Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"We only go to IIMs"

Behind the various stories of the collapse of the Wall Street giants like Lehman Brothers, Merill Lynch, AIG, Bear Stearns, and many more lie a sordid tale of their human resource (HR) policies. In a bid to retain their so-called image, these assholes have only so far visited the so-called top management institutes (both in India and possibly also abroad) for recruitment like the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM). They felt that by going to these so-called 'top institutes' they would get the best of students. They feel that students of lesser-known institutes are not worthy. 

I would like someone to tell me that if these companies recruited only the best of the students, at all times, how did they land themselves in this soup? Lehman Brothers - the fourth largest US investment bank and a regular at IIM - filed for bankruptcy on 14 September 2008. The jobs of nearly 26,000 employees are now at stake. On the same day, another snooty player Merrill Lynch was sold to Bank of America. As is now news, there are many more such examples. And most of them prefer to go to the IIMs of the world and not the second-rung management institutes. Yet, they all fell like nine pins. 

Even as on a personal level I am pained to see the job losses of this stature, I could not help but have the last laugh. I did my MBA from Chetana's Institute of Management & Research between 1998 and 2000. As I was on my college's placement committee, I was required to visit several companies and ensure that their HR officials got our placement brochures. A placement brochure is a document that contains basic details (name, age, details of summer project and work experience, if any) of all the students in their final year. Among the companies I had visited was one called Lyyods Finance at Nariman Point. After making me wait for a good half hour and then another 15 minutes to go through the brochure (in detail, as  if they were searching for their long-lost brother or sister or something), one of the two snooty ladies looked at me and with a very sly smile said "We only recruit students from A-class colleges like Jamnalal Bajaj, NMIMNS, etc". She obviously meant to say that her company was out of my institute's league! 

Less than a month after that, I got recruited by my current organisation from the campus itself (I have completed seven and half years here now). And just two years after that, Llyods Finance faced its worse crisis in India - it got downgraded from AAA-rating to a below-investment grade type rating. Its days in India were soon numbered and went into oblivion. 

I have got nothing against IIM graduates. More often than not, we can be reasonably sure that the downfall of these institutions should be credited to their CEOs and top managements where an IIM hand would be negligible to nil. And out of Lehman's 26,000-odd employees, IIM graduates will mostly be a very small proportion. 

I am not at all claiming here that Lloyds Finance or any of those Wall Street losers would have met a different fate had they recruited me or anyone from any of the second-rung management institutes like the one I passed out from or anything like that. But the HR staff of such organisations should revisit their recruitment policies. Egoistic firms that swear only by students of IIM-type institutions should also realise that there are pickable candidates elsewhere too. Even B-grade institutions like Chetana's Institute of Management - my institute - churns out good students every year. But alas - the world is full of hypocrites! I only hope that the collapse of these Wall Street biggies teach others a lesson that recruiting IIM-type cadres does not ensure an organisation's success. And that talent - if you may - is also available outside IIM-type institutions. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

A truly welcoming delight

2008 could well be the year for off-beat films that showcase life and times of the actual world. ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’ (WTS) is one such fantastic movie. Brilliantly scripted and directed by Shyam Benegal, WTS tells several stories of a typical village life – brilliantly drawing inferences from real-life events that have enfolded over the recent years in hinterland India – as seen through the eyes of a letter-writer. The central character Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade; Iqbal, Dor, Om Shanti Om) is an educated young man who despite being a B.A. could not get a job in urban India. So he comes back to his village and after a couple of happy-go-lucky incidents of writing letters on behalf of fellow villagers and favourable results arising out it, makes it his full-time profession. Much to the delight to the otherwise educationally-challenged village folk that needed a medium to communicate to the outside world, he becomes a professional letter-writer.

 Benegal has cleverly woven real-life stories and incidents of rural India in this satire and used them to devastating effect. Corrupt elections, booth capturing (or manipulation), uneducated and opportunistic politicians making hay while the sun shines, eunuchs standing for elections while righteously and honestly bringing forth their plight, superstitions, honour killings, Nano-Singur controversy and even the modern-day village belle riding a Honda Activa – or was that TVS Scooty, I do not know – a-la Priyanka Chopra, all thrown with an added dash of humor makes WTS an outright winner. And the humor is genuine, not at all slapstick like most of our mainstream Bollywood crap.

