Thursday, August 28, 2008

I suffer from Shopophobia Mallfeorosis

We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls. – Bill Bryson

Shopping as an activity was something that did not exist in my life for a very long time. When I was a kid I used to jump at the opportunity to buy a litre of milk, a kilo of sugar, etc during emergencies (read ‘unexpected visitors’) at home and used to think that I was an eager shopper. But now when I look back, I realise my motivation was the odd 25 or 50 paise that I could make in the exercise. I probably never shopped for more than an hour or for more than Rs.1,000 of groceries till I got married. Since then, however, household and grocery shopping has become one of the biggest activities of my life.

I read about people who are in the search for the purpose of life or understanding women. I feel that they are still in the lower stages of their philosophical quest compared to me, since I am already seeking answer to the bigger problem of how shopping can be enjoyable. I have also not been able to find the answer to the question, ‘if I am shopping for windows would I be window-shopping’?

One major thing that irks me about shopping is the increasing cost of living these days. I am so worried that I could launch into a tirade about prices these days, covering everything from gas to chocolates. However, when I accidentally mentioned it to a store salesman, he retorted, “Sir, if cost of living is so high and obviously offensive to you, then why do you bother?” (to live, that is) After that, I have wisely kept my feelings on cost to myself.

I found a different approach to counter the rising costs. This is a secret and I would appreciate if you would keep this to yourself. Last time I went shopping at a store, I asked the vendor, "How much are these oranges?" "Two for ten rupees," answered the vendor. "How much is just one?" I asked. "Six rupees," answered the vendor. "Then I'll take the other one," I said.

Since I detest shopping, my wife, the nice and wonderful woman that she is, has volunteered to do shopping for the entire family. This sounds great, right? I too felt the same when I heard it. I thought I had figured out the solution for my life’s suffering. That is… until I found the catch. I had to drive her to the shops, accompany her down the aisles while she made up her mind deciding if chocolate coated almond cookies were better than peanut butter nut cookies, and – here comes the tough part – also offer my suggestions.

The last time I refused to accompany my wife to the store, the billing clerk at the store had a good laugh. After putting the stuff my wife bought in three hours into some thirty seven plastic bags, he asked her, “Cash or card, madam?" As she fumbled for her wallet, he noticed a television remote control in her purse. "Do you always carry your television remote?" he asked. She replied, "No, only when my husband refuses to come shopping with me. Since the India-Pakistan cricket match is going on, this was a sweet revenge." The genius that I am, I took the opportunity to call up my girl friend and asked her if I could come over to watch the match saying my television broke down – but then that is a story for a different blog.

The other thing that I find difficult is the vast areas that shops and shopping malls cover. I doubt if shopping as an activity existed during the times of Mark Twain. Otherwise he would have remarked that ‘shopping is a good walk spoiled’ rather than ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’. I often get lost in the vast shopping malls, which annoys my wife as evident from her question which I encounter when I catch up with her later on, “Why on earth can’t you keep pace with me, you snail?” (On that note, do you know why they don’t serve snails in McDonalds? Because McDonalds is a 'fast' food joint.)

Hence I have devised an ingenious method. Whenever I get lost in a supermarket, I approach the nearest beautiful woman and ask, "You know, I've lost my wife here in the supermarket. Can I talk to you for a couple of minutes?" You may wonder why; because it so happens that every time I talk to a beautiful woman my wife appears out of nowhere.

I thought my aversion to household shopping was a peculiar psychological condition that I suffered from. I was thinking about getting medical help, when I learned that all harried (read ‘married’; I somehow find it impossible to spell the first m in ‘married men’!) men experience from the same condition. I wonder if there are any shopping malls in Mars. I guess not…

This is the era of outsourcing and I would like to outsource my shopping activities. Those interested may write to me separately with references.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Marriage to Aishwarya Ray

I married Aishwarya Ray (Aish) last month yielding to her relentless request. Little did I know at that time what was in store for me!

Within the first week of our marriage, I faced death threats from Salman Kaun, Vivek Kabirai and Abhishek Pachpan. If that was not enough, I escaped two attempts at my life and after each incident, all of them called to say that they were not behind it. I even wonder if Salman saw me as a ‘black buck’...

We went to London, Venice and Paris for our honeymoon. We avoided Switzerland since I knew that Abhishek’s chacha lived there. And Vivek was already hiding in the hills of Scotland – wide awake, though 'avivek'.

I did everything you would expect a newly-married groom to do on a honeymoon – book the tickets, open the door, and even make tea in the morning, and expecting Aish only to help me colour-coordinate my dress in return (what did your evil mind think?). But not only did she not do so, but she ruined me by shopping from every shop in the places we visited. Before marriage, I used to catch her in my arms but afterwards I started catching her in my pockets.

Whenever she embarks on one of her shopping expeditions, she used to announce, "I am going to do some shopping. I will be back in about $50,000 or so." Probably I am being too harsh on her; I must admit that she shopped only twice during the week - once for three days, once for four.

