EV Conundrum!

 

Lithium2

I am back to my favourite topic, Electric Vehicles or EV! A couple of days back there was a meeting called by NITI Ayog to discuss and decide EV policy for two-wheelers, in India. I am going to write only about the Indian scenario. My observation is that the electric four-vehicle of similar specification as the IC engine costs almost double the price. Plus per charge range of these vehicles is about 110 km. The specs are not good enough for the car to be used for out of station travel. With these limitations, it is going to be challenging to sell such vehicles. But in two-wheelers, I have observed that the price of EV’s is comparable with IC engine version. Distance travelled using two-wheelers is much less compared to four-wheelers. In India, parking two-wheelers at home is manageable compared to four-wheelers.

There are many angles to this issues. First and foremost is the fuel. With limited petroleum product reserves, there is bound to be a tough situation for the whole world if no action is taken, we will have difficulties. Add to this a new dimension; the US has threatened India to stop buying oil from Iran or else! If the US is so much worried about the whole world vis a vis Iran, then they should sell Oil to India at the same price as sold by Iran and that too in Rupees! But the US can get away with anything in diplomacy.

Petroleum product based fuels are adding to pollution is a known fact. The whole world is trying to reduce pollution by tightening the pollution norms, but apparently, there are limitations of investments to achieve the goals. Again the US has opted out of the body which is trying to track pollution world over. Again, it is the act of a bully.

All the nations are trying to reduce pollution in their cities and India is also trying its best. NITI Ayog meeting was held for the same purpose. Four-wheelers are still miles away from reaching the balance between the price targets and the cost. As four-wheelers will be expensive, their sales will not match current sales volumes at a price expected today. The second most crucial aspect in India is the challenge of charging the car batteries. Majority of the cars in India are parked in public places. Many of them are parked on roads and streets. How to provide a facility to charge batteries for such vehicles? Do we provide charging points on roads like we have parking meters? I don’t think that is a practical way of doing it. Another issue is that fast charging techniques are coming up but are still not good enough. With such limitations, NITI Ayog is trying to put pressure on the two-wheeler segment.

As already discussed, EV’s in this segment will have a comparable price, and because of lesser parking issues, charging the batteries using home electrical outlets may be possible. Charging is manageable; costs are manageable, and the number of these vehicles produced is very high. The number of two and three-wheelers manufactured in the latest financial year is 30 million plus. Total of fuel used by these vehicles is massive.  If totally converted to EVs, there can be a significant impact on pollution.

There are two groups in this segment. First and the main is the group of established manufacturers like Honda, Hero and Bajaj. They are already developing EVs. The second segment is the startups who are in the process of developing EVs. They have no hangups and are trying to support the government. But the established ones have the issue of scaling up. NITI Ayog is insisting that by 2025, majority two-wheelers manufactured should be EV’s. The Giants have a vast experience in manufacturing and can visualise or foresee the issues. Startups really don’t have manufacturing expertise and experience. They probably do not understand the meaning of manufacturing 2.5 million vehicles a month.

Now here is a complicated situation. Established manufacturers have to keep on producing IC Engine vehicles and ramp up EV production. Tremendous efforts and money will be needed. Startups may know the EV technology but do not have the wherewithal to manufacture one hundred thousand vehicles a month. Selling these numbers without the right experience is going to be very tough. What about funding? They are solely dependent on financing by VCs. Today I read an article about VCs trying to go away from electric vehicle manufacturers, in China, as there are too many variables. These startups will never get bank funding. Don’t forget that even Tesla is still a VC funded company! They are already facing production bottlenecks, and their sales are going down!

Will Lithium producers make a cartel like the petroleum cartel? It is a million dollar question. India does not have Lithium reserves, but China has done brilliantly. They have taken controlling shares in many mines across the globe. Till foreseeable future, it looks like the Lithium, and to some extent, Cobalt is going to be the key elements. Their control will be the key to success.

https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/india-lithium-ion-battery-market

Lithium1

The cost of the battery pack was the US $1000/ kW-hr in 2010. In the year 2016, it came down $273. At this rate, the EV’s will become affordable over a period. By 2020 it is expected to be sub $200/. By 2026 the price is projected to be $100/. But till that time it is going to be a tricky question about change over. Those who can afford will buy the EV’s, but the mass production models will take some time to become affordable. In the countries, where parking of cars is an issue, it is difficult to predict what the solution will be.

Lithium3

One pertinent point discussed by NITI Ayog was that if the pollution goes out of hand, then the courts will intervene. Once that happens then, the discussion will be between manufacturers and the courts. NITI Ayog suggested that some policy decisions need to be taken while interested parties are involved in the debate; it will enable both sides to come to an excellent resolution.

It is more of a chicken and egg situation. It is known that EVs are good for pollution management. On one side, nobody even knows which startups will even survive five years hence. Hence there is no point in putting your money on them. But the existing giants have their issues. They need to run their current business, which has its unique problems. They have to simultaneously scale down and scale up for old and new business. Hence they have shown their apprehension with the year 2025. How will they come out of this conundrum is anybody’s guess.

Are Electric buses the real solution for pollution control and to take people away from personal vehicles?

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Administrative Reforms Tsunami!

