28 January, 2009

Chicken : Two Unusual Preparations

Chicken was the topic and as gourmet meat eaters few of us were really great fans of the bird or white meat. This did not mean that we send away the Tandoori or the Tangdi Kebab when it is served . It just meant that given a choice we didn’t order it. So how did the bird find its way into our topic ? The talk touched upon the unusual manner of preparations of the Chicken. I had personally eaten two types in distinct locations; One at Alibaug off the coast of Mumbai and the other near the Tibetan camp at Darjeeling. They are similar in the style of preparation (both being fire baked) and eating as no knife and fork would do for them, the pleasure is to be had with your fingers.

Gorkha Recipe : ( Darjeeling)
This preparation was sampled during my Darjeeling holiday though the actual location of sampling it was somewhere in between Kurseong and Silliguri at a roadside eatery.

The bird is de-feathered but not skinned. Salt and mustard paste is rubbed on to it and the bird is pierced such that the paste seeps into the meat. Chilli flakes one tomato and 2 potatoes are cooked together into a mash and the mash is lightly coated over the mustard paste holding it in. The potato is the binder while the tomato adds to the sour body and colour. This is wrapped in large leaves of what I presumed to be Teak as the leaves were large. The whole bird marinated is thus completely sealed in the leaves with twigs almost half the size of tooth picks. Now on this package, wet clay or mud is slapped and it is rolled into a ball. The clay is around an inch thick all around and like a potter the hands making this are wet. Once the ball is ready it is rolled in dry ash. Three to four balls are rolled at the same time.

An earthen kiln with a coal fire was blazing away and the balls were placed right in the centre of the blaze. In the kiln the balls are roasted turned from time to time, while they served us DROOG an alcoholic beverage which eased the chill there. After half an hour with a metal wire tong the balls are rolled out. They are blazing hot and the brown mud has gone all dark and hard. The ball is held in the tong and with a stone rod the cook sharply tapped and it split open like a boiled egg. He peeled away the leaves and with it the clay shell, the aroma was mind blowing. He poked the bird with a skewer and served it on a bed of plain rice. The sizzling bird dripped its juices on the rice and became greasy dry yet smoked while the rice attained a gentle flavour from the spiced juice. It had cooked in its own juices and amazing was not the word for this concoction.The potato had gone hard , flaky and crumbled into the rice which was wet with the dribble from the chicken. The taste & the aroma of it from so long ago lingers on in my memory.

Its messy to eat but totally yummy, keep a lot of tissues handy if you are so particular. If one has the place for a barbecue then you should surely try this. Keep it light on spices while use good potters clay and jackfruit leaves if large teak leaves are unavailable. The fire can be coal or gas or electric. Please don’t use your domestic oven for this as the clay if not properly prepared can drip and then you can kiss one appliance goodbye.

Chicken Popati : (Alibaug)

This is a tribal preparation strictly made on occasions by the locals. This is similar in its principle to the preparation in Gujarat called Pok.

Here the Chicken is diced into bite sized pieces after being deskinned and cleaned. For one Chicken , two to four tablespoons of warm groundnut oil are taken in a cup and in this are added one green chilly vertically sliced, roughly ground pepper corns about two teaspoons, red chilly powder and two tablespoons of garam Masala. The pieces of chicken are smeared with salt and turmeric powder and kept for fifteen minutes on a flat tray. Two green tamarinds finely chopped are kept aside. Bite sized portions of vegetables like potatoes, (sliced into four quarters) tinda, cauliflower and whole tomatoes with green flat beans and string beans are kept aside.Small button onions or sweet white onions whole are peeled and added. All of these ingredients are put in an earthen pot along with the chicken. The mixture in the cup is poured over the chicken and vegetables. Two sprinklings of water are sprayed over the mixture by hand. The pot is lidded and the lid sealed with wet flour. This pot is put in a kiln and coal piled all around it and fired. The pot is removed after and hour of firing thus. The lid is cracked open and the mixture poured into a flat tray. This is an oily dry preparation and best eaten with hands. The locals like it spicy and on the ready chicken they add a dash of crushed dry red chilly flakes and green coriander. The chilly is an optional. One can have it straight or with pan baked bread or roti.

These preparations do not find a place in restaurant menu's but if you have friends there or camp out and trek in these parts, then a villager can be coaxed into preparing them for you. Also if you do have access to an earthen furnace and the provision for a barbecue then go ahead and make it at home and have a blast..

