Category Archives: Thoughts

Bucket List 2017!

I tweeted this a few days back. Plugging it here.

 

 

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Joy of Cycling

I’ve written about this before. About my hobbies. I have a love-hate relation with all my hobbies – sketching, blogging, running, cycling, singing and the likes.

I don’t generally do any of them regularly. There will be “interest peaks” when I overdo them. For example, I haven’t blogged for months, but today, this is already my third blog post. Similarly, there was a time when I did 5 pencil sketches in 2 weeks, but haven’t touched it thereafter.

One recent hobby that I’ve developed is cycling. It has not yet become “regular” as yet, but I have a feeling, it will, eventually.

My objective of carrying out this hobby is not to get chiselled abs or anything. Definitely not. I just like the act of cycling. I’ve figured out it gives me peace of mind. I feel light on my body and mind. I feel positive at the end of it. I find it liberating. If in the process, I lose a pound or two, it’s an outcome; not my objective.

I bought a cycle almost a year back. One of the most basic Btwin models (for ~5000 INR). After a few initial days of office commute with it, I rarely used it. It was in a discarded state for months, till last month, when I thought I’d register for a 30 km Cycling event along with a few Office colleagues.

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It’s during that event that I realized how big the craze is for cycling in this part of the country. I knew Gurgaon was a fitness conscious city, but the number of people who came with their cycles for that event (across age groups) surprised me. I was one of the last 4 people to complete the 30 km event. I was that slow. But I developed an interest for cycling all over again (after 9 years).

Thankfully, the interest levels haven’t gone down so far in the past 6-7 weeks.

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P.S: In case you’re planning to take up cycling too, download “Strava” App. It’s good.

 

 

 

Harbhajan “Sadist” Singh?!?

Make no mistake, I have high regards for Harbhajan Singh, who represented India at the highest level in Tests for more than 100  matches, something very few legends of the game have managed to do. Harbhajan was a match winner for us.

Off late, something I despise about him is the fact that he very outwardly hates the fact that Ravi Ashwin (a Legend in the making) is over-shadowing him in the Test format. His tweets are a reflection of the same. People who follow him closely on Twitter will have got that sense.

There were tweet praises from him for Kohli when he scored a double, Rahane when he scored a century. No word of appreciation for Ravi Ash when he star-performed throughout the series and also won the Man of the Series Award. Well, you might argue, one cannot infer any sense of sadism from these hints.

Well, he’s also been outspoken about how pitches currently are “tailor made for spin” and about how his and Anil Bhai’s records would have been “something else” had they played in this era.

Now I don’t expect such talk from someone who is a true sport at heart. Harbhajan clearly is not a true sport, though his tweets later after Ashwin cleared the air though his tweets, seemed to hint the same.

Well, my 2 cents for Harbhajan. You’ve made invaluable contribution to Indian Cricket through your long and celebrated career. Now it’s time for others to take the baton from you to keep the Indian flag flying high. Respect that.

Also, a small stat from the 5 Test matches that both Ashwin and Harbhajan played together.

Ashwin took 35 wickets (against Harbhajan’s 11).

Ashwin had an average of 21 (against Harbhajan’s 41).

Ashwin took 5 fifers and 2 10 Wicket hauls. Number of 5 and 10 wicket hauls that Harbhajan picked in the same matches – Well, Aryabhatta invented the number.

Of Customer Discounts and Loyalty

I am a Shoppers Stop loyalist. I have been one, for 8 years now. I find their selection suited to my needs, pricing not kick-ass but better (compared to say Lifestyle). The Store is also pretty close to my house (In Chetpet, Chennai and Sohna Road, Gurgaon).

But the best thing I like about them is their Loyalty Program. They have a lot of tie ups with Banks/other partners. More than half my purchase in their store is through Loyalty Reward points from HDFC bank.

Recently, made my Diwali purchase from their Store in Gurgaon. Saw this interesting offer being promoted throughout the store – “Get Rs. 1500 discount if you buy for Rs. 5000”.

We already had a cart value of Rs. 4800 and thought we could purchase a pair of socks or hankies to get the cart value to tip above Rs. 5000 to avail the discount.

shoppersstop-kdbe-621x414livemint

Then came the surprise, at the counter, “after” our billing was done.
The 1500 discount was split into 4 parts.
2 coupons of “Flat 500 off on a minimum purchase of Rs. 2500”. (This was applicable only on select brands).
1 Coupon of Rs. 200 off, which was redeemable only on their App, at a minimum purchase of Rs. 1000.
Rs. 300 was credited into my Shoppers Stop First Citizen account.

To summarize, I had to purchase for an additional Rs. 6000 minimum (apart from the 5000 I had already bought) to get the benefit of Rs. 1500 which they had so aggressively promoted.

Rs. 150o off on Rs. 11000 (which was their offer) is a very small % of the margins these Apparel retail guys earn (which can go up to 50% or even more).
Whereas some customers like me can drop off, considering it’s too steep a climb to avail the discount, few might end up purchasing for that Rs. 6000 more to avail the discount.

No wonder Shoppers Stop Loyalty program is considered one of the best in the World.

What differentiates a successful start-up from a failed one?

I am a keen observer of the start-up space in India. Nothing interests me more than reading a success story of a start-up on YourStory or any similar forum. I was really happy for Shradha Sharma and the YourStory team when they recently received their first round of funding from Ratan Tata and three others. It was a strong message that one can actually make a business out of writing stories on entrepreneurs who want to make it big!

Shradha Sharma bootstrapped for close to 7 years before her start-up could receive its first round of funding. What does this indicate? If you believe in the vision of the organization you have founded and strongly work towards it, nothing can stop your start-up from succeeding. Right?

Not really.

From what I’ve gathered, there’s more to starting up AND succeeding than meets the eye.  Reports floating around on the internet say that 85% of start-ups fail. No one wants their enterprise to fail. What, then, makes it so difficult for a company to succeed in their industry?

