996 or else!

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You must be wondering if I am going to start writing blogs in the digital language of 010101. Don’t worry; I am not doing it! But what is this 996? Chinese companies now expect their employees to work from 9 to 9, all six days of the week! For workaholics that sounds like great news. But 996 workaholics, by choice, are rare. People do work longer hours. But can that be the reason enough to work 996, all the time? I don’t think so. No sane person can follow that schedule. If you work 9 to 9, all six days of the week, where do have time for family life, time for personal chores? Time for enjoyment and time for quick picnics. Spending time with spouse and children on the seventh day is out of the question because it is likely, that one will sleep it out on the seventh day! Below is the status of 996 people on Sunday!

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How has this come up? Competition? Dictatorship? Fear of losing the job? Unrealistic goals? Or probably it is a combination of all the factors. Add to this, for international companies, with headquarters in America, and offices in Germany, Israel, India and China. Working with colleagues in different continents can play havoc on the lives of the people. In any organisation, the work is done by different teams in collaboration with each other. Hence there is a need for telephonic meetings regularly. But does it mean that 996 should be the norm? How longer hours will complete the complex jobs shown below, more efficiently?

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Jack Ma, the big boss of the Chinese company Alibaba, says, “The 996 schedule – which means working 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week – is “a huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have.” He further says that if you don’t work this way when you are young, when are you going to work hard? The question comes to mind what the definition of young is In a group of 100 people if 80 members are young and 20 are not so young, then can you have different timings for young and the not so young? He also feels that such a work regime has allowed Alibaba to become a giant on the world stage.

Why do we work? To win our bread and butter, to learn new things, to go ahead in our careers. How many of us are bothered about the last aspect? The main thing is to achieve, is to steadily get our bread and butter, to pay our bills on time. Educate the children and pass life peacefully. Not everybody is looking to become highly successful in life. Would such people be interested in 996? Would they be able to sustain 996?

I remember about a young engineering graduate who was in the US for his master’s degree, for a couple of years. He joined a company in Pune, where the atmosphere was not 996 but hectic. It was a group of smart engineers working to do some great technical work. Three months later, he went and met his boss and said, “I cannot work with such a smart group of people; probably this is not my taking.” Later he started playing bridge and made his career as a professional bridge player!

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Is 996 feasible in the long term? I don’t think so. There is murmur going on, “family or ICU?” The 996 types of lifestyles are bound to create issues — even our 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle is against the fundamental requirement of the human body. Before the industrial revolution, our lifestyle was based on nature. Sunrise and Sunset would decide the daily routine. 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle also involves travel, business dinners and late meetings. So even this lifestyle is hectic. What made Jack Ma think that 996 is sustainable in the long term, I would not know.

Following two paragraphs are taken from a webpage

https://hub.packtpub.com/developers-lives-matter-chinese-developers-protest-over-the-996-work-schedule-on-github/

Working long hours at a company, devoid of any work-life balance, is rife in China’s tech industry. Earlier this week on Tuesday, a Github user with the name “996icu” created a webpage that he shared on GitHub, to protest against the “996” work culture in Chinese tech companies.

The 99icu webpage mentions the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, according to which, an employer can ask its employees to work long hours due to needs of production or businesses. But, the work time to be prolonged should not exceed 36 hours a week. Also, as per the Labor Law, employees following the “996” work schedule should be paid 2.275 times of their base salary. However, this is not the case in reality, and Chinese employees following the 996 work rule rarely get paid that much.

These two paragraphs indicate what is happening at the ground level. Can the developers come together and fight the system? I doubt, and it may not be possible even in the US as well as in India. But probably breaking laws in China appears to be blatant. Companies are getting away without being prosecuted by the authorities. The latest information says that 996 will be replaced by 10107! Ten AM to 10 PM seven days a week.

I understand the aspect of profitability in business. But will 996 achieve those numbers? It is evident that people are continuing this out of fear, and also because of no immediate options available. Years back I had met one engineer from Wipro on a flight. He said that his job was quite laid back, but every day he felt like changing his job. After office, he took 2 to 3 ½ hours to reach home. In 996 and 10107 the commute time is not even considered. I read on the website that someone changed residence and moved into not a very decent home, to reduce commute time.

