Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why women need not be like men.

I came across an article on Rani Mukherjee’s forthcoming release “Mardani”. A Rani Mukherjee film, and that too under post Dhoom-3 YRF banner is something I will surely give a miss. But given my addiction of movies, I couldn’t help but glance through the first paragraph of this article. What struck me was Rani Mukherjee’s character’s name in the movie. She is a tough cop going by the name Shivani Shivaji Rao. The columnist writes, and I quote, Mukerji plays CBI officer Shivani Shivaji Roy, a tough cop who, in the tradition of Bollywood-sytle policing, singlehandedly takes on a child prostitution racket. What else can we expect from a woman who has Shivaji as her second name?

So here’s a movie from a film industry that is as male-centric as any industry could be. An industry where female actors have been reduced to doing item numbers and those of them who do get a bigger role end up being the mistreated girlfriend or the doting wife. Here’s a movie that could be one of those handful of films that have a female character who is something more than an eye candy for the masses. Here’s a movie that wants us to believe that female centric roles are not flights of imagination and the big daddy of Hindi film productions has taken upon him to set the record straight in this struggle for gender equality.  And they end up naming the movie “MARDani” and the protagonist female cop needs to have the middle name “Shivaji” to kick ass!

I adore the great Maratha warrior king. But why on earth does a woman cop need such “manly” references to look tough?  When I asked the same on my Facebook wall, a friend reminded me of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s epic poem on Laxmibai where she used the line, “Khoob ladi Mardani…”.
That poem was written in an era where girls as young as 12 were married off and the practice of throwing women on funeral pyres of their husbands still practiced in certain parts of the country. The poem was revolutionary by the standards of those times. If we still need the same reference to “Mard” when describing a 21st century women’s prowess, then we need to rethink our progress in the area of gender equality.

Another friend rightly pointed out that maybe “Shivaji” is the character’s father’s name. That’s a valid argument and also another proof of how male-dominated our society is. How many men/women do you know who use their mother’s name as their middle name? It reminds me of another fad of women retaining their surname even after marriage. So Aishwarya Rai becomes Aishwarya Rai Bachhan. For some, it’s a proof of women refusing to lose their identity after marriage. What they fail to understand is that she lost her identity long back when she was given her father’s surname instead of her mother’s at the time of birth. The injustice has been handed down for generations. She never had a choice, and what she is being offered now is a false sense of the same. The true parity between the genders will be achieved when Aishwarya Rai won’t need to add Bachhan to her name and if she does, then Abhishek Bachhan too rechristens himself as Abhsihek Bachhan Rai.

Saree is not an impediment. Suit is not a shortcut

I am not suggesting that powerful women need to act, talk, and dress up like the typical Bhartiya Naari. It’s a free nation and if Aamir Khan can wear a Ghagra(and a stereo), who is to doubt the fashion sense of the fashionable gender? But to cement a stereotype that only women who are like men are strong is wrong. It’s a movie, so use the freedom of creativity to break this stereotype instead of reinforcing it. Call her Shivani Rao, maybe give a more gender neutral name to the movie and still make the female cop send bad guys flying in the air. A trouser and blazer wearing (they call this power dressing!) Indira Nooyi is a strong statement on how far the Indian womenfolk have come. But a sari clad Indira Gandhi or Chanda Kochhar proves that women, just like men are powerful or weak by virtue of their work and talent and not by dressing or acting like men.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Micromax: From nothing to nothing like anything.

 (This article was originally written for and published in Vishwavyapar Feb '14 Issue. ) 
Hugh Jackman promoting Micromax Canvas Turbo
(image source: Fonearena)

Until a few years ago, Micromax Informatics Limited (now you know why their website is was just another IT company dealing in embedded platforms and distributing computer hardware. In 2008, they launched their first mobile phone with a battery backup of 30 days. And the rest, as they say, is history in making.

