Posted on 27-06-2010
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Nobody seems to appreciate history as a valuable asset in India. Working for a for-profit educational institution, I’d recently interacted with primary to high school children and their teachers, and to my horror discovered that history was the “boringest of all subjects.” Children consider it monotonous and teachers say they are exasperated as students do not connect to past events.

What is the study of the human past? The Greeks call it historia meaning inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation, in Latin its ēvidēns, in Italian vista, in English wisdom. The West follows a strict grid for documentation that has become the monument of history. In my experience at seminars, workshops or forums in the West, to make any point about the present and future, there has to be a connect with history to establish the benchmark. Only then do people connect to the future.

In India, history has been relegated to the neglected, forgotten past, as though it’s devoid of value in education or professional areas. Even senior management seems uncomfortable when I include it in my coaching sessions, suspecting it may be “non-actionable.” If I show black & white pictures as authentic historical testimony, they ask for color pictures to “make it exciting.” It’s difficult to explain that being true to history, when only black & white gravure existed as in this case, is important.

We need disciplined documentation to ensure the wheel is not re-invented. Has India mined and stored our rich ancient heritage of habits and practices from different centuries as a repertoire for anyone to dip into? The West follows a strict grid for documentation. People still play Handel’s 17th century or Mozart’s 18th century music compositions using modern instruments, sound and interpretation as the written notation is unchallenged in posterity. In Indian music’s guru-shisya tradition the finer points or melody may get altered or fade out with multiple non-grid interpretation, depending on how the disciple captures it.

Historical data, facts and figures in human or natural evolution, socio-cultural, technical or entertainment areas define how society’s emulsion in every epoch generates incredible invention. I’ve heard stories here of people thinking they’ve invented, but when the patent or IP recognition was refused, discovering that invention had happened earlier. Aside from preventing waste of time and energy, searching a subject in the global field can be very inspiring. Let’s look at a few examples of how and why certain inventions took place and became a part of our daily lives.

The early, mid-1860s history of The Nestlé Company was Henri Nestlé’s search for a healthy, economical alternative to breastfeeding for mothers who could not feed their infants at the breast. This trained Swiss pharmacist’s first customer was a premature infant whom physicians had given up for lost as he could not tolerate his mother’s milk or conventional substitutes. After Nestlé’s new formula saved the child’s life, people quickly recognized the new product’s value. Nestle’s ultimate goal was to help combat the problem of infant mortality due to malnutrition. Their focus today is on responsible nutrition and promoting health and wellness.

As a youngster Louis Pasteur showed no special ability, but in high school became interested in science. He had five children, three of whom died of typhoid fever. This was a cause that motivated him to develop the germ theory of disease to save people from diseases. Eventually Pasteur solved scientific mysteries such as generation of ailments like rabies, anthrax and chicken cholera, and contributed to the world’s first and most significant vaccines. He died a national hero in 1895, and his remains are in the Pasteur Institute, Paris.

“Research fuels technology and superior technology leads to superior performance,” is the philosophy of Amar Bose, founder of Bose speakers. As an MIT graduate student in 1956, Bose bought a high end stereo system but was disappointed when it failed to meet his expectations. He later began extensive research to fix the fundamental weakness plaguing high-end audio systems. Today, the Bose brand that stands for “Better Sound through Research” has become the most respected name in sound, from the Olympic Games to the Sistine Chapel, from NASA space shuttles to the Japan National Theatre.

The Internet was designed 1973, and up and running by 1983. Developed by Vinton Cerf and others, this international network of computers delivers information "packets" such as e-mail from one "address" to another. Tim Berners-Lee became a part of the Internet’s complex history of innovation by inventing the World Wide Web in 1989-91. With mathematicians as parents who worked on the first commercial computer, Berners-Lee used the Internet to provide universal access to a comprehensive collection of information in word, sound and image, each discretely identified by UDIs (universal document identifier, also known as URLs) and interconnected by hypertext links. Berners-Lee made it really easy for people with Internet access to contribute and collect information when he gave specifications for HyperText Markup Language (HTML, the code in which websites are written), HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP, the code by which sites are moved in and out of the web) and URLs. He continues to promote the web as an open, accessible, interactive and universal community, and his book Weaving the Web is about his creation’s past, present and future vision.

American Caucasian history is recent compared to Europe, but they have meticulously preserved it to cultivate the US cultural aspect. Take the film industry. Aside from the entertainment value of cinema and television, you can experience how films are made at the entertainment park of Universal Studios in Hollywood. The real atmosphere is re-created here, from cinematography to acting and editing. You can enjoy how different scenes of the film Psycho were shot, and feel that you are directing the film along with Alfred Hitchcock. This is an outstanding way of bringing back a sense of history by making people experience it.