Many companies are not into 996 or 10107, yet. But the number of hours put in plus the commute time makes it terrible. If both husband and wife are working, then the practical solution will be to look for jobs in areas nearby and move residence near the workplace. I know of a couple whose total daily commute time is six hours daily, minimum. One of them has a health issue and is required to exercise daily. But this is not possible due to commute time.

The Chinese colloquial term for a developer is “码农. Its literal English translation is “code peasants” — not the most flattering or respectful way to call software engineers. I call them white-collar workers on the lines of blue-collar workers. Mr Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra group, had tweeted, “I feel as if I am a businessman from Dinosaur times.” He made this comment after he read a statement by Uber CEO that Uber will never become profitable! I have a run very small business all these years; I am also surprised that Amazon has never made any profits, ever! I am told that these are 996 companies!

Mr Naraynamurthy of Infosys had sent an email to all Infosys employees to make sure that they leave office on time. But his instructions have never been followed in the spirit! I have discussed with people working in larger companies, especially the coders. All of them have said that they can concentrate on their job for not more two hours at a time. If 996 culture is followed how much will be the real productivity is anybody’s guess.

996? 10107? To me, none of these makes sense but what is the option? We had apartheid! We had slavery! The only difference is that compensations are high in the new bondage! Hopefully, there will be an organised movement against these systems, so let us wait and see, fingers crossed!

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harried because of Hurry!

Remember the Blackberry? Blackberry was the ultimate device fifteen years back. People could get to process their emails on the device. What more did you want? Waiting for child’s skit to start, take a peep into your emails, going for potty, oh that ultimate place to see your emails in peace! Wake up at 2 am for a pee, check emails and then reply to your colleagues in India or the USA or where ever. By the time you went back to sleep, it was 4 am. Oh! An hour to wake up to catch a flight. So, it went on. I am sure it still goes on. You were a proud owner of Blackberry after all.

How much time does it take for burnout to start? Two years, four years or five years! Then we started thinking that this is the only way to work and we have ultimately joined the bandwagon of stressed, tired, grumpy executives. Oh! I forgot about the app synced with everything, your calendar! You became a slave of your calendar and proud that most of your time in the office is blocked by meetings. I must mention the old cliché. The meeting is an event where minutes are kept and hours are lost! The beauty of your calendar is that it could be accessed by all your colleagues; it is like the modern open plan offices. Transparency is the name of the game. You have committed five different things to your customers, your boss and your colleagues. Yes, there is a small thing like wife’s birthday! On that day, you are lucky and have one and a half hour between 3 and 4.30 to finish your commitments. Ding, ding and ding! You are blocked for 3 pm by your boss, 3.30 by your HR boss, 4 pm by a cross-functional team. Of course, your time after 6 pm is free, as this is after office hours; your time cannot be blocked. By the time you are in the car …..

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Not all the stresses are harmful, and there is eustress which helps humans to better work — definition of eustress made by Virginia Miltary Institute is “a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being,” during positive stress (“eustress”), such as a promotion or vacation, feel-good chemicals called endorphins are released. But humans tend to go beyond and stretch the eustress too!

We all know why we work but time has come to think how we work. Is getting stressed out, day in and day out worth it? With every colleague going through the same grind of anxiety and stress, irritation levels go beyond limits. Now Blackberry is lost to time, and any smartphone can be used for emails. Now another new stress creator is born, WhatsApp groups. I know of various companies where WA groups are formed to send group or individual communications. WA is known as “Instant Messenger” so there is no hiding from the message. You can’t claim that you have not received it.

