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Wordsmith Business : Service, Product, Brand, Obvious, Semantic Channeling

A business, any business, of any time of any type has five steps upwards in terms of perception.  Very few businesses can reach the 5th stage : noun inversion and most are limited within Service-Product-Brand steps.

Service : Perishable, directed by client, input, process and outcome more or less pre-determined and determinable. Highly price sensitive. This kind of business is generally not very much missed when ceases because very quickly, from the horde the vacuum is filled in. Representative example : Indian Call Centre Business.

Product : There are two types of products : Chinese and non-Chinese. Most of the Chinese products are not exactly products, they are a philosophical statement of sorts and we shall keep them out of our discussion of products. By philosophical statement, I mean they are anti-products just like most of the modern art is anti-art. A product is distinguished from service by two crucial parameters – a) it is not perishable like service and has avenues to create non-transactional revenue b) a true product carries something spiritual of the maker. Representative example : Swiss watch, Japanese electronics, Certain street food of Calcutta.

Brand : A brand means an idea and hence it transcends service / product divide. A brand, is a brand, is a brand of what is inone’s mind. It is a Platonic Idea and users see shadow of anything the brand wants to show them. At least a large amount of users.  Since brand is guided more by the laws of the Platonic world, it increasingly detaches itself from tangibles and measurable but talks  more of emotion, feeling and experience. Major brands of the world. Starbucks : does say little about coffee but more of experience and ambiance and feeling.

Obvious : A brand reaches this point – a more rarefied place and here nature of the market is important. In liberalization India, Ambassador and later Maruti were obvious categories for cars not because these were obvious but there were no other references. Gulliver was a giant not because he was a giant but he was in a certain environment where people’s maximum height was like our finger. But for those “finger people”, Gulliver being a giant was nothing less than obvious. In free market (or at least in professed ones), to achieve the status of Obvious is very rare and unstable. For a brief period, Samsung became obvious with “smartphone”. But unfortunately, it’s journey coincided with something that inverted noun – verba magistri – Apple.

Noun Inversion or Semantic Channeling : In India, a company that had achieved this status and remained for a significant amount of time was Godrej, I mean the almirah. I do not immediately remember any other brand of India causing this phenomenon. Did you cherry blossom your shoe today ? was a grand slogan but the product was not having that pull. It happened again in Smartphone war where Nokia collapsed, Samsung rose and then at a certain point, an intelligent smartphone was I-phone. It was the phone that was beyond smart – intelligent or I-ness projected into it. Apple, very shrewdly and avoiding many temptations (billions, at least in India) created the aura around it – you cannot get it in a store near you, at least when it was in its formative years. Presently, of course the story is very different. Somebody might argue that Google also did impact syntax and vocabulary but Google was/is a dependable butler or a amiable uncle or a servant on 24/7 duty without any cost (apparently) but no one could talk of design calligraphy or  Greek statement on pure geometry about Google which was talked, and rightfully so about I-phone when it was born.

End-note : May I remind again that this classification is based on perception. I may  also remind that perception is heavily influenced by something which has no utility – Beauty.

Wordsmith Reflection : Creativity and Business

Creativity – What ?

Is creativity something like oil and water ? Many people will emphatically say – Yes. It is highly likely that this same group, while asked what is creativity will provide a fluid definition, i.e. will beg more terms to be defined. Or there will be lots of vagueness.

Once upon a time, artists used to have patrons (king, pope, rich men and so on) and they need not bother about business in any form or shape. The situation started changing as early as the Renaissance and reached its zenith in our increasingly democratic age where define democratic age as : where one needs increasing co-operation and support from his fellow members of the society. Thus, premiers and statesmen, billionaires and millionaire businessmen seek social validation, i.e. the fluid affirmation of fellow citizens – national or global, as the case may be.

Business wants to be creative… Why ?

Once upon a time, business was happy to be doing business and leaving creativity to artists and poets. Things were quite polarized and clear. But then creative accounting happened. Since behind all great fortune, there is a crime, the great fortune of an idea, that is, it is not enough for a business to deliver product and services but deliver an experience – a mix of feeling, emotion and as such which were once upon a time the domain of poets and artists. Look at food business – we no longer taste food but eat “edible masterpieces”. Look at coffee business : no one is satisfied anymore with good coffee but wants something in between “work and home”and hence Starbucks – so we are told. Bosses are no longer happy with employees doing their job ethically and efficiently but they must be “creative.”

