Get some ‘Balls’, Bollywood!

Undoubtedly, among the current breed of Indian actors, Shahrukh Khan (SRK) is one of the most articulate ones. He is well-read and can hold a conversation on quite a few topics that his colleagues will go blank on. SRK also has an immense capacity for self-depreciating humour. And while there is no doubt that he floats a few inches over the ground thanks to his superstar status, there are still moments when he comes out every bit like the combative Delhiwalla that he portrayed in one of his recent movies. Not surprisingly, SRK at times lets go of diplomacy that is so much a part of modern-day success and speaks his mind in a candid manner.

It was in one such moment of rush, back in 2010, that SRK spoke of the pressures faced while managing his IPL team, KKR. Back then, tensions between India and Pakistan were at a high due to border skirmishes, and by thumping his support for Pakistani players, SRK had put his Leg Before the Wicket. There was an immediate outcry over his “unpatriotic act”, and as the impending release of his movie “My Name is Khan (MNIK)” neared, the clamor only got louder.

Not surprisingly, Shiv Sena, a political party prone to petty provocations, immediately took offense. The party mouth-piece Saamna dubbed SRK “unpatriotic” and called for a ban on the screening of his film. As the release date of MNIK got closer, the tensions escalated. Theater owners were warned not to screen the film, and there were numerous protests all over, accompanied with the regular burning-and-stamping-the-effigy-in-front-of-the-newschannel-camera moments.

But when all this didn’t work, political activists attacked several cinema halls that were to screen MNIK. Hoodlums entered halls and damaged screens of the Metro theater in south Mumbai and the Huma Cinema at Kanjurmarg. Meanwhile, there were the other set of goons that pelted stones and broke the glasses of Mehul cinema in suburban Mulund. This was typical intimidation strategy at work.

In all this melee, the Congress government backed SRK to the hilt, providing heavy police cover to theaters screening the film, putting some 1500 Shiv Sena party workers in my-name-is-khan-banpreventive custody, and even warning Uddhav Thackeray of dire repercussions. The battle lines were drawn, a defiant SRK refused to apologise, whereas the Shiv Sena would have nothing less than it. As the battle progressed, the saffron party seemed to lose steam and was looking for a way out of the imbroglio, with its leader talking about a “public apology” as an acceptable truce. That did not come though, and the film was released among heightened tensions. As is the case with quite a few SRK movies, MNIK earned its crores, got all the awards, and was declared a hit.

The ban, the threat and all that, just fell apart like a phuski bomb (what we call in Mumbai) or like a dud. This was one of the rare times, when Bollywood had stood up to political hooliganism and prevailed, like they do so much in those pot-boilers.

Yet, the odd bit here was not about how SRK was attacked, but the fact that almost no one from Bollywood came to his aid. Even as the attacks on him were mounting, none from the film fraternity spoke publicly in his support. Of course, there were those conciliatory and my-name-is-khan-ban2diplomatic mumbo-jumbo, here and there, but these were largely from the smaller actors, the ones people call character artists. The big shots of Bollywood were dumb-founded, much like their likeness that represents them at Madame Tussauds and elsewhere. The Khans, the Kapoors and even the Bachchans, kept mum. Bollywood, the big family of superstars, was more like a petrified herd of goats. The kind that will retreat into the barnyard at the sign of first trouble.

It has been six years to that confrontation. and precious little seem to have changed. This time round, there is another SRK movie that is caught in the political grind, but not because of his utterance but rather the temerity on the part of the film makers to cast a Pakistani actress in it. And just like, in 2010, we are again having trouble with Pakistan at the borders, and people are yet again baying for the blood of artists and singers from that nation. But this time, SRK is not alone, he has his good friend Karan Johar (KJo) for company. With KJo’s film “Ae Dil Hain Mushkil” featuring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan nearing for release, the time for political haymaking is reaching a crescendo. Continue reading

Congratulations on winning the Bronze Sakshi. I so wish you had Not!