How should we work? As usual, we can start with something small. People have been following specific methods to reduce stress. Reducing stress does not mean that we should go away from work, but the atmosphere can be changed. There is a Swedish tradition of fika (it means coffee); they take fika break, go for a dose of caffeine and have a discussion. Going for a break makes a change in the atmosphere and reduces tension. In Britain, there is tradition to go to a pub nearby and take your small dose of Ale or a Beer while discussing serious matters. People have started going for a stroll in a group in the office garden and discuss things. These small changes are known to be great stress busters.

Talking of meetings, are so many meetings productive? Are any decisions taken? People take decisions swiftly when they meet in smaller groups. I had jokingly asked a General Manager in a large company, “Where is the time for you to act on decisions taken?” He smiled and said, “I hope to convey decisions to my colleagues who are expected to implement decisions. Of course, we meet three times a week to check if the implementation is carried out!”

Another great idea will be to involve families in picnics or some outings. When people socialise outside the work domain, chances of improvements in an interpersonal relationship are quite high. The mixing also encourages people to develop social relationships between families.

Formal work culture started with industrialisation, but it began in a big way in the last 50 years when large global companies were born. Every company had its methods. A vast organisation started a practice that every meeting should begin with a presentation. When this company started having trouble, the new CEO stopped this process. Some processes and methods are started for a specific reason, but many times they continue without people understanding why they started in the first place.

A classic example is that of a report generated in Solapur district in the state of Maharashtra. The report captured some information and sent it to the Queen of England. Somebody started preparing this report in the 19th century. The report continued for 50 years after India became independent, till 1997; a sensible officer stopped this practice. Since 1947 the report was generated and kept in a file! Many such processes are followed in private sector organisations too! Each such process adds to stress!

All modern organisations have a sickness of “do it fast”. Everybody is always in a hurry! The reason for hurrying everything is because a lot of different demands are made on people. Heavy demand on freshly joined or junior staff causes people to get crushed under the burden.  Hence emphasis should be shifted from “why” do something to “how” to do something. Unless this is done, people will not get the fulfilment of doing a good job and will always be anxious.

When anxiety and stress are removed from the work atmosphere, the efficiency of people goes up. They perform better and may show their real potential. In the organisations, there are many certifications required, and audits are always going on. With severe competition from global companies, new management techniques are used. As people remain anxious and dissatisfied, some rebellion is observed. Google had a tough time when staff protested about the treatment given to the female team. In Uber, one lady complained openly writing a blog on the same subject. She also explicitly said that the female population in Uber is going down drastically.

The hurry is the root cause of the most disappointing things happening in the work domain. Things do change fast in the world these days. But it is not possible to match speed with everything. We must remain with the nature in thinking. A child is going to be born after nine months, whatever you do to push for early delivery. The required “PUSH” starts after nine months!

Your Future Self!

Create-your-future

Yesterday Jaya and I were coming back from the airport after dropping our Son. We had travelled using  an Uber taxi. On the way back, we met an interesting driver. I felt that he was quite enterprising. It was evening time and most roads indicated heavy traffic on Google maps. Not only was he using maps efficiently but at a couple of places when the congestion was too heavy, he took U-turn and changed the route. I praised him for proactive actions to reach the destination as quickly as possible. Then he asked me, “If I ask you a few questions, will it be ok?”  I said, “Go, ahead!”

He said that he owned the car he was driving and he wanted to run a fleet of taxis similar to Ola/Uber model. He wanted to give better service than Ola/Uber. He said he had funds, though of course not unlimited! But he had that aim to be better than the giants. Jaya and I probed him with many questions like what his USP was going to be? He had thought about some things and he had not thought about many things. I suggested that he put things on paper and study, create his plan. I said, “You drive your taxi every day, how will you get time to do these things?” He said that since this plan is his passion and he will somehow find the time, and “trouble” some customer like me. He would take advice from various people but will achieve his goal. So, I said, “The time you will be spending on future is going to be unproductive time for your today’s work and will stretch your daily time schedule to the limit!” He replied, “Yes, I know that I will be required to do a lot of “unproductive” work for my future. If I don’t invest in my future who will?” This I thought was an extremely smart way of thinking. Invest in so-called unproductive things to reach the moon in future! This coming from an Uber driver gave me a terrific feeling.

