Friday, November 6, 2009

Book(s) Review – Percy Jackson and the Olympians

It's an open secret that I am a big fiction of fantasy literature (Not that kind you pervert!!!). I have read a whole lot of fantasy fiction work from various different authors including Rowling (duh!), Tolkein, Phillip Pullman, C S Lewis, Paolini, Eoin Colfer, Johnnathan Stroud and the likes. And I thought that I was almost done with the entire gamut of such books. Imagine my surprise when I came across an author called Rick Riordan with a “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. I read the first one tentatively and liked it a lot. Then the remaining four books followed and before I knew, I was loving the entire series and couldn’t wait to how the series ended (Of course I knew that GOOD ALWAYS WINS IN THE END but I was interested to see how the plot develops).

The book is set in the background of the United States and is based on Greek mythology with a twist of the modern world. The series consists of five books: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. The story revolves around the main character of Percy Jackson, his friends Annabeth Chase, Thalia Grace and Grover Underwood and a horde of other smaller ones. The series uses the epic battle between the Titans and the Greek gods as a backdrop and mingles it with a modern world where it is said that the gods actually exist along with Titans, Cyclopses and the entire range of other mythical creatures like centaurs etc. All these beings co-exist with normal humans who, of course, have no idea of any such existences. These gods are known to have a penchant for “mortals” which of course leads to children, some of which are called demi-gods. These demi-gods have a lot of power with them and are very turned into the tools of the gods because the gods themselves can not interfere in the affairs of the mortals (Remember Hercules?). The protagonist of the story is son of Poseidon, one of the "Big Three" (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades). The story progresses along with how the protagonist came to be aware of the gods, him being a demigod, having a cyclops as a brother, causing an earthquake, saving god’s asses (pardon the expression) and being welcomed into Empire state building (That’s right… according to story, Mount Olympus is now situated at the mythical 600th floor of the Empire State Building).

The story followed in the book is more or less predictable what with the inevitable concept of good winning over evil. Needless to say that there is a prophecy involved which decides the fate of the demi-gods and sets the gears of fate into motion. Of course no story is complete unless there is a dash of love between the friends, a pinch of jealousy amongst colleagues, clash of ego among the contemporaries and the stuff. And, without a doubt, there have to be certain clich├ęd elements in the story like an all powerful villain which even the strongest of good guys have failed to defeat but which the protagonist crushes like a twig; a selfless person who decided to sacrifice himself/herself for the greater good.

But what I felt was extremely good about the book was how well the author has been able to unite the concept of Greek gods and goddesses with the contemporary US life and lifestyle. How the author has found, even in the simplest of things, a scope to introduce the element of surprise. How the modern symbols of American life style such as Cheerleaders, McDonalds etc have been incorporated as something having magical backgrounds to them. It is also fascinating to see how the author has been able to mingle the know Greek stories about Ikarus, Pandora’s Box, Troy, Medussa, Achilles’ heel, Hercules etc fit into the story line.

So my suggestion is that if you can, do read this one and you will not regret it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Poojo in Kolkata

Poojo is the time when Kolkata is at its best and brightest. I had an opportunity to be here at this special time and in this special city. I came out one morning and noticed everybody dressed in new clothes (It was then that it struck me that Poojo had started). It was holiday even in the post office and railway ticket reservation centres.

The city usually known fr not being as clean ws just the opposite. The same old yellow taxi's added added turmeric to a tasty recipe for a deeply cultural experience. The whole city was smoothly managed by the famous Kolkata Police. even while handling unimaginable volumes of crowds the policemen were very polite in handling and giving directions to the people.

There was an amazing camaraderie amongst the people. Even where the crowd was dense, there was very little pushing, jostling and overtaking cues.

Now lets come to the Pandals. There is one at every turn you take. Work for the pandals starts 6-8 months in advance. There is an unparalleled display of artistry, imagination and devotion. So much so, tht after seeing a couple of them I had difficulty in distinguishing the pandals from the real buildings & had to touch some of them to confirm. The chandeliers were particularly brilliant. most pandals are designed around themes like, statue of liberty, parliament, hut, boat, kailash parwat etc.

Poojo provides livelihood to numerous artists, craftsmen, pandits & musicians etc. it may be the reason why so many of the traditional occupations are still alive in there original forms.