 

Tsunami1

The above slide depicts the difference between a specialist and the generalists. India currently is administered by Generalists where now the need is for both Generalists but in many places that of specialists.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/plan-to-import-talent-a-third-of-deputy-secys-from-outside-govt-starts-work-to-induct-400-directors-5776102/ 

This news item from a newspaper must have sent shock waves through a particular section of the administration in India. Prelude to this was the appointment as External Affairs Minister, of Mr Jaishankar, recently retired career diplomat who had handled his work with aplomb during his career. Instead of appointing a politician, Jaishankar, the domain expert was appointed.  

The British ruled us for 150 years. They created an administrative infrastructure to suit their needs and not the needs of India. At the top of the pyramid were the elite IAS service and other such allied services. Their job was to ensure that the British rule and its arm functioned smoothly. Their main targets were to ensure that the taxes were collected on time, to break the agitations against the British government and nip them in the bud. (Remember Jalianwala Baug?) An example of different priority was the cultivation of opium in Bengal and Bihar. British made sure that all the produce was sold to the government and at one stage British sold Opium worth Seven Million British Pounds in a year to China from India; for opium growing areas officers were expected to give top priority to opium fields over all other functions. Anti-mutiny work and Opium farming were a couple of services which indicated that the system was designed to run in ironclad fashion with no allowance for deviation. It was a sound system, and it served the purpose of the Britishers. We inherited and continued with the same system even after the Independence was achieved, which helped us initially. It served its purpose till the last colony, the one in Goa by Portuguese, was driven away in 1960.  

As usual, everybody was happy with the status quo. Why repair something which ain’t broken? Out of all central services, the IAS was considered top echelon even above the Police. As administrators, they advised the government on every subject under the Sun. The system continued to remain ironclad with all the keys safely with the IAS team. They decided rules, regulations, salary rules, transfer rules everything. It ensured that Civil Services always had the best deal. They continued to have a group of staff to support them at home with many other facilities. As per the rules, they were generally transferred every three years or less to make sure that special interests were not created. So from district administration to finance, finance to technology, technology to Land reforms and the law was the typical journey. They were considered experts in whichever department they were handling.  

Tsunami2

I started thinking about persons who appear for a competitive examination at the age of 25. Based on this examination and interviews, they are selected to become an officer to run a district, the state and the nation. The system was probably alright till the ’70 s of the last century. But slowly, with the advent of computers and India getting linked to the global economy over a period, their “expertise” was found wanting though was never challenged. Most of the selected persons have been smart people with reasonable intelligence. But the situation has changed so much in the last 25 years or so that everybody realised that we must have domain experts to run the government departments too!  

All domains have become multidisciplinary where even technologists can find going tough. For example, GST involves knowledge of taxation, law, commerce, computers and project management. Aadhar card needed software knowledge, database expertise, data science; fortunately, we had Nandan Nilekani to handle this.

Rajeev Gandhi recognised the lateral entry need in government when he was the PM. He invited Sam Pitroda to suggest the ways and means for India’s entry into the modern telecom & electronics era. That was a masterstroke, and India did start moving in the right direction under Pitroda’s guidance. But such entries were infrequent. Pitroda had direct access to Rajeev Gandhi so he could put aside objections from the administrative framework. The massive behemoth of administration prefers the status quo to anything else. The people were Subedars in their domain. They would try and not take decisions or move the files backwards and forwards. The administrative infrastructure was like Khan Market gang, privileged, with everybody knowing each other. India moved at a snails pace if and when, in spite of the group. Twentyfive years back, the Indian growth story started, so did the need for the specialists.  

Who could break the shackles of generalists? Dilliwalas? No way. In came a confident Narendra Modi, a rank outsider from Gujarat with a background of a tea-seller. A common man but a man with zeal to take India forward. In his first term, he broke shackles and started with improving efficiencies. All the subedars had to swipe their cards in the office at nine am. Time frames were decided for specific actions and achieved. 

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Now in the second term, the government has realised that only the advisors and consultants are not going to make the government more efficient and successful. Executives also must be specialists where needed, and this is what the government has started. Now if you reread the above article, you will realise the importance of specialists. I am very much aware that every system needs both specialists and generalists. For understanding social issues (and many such issues) and tackle them, generalists will continue, and they may be essential also. But the government is trying to fill 1/3 of the positions with specialists.  

Two critical points to be remembered are that the empire is going to strike back looking for rules, loopholes and ways of preventing lateral entry from happening. After all, the entry of specialists is directly affecting their career prospects and importance. Reservations is another issue that needs to be handled. In allowing the lateral entry, reservations need to be kept in mind. When the first nine such positions were filled, the HR department decided to advertise each post as an independent post and not as a pool of secretaries. Single post declaration allowed HR to overcome reservations requirement. The change will cover a large population in India. Though the number of entries being discussed currently is only 400, unrest can start leading to agitations. 

Friends, the modern world, say in the last 30 years has changed so much that the specialists and subspecialists will be needed everywhere. How can the administrator decide which fighter plane India should buy? Should we have Shinkansen or Maglev or TGV trains for India? How to improve and ensure that modern electronics goods are manufactured in a big way in India? Even specialists are going to find it tough to understand such things. But this change is going to create a big Tsunami for the administrators whether they like it or not!

Dental Gum!

For this blog, I have used the title as Dental Gum (गम in Hindi). गम in Hindi means sorrows. People usually connect dental treatment with fear, pain, and sorrows. First, let me make a disclaimer or two. 