He was not an MBA from IIM’s nor was he highly educated. I did not ask him about his education level but he must have taken a college degree in some subject. What could be the source of his passion? We talk about business families, business communities. This person was definitely not from these groups. He must be reading something, he must be discussing with some people, he must be watching stories on TV which has led to his thinking. When my ride was over, I wished him all the best and told him not to lose courage and focus because path could be tough. He said, “With suggestions from people like you, my resolve is getting stronger day by day!”

You’re busy all day, working non-stop, multitasking in a misguided attempt to knock a few extra things off your to-do list, and as the day comes to a close, you still haven’t gotten your most important work done. Being busy is not the same as being productive. It’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination. They’re both running, but being busy is running in place.

If you want to be productive, the first question you need to ask yourself is what do you want to be? Another question is where do you want to go? Chances are that the answers to these questions represent growth in some direction. And while you can’t spend all your time pursuing those objectives, you definitely won’t get there if you don’t spend any of your time pursuing them.

Key to all this is that you need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you initially need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.

My daughter Priya is a dentist. She and her family are in the process of migrating to Canada. They were initially expecting that they will move to Toronto. But Priya felt that as a doctor she should also know French, as Canada is a bilingual country. Even in Toronto, you could get French-speaking patients. So, she decided that learning French would make sense. Hence, she joined Alliance Francaise and took a four-month course. She had a tough time managing the course, her Medical Practice, family obligations and her child. But she did it! As the luck would have it, her husband got a job in Montreal and her so-called unproductive efforts will become productive when she joins him in Montreal!

You want to become a writer or a painter or marathon runner, along with whatever you are doing currently. Your busy mind tries to keep you away from the new stuff, you’re not yet good at and which isn’t yet productive. Sometimes you need to be irresponsible with your current challenges in order to make real progress on your future self. You have to let the present just sit there, untended. It’s not going away and will never end. That’s the nature of the present.

You may not end up with an empty email inbox. You may not have the perfect compensation conversations with your boss. You may not please everyone. I am confident that those who want to invest in their future, will be good enough to do their current stuff at 7 or 8 on ten level, instead of their usual on 9/9.5 on ten level. Some of you might get jitters because of a lower level of productivity, but it is simply not possible to multitask things beyond a certain level.

Once you have clarity in mind of what you are doing and why you are doing, tasks become easier. Once you start seeing at least hazy image of your future self somewhere on the horizon, your jitters level will get lowered. This brings me to my latest theory of everybody requiring to reskill themselves. Reskilling in future is going to be mandatory. This is irrespective of whether you want to do it or not! So why wait? It is going to be reverse of “Back to the Future” movie where the person travels back 30 years in a time machine. Now you will have to visualize yourself ten years hence.

In case of training for Marathon, you may first start with 5 km then 10 and so on! Similarly, the writer in you may be able to write a few things initially. You may paint a few things after 3 months! This step by step progress is what you are looking for! Do it as a passion, but don’t forget that you may have to do it in future, anyway!

Your original training as an engineer, architect or whatever will keep you going. But in both these professions, you also want to add subject knowledge of Costing. This knowledge may put you on a fast track in your future career! The future costing engineer will have to take efforts, today, then you will get the fruits in the future! Don’t lose track of “Your Future Self!”

 

Roaming around in Pune!

It’s good to be moving around your own city but with age and technology, there is a possibility that you may not be required to move out of your home, especially after retirement. You can get your grocery online, you can pay your bills online, for cash you can go to ATM and deal with a machine rather than a human. All these things look sexy initially. But humans are social animals, and they love to meet and talk to friends, relatives, acquaintances, and unknown people. It is a well-proven fact that if humans become isolated then there is a good chance of early death. It’s good to know what new things are happening around you. When you move around, you observe different aspects of life. You know where the world is going.