PS: If you really want to see the pandals in peace & in detail then start 2 days before poojo begins. These poojos are of 2 types 1) Private family poojo's (some of which are quite famous); 2) public Poojo's of different colonies, parts, communities, streets or lanes of the city.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Student’s Council – A Mighty Institution In IIML

The Students’ Council at IIM Lucknow is one of the most prestigious establishments in the campus, aside from the high and mighty P***M. Well… this article deals with the Student’s Council… The other one may be some other time. :)

In case some of the readers were into a deep slumber for the last 2(or 5) semesters, I will explain about The Council a bit. The Council comprises several students who take upon their shoulders the responsibilities to maintain a united front (ha!) for the students. The Council comprises of 5 ministers, each dealing with a different aspect of the kingdom of IIML. We have a minister of sports, a minister of funds and accounts, a minister of food and beverages, a minister of cultures and festivities and a minister of academia. There is an addition of a new minister from this year onwards, minister of home affairs to ensure that all is “infrastructurally” fit and well. To ensure that these ministers indeed do what they are supposed to do, we have a king on the top of them all. Well there are no particular requirements for any of these posts except perhaps you need to be a lot popular with the entire batch and have a gift of gab. As it happens, these 6 (or 7 seven from next year onwards) “students” were given the authority to look after the rest of the X – 13 – 16 people of the batch (where X is the total batch strength, 13 are the Council members and 16 are the members of the other mighty institution which need no looking after).

The power associated with such an establishment is of such a diabolical capacity that the “students” endowed with the responsibility of maintaining Council feel that it is their sole responsibility to bear the brunt of the position and thereby want to take care of the rest of the batch by not involving them in the formulation of decisions which may impact them for the rest of their stay at (hel)L.

Imagine how problematic it would have been for the simple minded peasants like us had the Council been regularly involving us in their decision making. I distinctly remember several incidents in which the Council had to take some decisions which did not go down with the rest of the batch very well. But, as always, what right did we simple minded peasants have to question the collective wisdom of the institution called “The Council”. It might have been a different case had “The Council” been a student body made by the general mandate of the batch, or constituted of students from the batch, or worked towards the betterment of the students… But wait a second it is indeed supposed to be all of this. But what the hell… how does it matter? It’s not like we might have had some better ideas, for the problems, that the Council did not think up of… they must be real smart that’s why they are in the Council. Alright rest of the batch may have more practical experience than the Council but is it really that important? We should really trust the judgement of our beloved student elected body.

What’s more important is that none of the “simple minded peasants” ever be allowed to question the wisdom of “The Council” as to what they are doing about this important issue or that significant thing pending for such a long time. We all should understand that “The Council” is almost always busy with deciding random rules, or asking the batch for project reports or any other such “important” stuff. They are not free and they do not have time to address your random concerns. If you bug them too much then you are wasting your time because since all the 13 of them are always so busy, they will not have time to address your concerns. Now only if you were talking about bringing sponsorship or were a good friend with “The Council” could they spare some time to lend you an ear for the interesting proposal but even then do not expect too much. They are just not like everyone else. They are the elite class. After all it takes special skills to purposefully evade all the queries… right?

Anyhow, I would like to raise a special toast to all the commendable work that “The Council” has done over the last period, not to mention how “The Council” always kept us all entertained by such actions as would ensure an undying chain of mails and keep us all involved. The Council even took special care of the peasants who visited “saat samundar paar ki zameen” and ensured that they didn’t miss any of the fun that we were having here. Kudos to “The Council” for ensuring that the workings of the student’s affairs have been made even more opaque, if that was possible. Three cheers to the Council for instilling a sense of camaraderie among the batch… Students have forgotten their mutual differences in their quest to stand united against “The Council”. The Council must be applauded for their sustained effort towards developing independence in each and every student so that they do not have to bother “The Council” for their meagre problems and rather look for the solution themselves.

But even as I bring this note to a close, unbidden, the words of the Roman satirist, Juvenal, come to my mind

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
(Who will guard the guards themselves?)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ragging - A curse on Indian Educational system!

Time: 11:30 PM
Venue: A prestigious educational institution

The new batch of students for the next academic year at the prestigious education institution has just been inducted into the college. The students, after a tiresome day, go to bed and hope for a sound sleep to prepare them for the gruelling schedule the next day. But… They are woken by a loud rap at their door with sounds like “********. Saale so gaya kya. Uth be &^%$#@.” and “***** maar raha hai kya?”. They get up only to realise all the “fuchhas” have been woken by their seniors and now they have to dress up as a Eunuch or a Whore and sell each other. Or for that matter pretend to be a Superman by wearing their underpants over their trousers. Let us bring a twist in the scenario… How about asking some 20 odd boys to be a “Superman” in front of each other and a horde of second year students?

