An explanation is in order

Being at office without any actual work to do is like being sleisha drunk. The brain comes up with hajaar arbit fundaes.

(Incidentally, this is one of them.)


Time zone risk can be mitigated through working hours arbitrage.

Working hours risk can be mitigated through time zone arbitrage.

Yeh Shaadi Nahin Ho Sakti!

If the root of Kapadia is kapda, shouldn’t the root of Wadia be wada? Is Jeh Wadia nothing but a glorified wada-pav wala?

Preity, my Preity, you deserve better than this. Come away with me instead.

The Barometer of Reform

Back in the days when I had internet access, I had picked nits with Gaurav over the suitability of telecom as a poster child for reform. I had said that telecom benefitted so much from network effects that it wasn’t fair to attribute the entire success of the telecom sector to reform- though of course the success wouldn’t have happened if reform hadn’t been there in the first place.

I also promised two follow-up posts. This is the first one, and talks about which industry is a suitable poster child for reform.

That industry is organised retailing- the Big Bazaars, Food Worlds, Planet Ms and Shoppers’ Stops. And shortly Reliance Retail, of course.

Organised retail is a true barometer of reform because it’s the last link in the supply chain. So, no matter which sector of the economy actually gets reformed, the impact will show up in a retailer’s profits- through increased sales, better operational efficiencies, or both.

Let me repeat that: there is no economic reform which will not benefit organised retail in some way or the other.

Labour and pension reform? Allows retail outlets to work longer hours attract more customers, and reduces the risks associated with permanent employees. And reduces the price of merchandise too, if you see the benefits that are accruing further back in the supply chain.

Real Estate reform? It lets retailers build large-format stores, and increase their economies of scale and efficiency. It also frees up land use, making land cheaper and improving profitability.

Agricultural reform? It’s already happening. Reliance Retail isn’t just building grocery stores, it’s also buying produce markets. The scale of the new market reduces waste, gets the farmer a decent price, and brings down costs. The farmer’s happy,Reliance is happy, and the consumer’s happy. It’s win-win for everyone except the middleman.

Tax reform? Once the whole sclerotic system of octroi and inter-state sales tax and excise variations is removed, the supply chain becomes much more efficient. Much less pain for the retailer.

Financial reform- brings down the cost of money. Improves capital efficiency and puts more money in consumers’ wallets. Win-win.

The next time I have proper internet access, I’ll post about what other industries could benefit from network effects the way telecom has. Also, a guest blogger may shortly be posting more specific details about how octroi and the current state of agri-markets are screwing up life for retailers.

Agreeing with Annie

In what seems like a long time ago, young Annie Zaidi attracted all sorts of flack for saying that there is no such thing as merit- or at the very least, that exams don’t measure it properly. Of course, the conclusion you would draw from this would be to improve the examination system rather than start reservation, but we will leave that aside. Annie was attacked from first principals by disgruntled IITians who said that the JEE bloody well did measure merit.

But I have to agree with Annie. Received wisdom suggests that the IAS exam is much, much tougher than both the JEE and the CAT. The people who make it to the IAS are the cream of the cream. They are interviewed by twenty-four hour news channels and worshipped and feared by primitive and superstitious villagers (and also by quite rational city-dwellers). If there was ever an exam that filtered out merit, the IAS entrance is it.

But then all these meritorious IAS officers pull shit like banning Princess Kimberly. And you have to ask yourself, what the faak?

It’s true. There really is no merit. Let’s throw the IAS open to everyone.

How I would use e-books

I prefer reading books the old fashioned way. I like to turn pages, and of course you can carry a book to the bogs or to bed. You can put it down when you’ve just read something impressive enough to make you gasp and pause before you start reading again.

Unfortunately, old fashioned books are bulky. This is really a problem for me, considering the number of books I own (or rather, my family owns) must be well over three thousand. You can’t haul the entire lot to Bangalore or Bombay every time you shift. This is particularly annoying when you want to look up a specific quote and the book is fifteen hundred kilometres away.

What would be awesome would be a password which comes with every paper book that you could use to download a digital copy (which you could then save with your own password). You could keep that digital copy on a pen drive, and look up the wuote whenever you needed it- and the best part is that the digital text is searchable. Alternately, if you bought books online from Amazon, every book you bought would be recorded, and you could just log on and search inside the book or read it online for free.

There could be a business plan in this.

Photography and Storytelling

Photography is creative art, not performing art. The emphasis is not on how well the photograph conforms to standards of light, or composition, or distance or perspective, but on the story it tells.

Photos in which your friends or family sit around and smile at the camera are stories as well, but they are limited. A few people will want to know the story, hear it again and again, but it is a story that is very old and oft-repeated: people sitting around and smiling. People who aren’t in the photo will be more interested in a story with drama.

But all portraits aren’t that limited. Some, taken candidly, or at the other extreme, in extremely contrived poses and compositions, can tell a story that people will want to hear- and if it’s a great photograph, a story that they will want to hear again and again.

The storyteller must realise this, and decide which stories he wants to tell.

Detachment and Creativity

To be a great storyteller, you need to be detached. The trick is that you have to be detached without being dispassionate.

You have to be detached enough from the world around you to see everything as new and fresh. You’ll never be able to see the potential for a story in something if it doesn’t surprise you. Having said that, you also need to be passionate enough to turn it into a story and share your surprise with everyone else.

Of course, detachment and passion aren’t enough by themselves. You need to be superb in your medium of expression too- whether it’s the written word, or photography, or cinema, or music. But technique can be learnt with practice. Detachment and passion won’t come unless your personality is built that way.

Telecom is a Special Case

Some time ago- I can’t remember the exact date- there was an argument at young Shivam’s blog about what the poster child of Indian reforms was- Shivam said it was BPO, while Gaurav Sabnis said that telecom was a better example. A link isn’t provided because that particular post was deleted when Shivam transmogrified into Albert Krishna Ali.

I realised- admittedly some months late- that Gaurav’s assertion about telecom being the poster child was slightly flawed. The telecom sector can be a poster child, but it’s a very unrealistic poster child. All other things being equal, the kind of growth the telecom sector has seen won’t be matched by any other sector.

The reason for this, of course, is the good old network effect. Telecom growth feeds on itself because every time the number of users increases, it makes even more sense for a nonuser to become a user- there are that many more people to contact when he takes a phone. On the other hand, an increase in the number of motorcycle users doesn’t make motorcycles more or less attractive to other users.

This raises two questions:

  1. Given the same level of reform, is there any other sector in India which will see the same level of growth?
  2. Out of all the industries which don’t benefit from network effects, which one can be a realistic poster child for reform?

In keeping with the grand tradition of procrastination on this blog, I will answer both of these in separate posts.