Why is there no Yuppie Programming?

October 15, 2008

So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.

Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.

My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.

The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.

The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.

Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.

What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.

Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.

Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
  • Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
  • Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
  • Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.

You see my point, yes?

So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!

Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.

For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:

Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.

So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:

Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:

Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:

Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.

But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.

So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?

PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.

PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)

PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.

The Outlook for MBAs

September 16, 2008

My laziness and writer’s block resulted in Gaurav beating me to it when it came to expressing schadenfreude about all the I-bankers who’re losing their jobs. (I am of course a retail banker of repute and thus less affected.) This is just the beginning, though.  What will MBAs do at placements time when their are no longer any investment banks to lap them up at Slot Zero?

My prediction is that ITC and UB will become the hot new Slot Zero recruiters. Now that we’re in for a depression, vice is where the money is. As this Financial Times article points out, recessions and depressions only have a positive impact on the demand for things like alcohol, tobacco and gambling:

The alcohol, tobacco, gaming, and defense sectors, in aggregate, are defensive in nature and tend to outperform the broad market in periods characterized by relatively low returns and periods with relative stagnancy, or worse, in the U.S. economy.

Tragically, there is no India-specific Vice Fund, or Satan’s Portfolio, or I would be heading over to my bank branch to start my SIPs now.

A Theory of Fraudness

March 4, 2008

You can approximate how fraud an MBA’s job is by looking at which Microsoft Office1 product he2 uses the most.

Excel indicates the least fraudity, because the MBA here is working with real data and numbers, and is close to the truth of a particular situation. These are the consultants who do actual number-crunching, market research junta, and quants (though of course quants will be using cooler stuff than Excel).

Word is more fraud, because it abstracts real information (numbers) into words, but is not quite as fraud. And given that there’s a lot of tacit knowledge floating about in organisations that it not easily converted to numbers, there are chances that the MBA is actually communicating real information when working in Word. As a commercial banker of repute, I am in this position.

PowerPoint is the pinnacle of fraudity. The MBA who works mostly in PowerPoint is doing nothing but converting real information into easily digested bullet points that lose all nuance. These MBAs are usually found in things like internal consulting and sales strategy. They convert the Excel sheets made by people doing real work into PowerPoint presentations made to clueless senior managers who refuse to analyze the data themselves.

1: There are other office suites besides Microsoft Office, but these are MBAs in the corporate world we’re talking about here. We can safely assume that the IT department has bought MS Office.
2: It could be he/ she, but again, this is the real world we’re talking about and in practice male MBAs outnumber female MBAs five to one (and that’s at IIMB). The female MBAs who do exist are of course equal to the males when it comes to putting fraud.

India: Everything to Play For

October 17, 2007

All the business newspapers (links: Mint, Business Standard) are shagging over the Lehman Brothers report titled India: Everything to Play For. The report says that India’s GDP can grow at 10% a year for the next ten years, given the right reforms.

I’m about halfway through the report, and I have to say this: it’s awful.

The report reminds me of the draft Strategy term papers we submitted for the midterm review back in first year at IIMB. Our profs then abused each and every group for doing nothing but pulling in factoids and graphs from every analyst report we could lay our hands on, and not doing any analysis or linking of concepts of our own.

This report is very similar. The people who wrote it don’t seem to have met a factoid or a graph they don’t love. They’ve dumped in stuff from Pavan K Varma’s Being Indian, other stuff from the Tarapore Committee report, and even quoted a Hindustan Times real estate supplement. They have done some statistical analysis of their own, but that particular analysis seems to just float in space. It doesn’t serve as either a premise, or a conclusion or an intermediate step.

This has just gone on and on for seventy pages (I have a hundred more to get through). Each page contains a diagram or fact which is very interesting by itself, but there seems to be no actual analysis which shows how that fact or diagram supports the assertion made in the first chapter that the Indian economy can grow beyond 10% on a sustained basis.

There are also appalling non-sequiturs. Like the claim that the growth of the Indian telecom industry is illustrated by Nokia putting up its handset factory near Chennai in only five months. Completing a factory in five months can be taken as evidence of better construction techniques, or project management, or even the virtues of prefabricated sheds. But how does it demonstrate telecom growth? And why talk about Nokia’s factory when you could just show subscriber numbers (actually, they have shown those also. Which just increases my suspicion that they’ve thrown in every factoid they could find.)?

I suspect I’m particularly irritated by this report because I already know most of the factoids they’ve thrown in. Unlike the Percy Mistry report, there are no explosive new and big ideas. Hell, even Goldman Sachs’ BRICs report pointed out that India could push up its GDP growth rate by 2.5% over the existing rate with a set of five key reform measures (can’t recall the exact details now, might update the post with links later). This feeling will probably be shared by everyone who watches the Indian economy regularly. On the other hand, the CEOs and Heads of Strategy who aren’t familiar about the ‘India story’ and who get their fundaes on it from this report will probably go orgasmic over it.

A final point: The report is stored in a section of Lehman’s website called ‘Our Intellectual Capital’. Given how there’s so little original research and so many borrowed factoids in the report, Lehman’s intellectual capital seems to be more debt than equity. The investment banking strategy of high leverage seems to have spread over to their research divisions as well.

