September 18, 2015

10 Years of IIMB

Somehow, unknown to me, a life event passed by, silently, without much fanfare I associate with such dates. Sometime back it was the 10th anniversary of a fresh graduate stepping into the strange world of management education. The call was to study for two more years. The call was also to postpone the inevitable employment for two more years. But what IIMB did to me was more than just that.

Don Bosco and Calcutta had given me my moral fibre and the very foundation of who I am - with my idiosyncrasies, my mannerisms, my accent and maybe even my ideologies. BITS Pilani took all of that, took me as a person and threw me into a cultural cauldron, something I had never witnessed before. I embraced it and before I knew it, it made me ready for the world outside.

But IIMB? IIMB was different. IIMB made me find my love. And like all true love, it did not come easy. I spent a year searching for what made me happy, till one day, while attending a lecture I knew I had found it. I really believe in the “Conspiracy of Universe” Theory and therefore what happened in the second year at IIMB would not be any less exciting than a fairy tale. While Year 1 was about surviving with the help of phone calls from Pilani and Bangalore, year 2 was all about taking the devil by its horns and facing it.

And the only thing I took away from college? Never stop learning. It sounds grandiose but it’s true. The biggest bane of anyone in the marketing industry is the curse of the “know-it-all”. I call it at times the “been there done that” syndrome. It essentially attacks as you grow older, when you believe that you have seen it all! The tragedy is that situations repeat and yet they are never the same. It’s critical therefore to ensure that you know your basics and never forget them.

If I have been invited to a college to speak, I cringe when I hear wrong definitions of basic marketing terms. I feign ignorance when asked to decide between two decidedly wrong theories. I apparently fainted when evaluating case studies recently submitted in a competition. But then they are still better than the consultant friend who calls whenever he has a client with a marketing challenge. “Dude. Still selling soap? Ha Ha Ha. Listen have a marketing query. I am recommending XYZ. Should I call it a line extension or a brand extension? You marketing guys. Love to make things complicated. Ha ha ha”

Whenever caught in any of these situations, the only things that keep running in my mind is either “Schiffman Kanuk, Schiffman Kanuk”, or “Kumar Kumar Kumar”. It’s like performing an exorcism on myself to defend against the demons of incomplete knowledge. And then I go home and read a bit.

You may call me weird but I have often found a hard bound copy of Aaker to be more therapeutic than banging my head against my desk.

Anyway, you might have got the gist. I love my job. I love creating stories. I get angry when someone makes better stories than me. And then I applaud and get down to work even harder. That’s what IIMB gave me. I think often people in my situation get the creation bug. And they become entrepreneurs. In the last 8 years or so, I have created three stories. While the credit for that is not just IIMB but my organization (SNDU in case you have forgotten – Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited) too, the genesis has to be IIMB.

2017 would be my 10th employment anniversary and also the 10th anniversary of the Class of 2007. It would be a good time to pause and reflect. Today I can just be thankful for the opportunity.

“Schiffman, Kanuk, Kumar. Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”

September 05, 2015

Despise the Bully

When I was in school, I had been taught “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Years of studying the Bible taught me never to throw stones at others, as none of us could claim to have not sinned. When you grow up reading religious texts, mythologies and a spattering philosophical discourses, you realize the world is grey and not a simple tapestry of black and white.

But since the day I had stepped into school, I knew one thing instinctively in my heart, when you see a bully, “TAKE NO PRISONERS.” Two things helped. First, relative size was an automatic deterrent. Second, being the teacher’s pet, class monitor and the first boy ensured that I had a voice. And when you have a voice, you exercise it. It’s a duty.

The problem with duty is that other factors come into play making the choices really really difficult. Morality, friendship all get entangled into a mishmash of right and wrong. And you start making the choices. I have been incredibly lucky to have teachers who accepted my choices and taught me to live with them and face their consequences. It also helped that mom knew everything. But more about that, some other day.