I do not understand this or rather cannot grasp this. So, I have built a theory, under the “creative spell” and I present below.

Like conservation of mass and energy and in general the conversation principle of Physics, there is perhaps a Conservation Principle underlying creativity. This principle is this : Total Creativity of the world is constant. When Creativity in one area decreases, creativity in other area increases in such a manner that total is always the same.

Applying this principle, we can understand why contemporary art celebrates ugliness, and filth whereas mobile phone and car manufacturers  talk more of aesthetic design and aesthetics of user experience.

As a corollary, I have a less rigorous but empirically verifiable fact : people who are truly creative talk less about creativity and true greats are almost silent. They are busy perfecting their craft. On the reverse, mediocre, use “creativity” or rather sprinkle “creativity” like pepper, thinking that okay, all seasoned with creativity for all seasons.

 Creativity – a personal observation 

I think the creative state, if there is something, is a state of thoughtlessness for a very brief period of time. This is not something beyond our experience. Every orgasm offers a very brief period of thoughtlessness and I do not have knowledge of brain chemistry to back-up my claim but there is, surely some kind of “neural explosion” when all the vital forces are mobilized for some purpose. The purpose ?  I don’t know.

Creativity for a person, in his craft is those brief moments when after practice and consistent work (which is very very boring for most of the people) day in and day out, suddenly, without thinking, one crosses some boundary, the cup flows over – first it remains a personal discovery but then it becomes common discovery. Everyone appears to have liked to discover it.

Prescription for “Creativity” from Dr. Philo, Clinic de Philo 

Do not “think” about it.

Wordsmith Personal : Success, Stagnation, Self-discovery

This post is deliberately subjective and these three terms – “success”, “stagnation” and “self-discovery” are seen through a personal lens and I forewarn my readers, all personal lens distort, including the most-polished ones.

SUCCESS

At a certain point in my career, my business became successful. My business was essentially that of working with language (s) – translating from one to another. I started with a single language and later on collaborated with 3000+ freelancers worldwide and created a language company called Wordsmith Communication. In course of time, in a certain segment, we attained the topmost echelons in the world, in that segment. The journey was equivalent to a cook first making his/her name in his/her genre of cooking and then opening a restaurant , followed by a chain, while teaming up with other talented ones in other genre. I have realized quite recently that the Art of Translation and the Art of Cooking are essentially the same art and they overlap too.

Once the company became successful (as per the judgement of investors, accountants, clients and associates), I found myself to be like an “well oiled machine” working for my clients and investors and for various exacting quality standards. I was successful but at the same time, I was miserable, so much so that I wished, I had not succeeded at all ! Success like money has  trappings and unless one is conscious and cautious, the forces that made you succeed has no power to self-reference it.

STAGNATION

Stagnation born of success and not of laziness is corrosive and more damaging. At this stage, when I became aware, I had three ways to deal with it. First, to behave as if everything is fine and go on doing what I was doing, Second, to become ambitious and set goals and objectives and suggest myself that these goals are worth working for, Third, to dis-engage gracefully (my decision would affect many people’s work and livelihood) and set a loose plan to address the increasing misery within. I had observed, very ironically that the misery increased directly in proportion to revenue, clients, projects etc.

Self-Discovery

The first thing I did as a process of dis-engagement was to talk with some of my associate freelancers in an informal manner. They found this interesting and I found this cathartic. So, we helped each other. Thus, two institutions were born : Wordsmith University and Freelance Foundation.  I was a child to these new institutions and a freshness came while working for these institutions. There was no heaviness – there was no boundary because neither these were for a client, nor with “exacting standards” and definitely without any “agenda to succeed”.

However, I should confess something : all these would not happen without “success” in the first place. One must push, work hard, give one’s everything to be the lonely toppers in one’s field to realize the great irony of life : you only achieve something to understand that “you” – the inner you does not need that.

I am going to talk about this, in the final part of a 7-series webinar tomorrow at 2130 hours IST (1600 hours GMT) entitled : “Freelancer, Free Prometheus, Life-Designer”. The series is organized by Freelance Foundation and registration at https://www.thefreelancefoundation.org

Wordsmith Institution : Ramkrishna Mission & Viswa-Bharathi – Observations

Designing an Institution

Observing the evolution of great institutions reinstates our faith on human strength and human weakness. It also indicates how powerful is the force of time and how  institutions deal with this.