Kasaba

The other day, we went to a dentist in the old part of Pune. We took an Uber and lo, we reached there in about 25 minutes, which was 15 minutes earlier than expected, and 30 minutes before the appointment. That too during peak hours! As I have always said that I tend towards being an atheist, but once in a while I do visit Mandirs on my own. I suggested to Jaya, that since we were pretty early, we could visit the Kasaba Peth Ganapati Mandir which was bang opposite the clinic. It was surprisingly empty. After going inside, we realized that it was Chaturthi, an auspicious day from the Hindu calendar. I bowed to the God, Jaya did some more prayers and took another five minutes. As is usually done, we sat in the Mandir for five more minutes. When you go to a Mandir, and do not have even five minutes to spare, might as well not go there! This is done  to soak in the atmosphere. The Mandir is a totally different world than that I live in. People were very much engrossed in praying; a priest was giving a sermon and he was talking about day to day issues, how to handle them and how to face the world. I thought it was a very good way of helping people. The priests are revered by the society; his sermon was a good way of guiding people as a tradition. This is one tradition, people should continue to follow, instead of following some irrational things. The young dentist is my daughter’s classmate and I know him well. He jokingly said, “Uncle HE must have been happy that you found time to meet Him!” To me, HE is everywhere, I need not go to a Mandir to meet Him.

Use of Uber brings you in touch with more people, a group of drivers, the way they talk, the way they work, the way they look at the profession. I always make it a point to chat with them. One observation is that 50% of them are from Vidarbha, Marathwada side! In recent four trips, I had varied experiences. One chap was very unfriendly from the beginning, and ended up shouting at me and threatening me with dire consequences! In a huff, luckily, he cancelled the trip on his own. I complained to Uber and they took a lot of feedback from me. Next one was a good person, was shocked how expensive Pune was and did not know much about Pune roads! When will Uber train these drivers about the city where they drive? I explained to this fellow that Pune is expensive because it has money and since it has money, a lot of people use Uber! Next one had his car in horrible condition, dusty and unclean from both inside and outside. I asked him why he had not cleaned the car? He said that he got the trip immediately after login. I asked him why he did not login after the car was cleaned, he had nothing to say. The last one was the best, he knew all the roads, his car looked new. When I asked him if his car was new, he said that it was two-year-old but cleaned it at least four to five times in a day. It showed his passion to do well in his profession! On top of that, he was very polite! I gave him five stars!

GoodLuck

In Pune and Bombay, there is a tradition of Irani restaurants. These are the restaurants run by people who have come to India from Iran and have settled in the last century. These were our favourite joints in our school and college days. They would offer, Bun-Maska (butter), Pastries and Omelet. Chicken and mutton also used to be their speciality if you wanted to take lunch or dinner. I was coming home in the very clean Uber and could look around for a change, as I was not driving. We passed by an Irani restaurant called Regal! I now came to know how the times have changed. They had a display board saying special treat for people who keep fast for 9 days during the Navratri festival that is currently going on! (We always have some festival running or coming or just finished celebrating) Sabudana Wada, Sabudana Khichadi and so on. Typical Maharashtrian dishes. Goodluck is the most famous Irani restaurant in Pune. Looks like to grow their business, they are also offering stuff that people want. So happy to see the flexibility of the management. Another thing that I have seen these days is that these are small restaurants and are at prime locations. With traffic density soaring all the time, their prime locations have become no parking zones. Some of these hotels have bought a couple of shops near the restaurant so that they could provide parking space to at least 20 to 30 bikes, inside those shops!

Another great tradition that is going great guns in Pune, is cultural programs during the Ganapati Festival. Many colonies, apartments, condos have different programs on various days of this festival. In our Condo, there were cookery competitions, painting competitions. Youngest was my grand-daughter Rhea who gave a three-minute solo dance performance. Oldest was a 75 years old lady who took part in story-telling. Jaya and I also had fun. I interviewed her on the subject of modern technologies of IOT, AI, VR and AR. (These buzzwords were explained in the language all will understand) It was done in a chat format and we explained the technical things in such a way that common people could also easily understand the subject. We also kept it interactive and people asked a lot of questions! This is one tradition that should never be allowed to die! This brings people together, the main aim of Lokmanya Tilak who started this festival more than 100 years back. During this festival, people go to each other’s homes, sometimes uninvited, and attend the Ganapati Aarti (Prayers) which are performed in each home!