In school handling bullies became easier as I grew up. It took guts to stand up to the boys in the Senior School but once you do that, there’s no stopping back. Once you take a stand, it’s final and maybe lose a few friends in the process. But the fact, that you have the gumption to take a stand slowly steels you to your very core.

When I went to college, bullying had reached new levels. For the first time I saw class distinctions being used to bully. Supposed Intellectual superiority (based on things as flimsy as knowing the name of a particular author) was used to bully. Regional Majority came through as group bullying. That’s the reason why I have always been sceptical of ragging. Ragging forces discipline through hierarchy, ragging forces social bonding through conformity and therefore ragging is no better than bullying. And it pained when later I heard juniors who had been saved from bullies, turn into the very same monsters.

Bullies are cowards, bullies are weak, bullies suffer from an inferiority complex. And the funniest part? Bullies NEVER have the gall to punch above their weight. I have never seen a self-assured individual ever resort to bullying those under him or her. It has always been someone who feels that a point has to be made, someone who knows his/her inferiority in relation to others.

All through my life, whenever I have faced bullies, I have taken a stance against them, all but one. And every time I remember the incident, I know how that moment of indecision had failed to stop further instances. I was scared. I had been bullied. And then I had made a commitment – never again.

The reason I feel compelled to write this is because I see so many profiles of proud parents with their kids on my social media page. My nephews and nieces are growing up and have faced bullies as early as in kindergarten.

All I want to say is that we have choices – not to be bullied and neither become one.

Hate is a strong emotion. I know I am not capable of something as strong. But if you can, every single time you meet one, despise the bully.

September 03, 2015

The Train

I love travelling in the train. Cars make me sleepy and worried about the driver sleeping off. Planes make me feel squishy and uncomfortable and pray for a boom in the deodorant industry. Trains, on the other hand, are cool. Well yes, the bathrooms could have been better, the seats could have been more comfortable and most importantly the co passengers a little quieter but trains give me something which no other mode of transport can provide at the cost – a time to think, reflect and eat. As I write this, I am crossing a station called Gondal. I do not think Life will ever bring me again to Gondal, but the fact is today I am here, at this moment at Gondal. Maybe the last time when Gondal was mentioned so many times in an article was when the kids at the school in Gondal were asked to write an essay on Gondal. (Btw Google told me later that Gondal was once a princely state)

Now enough of Gondal. I checked already, the food at the station was nothing great to bring to the wife sleeping on the bunk above.

Our fascination with trains started in Europe, where strangely we got flight tickets at a much cheaper cost than train tickets and suddenly had a new found respect for trains. A failed attempt to board the Palace on Wheels made our resolve even stronger. And then we fell off the social ladder and from being NRIs became your average Indian, two amongst our 1.2 bn. And we Indians, we love our trains, so much so that we paint the sides of every single coach red, with our Beatle leaf stains.

After 2 years of jet setting around Europe and South East Asia, we realized that we needed slower holidays. Ones where you could stop at a countryside in Punjab and do the DDLJ pose (still pending) without worrying about missing the bus or an amused shaking of the head of a French taxi driver. Another thing cropped up during a debate on our next destination. We figured that while we have admired the Thai Buddhist monuments, neither of us have ever seen Bodhgaya. That started the “See India” movement in the family.

Thanks to the distances between Mumbai and the really off the road places that we pick to visit, one of the world’s largest rail network is often the only way to reach. Even otherwise, trains might take longer but at our stage in life, the journey is as much a part of travel as the destination itself.

Trains show me the Indian countryside. The flamboyance of greenery, the ruggedness of the dry, arid mountains, the squalor of the small towns, the prosperity of the villages, the children heading to school on their cycles, the farmer tilling his lands, everything makes me connect to an India that I want to know and yet feel far away from. And once you know where to look, you get to see the differences in the greenery, you get to read the body language of the people waiting at an unmanned crossing, you see the hope for the future of your nation, you also see the pitfalls. And you learn.