I submit some of my findings after studying this theme and then describe two institutions of Bengal as summary case studies. I had undertaken this study during my post-graduate years (that was spent more on developing my own business, which now provides me bread and butter and surplus time to write post like this, rather than studying how other people founded and ran their business as MBA students are doomed to study) in a more systematic manner and have taken liberal notes from that study.

I. Great institutions, founded by great men and women were aware of human frailty and risk of decay and deviation and they incorporated this in their design.

II. Great institutions are designed in such a way that leaders will be free to do great good but highly restricted to do great damage or mischief.

III. Great institutions are synthesis of oppositestheir irreconcilable aspect prevents deviation and uprooting through the tempests of time whereas flexibility provides adaptation.  

Two institutions with origin in Bengal

Belur, Calcutta is the worldwide HQ of Ramkrishna Mission, established some 120+ years back. Viswa-Bharathi, Bolpur was established some 100+ years back. The former was established by a renunciation monk, Swami Vivekananda and the latter was founded by a poet – Rabindranath Tagore. The former remained an autonomous institution and the later became, in course of time, a Central University, funded and supervised  by the Federal Government of India. Both the institutions were established three decades or more before Indian independence and founded by two very unique personalities the world has ever seen.

Ramakrishna Mission

As an institution, the endurance of the institution as a living one goes how the organization selects its future leadership. In short : the price of leadership is the price of one’s life. The supreme decision making body is composed of celibate monks. No one enters this life lightly. Any aspirant knows the price and the razor-edge path that lies ahead. On another note, it depended on and admitted to be controlled by something transcendental. Thus, extremely high price of entry (“price of dear life”) and non-dependence on any temporal entity by design made it possible to have a unbroken leadership value system and non-dependence ensured that it remained autonomous.

Viswa-Bharti, Bolpur

The greatest power of Biswa-Bharti becomes its greatest weakness as time has taught us. It was a very advanced piece of design for its time but as time progressed and the giants left the stage, the less luminous next generation became dependent, first in terms of economics and next, in terms of inspiration. Both were filled in by the Federal Government and after hundred years, it is a very advanced piece of design in an advanced state of decay, not while we talk of university shaped buildings and facilities, salaries and perks, teacher’s union and other unions, administrative frameworks, fairs and trades, tourists and heritage business but a place of decay, even in relative terms, while we talk of the founding spirit of the institution. One can debate how good or bad a Federal patronage and control is for an institution but one cannot debate the practical experience of all democracies : “the best credit card one can have is the credit card underwritten by the taxpayer.” Or what is owned by taxpayer in theory is not really owned by anyone at all !

Biswa-Bharti – What if ?

This is a imaginary design thinking. Suppose Biswa-Bharti  was designed with a charter like this :

We are an unique seat of learning in the world. We are seeking only those teachers who will not get any security of salary but will have a uniqueness that no other institution can provide. Security seekers, salary seekers, aram seekers,  employment seekers need not apply. We shall remain self-dependent and if the end result is poverty, so be it. We shall train our students in a way no other seat of learning teaches them – in all aspects. With the team of teacher and students, we shall create our own wealth – financial, mental and intellectual,  while remaining free yet adaptable to the demands of time. If we have the mental and physical potency to create a whole new world within world, we shall be surely able to become self-sustainable and prosperous by solving problems of fundamental nature of mankind. 

In short, I wish, Biswa-Bharti was designed to be place of Freelance Teachers of great potency. There would have been few but what’s the harm ?

“একোচন্দ্রতোমহন্তি ন চ তারাগণৈরপি”

(A single moon dispels the darkness of the night and not millions and millions of stars)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wordsmith Memory : Food, Feast, Bengali Marriage Reception

[ For last four months, corona virus and lock-down made sure that we did not attend any marriage reception dinner. Absence of something makes memory more vivid.]

Then and Now

Like everything, food in social events in Greater Bengal has undergone great change and variation. I think the same is true for all the parts in India. I shall restrict myself to the Greater Bengal area for two reasons, first, I was initiated into this kind of food since my annaprasanam and secondly for having direct field data for this region for a span of thirty years.

Here is a typical middle class marriage reception menu (1980s)  – generally served while seated and not a buffet or a la carte. The focus was on the taste of the food and less on presentation and if I am allowed to say, pretentiousness.