At the risk of sounding preachy, let me try to list down a few things that differentiate a successful start-up from a failed one.

Clarity of Vision

While I am not denying the fact that start-ups can be founded and run by a single person, it’s a fact that most start-ups are founded by two or more people – a set of co-founders. Infosys, Google, Flipkart and most other successful start-ups were founded by a set of two or more people.

In that case, alignment of the organization’s vision among the co-founders and working towards it becomes very important. For example, if Sachin Bansal wanted to start with books and Binny wanted to capture the mobile phone market in 2007, Flipkart would have been nowhere today.

Building the right leadership team

Many a time, hiring the right person for a role can be taken for granted. In reality, that’s not the case. One right senior hire has the potential to make or break the start-up’s future. The person should first align with the organization’s vision and then polarize his complete team’s focus towards achieving results that will take the company forward. Keeping the employees motivated, rewarding them for doing something great, keeping them aligned with the thinking of the top management are some main responsibilities of the senior team which may well decide the trajectory of a start-up. Start-ups cannot afford to ignore these softer aspects of business.

Understanding your Core competence

Does Porter’s Generic Strategies ring a bell? In his book “Competitive Advantage: Creating and sustaining superior performance”, Michael Porter talked about three generic strategies: Cost Leadership, Differentiation and Focus. Running a business is all about getting more sales, irrespective of the industry you operate in. While in e-Commerce or FMCG, “sales” has a direct connotation, in other industries, it might be indirect. Google wants more people to click on their paid ads, YourStory wants more readers, NGOs want more sources of income, and so on. At the end of the day, how is your start-up going to be different from those which are already present in your industry?

Porter says any company needs to tread the path of one of the three generic strategies: Cost Leadership, Differentiation and Focus.

When ShopClues was started, Flipkart was already a major player in India and there were other smaller players too. So what did ShopClues do? It “differentiated” itself by being India’s first online marketplace. Looking at the success it garnered and the huge potential and benefits of operating as a marketplace, other players shifted to this model too.

Jabong, on the other hand, took the “Focus” approach, venturing only into the lifestyle vertical. Unlike Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and ShopClues which were Horizontal e-Commerce firms, Jabong chose to focus on lifestyle and make it big there. And they did. Because of this focused approach, they were able to offer a lot of things to the customer which other players in e-Commerce couldn’t.

The most recounted examples for “Cost leadership” are the no-frills breed of airlines spearheaded by Indigo. By cutting operational costs, they were able to transfer the benefits to the customer.

Good customer retention strategy

Marketers say that the cost of acquiring a customer is generally 15-20 times the cost of retaining one. Start-ups can sometimes get into this loop of spending big on customer acquisition but not focusing as much on retaining them. A successful start-up has fundamental strategies in place to balance out both.

Traditional ways of acquiring customers involve Paid search, Display Ads, Print Ads, TV Commercials, Outdoor and the like. Start-ups which do not have too much money generally focus on other organic ways of acquiring customers. Referrals is increasingly being used to acquire new “good quality” customers. One other way is by being strong on long tail SEO. For example, if your start-up is a taxi aggregator in the Gurgaon region, you will have to ensure you feature in the (first page of) organic results when someone searches for “Book Taxi Online Gurgaon” in a search engine.

Coming to customer retention, there is so much a start-up – any start-up – can do with complete customer information (demographics, purchase history) handy. You could shoot out customized e-mailers to the customer, send a push notification in a sale he/she might be interested in, or, at a much higher level, create a company-level loyalty program to keep bringing your customer back. In retail, Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle are pioneers in Loyalty Program.

The fundamental principle behind spending on retention is: you would rather spend 100 rupees to retain a customer than spending 1000 to acquire one.

Start-up India, Stand up India

With our Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi coming up with the “Start-up India, Stand-up India” slogan during his recent I-Day speech and with Government rules creating an environment for new businesses to thrive, these are exciting times for the start-up space in our country.

If start-ups have clarity in vision with alignment within the organization, build the right leadership team, understand their core competence and execute a good customer retention strategy, they’re going to succeed more often than not.

Town Hall & some life lessons

I work for an e-Commerce startup. There are a lot of things I love about my company and about the way we work. Most of all, I love the concept of having a Town hall, once in a month.

Town Halls are informal public meetings within a company where typically a general business update is given to all employees, to bring them on the same page w.r.t to organization’s goal/focus areas for the next few months. Other points in the agenda for a Town Hall meeting could be Rewards/Recognition (appreciating good talent/work), cultural performances from employees, introduction of new joinees, Quiz questions about the company’s key metrics, et cetera.

Yesterday, for a change, our HR team had organized a Town Hall outside Office, in a club, open air (These gatherings till date used to happen within Office premises).

During the Q&A session with the CEO and CBO, one employee raised an interesting question. “Hi, I am a part of the xyz team. Like all teams, we put in our 100% at work. But there are cases where all our efforts go waste because of *some business related technical issue*. It becomes difficult to accept at times, about this injustice done to our hard work”

To which our CEO replied, “Hi X, I understand your pain. I’m sure we can solve this problem through *some solution*. I would like to make the scope of this question a bit more wide so that everyone sitting here can relate to it”.

He looks at the entire audience now, and continues. “Like X, all of us might be facing day to day situations where despite giving our 100%, things might not go our way, because of factors that are not directly under our control. My only piece of advice is this. Please understand that the world around you is imperfect. It is always going to be. The only way to stay sane in this chaotic world is to give it your all for things that are under your control, and stop worrying about things that are not in your control.”

“I always take this example. Consider a nurse working in an emergency first aid ward in a hospital. Every single day, she might be facing cases like people who met with accidents because of drunken driving, because of not wearing helmet/seat belt, etc. When they come to emergency ward, she has to give 100% attention to the task at hand, which is giving immediate first aid to the patient. At that point, she cannot think or crib about why the patient didn’t wear a seat belt or why the patient drove under the influence of alcohol. These are things that are out of her control and distracting thoughts at that point in time.”