 Performances across the board are superb; it’s difficult to highlight one or two names. But Talpade is a brilliant actor and we so wish other directors could tap his potential rather than craving unnecessary for six-packs and mindless hamming. He is not a star, but a fine actor. And that is a major accomplishment in my books. Good to see Ila Arun back on screen in a meaty role. Bollywood is full of such character actors that our egoistic producers and directors have refused to give a justifiable and respectable break. Welcome to Sajjanpur is a worthwhile watch and one of the best films in 2008. 

Rating: * * * * *  

Monday, September 22, 2008

Delhi in rains

Trips to Delhi are always looked forward to. I have many pleasant memories of Delhi – I started my career here in 2000 when I was posted for three and half months. 

Anyways, this time I decided to try out a new radio taxi service - Mega Cabs (022-42424242) - whilst going from my home to the Bombay airport. The service was excellent. Like Meru, this taxi service is punctual and very efficient. Meru (022-44224422) and Mega both have identical fare structure. Even their electronic taxi meters are manufactured by the same Singapore-based company, I am told. Both give you a printout of the bill at the end of your journey. These are the new-age air-conditioned radio taxis that you can call and summon them anytime of the day or night. Unlike the old Maruti Esteems of Meru, Mega sports brand new and swanky Tata Indigos. Mega’s cars look better maintained – and cleaner – than Meru’s. But Meru will soon also get a new fleet. 

However, Mega has certain rules. The journey should start within 15 minutes after the taxi arrives. After that, the meter will start to run. Cancellations attract a penalty of Rs 100. Which is fine, after all. 

The worse radio taxi service in Bombay would be Gold Taxi. They are the most expensive and their meters run really fast. They don’t even give printouts of the bill. Their taxis look dirty (though they too use Maruti Esteems) and are not well-maintained. 

On the first day (17 September), it poured in Delhi. If you think that Bombay falls apart in heavy rains, you should see Delhi. Two hours of moderate-to-heavy rains. That’s all it takes to throw the entire city out of gear. The construction of metro railway further worsens the case and adds to all the muck on the roads and pavements. Pathetic sewage system the city has. It took me 45 minutes from Green Park Extension (where I was put for a night) to get to Siri Fort Auditorium, what normally is just a 10 minutes ride. 

I watched the concert of singer Shaufaqat Amanat Ali – ex-band member of the Pakistani band Fuzon – who was launching his first solo album, thanks to my Cleopatra Chumki. For once, she was silent and someone spoke – well, in this case, sang. I will not mention what my other chick was upto; she went to a parallel universe to meet her someone special and when she gets there, she forgets everyone else. So then why should I mention her! 

Shaufaqat Amanat Ali’s first album is called ‘Tabeer’. You might not recollect him, but he has sung some popular Bollywood numbers – Mitwa (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham), Yeh Hosla (Dor) among a handful others. I did not much like songs from his new album, but his Bollywood numbers were nice. Plus, he sang some old folklore whilst mixing it up in a fusion beat. Nice way to spend an evening. 

I do not understand why the entire Delhi city, especially its parking lots, is so poorly lit. Delhi is constructing Metro railway, remodeling its airport apart from a host of other infrastructure projects, but why can’t its public places be lit up more? Siri Fort complex is such a major cultural hub, but its parking lot is dangerously dark and looks absolutely creepy, despite being full of cars, during an event. That’s its not even made-up properly and much of it seems to be on very bad patch of rough ground further worsens the case. Even after the unfortunate incident of a Swiss-diplomat being picked up from this very parking lot and raped in a moving car in October 2003, the authorities have not learned their lesson. 

But apart from poor city planning, Delhi looks very good in rains, epecially when its drizzling. As it is, the city is one of the greenest in India. It's green cover looks more lush in rains. And if you go into open spaces, you could also be enveloped in fog. A Kodak moment. 