  • Radha-ballavi (Indian round shaped stuffed bread )
  • A dal or lentil curry
  • A fish fry and  vegetable fry (seasonal)
  • A vegetable curry
  • Alu dum (potato cooked in Middle Eastern style/seasonal)
  • A dish with fish’s head
  • Fish – Dish I
  • Fish – Dish II
  • Meat (not chicken but goat)
  • Flavoured rice /plain rice / pialu
  • Chutney
  • Sweet Curd
  • Assorted Sweets – legendary rasgolla / sandesh etc 
  • Chewing  leaf with sweets

Now :

Generally buffet with stalls of the following in order

a) phuchka b) coffee/tea c) sherbet and aerated drinks (non-alcoholic) d) salad with Russian salad for sure e) ice-cream f) pan

b) A vegetarian and non-vegetarian divide.  It is not surprising if soon we have diabetic and non-diabetic sections in a marriage reception in Calcutta. If someone has heard of it, let me know.

c) A selection of entrees or appetizers that sometimes have pasta and noodles – some innovators have started putting momo counters as well !

d) Main courses have names like – Fish Ajwain, Fish Amritsari, Fish Labrador, Lemon fish

e) More exotic names of the courses with core ingredients completely foreign to Bengal.

My order to a Reception Chef and his team while a customer or a Lead of a social event : 

In a few receptions (marriage and others) where I was in-charge, I call them and order them :

  • No dodgy innovation or pretense of fusion confusion. Fanatically traditional.
  • I have not invited these guests to have a taste of “seven wonders of the world” in miniature form – ref. Eco Park, Calcutta but to offer them healthy, handsome, authentic, fresh and wholesome local food. Fresh, Local, Tasty, Wholesome and cooked and offered with love, care and affection. Not with pretense, dubious innovation, fusion confusion and counterfeit synthesis and all the mischiefs masked by use of liberal amount of Indian spices.
  • I will be extremely happy if the guests say : “the food tasted like home” – so do not try to present a Bengali fish curry as Mexican or Meso-American fish curry. Remain loyal to the food and tradition.

Few theories (circumstantially proved) – to be tested more systematically by a team of Bengali food bloggers, culture theorists and historians 

  • Those who eat more of packed, frozen and factory food (non-fresh going under the name “fresh-frozen) lose the subtle sense of flavour and of smell. This is the same for a drunkard who cannot distinguish between subtle variation and shades of the taste and smell of wine, cognac, cider, ale, brandy, port, contreau, pastis, vermouth, beer and gin. The howl I hear about “Scotch, Scotch” and of “Chinese, Chinese” in some Bengali circles provide a strong circumstantial evidence of my theory.
  • Those who are exposed to low quality music have their inner composition destroyed and the only thing that now remains to distinguish is the loudness or the “hook.”  appeal. The inner organs of “hearing” and “feeling” subtler notes and complexity are lost forever.
  • Those whose best teachers in communication are Facebook, whats-app cannot appreciate finer art of communication. Thus their communication slowly becomes telegraphic and functional only. Since the cannot communicate deeper meaning of anything and soon cannot communicate any either and hence like the Pavlov’s dog, they see a forward button and in a conditioned reflex- click.
  • Fake Food, Fake Music, Fake Communication >> Fake News

Wordsmith History : A Brief History of Indian Telecom sector

[Disclaimer : I was a telecom-wallah from 1996 – 2004 in Indian Telecom sector, first in the Federal government monopoly and then briefly in the “competition” induced private sector (2002-2004) and now witnessing our entry into another “quasi-monopoly.” This post owes thanks to my colleague Mr. Naresh Kumar, a reader of this post and asked me to write a history of our good old days. I will, sometime in the future. I strongly recommend the history written by my very senior colleague in VSNL, Dr. CNN Nair entitled “Back to the Dots.” It was patronized strongly by the then Chairman of VSNL, Mr. BK Synghal and as per the French wisdom – “everything ends in a book”, this  will be remembered as the most-enduring legacy of Chairman Synghal’s administration. In an era of rapid change, the most valuable item remains, memory of the past. ]

The brief history of Indian Telecom industry will be described with focus on the people.   It will be chronologically told with “people centric” focus rather than “telecom” or “technology” or both. There are reasons of this approach as will be clear to the readers.

