Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: "The Oath of the Vayuputras" by Amish Tripathi

A bare-chested man shooting an arrow, from a bow shaped like a snake. The man's face is hidden, but there is a blue glow at his neck. The background shows fire burning through a battlefield.
Segment: Fiction - Indian Mythology

Background: 3rd & last book of the "Shiva Trilogy", which consists of:
1/ The immortals of Mehula (find review in my earlier posts)
2/ The secret of the Nagas (find review in my earlier posts) &
3/ The oath of the Vayuputras

In Shiva Trilogy, Amish takes a unique approach of looking at "Shiv Puran" or so to say, our entire belief about Hindu Mythology. Whether Gods are super-humans mentioned only in mythological stories or they were real humans like us, known as Gods today, because of the decisions they took and role they played in human history?

I would advise to pick this book up only after you have finished the first 2 books of the trilogy. This will help you to appreciate the plot & context better.

Verdict & Feel: Like most series, this book ties-up loose ends to the story by relating isolated events and is relatively fast paced compared to the first 2 books. Characters start falling in place making the story interesting and gripping. Characters of Ganesh & Kartik are nicely portrayed and symbolize different forces of life.

Felt some inconsistency in Shiva's character & his reasoning from the beginning of book vis. a vis. in the climax.

As I had very little knowledge of Shiv Puran, I feel enriched after reading these 2 books. I feel even more strongly that all Indian scriptures tell us about the same things, by personifying the forces at play in our mind & heart, weaved in grand larger-than-life stories. Ironically, we have become too rigid in our reading of scriptures / mythology to look beyond words and consider them as a read for spiritual flight only to be pursued after we have lived our real life.

A small mention of maha bharat in the end is enticing and pointing towards Amish's future writing endeavors.

Writing Style:
- the language is simple and writing style is straight forward. Story flows on a linear plane at a constant pace. Don't expect literary satisfaction (use of words / language / way of telling story) from the entire series. However, there is enough to be told in this book (unique subject !), to keep the reader engaged.

- Amish's ability to go into details and create a visual of the scene in front of our eyes is phenomenal. I continue to believe that this is only a necessity of this series and Amish has more variety to offer in his future writings.

Time: Took me about 4-6 days of average reading.

Other observations:
- Would like to emphasize at the cost of repetition (as mentioned in review of "The Immortals of Mehula" too) - the map of India in 1900 BC, provided inside front cover of the book is indispensable to understand the story better!

- Amish has put no efforts (no mention in the preface; absence of any disclaimer/s) to relate the plots, events, locations and names mentioned in the book to today's knowledge of the same in history or mythology. It looks like Amish is capturing the key historical / mythological people, events & understanding, using fiction as a way of narration. I really hope Amish relate the story to present day belief in the last book of the Trilogy.

My Rating: Shiva Trilogy - 7/10; The oath of the Vayuputras - 6/10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Infosys surrenders its values - really?

After leaving Infosys in 2011, Mr. N. R. Narayana Murthy is joining it back as Executive Chairman, accompanied by his son. Also, he clarified that his remuneration during this period shall be Re.1 per year and that his son is joining as his Executive Assistant and is not aspiring for the CEO position.

This news piece has been on front page of almost all dailies over the last three weeks, with details as to how it will boost morale among the employees and questions like whether Mr. Murthy has, what is takes to turn around Infosys, when all experts feel that IT industry has completely changed since his last stint in a executive position in 2006.

Last week, I read an article by a renowned writer, questioning the comeback of Mr. Murthy, calling it, his attempt to save his own wealth (towards ~5% stake he & his family owns in Infosys) and thus counter corporate governance. It went on to the extent of saying that now all corrupt politician & corporate leaders will use NRN's example to justify practicing nepotism. The article left me thinking.

Is it correct to assume that all promoters / founders are poisonous to the business and to the concept of corporate governance, after it is listed? I find it hypocritical. Chasing cliche terms without focusing on real concerns therein, is a fallacy of today's corporate India. Take for example, Corporate Governance. A Promoter taking an executive role (lets call it CEO) in his own company is bad. Why? Because he is focused on increasing his own wealth. Why is that bad? In fact, a promoter turned CEO knows the company's DNA best and has his interests aligned perfectly (both monetary and emotionally). It is a normal practice across the world, that a professional CEO from 'outside' is required to have a minor stake in company or to link his remuneration to company's growth, to align his interests (at least monetary interests; we are still to even accept that emotional alignment is more important; probably because we have not yet figured out a way to control it). This practice is based on real human psychological setup that we feel motivated to a cause when we gain something out of it (mostly emotionally, especially at senior roles).