“Same goes with all of us. The Marketing guy only needs to think about getting more Visits to our website. The Logistics guy should only think about delivering all our x lac orders within promised date. All our energies should be focused on how better can we do the job that is directly under our control. Only if we are extraordinary and dedicated to our work can we demand the same from our peers. And trust me, if all of us do this, the world would be a better place”

I think his talk made a lot of sense.

People inside Metro

Picture this. Many of my colleagues have this as a daily routine. Catching a metro from their home in Delhi, switching lines at Rajiv Chowk, travelling another 50 minutes till Huda City Center Metro Station and reaching office by 10 am, There are certain people who spend 4 hours a day (16.67% of their God-given time) on travelling in the metro.

Delhi Metro undoubtedly is the lifeline of Delhi NCR. And what with the amount of time we spend travelling in it, we can’t help but notice the different types and “breeds” of our co-passengers. On one such journey in the Metro from Rajiv Chowk till Huda City Center, I tried to document the kinds of people who throng the metro, day in and day out.

Enjoy!

On this occasion, I register my extreme joy on the fact that Chennai Metro is now functional. Can’t wait to go home and travel in Chennai’s new lifeline.

Kottucherry கும்பல்!

“நல்லதோர் குடும்பம் பல்கலைகழகம்” என்றான் கண்ணதாசன்,
அதற்கு எடுத்துக்காட்டு எங்கள் KG என்கிறேன் இந்த நித்தின் ஸ்ரீனிவாசன்!

ஒரு மாதம் இருக்கும் இந்த Whatsapp குரூப் ஆரம்பித்து,
ஆனால் நாம் கற்ற விஷயங்களோ தொள்ளாயிரத்து பத்து

ராகவன் மாமா மூலம் கர்நாடகா -வை ரசித்தோம்
சித்தார்த்தின் கேமரா மூலம் கொடைக்கானலில் வசித்தோம்

அம்மாவின் மொக்கை Forward -களை படித்தோம்
KJ பெரிப்பாவினால் பழங்களின் நன்மைகளை அறிந்தோம்

விஜி ஆன்ட்டி இடம் ஆங்கிலம் கற்றோம்
பரத் மூலம் கால்பந்து ஞானம் பெற்றோம்

MRVS அத்திம்பேரின் வீடியோ -வை பார்த்து வியந்தோம்
பாப்பா அத்தை share செய்த பழைய போட்டோக்களை பார்த்து மகிழ்ந்தோம்

நந்து பெரிப்பாவின் கவிதையில் மெரசல் ஆனோம்
விஜயன் சித்தப்பாவின் எழுத்துக்கு அடிமை ஆனோம்

ரமேஷ் பெரிப்பாவை நினைவு கொண்டோம்
விஜயன் சித்தப்பாவின் தரிசனம் கண்டோம்

மைதிலி பாட்டிக்கு பிறந்தநாள் வாழ்த்து பாடினோம்
ரவி பாலுவின் கதை கேட்டு வாடினோம்

என்னையும் ஒரு கவிஞன் ஆக்கிய KG -க்கு நன்றி

நித்தின் ஸ்ரீநிவாஸ்

Nexus & Mélange 2015

Some three years ago, I remember attending Nexus 2012 in Chennai. I had a lot of questions in mind about IIM Shillong. And Nexus was a great platform for people like me to get their doubts cleared from the Seniors. Prasanna and I were the only two people from the incoming batch of 2012-2014. We were completely outnumbered by our seniors and super seniors and “superest” seniors. I remember sitting there amid all of them, listening curiously to their chatter. They spoke about a lot of things related to IIM Shillong, which was Greek and Latin at that time but made a lot of sense after we reached there. I also made a few connections from the super senior batch who continue to stay in touch till date. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept. Nexus. Get a set of people together who have at least one thing in common. IIM Shillong. My Alma Mater. I attended Nexus 2015 in Delhi today. Attendance from the senior batches (my batch and my seniors) was surprisingly very less. But there were at least 10-15 prospects of PGP-15 batch who were in attendance. Somewhere while interacting with them, I realized how time has flown in these three years, from the day I attended my first Nexus till today. Over these years, my responsibility towards my Alma Mater has also increased. To be able to live up to the expectations of an IIM Shillong Alumnus! image

Three months ago, we also had a more formal Annual Alumni Meet at Delhi, called Mélange 2015. The event had our Director and our esteemed Professor Sanjeeb Kakoty in attendance. As Kakoty sir gave us updates about the changes in the Institute, the flashback of the good old days at Shillong replayed in our minds. Alumni Committee had also made a beautiful video about Life at IIM Shillong, with mini talks from our favorite faculty. It was a tear jerker, literally. image

Ah, how I miss that place! Shillong.

The Sachin vs ABD debate!

A conversation between a set of cricket crazy people on who is the best batsman who has ever walked on this planet, follows! 

What do you think about this debate? Share you views/opinion in the comments, below 🙂

21 Apr 00:07 – Bhaskar NH: ABD vs Sachin.. Anyone up for a debate?

Sachin says, "I'm in"

Sachin says, “I’m in”

21 Apr 00:07 – Me: No debate bhai… One is Shiv, one is Vishnu. Both Gods!

21 Apr 00:09 – Bhaskar NH: 👍👍

21 Apr 00:10 – Bhaskar NH: Poda..I thought we could have a healthy discussion on this.

21 Apr 00:10 – Me: Seri start

21 Apr 00:15 – Srikanth: With the respect to abd, Sachin is the only God in my book

"Sachin is our God! Period", says Srikanth

“Sachin is our God! Period”, says Srikanth

21 Apr 00:17 – Srikanth: Simply because Sachin played the way he did against McGrath Walsh Akram Warne all in their primes… Abd is no match in this battle😜

21 Apr 00:19 – Srikanth: BJ so finally you have given up supporting sehwag😱 as it is evident in you starting a debate without him has never happened before😂😜

21 Apr 00:20 – Sud: Sachin laam waste, compared to ab

21 Apr 00:29 – Bhaskar NH: Sudarshan👍👍👍 .. Cheeka, ABD can play like Sachin..but can Sachin play like ABD?

Could Sachin have played this?