To be honest, there can hardly be a bigger high on this planet than winning the Olympic Medal. Competing against the very best athletes in the world, it takes a hell lot more from an individual to make it to the podium. In that regards, the dramatic win of a 23-year-old Indian lady from Rohtak is nothing short of spectacular. It was a fabulous treat to have a charged-up Sakshi Malik taken on Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in a dramatic finish in the 58kg freestyle wrestling category, winning the bout and finally opening India’s medal account.Olympic 7

The excitement and buzz that the win generated is fairly understandable, the #SakshiMalik hastag was trending on Twitter, you had all sorts of celebs that were toasting the young lady, right from PM Modi to our Olympic Ambassador Salman Khan (ohh sorry, @BeingSalmanKhan hasn’t found the time yet to congratulate Sakshi, possibly will, after his promotions of Freaky Ali are over). I even heard Sakshi’s mother on radio exploding into how the “bharat ki beti” had brought honour for the nation and Sakshi’s brother was like, this is the best “rakshabandhan gift”, et al.

From here on, the tale as it will unfold is fairly straight. As soon as Sakshi lands in India, there will be a whole lot of jubilation and celebration, she will ride out from the airport to shower of rose-petals, will be hosted by the PM and CM, granted land parcels, would be featured in adverts, and there might even be a film made on her struggle. And then, we also have another medal winner in PV Sindhu, who by the virtue of getting a gold/silver would be as joyously feted, in almost a templatised approach.

The trouble is that in all this euphoria, what will be forgotten is that it took a good fortnight and more for India to win a medal in an event, where you have 207 countries participating with over 11000 athletes in 306 events and 28 sports. A nation that aspires to be a global power; will shortly be the most populous country on the face of the world, cannot even manage to reach the finals of most events, let alone win a medal. If one looks at the performance of the Indian athletes, it will be a very long-list “Did Not Qualify”. The fact, that a Dipa Karmakar had to attempt a death-defying Produnova move to reach the 4th position, speaks volumes of how ill-equipped Indian athletes are. And yet, every 4 years, India continues to send a bigger and more bigger sports contingent to these Olympics. This year, in fact, India had the biggest contingent of all nations. And yet, where do we stand on the medals tally, at 71 right now, with even countries like Kenya, Jamaica, Indonesia and even Mongolia ranked much higher (let’s not even take the name of our neighbour, whose name starts with a C). Continue reading

Trekking up the Tiger’s Nest

“Come on, of course you have to do it. Everyone who comes to Bhutan has to do it. It is like almost mandatory,” is basically how Dawa Penjor, the CEO of Bhutan Media Foundation, reacted when I told him that I was giving Tiger’s Nest a miss, especially as ‘I hate trekking’. There was a look of incredulity on him, like I was planning to not see Eiffel on the visit to Paris, or miss the great Pyramids while visiting Egypt. Similarly, I guess, missing Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) is just not an option in Bhutan.

Thankfully, Dawa moved from incredulity to encouragement, and went on to soothe my frayed nerves that had started jingling at the very prospect of a climb up the mountainous path. “Don’t worry; you will surely be able to do it. After all even 70 year-olds are known to have climbed up the hill, pretty easily,” was his winning argument. It was only later that I Taktsang monastery Bhutanrealised, that “70 year-old” was more like a placebo for hassled nerves.

Nonetheless, I took the bait, and then our common friend Sonam Gyambo tinkered with my itinerary to fit in the one-day trek in the two days that I was left with in Bhutan. A phone call to his friend in Kicchu Monastery — whom he referred to as a healthy monk, and then we were all set for a climb up the hill. From skipping Taktsang to setting out to visit it, I had made a big leap of faith in a matter of few hours.

My reservations against Tiger’s Nest were not without reasons. You see, I am certainly not in the best of physical frames. The last time I had stood on a weighing scale, it groaned itself to some 3 digit number. Secondly, I am certainly not the trekking types; I more like the loaf-wander-drifter types. I loathe the very concept of those trekkers whose only aim is to quickly reach a point, take some selfies, preen and quickly descend. I am more likely to contemplate on a silly lily, or admire an ant-hill. I hate the rush in life, and I detest it more so on those scenic beautiful mountains. After all, “what is this life full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, and I love to stand and stare without a rhyme or a reason.

