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.