The Imperial Era and Telecom as a natural monopoly : Telegraph and Telephone were like Google and You-tube for British Imperial administration. These imperial administrators, unlike today’s administrators were not answerable to “native” Ministers and by implication to the next election cycle but to the doctrine of “white man’s burden” and to the “business of business”.  One of the side effects of this was exploration of India in a scale never done before and never after.

The Nationalization Era : After Independence, the practical affairs of running a nascent state but an ancient civilization fell onto the shoulders of the “activists and the revolutionaries” of the past. The network expanded – fueled by “Mother India dreams” and “business of administering the country”. Government also discovered that international telephone services, through tariff can be a great contributor to the exchequer. It was perhaps at that time, telecom services were considered a form of “luxury”, the reason I do not know.

The Poverty Politics Era : Twenty fiver years after independence, “poverty” took forefront – from our films to our every move, it was poverty – even those who were not poor talked and behaved under the “simulation” of poverty. It reached its climax in Bengal during communist rule where the word “সর্বহারা” was used liberally – by the man in the bustee to the man in the mansions of Elgin road. The owner of the villa and domestic workers – both sincerely worked for the cause of poverty and were member of the same political party. Telecom was considered “super-luxury” and foreign telephone calls were charged at a rate that by thinking of this brings tears to the eyes of the old telecom wallahs.

The Age of Telecom License : Competition.  New Telecom Licenses. Foreign Operators. Divestment. The only metaphor that comes to my mind is Indian kichdi (Bengali version) with everything poured in with a fair idea that something edible will eventually happen. This is the jugaad at its core. Foreign Telecom consultants having a field day.  A revenge perhaps on the spiritual consultants of India who had a field day in the West a decade and half back. This the true “Karma Cola” – Coca Cola made a re-entry in India. Cheaper connectivity from India to foreign lands became a great driver for Indian software export and South India’s destiny changed. The Eastern India, notably Bengal was creating “Standard Design Factory” which eventually became the seat of “Software Design Factory.”  Except poetry written by Government employee communists during free time with life and livelihood secured by the state and any disciplinary action for no work or misconduct protected by the unions, “সর্বহারা” is seldom heard.

The Mobile Era : Interconnection (i.e. how two networks terminate at a single point with one end of the state owned monopolies and other end of the new private operators with foreign partners, money and investment and consultants)   was the central issue politically, operationally and at the ground level. As private mobile players expanded aggressively, at a certain point when mobile to mobile was more than landline to landline or mobile to landline or landline to mobile. interconnection became irrelevant and it was the beginning of the end for legacy players whose major cost was sunk in underground copper cable. The “Missed Call” system of communication was invented and perfected and thus all foreign and native consultant’s power point of average revenue per user did the reverse of famous Indian snake charmer.

The Era of utter Confidence and utter Confusion : Mobile and Internet made the sector hot – hot enough to attract social attention. Ministries were set up, tax holidays, IT parks were built, many old bureaucrats were rubbing their eyes and getting trained as how to send an email and for the first time in India, possibly after the Gupta Empire, there was a “native confidence” that the country can be a super power. What super, what power, nobody knew pretty well. Old money mingled with New Money and in utter defiance to the dream of classless society, even in Communist Bengal, mobile numbers became a class-status.

The Meltdown : Telecom sector entered the phase of “competitive meltdown” – the  pendulum moved to one extreme – very soon it was observed that even the great Indian market of billions and billions (men and money) was not able to bear the weight of competition at such  a scale. Consolidation and Dying Out. Exits and policy makers were at a loss and Courts intervened aggressively seldom seen earlier. Liberty from the legislature and the executive ended with an iron-clad control by the Judiciary.

The Blue Whale mode of Monopoly : Once a dream of great telecom companies to be owning both the pipe and what goes inside (content) was re-born. The money from refining oil and from other avenues were marshaled and a new business model in Indian telecom was born where like Marx inverted Hegel’s theory, voice to data was inverted to “hook by data, catch by low cost and high speed, make voice a fundamental right of being free and always available.” I think this dream of controlling both pipe and content is a pipe-dream. Why ? Donkeys are not horses. Whales are not goldfishes.

If someone asks me to tell what is the future lies ahead for Indian telecom sector, my insincere answer is : quasi-monopoly with high chance of soft to hard regulator and policy capture. Later on, possibly revolt and breaking up – the Ma Bell like scenario.