And then, when I saw the pictures of Tiger’s Nest from a trek-able purview, I knew it would be stretching myself to an impossible scale. The last trek, I had undertaken was more than a decade back and here was a monastery that challenged you from an edge of a cliff, 3000 metres above sea-level. Nah let the tiger (or tigress) rest peacefully there. I had no intent to disturb it at all.

Anyways, on my last day in Bhutan, I was down there in the Paro Valley, with the healthy-monk to guide me to the top, and my better-half and two sons to inspire me to the there. On the first glimpse of monastery, as a tiny little white dot stuck afar into the green hill that stood rather tall, I knew it would not be an easy task. And how right was I.

Taktsang monastery BhutanWe were there at the base by around 7.30 am, after parking the car, we started on the route. It was a dusty hilly road, and immediately, it started up. At the start you could hear the horses grunting, possibly doing some horsey pranayam in preparation for the taxing climb ahead. For a moment, I was much tempted to load myself on a horse, but our monky guide was firm, and dissuaded me from it. Believe me; very shortly I would be cursing him for it.

Just about 30 minutes into the climb, my pace had dropped considerably and I was huffing and puffing badly. To save myself from embarrassment and also to not drag the others back, I requested the lot to move ahead, promising them that I would catch up soon. The kids were unaffected by the incline and bounded on their way to the top with the monk and another friend. Meanwhile, the better half was perturbed as well, but she was doing better than me. I asked her to move ahead as well, so that I will have some inspiration to move on. She reluctantly agreed but even that didn’t seem to work.

It must have been an hour and as I dragged myself grudgingly up the road, my condition seemed to get progressively worse. I would walk for 5 minutes and then for the next 15 Taktsang Monastery Bhutanminutes, I would be catching up on my breath. In between, there would be all those horses with those relaxed riders would pass by, and I would grunt in dismay. Why did I ever listen to that monk, is what I grumbled. As the sun gained strength as it made its way across the sky, the going seemed to go tougher.

But then, I was not alone. There were a lot many others from all across the world, climbing up the path to the monastery. The fitter ones would move ahead and pass by, but the not-so fit ones (like me) were moving in a sort of pack. We all were struggling, and the struggle seemed to make us aware of each other.

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Make In India Week: A ‘Nautanki’ that was much necessary

Kya zaroorat hain itna zagmag se event karneka? Make In India simple se bhi to ho sakta hain” (What’s the need for all this extravagance, the Make In India event could have been arranged in simple manner), the elderly sort of man sitting right next to me in the autorickshaw blurted out. It had been a tenuous Monday morning since the auto-wallahs in Mumbai had gone on a flash strike; making the task of finding an auto no less than one of one of Hercules labor. After much consternation and time, had landed myself in a share-auto to BKC, along with two other gentleman who had squeezed in. The fact that all of us were agitated and angry was not surprising, after all when something as mundane as IMG_0356finding an auto becomes an ordeal, something as extraordinary as a Make In India Week (MIIW) seems completely unnecessary. Thus on spotting a green colour media pass for MIIW dangling from my neck, the gentleman in the hard-won share-auto could not help comment. “Auto strike to rokh naheen paya, phir itna bada nautanki kyun?” (The administration could not stall the auto strike, so what is the real need for such an event).

As I alighted the auto and walked past the huge crimson red pavilion with the words “Make In India Centre” emblazoned in huge golden letters, with flags of very many nations fluttering in the foreground, I was thought over the words of the man and was reminded of an anecdotal parable we often share about the way Indians function. It’s the one that has an open dish and Indian cockroaches within it. None escapes, because no sooner one tries to climb out, the rest gang up and pull him IMG_0358down. Somehow, that anecdote seemed apt to me. It seems that we Indians seem to have a problem with success, especially when it is of our very own. We find it hard to digest, to come to terms with it. So we lash out at it, debunk it, call it useless, futile, nautanki, etc.. That is a typical way in which many react in India. But this trend has exacerbated with the coming the PM Narendra Modi. Everything now is perceived from a political prism, thus, if you don’t agree with him, everything he does has to be negative. So what if it is Skill India or Make In India?