  • My daughter Priya is a Pediatric Dentist 
  • I had my first dental treatment at the age of 65, that too because I went through cancer treatment and had 34 radiation sittings. I was treated for dental caries. 

I somehow have the feeling that a person’s dental health quality is hereditary! My grandmother could eat raw mango (Kairi) easily in her eighties. I have the same ability, but I have a way to go.  

I chose the subject because I read an article about horror stories about dentists, in the US. Well, as in any field some people do not follow the ethics and can be called black sheep. Making a general statement about any whole group of professionals is incorrect. But not that I am not going to tell any horror stories (as I have taken dental treatment only once), but I will share with you some anecdotes shared by Priya with me.  

First things first, I have been brushing my teeth only once a day, I don’t do any flossing. I have never used any special brushes or toothpaste. I have had my share of chocolates and ice-creams, colas and candies. I have a sweet tooth, but now I don’t consume these things. So my heridetary theory should be ok!

Once I asked Priya about her young patients. I asked her, “How tough is it to handle the kids on the  chair?” She said, Baba, once my patients get confidence about me, they are straightforward to handle. It is their mothers who are difficult to handle. 

I am going to share anecdotes about patients, their parents, general situations in dentistry. Sometimes it is funny, many times it is surprising, but probably human behaviour remains very similar in different situations.  

Priya was treating a fouryearboy. He was very cooperative, but sometimes he needed a kid-glove treatment, pun, of course, is intended. One day he came inside, goggles and all; a la Salman Khan. He was a big fan of Salman. He came inside, sat on the chair and Priya started the work. After about ten minutes he signalled to Priya to stop. Priya stopped and asked him the reason. Without replying he indicated her to allow him to get down from the chair. Priya complied, he got down. He put on his goggles, put both his thumbs in the trouser pockets. He danced to the tune of the Hindi song, “Hud Hud Dabangg, Dabangg; after a couple of minutes, he stopped, climbed back in the chair and signalled Priya to restart the work! 

Some patients are too busy to take their kids to the doctor. There was one such lady, the same age as that of Priya. She always claimed that only time she could get her child to the clinic was 8 pm on a Saturday. After all, she was in IT. She would always tell Priya how difficult it was in IT and so on. Once the lady came almost twenty minutes late for the appointment and Priya had her next patient in another clinic. They met on the staircase; the lady started her usual dialogues of being in IT, but her hands were full of stuff bought in the malls. Priya apologised and said that she could not treat her child as her next patient was waiting at another clinic. The lady was upset, and before she could start her diatribe, Priya told her, “Look, I am a doctor, and I don’t know anything about IT. But let me share some personal information with you. My mother is handling Nvidia operations in Pune, my father runs his software business for the last 15 years, and my elder brother is working in Microsoft at Seattle for some time. So, there is a possibility that I may know a few things about IT, by induction. One more thing, when I was a child, my parents used to take me to doctors, whenever it was needed, without bothering about time and the day. Thank you!” The lady never spoke about IT stuff with Priya again. 

One lady came with her child. The child was fitted with a crown, and the child was not supposed to eat chocolates for obvious reasons. While eating the chocolate, the crown came out and was misplaced. Priya told her, “ I had told you not to give chocolates to the kid. Why did you not follow instructions?”  The treatment was done, and the crown fitted again; when she was asked to pay the money, she simply refused to pay saying that it was Priya’s fault, chocolate was incidental. Priya let her go and instructed her team not to give an appointment to that patient again!  

The next episode could be an incorrect diagnosis or was it the socalled horror story; I am not sure! I felt that it was a case of the wrong diagnosis. An eightmonthold child was brought to the clinic; Priya was surprised, as generally such small babies rarely have any teeth. The mother told her the following story. A couple of days back while the mother was cleaning the babies mouth, she saw a gold tooth in the baby’s mouth. She took the baby to three or four doctors, and all of them said that the gold tooth needs to extracted; treatment needed to be done under general anaesthesia. Since the baby was very young parents were not too keen about the procedure. Somebody suggested to them Priya’s name, and they came to the clinic. Priya looked at the child and saw what was inside. She had a small instrument in her hand. She put the instrument in the babies mouth and plucked the golden “Tooth”; it a piece of gold that was stuck in the baby’s gum. Out came a small earring. Priya gave it to the mother. It was the mother’s earring; she had never realised that it was missing. Somehow it had fallen and went into the baby’s mouth and became the “Golden Tooth”! The tears of joy came in the parent’s eyes! The father asked Priya “Doctor what will be the charges?” Priya said, “No charges; I am happy that I could do this without any anaesthesia”!  

How trial by media can affect a professional career can be seen in the following anecdote. A child was being treated by a dentist. He checked up with parents if any medicine was being given to the child. The mother said that they were not giving any other medicines. The doctor gave the local anaesthesia and started the treatment. After some time he felt that the child was becoming listless. They rushed the child, to the next door paediatrician. From there they rushed to the hospital. But the child died. The trial by media started; the newspapers showed the doctors name and the photograph of the clinic. The baby’s parents gave statements and hid the fact that there was another treatment being given to the child! The medical council did its investigations and in the end, found out that the dentist and the paediatrician had followed the correct procedures. But all the media trial and photographs in the newspapers made life very difficult for the dentist. He left Pune and moved to another city!  