Neither of us are picky. We travel light and therefore we jump on any compartment we get our hands on, rather IRCTC allows us on. So we have sat elbowing our way in a sleeper to get a cup of tea to the first class coupe where a banquet was spread out for us. And that allows us to meet people. No research reports make you understand SECs better than travelling in a train. In my honest opinion, a 12 hour train journey can be as rewarding as an in depth qualitative research. The train journeys help me understand India better than sitting at my desk. It shows me what Indians (if such a generalized term exists) are thinking, how they are speaking, what they are eating (always) or reading (rarely these days as they are always playing a version of temple run on their phones)

We have met exciting characters. Drunk Jats who want to discuss politics, angry Tamilians abusing every specimen of North Indian food, Gujjus who have bought enough food to feed the whole train and the occasional bong who will come and speak to you as soon as he hears a syllable of his mother tongue. Honestly, this is where you can grab the pulse of the nation – something the Indian tweeteratti will never know; at least not yet.

There’s another reason I love travelling on a train. It is the food I find at the stations. The best vadapav for example is found in stations just before you enter Goa and not in Mumbai as you would imagine. The chole kulche of Kanpur and Bareilly Stations still linger on in my mouth and the veg patties at the small halt en route to Shimla in the quaintest of stations can give any bakery in a metro a run for their money. The only places where I have felt cheated are at Burdhwan in Bengal where the famous Sitabhog and Mihidana found at the station is almost always sub-par and. But then Bengali sweets are the most delicate food items after sushi. The second is Ahmedabad. I just don’t understand why Ahmedabad can’t have good food.

Anyway, I wait for Rajkot as I write. The dhoklas at the station can be quite amazing.

July 26, 2015


Over the years, I have worked extensively with kids both as a professional requirement when I was developing products that would be right for the kids and as a volunteer when we went about teaching basic tenets of hygiene to kids.

Every single time I had walked into a consumer group, or in a classroom, one thing always amazed me. The girls outshone the boys. Every single time. When I visit the crèche at our office during the evenings; often to get away from the incessant emails and relive my childhood; I find the girls totally taking control. And it looks amazing.

However, as they grow up something happens. Often in countries like India, it is economical. The ‘future bread winner’, the ‘son’ continues his education while the daughter is asked to stay at home. And the bright sparks slowly die out. That is easily corrected and I am sure will be corrected.

But as I worked in other markets outside India, I saw this trend too. At times, I thought that bullies were to blame. And because of genetics, bullies usually would be boys. (Remember Calvin? For all intents and purposes, in my mind, Calvin was a bully). But that idea did not bear fruit. Young girls figure out the bully in the gang and often ensure they are taught a lesson. So it could not be that genetically stronger boys bully girls in school which make girls change their behaviour.

There had to be something else.

So I started reading up on psychology. Some patterns emerged. Societal stereotypes often make kids choose their calling. The colours pink and blue are a classic example. There are no pink shorts for boys and only the rare blue frock for girls when you go shopping. The balloons in the birthday party are always gender coloured. As a result, we start conditioning kids at an early age. Some of it also is genetic. One of them is the natural caregiver, the other is ‘supposed to be’ the gatherer. Therefore there are careers where one would be suited perfectly based on gender. But then, that’s a generalization. And more importantly, generations of conditioning allows the caregiver to be the provider but rarely vice-versa.

Yesterday I found perhaps one of the most plausible explanations for this change. Puberty. And it fits my own observations for the past 8 years. Stereotypes come into play even more than they ever did and slowly kids who never thought that they were any different than boys, begin to act differently.

Watch the video, it’s really interesting.

And remember to tell your daughters, nieces, any kid you might know that’s it’s awesome to be #LikeaGirl

June 13, 2015

The Supremacy Debate

Over the years, the debate has been on. Which is the best mango around the world. India loves her mangoes. We produce the world’s highest number of mangoes and export as little as we can since we just eat up most of our produce. I love such passion.