Sounds a bit rowdy for the so the called students who are deemed to be the future of our country, doesn’t it? But that is the case with thousands of students who enter the college with a sense of achievement but are forced to face such a situation. Of course some can cope with it better than some who can’t. But that not even a matter of consideration. What is more important is that why anyone should be made to suffer such a horrible form of “Interaction”?

The case of Aman Kachroo, sometime back, brought forward the plight of thousands of other students who suffer the similar treatment at the hand of their so called seniors. Of late there have been so many other cases with the a student being hit on their genitalia, a student being injected with air and then wrist slashed by his seniors at a Kolkata medical college and so on. It is not like it is for the first time that such a thing has happened. Everyone know that such things happens… the college authorities know of it… the “fuchhas” or first years being ragged know of it… the “Seniors” ragging the “fuchhas” know of it… and in the case of some of the institutions the entire campus knows of it; But still nothing is done about it.

Several similar cases have been brought to lights earlier as well. Every time some such case comes forward; there is a lot of hoopla, people get excited, and all the news report, internet chat, blogs etc are written. This continues for about a month after which it becomes old news and everyone forgets about it. But there are some people who cannot forget it even if they want to viz. the grieving family of the deceased. And what does the government do? Nothing. Because of the distinctive lack of will of implementation and the fact that their children do not have to suffer such a cruel fate because they, of course, belong to an influential family and this alone should be enough to scare away and potential “ragger”.

There are those who say that this ragging is good for developing a healthy interaction between seniors and juniors. Bullshit I say. If this is the only way that any interaction can be developed between first years and the seniors then they are better with no interactions at all. I mean what is the purpose that such an interaction solves when it forces the first years to actively avoid meeting the seniors or make them group up so that they are not alone when they meet any senior.

My two pence on what can be done to avoid such situations from arising in the future:

1) Make someone responsible to see that ragging, in no form, is pursued on and off the campus.
2) Provide strict guidelines to senior as to what is considered as appropriate behaviour and what not. Impress on them the seriousness of this issue and the implications of non compliance.
3) Provide a friendly interface to the first years to inculcate them into the system.
4) Put a system into place where the first year students can put their complaints in an anonymous manner but also ensure that the students do not take undue benefit of the system.
5) Arrange one or more official functions to familiarise the students with their surroundings. Many corporate have a “buddy” system in place to help new joiners’ feel at home in the new environment. Perhaps a similar system can be put in place with the help of local student body.
6) Last but not the least, it requires the college authorities to be willing to implement the necessary controlling measures and keep a track of the results. This can be done through various means such as surprise checks, forming student bodies etc.

Now I know that the people will find faults with every approach… But I feel that it is just the lack of willingness on the part of such people which prevents anything from actually being implemented. It is true that there are pros and cons to each action. I, however, believe that this is the absolutely worse situation and any step you take could only be a step towards betterment of the students’ plight.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kolkata ki Cabs

I am sure a lot many of us must have heard of the song “XL ki kudiyan…” Well the other day I was traveling to office in cab and I saw a bumper sticker in one of the cabs saying “Kolkata ki Cabs” and I thought to myself… “That’s saying something”.

Those who have been to Kolkata would know what I am talking about. On any road, station, office or any other place; the yellow cabs significantly outnumber the people standing in the queue. With that being the case, one might think that there would not be any commuting problem with such a significant number of cabs available on the road. But they couldn’t be more wrong about this assumption. As it turns out, the cabbies here have hailed from yet another planet (readers may remember that to an outsider Kolkata is another planet from yet another universe. More details at earlier post at They do not want to go anywhere, irrespective of the destination you may name, the price you may offer or the threats you may throw at them. They would rather sit in the cab on the curbside but would not do an honest days work.

Furthermore, for those of the cabbies that do agree to take you to your destination, you have to be very very cautious. We have had several instances in the beginning where we were taken in a roundabout way for our destination so that the trip, which should have taken around 15-20 minutes, ended up as an hour and a half journey. Yet another amazing thing about these creatures is their amazing sense of driving. I could not have imagined how a person could drive on the tram tracks or the continuous honking of horns despite being stuck in a long jam or ability to drive on the footpath or the art of scaring the shit out of the passengers and walkers alike. But I was given this divine chance to see all of these and appreciate how simple and good my life was before KP (Kolkata Posting) era. But that’s not all folks. Despite the fact that they overcharge you for cab, despite the fact that they take you through longer routes, despite the fact that they drive like madmen on the streets; we also observed that more often than not, their meters are tempered to go at a faster rate.

