Delhi Road Names

This is perhaps a seemingly trivial topic to bring up, but during one of my recent Delhi trips I could not help wonder about the roads named after the Mughal rulers of India. These were the conquerors of India, who subdued the local populace and ruled over them. We have given them pride of place in our history by naming some of the most important roads in our capital after them. We might as well name a few after the British governor-generals also.

As a society, we have somehow lost interest in our past. A respect for one’s history is very important – that is one of the things that can bind us together as a nation, and create a national identity. Our history books have become filled up dates and battles rather than talk about the country that once was. Without that deeper understanding for a glorious civilisation, it is hard for us to come together as a nation to face up to the various challenges that we need to face together as a nation.

Announcement: Launch of MyToday, India’s #1 SMS SuperStore

Today, we have launched MyToday, our direct-to-consumer store for great SMS content. Think of MyToday as an SMS Store, where you can browse, search and subscribe to premium SMS updates on topics spanning the spectrum. At nearly 200 SMS channels, it is already the biggest in the market.

News, cricket and sports scores, market and stock alerts, Bollywood news, astrology and other updates start at just Rs. 5 per month – these are unmatched prices today.

And that’s not all: MyToday features dozens of other SMS channels you won’t find anywhere else – industry sector-wise alerts, leadership lessons, daily muhurta alerts, world affairs, politics, how to live green, among many others. All of these are via our best-in-class content partners: Rajshri Media, MyIris, The Economist, Knowledge@Wharton, AstroCAMP. We will introduce more over the next few weeks.

In short, this dizzying variety means that customers will find something fresh, something useful in their SMS inboxes daily for their know-now, know-more moments. MyToday, we believe, will provide Har Pal… Kuch Zaroori!

This is a huge step for Netcore: this is our Digital Services Operator business, which I have written about before. In an October 2009 discussion, I had said:

… the top of the pyramid – which is about 100 million people, 25% of the base – want new services but are not able to get [them] …

… an SMS store could fill what I call life’s free moments. You can create lots of services. Can we create a series of, say, 30 packs of SMS’s, where you can educate people on innovation? You send them an SMS at a fixed time every day and it comes with a link so you get a key idea, which you can read in 15 seconds. And then there’s a link where you can explore for maybe three of four paragraphs, 45 seconds to a minute.

That need, we believe, has been met today by MyToday – at launch, it is already India’s #1 SMS SuperStore!

Summer Vacations

Since Abhishek started school a year ago, our vacations now have to sync up with his, which effectively mans the IB/IGCSE calendar. So, we have the unusal situation of having June and July as the vacation months for him, even as all his cousins have finished theirs and are back in school!

When I was growing up, summer vacations for me meant visits to my grandparents home in Pune, or the occasional visits to Rajasthan. As a family, I do remember us going once to Kashmir – taking Jammu Tavi from Mumbai on what was then one of the longest train journeys in India slicing through many Indian states. The second vacation that I remember was an SOTC European tour in 1981 (as a 14-year-old).

There is a lot of India that I haven’t seen. I hope we can do that during Abhishek’s growing-up years.

Blog Past: State of the Internet in India

From a series I wrote a year ago:

The current crop of portals (horizontals and verticals) are too few and for the most part, unexciting. They haven’t yet become “utilities” (daily must-visits) in our lives. The content is quite insipid, and there seems to be little innovation happening on the Internet front from the larger players. For the smaller ones, it has become almost impossible to raise any kind of capital from angels or VCs, thus leading to an almost complete stagnation of the Internet base and usage in India. This has been compounded by a fall in ad revenue for many of the companies as the economy has slowed.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Reliance’s entry into the Broadband Wireless business in India: A quote from me in an India Knowledge@Wharton article. “We can certainly expect RIL’s entry to create a significant disruption in the Indian telecom industry. It is going to be very unsettling for the incumbents and very good for consumers. Reliance is known for innovations and very attractive price points. It will certainly introduce a significant dimension of competition in the marketplace.”
  • The Software behind Facebook: from Pingdom. “The challenge for Facebook’s engineers has been to keep the site up and running smoothly in spite of handling close to half a billion active users.”
  • Rewarding Failure: by Seth Levine. “Does your organization embrace failure or only reward success?”
  • Conservatism and the Spirit of Reform: by Peter Berkowitz in the Wall Street Journal.  “Republicans squandered their hard-won reputation as the party of ideas. It’s time to reclaim it.” Replace Republicans with BJP and it applies to the Indian context also.
  • The Price of Honesty: by Pritish Nandy. “Crime, sleaze, insurgency, poverty, violence, they all start from one source: Corruption. But the Big C is the only thing no one wants to discuss any more.”