Could Sachin have played this?

21 Apr 00:30 – Srikanth: Sachin can, just with more orthodox shots itself

21 Apr 00:30 – Bhaskar NH: Orthodox shots ellam okay… But ABD is a freak da.. 26 off Steyn llam I doubt if Sachin can do

21 Apr 00:32 – Srikanth: Dei, in a flat track with no assistance even Steyn is not as potent a bowler. And if I remember right sachin took Steyn to cleaners in his 200 innings…

21 Apr 00:32 – Srikanth: Maybe not 26 in an over but that innings not possible

ABD vs Steyn

ABD vs Steyn

21 Apr 00:32 – Bhaskar NH: Sachins 200 was also a flat track fyi

21 Apr 00:32 – Bhaskar NH: 😄😄

21 Apr 00:34 – Bhaskar NH: Remember ABD’s match saving 33 of 246 balls in a test match in Oz? Also the fastest 100 and 150…

21 Apr 00:35 – Srikanth: Accepted that Abd played some scintillating innings that rank along the best

21 Apr 00:36 – Bhaskar NH: Only thing is that Sachin had the longevity

Sachu baby

Sachu baby

21 Apr 00:37 – Srikanth: But remember Sachin in Perth when he was only 18 or 19, countless sharjahs, and that 200 was done never before, the situation of that game, the format and the heat! Both had different roles in their teams, so not fair to compare Sachin’s innings with the fastest innings and all…

21 Apr 00:41 – Manoj: Sachin’s bowling is very underrated IMHO. He has over 150 ODI wickets

Sachu bowling

Sachu bowling

21 Apr 00:44 – Srikanth: Manoj👍👍👍👍👍

21 Apr 01:21 – Ajak: Apdi paatha abd is a rugby player so abd > sachin. Comparison is in batting. Ab >srt IMO

21 Apr 01:23 – Me: I agree with BJ for once. ABD can play like Sachin. Sachin has not played the kind of knocks ABD has. ABD is an all format great! Sachin hasn’t scored 41 off 10 and would never have

21 Apr 01:27 – Ajak: Sachin would be never have scored 33 off 220 too

21 Apr 01:27 – Me: The fact that he carried on for 24 years (with consistency and class) is unparalleled. In my books, Dhoni, Dravid, Lax, Dada, Sehwag, Ponting, Lara were all great batsmen of their times but Sachu and ABD have the “Gods of the game” status

21 Apr 01:31 – Sibi: Sachin stood the test of time. ABD has to stay like this for few more years.

21 Apr 01:31 – Sibi: Other wise it would be an extended purple patch

21 Apr 01:32 – Srikanth: All said and done, Abd’s fastest 100 and 150 in times with the field restrictions, which is a great advantage, and Sachin was already around 37 I think when he scored the 200. Maybe he didn’t play much in the last 2 years of his career, and also didn’t face the same bowlers that AB thrashed around, but I think he would have thrived even more. Perhaps not the 150 off 60 odd balls, but he didn’t need to play that kind of game, and it was one time innings by Ab,

21 Apr 01:35 – Ajak: 2 times in the space of 1 month. That’s not a 1 time innings. And when you hit 10+ sixes

21 Apr 01:36 – Srikanth: I am not taking anything from AB, but as all say above, given the longevity and pure masterclass, AB is not as great as Sachin

21 Apr 01:36 – Ajak: Size of ground or restrictions don’t matter

21 Apr 01:36 – Srikanth: Ajak, accepted, my mistake

21 Apr 01:37 – Ajak: It’s an opinion macha unakku sachin enakku AB avlo dhan

21 Apr 01:38 – Srikanth: In this generation, AB is the best. But Sachin has been the best since the time of Lara, Steve Waugh, Ponting and even when AB started to thrive

21 Apr 06:36 – Hari Haran: Getting run a ball was good enough few years back.. Just because of t20, batsman have become more mature and fearless Also they have more exposure.. Unlike before.. Dhawan has styne bowling in nets.. That’s a good practice for him to play very fast balls.. Dravid used to wet rubber ball and ask his coach to chuck and throw it fast at him.. That’s the was he practice.. So, the exposure level were different before and now. 20 years back, entering into iit means u r great.. Also, u can get into iit with mere 20-30% . topper would be say 50%.. Now with these many coaching classes, topper are scoring 80% .. Now u just cant arrive at conclusion telling this topper of 2015 is best. Fastest 50 in IPL is Yusuf pathan.. That sums up all.. Stats can’t just be compared

IIT

IIT

21 Apr 06:48 – Srikanth: Captain Hariharan, pulli vevaram spot on🙏

21 Apr 06:49 – Hari Haran: 🙏🙏

21 Apr 06:54 – Sud: “Pure masterclass” is subjective but I think longevity is the only thing that stands between ab and emulating tendulkar. If ab isn’t pure masterclass, who is? He can play the tank shot over the keeper’s head, reverse sweep for six over third man. If you’re saying he isn’t as pleasing on the eye, take a look at his straight drive in the semis against the kiwis. Also, I don’t think Sachin is capable of playing the 42(233) knock he played against Australia to save a test

21 Apr 06:56 – Hari Haran: Yeah..

21 Apr 06:57 – Sud: And Sachin isn’t capable of playing the 41(11) he got against the Mumbai Indians. Having said that, we have to account for run inflation. Sach was scoring at six an over every match when 200 was par and 250 was a match winning score. Plus he averaged 45. Simply put, he combined the skills it took to play the 42(233) knock and 41(11) knock