Friends, life can be exciting, rewarding and tough at the same time for professionals. But some times, one loses control over the situation, and things do get haywire. Customer is always the king or a queen; the kings and the queens also can go overboard and need to be told so. But at the end of the day, professionals have to remain true to their profession and continue to perform! Don’t forget to show the smiling face, especially when a child is being treated.

 

Startups, Venture and Angel Investors!

I am venturing into an area where even angels are afraid to tread! For a long time, I have felt lost with the terms mentioned in the title. To my understanding as an oldie, anyone starting a new business is a start-up. Investopedia definition of a startup is below:

A startup is a young company that is just beginning to develop. Startups are usually small and initially financed and operated by a handful of founders or one individual. These companies offer a product or service that is not currently being provided elsewhere in the market, or that the founders believe is being offered in an inferior manner. 

If we go by the strict definition of startups then the names like Uber, Airbnb, Zomato, Oyo and their likes come to mind. These companies have provided a service or a facility which was never offered before. These facilities became possible because of the internet and IT. I wont call Tesla a startup because they are providing a variant of an existing product; that variant is no doubt a game changer as it will change and push the Petroleum economy. But the car itself is not a game changer. 

 

Unicorn1I read a news item today which said that Delhivery a startup has become a Unicorn company. Unicorn is a mythical animal depicted from thousands of years and appears unique; maybe that is the reason this name Unicorn, a unique company. Unicorn company is defined as a company whose valuation as per markets is One billion (One thousand million) US $, i.e. Rs Seven thousand crores. As a semi-retired person nearing 70, I feel out of depth to read such figures. But for records, all my life I have run a business (a dirty secret- a software business) and had consulting assignments. In both my activities, I have dealt with companies from a couple of billion dollars to nearly 40 billion dollars. So, these numbers don’t scare me, but personally these days I go to an ATM to withdraw money for myself, I am a small man.  

Many of these Unicorn companies have been based on the internet, and IT technologies but some of them are doing the work of brick and mortar things as mere mortals do. Here is a table that I got on the net and made me start thinking. 

US $ Million  Revenue 2018 Funding   Valuation  R/F  R/V  F/V 
BYJU  219  784  4000  0.28  0.055  0.196 
Swiggy  72  1500  3300  0.048  0.022  0.455 
Zomato  47  653  2500  0.072  0.019  0.26 
PayTM  51  2200  10000  0.023  0.005  0.22 
Oyo  400  1600  5000  0.25  0.08  0.32 
Policy Bazar  62  35  1000  1.77  0.062  0.035 
Udaan  4  285  1000  0.014  0.004  0.285 
Freshworks  14.5  249  1500  0.058  0.010  0.166 
Delhivery  15  365  1500  0.041  0.010  0.243 

 I will briefly mention what they do.  

  • BYJU is in online training– revenue from students 
  • Swiggy and Zomato are restaurant food delivery companies- revenue from the restaurants whose food they pick up and deliver. Tie up with restaurants and menu details is unique 
  • PayTM is a wallet plus allied things company
  • Oyo- helps book hotel rooms and takes money from hotels– this is unique 
  • Policy Bazar- helps you buy many policies online- commission on the sale 
  • Udaan is like Flipkart and sales products online 
  • Freshworks offers sales and support solutions 
  • DelhiveryPhysically delivers goods from place A to place B and has warehousing facilities.  

To me except Oyo, Swiggy and Zomato others do not fit the strictest of the definition. Are other companies providing products and services that did not exist before? No, still they are called startups! By this definition then, like other companies, my company was also a startup and faced the same problems as these companies are facing today. The only difference is that some experts in the world thinks that they are doing something extraordinary!  

As usual, my mind started whirring, and I have questions! What is so unique in becoming a company which some experts” feel is doing fantastic work; they have invested large sums of money in them. For an oldtimer like me what matters is how much I am selling and what is the profit that I make out of the business!  Is the business sustainable over a period of time?

I will introduce two more terms now for better understanding. 

Venture capital firms are investment companies that operate only to handle investments in business ventures that may be considered high risk. 

An angel investor (also known as a business angel, informal investor, angel funder, private investor, or seed investor) is an affluent individual who provides capital for a business start-up, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.  

Now that we are through with definitions, tables, please help me solve my queries. When the companies are creating variants of existing available services and products, how do they become startups? These companies are supposedly creating products and services which are not existing. So how do investors and angels analyse them, study them and invest considerable sums in them? Uber concept never existed, Airbnb is a new concept; so in these two cases, the investors seemed to do more right than wrong.  

I have read that more than 90% of startups fail. What could be the reason? The reasons for failures are the same as the reasons for any failed businesses. These are 

  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Too much pride and ego; that you were a smart techie does not mean that you can create and run business 
  • Taking advice from wrong people (including advisors brought in by investors) 
  • Lack of general and specific domain knowledge in life finance, operations and marketing 
  • Raising too much money too soon. 
  • Lacking good mentorship  

From what I understand about the world of business, you need experience, maturity. How will young guns have this? Recently I read some story about a 15-year-old who has done something great in creating a platform for short story writers. He has two thousand hits to his short stories! Come on, its not two million hits. I also happen to be a blogger, and I know what hits are and how difficult it is to get them.