It all started with a truck battery!
In 2007, a truck battery inspired Rahul Sharma, co-founder, Micromax Informatics Limited to foray into mobile handset business. In the powerless village of Behrampur, West Bengal, he saw a PCO being powered by this truck battery. The PCO owner carried this battery to an adjacent village 12 KM away every night to charge it. The routine was repeated all throughout the year. The best part was, this operator made a tidy profit too! In that dusty village, Mr. Rahul learned first-hand that “Necessity is the mother of invention”.  Soon, he convinced his partners and Micromax launched their first phone with a month long battery backup. The phone was a hit in a nation suffering from chronic power shortage where electricity for charging a cellphone is a luxury in many parts of the country.

Filling the gaps.
The year 2008 in India was the pre-android era. The booming mobile handset market was dominated by big international players like Nokia, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson. Nokia alone commanded around 80% of the market share with Samsung beginning to grow new fangs with the success of its Corby and Guru series of feature and basic phones respectively.
To think that a local player could enter this market, let alone make a dent in the shares of the Big Four was unimaginable. Rahul Sharma, Sumeet Arora, Vikas Jain (co-founders, Micromax) decided to do the unimaginable.
The global handset brands loved to sell to Indians, but shied away from trying to fathom what Indians actually needed. They brought to India the handsets that were designed keeping European and American markets in mind.
The middle class Indian consumer did not find much use of increasing megapixels, sharper screens but falling battery life. Micromax filled that gap by launching handsets with long standby that performed the most basic functions required of a cell phone without any added bells.
Micromax later realised that many people, especially youngsters carried multiple handsets to keep their work and personal lives separate. It launched India’s first dual sim phone. This particular innovation was what turned the tide for them. Suddenly, everyone wanted to own one of these new wonder phones. While Samsung shuddered, Nokia shrugged. Samsung was clever enough to soon launch dual sim handsets. Nokia, on the other hand thought these were cheap gimmicks. It took Nokia almost two years to come up with its first dual sim phone. By then, the tables had turned. Samsung was now breathing down Nokia’s neck and Micromax, the Indian company which sold rebranded Chinese phones was gaining market share, respectability and acceptability at a pace that made every market analyst sit and take note.

From Chinese to Indian.
Micromax’s tagline is “Nothing like anything”.  In the past years, they have tried to live up to their words.
Not only have they bulldozed their way in the Indian mobile handset market, they have ignored the temptation of being complacent like Nokia and other smaller Indian players like Karbonn Mobiles and Maxx who looked promising at one point of time but turned out to be mere shooting stars.
As Rahul Sharma, co-founder, Micromax, had said in an interview: "The strategy is simple: create high volumes, reach the customer base through effective distribution, and give them products that are innovative and cost-effective. Finally, create a strong brand."
The strategy of Micromax has been to look at four critical components of a phone which also determine its price. They are- the screen, the camera, the chipset and the memory used in the device.
Micromax has reinvented itself. They have tried to balance profitability with quality and succeeded to a large extent. Initially, they ordered most of their handsets from Chinese OEMs, rebranded them and sold them at prices half of what companies like Samsung charged for phones with similar specifications. To shed the ‘cheap’ brand tag, Micromax made sure to partner with only the Tier I manufacturers in China. These were the same manufacturers who produced handsets for Samsung and Apple.
To keep the costs down, they ordered in bulk, in tune of 500,000 handsets at one go. This obsession with volume growth led to better cost efficiencies. In 2011 alone, Micromax shipped four million handsets worldwide and captured 8 per cent market share in India.
All good things must come to an end. The days of cheap labour in China is numbered. At Shenzhen, where some of China's largest electronics manufacturers are located, the minimum wage is set for a 13.3 per cent hike from this year - a move that could have a ripple effect across the world's major technology companies.
Micromax has understood this and now focuses on building manufacturing units in India. Its manufacturing unit in Himachal manufactures tablets and LEDs. It has also started importing components from China and assembling handsets in its Indian plants to bring down import costs.

Android on a dozen canvasses.

Canvas and Bolt series phones.(Source: Rediff)
Since 2008, Micromax has consistently tried to move up the value chain. What started with a very basic handset has metamorphosed into a comprehensive suite offering handsets starting from Rs 1,000 to Rs 20,000. Micromax has taken the android segment by storm. Its low-end android phones are marketed under the ‘Bolt’ line. Under the ‘Canvas’ line, Micromax offers android phones with high end specifications at prices of mid-range devices.
Micromax has grown confident about itself. It launched the Micromax Canvas HD, its first android phone with a full-HD screen just a day after Samsung announced Galaxy Grand. On paper, Canvas HD beat Galaxy Grand as far as specifications go. The price though was less than Grand (Rs 15,000 compared to Grand’s Rs 21,000).
Micromax offers easy on pockets android phones for price sensitive Indian consumers. That’s why it’s a big hit among college students who have limited purchasing capability.