21 Apr 06:59 – Hari Haran: Neither sachin nor ponting was part of mi playing 11 .. Tare scores better than both.. But just can’t conclude with this stats. Those two were dropped after few matches

21 Apr 06:59 – Sud: So if ab can play like this for six more years, we will have a winner

21 Apr 07:00 – Hari Haran: He is awesome.. I love AB .. I hate sachin.. Hez selfish. But can’t conclude anything as the generations were different

21 Apr 07:00 – Ajak: AB has pushed the limits of what is possible in limited overs even in this era

21 Apr 07:01 – Sud: Selfish vera. Sachin and ab have one thing in common. In spite of their inhuman talent, they don’t win enough matches for their respective teams. And they aren’t big match players. That’s why I rate ponting, Lara and smith, kohli in this generation higher

21 Apr 07:02 – Hari Haran: KL Rahul scored 100 in Australia in his debut series.. That’s a great task 15 years back.. Not now

21 Apr 07:03 – Sud: Kohli has  lot to prove but he has done enough to be considered one of the best in this generation I guess. Ponting is the best. Vera level. Mavaney what a player. Lara too. Australia ah ye azha utaan. And if I had to choose between Lara and Sachin as to who I’d pay to watch on their best days, lara any day. Sheer domination. Ommaley

21 Apr 07:25 – Hari Haran: But can’t conclude. Agreed. But sachin 175 against Australia in a chase of 300+ 🙏🙏 the team just let him down in that match

21 Apr 08:07 – Bhaskar NH: @Sudarshan- I agree whatever u said except the point about Pointing.. Dei, what’s his record in the subcontinent.. Bhajji llam avana uttan da😄😄

Ponting - Bhajji's bunny!

Ponting – Bhajji’s bunny!

21 Apr 08:19 – Bhaskar NH: And Kohli is not a big match player yet.. I’d rate Steve Smith higher..

21 Apr 08:52 – Ajak: Second BJ on both counts

21 Apr 08:58 – Me: AB’s shots aren’t pleasing to the eye? Then neither is Aishwarya Rai

21 Apr 09:24 – Me: Anyway, who is in for a Negara vs Steyn debate?

Nungambakkam Nehra

Nungambakkam Nehra

Travel Diaries: Whitewater Rafting at Rishikesh

Memories are strange. At times, you find yourself under the Lockhart Memory Charm, not being able to recollect memories even from the recent past. There are other memories from 10, 15, even 20 years ago which stay crystal clear in your mind, as if it had occurred yesterday.

I have one such memory from 20 years ago, when I was a 5 year old kid. We had gone to Haridwar for the first time then. I remember taking a dip in the mighty Ganges, tightly clinging on to my uncle with one hand and holding on to the steel ropes with the other. The temperature of Haridwar and that of the Ganges was as contrasting as CSK’s and MI’s performances in IPL games. Ma Ganga was freezing cold. I remember my body and teeth shivering even 20 minutes after the ordeal I had with Her. I vaguely remember walking across Ram/Laxman Jhula, feeling accomplished after crossing them, as if I had conquered the mighty Velliangiri hills (Of course, I was a 5 year old then :P). Well, that was 20 years ago.

Last week, I went to Rishikesh again, this time with a set of 6 colleagues-turned-friends, mainly for whitewater rafting.

A lot can happen over lunch. Our two day trip to the adventure capital of India (yes, that’s what Wikipedia calls Rishikesh) materialized during one of our lunch sessions between Office. Over the past one year of my stay here in NCR, I’ve heard a lot of people talk a lot of good things about whitewater rafting in Rishikesh. So when Parkavi Vasan (referred to as “Paaru” going forward) initiated talks about a two day trip to Rishikesh, I was more than game for it.

Nothing about the trip was planned, apart from the onward train from Delhi to Haridwar. I quote my Guru Bhaskar NH, when I say, “If you want to see the real India, travel in a sleeper class train”. We reached Haridwar Junction, early in the morning.

At Haridwar Junstion

At Haridwar Junstion

The roads were deserted and the climate soothing and breezy, with a sense of holiness attached to the Holy city. Tour Managers Adwait and Sumeet found us a makeshift room near the banks of the Ganges.

Streets of Haridwar

Streets of Haridwar

Ganga hadn’t changed much in 20 years; it was as cold and mighty. All of us barring Lijo took a dip in the Holy river.

Ganga, at Haridwar

Ganga, at Haridwar

Manasa Devi Temple was an enjoyable climb of 30-45 minutes, barring the heat, which had set in by then.

View from Manasa Devi

View from Manasa Devi

After munching piping hot Puri with Aloo and Choley for brunch, we left for Rishikesh, which is an hour’s drive from Haridwar.

Hot afternoon at Hardiwar, with Shyam

Hot afternoon at Hardiwar, with Shyam

At Rishikesh, our tour managers started scouting for the tourist agency guys, to book a package for us. We wanted to take a “Camping + Rafting” package which is generally the most sought after package for visiting tourists. There are a lot of other things one could do at Rishikesh – kayaking, rock climbing, flying fox (800m journey on a rope between two cliffs, with Ganges flowing 80 meter below you), among others.

The tourist agency guy took us to a horrible place initially – a nothing place with our tent facing a small hill, with Ganga nowhere to be seen. I was like, “My two colleges (Amrita and IIM Shillong) offered better views than this!” Others were of the same opinion too. So we ditched that guy and started scouting for camps on our own. Deepanshu, Adwait and Sumeet managed to find a beautiful camp, river facing and breezy.

We spent most of the evening playing in the waters and lazing around within the camp premises. It was a great setting. Hundreds of tents on the banks of the river, white sand, cool breeze and a breathtaking view. Remember those “Diu tourism” ads? Something like that. Welcome break from the drudgery of daily life and the noise of the cities. I didn’t want the clock to tick. Sitting there on a chair outside my tent, facing the river, I let my thoughts take over and felt at ease with myself. It was a good feeling.