Tea, Coffee…?

I don’t particularly like Tea or Coffee. This is the legacy of a childhood wherein the only good beverage was Milk! I ended up going through IIT also without partaking too much of tea. In the US, I somehow managed to stay away from the coffee culture – would stick to water or orange juice. By then, habits had been well set, so tea or coffee never ended up becoming part of my daily routine. For the most part, I have also stayed away from the soft drinks.

I recently ended up sampling Chinese tea on two successive days as part of a couple meetings I had – some variety is good once in a while! It was quite good!

East and South-East Asia Travels

I have travelled a lot in the East Asian region. Besides the many visits to HK and Singapore, I have been to Taiwan (Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket), South Korea (Seoul), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and China (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen).  Most of the visits have always combined some sort of business. This time, it will be different. When I think about it, I have never really experienced a week-long work-free vacation!

East Asia’s proximity to India make it a natural travel destination. An overnight flight and one is there. It is much more cost-efficient than a European vacation. The weather is better than the Middle-East (Dubai). And there is plenty to see and shop – though the shopping lure has come down dramatically with the advent of malls in India.

India needs to make itself much more attractive to tourists – there is so much on offer, but the packaging and the ease of travel experience (airports, roads, moderately priced hotels) can do with a lot more improvement.

Hong Kong Visits

Hong Kong has been a place I have visited often in the early 2000s, but not much of late. The visits started when I began to use the Round-the-World tickets that Cathay Pacific used to offer  – and Hong Kong became a convenient stopover en route to the US. HK has always had one of the most efficient airports, and getting into the city has always been a breeze.

A close friend used to live in HK (he has since moved back to India), and that was an added attraction. Hong Kong was also a natural stop for the East Asia vacations – whether it was to Bangkok, Beijing or Seoul.

My last visit to HK was more than four-and-a-half years ago, and that was a very short one. This is going to the first ‘vacation’ visit with Abhishek.

I am looking forward to the HK leg of the vacation – its sure to bring back old, pleasant memories. The one I still remember is sitting in the cockpit during the HK landing on a Cathay Pacific fligh. That’s one thing that will never happen again!

The Overton Window by Glenn Beck

An interesting political thriller, Glenn Beck’s “The Overton Window” is a book that showcases an extreme scenario in the US. I read it on the Kindle.

From the book’s description: “There is a powerful technique called the Overton Window that can shape our lives, our laws, and our future. It works by manipulating public perception so that ideas previously thought of as radical begin to seem acceptable over time. Move the Window and you change the debate. Change the debate and you change the country.”

The book is currently #1 on the Amazon sales charts.

Blog Past: London Vacation

A year ago around this time, I had gone to London for our vacation.

I will remember this London vacation for the time I spent with Abhishek.On work days now, I hardly get to see him since he tends to sleep by 8 pm. In London, it was just him and me for the most part during the day. We would walk together for long stretches, travel on trains and buses, or just sit together eating some food in Starbucks. He was full of questions, and I did my best to patiently answer each of them. He was also a little worried at times that we hadn’t left anything behind in the taxi, bus or train – ever since I lost a bag in a Singapore taxi during our vacation a year ago.

…For much of my life, Vacations were something that I never really bothered about. Now, I am already looking forward to the next one – so I get to spend more time with Abhishek!

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The coming rebirth of the desktop computer:  by Eric Knorr. “Google Apps and desktop virtualization foretell the reincarnation of the ‘desktop PC’ as a personal, virtual environment accessible anywhere.”
  • What’s wrong with America’s Right: from The Economist. “Too much anger and too few ideas.” There is a similar problem in India.
  • The Larger Struggle: by David Brooks. “A rivalry is growing between democratic capitalist and state capitalist systems.”
  • On the road with a Supersalesman: from Inc. “Grizz creates a vision and then carries people with him.”
  • Iteration and the Startup Path: by Will Price. “The journey opens up into an endless series of forks in the road, where each fork taken provides new context, learnings, and guidance.  Each fork provides both a new direction and momentum with which to carry the company and team on wards.”