(The images shown above are representative purposes only..just to make ur mouth water even more. They closely resemble the way the above dishes turn out on the plate )

18 January, 2009

Knocking On Heavens Door: Adios Pappa

Pappa or Bhalchandra Govind Mavalankar was my father-in-law, my wife Gauri’s father; a complete study in contrasting extremes. An architect by qualification but a marketing man by vocation. He was intelligent and naïve, very vocal or moodily silent, opinionated or obtuse, very sensitive to feelings but abrasive in conduct with people whom he didn’t respect. A voracious reader who loved classical music, good food & films, you could either like him or hate him but never ignore him. He had a totally quirky sense of humor and a phenomenal memory which made him a raconteur par excellence. When he would narrate a story, one would listen spellbound at his ability to make you feel the emotional spark in it or have you in splits with his sensational timing in tickling the funny bone. He could quote an old Sanskrit verse, or a whole passage from a play or book from ages ago effortlessly which would be absolutely apt for the moment or analyze a rendition of a classical raga in its minutest detail. There was nothing superficial about him & when he wanted to know something he would refer all to get to the bottom of it. A generous soul he had to compulsively share what he knew or had learnt and proudly wore his heart on his sleeve.Totally transperent in his persona he could at times be called a flake but a fake he was not.

What does one do with a man like this,and how does one deal with him? I wondered after meeting him the first time.One who talks nineteen to a dozen…hmmm.. one just listens and becomes his audience, a pucca guarantee was that you would never be bored. I had my own opinions and in laying those across we had many a good natured argument, you could even call some of them spats if not fights, so vivid and loud they would be. But at the bottom of it while arguing, we connected and both of us sensed it and respected the other for it.

All of the decade since I knew him, our interactions were on a sublime level. He was a charming rogue and knew it. His passion apart from the two women in his life (my ma-in law and his daughter-my wife) was his idol the music maestro Pandit Jasraj. These three could do no wrong in his eyes.He loved his smokes and liked the liquid spirits too at one point in his life. The spirits had been given up a few years ago, but this kind of an indulgence especially when one has diabetes, had to take a toll and it did. Luckily though for him, the painful part of the last leg of his journey was not greatly prolonged. The lifestyle and diabetes opened the door to a terminal anomaly which was diagnosed as Portal Vein Thrombosis; a condition which restricts the blood flow to the liver.From the time it was detected he was living on borrowed time. It was as if his one way ticket to the other world was reserved and booked, only the schedule of the train to take him there had not been declared just yet.

On 15th Jan at 11.30 pm that too happened and like the corny Hindi film’s (the ones which both of us would love to take potshots at) he passed away on my lap in the hospital. Does life imitate art or vice-versa, I wouldn’t know but that’s exactly how it played out. It was my turn at the hospital in the night and my ma-in law was next to me reading holy verses in prayer. As he faced slight difficulty breathing, I was patting his back sitting on his bed and his head rolled on to my lap. The spark which is called life, the beat of it felt by my palm on his naked back just stopped and went out. That one moment shall be with me always; his eyes opened once connected with mine and a lot passed across in that one look. It may take me a while to figure all that he may have wanted to say but it was like he had handed over the baton to me. In that moment it hit with crystal clarity the awesome responsibility the spirit leaves you with and that you are chosen to be entrusted with it is in fact a privilege.

Later,the same night after his brothers and sisters had reached his home in Dombivali from Pune, we committed his mortal remains to the pyre. Lighting the pyre my vision had blurred as his life flashed before me (his ten years with me). He would leave a void that may be hard to fill. But he shall live in the memories always. This was evident from the number of people who dropped in to pay their respect in the first two days and many who have conveyed their condolences and are on their way. All the people in whose life he had stepped in, some briefly & some at length, to share space and enrich it with his boisterous personality.

For the immediate family and friends there shall be rich memories and as we move on, we shall cherish those times he made special just by being there. Where would he be now, probably knocking on heaven’s door where else? Engaging St.Peter at the gates of heaven in a wild yarn or a joke and laughing uproariously while smoothly enquiring almost as an afterthought…Does this place have a smoking section?

08 January, 2009

Raju ban gaya gentleman & wrote a letter

The fiasco that’s Satyam and its takeover of Maytas opened a Pandora’s box of irregularities. It is ironic that this had to happen on Thanksgiving Day.The golden peacock awarded to Satyam for good governance and excellence in corporate practices turned into a turkey.

On 6th Jan 2009 a scandal of mammoth proportions hit Dalal Street. Ramalinga Raju wrote a letter, possibly the most expensive letter/email written in history. It cost more than Rs.7 Billion in investor wealth.

