Loose Stuff

The Indian economy and success.

Viewpoints vary, depending on who you ask. The pinstripe types will speak with elan. Of ‘value’. ‘Intellectual capital’. ‘Knowledge Economy’. ‘Cost Arbitrage.’ ‘Burgeoning middle class.’ ‘Consumption’. ‘GDP’. Etc !

These are words that rings well from a TV . Quite obviously, beyond the common man. For the common man, is usually listening to all of this, taking a break from all the TV ads. Those TV ads, asking him to buy cars and computers. Through service fee free bank loans. Recommended by actors who don’t age and cricketers who are ‘old’ at 30 !

No. What churns the Indian economy is not all that English. The engine of success resides in its bottles. PET bottles

Dont you think so ? Walk around India. Anywhere. Any part. East. North. South. West. People living in small cities tucked away in quiet corners where the Prime Minister flies over when there is a cyclone and the big cities that make much noise about small things. Walk anywhere. Ubiquitous by their presence are the PET bottles !

The small stores and the big stores. Brisk business is enabled by PET bottles. Usually holding toffees. buiscuits. Assorted eats. Chewing gums. Pencils. Stationary. All stored in PET bottles.

‘Loose’ items. Sold in ones and twos. Satiating a penchant for buying ‘loose’ stuff. Perhaps we are loose people. You know, people that prefer to buy in loose. In ones and twos. With the population that is growing at a pace that outpaces everything from condom manufacturing to computer chip obsolecence, with delectably embarrasing ease, ‘loose’ is a way of life, for us !

Think of this too. We are indeed loose people that can operate in the grey, and be as comfortable. The great Indian head shake that goes in all directions has been mocked loosely enough. But ‘Loose’ has many meanings. In excess of 20 variations. That must make it comfortable for the average Indian mind !

So, here is the grand treatise. The ability to break anything down into smaller pieces yet, see the pieces as part of a larger whole. To divide yet integrate. That comes principally from the PET bottle ! What say ?

PET bottles are indeed a part of mainstream living. An indelible mark of our households too. Storing everything from sugar to salt. And spices in all sizes. Loose chocolates. Loose biscuits. Loose bread. Loose butter. And so on. Everything loosely stored with a tight lid.

But ‘Loose Petrol’ was something that spun the mind silly, at the Petrol station.

In the morning today! The cops don’t want ‘loose petrol’ to be sold. Well. They must know. They deal with a whole lot of loose characters and have some loose canons in their ranks as well.

In recent times whenever ‘big’ English waffles through the air, on the Indian economy and its resilience etc, the PET bottle has stayed tightly in context !

Cotton Candy memories !

There is an unmistakable energy in the air.  You wonder where it emanates from.  You look hard. And discover that he operates his contraption with a practiced hand. Throwing in that odd spoon of sugar and ratcheting up some noise with a small piece of cane.  

You try to stare into his face. And see whats behind that monochromatic stare into his pink produce.  You cant decipher much. 

You stand there, and simply stare into that contraption.  There are furious swirls that are on. And in some time, you see a gathering sponge of pink cotton.  

There is some thing unique here. You think. As your heart begins to beat faster and the saliva props in your mouth from nowhere.  Enough to make Pavlov beam in his grave. Ditto for his dog. 

The gathering swirls seem to pluck more of the pink cotton from nowhere. The swirls seem to have rung a magic in colour.  You watch the  small piece of cane disappear behind a cloud of pink cotton candy. 

The pink in the air makes you think. Of pinks slips. The lay offs. The worsening economy. You wonder where it will lead the world to.  Strips of bad habits that the world picked up gathered up as a huge ball of pink.  

By now, the saliva in your mouth makes its presence felt. The thoughts of the economy or the recession disappear like share prices on wall street.  Its now ready. Your pink cloud of sugar candy. He thrusts it in your face.  Not even looking at you. And moves on to the next customer. 

Your heart continues to beat fast.  You tell yourself. 

The price of cotton candy : Rs. 20. The calories which you would add : a 100 !  The worry on hygiene and such other factors :  Rs.400/- for consultation and an equal sum on medicine. 

The look of amusement on the faces of children, as you lick away the last strand of cotton candy and nudges from the missus, urging you to behave….. is large scale capital erosion ! 