Ravi Subramanian Must Be Annihilated

July 16, 2007

When Chetan Bhagat writes a bad book, it is regrettable. It casts all MBAs in a negative light. People with an appreciation for literature- heck, for any good writing- will sneer at us and say ‘Oh, you’re an MBA. Like Chetan Bhagat.’ It’s hard, I tell you. Hard.

Still, there are mitigants. At least the brunt will be borne by people from IIMA and IITD. Also, TDCs and I-bankers. And those buggers deserve all the sneering they can get. So as an IIMB alumnus, my position is a little more secure.

Until now, thanks to Ravi Subramanian, batch of 1993, who has written a steaming pile of manure entitled If God Was a Banker.

If God Was a Banker is not a book to be thrown away lightly. It is not even a book to be hurled away with great force. It is a book whose copies must be seized from all bookshops, burnt in enclosed environments, and have the ashes buried under granite and basalt mountains. And after that the bookshops must be purified with Gangajal. Ravi Subramanian has accomplished the impossible and written a worse book than Chetan Bhagat.

When the very first page contains the phrases ‘The sun was yet to leave its heavenly abode’, ‘he knew the entire topography of the Greco-Roman chandelier’, and ‘his wife of nineteen years’, it dawns on you that Rupa has been on a cost cutting drive and sacked all its editors, and that the rest of the book promises untold horrors. But the true scale of these horrors is unimaginable until you actually encounter them.

The depth of these horrors is indescribable, and the range is almost infinite. There is anachronism – email in India in 1987, among other things. There is bad sex described using corporate jargon. There is a Gujew in Calcutta who speaks Punjabi. There is a shameless plug for The Hindu (okay, to be fair, the N Ram era probably hadn’t begun in 1987). There is a wholesale substitution of plot with morality play. There are – and this is surprising considering Subramanian is Tam – not enough commas.

You know, although Subramanian tries to project the moral as being about the importance of living an ethical and ascetic life, the real moral is that Iyengar men should not write1, and instead leave the writing to the more intelligent Iyers. In fact, Iyengar men should not do anything at all, except stick to their core competence of having daughters of unsurpassed beauty and dazzling charm2.

If you spot this book in your local bookshop, I urge you to do your civic duty, buy it and destroy it before some unsuspecting soul picks it up and is driven into shrieking insanity. Think of the children!

1: RK Narayan is the exception that proves the rule.
2: And let’s not forget the curly hair.

Update: As has been repeatedly pointed out in the comments, Ravi Subramanian is an Iyer and not an Iyengar. I apologise for the mistake, and urge readers not to let this detract from the rest of the post. However, I just want to point out that:

  1. This actually reinforces the case for annihilating Ravi Subramanian. He has brought shame and disgrace to not only IIMB alumni, but also to Iyers.
  2. The point about Iyengar men not being good for anything except producing daughters still holds good.
  3. Of course, Iyer men are good for producing daughters also, along with everything else. Though in the case of Iyer daughters, the beauty is dazzling (though surpassed by Iyengars) and the charm is unsurpassed.

I also mistakenly ascribed Iyengarness to R K Narayan. Apologies for that as well. So please include him in the list of Iyers who should write, and incorporate davenchit as the exception that proves the rule.

For Love or Money

March 18, 2006

Which is better: joining a management consultancy, being paid 14 lakh rupees a year, and working 16/6; or being the heir to a small family business where your dad and some professional managers do all the work, you can take it easy, and all your needs are met (though you don’t actually own anything: you only stand to inherit)? The (expected) wealth you will earn as a consultant and the (expected) wealth you will inherit when your father tells jai are equal (in present value terms), so from a purely monetary point of view, both options are the same.

If you don’t enjoy the work for itself than you would probably prefer the second option. The money is the same, but you get to take it easy. All your time is leisure time, and you can spend it doing what you like- adventure sports, perhaps, or wildlife photography. If you were the sedentary sort, you could spend all your time blogging.

But what happens if you fall in love and your parents disapprove? In fact, what happens when they disapprove so much that they throw you out of the house and cut you out of the inheritance if you continue to put blade?

In that case, you would definitely prefer the first option. Your employer might make you work hundred hour weeks, but at least you won’t be fired for your choice of significant other.

This is actually one of the overlooked but vitally important advantages of getting into an IIM and cracking a Slot Zero placement: it neutralises the financial risk of pissing off your parents and being estranged from your family. You will still have to face the emotional trauma of not being able to speak to your family, but at least you won’t have to pull a Salman Khan and spend your life breaking rocks in a mine wearing nothing but a vest. (Given the eating and exercise habits of most IIM grads, this is a good thing from an aesthetic point of view as well.)

Of course, everything is not always as simple as this. Your inheritance could be much more, or much less. You could be very blase, or very worried about the prospect of never speaking to your family again. The point is that you have an income source that is not going to exercise veto power on who you marry.

I’ll close here, but this has actually made me wonder why more families aren’t estranged. That would be worth a post by itself.