In this letter is an admission by Raju that he defrauded investors and cooked up the balance sheets over several years.

Look at the repercussion

  • 53000 employees on the rolls are left in a state of limbo.
  • Millions of investors lost money as those who had the stock dumped it on the market, individuals, investors, Institutions domestic and foreign and a slide emerged that had a gradient loss of 75%..more will follow
  • The owners which were the Raju family had already liquidated all the stock they owned and resigned.
  • It is a listed stock on the bourses in New York where in all probability class action suits may be filed by the investors. Unfortunately class action suits are civil in nature and not criminal and aim only at recovery of lost wealth. Raju owns nothing in Satyam; I wonder who they shall recover it from.
  • Criminal proceedings will get actioned against the Board of directors, Audit committee of the Board which has independent directors so also the auditors Price Water House Coopers. PwC may morph away into another entity ala Arthur Andersen in the Enron episode.
  • The punishment meted out to people shall vary according to the intensity of the criminal action participated. Whether the action is willful abetment, negligence in due diligence.
  • Multiplicity of the authorities who shall jump in to right the wrong will vary from SEBI, Ministry of Corporate affairs, Institutions like ICAI, Courts of Law for Civil and Criminal in India and abroad, Consumer forums baying for justice and the political bigwigs who may use this platform for their agendas too, shall result in a whole lot of confusion and tremendous delays.
  • The Software Industry in general shall be affected short to medium term as their clients will look at them with a jaundiced eye and so also will the FII's when it comes to investing in India. This shall mean that 2009 when the markets were to recover now looks like a pipe dream.
  • The alacrity with which the other s/w majors distanced themselves saying that they wouldn’t touch Satyam with a bargepole indicates no immediate takeover possibilities till the extent of damage is estimated. The India s/w story is tainted big time.
  • By the time the cases can be assembled in courts may take about 7 years says Somasekhar Sundaresan from JSA a legal firm specializing in corporate affairs. Satish Maneshinde noted Criminal Lawyer suggests a special court be appointed such that proceedings are fast tracked. This too is a period of 3 years and final results not expected before 20 years. Two whole decades from now. The US class action suit maybe faster and they would come about in a year.
  • The Joke is in the punishments meted out if found guilty. SEBI can bar Satyam and its guilty directors from the market for a period found suitable . The lattitude is wide here, Ketan Parekh was sentenced to 14 years out of market. ICAI can debar the practicing auditors and CA's by taking away their license and an individual penalty of R.5 Lakhs. The Courts can at the most in case of fraud under section 420 sentence the perpetrator upto 7 years. Appropriate fines would mean attaching of assets and freezing of bank accounts.And all of this only when the case comes to court and trial is finished which means after 20 years.
  • This is a willful fraud perpetrated over years and without the complicity of all the players may not have been possible.Accounting methodology which allows for changing the manner in which assets are treated and depreciation may be looked at critically. If Satyam does this then surely there would be other companies who use this methodology and practice.
  • Willful fraud cannot be avoided as there cannot be systems planned around it. However what will be agreeable is a justice system which will be quick and non-merciful (refer post below titled Scales of Justice) and hence proves a deterrent for other scamsters.
  • This kind of a fraud is nothing short of financial terrorism as its impact is more serious, slow and the suffering gradual with so many lives getting impacted all at once. Look at the no’s (53000 employees, Lakh’s of common investors, scores of financial institutions, Banks, Government agencies and International investors) involved. Markets not recovering will put us closer to real recession as the credit squeeze will tighten further. Normally my sympathies would not have been with equity shareholders as they understand risk. But here they acted on information that was incorrectly presented and hence this is an unfair price paid by them.

  • The law shall take its course and whether Raju lives and is caught to tell the tale of how he planned this sordid saga remains to be seen. But all of this litter is required to be seen and exposed . Without it no measures can be undertaken and the faith of the investor shaken by the letter shall not be restored. Just by admission and taking the onus doesnt shift the focus away from his brother or other members of his family not named explicitly ( rather they are part of this by omission ). And by typing a heartfelt letter of confession doesnt make Raju a Gentleman either.

07 January, 2009

Are you your calling card ?

The Encounter at the Party:

Hi, what do you do? His hand snaked into the pocket and fished out a business card faster than the eye could see. I marveled at the gentleman before me, around late thirties to early forties was my surmise. I was positive that had Clint Eastwood or The Duke seen this draw they would have cast him in some wild western film of theirs. His face didnt say leading man but he certainly had the potential as the villains third side-kick.