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader, about how we in India can bring living substance into history, and drive the grid of knowledge to help future generations benefit from history to invite India to invention.

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Posted on 20-06-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Europe does not consider marketing to be an economic strength that serves organizations and societies. Marketing is generally believed to be pure manipulation that sells a product by fooling people. Sometimes it’s even perceived a vulgar weapon to bulldoze and overdose the masses with. Exploiting the consumer’s mistrust for marketing, hyper markets and supermarkets started their own retail brands called private labels as extensions of organized brands to be sold only in their stores. Private labels duplicate most fast moving consumer goods and price products at least 25% lower than big brands. Shops like Leader Price in Europe and Dollar Store in USA have emerged to espouse high discount prices. This anti-marketing force against overpriced branded products is a growing business sect emerging in all countries. Private labels cannot think of advertising as they have too many products. They take advantage of the awareness of big brands and create good quality low priced products to sell alongside them at the retail.

Business driven Americans are, in general, attuned to marketing. Marketing occupies an embellished social stature in this 300-year-old Caucasian civilization, and has become almost a religion. When history and heritage have comparatively low bandwidth, people use scale and wealth to establish dominance. Americans assign power and recognition when money is quoted. The success of Donald Trump, Bill Gates, George Lucas, Hugh Hefner, Stephan King or Bob Dylan among others is glorified in terms of their wealth.

In every aspect of life, be it business, films, writers, musicians, even literature, success is measured in scale and money. The term ‘Best seller’ was coined to market literature through quantitative measurement of a specific number of books sold. Should a book be equated to a consuming product’s multi-mega sale, like beefsteaks sold in kilos in a hypermarket? Shouldn’t ‘highly read’ replace ‘best seller’ to define this category that grows intellect or creates fantasy? Being in the Top 5, Top 10 or Top 50 of the musical hit parade originated here to measure a singer’s commercial success. Money, size and scale for all subjects are entrenched as positive endorsement in American culture.

My observation is that the US context of marketing means being clever and intelligent enough to make money. The more marketing oriented you are, the more respect you gain. Making money is crucial and not negotiable, and having money translates to being on top of everything. Commerce drives marketing, making it a revered subject at both the workplace and in business schools.

American big city lifestyle is dazzling, but in contrast the American farmer says he cannot use any marketing tactics as he is produce strapped fro money. As per a research finding, unable to make a living in their own farms, farmers consider theirs to be the country’s most neglected profession, with agricultural imports destroying their earnings. They corporatize their farms, stay in joint families to save on earnings, and end up making around $1.4 million on 3,000 acres of land. The actual earning from that farm can be a meager $70,000 per year inclusive of taxes to be paid. They say large American corporations have no qualms about importing cheap foreign produce to gain higher profits at their expense. The farmer resents getting short-changed by the consumer who rejects his high priced American produce for imports. This undercurrent of hard times in American farms is likely to reverse their livelihood dependence on agriculture.

When manufacturing of Western branded products is outsourced to emerging economy countries, some American and European consumers doubt the product’s quality. But anti-marketing consumers for whom brands mean some marketing brush up with no real substance are quite happy with these cheaper products.

After about 11 million Americans lost their jobs in the recent recession, “offshore outsourcing” has become a dirty concept. To win consumer confidence and be politically correct, US companies are now showcasing their contribution towards American job seekers. American Apparel brand is appeasing the public by advertising their product uniqueness to be “Made in Downtown LA, Sweatshop Free.” They earn the consumer’s wallet share by emphasizing US manufacturing facilities, not outsourced to foreign sweatshops. Similarly Starbucks communicates, “Every Latte, Every Cappuccino 100% Fair-trade Coffee” in every coffee cup, meaning they practice fair-trade in procurement. I’ve heard the Governor of Michigan say on television that America should be an exporting country, not import oriented.

Among the best marketing jobs to date is the UK’s organized marketing of imperialism. British cultural infusion into their colonies was akin to slow poison that finally consumed their subjects.

Just a handful of British traders spread the English culture into India. Today nobody faults an Indian who does not speak his mother tongue correctly, but if he should use improper English, he will lose his social status. Implementing the British way of life in a colony was the finest marketing action of the British race. Whichever country they went to, they drove the indigenous people to adopt and swear by English culture.

Free trade and commerce is pushing emerging economy countries to follow the Western marketing model by default. The English language has been the unsurpassed marketing coup by becoming the globally recognized business language across the world. Slavery has migrated from the physical to the colonial to the intellectual level today.