Similarly, how can 25 years old be know all? He may be brilliant both in his techie side and convincing the investors about his ideas about which others don’t know much, anyway. How do dollars get converted into a sustainable running company? 

The table above shows all the figures in million US dollars. It shows revenue, money pumped in and valuation! The revenue is tiny when compared to the money invested. Who does the valuation? What is the significance of the appraisal? I will tell you something about valuation. How can an unproven company, with unproven management, product or services with 4/15/14 million dollars have 1.5 billion dollars valuation?  Do investors not understand these things? But since private money is involved, who cares?  Is this gambling, horse racing equivalent?

Apple was the first company whose valuation reached one trillion (I can’t count zeroes) US dollars. But once the US-China trade war started, it appeared that Apple may have problems. Immediately its valuation has come down, now Microsoft is numero uno! Apple valuation with tons of money and great products and with proven track records can come down. The companies listed in the table above are both brick and mortar companies and IT companies with nothing proven. Their valuation is going up and up and up! Any logic? 

Friends I will introduce you to more things. What people called in olden days as an investment, is now called burn rate. These companies burn money, it’s not yours anyway. Then there are serial entrepreneurs a la serial killers! They create startups, burn money (a % goes to own pockets), take the company to a level and start looking for larger companies for merger and acquisition! Someone decides and declares them more valuable. So promoters, investors, angels all make money as a new set of people replaces the old team. The show goes on. Nobody keeps track of what happens to such companies. Since bank funds and financial institution money is not involved nobody cares. No Nirav Modis and Mallyas are created. Start next company and go through the same cycle, make a million or two. The cycle goes on.

The end result of all this is that “Startup Culture starts in your country. The startup language is a new language which most don’t understand and I am sure you have still a lot of questions on the subject discussed, even after you have read this piece!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manash Sen, the ultimate “family” leader!

 

SenHow does one describe a personality like Mr  Sen? For records, Mr Sen was my boss when I worked in Atlas Automotive components, way back from 1977 to 1981. He was the works manager and in-charge of an Aluminum Die  Casting plant. I had first met him in a conference of foundrymen the previous year. Yes, I was a foundryman in that avatar. In the first meeting itself, I liked him. I was 27 years of age, and he was 43 years old. Though he was senior to me, I never felt intimidated by him. I looked at him as a fatherly figure though he was not old enough to qualify for that. His son was probably in pre-engineering class at that time. I do not know why I felt that but he had an aura about him, but still, he was always people’s man.

When I met him for the second time, he told me, “Arey Panvalkar, why don’t you change your job and join us?” The first thought that came to my mind was what Aluminum casting does Atlas manufacture? So I asked him. He said, “We make Low pressure die casting, gravity die casting and sand casting”. I requested him to give me some time. At that time I worked in a company making Copper and Copper alloy products by a process called extrusion. After going through my college books, I concluded that I did not know anything about Aluminum casting except the very basics. He wanted me to join as a quality control manager. I called him and said, “Sen Ji, I do not know anything about the products made by Atlas so I will not join.” He knew that I had a Master’s degree in Metallurgy.

He called me to his office for a cup of coffee. I told him about my apprehensions. He smiled and said, “Look, I know that your experience is different, but I want someone with no casting experience because I want to change the way my team thinks. You have the educational credentials, so I am sure you will handle things easily.” I was still not sure when he said, “I want a go-getter like you!” I said, “How did you judge that I am a getter?” He said, “Panvalkar, my judgement about people has never gone wrong before, so believe in me and join. You will do well in Atlas.”

That was my “interview” for a post in Atlas, but this was how he judged people. In months after I joined Atlas, there was a significant upheaval in the organisation in post foundry production department. The whole team was removed. Mr Sen called me and said, “ From today you will also look after that department too.” I felt that these two responsibilities were conflicting in nature, but he said that professional in me would know how to handle conflicts. Never in my four years with Atlas, did I face the conflict between production and quality. To me, the quality was to be produced!

Atlas was a smallish organisation but was making good castings. We were all proud of what we did. Mr Sen would back us to the hilt while dealing with customers, provided we were right. Once an over smart purchase officer from a large company said a few nasty things to me as well as about Atlas. The argument happened during a meeting. I reported the same to Mr Sen. He said, “I will deal with them for a few days.” After three days, Mr Sen called me to his office. To my surprise, the officer was sitting with him. When I entered, the officer got up and profusely apologised to me. I was surprised. Later in the day, Mr Sen told me that he had discussed the incident with the biggest boss of that organisation and ensured an apology. Such support gave me more confidence in dealing with large companies.

It used to be a treat to see Mr Sen in man management mode. He probably had in his mind, made categorisation of all our colleagues. He would tell someone in details about how to do something. He would shout at someone to pull up the socks and get things done. I had seen many impossible things achieved by his unique methods. After all these years he understood Marathi but would speak with people in English or Hindi. We had a few Bengali colleagues; he would converse them in Bengali. Were they scared of him? Interactions with him were always interesting, sometimes coaxing, at other times pushing hard. But work had to be completed. I never saw him telling someone not to go home until specific work was done. People would do it on their own; it was his fatherly figure that made a big difference.