The best instance of this bias could be seen in the way the media in general covered the event. The fourth estate largely avoided talking about the event, or when they did it were the negative aspects were highlighted. So the fire at one of the Make In India event became a talking point. There were talks about mismanagement, the lack of coordination by the organisers, the absence of non-NDA states, and then was all the talk about the quantum of MOUs signed and how much would be realised. These were the things that were talked about, not the fact how many attended or what was on display.

Looking beyond the extravagance

Strangely, jamboree was the appellation that the MIIW has been dubbed by the media at large. The event that was spread over a week, and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has either been ignored or spoken in a bIMG_20160217_142435lithe manner. The term jamboree (essentially means a large congregation or party; extravagant and lavish. Usually, a boisterous affair.) is symbolic of that mindset, a perspective that has been tinged with ignorance
or naivety. Anyone who visited the event would vehemently argue over the term of reference. The scope and spread of MIIW cannot be expressed as jamboree; it is much beyond those trivial description that hinge largely on size and scale.

But before we come to the very core of what MIIW was, let’s do touch upon its most talked aspect; the size. Indeed, it was one of the most impressive event in terms of scale. Spread over 2,30,000 sq. mt of prime land in Bandra Kurla Complex, there were 27 air-conditioned pavilions that were erected in crimson red.

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Why the Indian Science Congress needs be Banned — For its Indianness

Imagine, Shiva, the lord of destruction, being hailed as the greatest and the first environmentalist of the universe? Sounds like a plot from a latest Amish Tripathi type of fiction doesn’t it? And then you have a theory that by blowing a conch shell, one can exercise rectal muscles, prostrate, urinary tract, lower abdomen, diaphragm, chest and neck muscles. No wonder all those warriors during the times of the Mahabharata, and thereon were in excellent shape, after all, they blew a lot of conch back then.

Had this sort of discussion (of Shiva the Environmentalist and Conch as rectal reliever) taken place at some mythology or some religious conference, or programme running on448408-lord-shiva-700-1 Astha TV, all would have been rather fine. But instead, these points were thrown up at the prestigious annual science congress event that took place in Mysore this year. The event is an annual jamboree that travels from one Indian city to another, apparently to promote scientific temperament within the country. Yet, the only thing that this event seems to doing is promote psuedo-relegiousness of the worst kind. Science, the empirical discipline, has taken a back seat to mythology and religion, which has no relation whatsoever with empiricism.

And it isn’t just a one-year thing. Last year, was even more awesome, as there was a paper presented by one of the researcher, a certain Captain Anand Bodas, who spoke about the “science” of Vimanika Shastra, and how ancient India had flying aircrafts, long long before, Leonardo da Vinci had even imagined anything similar.  Or if that was not enough to amaze you, there was another paper based on the Sushruta Samhita, titled “advances in surgery in ancient India”, which described surgical instruments and claimed plastic and reconstruction surgeries were performed more than 3500 years ago!

Sadly this is what our Indian Science Congress has become in the past few years, an event of pseudoism and stupidity. With everything in it, except possibly science. Little wonder CYAbJE-UMAAtMzX (1)then, Indian-born Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan dubbed the event as  “circus where very little science was discussed“, stating that he will never ever attend it.

In the light of such howlers, does it really do us justice to carry on this sham? Should not the Indian Science Congress be banned for good, disbanded till it finds its feet and soul back? Why waste so much money on a “science event”, where there is so little science? Continue reading

If it’s FREE, then why is Facebook spending 100 crores over it?

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” was an adage that was popularised by economist Milton Friedman back in the 1960s. The core contention of the advice being that everything in life everything has a cost; be it upfront or hidden. But it is always there. Nothing is available for free.

Hence, when Facebook launched the Free Basics with much fanfare and excitement, presenting it as a do-goody social thingy, not everyone was able to swallow it. Not many, and not someone like me.