Don’t keep all your eggs in the same basket.
The leaders at Micromax know that every product has a lifecycle. In the technology world, products rise and fall every fortnight. From floppy discs to solid state drives (SDDs), from Walkman to iPods to iPhones, from PC to tablets, technology firms that do not adapt quickly are bound to fail.
Canvas Laptab( Source: FoneArena )
This is why they are trying to diversify. What started with phones has now moved to android tablets, LEDs, and data cards. At the recently conclude CES in USA, Micromax showcased world’s first dual-OS tablet. They are calling it Laptab. This device can boot on both Windows 8 and Android. This innovative product helped Micromax grab a lot of eyeballs.
Micromax recently collaborated with Hollywood star Hugh Jackman to launch their latest flagship phone- Canvas Turbo. They have also forayed into Russia.
All this, coupled with the numerous cricket series sponsored by Micromax has helped them to become a household name as well as gain acceptability.

The present and the future

As per IDC, Micromax has a 22 per cent market share in the smartphone segment for Q2, 2013. They are now the second only to Samsung, with Nokia trailing far behind. Micromax also ships the largest number of tablets to India. What was once an impossible dream is now a reality.
But all’s not rosy at Micromax. On 28 July 2011, Micromax withdrew its 4.66 billion rupees initial public offering (IPO) due to volatile market conditions. In October 2013, two of its co-founders- Dhru Banthia and Manish Tuli were arrested by the CBI for allegedly bribing a government official in a shady real estate deal.
Micromax also faces a lot of flak for its poor after sales service and lack of service centres in most parts of the country. Unless these chinks in its armour are taken care of, Micromax faces the danger of fumbling on its roller coaster ride.
As of now, Micromax stands as a testimony to the fact that Indian entrepreneurs can make it big and give a tough fight to international players in hardware business too.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Kumar Vishwas claims Congress using Raju Srivastav to malign his image.

(Disclaimer: This is a work of satire. It's not intended to hurt anybody's emotions or demean anyone)

Kumar Vishwas, the poet, freedom fighter, revolutionary and AAP leader has claimed that all the controversial videos that show him insulting various religions and communities are actually those of comedian Raju Srivastav. “कोई पागल समझता है, कोई मजनूँ कहता है | उन आपत्तिजनक चलचित्रों में कुमार नहीं, राजू रहता है |” (Some people call me ‘yeda’, other call me eve-teaser. It’s Raju in those objectionable video, not me.)
Ramesh? Suresh??

Mr. Vishwas, who was in Amethi for repairing the hut of the Dalit family  who could never recover from the financial loss and emotional trauma after Rahul Gandhi ate away all their food a few years ago, was miffed at allegations that he had alienated the two largest and most manipulative vote banks of the country. “Hindu Bhaiyyas and Muslim Bhais are with us. Such corrupt tactics of Congress will not work. They realized that Raju looks like me. By offering him a Lok Sabha ticket, they created those fake videos to hurt the religious feelings of Indians.”

When asked what Aam Admi Party’s response will be, he added, “ Arvind Kejriwal has constituted an independent one member enquiry committee with  Delhi’s CM as its member. The committee will examine the report submitted by an independent investigator (AAP’s president) and arrive at a decision within a week.”

He then reminded the reporters that he was in Amethi for a different purpose. We are here to usher change, to bring swaraj.
On this, someone from the crowd shouted,”Ye BJP ka agent hai! Bol raha hai Sushma Swaraj laega! (He’s a BJP agent. He says he will bring Sushma Swaraj)”

In no time, the members of AAP surrounded him and sat on a Dharna, preventing the guy from leaving the venue. Mr. Vishwas remarked poetically, “जब तक ये धरना चलेगा, तू यहाँ से नहीं हटेगाकद्दू कटेगा,तो सब में बटेगा | (You won’t leave till this Dharna’s over. The cut pumpkin will be distributed amongst all.)