My friend late Dilip and I were questioned all the time during our meetings. Mr Sen would get things reconfirmed from us sometimes. Once in exasperation, I asked him why two of us are treated differently. He called us back to the office after our morning meeting was over. There were the usual coffee and Bourbon biscuits, an indication that he was in a great mood. He explained that he considered two of us to be the best, so he did not want us to make mistakes. He said, “You guys are smart, but sometimes you want to achieve too many things. I want to make sure that you don’t end up making silly mistakes. That is the reason I reconfirm the tech side of the discussion. Other guys need spoon feeding most of the times so that they won’t make mistakes!” Young that we were, Dilip was even younger than me; we were happy that Mr Sen had so much confidence in us.

So many memories flowed in when I came to know that he passed at the age of 85, on 8th March 2019. After Atlas, he helped his sons to set up a very successful Vacuum impregnation processing and machinery manufacturing set-up. He was an excellent engineer but one of the best Managers I came across in my professional life. He always ensured that his colleagues did not have any personal issues; he would go out of the way to resolve such matters. I am sure he has passed on all his qualities to his sons. I will share one example. We attended his grandson’s marriage in February. There was a big crowd, as usually happens in Indian weddings. Later, his son called me to check whether I had met Mr Sen at the wedding. These are small personal touches that turn people from good to super!

God has generally been kind to Sen family. Both he and Mrs Sen looked in good health when we met them during the marriage. His grandson has also started taking part in the family business when he comes to India in the summer holidays. Mr Sen has seen it all, children doing well, grandson getting involved. The third generation doing well is the ultimate dream for a family man like Mr Sen. All through his career though he used to be very busy, the family was always first for Sen babu!

সেন বাবু আমরা আপনাকে মিস করব!

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Pulwama-War or Peace?

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                 जंग तो खुद ही एक मसला है, जंग क्‍या मसअलोंका हल देगी? 

                 आग और खून आज बक्‍शेगी, भूक और एहतीयाज कल देगी। 

                        इसलिए ऐ शरीफ इन्सानों, जंग टलती रहे तो बेहतर है। 

                  आप और हम सभी के आंगन में, शमा जलती रहे तो बेहतर है।

These are the lyrics of a poem by Sahir Ludhiyanvi, the famous poet and lyricist. These lines aptly fit the stand-off between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama incident. Pakistan has been following the policy of thousand small cuts against India and has succeeded. In between these small terrorist attacks, they have made significant attacks like Pathankot in 2016 and the recent one at Pulwama. With the latest attack, the whole Indian nation came together, and the atmosphere in India became very tense. Some print media newspapers, web newspapers and TV stations started making jingoistic statements. The frenzy led to people making statements like, “Let’s teach the enemy a lesson!” It is easy to get swerved, but the Indian government remained steadfast in their stand and said that they were studying the matter and would take appropriate action at the right time.

The poem brings reason to our thinking in such tough situations. The gist of the poem is in the first line. “When the war itself is an issue, how can we use war to resolve other issues.” Hence, the poet says, gentlemen try and avoid war! It is better if we have the Candles burning in our courtyards! The candles burning signifies peace.  Let us not burn candles for martyrs.

What does war do? In recent times we had one in Kargil and before that 1971 war which gave birth to Bangla Desh. Pakistan had been morally hurt due to the 1971 war where ninety thousand of its soldiers were required to surrender to the Indian army. Unfortunately, none of the Pakistani leaders had the mentality of trying for peace. Bhutto was suave but was a hawk who wanted one thousand years of war with India. Zia Ul Haque was a religious fanatic and gave birth to the thought of troubling India under the garb of religion. Kafirs must be punished was his theory. Musharaff was equally terrible with a hawkish mentality like Bhutto.

Sine the 1971 war, India has always offered to discuss and resolve the issues but Pakistan all the time wanted to take the Kashmir problem on the global forums; India has always said that it is a bilateral problem. Pakistan has all the time had a so-called democracy in which the government was controlled by ISI and the military; successive governments were in denial about the terrorism problem.

Various Indian governments tried peaceful negotiations, including a visit by Modi to wish Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. When Musharraf was the prime minister, cricket match diplomacy was attempted, but results have been continued terrorist attacks. What is the solution to this? War? No way. Jingoistic sabre rattling by social media, TV anchors is not a solution.  They only vitiate already tense atmosphere. The anchors and their brethren have crossed the LOC many times in discussions; they have bombed the bases and won the wars in their dreams. I understand that TV anchors have a job like you and me. But they shout, “We don’t want condemnation, but we want blood, enemy blood!” These folks think that it is like moving around on a film set with a toy gun and kill the enemy, Rambo style! Red paint on the chest and all! It is like playing soldier-soldier! In war, somebody’s brother or father or son dies. We should not forget that it’s a human being like you and me that dies, whether he is Indian or a Pakistani is secondary. Villages and towns on the borders are also damaged, people get killed.

It is excellent for TRP’s with simulated atom bombs blowing the mushroom cloud. But do these anchors know how many people died in the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It is estimated that approximately One hundred and fifty thousand people died in Hiroshima and about seventy thousand people died in Nagasaki! Are we prepared to take the human losses on this scale? With more powerful bombs and a much larger population than 75 years ago, the number of deaths is unimaginable, if the bombs are dropped today.