To be fair to Facebook, any corporate entity in the world exists only for one single purpose, namely, maximisation of shareholder’s value. This is the primary (and often, the only) reason why most company exists. Thus, if Facebook is trying to hook significant number of users that will join the cyberspace in the years to come, it is not something that we should hold against the company. After all, growing its numbers is the only way it can ensure its profitability in the days to come.

But sadly, that is not the way Free Basics is being promoted or pushed. By talking about the poor and the downtrodden, who can “at least, enjoy the limited and curtailed internet”, Facebook is sounding quite like those proselytising missionaries of yore, that would defend the harvesting of pagan souls, because at least they were better off now than before. By masking the whole program in the garb of philanthropy, Facebook has only put itself in the spot.

And then to make things worse, Facebook is now using its huge financial and marketing muscle to push things through. By some accounts, the “What’s on your mind?” company has earmarked some $20 million to promote (read educate) Free Basics in India. It is using all the mediums that are available for the battle, print, TV, digital, offline. Rather than having an open and fair discussions on finer aspects of net neutrality, Facebook is now seeming like those corrupt politicians who have been proven to be corrupt, but then try to correct their image by glitzy campaigns and doing some charity work.

freebasicsad1The reason that Mark Zuckerberg is going ballistic this time in India, is because of the manner in why Facebook had been splattered with a cake on its face, the last time round. In fact, it had been just some 6 odd months back when Free Basics in its earlier avatar as faced immense resistance by the public at large, and thus was stalled by the Telecom Regulators. At that time, Facebook was taken aback by the power of the collective, by the sheer virality of things. So this time, it kind of came prepared, it repackaged the offering (giving it a kinder overtone), gave the offering an emotional spiel, had the creatives in place, and even Zuckerberg, who is on a paternity leave, is now writing blogs defending the offering. Continue reading

Native ADvertising; or should it be Native EDvertising?

To be honest, the term ‘native advertising’ is a tough one to define and explain. From the plethora of definitions that are available, the one most plausible is that it is any sort of content that has been paid for by a corporate entity or even an individual. But yet, native is very much unlike the advertorials that we used to have in the past, which used to specifically peddle a product or service, trying to mask it as an editorial. Remember those “Impact” Features in India Today magazines, the ones that we were attuned not to read or pay any whatsoever attention to?

Thus in a manner of speaking, native advertising are basically advertorials, but not as we know advertorials to be.

So what is this native advertising? Is it more of editorial or advertising? Are there not ethical issues associated with creating such platforms? Is it any more successful than traditional content marketing platforms?

There are many such queries that thrown up, whenever there is a discussion on native advertising. For someone who has been involved in the creation of some of the biggest native advertising platforms at India’s biggest business portal, let me attempt to give an insight on what native advertising is, and essentially what it actually is not. Just a few disclaimer before I begin, since I have much of the last few years in the digital space, so when I say native advertising, I very much mean “digital” native advertising. Secondly, the instances that I use in this piece are my personal choices, not reflective in any manner of the brands they belong to, or the platform they were published on.

So, now that I have the necessary asterisk in place, let me begin with what Native Advertising is actually not?

More than advertising — Native platforms are not pitches for products or services like we see them traditionally

Not about lead generation — Native platforms are essentially not lead-gen or sales platforms that will give you a list of prospective buyers and potential clients

Not about customer servicing — Native platforms cannot be customer servicing or sales, or anything like that. Continue reading

The Future of Content is — Video. And it’s Scary!

Have you noticed off late, how the sheer number of videos that we watch from the Internet has exploded. Thanks to the smart phones in our pocket, and the 3Gs and the 4Gs in the air, we now consume videos as copiously as we drink colas. And this transformation has been fairly recent, because till sometime back watching a video on YouTube was like booking a train ticket on the IRCTC portal; frustrating, exhausting and mind-numbing. Buffering was a term that we all came to hate and live with. It was like bad karma, and watching video was like a punishment, no less.