No one can be more passionate about mangoes than Bengalis. And Bengal knows her mangoes. Any true Bengali will tell you that only 2 districts in this world produce the world’s best mangoes. Malda and Murshidabad. Everyone else is just a hopeful imposter.

Ever since I was a child, I have been well trained to identify mangoes and their unique tastes. Even though we fall in the category of the “Mango People” or the commoners, in terms of mango we developed rich and cultivated tastes. Every year we would start in early May, getting irritated with every bite of the first batch of mangoes that would come to Calcutta. Suddenly, people would remember long lost relatives in Murshidabad and Malda. In fact legend has it that I was given away in marriage after strong evidence of Ze Wife’s Grandma’s outstanding culinary skills in making mango pickle. Though this theory is strongly refuted by all.

And that’s not surprising. I remember the day when I was sent off to far away Muzaffarpur, both my grandmas called me up to say that I was going to the land of litchis!!! No farewell, No “take care of yourself”, not even, “Don’t get married without letting us know!”. Plain and simple I was told of litchis. Only later while I had worked on Foods for a long period of time, I realized the importance of provenance.

So I grew up in the summer months of Calcutta eating everything possible that can be made of mangoes in various stages of ripeness. Apart from the whole mangoes, there were pickles, chutneys, sherbets, sweets, puddings, custards and even lentils!!! It was perhaps the only time a self-respecting Bong Household would serve something other than Rosogolla and Fish Fry when people came unannounced.

And as a child, every single year I waited for the Himsagar to arrive!

Last year was the first year of my life when I did not have Himsagar. Maybe it was work, maybe it was an effort to like Alphonsos and treat Badami with some respect that made me wait for Himsagar till I found the entire West of India has not even heard of them. In fact, Langras are also a rarity. Then one day, I found this one vendor from Bihar who said, “Sir, aap jaisa aam ke samajhdaar kahan milte hain aajkal? Yahan log sirf yahan ke aam hi khate hain” He did sell me litchis at a fleecing price of 10 USD per KG but then if you are called a connoisseur, you end up paying!!!

Ze Wife has the bloodline to understand mangoes. So with her for the last few years we have gone ahead and tasted mangoes from outside India. And we feel today like the protagonist of The Alchemist! The Thai mangoes are good only with the sticky Jasmine rice. The ones from Cebu (in the Philippines) are passable at best, and the lesser said about the Chinese varieties, the better. Today my sister started crying on FB saying my niece has to satisfy her love for mangoes with Mexican mangoes which are pretty sour. Can you beat that? Mexican? I am still in shock. So after travelling around the world, and eating almost everything of note except the Spanish mangoes, I have decided it is Himasagar that my heart desires.

Even after this realization, this year, we took it upon ourselves to try every variety of mangoes available in Mumbai but nothing seems to satisfy. Lalbag, Totapuri, Alphonsos, Badami, Kesar, Dasheri, nothing!

Today we finally found some decent langras. And as we were biting into the softness and the sweetness, the evil plan was hatched. Do you know which is the only district that can come close to Malda when it comes to Himasagar? The answer my friend is Rajshahi. And I shall say no more.

May 25, 2015

The Beginning

It is said that every beginning starts with an inspiration – sometimes human, sometimes divine. And probably this beginning required a divine one. Somewhere in the hills of Himachal, I suddenly realized that it was perhaps time to write more about travel. Himachal, the abode of the Gods, made me realize how travelling makes one a better human being, how travelling together makes you love one another even more. Sometimes, travelling is all the succour a parched soul needs.

Himachal is breathtakingly beautiful. The walks through the villages, the silence of the apple orchards, the cakes from the bakeries that call themselves ‘German’ all add to the quaint beauty of Himachal. From the touristy mall road of Shimla to the quiet of Mashobra, from the snowy caps of Solang Valley, to the roaring waters of the Beas. Himachal beckons you with all the glory of nature.