The Rains have arrived in Mumbai!

So, finally, the rains have come. A little delayed (June 10 was what we had been told), but they are finally here. I hope we get plenty of rains this year after the poor show of last year. As a country, one would have thought we would have gotten serious about water harvesting after the drought of last year, but nothing seems to have changed. Water is going to be one of the biggest challenges we are going to face, but there seems to be little action on the steps needed to get the citizens to think about water conservation.

The good thing about the rains is that the heat has subsided significantly.  Each April and May seem to be hotter than the previous year. This year was no different. With more and more buildings coming up, the local effects add to the global warming impact, I guess.

Surat Science Centre

While in Surat, I took Abhishek and his cousin to the Surat Science Centre. It is so good that I couldn’t help thinking why every Indian city shouldn’t have one. There is a large area with science exhibits (good, but can do with more), a planetarium and a children’s play area. There is also a musuem with a bit of Surat history added on to it.

When I was in school, the Nehru Science Centre at Worli was a place I used to visit often. There was always something interesting going on there – the exhibits, special movies, quiz competitions. That definitely encouraged me to read and learn more about science and technology.

Every city needs a Science Centre — even in the age of the Internet, there is nothing to match the actual touch-and-feel that playing with different exhibits offers.

Surat-Mumbai Train Ride

Since Shatabdi does not run on Sundays, we took the Inter-City back from Surat. The second-class (“D”) compartment ostensibly was a reservation only compartment. What “reservation” means is that you get to sit. That’s about it. The compartment was absolutely packed with as many standees as those sitting. It was almost impossible to move – even to go to the toilet. I guess if one wants “experience”, then one should travel in the Chair Car compartments!

The scary part was seeing people hanging from the door. One small mistake in their grip, and they’d probably end up falling from the fast-moving train.

India needs to invest more in its rail networks — higher-speed trains and more trains. But with Mamata Banerjee busy making plans to take over West Bengal, India’s Railways stay frozen in time.

Digital Printer in a Pune Bus

I was pleasantly surprised to get a bus ticket on a Pune local bus printed out on a handheld printer and handed over to me. This was a most appropriate use of technology where I least expected it — having been used to the Mumbai BEST’s pre-printed tickets.

Towards the end of a bus route, I see the Mumbai bus conductors note down the ticket numbers for each of the denominations of tickets that they have, and then figure out how many tickets they sold, and calculate the money that they should have earned. All done manually. Presumably, their Pune counterparts have all of this done in a flash.

A simple use of technology that makes a person more efficient at what he is doing – we need more such stories!

Life’s Little Clues

On May 1, I was out on a bus ride with Abhishek when I saw some hoardings in the suburbs about a Maharashtra Day event on Marine Drive. I saw it, and promptly forgot about it. Big mistake.

In the evening, we were going to see a movie for which we had to drive through – you guessed it, Marine Drive. Life had provided me with a clue that I didn’t notice. We missed the first half hour of the movie as we were stuck in traffic.

Life provides lots of little clues. If only we could notice and remember these…

Blog Past: Bridging India and China

I will be visiting Shanghai again after 8 years. This is what I wrote after my first visit to China:

China is a competitor, but it is also an opportunity and a very big at that for Indian companies, if we are prepared to look at it that way. Walk through the Shanghai Museum and see how a first century AD export from India has made a deep mark across China. That export: the teachings of Buddha. Now, two thousand years later, India needs to learn and do the same. Our software, services, and even our films can be good starting points. US, Europe and Japan may offer the comfort of past successes, but there are fortunes to be yet made targeting the “bottom of the enterprise pyramid.” No pyramid base can be bigger that the combined markets of India and China.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

43 Signatures to open a Share Trading Account

Every so often, something amazes me. The other day, I got a booklet to sign for opening up a share trading account. (Don’t remember if it was a special account or an ordinary one.) There were 43 places marked out in the booklet that I had to sign. Get that again — 43 repeating signatures.

It is not that I am reading the 7-point font to understand what I am signing. I don’t get it. Why can’t they have a single signature at the end which says – I have read all your fine print and realise that I have no option but to agree with everything if I am to do business with you. One signature is all it should take. Why 43?