Funnily, the capability/capacity to watch videos has supposedly been around for quite some time. Does, the broadband tingle a bell? I remember back in the times when NDA was in government, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, the then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan used to make promises of a ‘videod‘ future, where we will be able to see a Dev Anand or a Sunil Dutt film at a just a click at almost every press conference. That was in around the year 2000. But then even as the bandwidth grew, from 128 Kbps to 512, from 1 Mbps to 2 and then to 5, the video revolution was largely limited because of the ‘Pull‘ factor, namely, one had to visit a website or a portal to pull (or download) a video. So be it a YouTube or a Bit Torrent, we had to go to all these sites in search of something specific. We were searching for videos to watch, and since these portals were just hosting the videos they were not pushing the envelope in terms of technology.

And while we talk about technology, we just cannot ignore the role played by the porn portals that revolutionised the delivery of videos over the WWW. Because of all these portals that had to deliver videos to hundreds of thousands of people (at times even millions) simultaneously, they perfected the art of content delivery. The world owes a big debt to these carnal-delighters for making the magic of seamless video possible. Continue reading

Were I the Brand Head at Snapdeal; this is what I would have done

Defining what is a brand is quite like tying up yourself in a knot. Brands (and we are not talking of the material here) are defined by perception than physical attributes of it. As one of the greatest advertising gurus of all times, David Ogilvy had famously said, “brands are the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.”

As an article in Forbes put it beautifully;
“Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.” 

Thus, while Snapdeal, one of India’s biggest online retailer is a company, an organization and so on, which can be defined in material terms. It is also huge in terms of the Snapdeal_Krishab786intangible, a brand that people like, associate or even hate. And in the past couple of days (specifically 2), the edifice of the brand, built with time and money, has developed a crack and all because of an event which was totally not in their hands.

It all started with a brand ambassador they had so ‘heartfully’ integrated in their campaign; namely Aamir Khan.  A little ‘dil ki talk’  by Aamir proved very costly for Snapdeal. It all started with Aamir Khan talking of how his wife had discussed the possibility of leaving India at an award show. Within a short span of time, the social universe burst into a storm of backlash against the Bollywood Star. There was resounding condemnation of the actor and shortly the hashtag #AamirKhan was the number one trend in India. People across the spectrum were pillorying the actor for his indiscretion. And in this maelstrom Snapdeal became a collateral victim. In a little time hashtags like #AppWapsi, #BootSnapdeal became a trend. Since there was no direct way to express anger, uninstalling and giving the Snapdeal app poor rating, demanding the company to remove him as its brand ambassador in the comments section became a legit way of vent their angst.

To be fair to Snapdeal, there was possibly little that they could have done in the maelstrom. Even as the barrage turned into a flood, Snapdeal seemed to be numbed. The Aamirkhan1hyper active twitteratis were devising ways coordinating attacks on the online retailer, who just dug the head in the sand waiting for all to blow away. Sadly like those hurricanes in the gulf of Mexico, this one only got stronger. As of penning this piece the app had received some 92000 negative ratings. Then there was the supposed uninstall of some 6 lakh by users, and claimed loses of some 100 crores.

Every big brand or a corporate these days has a ORM (Online Reputation Management) policy in place wherein they listen and react to things in the online space. While, there is a limitation to how much listening and reacting one can, dependent largely on the tools, team and consultants that are engaged, great brands need always be prepared for disaster management of this sort. Just like in our offices, we keep having this fire-safety drill, wherein we are mentally prepared to react in case of a fire, similarly companies need to have a roadmap ready when things fail.

This is where I believe Snapdeal faltered; it had not prepared itself for an event like this. The company went quiet, and hence suffered terribly. There are a whole lot of steps that it could have undertaken, from big to small to present it’s side, to reach out to the people. To give an idea, here is a small set of things I would have done, were I the brand head at Snapdeal. Honestly, these steps have been arrived at deliberation with my friends in the industry, who have a lot more knowledge and experience in this domain. Thus, the “I” here is a just rhetorical tool, to evince interest and connect with the reader. So here goes my little list of things that should have been done:


The phrase ‘nip in the bud’ is a rather evocative one, but is a maxim of much strength. As soon as the negative trends started showing up on my dashboard, I would have Screenshot_2015-11-25-12-48-58immediately constituted a task force with the sole objective of listening and reacting. Thus even as messages on Twitter were going all over, there would be an erudite set of copy-commandos trying to diffuse the situation.
Secondly, I would immediately carry a statement from the company on all the social media logins/handles. The message would be brief and succinct, stating that these are personal comments by the star and we are not associated with it. This would have been immediate.
Third I would also mask all the communication that would be featuring Aamir Khan. I mean, if so many people are pissed at him, why would I still maintain his face on the FB cover, on the App front-end, on Twitter cover and so on. Immediately, there would be a generic poster/cover, featuring a Tricolor or something, or Wishing people a happy Guru Nanak Jayanti, just to diffuse the scenario.
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Before #SupportDigitalIndia should look at #StrengthWithinIndia

There is this beautiful and candid moment in the Discovery of India, when Jawaharlal Nehru (the author of the book) breaks into an inquiry as to what really is India. In a passage, he poses a series of questions that dig at the very essence of nationhood —

What is this India, apart from her physical and geographical aspects? What did she represent in the past? What gave strength to her then? How did she lose that old Digital-India 6strength? And has she lost it completely? Does she represent anything vital now, apart from being the home of a vast number of human beings? How does she fit into the modern world?

These queries can also be termed as the core essence of the book itself, as Nehru takes us on a long journey to “discover” and uncover India. Somehow, I seemed to recall these words from the very 1st Prime Minister of India, even as the 15th Prime Minister roamed across the plains of the United States, exhorting companies and individuals to partner in his vision of a digital and developed India.

‘Digital India’ is now well and truly a global buzzword, it is already trending on Twitter and Facebook and everyone seems to be talking about it. The program launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in July 2014, seems to have come a long way with Digital india1even the CEO of Facebook sporting a DP in support of Digital India. Google in the meantime announced that it will provide free Wi-Fi at 500 railway stations; Microsoft is planning to take broadband connectivity to 5 lakh villages. There is now so much excitement and so much euphoria around the idea, that one feels that there is nothing that can now come between us and our tryst with digitisation. No power on this planet can now stop us from being Digital India. Yeah! Yeah!

But before we turn into a digital society, or even embark on being one, there is an important aspect that we see to be missing upon, namely, defining what digitisation is, its need and its challenges, its relevance and its impact on Indian society. While it is really a no-brainer that digitisation is required and necessary, the core question that arises is whether we have thought out before, is there an end goal that we are moving towards or is it just a relentless journey that we will keep moving on? How will all this digitisation impact the life of an average Indian? What would be the termed as success or failure? What is the gamut or the sphere of the program? There is much excitement indeed, but is there much sense

Quite like how Nehru had started his journey with a whole lot of definitive questions, should we not too proceed in a similar manner? Say begin with something like: What is this Digital India, apart from the technical and fundamental aspects?

A cursory search on Google throws up the following definition: (Wikipedia)

Digital India is an initiative of Government of India to integrate the government departments and the people of India. It aims at ensuring that the government services are made available to citizens electronically by reducing paperwork. The steps to Digital India program can be jotted as such:

  • Creation of Digital infrastructure
  • Delivery of services
  • Digital literacy

In fact there is a whole website ( that has been created to communicate the goals of program, it has Prime Minister Modi’s image all over, and lot of content on this and that. Yet, there is precious little on the site to show in terms of details of work that has been done, or work that will be done. Since, the devil apparently lies in the details, there seems to be no details whatsoever provided on the

And so that gets us back at the essential question, a program that is supposedly worth Rs. 125 crores, how come there is no detailed plan for it.  In fact there is not even a special body that has been created to monitor or drive it. The program currently falls under the ambit of the Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY) is leading it forward, and it is headed by a “Monitoring Committee on Digital India under the Chairpersonship of Prime Minister” and a “Digital India Advisory Group headed by the Minister of Communications and IT”. So essentially this is a baby of the PM and his ICT minister. Continue reading

Its not Meat, it’s Modi — Stupid!