However, nature can also be devastatingly beautiful. For us, Manali would be always be remembered for the fury of nature at her full glory. As we rafted down the rapids of the Beas, the clouds broke and Beas reciprocated in full. She was angry and her anger grew as she tossed and turned the puny humans trying to keep their raft afloat on her current. When we finally got to the shore, nature had taught us a lesson we would never forget.

Himachal is at the cusp of a change. Civilization is slowly catching up and the green of the valleys slowly are giving way to more and more real estates. The appetite of Delhi for a second home is slowly beginning to spread to both Himachal and Uttarakhand and as the number of tourists increase, so does the trampling of nature by those who for generations had kept it safe. The Palace of the Kullu kings showcase how you can be one with nature and yet build something substantial. But no longer. The palace is now a hotel, while the administrative capital has shifted to Shimla.

New roads, new dams, electricity, schools all spring up as they should. So does new hotels, guest houses and summer residences. And often without a second thought about nature herself.

It does feel at times that more than anything else, Himachal is about Gods. Hindu mythology comes alive in every pebble and every stream that flows through the mountains. The sages of Hindu scriptures have all left their marks across the springs and often you wonder if the seven immortals of Hinduism will suddenly come forth from behind the ageless trees.

The hills and villages have their own travelling Gods and they move from village to village ensuring that no harm comes to the villages. The Mega Gods of Hinduism are revered as well but what sets Himachal apart are these unique Gods. The Village Gods sit in council as well and take a decision based on what’s best for the villages. And then they travel back. At times, there are no roads to these villages and the Gods sit on their own unique ropeways and travel upwards to their destination while their bearers trudge the tricky mountainous terrains.

Shimla herself has the Bengali Kali Bari and the Shimla Church. Ages ago, two communities had made Himachal their home. The Bengalis worshipped the Mother Goddess and the British worshipped Mother Mary in their summer residences. And when you walk in to their hallowed halls you can hear history whispering into your ears. And then far away from Bengal if you miss your food of home, just walk down the steps of the Kali Bari where even today a Bengali can find his heart’s desire of home cooked food.

Close to the Himalayas, you are never away from the divine.

April 27, 2015

The Beginning of Sin

I have been always fascinated by the story of the apple and man’s first sin. At the outset, it is a straightforward demonstration of human nature. We love the forbidden. We love to reach beyond our limits, to touch what’s beyond us. Exploration of the unknown is our inherent nature. Deep within, the explorer calls out to every single one of us. And therefore over the ages, men have sinned – gone beyond the acceptable limits.

However, on deeper analysis, sin is a lot more complicated. And nothing demonstrates its veracious stages better than gluttony, the only sin I succumb to again and again. It starts with temptation – the subtle hints that come to you from the aroma, from the sounds in the kitchen, the clink of glasses, the sizzle of a molten lava cake, the sudden appearance of a red velvet dream. The next is resistance. We turn around, we refuse and yet the hunger rises within and it’s a hunger like no other. It’s not for physical satiety, rather it’s for the soul, the tainted soul. For the pure soul can resist any temptation. We try to retain the purity. But unlike the Son of God, we finally succumb.

What follows next is the actual act of sinning. We vacillate between snobbery at it best and Gluttony at its worst. In the former, we assume the shroud of pretence, assume who we are not and then slowly we slide in to our sin. In the other, the distinction between man, created in the image of God, and an animal slowly vanishes and in some strange semblance to the apocalyptic world of Animal Farm, men forget their nature.

What results however, is only temporary satiety. The soul is tainted a bit more but the now darkened soul is not satisfied. It wants more and more.

Post this, comes repent. A shameful look at self and the promise of making every bad deed good comes. And if the repent is strong maybe temptation is kept at bay. For temptation, it is certain to come and the cycle repeats itself.

The question is – can it be broken?