My sincere answer, though is : consult an Indian astrologer. 🙂

Wordsmith Planning : Immunodeficiency and Business Owners in India

By immunodeficiency of business owners, I do not mean corona virus or any disease only but the shock, trials and sepsis in various forms that a business owner can encounter in his / her journey long or short journey.

I have observed and you might have also seen that many rich and affluent business families became borderline poor when the owner suddenly died. Or due to some internal issues, the owner reacted in such a way that the business collapsed – immovable property related feuds, lawsuit or anything that erupts without notice.A business owner has no pension as Government employees get. This is important.

For business owners of the present and those who will become business owners in India, I submit the following for their consideration, not for agreement or for any action.

If I die in next 15 mins, what happens to my family ? How secured are the cash flows ? How easy and secured are the assets ? How insured I am ? Have I kept a succession program in place, that will kick in ?  In short, after 15 mins from now when I have died in in the film I am playing in my mind, what is the maximum (least secured) and the minimum (most secured) cash flow my family gets per month ?

Many business owners in India are secretive – they do not trust anyone, possibly for good reasons. Thus very core business documentation is in the head of the owner and none knows. One has the technology to extract data from burnt hard disk but how can you extract data from dead man’s brain ?

If I die in next 15 mins, will my family have access to all the documentation – bank, lockers, passwords, nominations, mutation, tax details, title deeds, insurance  neatly and clearly in a place ? Many families not only fell in dire straits but they could not get access to their legitimate assets on time because of lack of documents or having access to these.

Many business owners in India are worshipers of growth which I admit is a  good thing. But this becomes dangerous when there runs a parallel unexamined thinking that growth is something like snake oil and will take care of all problems. Thus these type do not spend time on consolidation.

If I die in next 15 mins, how will my business will evolve ? Are my partners in all shape and forms ethical ? Because if they are not, the incentive of not honouring commitments are too high considering absence of legal coercive measures, at least in the short term ? Have I prepared someone – wife, daughter, son, nephew, niece, within family to at least take over on short term basis and run till a system is devised. Have I created a succession planning or anything of that kind ?

__________________________________________________________________________________________

May I remind my readers – If I die in next 15 mins, 15 mins is a luxury – one may not have any notice. Life is a gift and not a right. Death is not a Amazon delivery service with notification.

One of the greatest triumphs of human mind over death is this : It can imagine what it is to die and create a whole film out of it.

May I remind my Bengali readers to the song of Tagore : “যখন পড়বে না মোর পায়ের চিহ্ন এই বাটে” – where a whole “film” is created imagining “when I am no longer here” and this training of the mind is so useful.

I am convinced that highest level of imaginary literature addresses most profound issues of business – issues that remain when even you are no longer here.

Wordsmith History : An ultra-brief history of Indian IT (Information Technology) industry (1980-2020)

[ I am not sure whether anyone has written any history (not a thesis for degree ) of Indian IT industry. I will be interested to read one  and thanks for connecting to any such source ]

The brief history of Indian IT industry will be described with focus on the people who were visionaries / friction giver / driver / beneficiaries /victims of this industry. It will be chronologically told with “people centric” focus rather than “information” or “technology” or both. There are reasons of this approach as will be clear to the readers.

The Founding Fathers : Somewhere in the early eighties, computer was a novelty and very few had any idea about its potential in the world. Within ten years, Indian Government will encounter a crisis and economic liberalization will follow. One of the sectors that will be coming under its influence was Indian Telecom industry. Computer and Telecom in public consciousness were separate : computer (occult mystery machines with TV screen and keyboard and rapid numbers and characters scrolling in the TV screen as if like magic) and telecom (waiting period of 3 years for a landline telephone- P&T). The Founding Fathers are mostly forgotten as it happens in all revolutions. Government’s role : zero at that stage.

The Fortune Hunters : The first group of young men and women – mostly from South India with map of Indian cities in printed paper, reverse journey of Columbus, in search of American gold. These fortune hunters can also be compared to the first wave of British traders and writers who came in India along with Robert Clive. These men and women lived and worked under adverse conditions, were considered curiosity then and worked very very hard, i.e. long hours. Some of these fortune hunters really made fortune but most did not. Indian media should tell this story of intrepid Indians who simply created an industry out of thin air in an alien land and except courage and commitment they had little support in the form of anything in an alien land. Government’s role : active, tax holidays, discovery of dollar economy, inkling of tax revenue promise.