Outside our tent, Rishikesh

Outside our tent, Rishikesh

Meanwhile, the likes of Lijo, Shyam, Sumeet and Deepanshu were having a ball in the waters, doing some solid stunts. Adwait was showing off his fitness and gymming skills by doing “push-ups” in the water.

At the waters outside our tent

At the waters outside our tent

While the only thing Paaru was doing was shuffling his hair all the time and clicking selfies. Reliable sources reveal he clicked at least 400 selfies of just himself in the tour span of two days.

One of Paaru's 400 selfies of the trip

One of Paaru’s 400 selfies of the trip

There was enough room for all seven of us to sleep in the same tent. The photo session continued in the morning too.

Rishikesh!

Rishikesh!

We had booked for a morning rafting session. We had chosen the 18 km package, which had 9 rapids (part of the river where the waves are high, irregular and fast).

I had to deal with a lot of butterflies in my stomach just before our rafting begun. I had heard stories about the boat capsizing in between a rapid and had visualized that happening to our boat. Our instructor’s introduction didn’t help my cause in any way. He warned us that the waters here were mighty and dangerous and if we didn’t follow his instructions to the word, there were chances our boat would capsize.

At Shivpuri, our starting point

At Shivpuri, our starting point

I kept chanting the “Darr kea age Jeet hai” thing in my mind to ease things up.

Just before the ride!

Just before the ride!

For the first 3-5 minutes when we were riding on still waters, our Instructor trained us to the different commands he would be chanting throughout our journey.

Initial stretch

Initial stretch

There are, I came to know, 4 different grades of rapids. Our first rapid was a Grade I rapid and was supposed to be easy to negotiate. We failed. Our motions were not synchronized and the waters took control of us rather than the other way round. We were pushed to the shore and had to start all over again. This time, we successfully surpassed the Grade I rapid.

Grade I rapid, near our camp

Grade I rapid, near our camp

I was just thinking what Grade IV rapids would have on offer.

When the waters were calm!

When the waters were calm!

The second rapid was Grade III and the most thrilling of them all, I realized later. I can’t quite put down that experience in words. My mind went blank. I closed my eyes out of fear, and realized water splashing onto me from all directions. All of us were shouting our lungs out. Then a lot of other things happened and finally we were out of the rapid, onto the still waters. Our instructor shouted “Ganga maiyya kiiiiiii” and we screamed “Jaiiii” in unison. Somewhere in that rapid, my fears drowned and I felt liberated. We came across a few rapids which were trickier, faster and narrower that that one, but now that my fears were conquered, they were all completely enjoyable. Each of those rapids apparently have names too. Roller Coaster, Hilton, Golf Course, Double Trouble and Club house are few names I can recollect now.

One from the internet

One from the internet

We went to a nearby Gurudwara in the evening. My first. Felt good. They offered free food too. That mess hall reminded me of my Amrita mess and the Amrita culture of respecting food above all else.

“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

Cheers to more such trips with awesome set of people.

Bitter experience with Ola Cabs

Dear Ola,
The first time I used your service a few months ago, I immediately became your loyal. The entire concept of booking a cab through a mobile app using your current location was awesome, and a first for me. To top it up, the customer experience was flawless; the ride arrived well on time, the chauffeur was cordial and the fare was very nominal.
The subsequent rides only reinforced my faith in you. I, in fact, deleted all contact details and Apps of other Taxi service providers I had been using before. I was (I still am) one of the thousands of your loyalists who contributed to positive Word of Mouth. I used to tell my friends and family, “Use Ola! They are awesome” or “Ola has a 50% off this week!”. I acted as a marketing channel for you which has infinite ROAS (Return on Ad Spend).
I thought you guys could do no wrong! Perhaps, I was mistaken.
On March 5th, 2015, I had a really really bad experience with your service. The events in chronological order are described below (timings not very accurate).

I booked an Ola Mini at 5 pm, for a ride at 6.15 PM from Sushant Lok, Gurgaon till the Airport. I immediately received a message:

Ola Nitin Srinivas! Your booking with CRN65458017 has been received for 5Mar, 6:15 PM. We look forward to having you onboard.

Being a frequent Ola user, I knew I should be getting a message with Driver details at least 15 minutes before the ride (i.e 6 pm in this case).

Time was 6.10 pm and I hadn’t received any message yet. I got concerned and immediately reached out to your customer care. The executive who attended the call was very cordial. He apologized for the inconvenience and immediately sent a message with driver details.

You’ve got a free upgrade! CRN65458017 – Driver Umesh (8860656268), White Maruti swift dzire HR 55 U 7543 will pick you up @ 5Mar, 6:15 PM. Say Ola to being special!

The time was 6.20 pm and Umesh hadn’t arrived yet. I called him at his number. To my shock, he told me he wasn’t coming to Sushant Lok. He told he was going for another ride near Mehrauli, and asked me to call Customer Care to raise my concern. Now I was beginning to get a bit tense. My flight was at 8.55 pm (AI540 from Delhi to Chennai), and I had to be at the Airport by 7.55 pm at max. Knowing Gurgaon traffic, especially in the evening hours after Office, I knew I was getting late. Still, I called your Customer Care one more time. This time, one other executive picked up the call and he had no idea about what had happened with me, in the last 15 minutes. I had to explain everything to him all over again. He then took some time to look into his system and told me Umesh is on his way to my place. I told him I just had a word with Umesh and he told he was going to Mehrauli to pickup some other customer. He told that was sometime back and that Umesh is now on his way to my place. I immediately cut the call and called Umesh again. “Bhaiya, you are coming to Sushant Lok right?”. “No bhaiya. I am going to Mehrauli to pickup a customer. That’s what my phone is showing”.