The link below is a link for an interview in Indian Express. IE team interviewed Gautam Bambawale who was the High Commissioner of India in Pakistan in 2016/2017 and was in China in 2018, post-Doklam controversy. As per the current practice anchors and politicians may not believe some of the facts shared by Gautam. Style these days is to ask for proof. Gautam, by the way, is a Puneite, and his parents lived in Chaturshringi area.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/one-surgical-or-aerial-strike-may-not-force-pak-to-stop-aiding-terror-but-we-have-raised-the-costs-gautam-bambawale-5618709/

After every incident, there are a lot of discussions in the government agencies, within them and with each other. These discussions are held under the leadership of the head of the government. Armed Forces are consulted for preparedness and options. External affairs ministry starts dialogues with the different international governments to explain India’s thinking and possible action. These friends are requested to support India openly as well as in the bodies like the United Nations. Coordinating with other governments is a real tough and confidential work that takes place in the background. Mr Bambawale has said in the interview that after Pathankot some action was imminent.  (it was known only to a very few people on the need to know basis) The ministry of External affairs had advised him to be prepared to ensure that all embassy staff was safe by locking down in a safe place. Lockdown was essential as the reactions within Pakistan could not be predicted.

Blood for blood is a slogan good for TRP. What terrorists do can never be justified. But in the conventional war, thousands of soldiers from both sides can die! Let us not forget that Pakistanis are also human beings like you and me. Their powerless and hence unreasonable government’s acts, cannot be replied with a full-fledged war. What India did post Pulwama was to show Pakistan that now it means business. It hit the terrorist camps deep inside Pakistan territory! When India made a land-based surgical strike after Pathankot attack, Pakistan went into denial. But this time they tried to react with an air attack, which led to combat and they lost an F 16 fighter, and we lost MIG 21. Indian pilot Abhinandan was captured after he bailed out in Pakistan territory. Under international pressure, Pakistan released him in a couple of days to win a few brownie points.

Mr Bambawale has said in his interview, “With the (surgical strikes) for the first time in 2016, and now again in 2019, what we have indicated is that the people of India have had it up to their necks in suffering from terrorist activities. Also, we have indicated — and the government can take credit for the bold and brave decision — that if Pakistan does not control terrorists, then we will go and strike them inside Pakistan. That is what has changed. A lot of people are describing it as a new template that has been brought to the table. I agree with that assessment. It is no one’s case that one surgical strike, or one aerial strike, would force Pakistan to stop aiding and abetting terrorism. But we have increased and raised the costs for them to do this.”

Our brilliant opposition members in politics seem to have mentally become Pakistani supporters. One of the leaders said in an interview that Pulwama mastermind was Mr Modi. This clip was continuously being shown on Pakistan TV. Some opposition leaders initially made statements that we are together with the government. But later they congratulated the air force for the strike. Such attacks are approved by the head of government was conveniently forgotten. Then they started challenging the attack itself and said where is the body count. It seems that opposition expects that, after a surprise attack some Indians will go to the location and take the body count. Another leader also said the same thing. We will support the air force, but we will never help the Prime Minister. The raising of severe doubts about Indian State and its actions using the Air Force was the height of stupidity. The meaning of what they said was that the Air Force was in connivance with the government to cook a story of the air strike. Pakistanis must have been laughing; they must have said we don’t need Chinese or US support, our Indian friends are supporting our cause.

Mr Bambawale’s interview gives you a deep insight into how the crisis is handled. I sincerely wish and hope that for once the opposition leaders will stop talking in a frenzy as if they were Pakistani supporters. But in spite of opposition, our government has handled the situation well especially on the international stage. Propaganda made in other countries is putting pressure on Pakistan to act against the terrorist camps and the outfits.

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“One surgical or aerial strike may not force Pak to stop aiding terror. But we have raised the costs”. One sentence summarises Gautam Bambawale’s interview.  The idiom “One Swallow does not make a summer” perfectly fits the situation. India has finally changed its policy which will make Pakistan think about continuing with its current strategy of supporting terrorism. Individual terrorist attacks may continue for some time, but audacious attacks like Pathankot and Pulwama may not happen again because they know that India is going to hit back discretely, at their own will.

To conclude, Rajwardhan Rathore, Indian Minister,  has summed up the situation in cricketing parlance! He said, “Now in the terrorism game, India is now doing batting also. All these days we were just fielding!”

Shop-floor Anecdotes!

Recently, a comment on one of my blogs mentioned that if I had shared some shop-floor examples in a blog, my blog would have explained my thoughts better. Let me share with you a well-hidden secret. For my first eight years, I have worked in non-ferrous foundries on the shop-floor. In addition to the comment, I met my first boss in the foundry last week at a marriage reception (incidentally the bridegroom was my second boss’s grandson!)  So here I am on the nostalgic trip to the good old days. (I need to  investigate why the old days are always “Good Old Days”) So here we go. 

First, let me share with you an essential but awkward technical stuff (in non-tech language). In both my jobs where I worked, this incident somehow flabbergasted even the technological giants from our customer’s team.