The Bandobasti Gang : Middle phase and pre-decline phase.  The fortune hunters rested on their achievements – mostly in the form of living in their client’s country and looking at their achievements in the sunset years. Some invested in real estate, some harboured political ambitions but all of these were the activities of placid middle aged men. No product – only perishable services in bulk. Government role : hyper active, emergence of Information Technology bureaucracy (!) – ministers and ministries – buffalo grazing grounds in Gurgaon (“poor man’s Dubai” – naming mine) becoming IT parks ! What age, what change ! CD/DVD is no longer considered as a shiny papadam in Burrabazar, Calcutta!

The Bot-hammered Generation : The sins of bandobast became ripe – dramatic commentary of the hammer of time and sins accumulated – no product, only labour accumulation, bots driving the nail into “hook and spread”, the “camping of a jumboree of developers-mangers-supervisors” in client site for a decade. This underlying “karmic reaction” is made immortal by the drama that erupted in Infosys, captured in technicolor. Government role : waiting and watching, non-intervention but count the tax revenue.

“Wiser” sons and daughters generation : The sons and daughters  of first two classes (fortune hunter and bandobasti) have overlapped with bot hammered and this is a wiser generation. IT sector work enters, into public awareness, of being a white collar work with no halo. Glamour gone, bots and AI ants scratching like devil at the arbitrage’s backside, in British Indian empires equivalent, the empire does not need fortune hunters like Clive anymore but sophisticated members from Ox-Cam network at the helm. Government’s role : Ministers and ministries expanded, more IT parks and so on but it is another sector – to be taxed.

End-note

1. It is a monumental evidence of “incredible India” that Indian film industry has not made any film of significance on the true heroes of this sector. The industry appears to find good selling while Indian man and woman dance and sing in locales of Eastern Europe in immaculate dress  but why it could not find it selling of the stories of the founding fathers and fortune hunters in the distant land. It would have been an incredible story ! I am devastated !

2. Thought experiment : close your eyes. Think of a small piece of tool that you use in your work. Hint : filezilla. 40 years of history, billions of dollars, so much intellectual power, software gurus, techno gurus, 1 billion people. Can you remember a single such a tool made by an software company exclusively Indian ?  Do not try to lecture me on “teamwork”, “multiple teams working”, “Indians working behind major products”, “Indian CEOs heading top companies like beauty queens thirty years back”. No Sir and Madam. I am asking, if you allow me, “Where is the Indian Linus Torvalds?” I cannot find. In other words, I am asking : where are we making seminal contribution in the form of a product in this sector ? If you disagree, I think this may be one of the reasons of no film on this as mentioned above.  I am again devastated !

Wordsmith Rumination : Boss, Mentor, Guru

Introduction

In the Bhagvatam – a Hindu scripture, there is a verse in Sanskrit that says something like this : “in every birth, you will sure get mother and father and getting a Guru or Spiritual Master is not certain.”. The same scripture asserts that a “soul” transmigrates across 8.4 million material bodies, i.e. life forms. Since Life comes after life, any living form will finally trace back to living forms and not some factory or warehouse. As of now. No one knows what will happen in the future.

I hear that having left the day to day running of the trillion dollar value companies they founded to some hired gun CEO, founders of such companies are becoming 21st century alchemists – in search of everlasting youth by bio-engineering and other cutting edge technologies.  The more things change, more they remain the same.

Boss, Mentor, Guru : The Wordsmith Identification Test

  1. An ordinary boss asserts his/her authority purely on circumstantial basis, i.e. seniority, more experience, legitimacy and delegated power – legitimately or otherwise. Such a boss implicitly tells his juniors the fact that the prize these fellows will get, after the journey is his/her status. Since such bosses live an un-examined life and are quite convinced of the “superiority” of their current station, they never look at themselves from the eyes of other people. They would have been surprised !
  2.  A mentor (true one, not the charlatans and fraudsters) puts the craft before self and does not use delegated power. He/she mentors because a cosmic force makes him do it. This is not a business for him / her. Such people are very rare and rarer are the people who are qualified to have true mentors. “Guru mile lakho lakho chela mile ek” – “gurus are available in hundreds of thousands, true chela can be found one or two.”
  3. Guru in Sanskrit means “heavy” – literally, i.e. neither money, nor fame nor worldly temptations can move him from his exalted station. His “power” or “legitimacy” is neither manufactured nor delegated. He is the chosen one.