On the question of whether he is afraid of losing to Rahul Gandhi, he said, “I have already challenged Narendra Modi to contest from Amethi. Last night, I sent SMS to Barack Obama and David Cameroon asking them to contest from Amethi. I am afraid of no one.” 
And then, the poet in him got carried away and he said something that will now be added to his list of controversial comments. “डरते तो हम ‘आप’ के बाप से भी नहीं है | केजरीवाल भी अमेठी से लड़े तो हम उनको हरा देंगे |”

Realizing his mistake, Vishwas hastily retreated inside the hut. The Dalit family, confused, homeless and hungry, stared at the cameras, hoping they would capture what human eyes could not.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Is Raghuram Rajan the elixir ailing Indian Economy desperately needs?

The Governorship of Reserve Bank of India, like most other government posts, is something that most Indians do not and cannot relate to. We know that the man sitting in his plush office in Mumbai can make the markets tumble with a single statement. But like most government officers, we see very little of him, and therefore, know very little. While Bimal Jalan, C.Rangarajan and D.Subbarao were known to be upright men who took their job seriously and were pretty good at it, their speeches (if and when they made one) hardly made people sit up and take notice. It was always an old sage speaking to his learned disciples (read big business) while poor kids played around in the vicinity.
It all changed on 4th September, 2013. Raghuram Govinda Rajan, former Chief Economic Advisor to India's Ministry of Finance  and chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007 took over as RBI’s 23rd Governor. For the first time, there was mass media coverage of RBI Governor’s speech which was not restricted to business news channels and newspapers. Call it the desperation of a country reeling under record low rupee value and high food inflation, the entire nation was hooked to every word the man said in his first press conference. And if you think it was all hype and nothing concrete, picture this-On September 5, the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex soared 412 points to a three-week high. On September 6, the Sensex surged 290 points to close above the 19,000 level for the first time in three weeks as the rupee continued to strengthen.

So, the question is, what does Raghuram Rajan bring to the table that his predecessor D.Subbarao didn’t?

1.      A different perspective: Subbarao was an IAS officer. Entrenched in the highly sophisticated, convoluted and legacy system called Indian Bureaucracy, which prides itself on its impenetrable layers of confidentiality and stiff upper-lip attitude, Subbarao always had an air of suspense around him. On the other hand, Rajan, a professor, has emphasized on need for transparency and stability to RBI’s monetary policy. This has led the market to believe that  it won’t be taken by surprise after every policy announcement by the Central Bank.

2.      An Insider: The cold war between Subaarao and FM Chidambram was never a secret. Subbarao was known not to toe Finance Ministry’s line. For better or for worse, he never let the Government affect his decisions. While Raghuram Rajan has at times been a vocal critic of certain government policies, the matter of fact is that he has been UPA’s chief economic adviser. This has given him ample insight and probably enough clout in the Finance Ministry. The common perception is, UPA, with elections round the corner would not have approved of Rajan if it didn’t expect him to be on the same page as Chidambram on major policy decisions. The market construes this as a harbinger of increased cooperation between the apex bank and Finance Ministry.

3.      International Outlook: Rajan is a well-known face in the international academic and financial circles. He was appointed as the youngest-ever Economic Counselor and Director of Research (chief economist) at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from October 2003 to December 2006. In 2003, he was also the inaugural recipient of the Fischer Black Prize awarded by the American Finance Association for contributions to the theory and practice of finance by an economist under age 40. The Center for Financial Studies (CFS) has awarded the 5th Deutsche Bank Prize in Financial Economics to Raghuram G. Rajan for his highly influential contributions in a remarkably broad range of areas in financial economics (source: Wikipedia). The industry and people hope that his exposure to international economy will help align RBI’s monetary policies with global challenges and opportunities.
Rajan has already announced a various measures to attract foreign investors, including the NRIs. Keeping an eye on foreign fund inflows and help banks get funds at cheaper rate, he announced a special window to swap foreign currency non-resident (FCNR) dollar funds mobilised by banks. RBI doubled the re-booking amount that exporters can do on their cancelled forward contracts to 50 percent from 25 percent. It also extended the facility to importers who were not allowed to re-book their cancelled forward contracts. Further, it restored the permission to invest 400 percent of a domestic corporate's net worth in foreign market provided it has raised the funds through external commercial borrowing (ECBs) route (source: Zee News).

