Archive for January 2012


Happy Republic Day… some off the beaten track remarks.

We supposedly observe 26th January to celebrate Indian Constitution. Right!

Our Constitution enshrine equality & non-discrimination to opportunities of progress & empowerment, irrespective of ones caste, creed, religion or other such classification. Right!

Yet, very often, in India we see political parties seeking to further their political fortunes by gaming the Constitution, even attempting to subvert it, in their bid to pander to specific sections of the society. 

No hyperbole here – A casual glance at the last 20 days daily news coverage  on latest State elections in India nowadays shall confirm this contention.

Happy Republic day!  ‘Just another holiday’ for a Chutti crazy Nation

Of Florida oranges and North East Pineapples

Perhaps Jaipur Literature Festival is not the most obvious choice for those like me preoccupied with linking small farmers with markets. Yet a panel discussion between author and MIT fellow Abhijit Banerjee, Amy Chua (of ‘World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability’ fame ), Arun Meira (Planning Commission member) and Tarun Das (CII’s Ex Boss), turned out to be as revealing as Abhijit’s brilliant book “Poor Economics”.

We (my wife, son and the humble self) reached Diggi House, Jaipur in time to catch Jehangir Pocha (Business World’s ex editor) moderating the above mentioned “Poor Economic” discussion.

Jehangir recalled a recent incident when one fine day an acquaintance drops to his office with a pineapple in hand. She checked with Jehangir if he is aware that North East India produces fine quality of Pineapples. Jehangir was not aware of this and his impromptu cross check with the packed house (more than 2000 folks) revealed that majority did not know this fact either.

Jehangir thereafter turns towards Abhijit and directs his question:

A Florida orange grower in US has access to system and processes that help him turn a cheap raw orange into a 500 times value added ‘Minute Maid’ kind of orange juice while a small poor North East pineapple grower with excellent pineapples does have access to similar type of value addition mechanism and processing capabilities. Where are the gaps he ask?

For Abhijit, Florida and North East situation are not similar. Very large orange orchard ownerships support the kind of economies of scale, standardization, quality, food safety and hygiene demanded by packaged juice industry while in case of NE pineapple growers this may not be possible unless an institutional framework like ‘Amul’ get created and established for facilitating and supporting “Cooperatives” of small pineapple growers in NE.

It was my now my turn to go on an ego trip. Solution offered by Abhijit was precisely similar to the panacea I had offered a month back during a presentation on North East where I’d spoken on Strengthening Input Delivery mechanisms in North East India. Here’s the link to the presentation. I had advocated ‘Producer Companies’ instead of ‘Cooperatives’, an essential but minor point of difference. Also for want of a visible accelerator, I had also suggested that large input companies, product marketing companies, NGOs, Financial institutions act as catalyst of change, a harbinger of new institutional framework.

Back to Delhi next day after listening to Oprah Winfrey’s tidbits on India and Indians, I again reminisced about the connects and disconnects between oranges, pineapples, Coca Cola (read Minute Maid ) and Amul.
Two clear-cut disconnects emerged. One from my crude understanding of economics, while another one, also from my equally crude understanding of cultures and history.

Where is the catalyst for the formation of an ‘Amul’ for pineapples in North East?

Amul had Polson. The exploitative trade practices followed by the cartel led by him triggered off the cooperative movement.  Angered by unfair and manipulative practices followed by the trade, the farmers of the Kheda district in Gujarat approached the great Indian patriot Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for a solution.  He advised them to get rid of middlemen and form their own co-operative, which would have procurement, processing and marketing under their control.  Polson, and for that matter SVP also, are missing in present day North East.
Some cultures, like Gujarat, and times (pre independence) are culturally and historically more conducive to formation of cooperatives like Amul.

I don’t have any access to an authoritative study to authenticate this claim but my work related travels have thrown enough anecdotal evidences that cooperatives are not everyone’s cup of tea. Pooling resources and shared incomes are aliens to certain individualistic cultures like mine (Punjabi). Perhaps these two disconnects can be better understood and addressed in future by thinkers and authors like Abhijit B and Amy C.

Musings on holiday greetings

My not so profound thoughts about New Year, Christmas and Diwali greetings!

After getting a deluge of Xmas and New Year greetings over sms, email and LinkedIn messages, I asked myself on the last day of 2010 – “What purpose sending holiday greetings actually serve? Is it good or bad – effective or just a waste of time, energy and effort?

Thinking about the good side was simple and a straight forward one.

Sending holiday greetings is a great opportunity to show someone’s ‘human’ side, consolidate some loyalty for one’s business or simply convey a special holiday or post-holiday offer to improve one’s sales. Besides, these messages do convey I or we exist feeling.

This is what I believe millions of people and businesses, particularly boutique sized and small businesses, have in mind when they send holidays greetings. This sounds pretty good and simple in theory, right?

Well, one little unrelated incident this Xmas evening set my nut rolling to think about the greyer side of such greetings.

4.45 PM. 25th December 2010. I received following freak short message on my cell phone.

“Could not connect you over phone. Seriously hurt my ankle. Need medical treatment fast. Come back home immediately. Papa”.

Thank God this message was not for me. I was the papa who could have sent this message to my son but I was all right with no ankle damage. Besides my own papa, who lives separately with my Mom 300 Kms away from Delhi, doesn’t use a cell phone and would not have called me over an sms.

But what brought out the inhuman side of this innocent but urgent sms was the fact that I saw this message on 26th night while pressing the ‘delete” button 45th time. Whether the real recipient got back home well in time to nurse his father, I’ll never know.

Do we really read all of those Xmas and holiday greetings – be sms or emails? We’d be fooling ourselves if our answer is in affirmative. Particularly when they all have a familiar subject line like “Happy Diwali” or “Happy New Year!” which leaves us wondering what little surprises await us in the body of the message.

By delving further into the futility of sending and receiving such greetings I have come to the conclusion that the sending holiday greeting with the positive side in your mind is pointless and irrelevant. It does not ever serve the intended purpose but do create some additional work for recipients – like deleting. Moreover, some important messages like the one mentioned above may go undelivered, unread or simply marked as spam. Last year I missed an important New Year dinner invitation as I did not go through the full message but deleted it like similar others.

I think it is simply the user friendliness of modern ICT that prompts us to press the “send” button. Or is it a marketing mania created by 21st century Telecommunication companies? I really miss those few but really meaningful paper greeting cards.

So taking a mantle of change maker from this New Year’s onwards I have decided to do away with sending holiday greetings. Sorry folks who have taken time, money and effort to send me your greetings. No more greetings from me.

Holiday greetings are just as silly as those ‘silly love songs’ we have grown with.

Happy deleting!