I had no idea what was going on! I made a final call to customer support to see if something could be worked out. Time was 6.40 pm (I had to reach airport by 7.55 pm). Again, I had to explain everything from scratch. This time, the customer support executive had no clue about the status of Umesh or me or whoever was going to attend me. He told his system was down and that he wasn’t able to see anything. Completely miffed and gutted, I cut the call. 6.45 pm.

I couldn’t see any private cabs around. Not even an auto. After walking for a while carrying my luggage, I found an auto, which took me till Huda City Center. From Huda, I couldn’t find any cabs to Airport. With my pulse raising, I asked an autowallah if he would go to the Airport. The airport was in Delhi and he told me Haryana autos aren’t allowed beyond Kapashera, which is the Delhi-Haryana border. Having no other choice left, I boarded that auto which dropped me at Kapashera at 7.30 pm.

I had to reach the airport in 20 minutes. Otherwise, I was going to miss my flight back home. Looked like this sense of urgency was very much visible on my face. The lone Taxi wallah there decided he’s got a great opportunity to make a fortune that night. He told he’ll try his best to drop me at the Airport before 8 pm. He charged me 850 rupees, for a journey that would cost 300 rupees at max. I wouldn’t blame him. He just pounced on the great opportunity that was lying in front of him, and made full use of it. I was “cornered and helpless” and ended up paying more than double the normal charges so as to board my flight on time. Thanks to Ola Cabs and my blind faith in you.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like I’m going to stop using Ola or something. In fact, I have already used it once after this incident, in Coimbatore this week.

However, lesson learnt the hard way. No one is perfect. Not even Ola Cabs. Always have contingency plans in place.

P.S: After I landed in Chennai at 11:30 pm, I got two messages from Ola.

You’ve got a free upgrade! CRN65458017 – Driver SHOKEEN (9560966493), White Toyota etios DL 1 YD 8345 will pick you up @ 5Mar, 6:15 PM. Say Ola to being special!

Ola! We regret to inform the cancellation of your booking CRN65458017 as we are unable to find a cab near your pickup location. We’d have loved to serve you!

Trek to Velliangiri Peak

Scene I

We were just about to start our ascent of the mighty mountains of Velliangiri (also called South Kailash) when we were confronted by a man wearing a helpless face, trying to live a respectful life even in poverty. That kind of face. He said, “Ayya, please give me an opportunity to smoothen your bamboo sticks. I will charge only 5 rupees per stick. I have two kids Ayya, and I want them to study”. We could see a small boy (referred to as Jet Lee, going forward) playing around in the temple premises, having little idea about the poverty his family was in. Just behind him, the man’s wife was feeding their second kid. We gave the man 30 rupees and also asked him to make sure Jet Lee studies and comes big in life. The man thanked us with a beaming smile and wished us good.

Scene II

A boy, all of 14 years, was manning a small shop in the middle of the mountain forests, selling biscuits and other refreshments. Abishek asked him if he was going to school. Their conversation follows.

Abishek: “Brother, do you go to school?”

Boy: “No” <without any signs of resentment>

Abishek: “Why not? Your parents couldn’t afford it?”

Boy: “They could. I was going to a Government school till Class VIII. Then I stopped”

The boy shooed away a few monkeys which were interested in the bananas in his shop

Abishek: “Why? Why did you stop?”

Boy: “One day I got angry in Class and hit my teacher bang on his head. I never returned to school after that”

All of us were in shock.

Abishek: “Why? What did he do?”

By this time, he had developed a liking for us and spoke more freely.

He went on to explain how the teacher had shouted a lot of expletives towards him when he had gone to class without completing his homework. When the boy tried to explain that his father was taken ill the previous day, the teacher wouldn’t listen. At one point, the boy apparently lost his cool and hit him hard on the center of his head with a stick. And never returned to school.

In the middle of the forests, after 11 hours of trekking, sitting on the rocks, there was only thing running in my mind! What if Jet Lee grows up to become like this boy!

Anyway, these two scenes kind of capture the quality of life of people living in and around Velliangiri.

This was my second successful visit to the Velliangiri mountains, in three years. Something I can proudly tell my grandchildren, 40 years hence.

If you look at the demographics of people who come to Velliangiri, 80% of the people are from Coimbatore or its surrounding areas itself. ~19% from Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu. There were hardly any people outside Tamil Nadu. Other than being a pilgrimage center for Shiva devotees, it is also a brilliant trekking destination.

Velliangiri - the seventh mountain

Velliangiri – the seventh mountain

But there are a number of reasons why Velliangiri is not yet there in say, “The Top 10 trekking destinations of India”.

  • The Authorities probably don’t see it as a Tourist destination, and haven’t taken any significant steps in that direction
  • It is not safe.
    • We heard stories about a Tamil movie Director who got lost in the forests, and came out somewhere near Kerala, after nearly a month.
  • Lack of facilities.
    •  Apart from moonlight and the torch/mobile phone one carries, there’s no source of light, for 95% of the journey, up and down
    • There are only three sources of water, all seven mountains combined
  • No WOM
    • Since most of the people who visit Velliangiri are “not-so-tech-savvy” devotees, the word of mouth doesn’t spread beyond their close circles
    • Perhaps, the Isha Foundation can contribute in a big way to make it an awesome tourist destination

To kill boredom while trekking (we were only three of us), we surveyed people who were coming in the opposite direction. We would ask someone, “Anna, innum evlo dhooram na?” (“Anna, how much more distance to the peak?”), and he would say, “It’s very close. Will hardly take two more hours”. We would then walk for two hours and then ask another guy. “Just one more hour”. After walking for an hour. “Maximum one more hour”.

It took us 7 hours in total, to reach the peak. The mountains were deserted, that friday evening. In fact, there was a stretch of around an hour when there was not a single person ahead or behind us. Stories about the missing Tamil Director was there in the back of our minds, Our torch lights were dimming. That moment was my best of the trek.