In my view, the real purpose of Corporate Governance is not limited to factually comply with the terms laid out in books like 'no related party', 'business on arms' length basis' etc, but to ensure that prudence is exercised and behavior is not guided in favor of a person's benefit at the cost of company & its business.

Coming to the case in point, it may be acceptable if critics question the decision of selecting NRN, saying that better alternatives were available with Infosys. In my view, however, Infosys did act for the benefit of its business. In all fairness, Mr. Murthy is the best bet, it has, to save its face. This is a solution, specific to Infosys, given its history & cliche placement in terms of its conduct and way of doing business and which is, more often than not, resonated in NRN (even after his exit from Infosys). Of course, this doesn't guarantee any improvement in performance of Infosys, but neither would have, an appointment of a CEO from 'outside'. A leader is always chosen on subjective grounds, specific to the situation at hand, at the time of selection.

Problem is that we try to see every situation with same pair of glasses. And this is practiced to an extent that the only factual compliance is of essence and thus, intentional compliance was not even worth 2 lines in that article.

Also, it may be noted that, I am not a NRN fanatic and don't swear by his integrity etc. So, I am not justifying his come back cause he is not taking any salary or that he didn't keep a secret about succession plans of his son etc. Nor, am I swearing by his capabilities to turn around the Company with a magic wand.

What I am questioning is the narrow scope of view about NRN's return (but not about bringing his son along; but, for now, I would give NRN a benefit of doubt on this and watch closely !) and relating it to breach of corporate governance. It is, in my opinion, important to give a context to a practice to be followed by a company and more so in the Indian settings, where most of the business is done in Indian way but evaluated (praised or criticized) on parameters borrowed from western countries.

Nevertheless, I hope NRN maintains a good arm's length distance !!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: The Bankster by Ravi Subramanian

Segment: Fiction - corporate crime thriller

Price: got a good deal at Rs. 170 from Homeshop18.

Verdict & Feel: A decent read, although similar to many books in this genre, with the story laden with love, jealousy, ambition, greed, infidelity, politics and murder. The story is about how global forces use politics, mafia & banking industry to serve their interests against India. The plot is set in today's setting and thus, good number of people should be able to relate to characters and events in the book like private banks, local politicians, targets at work, rivalry among colleagues, nuclear power plant (Yes, the story does has a nuclear power plant in controversy being build in southern India !!! strikes any bell ??? :) ). Story is nicely weaved around lives of people from different walks of life and countries, starting as isolated incidents in the beginning of the book and the dots start connecting in the later part of the book.

Irrespective of having several plots and numerous characters involved, Ravi has successfully narrated the story with little confusion even for a novice reader. Also, author has successfully personified ambition and greed in several characters who leave a lasting impression on the reader with some questions lingering for long about the state of our modern day civilization especially in cities and metros.

While, this kind of books are common by foreign authors (I am in India !!!), very few Indian authors have been able to make their mark in this kind of writing. Ravi can easily be rated good among the Indian authors in today's times. 

It will be a good read for people who have just started exploring this genre.

Writing Style:
- the language used is simple. Ravi has control over the narration and he easily manages to connect plots with little confusion or mistakes.
- Story has its ups and downs and suspense is unfolded till the last page of the book (literally!). But this is common in the books under this genre.

Time: Took me 2 weeks to complete the book as I was reading the book at my leisure along with few other books !!!

Other observations:
- These kind of fictions may be priced more reasonably like their foreign counterparts. !!! 

My Rating: 6/10

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Sometimes, I wonder.... what is more important? answer to What or answer to Why?
Sometimes, I wonder.... if answers to both What and Why are important or to neither of them?
Sometimes, I wonder.... if any answer is important.
Sometimes, I wonder.... is it important to have an answer at all?
Sometimes, I wonder.... is it important to be important, for being wondered about?
Sometimes, I wonder.... is not knowing something, reason enough to wonder about it?
Sometimes, I wonder.... & wander in my thoughts

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pertinence Question

Where do you belong to?  Where is your native place?  Where are you from?