The euphoria in the stock market may subside slowly. The Rupee may not stabilize any time soon. Raghuram Rajan doesn't have a magic wand. But he seems to have the will, right attitude and knowledge to steer our monetary policy in the right direction. If his first speech as the Governor is a cue, then that’s exactly what he intends to do.

Monday, September 9, 2013

मैं इस देश का प्रधानमंत्री बनना चाहता हूँ

(DISCLAIMER: “इस कविता के सभी पात्र काल्पनिक है और इनका किसी भी जीवित  या मृत व्यक्ति से कोई सम्बन्ध नहीं है”)

छक्कन मियां जब कॉलेज पहुचे,
तो देखा की प्रोफेसर साहब सभी से
उनके सपनो के बारे में पूछ रहे थे |
कुछ विध्यार्थी डॉक्टर,कुछ इंजिनियर ,
कुछ क्या बनना है, यही सोच रहे थे |
जब छक्कन की बारी आई तो वो पूरे आत्मविश्वास से खड़ा हुआ और बोला-
“ सर, न तो मै डॉक्टर,न इंजिनियर,न संत्री बनना चाहता हू,
मै इस देश का प्रधानमंत्री बनना चाहता हूँ |“

सुनकर प्रोफेसर खुश हुए,
सोचा कोई तो राजनीती मे जाना चाहता है,
जोश मे आकार पूछ ही दिया,
“बता बेटा,तू प्रधानमंत्री क्यों बनना चाहता है |”
छक्कन मियां बोले,
“सर, पहले मै भी डॉक्टर बनना चाहता था,
पर डोनेशन के लिए हमारे पास पैसे नहीं है,
अपनी प्रतिभा के बल पे दाखिला मिल जाता, इतने प्रतिभावान हम वैसे भी नहीं है |”
अपनी प्रतिभा का अवलोकन मैंने अपने मस्तिष्क से कराया है,
और मेरे मस्तिष्क ने मुझमे सबसे ज्यादा प्रधानमंत्री बनने का गुण पाया है |”
अब मै आपको भी बताता हूँ ,के मै खुद को प्रधानमंत्री पद के लिए सुयोग्य क्यों पाता हू |

आजतक मै कभी विध्यार्थी परिषद का अध्यक्ष नहीं बन पाया,
बनता भी कैसे? हारने की प्रबल सम्भावना के कारण मै चुनाव ही नहीं लड़ पाया |
पर जब भी अध्यक्षा महोदया किसी कारणवश अपना पदभार ग्रहण नहीं कर पाती है,
वह मुझे,सिर्फ मुझे ही केयरटेकर अध्यक्ष बनाती है|
मेरे कुर्सी पे होने से उनकी ताकत को खतरा नहीं होता है,
मै तो मजे मे सोता हू,हर काम उनके कथानुसार होता है |
सर,आप तो जानते है,आजकल ज्यादातर नेता भ्रष्टाचार मे लिप्त पाए जा रहे है|
कुर्सी पे बिठाने के लिए वे साफ़-सुथरी छवि वाले निक्कमे चाह रहे है|
उनकी इस मज़बूरी को मै भली भांति जानता हू,
मै इस देश का प्रधानमंत्री बनना चाहता हू |

मै विचलित नहीं होता, हर कटाक्ष हंस के सह जाता हू,
कोई मुझे अध्यक्षा का चमचा कहे, तो सुनकर मै चुप रह जाता हू|
मै अपने काम से काम हू रखता,
अन्य बातो पे ध्यान नहीं देता हूँ |
मेरा काम है काम नहीं करना,
इस काम पे मै खास ध्यान देता हू |
निकम्मा,निखट्टू, नपुंसक कह लो,
मै पद से चिपट कर रहना जानता हू,
मै इस देश का......