But still the cabs are the most popular way of travel in the city we know as Kolkata. I wonder why?
Kolkata is dead. Long live Kolkata.

A decaying City

My first impression when I got off at Howrah station was “God! There are so many damn people here”. The image that I developed of Kolkata at that time got progressively worse. As I left the station to hail a cab, I saw along line of cabs standing outside the station and an even longer line or people queuing for these cabs. The moment I saw the cabs, I thought that I had time traveled back to the sixties with only ambassadors in sight as far away as I could see. Or even that perhaps I have stepped into a place which is filled with inhabitants from a different planet. As it turns out, after my later interactions with people and observing their cultural habits, I was right. It is indeed a new planet.
My subsequent foray into the city did nothing to dispel this notion of mine. The city was filled with people, people crossing the road, people standing on the traffic junctions, people chewing beetle leaves and spitting on the road, people in lungi and baniyan, people without lungi and baniyan and so on and so forth. The roads were lined with Victorian architecture, grand buildings from the British era and other miscellaneous decrepit structures. It was like the entire Kolkata is Chandni Chowk (The original one from Delhi) all over. The first thing to strike my mind was that Kolkata is like a woman who must have been good looking in her prime but has now let herself go.
The one overpowering feeling that I got while traveling through Kolkata was that it is now a decaying city. True that the city hasn’t lost all of its earlier glory, true that it may have a rich culture. But it also true that there is little, if any, growth in the city. Most of the parts of the city are now stagnant. Filled with the human life forms thronging together, it is somehow going through the daily motions but the disease seems have to have set in. the symptoms are there for all to see, people just ignore them. I don’t know if it would ten years or twenty before the city finally given in to the forces and let the collapse settle in. And I know this, I wouldn’t want to be there when that happens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

India: an Attractive Retail Destination

This is a copy of my article on India as a retail destination. The article can be found at:
India has been topping the AT Kearney's annual Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) for three consecutive years, thus presenting itself as an attractive market for retail investment.
The Indian retail market is the fifth largest retail destination globally. According to leading industry estimates, the Indian retail is estimated to grow from the US$ 412 billion in 2008 to US$ 483 billion by 2010 and $860 billion by 2018. In the same manner; modern retail, presently accounting for 4 per cent of the total market, is likely to increase its share to 25 per cent by 2018.
India has one of the largest numbers of retail outlets in the world. Of the 12 million retail outlets present in the country, nearly 5 million sell food and related products. However, India’s mass grocery retail sector is dominated by small-scale traditional retail outlets. Not only in grocery but in other categories as well, India’s retail scene is still dominated by unorganised retail players. The organised retail accounts for only 4 per cent of the total market with the rest being fulfilled through the fragmented offering. This is in contrast to the international picture. However, this is changing, and fast, as multinationals begin to seek opportunities to enter India and as local organised players accelerate their own expansion and business activity efforts in preparation for greater competition. The country’s economic development has allowed for the further development of mass grocery retail as increasingly wealthy consumers in major towns and cities turn to modern formats in search of the convenience and quality, which they now desire and can increasingly afford.
The various key drivers of the consumption in the Indian markets, and subsequently retail sector, are:
  • Indianization of western culture
  • Novelty of the shopping mall ‘concept’
  • Malls being a focus point for social interaction
  • Status associated with shopping

The sheer size of India’s population and the number of major towns and cities contained in the country, provide enough consumers to guarantee growth well beyond the forecast period. On the other hand, the rising disposable incomes and increasing urbanisation provide ample opportunity for strong growth rates. However, a big challenge for the retailers is to have similar access to the rural poor as to the urban rich.

The future outlook of the Indian retail market appears to be bright, with Euromonitor expecting the Indian Retail market to grow in value terms by a total of 39.6 per cent between 2006 and 2011, averaging growth of almost 7 per cent a year.

BMI (Business Monitor International) is anticipating the strongest growth in India’s hypermarket sector, with sales set to grow by an explosive 1025% to reach US$1.35bn in 2011. Supermarket sales will increase by 119.1%, discount stores by 242.9% and convenience stores by 134.1%.

Key focus areas for the future development of the Indian Retail industry are:

  • Lack of proper consumer insights
  • Development of adequate supply chain
  • Develop the Human Infrastructure

CAT: It's not rocket science!