His card read Sr. GM – Business Development of an Electrical Appliances company that’s famous for making electric bulbs. No wonder he was so light on the draw. There was a pin drop silence for a while as he expected me to return the favour with my business card. In social events I normally don’t have cards with me and hence I fiddled around and came out with a bent looking specimen from my wallet. A residual card. It just stated my name and the company. No designation.

His countenance puffed up with a superior attitude and all of a sudden the ingratiating smiles from earlier were replaced with knowing smirks and he was looking down at me. I was totally impressed with his skills of conveying so much without a word being spoken. He was a superb communicator. He went on and on about how he had mapped his career right away after his B-School and in the first seven years had achieved fast track growth and was a Sr. GM on his way to become a Vice President this year. I have been a B-School product from an era gone past and understood this chatter.

The Reaction & the Reasoning

His was not the first reaction I have faced as I present my business card; though this definitely was the most succinct in clear communication in the shortest time-span. I chuckled to myself about the premium placed by people on the visiting card. "Who are you" is defined by your calling card. I truly started exploring within myself, Am I just what my business card states? If not then who am I? or am I just a designation in transit? or am I who I say I am; just plain old me. Why cant people accept others just as people without a slot. But compartmentalization is easy and convenient for memory too.

I now actually started this process of defining me the individual as a fall out of the encountered behavior. My status was crystal clear when I was working with an organization. I was an employee, whatever may have been the designation I would write on it, this fact was very clear. When I would meet other employees and we would exchange cards there would be an automatic sizing up process. The comparison was between designations, company, or quantum of business handled.During this time we would also meet self employed professionals and businessmen.We would notice that they unlike us were not keen card flashers. Over a time I understood this. They never felt the need to. A handshake and an oral introduction were good enough.

How would one define each of these different states from which the need arises to impress an identity? One would earn their living from either of these states or frame of reference. We shall attempt to define them

Employee: He works for a company or an Individual and all his earnings in the form of a salary come from the same employer. All his working hours are accountable to the employer. Here the sense of self comes from the responsibility handled which is reflected in the designation.

Self Employed Individual: He may be a professional or a service provider who does'nt work for any one person or a company. His services are hired out or committed to whoever he allots his time to. He would be compensated according to his expertise or time or a combination of both. He is fiercely independent.A lot of highly skilled professionals like Doctors, CA’s or even medium skilled artisans like Plumber’s, Carpenters and Masons fall under here. The physical presence in their work gives them money. If they don’t work they don’t get paid.
The sense of self comes from the skills acquired and trade practiced hence one largely finds academic degrees on a large number of these cards or the trade. A Dental Surgeon may write Dr. so and so... MBBS – University of Mumbai, MD- Dentistry school of London or some such.

Businessman: Largely the definition is the same as a self employed individual with one major difference. A Businessman owns his business and he necessarily does not have to be physically present in his business to get paid. A self employed person on the contrary only owns his skills and to have them working his presence is necessary. I am yet to meet business people flash cards with the same alacrity as the above two categories.

A Man is defined by his utility value. Unfortunately this slotting is often decided by someone else when one is an employee. And one constantly seeks to enhance it in those eyes that conferred it. The self employed and the Business owner may seek the same assurance from his client base but the approval is often a comment on skills.

So who am I?

That still doesn’t answer who am I? I was an employee for 12 years and now I own a small advertising agency which is hinged around its most precious asset, I. When I started out, it was as a self employed professional. I needed to be in the thick of activity for the cash flow to start kicking in. I didn’t like it one bit. So I hired people and started to make the activities that I performed redundant to me. Today my act has slowly started resembling a business as it can sustain itself for a period of 15 to 20 days without me being physically present. The day it becomes completely independent of me, I shall introduce myself as, Hi, I am Kaustubh – Businessman. Will I have visiting cards, bent in my wallets like now? A calling card is a requirement though I don’t attach too much value to it, but then I never did even as an employee. I always knew that I am much more than my visiting card.

06 January, 2009

Solo Outlet or Multiple Franchisee?

The Signage :

आमची कुठेही शाखा नाही (We have no other branches) said a board in a food enterprise . Why would someone want to say it and then hang it for the world and her brother to see? . There seemed a huge pride evident in the displayed signage. This certainly did not fit into the conventional business wisdom in the world of today. Or did it?

Conventional Wisdom and Dynamics
In the B-School dynamics this logic simply may not be taught in fact it may be frowned down upon. If a product is replicable then it should be replicated and reach increased. Standardization is the name of the game. How soon can you scale up and then take it to the capital markets before someone else is what one is more used to witnessing.