The demands went soaring from London itself when Aish asked for the Kohinoor diamond. I should have seen it coming from the bluish green (or was it grayish violet?) glint in her eyes when we were headed for the Tower of London. I got out of the situation by saying that we would have to negotiate with the Queen, which I assured her we will do while visiting Buckingham Palace (I am sure you have guessed by now that we did not visit Buckingham Palace later).

When I hailed a cab and told the cabbie, “The lady wants to go to Macy’s”. The cabbie, who I realize now was an intelligent chap, gave me a quizzical look and asked, "And the gentleman? Does he want to go to the bank before?" I still did not take the cue. On the way when Aish saw YMCA, she remarked, “Look, they spelled MACY’S wrong!”

It was a moonlit evening in Paris and we were atop the Eiffel Tower, when Aish, on spotting Louvre, said that she wanted to buy the Monalisa for her dadi in India. Imagine having to explain to the stewardess the reason for carrying the world’s most famous painting in the cabin! In Venice, she wondered if we could take couple of Gondolas to India. I had a tough time convincing her that our yachts in India were far superior. To cut the short story further short, I have become bankrupt due to Aish. I am visiting Paris next month to appear for the hearing of my bankruptcy application. My luck has become so bad that even my bank is in trouble. They returned my cheque with the comment 'insufficient funds'.

This is the kind of incident I believed would happen to someone else; but unfortunately I did not realise that I was also 'someone else' to someone else. I am sure harried (read ‘married’) men, who have had similar shocking (read ‘shopping’) experiences with their wives will empathize with me. I have served the divorce notice to Aish, considering that Christmas is just few months away. I am going to be more careful in future while considering marriage with Angelina Dolie and Sushmita Pen, who are pestering me. If you know about their shopping habits, please do drop me a 'line offline' (I liked the rhyme); I will be indebted to you and not to my financiers as I am now.

In case, somebody thinks that this post is a result of my imagination, I have attached a photo of Aish and me kissing, taken during our honeymoon. That should probably convince all doubting Thomases, Peters, Pauls, Joneses, et al.

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to people alive, dead or not yet born may or may not be coincidental, but is definitely not intentional]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Letter from Death

“When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice – Kabir”


I am death.

If you are scared of me, I suggest you continue reading till the very end. Believe me, what I say here might be helpful to you. Else, you may stop reading and leave now because there is nothing more you need to know to live.

I visit everyone in the world once in their lifetime and will visit you too. But you deny my existence. The society you live in also does the same and encourages you to do so. However, the truth is that I am inevitable. I am the only certainty in life. I keep happening all around you. Why do you prefer to close our eyes to me? Accept me as I am and don’t fight me. It is the denial of my existence that is responsible for your empty and meaningless life. You live your life as if it is never-ending, worrying about the future or buried in the past, and in the meantime, you lose your present.

And then you will start to see life in a whole different paradigm. If you live your life realizing and embracing mortality, I assure you that you will enjoy every moment of it. Just take the moment and make the best of it since you don’t know what is going to happen next. Stop doing things that you don't enjoy and pursue long-term goals that make you happy. Be grateful for what you have. Learn to forgive and forget. Don't take anything too seriously and don’t over analyze anything. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Live every day as if it is your last!

You have a good life.

Be seeing you...


[PS : This blog was triggered by the sad and sudden demise of our CFO two days back and is dedicated to him. May his soul rest in peace!]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Should we celebrate Bindra’s win?

[‘Sports’ in this post excludes Cricket, ‘sportsmen’ excludes cricketers and ‘we’ includes yours truly]

I am a ‘proud’ Indian today, thanks to Abhinav Bindra. But then, am I?

India is the seventh largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. India has the world's twelfth largest economy at market exchange rates and the fourth largest in purchasing power. However, till now India did not have an individual Olympic gold medal to its credit.

But it all changed on August 11, 2008. India clinched its first ever individual Olympic gold medal in 108 years history of modern Olympic Games, when the 25-year-old, Abhinav Bindra, won the 10 meter air rifle event. A historic feat indeed! Probably facts changed, but did things really change?

Would this achievement, which has made a country of more than billion people proud, change India’s we-don’t-care-about-sports attitude? Does a country with so many claims to fame on other matters offer any support at all to sportsmen other than cricketers?

Do people who celebrate the incredible win and partied all night know the event for which Abhinav won the medal? A handful may know that it is shooting, but do they know that it was for the 10 meter air rifle?

More importantly, did they know about Abhinav before the Beijing Olympics? Did they consider him a medal prospect? Did they know that he almost won it in Athens Olympics four years ago? Did they know that he is also the first Indian to win a World Championship gold medal in Croatia in 2006? Did they know that he was a Commonwealth Games gold medalist in 2002?

Governments, sports authorities and private organizations have doled out prize monies and rewards to Bindra; including BCCI (shouldn’t they be funding Cricket or modernizing Cricket stadiums and Cricket training facilities?). But shouldn’t they have been funding him and other medal hopefuls earlier?

Bindra, whose family is well-off, has an MBA, runs his own company, and has extensive training facilities in his house at Chandigarh. Has he won all these events because he could manage his own training and expenses? Are other sportsmen who represent India able to afford good training? Are they able to ignore their means of livelihood for training?