Several ways of asking, but the question is same. And this has been, probably, the most elusive question, I have faced all my life. Of course, I tried writing down a socially acceptable answer, mugging it up and vomiting it out, whenever the question pops up!!! But, surprisingly, that was of little help... primarily for 2 key reasons. One, I haven't spent all my life in a single city / town and thus, have to factor in my current location into the answer every time (sometimes the nature of my stay too…! long term / short term) and two, my understanding of this question itself has evolved over time. Moreover, it becomes all the more tricky, as the answer, invariably, is expected in one word!

First things first... My wife and I work in Hyderabad and live in a rented place while, my parents stay at our home in Delhi and visit us occasionally. My family moved to Delhi from Rajasthan about a decade ago, when my father retired after working there for over 25 years with a public sector company. I was born in Rajasthan and completed my schooling there before coming to Delhi for higher studies. Also, I was fortunate to get a job in Delhi after completing my studies and worked there for 4 years before moving to Hyderabad. Incidentally, my father had moved for work to Rajasthan from Uttar Pradesh, where my grandparents lived and where he spent his entire childhood and early adulthood.

So, when I was in Rajasthan, the answer to the dreaded question was Uttar Pradesh. Things were simple till then. When we moved to Delhi, the answer was either a one word - Rajasthan, as my grandparents no longer used to stay in Uttar Pradesh and the native house there was sold off or a detailed reply (for the patient listeners, normally close friends!) with reasons included…J As time has passed, this explanation of our trail back to UP has become less often, and today, when I am in Hyderabad, I end up giving Delhi as the response to the invincible question.

The most logical reasoning, I give to myself about this continuous change, is that meaning of "native place", in today's context, has become limited to the place where your parents live. However, the answer won’t be so easy if the parents also stay with the working child and obviously, move with him across cities.

It has become a common scenario these days, which I feel, is a result of the changing landscape of the working culture in India, where people spend major part of their life in metros, which offer better employment & growth opportunities. Improvement in transportation and communication infrastructure in the country has also contributed to this increasing trend as one can always be connected to his family members over phone or by internet and can comfortably reach them physically on short notice.

One may ask - Why is it ironical not to have a clear name of a place in your mind to belong to??? Answer to this question, interestingly, lies within the answer to the question - why this question always keeps coming back itself? Well, whenever someone asks this question, what he is actually asking is - Who are you?

How?? Everyone will agree that character of a person is build by the physical, social, emotional & religious (at least in India!) construct around him. It is commonplace in India to assign specific traits with people belonging to a place / region or even caste. Trust me this holds true everywhere in the world as well. While, making firm views (worse is to start reacting) about anyone based only on answer to such question is totally wrong, this is a good starting point to understand an overall framework which the person MAY belong to.

Till recently (even holds true for our parents), people mostly used to live, work and spend their lives at same place, generation after generation. And this was true for both business class and working class. All people of one city / town / region generally used to face same climate / seasons during the year, resulting in similar food preferences (crops to be grown as well as cooking methods) and clothing habits. They will have similar infrastructure (like electricity, roads, water) and other facilities like school, playgrounds and problems & solutions thereof. They will share similar religious beliefs and social (family, relatives & neighbourhood etc) construct. All these will determine a person’s physical & emotional attributes & attitude. Moreover, most of the people, used to have a sense of belongingness to all these settings (a portion weaved into customs and traditions) and used to feel proud and connected to it.

So, whenever, my father answers that he belongs to Uttar Pradesh (yes, he still feels & answers that, and rightly so), he has a strong sense of belongingness to the settings, beliefs, customs & traditions of Uttar Pradesh (obviously, that of the specific town he grew up in). Sadly, people like me are always an outsider in the city we live in, even after spending years altogether there. And this is bilateral, both in the minds of the locals as well as ours. I can only wonder the agony of people who change cities across countries.

The irony is not in answering the literal question about a place, as one can always put together facts around one’s physical movement/s. And there are always ways to keep people engaged for more than one word answer! Ironical is that sometimes, I am myself not sure of the answer, within me. Is that really the place where I belong to? I feel proud being connected to which place or belief system?

With the primary setup changing & evolving, I guess, the region for one to belong to may also needs to be widened to, say, a country. The nature of such belongingness is also unique and different and evolving over time. But, that's an entirely separate discussion. So, the answer in my case is, my favourite, India.