Anyways, two more days passed by quickly amidst boring and non-value adding work and some animated - apart from what seemed like unbelievable - denials to some strange and weird rumours. Poor acting performances, if I may have the audacity to add! The bright spot was catching up with office colleagues and lunch with my Victoria’s Secret babe at Blanco – an upmarket restaurant at Delhi’s Khan market. Because of the recent terrorism attack, all the cars were being checked, that led to a massive jam outside the gates of this shopping complex. Blanco has a nice ambiance, warm and a very quick service and good food. We had Chicken Dim Sums, Stuffed Chicken Brest and King Fish Steak. Excellent food, though a little pricey. I would recommend it. 

And if you’re wondering whether I had my all-time favourite Nirula’s Hot Chocolate Fudge, I did not. I have moved on or should I say, I have grown. Actually, my priorities have changed. My latest obsession is the cheesecake. I had the fabulous Irish Cream Cheesecake at The Big Chill – my favourite dessert joint in Delhi.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Unlike regular open-ended or closed-end mutual fund (MF) schemes that are open in their 'New Fund Offer' (NFO) period for around 20 to 21 days - or sometimes even for a month - fixed maturity plans (FMP) are open for a few days only. Companies require money for their daily needs on a regular basis, hence they tap various sources like banks and MFs, regularly. Hence, to keep the money supply going, and at the same time to tap the prevailing high interest rates as soon as possible, FMPs are launched in quick succession. 

It is also rare that your agent will push FMPs to you because FMPs are low-margin products. Unlike equity funds where agents earn as much as 2.25 per cent front-end commission (and trailing fees of up to 0.50 per cent for as long as you stay invested), FMPs have a very low cost structure. MFs earn only upto 0.50 to 0.75 per cent or so from your FMP, out of which they have to pay agents commission. Online brokerages also sell FMPs selectively. Kotak bank (online broker) and www.icicidirect.com do not, to the best of my knowledge. www.sharekhan.com does; it has a special FMP section on its internet trading website.  

So how do you buy an FMP then?
It's best to keep checking with your broker. He gets information of all the on-going FMPs. You have to take the initiative, because FMPs come and go very quickly. He may not want to go out of his way to sell you FMPs, but if you take the initiative and ask him, there are more chances of you coming to know. 

Scout MF websites. All MFs have details and application forms of on-going FMPs on their websites. Download the forms, fill them up (make sure you write 'DIRECT' in the agent's code box on the top part of your application form) and visit your nearest MF's office or its registrar & transfer agents' and submit the form. To get a list of 'point of acceptance', check out your MF'swebsites. 

If you are investing more than Rs 50,000, make sure your KYC is done. Also, ensure that you carry a copy of your PAN card. If you can carry your original PAN card, better. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is this in Bombay?

After a week of sweltering heat and terrible humidity, we got some rains in the evening. No heavy showers, but more than a drizzle. But after the rains subsided, we got this fog/smog at the backside of our house. No further explanation needed. Enjoy the view!

a Wednesday on a Sunday

Some Bollywood film-makers are increasingly getting experimental and ready to push the envelope. After Rock-On, its the turn of the makers of 'a Wednesday'. Tight script that runs for around 100 minutes, no songs, no love angles and no item numbers. All you get is a tight thriller and an exciting roller-coaster ride. The story is about the plight of the common man against terrorism. The movie is well-directed, and performances especially from Anupam Kher and Naseerudin Shah are spectacular. Background score is very loud, something they ought to have done away with. 

Fuzzy road directions? Just one thing though. If film-makers want to use real life locations based in real life cities, do they really think they can fool us by showing us one locality and then telling us its some other one. For instance, there is a scene where a van carrying some people is supposed to be travelling from south Bombay to Juhu airport. The van is shown descending on Marine Drive Queen's necklace, from atop the Princess Street-Marine Drive flyover, then proceeding towards Charni Road (nothing wrong till here) and then, lo-behold, take a U-Turn back towards Marine Drive. All the while we are being told that the van is going towards Juhu! Despite Bombay being a major market for movies, especially Bollywood, they expect us to believe the road going towards Churchgate is the one that goes towards Juhu! Wake up guys. We are not idiots.  

Anyways, these are minor complaints in an otherwise worthy watch. 
Rating: * * * 1/2

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...