THE TEST

  • A boss’s gravitational pull is predominately power-based. Hence a boss always wants the junior to be dependent on him. Thus you will observe that more idiotic and stupid bosses are micro-managers and “perfectionists” in their own pompous foolish ways.
  • A mentor’s pull is predominantly achievement based and hence he wants people to be achiever like him. Thus although a mentor grants more freedom but he wants his juniors to be like him. The dependence remains – very subtle, in a sense of mentor casting a shadow of himself.
  • A true guru’s (the charlatans and frauds of religious and spiritual marketplace) pull is transcendental. He is not insecure of anything and thus he wants the disciple to become more and more independent. The most beautiful thing of a guru is this that at a certain point you will feel that you never had one or even needed one. A guru’s supreme virtuosity is self-effacement.

Close your eyes. Think of someone in your life who has influenced you profoundly but you are not dependent on him / her. He/she is the closest one of being a guru figure to you.

 

Wordsmith Tribute : Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and tribute to a restaurateur of my hometown Silchar

Foreword

[ I was attracted to restaurant business quite early in my life. There is a warm and bright feeling of opening a restaurant that grips men and women of all geographies and times and sometimes, fatally. It is just like one wants to start a business or start a journal. Those who know these businesses generally caution the enthusiast and the in-experienced and they rush because inexperience feeds on its own appetite.] 

Regular to Restaurateur’s Friend

For a quite significant part of my early youth, I had my lunch and dinners mostly in the neighborhood restaurants, in almost all cities and towns of Kerala and few in Chennai (then Madras) All were small business and in no time, I was not only a regular customer but a friend close enough to know the inner affairs of the business, chef shortage, long hours, takings not enough, rent increasing etc.

In England, as a student, the tradition continued and I soon became friend of some restaurants from being a regular punter. Many were Sylheti run restaurants and being a Sylheti myself, helped a lot in building rapport. Language and Food – both share something deeper than using tongue as a critical functional organ in both.

In Calcutta, the tradition continued and when I started a Language and Cross-Cultural company from being a salaried telcom-wallah and I made many friends – again of small businesses. Many of the businesses inspired me by their sheer grit and determination while I started Wordsmith Communication. 

This is a tribute to Gordon Ramsay’s series on restaurant and hotel businesses – the celebrated chef has one f****g British virtue : a Sherlock Holmes-ian nose for what really happened in the f***g kitchen and his righteous f***g impatience for any pretentiousness, pomposity and idiocies while running a business on the part of the owners. I recommend all business owners to watch the series, not for entertainment but for the benefit of the businesses they own and run. Unlike many f***g consultants, mentors and business advisers that are like algae in the ecosystem, he knows from bottom-up, from being a waiter to a celebrity chef to a very successful restaurant owner and business success of the highest level. Mr. Ramsay, my dear Sir, you are f***g good !

Tribute to a restaurateur of my hometown Silchar and his genius category marketing pitch 

I first met late Mr. Ghosh in his home in Birmingham, England, I think some fifteen years back and I became a family friend and a guest. He ran restaurant business in two continents – in Silchar, India and Birmingham, England very successfully through sheer hard work, honesty and with a pleasant, soft-speaking  friendly personality.

In course of conversation, he had told me his experience in Gandhi Mela (a fair that happens during Feb-March in Silchar and take or leave a few years, it must be 60+ years old) – he had a chop shop there and to boost sales he had a slogan : “চপের ভিতরে সোনার আংটি” ( “a ring of gold may lie inside the shop you eat”). As soon as he had told this, I remembered having seen that – it will be sometime in the late eighties. I was face to face with the person who designed this brilliant marketing slogan to sell the homely chops. He told, in his soft voice with a shy smile – it was  great hit ! Thousands had come and eaten our chop. We sold more than we could have imagined.

When I watched some of the marketing campaigns by Mr. Ramsay in his shows, I remembered this marketing campaign – so winning, devised and executed by a man of my hometown and whose family is my host and kind and generous friend in England, I mumbled in Sylheti : “চপর ভিতরে সুনার আংটি”

Brilliant ! – Simply brilliant.  Simple yet such an appeal to the call.

I think this post while read by his sons and daughters and his friends and colleagues will remind them of the story some forty years back.

I thought earlier but now I am convinced that running small business provides provides those, if they are sensible, to have a glimpse of the enigma of very Life which a salaried, however grand or great can never have.