ऐसा नहीं के मै काम नहीं कर सकता,
पर सारे काम मै मैडम पे छोड़ देता हू,
वो आर्डर टाइप करवाके भेज देती है,
मै उसके नीचे अपना नाम जोड़ देता हू|
किसी विध्यार्थी को परेशानी हो तो वो मैडम के पास जाता है,
मुझे,सिर्फ सांत्वना देना आता है|
मुझे राम बनने मे दिलचस्पी नहीं,
मै भरत की तरह सरकार चलाना जानता हू,
मै इस देश का......

पर मेरी मैडम बड़ी दयालु है,
मेरा बड़ा ख्याल रखती है|
मै ही असली अध्यक्ष हू, विध्यार्थीयो को यही कहती है|
उन्होंने मुझ जैसे तुच्छ प्राणी को जो सम्मान दिया,
उसका ऋण मै कैसे चुकाऊं ?
आप ही बताइए सर, उस त्याग की देवी के विरूद्ध
मै जाऊ तो कैसे जाऊ?
वो मुझे महात्मा कहे या महापुरुष,
अपनी औकात मै खूब जानता हू,
मै इस देश का......

ये सुनकर प्रोफेसर को छक्कन पे गर्व और देश पे शर्म आई,
एक पल के लिए उनकी आँखे डबडबाई|
पलकों के भींगने से पहले,आँखों को उन्होंने पोछ लिया,
असली अध्यक्षा महोदया जी ने जोर से कहा-“तालिया, तालिया,तालिया!”

प्रोफेसर साहब बोले,”छक्कन,तुने सही निर्णय किया है,
प्रधानमंत्री पद के लिए तू सर्वश्रेष्ठ उम्मेदवार है,
ये मैंने भी मान लिया है|
भले ही तू राजनीती के दावपेंचों से अनजान है,
पर राजनीती का सबसे बड़ा गुण चमचागिरी है,जो तुझमे विद्यमान है|”

असली अध्यक्षा मैडम जी अब खुद को रोक न सकी और बोली-
“छक्कन,ऐसे ही मनोयोग से काम कर,तू बहुत आगे जाएगा,
तुने मेरा मन मोह लिया है,
एक दिन जरुर प्रधानमंत्री बन जाएगा|”

-कुणाल आनंद

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pakistan’s parliament passes Jannat Security Bill(JSB).

(Disclaimer: This is a satire. I do not intend to hurt anyone's sentiments and this article in its entirety is a work of fiction.)

Close on the heels of Indian parliament’s passage of Food Security Bill(FSB), pieceful neighbor  Pakistan passed the much awaited Jannat Security Bill(JSB). After a debate that lasted ten minutes,80 rounds of bullets and 15 bazookas, the bill was passed unanimously. “It’s a great step towards providing compulsory passage to heaven to millions of freedom fighters who shall be laying down their lives to protect the victims of Mossad-CIA-RAW nexus.”, said Nawaz Sharif after his first major victory since becoming the Prime Minister.

Mr. Sharif enumerated the main points of the Bill as follows:
  1. Jannat Admit Cards to be issued to all freedom fighters, irrespective of where they explode and how many infidels they dispatch to hell.
  2. Family members of the martyrs also get the coverage.
  3. Lifetime Validity: In case the freedom fighter is caught alive, the offer can be availed as and when the possibility of explosion is realized.
  4. The clause regarding 72 virgins has been amended to 72 female virgins.
A visibly happy Hafiz Sayeed
The Bill covers all affiliated members and sympathizers of Pakistan’s war on anti-terror. Pollywood superstar Meera, acting powerhouse Veena Mallik and fiction novelist  Shoaib Akhtar are some of the prominent citizens who aren’t covered under this bill due to their abnormal lifestyle and love for the good things in life.

Spiritual guru Hafiz Sayeed has welcomed the passage of JSB. “The Jannat Delivery System(JDS, not to be confused with Indian political party JD(S) ) was flawed from the onset. It made martyrdom a mandatory criteria for going to heaven. Fighters like myself are eligible for heaven even without dying. I hope JSB will help more and more people to rise above the BFL(Below Fidelity Line).”

When asked about what documents would be required to claim the JSB card, Pakistan’s interior minister said with a smile ,” Aadhaar card shall do.” :)

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