But the memories that come rushing back to you from an earlier time. When you ran about in grey knickers, and treated 25 paise as a heavenly sum, and thought of cricket and cotton candy as proof that God existed…. Priceless !  

That unmistakable energy permeates. You no longer wonder where it comes from ! 


Top Down. Bottom Up !

clicked at Madurai

They hang it from the top. From all sides. And all angles.

Just to ensure your eye catches it. And then, they layer it well. With the colour showing. And the patterns beaming. And of course, they bargain till the last paise ! A friend tells me that there is a science behind it !

I am sure there is. It is beyond doubt that these people haven’t studied the science in a B School. Good for them. For they continue to do roaring business in the most intense times of depression. Credit is unknown in this world !

A professor i talked to, said, that only these chaps seemed to be beating out the recession. And i took a bow ! Wasn’t this wonderful !?!

Top Down ! That’s the way things seemed to be hanging. And working too.

And then, i spotted this.

clicked at Madurai

The chaps who sell these chairs, sell almost everything by evening. Every evening. Every day. They sell only for cash. And buy for the same too. And the wares that they sell last a good few years. And these people still do good business. Very good business.

This was Bottom Up ! And working too.

Top Down or Bottom UP, whilst the suits were folding up with ‘bailouts’ and ‘bankruptcy’ in their lips, here are examples of how the original components of of commerce & trade hold value : Buyer. Seller. Value. Exchange. Money. Real Transactions !

Somewhere along the way, as we acquired new suits, new jargon, and a new education, i guess ‘Top Down’ and ‘Bottom Up’ acquired new meaning and habits too.

Sigh !

On the Tree. Back-To-Front !

The head matters. I mean, whats ‘on’ the head. There indeed was a time that i recall in my head, when ‘whats Inside’ mattered much. But ever since, Intel took on that onerous responsibility with the ‘Intel Inside‘ campaign, i guess, (sic) lesser mortals have graduated to being more concerned with whats on the surface !

That is a huge obsession and cause for worry. I believe, and strongly so, that there would be more hair loss due to worry. Worry about, you guessed it right : Hair loss !

Some weeks back, a friend of mine** informed that there are more ‘options’ available for people with a hairless crown. Upon some prodding, and on the strictest conditions of anonymity that would put the British stiff upper lip to shame, many types were mentioned.

Laser treatment. Hair Transplant. Shampoos. Conditioners. A phalanx of tablets. Diet. And so on. ‘A combination of all of these in some proportion would do good’. The friend claimed. In all earnestness.

Two days later, this image arrived via email titled ‘Norwood Scale‘ ! Strategically marked to the missus as well. I understood this friends good intention. But i suppose this friend didn’t understand that missus has written me off as a whole. Just having some saving grace with hair on top of the head will serve no purpose. Yes. Serves-No-Purpose !

My friends journey continues. In the coming days, numerous steps of innumerable clinics will be climbed. Hair treatment specialists will be consulted and good advice listened to. And of course, this friend will end up with a lighter wallet and a heavier bag of oils, ointments, herbal prescriptions and hope !

The last heard, was some vague mention of ‘hair transplant’ on a slightly more serious tone, loaded with positive intent. ‘Hair from the back of the head, gets to the front’ i am told ! I cant understand these back-to-front jobs ! I really cant !

Look, the world is in a recession. Sales figures are dropping off the bottom most point of charts on a wall. People are losing jobs like a well made sweet sinking into a sweet tooth’s tongue. Bank deposits are evaporating like a distantly striking mirage. Heck, banks are going that route too…Governments are falling off…

And here was worry about falling hair !

But wait a minute.

All of the above is about falling, right ?!? Economies, banks, deposits, sales figures, lifestyle, malls…. and hair…then, maybe we could do what those hair surgeons.

And perhaps bring whats on the back, to the front ! Maybe, that’s the prescription we need ! Hmm..

This post is the first in a three part series titled ‘On The Tree’. Drawing inspiration from spotted on trees !

** Posting with approval from this friend !

Four Steps. For All Seasons !