Lets just skim the surface and check out the concepts and the value that each one brings to the table. Namely a business that proudly says it has no branches compared to one who is completely amoebic in its reproduction, the Franchise.

The Franchise
Let’s take Franchising as a business and look at it simply. A franchisee is an outlet of a manufacturer/creator/provider of a product and service which will at any location deliver the same product or service as efficiently as the parent company itself. Even the look and feel of the franchise outlet will be standardized to make the experience similar. In terms of delivery a baseline performance standard is defined to meet norms. Classical franchising example is the Big Mac or Mac Donald’s the Hamburger Franchise.
Practically though individual franchisees seldom seldom just stick to the baseline as defined. One thing is definite that standardization is never ever achieved in toto.

This in effect changes the experience of purchase, consumption and service across various geographies and it’s not the same anymore. Does this make the Franchisee model itself bad? Every model has its inherent advantages and so does this. Processes and support being standard, systems are largely in place in a franchising model which is its greatest advantage. As an entrepreneur it may restrict the margins because the parent sets prices and demands a fee but it also provides support. This enables an easy entry into the world of business for aspirant entrepreneurs. Taking it from that point on is the individual’s skill in systemizing and growing. Even in the ultimate symbol of franchising Mac Donald’s this is evident. For the consumer its an easy decision based on Branding association of the deliverable. One goes to a Mac, stands in the line checks the menu and orders her burger and coke, gets served on a plastic tray and searches for a table to have it. The ketchup dispenser is at the corner everything has a place and everyone including me knows it. It is the convenience .

Single Store Outlets
Single Store enterprises , those who display the boards as above are often very old in the business cycle as they have earned their goodwill and made their mark in time. When they started off, It was extremely risky as the enterprise may have failed because it was untested. The entrepreneur creates his own system. Funding to start off can be an issue as credit worthiness is non-existent and hence they often are seen as ventures before they become businesses. In contrast, Franchises are easily set up and once finance and logistics are addressed the business kicks off from day one.

Now let’s look at the board which sparked off this thought. One can see this board in its unique form in Kayani Bakery Pune, Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale (now one hears the second generation is considering the franchising route. obviously they must be B-School pass outs here), MTR in Bangalore and even Strand Book Stall in Mumbai amongst many others. Are these successful businesses or not? They are not just successful they are spectacularly successful businesses. Now can these businesses be franchised or replicated across geographies? Of course they can be and are. For every Chitale Sweets we have a Haldiram or Shri Krishna sweets that have multiple outlets. For every Strand Book stall there is a Landmark or Crossword. For a Kayani we have bakeries galore like Kwality, Mongini’s, in every city.

But yet, when it comes to eating a solid mawa cake or maska khaari ( puf ) people still stand in a queue early in the morning outside Kayani. The quality of sweets and a unique taste to it at Chitale Bandhu has created a hallmark that makes people stop to buy from there. Give me browsing books in a Strand Book stall any day of the week while talking to staffers who by themselves are book lovers, who knowledgably guide you, suggest authors and discuss subjects. Contrast this then with the brightly lit pristine precincts of a Crossword or a Landmark where the young staffer would at best tell you the title availability and smile a lot but little else beyond that. Yes in a Landmark/Crossword the layout is not hard to figure out and one has space to sit and browse at leisure, one can even enjoy a coffee as one does this. As far as subjects go the titular breadth is large in expanse but not deep in its understanding or content.
We can safely infer that when quality becomes an issue of pride, a business becomes a work of art. The experience of being unique and its associated deliverables can become a marketable asset, and can be leveraged as can be seen from these enterprises. The experience simply is as different from purchasing a rare handicraft to buying a factory made product. Both co-exist successfully and grow equally as is seen in a few of the representative names taken above.
There are times when convenience outweighs the joy of the consumption or purchase and it is here, that a franchisee business scores in spades. Then one would go to a Hyper store, take the stuff from the shelves, drop them into a shoppingcart , pay and drive out. But when the objective is to experience something unique then one would not mind standing in a line for a mawa cake and shrewsbury biscuits at Kayani or browsing books in the crush at Strand.

Experience and enjoy the difference; why should one bother, we the customers always win anyways ;-)

01 January, 2009

A New Year - Wish

Mumbai as a New Dawn Breaks

May this year see us replete with Serenity, Succour, Success , Joy of Achievement and Creation. A new Sun dawned today & with it ushered in the year of 2009. Let the dawn rays of this sun cast its benevolent radiance and warmth on all for the days ahead.

Kaustubh Nigudkar