American marketing has always feted the large, whether in cars or hamburgers, and on getting more value, starting with “More bang for the buck” as they say in advertising parlance. Western business practices have influenced emerging countries without taking into account, conforming to, or seamlessly meshing with, the societal aspects of our billions. The dichotomy is that India and China are now downloading new complexities in the front yard of Americans and Europeans by overpowering them with issues relating to unemployment, outsourcing and organized immigration.

After their World War II defeat, Japan was disallowed from manufacturing defence weapons. So they set out to conquer world markets with the ingenious weapon of high quality miniaturization. They copied fundamental Western invention and obsessively created high quality miniaturized products to win consumer hearts across the world. India needs to think of how to market Indian brands that reflect outstanding quality, functionality and emotive factor without the constrained perception of cost advantage being considered low profile, low cost and low quality. Only by packaging cost, quality and aspiration at every price point can Indian brands meaningfully surprise global markets and get recognized in digitalized 21st century.

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Posted on 13-06-2010
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

The first time I watched the World Cup on TV was in 1974, a few months after arriving in Paris. Before that, I’d caught the experience only on radio, hearing the spectacular voices of commentators Ajayda, Kamalda and Pushpenda. They were so good that without being in a football stadium, we could visualise a match with Kolkata teams like East Bengal, Mohan Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, among others.

Being Bengali football freaks, even without the presence of TV, we felt very close to the World Cup. Brazil was almost a part of the Bengal team where Pele, at 17 years and 239 days, won the World Cup for his country in 1958. The greatest footballer of all time, Pele played in four World Cups, thrice bringing home the Cup for Brazil. Argentina’s Diego Maradona is as big a world football icon, sharing the FIFA Player of the Century Award with Pele. Maradona made his international debut at 16 and played in World Cups from 1982 to 1994.

Cite Universitie in Paris 14 district where Greek House Director Yourgoulis gave me hostel accommodation is where I sat mesmerised before that b&w TV set. I’d grab a chair in the small table tennis lounge-cum-TV room an hour before the match. I could not speak French then so had to guess at everything, including the incredible moves of Beckenbaur and Muller. I peppered my fervour with Greek swearwords like malacca and putanis. The word ralenti often cropped up so I asked the only other Indian student—who had given me to understand that he spoke very good French—what it meant. He said ralenti is like penalty. I believed him but discovered by the 1978 World Cup that ralenti means slow motion in French.

In 1994, I visited Argentina to implement a global project. Much to the chagrin of my client, Elizabeth, I’d wander into the ‘dangerous’ Buenos Aires slums to observe social trends. I found that companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola had sponsored good football grounds to encourage slum children play. In fact, Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, who is now part of the Argentina team, played street football in these ‘no go’ areas as a child.

At that time, as I watched young boys practice football, others quarreling—one even had a gun—and I remember thinking how terrific these sophisticated sports arrangements were. This crumbling slum had murky streets where even emergency services often refused to enter. In our poor village in Bengal, we could never think of such sports facilities or of anybody from our village becoming a world famous football player. Yet, even football champion Maradona, currently Argentina’s coach, was raised in a poor family in a Buenos Aires shanty town. He was ten when he was spotted by a talent scout.

Elizabeth and I once went to a coffee shop at a national football ground. A boisterous group were gesticulating wildly about an imminent major local football match in the city starring Boca Juniors versus River Plate. I wanted to join their table-talk. Elizabeth did not approve of it but I explained to her that the food company they had acquired had its roots here and its transformation work required us to gather cultural aspects of Argentina and football was an intrinsic part of it. This kind of social phenomenon would bring us the right insight for this acquired company’s future plans.

I walked across to those guys and introduced myself as a Bengali Indian living in Paris. The moment they heard Kolkata, they hugged me. It seems a few in this group of football journalists had gone to ‘Mother Teresa’s city’ with the Argentina team in 1984 for the Nehru Cup. They marvelled at the Kolkatans’ passion for football. Happy to meet a fellow football lover from across the globe, they offered me a ticket to the match that day. I’ll never forget that immediate connect that football created.

I’ve been to two World Cups now—in France and in Spain—and seen other European football matches and found the excitement that emanates there to be incomparable to any other bonding experience.

Fortunately, there’s something beyond elite intellectual global recognitions like the Nobel Prize. Excellence in sports can also create international heroes. The youngest Nobel Laureate, Lawrence Bragg, was 25 when received the prize along with his father. And in sports, Pele and Maradona were teenagers when they acquired world fame with their genius. Pele, who grew up in São Paulo, could not even afford a ball and played with a grapefruit or a sock stuffed with a newspaper. He earned working in tea shops until he was discovered by a coach. When he scored his 1,000th goal, he dedicated it to the poor children of Brazil. These famous players are a great inspiration and powerful motivators for underprivileged


In India, sports is always short changed, the focus being on education. But everybody in society cannot be, or does not need to be, a graduate. Basic school education is enough to become a globally renowned sportsman. In India, sports can be a great medium to encourage disadvantaged people to acquire prowess instead of abandoning them into ghettoes where crime generally grows unabated.


