February 07, 2016

The Goodbye

Long Long ago, in the Summer of 2007 to be precise, four little mice had boarded a ship. The docks were silent, the night was still and the moon played hide and seek behind the clouds. The ship set sail into the unknown and before one knew, the stars above realigned and the four little mice saw each other. Each different from the rest but they soon realized they were all the same in being different from the rest of the animals on the ship. But that is a story everyone knows!

The mice charted different courses within the ship till one day one of them set sail, then another and finally even the third. The last remaining mouse looked on as their boats sailed further and further away.

The airwaves carried their squeaks to him, faint and yet conveying the different emotions that swept over them. Trepidation, anger, joy, love, hatred, frustration, fear, ecstasy and sometimes even indifference. The world was unforgiving, sometimes all it let the mice have were memories of a life less complicated.

The last mouse remains. And he hopes and prays for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to be true. Let the mice indeed be the most intelligent species on Earth. For each have made their choices and some day each will need to say goodbye.

December 31, 2015

The Recap

This year started with a promise to be more regular with my blog and apart from the bursts of a creative itch once in a while, the promise remained just that; a promise; shamefully unfulfilled. But this year was strange in the way it shaped up. Imagine an inverted bell curve and January and December being its end. Starting on a high, falling down the slope and then as the end of the year approached, pulling oneself up to feel nice about the world around.

This year has been a year of learning humility. It was also the year of farewells. Invincibility took a beating; friends said goodbye. And somewhere in the middle of the year; life became mechanical. Imagine yourself as a firefighter and noticing the hidden flames all around you. Will you have time to go and water the seeds you had planted in your garden? 2015 taught me not to lose the woods for the trees, to let go off battles not worth fighting for and not allow one’s own self to get hurt by actions of others.

2015 was not the easiest of years but suddenly somewhere inspiration came up. You realize that when you are looking at the bottom of the barrel; it’s up to only you to pull yourself up. Strangely help came from unknown quarters. A little bird made her nest in our balcony and she refused to give in to the daily efforts of 2 adult humans who kept guarding their turf and before we knew there was a birth. She never moved.

It taught me to overcome my fears and focus on the task at hand. And somehow, things started moving at a more interesting pace. Once you cease being afraid, a lot of changes start happening to your life. And suddenly you feel free.

2015 was also the year when I took the bull by the horns and started driving. Inspired by memories of NFS in Budh Front, I decided it was time to go for an automatic vehicle. However, Kherani Road taught me that NFS is not exactly replicable in real life and dents on your car costs actual money to repair. Sadly no one seems to be paying me for a drift well-made or a sharp turn on 2 wheels! And more importantly the one who always rides shot gun if she is not at the wheels refuses to allow even the least transgression while driving.

Most importantly I managed to read. I realized that the number of books I read in a year was going down in sync with the number of blog posts I upload. 2015 changed that. 30 books along with numerous articles and treatises on marketing and strategy is not a bad way to sum up the year.

2016 will be tough as well. And that’s how Life will be for us in our thirty somethings. The occasional memories of the future that could have been will tug at heart strings but the war will rage on.

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky Balboa

December 24, 2015

Silent Night

It’s a few hours till Christmas; arguably the second on my all-time favourite festival list. And yet, this Christmas feels strange. For the first time in years, Mumbai has cooled down to take me back to my growing years in Calcutta. Bru Café has launched the Christmas Plum cake. And a lot of bakeries are trying hard to make me forget the taste and nostalgia of Nahoum. But I still am not jolly. And on Christmas, without fail, you need to be jolly.

I probably will miss going to a midnight mass this year. I probably will miss listening to Christmas carols. There are a list of ads I need to see before the day is out and I shut down my laptop. It’s almost six and I should be shutting it down and watch the sun set over Mumbai. Long long ago, it is believed that a star was seen in the sky. I should be searching for that star tonight.

As I sit, I can hear the singing in the mosque nearby celebrating the birth of another prophet. The world always celebrates life; never death. It celebrates in birth; mourns in death and yet between the cycle of life and death we play our small games; day in and day out. Sometimes the futility of it all is striking. A friend recently said, “gain experiences.” Noble thoughts but what are experiences but a display of showmanship when advertised on social media?

The sun is a brilliant hue of orange, the birds are returning home. Somewhere a bard may still be strumming his guitar for a new song. It’s Christmas and I want to pause. And reflect and yes have my plum cake. But those seem futile when your mind keeps humming discordant notes. Is there light somewhere, anywhere?

The Saviour and King, they tell me, was born in a manger.

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