We keep on making a big noise about traffic chaos in any city. Pune is no exception. But my personal opinion is that Pune’s traffic is still manageable. But the indiscipline is rampant by the two-wheelers, trucks and buses. They break signals, bikes carry 3 or 4 people in place of allowed 2! They break helmet rule with vengeance! In most other cities this rule is followed quite well! They enter wrongly on a one-way street! But real information that you get is from Uber guys, three-wheeler auto chaps break the rules similarly to two-wheeler guys, so I don’t take their feedback seriously. There are surprises. The first thing we assume is that the traffic will be worst in the old part of the city. These are called Peths! The roads are narrow and winding, sometimes. But according to Uber guys, these areas are much better, traffic wise. According to them, the worst is Sinhgad Road and Nagar road. Hinjewadi IT park area is known for these issues simply because of the sheer volume  of vehicles which pour on the road, within a short span of time. Attempts are being made to correct this situation. But mind you, good things always come out in humans, when things go out of control. Nagar road traffic volume has been high and indiscipline has added to it. A group of people in that area created a WhatsApp group. (A creative way of using WA) At a very short notice volunteers from this group jump the fray and help the traffic to smoothen out. What they have done is to include some shopkeepers in that area who can easily see if there is a jam. They give precise location on WA and in a jiffy these guys, wardens working Pro Bono, come out and straighten things out.

Friends, I moved to Pune in 1967 and stayed over. In these 51 years, it has changed a lot but has remained same too! Change is because of technology and migration. Pune has already become cosmopolitan, with new International airport and Metro coming up, will same old  Pune exist at all? Maybe! In some pockets, it will remain the same good old Pune but in other areas, you may feel as if you are in any modern city! Will it be able to keep balance of both? Yes and no! Chitale’s of Pune have finally started advertising and with no breaks between 1 & 4 in the afternoon! Bhelpuri carts, now have to compete with Bhel Puri shops which sell other things like sandwiches and Ragda Pattice too! Puneri Misal is still famous so is sabudana khichadi (now sold even by Irani restaurants!) Only time will tell!

Is this Popcorn or Caviar!

I went to the airport the other day to pick up my delayed bags. While coming back from airport, I again used Ola cab. There was a difference of Rs.35/ on the same trip, the return trip cost more. I checked the invoice and found that they had charged, airport pick-up charge. Ola and Uber both now have stands at the Pune airport. For this facility they pay yearly fees to the authorities. They are passing it on to the customers. At a time 8 to 10 cabs are always waiting at the airport!

The other day, we went to a multiplex to watch a movie! I did my booking on the website. Besides buying high priced tickets, I was charged convenience fees above the price of the tickets. I asked my young friends, who are savvy in such things! A friend suggested that we should use the website to check the tickets availability; if plenty of tickets are available, simply go the multiplex and buy the tickets. No convenience charges are applied.

So far so good. While watching the movie, we thought that we must follow the tradition and decided to eat popcorn, sandwiches and coke (diet of course!)  Popcorn was freshly made, sandwiches were ready to eat; probably made in the kitchen near the back office. Coke was from the fountain. None of the product sold were legally “packaged” food. “Packaged”  stuff under the law of MRP!  Non packaged products do not have MRP and there is no need to “declare” it price!

(MRP) Maximum Retail Price is a maximum price which can be charged to the consumers in India, as specified by the authority. Under the Consumer Goods (mandatory printing of date of Production and Maximum Retail Price) Act, 2006, consumers cannot be charged more than the MRP mentioned on the packing of the products.