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Posted on 06-06-2010
Filed Under (CRIME) by Shombit


The symbol of America’s dark side is Alcatraz. But this former military prison and dreaded high-security federal penitentiary in California for 104 years also demonstrates the ultimate success of marketing action, that even this “Devil’s Island” of despair can be made into a tourist location.

Walking down San Francisco wharf is very enjoyable. There’s the famous organic food farmer’s market, restaurants offering fresh seafood, curio stores and you can see sea lions up close slide and growl with different gestures. The misty distance has small islands and a mysterious big ship-like rock that’s Alcatraz, which has inspired apparel outlets here to showcase prison-inspired fashion for men, women and children. The crowds in Pier 33 alert you to the rush for Alcatraz, a mile and a quarter away, used over time as a fort, a lighthouse and a prison. It’s now a part of the Golden Gate National Park that preserves its buildings, protects its birds and other wildlife and interprets its history. Visitors can go for a cellhouse tour to Alcatraz island.

The US Army first established a fort in Alcatraz in 1853 to protect the Golden Gate from Confederate raiders. It became a military prison from 1859 to 1933. As it was not a place with maximum security, several escape attempts were successful. Ingenious get-away methods included commandeering boats, using disguise and forged documents, drifting away on logs, smearing grease on the body to protect against the cold sea water and swimming away. But attempts by stealing a butter vat from the bakery or a bread kneading trough to paddle away in were unsuccessful.

When in 1934 the Federal Government took over Alcatraz, they made it escape-proof to correct dangerous criminals. But 14 escape bids have proved that daring crooks have extreme intelligence, breakaway thinking and will go to any length for freedom. In fact these attempts have inspired hundreds of novels and Hollywood films such as The Rock, Escape from Alcatraz, The Birdman of Alcatraz and Murder in the First.

To discourage escape attempts they used psychological tactics like revealing to prisoners that dangerous sharks abound, the frigid water was too cold at 58 degree Fahrenheit and the strong current at 6 to 8 mph would wash away swimmers. But that did not stop 36 men from trying to flee to freedom.

The first attempt was very desperate, the prisoner climbed a fence and was shot down. So other inmates realised that real escapes will take real planning. The tenth escape attempt was called the Battle of Alcatraz. For three days six inmates overpowered the guards, captured weapons and took over the cellhouse, but they could not get the keys to the exterior door. The battle ended with five dead, two guards and three prisoners, and two convicts were later executed. By the thirteenth escape bid, much more sophistication was used. Dummy heads were made with soap and human hair, left on the bed to fool the guards while three convicts climbed to the roof along a ventilator shaft, entered the water with floatation devices made from raincoats and were never seen again.

On a day-to-day basis Alcatraz was different from other prisons and more expensive. Each inmate had his own cell with a bed, toilet, basin, stool and table. Their clothing and bedding were frequently changed and laundered; meals were good and plentiful because officials realised that adequate food was conducive to good behaviour. After the 1950s, the well-lit cells were individually equipped with radio headsets that prison officials monitored and edited. From portholes inside, inmates could see San Francisco, and hear New Year celebrations, which probably inspired their dreams to run away.

“Hellcatraz” for some prisoners, life here was highly regimented, hard, with limited privileges. Pitch-dark solitary confinement for the most disobedient public enemies was meant to be for a maximum of 19 days, but rumour has it that it was more. In fact, prisoner Henri Young, part of the fourth escape bid with three others that sawed through window bars, scrambled to the water’s edge but were captured, made Alcatraz infamous when a 26-year-old rookie lawyer called James Martin MacInnis fought his case in court. After his escape bid, Young was allegedly confined to the underground “dungeon” for a long term. On return, he one day killed a fellow prisoner at the dining hall. His lawyer argued that this murder was not Young’s own doing but a consequence of the inhuman conditions at Alcatraz. In a landmark judgment, a 12-member jury found Young guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but added that the treatment of prisoners at Alcatraz was unbelievably brutal and inhuman. Young did not get the death sentence but was returned to Alcatraz.

By the 1960s, US Attorney General Robert F Kennedy ordered reevaluation for Alcatraz. Among other problems like escape bids becoming too powerful, Alcatraz was too expensive to run, needed heavy maintenance expenditure, and a national campaign to rehabilitate inmates was gathering momentum. The prison was closed on March 21, 1963. Since then, fanfare has been built around Alcatraz the museum. Tourist memorabilia include steel replicas of prisoner cups, prison keys and Alcatraz-branded chocolates.

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