After paying our respect to Lord Shiva at the peak and taking the load off our feet for an hour, we started our descent at 7 am. It was raining then and we were offered some breathtaking views by nature.

Rock bed

Rock bed

The rocks were slippery due to rain and it took us some extra effort and time to climb down the 7th mountain. Aradh’s obsession with clicking pictures didn’t help us either.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Sunrise

Sunrise

The next 4 mountains were relatively easier to climb down. By this time, after 12 mountains (7+5) and 12 hours of continuous trekking, my legs had given up. They were dead. Climbing down the last two mountains were the toughest for me, taking a break after every 10-15 minutes.

Trekking unlike say jogging, or gymming, is different in the way that you don’t have a choice. You cannot give up. You push your boundaries longer and harder. But when you are done, there’s no feeling bigger than that feeling of accomplishment.

Darr ke aage jeet hai

Darr ke aage jeet hai

At the end of 14 hours of trekking, some picturesque moments. some eerie moments, some calm moments away from the drudgery of city life, the experience was totally worth it!

If you do not have Velliangiri in your bucket list yet, it’s time you add it to the list and make it a point to visit the awesome place, some time. You will not regret it!

Thank you, Dhoni!

90 matches, 4876 runs, 294 dismissals, 6 hundreds, 33 fifties and 10 ducks

It’s hard to believe these numbers are never going to change.

With the sudden announcement of his retirement from Tests earlier today, Dhoni has taken the phrase “Expect the unexpected” to an all new level. As an unabashed Dhoni fan , it was extremely shocking and disheartening for me to hear the news, initially. Seeing Raina’s tweet (embedded below) with tears in Dhoni’s eyes after announcing his Test retirement was literally a “kanla thanni” moment for thousands of fans, like me.

All his heroics in Tests (only a handful, but still) began flashing in my eyes. As a batsman, his ruthless assault at Faisalabad (148, against Pakistan) and match winning 224 at Chepauk (against Australia) would stand out. And then there were the double century stands with VVS, and valuable 50s, 60s and 70s when he batted with the tail. Frankly though, he hasn’t left behind an irreplaceable void in terms of his batting, in Test Cricket.

MSD at his ferocious best - Faisalabad, 2006

MSD at his ferocious best – Faisalabad, 2006

He’ll however be remembered in Test History as the Captain who led India to World No. 1 Test Rankings. To captain a side that was built by Sourav and led by Dravid and Kumble was not an easy task. The nonchalant ease with which he took up the challenge and led India on its way to glory was commendable. In the process, he also became the most successful Test Captain for India, in a list that features greats like Dada and Dravid. That’s something he can feel extremely proud of.

MSD, the MSC (Most Successful Captain)

MSD, the MSC (Most Successful Captain)

To think of it, Dhoni could not have timed his retirement better. Virat Kohli seems to be in great form as a batsman and has shown good signs of captaincy (in Adelaide, aiming for a win). I am sure Dhoni’s decision to retire would have materialized only after he got the faith that he’s leaving Indian Test Cricket in safe hands. He wouldn’t have thought twice to carry on with captaincy had he not been sure about Virat’s capability to lead the side, even if that meant bearing the brunt of the media and fans, for another away series defeat. Selfless cricketer, he is.

Saw a few reactions on News channels that Dhoni has abandoned a sinking ship by retiring mid-series. Now let’s assume he carried on as Captain in Sydney and India drew/lost the match. He’d have had to face allegations of carrying on as Captain despite performing poorly “away”. Players like Dhoni are always caught between the devil and deep blue sea; they get criticized no matter what they do.

However, it was very heartening to see some good reactions too, appreciating his personal decision to retire from Tests.

 

Thank you, Dhoni, for everything you’ve done for India in Tests.
Looking forward to March 29 now.

4 Life Lessons from Sachin’s “Playing It My Way!”

It’s been a year now since Sachin Tendulkar (hereby called Thalaivar in this post) kissed the Cricket pitch goodbye! He has moved on in life, spending time with family, adopting villages, writing an Autobiography, etc. The Nation is yet to move on. He is the nation’s (okay, majority of the nation’s) greatest pride. So when his Autobiography hit the shelves recently, it was only natural that his countrymen and cricket lovers world-wide expected it be as awesome as his batting. A lot has been written about the book already. I will reserve my comments for a later day. Today, I list down 4 Life Lessons that stand out in Thalaivar’s “Playing It My Way”

Do your duty, everything else will fall in place

To put it bluntly, Thalaivar is just another human being like you and me, who went about doing his duty diligently, day in and day out. When he failed, he practiced hard. When he succeeded, he practiced harder. It’s amazing how just by doing his duty (along with some God given talent), he is literally worshipped by millions of people.

If you deserve something, you’ll get it somehow; today or 20 years later

Imagine. Thalaivar had to see the likes of Andrew Symonds and Brad Hogg lift the World Cup before him having got the chance to do so. Throughout the book, Thalaivar describes the painful journey of working so hard to win the coveted World Cup and failing five times, in succession.  It all comes down to the clichéd phrase, “Quitters Never Win, Winners Never Quit”.

Music heals

If there’s anything apart from Cricket that Thalaivar mentions in “Playing It My Way”, it’s music and food. Music is a great healer. It’s a man’s best friend when he is dejected/disappointed. It helps channelize your emotions and concentrate harder. No wonder a lot of sportsmen (including the likes of Thala Rahul Dravid) take to music to improve concentration levels.

Be grateful to your teachers, family and God

Ramakant Achrekar would have been a proud teacher just to see his pupil (Thalaivar) excel in International Cricket, let alone Thalaivar crediting a major chunk of his success to Achrekar Sir. Thalaivar (mentions in his book) never fails to pay a visit to his teacher Achrekar Sir, his aunt (who played a major part in his early years as a budding cricketer) and two local temples, every single time he leaves India for an away series. Such a simple life lesson – be grateful to your teachers, family and God!