IIMB Lingo??

February 23, 2006

As mentioned in the earlier post, a German female who came down to IITM for exchange decided to do her MA thesis on IITM lingo.

Was wondering how much of the IIMB lingo has actually come from IITM, and how much of it is original. Must start by mentioning that when i moved from IITM to IIMB 2 years back, I hardly had a problem adjusting to the new lingo. Most of the words seemed only too familiar, some of the new ones being:

– Global Origin unknown. However, commonly used across B school campuses
– Fraud Origin: from one of the northern IITs. I know for a fact it’s a commonly used word in IITK
– Poltu Again from one of the northern IITs
– Geela Think this was invented at IIMB. Talking about wetness around the center of gravity
– Hoosh Definitely invented at IIMB. All over the rest of the world, people call it ‘bumps’

During the course of the last two years I’ve been here, the following words/phrases have got added to the lexicon.
– Agreer I complete agree with you. Originates from a mail sent by our placement committee…
– Strong Credits must go to DD I guess. Definitely a strong word.
– Good Stuff Our President liked to use this phrase, so the locusts caught on to it and added it to the lexicon. Meaning and usage is identical to that of “peace” in IITM slang

Good stuff I must say. As for the rest of the Maajorly Shadymax Arbit Fundaes, they’ve all come from IITM Lingo!

Structured Products in the PPT World

February 12, 2006

On my blog, I had recently written about the market for minus attendance, with the attendance in question being the attendance for company PPTs. I had written about the pricing of PPTs and how some juniors tried to undercut each other in order to make some quick money.

The last couple of days have seen some interesting structured products and barters coming into this market. For example, I have been able to buy a couple of -PPTs by paying madman aadisht in terms of blogposts. I write stupid posts like this one and get him to go for PPTs instead of me! Then, liquor has also entered the market. A friend of mine got a junior to go for him by paying him two swigs of some expensive beer. There is this other junior who takes payments only by way of cigarettes!

I had also mentioned in that blogpost that there doesn’t seem to be a concept of variable compensation here, compensation varying with the length of the PPT. Two of my friends struck one such contract a few hours ago. Rs. 200 (note the substantial increase) for the first 1 1/2 hours and Rs. 50 for every additional half hour! Unfortunately for the guy who bought the -PPT, the talk ended in half an hour!

Why Most Mergers Fail

February 12, 2006

At the IIMs, campus recruitment happens through something known as the slotting system. Slot zero has the highest paying jobs, with the most (alleged) prestige attached to them. This slot typically attracts consultancies, commodity trading desks, and importantly for the purposes of this post- investement banks.

As the investment banks have first crack at us, they typically pick the people with the highest grades, the most impressive work experience and extra curricular activities, and the best analytical skills that their interview techniques pick up. The sort of people you’d expect were the smartest of the lot.

All well and good. Slot zero ends, and the smartest people take up jobs with investment banks. Slot one begins, with the people who are arguably less smart.

Now, here’s the interesting part. Guess who shows up in Slot one. The India-based offshore centres of the investment banks, who hire people for the back office work that investment banks need: rating securities, coming up with valuations for companies, and generally telling the investment banks whether they should be long or short on a particular deal.

Now this is where it gets interesting: the smart people at the investment banks who make a particular deal have to rely on the supposedly less smart people at the back office to provide them with information to help them make a decision on that deal. The guy at the back office, being less smart, is more likely to get the valuation wrong. Using this wrong information, the smarter guy goes ahead and makes the deal, and the deal fails spectacularly.

You know, this just might explain the fate of the AOL-Time Warner merger, the HP-Compaq merger, and so many other mergers in the history of corporate finance.

The Downside of Tull

January 29, 2006

Jethro Tull is the main act at Unmaad, IIM Bangalore’s cultural fest.

This does flip Unmaad into a league well above any other college festival- Euphoria or Parikrama just don’t compare to Tull. But it does have its downside.

The main downside is that the Tull show is soaking up sponsorship money like nobody’s business- seating, sound and security don’t come cheap, and the budget for prizes has been slashed by 4 lakh rupees.

What this means is that the Open Quiz, which I was conducting along with SKimpy and Kodhi will no longer have a first prize of thirty thousand rupees. It will instead have a prize of nine thousand rupees- still much better than what any other festival gives, but not the Landmark/ Odyssey killer we had fondly dreamt of. If you had decided to come to Unmaad based on my pitching of the prize money, I most humbly apologise, and can only promise to try and give you a quiz that is worth your ticket to Bangalore.

On the positive side of things, the events team has been highly apologetic, tried its darndest to bring in decent kind prizes, and have been refreshingly transparent about the whole thing. Amd when you’re doing something pathbreakingly different like getting an international band over, I suppose budget slippage is forgivable.

Finally, I know nine thousand isn’t as tempting as thirty thousand, but if you’re a quizzer do come to IIMB for our quiz. It’s on the fourth of February, and will feature questions we’ve been working on since July. There shall be no chimps, no peters and very little floyd.

Update: Prizes increased to 15000, 12000 and 9000!