Frankly speaking the war over the ban on meat in Maharashtra is not just a matter of palate or choice, but is a political war with currents that run much deeper. In fact, the meatban3The controversy over the meat ban in Maharashtra, has less to do with Meat more to do with Modi. outrage against the ban has more to do with Narendra Modi as the PM, than the availability of chicken-koliwada on the streets of Mumbai.
Ever since, Modi has ascended to the top seat in Delhi, there has been much discomfort in Maharashtra, as to how to really deal with him. You see, for a very long time Chief Minister Modi of Gujarat was a big time rival of Maharashtra, and he made no bones of it. On a typical day, he would wean away the corporates with his Vibrant this and that, tom-tom ‘the 24 hours’ of power availability in state (as against load shedding in Maharashtra), or talk about how farmers are thriving in Gujarat (while committing suicide in Maharashtra). Since, there was a Congress Government all the while Modi ruled in neighbourly Gujarat, he invariably always attacked Maharashtra, to showcase how well Gujarat was doing. He was like the schoolboy who spoke most and shone brightest, while the rest sulked, especially Maharashtrians.
meatban5Historically too, Maharashtra and Gujarat were rivals for a long time (even though they did not really exist back then). There is an economic history behind it. The Britishers first established their ‘factory’ in Surat, which essentially was a trading place for Indian goods to be exchanged with those of the British. This made Gujarat (especially Surat) the financial hub. So much so, that when Shivaji was running short of money, he ransacked the city (then under Mughal domination) and made off with much booty. That was essentially the first clash, but it send the agenda for subsequent interactions. When Bombay came into being as a trading post, it were the Parsees from Gujarat that took the lead. When the state of Maharashtra was being created from Bombay Presidency, the Gujjus, especially Morarji Desai opposed it. He had even advocated creating Bombay as a union territory. The rivalry, so, is not really a new one.

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Meet the Breakfast Annas of Mumbai

Mornings are an altogether different thing in Mumbai. Unlike the “subehe Kashi” (morning in Kashi), where mornings are king of romantic and melodious, in the urban sprawl of Mumbai it is anything but that. With scores and scores of Mumbaikars (good tens on the roads and on the run, there is no respite, calmness or freshness to be sought in the morning. Sanity is dependent on precise minutes like 8:15 F, or 8:47 S. Omens, good IMG_20150813_084041or bad, are all about whether you were able to find a seating place in the train. Chivalries and niceties are easily dumped, when you need to jump a queue and duck into a share auto, even before the lady, who has been patiently standing there for well over 10 minutes. Thus, mornings in Mumbai are chaos supreme, with blood pressures soaring and people zipping from one point to another.

In the very midst of this madness, there are little oasis of peace and tranquility that abound across the city. And the best thing is that these oases are mobile and agile, travelling along on the back on a bicycle. These are the Breakfast Annas of Mumbai that feed a huge population on the run.

Across the city, from early morning you will find these magical men with their bicycles feeding a population that is constantly on the run. At vantage points you will find them, Picture_000001with their meduvadas and idlis (at times even plain dosa). Quickly consumable and awesomely cheap, these Breakfast Annas are an essential part of Mumbai life. People waiting for a bus or a rickshaw, will quickly converge at these anna-spots and savour the goodies. For 10 bucks a plate, you can wallop down 3 small meduwadas or idlis and continue on. These annas are like small pit-stops for the people to come and charge self before rejoining the rush to work.

One of the things that truly amazed me over the years was the apparent standardised fare that is similar across the city. The idlis, the vadas, the sambar, and even the chatni taste almost the same all across. You move from one area to another, and yet the taste more or less remains the same. It took some investigation and journalistic prodding that I discovered the reason. Typically, the annas seem like householders, who are retailing homemade fare. But then, nothing could really be further from the truth. All the food stuff is actually mass-produced on a factory scale at different designated areas like Dharavi and thereon. The Breakfast Anna are merely retailers, who buy a designated quota everyday and cart it all over the place. This in short, is the reason for the uniformity. These annas are not the creators but merely smart vendors of the fast-food fare. Continue reading