This is a copy of my article on Rediff... Find out the article at:
The only way to prepare for CAT is to study at least 10 hours a day; all seven days a week, join as many coaching classes as you can and practice all the mock tests that you can lay your hands upon. That is a sure shot formula for success at CAT.
If anyone has told you the same thing then I suggest that you react to it as you would to someone telling you that earth is square. IGNORE IT!
For the uninitiated, CAT is the guru of all the management exams in India. Cracking CAT paves your way to the next phase of admission process for getting into an IIM. Not only IIMs, several other top institutes subscribe to CAT such as MDI, S P Jain, etc.
Prima facie, there is no sure shot way of cracking CAT. The only thing that can ensure that you crack CAT is -- YOU. Unlike the various exams for entry to graduation courses, the "syllabus" for CAT is very basic. It is your application of the concepts that makes you a winner. Unlike these exams, you do not have to mug up the formulae and revise and re-revise the applications for CAT.
The concepts in CAT are not rocket science. They are concepts that you learned during your schooling and form the basis of your advanced studies. Where CAT, and other such post graduation exams, differs is that it actually tests how well you can withstand the pressure of those two/ two and a half hours, how well you are able to do within a fixed time limit and how well you are able to make choices under pressure.
While preparing for CAT, one common mistake that most students make is to get into a herd mentality. Doing something just because the rest of your friends are doing it is never a wise move. What they practice may be totally different from what you need to improve upon. You should know what suits you best. Hence, bear in mind that you have to make your own decisions, regardless of how different they may seem from the ones that your friends are making.
Further, studies with any coaching institute would take you only that far. They are teaching thousands of students with the same curriculum. Hence, any differentiating factor in your performance would need to be initiated by you.
For people with comparatively poor vocabulary and comprehension skills, this would an ideal time to pick up the newspaper that you didn't bother to look at during your graduation; and I mean newspaper with big, wordy articles in them and not just sports or gossip columns. Start reading novels to build up your reading speed.
For the people who are not very good in the quantitative skills, it is high time to google and search for relevant material on the net (trust me, there is a lot of material available online). Form study groups with your friends and share material among yourselves. The sole key to cracking CAT is practice and lots of practice. With repeated practice, you can gain enough experience to help you bell the CAT.
In my case, I had earlier joined a premier coaching institute for their regular coaching sessions around January 2004. When I decided to attempt CAT 2006, I was working for over one year. I realised that due to work I would not get (nor probably would require) to join a regular course of any coaching institute. Thereby, I decided to join the test series for two prominent coaching institutes in Delhi
. These helped immensely in gaining exposure to different styles of questions and facing the uncertainty commonly associated with CAT.
One very important thing associated with mock test series' is their analysis later on. It was on this front that I feel that I could have gained substantially higher than what I did. The mock CATs should be taken very seriously and be approached with the same manner in which you intend to approach the real paper.
Further, merely attempting a mock CAT is not important. What is important is what lies ahead -- how you treat the results of that mock test. Every test should be subjected to a rigorous analysis of how you fared in it, what went wrong, what went right, where and why?
You should analyse what your strong and weak areas are and how you should work on developing each one of them. With each question that you could not attempt in the mock test, more of similar questions should be attempted to help familiarise with pattern of similar questions.
For every wrong question, you should analyse what went wrong with the question and how you can work towards correcting the fault.
Finally to D-day, when it is time for your year-long efforts to culminate, it is your performance during those 2-2.5 hours which really decides whether you crack CAT or not. It is immense pressure and you may feel that it may impact your future. But do not let it take a toll on your performance.
At this point, I would emphasise that it is very important for you to be at your coolest on the day of your CAT exam. If possible, take the week before CAT off. Relax. Do all the things that you feel would help calm you. Watch a movie. Try to be in a positive state of mind before the exam. Remember, a relaxed mind can think much better than a stressed mind.
On a different note, do not make CAT your dream of a life. Keep on reminding yourself that CAT is not the only thing in the entire universe. If, by any chance, you are not able to crack CAT then do not fret too much about it. It is not the end of the world. There are still a lot of other options just around the corner -- and there is always a next time!

Ending with a big best of luck to all the CAT aspirants!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Yeh hai meri kahani...

Well… this blog is going to be a collection of random articles I have written over the period of time and various thoughts that I have had in my mind for long till the time I felt the need to write something about them. The blog may not have a common theme running through it or sometimes the order of the article may be a bit erratic, though I will try that this doesn’t happen. The only reason for this is that I felt like putting that article at that time.

It may be that sometime the articles may not be to your liking… please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions as they would be more than welcome. Caustic replies may, however, be sent to my personal mail id :)
So go ahead and I hope that you enjoy whatever you read here.