When my card was charged I realized that there was not a single packaged item. Hence there was no MRP for whatever I bought. I realized that the multiplex owners must have had robbers as their ancestors! They simply robbed me on food prices, and there was nothing I could do about it. The total cost of food was much higher than the price of movie tickets. Since the items did not come under MRP laws, they could charge me whatever they wanted! Mind you there was a big queue to buy stuff and apparently people have money and do not mind spending money on entertainment. I asked my young friend later, the trick to overcome this issue. I asked her, if we could take stuff from home to eat. She said that we are not allowed to take outside food in the multiplexes due to security reasons; and that is the law! My theory about ancestry was proven!

So far so good, the movie was nice so we did have a good time in spite of meeting the  robbers! Now what is the law on this? Somebody has recently taken these multiplex guys to court. Arguments are going on in the court. The court has made an observation that when we go to five-star hotels, we pay whatever they ask for the food! We never expect the prices to be similar to other smaller restaurants. Similarly, I know that the prices of movie tickets in single screen theaters are much lower than what multiplexes charge. I am sure pop-corn, sandwiches also cost much less in single screen theaters. The court will check only the legality of billing done for food, if needed. Compliance of taxation will be checked by tax department! But nobody can tell them at what price they should sell the food!

The stories apart, is the high price for food charged by multiplexes justified? I am not sure but the multiplexes are projects by themselves and there is a lot of investment made in each such project. The movie business is unpredictable in general, so sell of tickets will depend on how popular the movie becomes! Their earning from movies is also unpredictable. The movie tickets are priced from Rs.80/ to Rs.400/ plus, for morning shows to most popular movies later in the day. I am not aware of their earning per ticket. So, what they are charging us for food is as per their business model. We are going to five-star movie theaters where we have fancy theaters, escalators and all the modern things. Prices will be high and we will have to accept them.

In India, when we travel by railways, we don’t pay extra luggage charges. But when we fly we are required to pay additional fees to the airlines as per rules. On some airlines they provide food free because the price of tickets is inclusive of the food. But on some low-cost airlines, we are required to pay for the food. Recently on our first leg back to India, on Seattle to Toronto flight, Air Canada was charging for food but they were serving coffees and cokes free, though it was an international flight! They probably decide based on the duration of the flight. On New York- San Francisco flight we were served food, since duration was 6 ½ hrs. So, each of the businesses have their own business model! We shouldn’t crib about it. We choose whatever is suitable to us, itinerary wise and price wise. So, we have options to see a movie in a multiplex! We have choices! Single screen theaters, YouTube, Netflix. We have to decide ourselves, nobody is forcing us.

What is the solution to this issue? For me there is no solution! But yesterday a party known for its rough politics, man handled a restaurant manager in a multiplex, for selling popcorn at  “high” price. Is it the right way to handle things? What can the manager do about it? The prices are decided by the management! Taking law into your hands is never justified whatever the reason!

There was one new Ranbir Kapoor movie being released! In the second week when the ticket prices are down, we can go for the movie. Tickets are on me, food is on you! Offer open only for multiplexes!  Are you game?

Technology Onslaught! Reskill or Perish!

Some lawyers in Pune have declared that they will go on fast until death, against the decision of Charity commissioner. It is now decided that that all registrations with charity commissioner will be done online! Thereby eliminating the need to employ lawyers to handle this work. Lawyers have gone by the only route known to them. They are cribbing, crying and fasting. Welcome to the brave new world of technology.

Technology is a part of revolution that mankind has seen from stone age. Only difference is that today’s technology can take away work from highly educated and successful people! When the wheel was invented, the strong people in that era must have gone on strike because with invention of wheel, people with brute force, for doing various manual things, became irrelevant. This sort of thing is not only technology related but it is about out of box thinking too!

Western part of China has many industries that produce goods for the world! Shipping of these good to Europe was a real long haul; taking the goods to east coast of China and from there goods would sail to Europe, in big ships. Total time taken would be between 40 to 45 days. Someone had a great idea. China had talks with Russia and rail system in western China was realigned to connect to Russian rail system. Trains full of these goods now reach Europe in 15 to 20 days! Ship owners have not gone on strike!