In the first incident, we got an order to supply rods made out of a very special Copper Alloy. We had a tough time developing it. (I am talking of early ’70 s of the last century.) After successfully casting, we used a process called extrusion (imagine hot solid metal coming out like toothpaste) to make the rods. After many trials, we found out that we could not overcome a defect in rods called porosity. The buyer from the customer side was also Metallurgist like me. The final component to be made from the rods was a bush. We decided to make 50 bushes from those defective rods; we handed over the bushes to them. Those were tested and approved. We got the order for bushes instead of rods! (while machining the bush, the defect was machined off)

In my second job, we were supplying an Aluminium casting to the same customer. Their Quality Control manager decided to cut the casting to check for porosity. Certain areas in the casting always had porosity due to faulty design; we used to camouflage the porosity. I was hauled to their big boss. I explained to them the process and proved that it was not possible to eliminate porosity due to design limitations. ( The design was provided by the customer) We kept supplying the casting with porosity, till I continued working for that organisation. 

Now a human story. We were developing an alloy called Cadmium copper. When the heat was ready for tapping, obnoxious fumes started coming out from the melt. In those days masks were not available. Workers refused to pour the charge. We did not blame them. The solution? My friend Jayprakash and I started tapping the metal in ladles for pouring. We put our handkerchiefs as masks. By the end of the shift one worker came forward; in the second shift we kept this worker on overtime, and the show was managed by our other friend Vishwas. From next day onwards, there was no issue. Our leading from the front helped to gain the confidence of the workers.  

Chairman of one of the companies where I worked, was a very sophisticated person. He had his style and before starting a business had worked in large companies. In non-ferrous industry, transactions of selling the scrap and slag were done in cash in those days. I am sure the practice must be still continuing. (Tax saving? Black money?)  One trader was our boss’s favourite. The trader was precisely the opposite of the boss. He could speak only Hindi, his clothing always looked like it needed to be thrown away, they were always gritty, oily and dirty. In the ordinary course, our boss would not have stood within a Kilometre of this person. Once I was having a significant discussion with the boss. Suddenly this trader walks in! (obviously loaded with cash) My boss just said, “Pramod, wait for 10 minutes”. My boss welcomed him saying, “Aao Bhai! Welcome”; he put his hands around the shoulder of that man. The trader was offered tea in the finest cutlery, and the trader slurped it in his usual style, pouring the tea in the saucer! The transaction was done, the so-called “Important” meeting kick-started, again after one hour!  

One event taught me the importance of networking. Phillips had their factory opposite the factory where I worked. Their chief of security was our family friend, much senior to me. He was ten years younger than my father. Once I had gone to his office to meet him and had a cup of tea. Within a month of this social meeting, we had a minor accident in our foundry. A small lid of a tank blew up and hit a worker in his stomach. He collapsed, mainly due to fear. We did not know how to handle the situation. In those days getting an ambulance was a significant process and quite a task. I called our family friend and explained to him the situation. Within five minutes he sent the Phillips bus to carry the worker to the hospital. Within 45 minutes of the accident, we had reached the hospital; luckily it turned out to be a minor accident. Next day, I went and profusely thanked our friend!  

We had commissioned an electric furnace in our factory. As a senior person it was decided that for the first week, I would be present from 7 pm to 7 am. On the third day of the operation, we saw smoke emanating from underneath the furnace. We shut the furnace operation. I went below the furnace platform with a torch. I had told others to remain away from the furnace. It was a minor thing; a tape wound on the copper busbar had caught fire due to molten metal splashing. I turned around to call someone and found that my charge hand was right behind me. He did not follow my instructions of remaining away. When I scolded him, he said, “Sir, I wanted to be around, in case you needed some support! I would never have allowed you to take the risk yourself, alone.” 

In this last episode, I will share how one of my colleagues showed terrific sense alertness and avoided an almost certain fatal accident. In the die casting unit I was working, there was a die weighing one ton; it was in two halves and moved horizontally. Due to heaviness, it was operated hydraulically. In the third shift, a worker was doing routine cleaning of the die. One maintenance person was checking the hydraulic pump which was away from the foundry area. He did not follow the basic safety rule of checking if anyone was working on the dies. He started the pump for testing, and the movable die portion started closing. The person working on the die would have definitely been crushed to death as he was sitting between the halves. My colleague was standing about ten feet away, handling some other situation. He heard the commotion and saw the die was closing. He almost jumped like a football goalie and pushed the lever in the opposite direction. He was hurt a bit because of the dive, but he definitely saved a life.   

One thing I learnt from my shop-floor experience was the camaraderie with all colleagues. We had people who were hardly educated to those who were highly trained but raw like my colleague engineers and me. The experience taught us the importance of keeping the mind open and learning from everybody. Empathy was the most crucial aspect of the foundry. Due to heat, everybody was always a bit irritated, stressed, add to that some personal problems everybody has. It was an atmosphere where sparks would easily fly. But in a couple of years, we learnt to be friendly with workers by sharing tobacco (once in a while) or sharing tea with them.  Plus in the initial phase, we gained a lot of work-related stuff from them. We used to be very open about it and would tell them that they were our gurus.

I could go on and on! But limitations of the blog length restrict me to stop. After these eight years, I moved over to marketing and business development side in my own business. These eight years had taught me many things, including the need to have the depth of knowledge in whatever I did. The inter-personal relationship was another area that helped me to deal with junior most to the topmost people in my later years. When I look back, Metallurgy seems too distant to me. But what reminded of my Metallurgy background? I located my good old degree certificate and a copy of my Master’s Degree thesis! Would I like back those eight years? Oh, definitely! The good old days!