How many stadiums in India can proudly host international events? If not many, do we have a roadmap to develop world class sporting facilities?

Do we have a policy for our sports in the country? Do we have a vision for India in terms of achievements in sporting events?

Do we have a professional mechanism of running sports in the country? Do we have a merit-based system of identifying sportsmen in the country?

Have people conducted protests outside the houses of people who run sports in the country after every dismal performance in Olympics, like the way they did when India lost in the Cricket World cup (a tournament for a sport played by some 10-12 countries and not followed by the World)? Do they burn effigies of sports minister, coaches and officials, like they do of Chappell, Ganguly and Dravid? Where does the Indian pride disappear during the Olympics?

Do children who know the strike rate of Sehwag to the second decimal, know when India won its last medal at Olympics? They know how often Formula 1 events are held and where but do they know how often, forget where, Olympics are held?

Lakshmi Mittal, one of the richest men in the world and the chairman of the world's largest steelmaker Arcelor Mittal, has set up a Mittal Champions Trust for $10 million to help support a few Indian athletes with an eye toward the 2012 Olympics since it is going to be held in London. Would he be willing to spend the money otherwise? Would any other corporate or wealthy individuals spend on the development of sports without any commercial interest?

How many of us know that the Commonwealth Games in 2010 is being hosted by India? India will be only the third developing nation to host the Commonwealth Games, after Jamaica in 1966 and Malaysia in 1998.

Questions remain and I am the first to admit that I am unaware of the answers myself. But I am courageous enough to admit it in a public forum. However is the Indian public, including you, willing to do so? Are we collectively willing to take the blame instead of pointing fingers at sports authorities, government officials, media, education system, etc? And then my friend, we will start finding answers to these questions.

So is there a need to celebrate Bindra’s win? Are we even entitled to do so? Have we, Indians, really achieved something or is it a ‘personal’ achievement of Bindra? More questions…

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Does Tendulkar have the best timing?

The Board room was heating up although the air-conditioning was working fine. I did not like the business case Jack Belch was pushing like all his previous ideas. Jack wanted us to acquire Moon Holmes, a company proposing to sell real estate in Moon (or was it Mars since that is where all men came from?). As a Chairman, I had already lost my faith in him. Moon Holmes indeed; they could not even spell ‘homes’ right! Also I did not like his pink tie nor did I, mildly put, appreciate the fact that he was having an affair with my secretary.

He was ranting on, “Salil, acquiring Moon is going to take us to the next level beyond the reach of any other player in the world.”

“If my memory serves me right, that is what you said the last time too, Jack”, I replied giving a wink to Warren Duffet, my CFO. Not that I liked him either, but he was the only guy who would come with me to play golf every weekend even though I would beat him miserably.

“But Salil, this time it’s different”, Jack said, passing a mysorepaku for me. He was doing his best to convince me.

“And that is exactly how you referred last time about your earlier so-called-strategic-move”, I had to be emphatic this time. I wondered how Sree Krishna sweets alone made mysorepaku so well when even Nike is duplicated better in Ulhasnagar and China.

At that point, everybody fell silent. Not because I raised my voice, but the room was echoing with “Choli ke peeche kya hai, choli ke peeche..”.

I picked up my mobile phone to see who was calling. It was Bill Mates, my best buddy, who was working as the COO in our biggest competitor, Lycrasoft, but who would not work for me stating that it would sour our personal relationship. I disconnected his call wondering why he called me knowing well that I was in the Board meeting.

Jack continued, “Salil, this is the opportunity of our life-time. I think we should go ahead and buy Moon. Though it is has no customers or business plan as of now, the founders are confident that they will find a way by searching on google. It seems anything can be found on google these days.” I noticed that the painting hanging on the wall behind him was also slanting like his logic.

“Choli ke peeche kya hai, choli ke peeche..” again

Sensing urgency, (because Bill would not call me twice during the Board meeting) I answered his call. Bill did not wait for the usual exchange of niceties or let me speak. He whispered “Jack has negotiated a deal to join us as the CEO starting next quarter. He is pushing the Moon acquisition to ruin you guys and keep you out of the competition once he takes over Lycrasoft.” The only thing I managed to say was, “Bill, I love you da.” This left the Board member sitting to my left wondering if I was gay.

I looked Jack in the eye and said in my sweetest voice ever, “You have made your point, Jack. Moon Holmes is an attractive investment and I think you should definitely acquire it after joining Lycrasoft.”

Without saying anything further, I got up and walked to the door. On the way out, I noticed that the Italian director I inducted last month was actually nodding his head to the music from his iPod and not to the discussions as I had thought. I shouted over my shoulder, “Jack, you are fired”, while I appreciated myself for sending the senior executives on mandatory vacation of three weeks since it helped me identify whom I can do without.

As I banged the door of the Board room, I woke up....

Now tell me doesn't Bill Mates have a better timing than Sachin Tendulkar?

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to people alive, dead or yet to be born may or may not be coincidental, but is definitely not intentional]