Human nature is such that we want status quo, all the time. While going is good, humans don’t try to find efficient methods of doing things better. Lawyers probably never understood that drastic changes that were coming up. Nobody designed something specific to make lawyers’ work irrelevant. Technology does not target anybody, it just looks to improve things or to do things in a different way. Somebody in government took a step forward to make the system more efficient and transparent. This is already happening in many areas in the private as well as government domain.

Blockchain is a classic example of technology can change things drastcially! I will briefly explain about Blockchain. A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. This allows the participants to verify and audit transactions inexpensively. This technology is already being used in cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. Technology is proven and slowly becoming popular. This technology has a potential to eliminate ALL the agents that are currently there in the system. These agents are Chartered Accountants, Bank Agents, LIC Agents, and so on. Over a period, Bitcoin Technology is expected to eliminate even the Banks and Currency! This shows two things; currency as a tool can vanish and Blockchain can push many educated people out of work, in big numbers. What is the solution? Retrain, get new skill sets! Don’t crib!

The other day, I was having coffee with my friend Sharad. He told me a story about some government agency people who wanted to do ground survey, near his factory, for a new expressway being planned. The people living in that area have been opposing the project. As a protest, they blackened the faces of the surveyors. Surveyors were cool guys. When Sharad asked them how much time the survey will take? They said 15 minutes. They moved around, put some paint marks on the rocks around and were ready to go. Sharad asked them, ” What happened to your survey?” They said, ” We are done! Now Google will take over and do the necessary survey; we just had to paint some markers.” Technology? How are local protesters going to stop Google Satellite?

Do you remember Tonga, the horse carriages being replaced by Auto Rikshas? Now a days, we rarely see young people driving Rikshas, so it could be on it’s way out! Heard of Uber and Ola? For long distance travel, the replacement was trains. Then came airplanes, local purchase is being slowly replaced by Web based selling. Amazons, Flipkarts are taking over business from local grocers! Typewriting institutes? What is that? Where are the typewriters? Where are the typists? Are we now hearing stories about Electric Vehicles? Another 20 years maybe! There may not be big repair workshops!

Most of the times, new technologies start with some mundane task or something which is not relevant at that time. It takes people thinking out of box that makes rapid and sometimes dramatic changes. Something similar is happening in another area of our lives.

When Jaya did her engineering in early 70’s, ladies in this field was a novelty! Lady engineers making a full-time career after degree was even more rare! This has been changing for some time. Early part of current century has seen major jump of ladies coming into different professions, in large numbers. They got themselves adapted and trained to handle many aspects of life which they were not supposed to know or do! How has this changed things in the society! It’s the women who have been retraining themselves, realigning themselves to out of box thinking. Some have gone into supplying home cooked food for people, some have gone into running creches! They have retrained themselves as per the need of the hour. Are men doing necessary changes in their thought process? Have enough number of men done this? Have they retrained themselves? Have they re-skilled themselves? Have they learnt cooking? Have they learnt to change diapers? Have they learnt to go to office after spending hours with the child who was unwell at night?

No, they have not! The majority have not done it! What comes in the way? It’s the so called traditional way of thinking that men are supposed to perform so and so things in life and women are supposed bear kids and manage homes. What will happen if men don’t change? They may not become irrelevant like lawyers, but whether they like it or not they will have to face ground realities. Whatever traditions or old way of thinking may say, there is one skill set which only women have! Bearing and producing a child! Yes, men are needed for this but technology has proven that you don’t need men but their sperm to produce a child! Remember, Kunti had given Karna birth by using this method! Mankind knows and is very much aware of this method, for a long time, as mentioned in mythology! But the point of inflexion for this to happen regularly, is still too far away!

What is the easier and more prudent way for men? To retrain themselves, to acquire skills to run the family jointly with women. This does not need technology change; this needs the change in mind set. Change in old way of thinking! Accept that people who don’t adapt to new technology or thinking can become irrelevant over a period of time!

Lawyers, find your selves a new area where your skills are needed. Try and re-skill yourselves for doing something different! Become a great chef, become an online teacher, become a producer for online serials! Instead of striking you may strike Gold in your new profession!