hours after dinner were devoted to watching some or the other match. The cold did not deter the players from staging some exciting contests. As always, I enjoyed watching, and, for a very brief while, playing, volleyball. The most keenly contested final was definitely the 5-set volleyball final. All in all, a good diversion towards the end of the course.