(I have skipped the details of my wife who also has a similar history to relocating across cities, which I am sure, you can understand, will add another unique dimension to my story :p)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Moment of truth

Last night, a thought came across my mind. What is my expected quality of customer care services from my bank? I am not talking about "dream-come-true" service quality but a "bring-a-smile-post-call" kind of service quality. Again, this has nothing to do with bank's products or services or infrastructure etc., but only customer care services. So, here it is:
  1. 1 contact number (available 24 hrs across all 365 days; need not be toll free) which can be used across the country from any land line or mobile service provider,  to reach the customer care rep. for any service request / inquiry. This number will be available on the home page of bank's website. If updated, an sms will be send to all customers a week in advance. 
  2. In case a relationship manager is assigned to a client, a direct number (which doesn't change every 2 months) will be provided. While, a branch may have more than one such numbers, only one person will answer a specific number (unless it is totally impossible otherwise) to ensure progressive communication and little repetition & irritation to customers. Relationship managers will be always available to attend customer's call from 8.00am till 8.00pm. If no one, picks up this number, call will automatically go to CC reps.
  3. Branch Manager will call the customer the next day before 12.00am and give reason as to why no one answered the call, the previous day. Same shall be sent by email too.
  4. Human like greetings, being approachable (language, attitude etc) and willingness to help will be first rule for all CC reps or relationship managers. They will focus on understanding customer's problem and suggest the fastest feasible way to handle it and reasons thereof.
  5. CC reps / relationship managers will never give generic template responses. They will confirm if they don't know the answer. (Customer doesn't expect the world anymore and wants to understand reasons; He is ready to pay the price and invest time; just saying "not possible" several times doesn't solve anything).
  6. CC reps / relationship managers will be the single point contact between the bank & customer. Either they'll have a solution (they will explain specific steps to be followed, info /documents required for that and the expected time required) or they'll call back the customer within 4 hrs with a solution (again, specific steps to be followed, info /documents required for that and the expected time required)
  7. CC reps / relationship managers will be required to note down all discussions (key takeaways) with customers on its account / database with the bank. All new posting on the account shall be automatically emailed to customer post the call.
  8. Customer can reply to the mail with his/her queries, complaints or feedback. A email will be sent daily with updates on outstanding request till it is closed to the satisfaction of customer (like courier guys update you on their sites).
  9. Customer to give feedback on each communication. CC reps.' / relationship managers' appraisal will consider these feedback.
With role of physical presence or communication by phone reducing everyday in Indian banking industry because of  improving banking infrastructure over internet and mobiles and increasing knowledge and acceptance of the same among customers, banks (both public sector and private sector banks) have the bandwidth of ensuring that most of the above mentioned suggestions are implemented at virtually no extra cost.

    Index based Mutual funds - behavioral science at play!

    Last month, when the BSE squatted, I was, once again, tempted to invest in Index based Mutual Funds, just like in 2006, when the market dumped because of the global economic crisis.

    An Index Based Mutual Fund (IBMF) is a relatively straight forward variant of various mutual funds available in India, wherein the fund holds all stocks comprising an identified Index in the same proportion as that in the Index and changes it along with movements on the Index. Idea is to replicate Index returns. An ideal bet, when you are sure that market is grossly undervalued in general and is going to go up in foreseeable future. Which is why, I was, especially, tempted to invest into IBMFs in 2006 when market had hit sub 10,000 mark.

    However, to my surprise, it very difficult to even getting basic Qs answered about IBMFs. I approached the known agent who used to help me with my annual investments in Equity Linked Saving Scheme (ELSS) mutual funds for tax saving purposes. Typically, a brief analysis for NAVs of top 5 Mutual Funds (MFs) and their dividend history is sufficient for deciding the final bet for an ELSS investment. Plus, the agent will have sound information up his sleeve, about any forthcoming dividends etc. Just fill up the form and give him a cheque and you are sorted.

    But, when I asked him about Index based funds, it looked like, he was almost caught off-guard ! With a promise to get back to me, he continued to suggest me to invest in typical equity based MFs or gold etc. He had little information about the players, fund sizes, return history etc. Seemingly, not many people (read retail investors) know about Index based funds, nor do they want to know about them! While, all factual information is available online, it is not enough for taking the final investment decision. And that's because, typically, information about general performance of the funds and its fund manager/s, liquidity, ongoing problems being faced by fund houses etc. is never available online and that’s where agents play a very crucial role.

    While, I continue to wait for that agent to call me back even today (frankly with little hope), this feels like a classic case of a vicious circle, wherein, I will not invest into a product until I get comfort from a agent, who will not focus on selling it (and acquiring required information for the same) until a substantial number of retail investors ask for it !!!

    Pure behavioral science at play. :p