A week back, a Sunday morning saw a strange romance on the balcony above. Now that the moral police is hyperactive and beat up any kissing and cuddling in public places, this was a rare moment indeed. Almost on reflex the camera was out. These are resultant pictures.
The pictures are a poor indicator of the sheer magic that happened. Like an art movie in the hands of a rookie camera man, who has no interest in movie making. Those minutes were not only magical, they were mystical too.

There were two pigeons who arrived from nowhere. Wings flapping and making a strange noise. Looking up from the Economic Times that was there in my hands, this was quite a sight. A sight in simplicity ! One of love that was simple, profound and with no fancy schmancy ! I watched, almost in a trance. This was precisely the balm to the Economic Times and all it contained !

They took straight positions. Their investments were in each other and in that magical moment. And this was the sequence !

Step : 1

Step 2

Step : 3

Step :4
And this four step process was almost a process in a 6 sigma set up, with an audit team in tow ! Oblivious to the drones of big air crafts or the faint clicks from my camera, these steps went clockwork !

For almost a good five minutes ! Allowing me time to drop the newspaper, pick my camera, unpack and shoot those four snaps in quick succession.

Almost to announce the completion of the snapping on the Japanese lens, a swift breeze flapped the newspaper a trifle too hard. Perhaps it was the shaken Nikkei blowing hot and cold! These folks looked up from their intense moment. And looked in my direction. I froze. Almost like an implicated sleaze peddling paparazzi, catching a private moment of a public princess on lens.

They lingered there for slightly longer. I stood still. Camera in hand.

The Economic Times caught the breeze once more. And fluttered harder. The stock market had wiped out whatever weight in the economy. So !

A propitious sidle later, they flew. What a voyeur like me couldn’t do, the economic times did! But what the economy & our times couldn’t do, was to stop unbridled beauty of mother nature staying on offer. To anyone who cared.

Suddenly ‘stock market’, ‘bail outs’, ‘Paulson’, ‘sub-prime’ and such other ‘words of the season’ sounded like petulant jargon dropping from a broken time machine.

Crateful Markets !

The markets are in turmoil.

People say so. The newspapers say so. Every TV Channel worth the telecast rights says so. Any industrialist who doesn’t say so, is not one. Educationists say so, the world over. Many friends from the blog world says so.

Not to be left out, i want to say something about the markets too.

Ever since i graduated from B-School, ‘Market’ took a meaning of pinstripe suits, mega deals, pink newspapers, intense analysis, luck, spread sheets, mathematics, loads of money. These of course had one element in common : Me ! All of the above had a strange repelling effect on me ! They took the next street, when i came close to them !

Before B-School, ‘markets’ conjured different images : The fresh smell of vegetables, the dirty ground swathed with dropped green leaves, grimy soil, rotten tomatoes, cut coconut, broiler chicken, endless bargaining and a huge amount of energy.

I suddenly seem to get the connection, and understand why stocks are traded in ‘markets’ too.

The eternal construct of the old world market, was in its form. You traded in what you could see. For a price that was by and large equitable to value. The principles of supply and demand worked to ‘real demand’ ! You could touch the offering, and paid in hard currency. If your produce was sub-prime, your price automatically was sub-prime !

Sale didn’t happen because of serendipity. You didn’t buy two more cabbages because some pinstripe told you to. You bought it if you liked it. Or somebody in the family liked it. And those of course were the days of carefree eating, unpolluted by the oil-free-calorie-calculating agenda ! The veritable place offered the best breeding ground for veritable trade.

With a polyannish flourish, and additional inches to a wiseacre chest, here is my theory : The engine of the old world market was its simplicity. Or rather in its abhorrence of anything complex.

You could set it up in a jiffy. When its time to go home you go home with your store. But the essence of a certain degree of a ‘fair exchange’ & commerce took place ! True value was exchanged. And still gets. And these showcased Innovations in simplicity !

Here are some examples.

A foldable cot forms the merchandising area of this store. Infact, that forms the store. The trader displays his material, shouts out to the world, catches the odd mans attention and converts the sale !

Clicked at Malpao market in Goa.

You sure must have heard about Tele-shop. But have you seen an auto-shop ! Well, here is one. The shop is gone by the night. Only to reappear in the morning. With new merchandise and merchandising.

Vegetable / Fruit Vendors at Powai

And oh yes, supply chain, need not be imperious analytical minds, software that would almost get you the moon, heavy duty warehouses and so on. All it could take is a gunny bag and some strong arms !

Clicked on the road. Somewhere in Mumbai

An inverted crate and 2 X 2 ft is all that this lady has to sell a perishable product. She told me she makes about Rs.300/- a day and sleeps a happy woman. I asked her, what does she aim to do ? She told me, ‘ Sell my ware. Earn my money. Get my sleep.’ That was as simple as it could get.

And i sure could tell, she was crate-ful ! Even after her merchandise was exhausted !

Clicked at a market in Goa

Fundamentally Speaking !

As the world shakes under the impact of Lehman Brothers & Merril Lynch, i cant but help wonder whats happening. These after all were institutions that were built on layers of credibility over many decades ! To see them sink into a quick sand is not only numbing but also unnerving. Well, this isnt a post about Lehman or Merril ! I am no economist nor am i anyway qualified to write about them !

But this pictue that i clicked sometime back, seems to rest at the forefront of my memory and refuses to go away ! Here i was at a restaurant in Bangalore. Having ordered a take away, I had nothing else to do, but twiddle my thumb and check the cobwebs. Thats when i looked at the main notice board in the restaurant !

The wide array of services befuddle me !

Ranging from giving Punjabi Lassi, to Tandoori Chicken, Aloo Gobi to a real estate business is quite a spectrum.

Add Life Insurance, Medical Insurance, Mutual Funds, Tax Return filing, share brokering, Public Provident Fund through State Bank Of India, ‘all woodwork’ (wardrobe etc)…. under one roof..well, the spectrum becomes SOME spectrum !

Dawning the curiosity coat, i approach the chap manning the counter, and ask him how many people form part of this set up, vaguely pointing to the notice board and the array of services displayed ! He looks up, shouts out ‘two Tandoori’ to his waiters, and says, ‘One’.

And adds with an emphatic ‘ME’ in a ‘dont-you-see-it-dude’ tone !

I look up with a ‘Lassi-to-Unit-Linked-Insurance-Plans-is-a-quite-a- stretch’ look on my face. His eyes look sqaurely into mine, and asks me, what do i want to do : buy shares ? sell shares ? Do you have house to rent out ? Do you need to rent a house ? File tax returns….?

The big burly gent arches his eyebrows, wanting to know what i would prefer ?

An apparition of my commerce professor, with balding head and steady voice appears in front of me ! With no fear of sounding ‘repetitive’, he used to say, ‘stick to fundamentals’ !

‘Err..’ i reply, ‘my rotis and gobi masala’ !

Studying On Gas !

The effectiveness of any kind of training can be best assessed by, a change in behaviour, it is said! Sometimes the pangs of reality force a change in behaviour & consequently lead to a change in culture. And provide new ground for training & learning too !

Welcome to the new world of ‘fuel prices’. That the fuel prices will continue to move north is no longer dependent on an oil Shiek’s desultory shake of a hand in the middle of an afternoon slumber! There just isn’t enough oil available for all our needs.

cartoon from :

So, the gas prices will stay where they are. And perhaps head further NORTH ! In the meanwhile, the resilient human being with the need for survival, is already adapting.

The big cars are being traded for the small ones!
The small ones are being traded for two-wheelers
And two-wheelers are being traded for bi-cycles!

The trickle will indeed evolve into a torrent. Soon.

Its affecting every sphere of life. What we eat, where we go to, how we go there, what we do all get impacted. And by the way, how we study !

Fuel prices and how we study ?!?

That could sound distinctly distant. But this article in the New York Times describes how ! The tremendous increase in registrations for online courses was awing to read. A new wind is blowing. And that’s blowing towards online education!!

Students in the US are going online to study, just not being able to afford gas prices to commute to college & back. And the rest of the world will get there too! Work from home is already here to stay. The age for ‘study from home’ is now coming our way!

So what if fuel prices touch $ 200 per barrel. We have to find our way. The show, after all, must go on.

By the way, there is an unlikely segment that is laughing its way to the bank on the fuel price rise. Multiplex Theaters. Read the story here. Increasingly, it looks to be that the average American society is being shaped, in a theatre close by !

The show, after all, goes on !