Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for October 2011

Met this Mr. Wilai in Bangkok today. He drives a Taxi which is decorated with coins and notes from different countries. He collects these from passengers in his Taxi and dreams of having coins / notes from all countries across the globe, some day!

When I asked for reason behind this strange decoration for his car, his answer: ‘I love money!’

***

N. Chokkan …
25 10 2011

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Finally, we have the “Namma Metro”. Bangalore’s newest attraction!

Of course, as of now “Namma Metro” covers only 6 stations, and it is considered more a ‘fun ride’ than anything else. Hopefully they will extend this to cover places like Majestic Bus Stand / Railway Station, Airport, Malleswaram, Ulsoor, Jayanagar, Koramangala, Electronic City, ITPL etc., sooner or later.

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Even with 6 stations, Bangaloreians are all excited about Metro. I travelled all the way to Trinity Circle to ‘experience’ this ride. I just took the tickets to the next station (Halasooru) and returned immediately.

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Actually, “Namma Metro” has no tickets, they have tokens and smart cards. It is really a 100% paper-less operation. Probably the first one I am seeing in India. (May be Delhi Metro is also paper-less, but I haven’t seen it yet).

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Metro tokens look like chocolate flavored biscuits Winking smile A bit too dark for my taste. But they work well, all the travel details are recorded in them and they act as entry passes / exit passes in relevant stations (Similar to swipe cards we have in offices). Ticket / Token / Travel cost is Rs 10 minimum and 2 Rupees extra for every station further.

This is a very reasonable price for Bangalore. Here Auto rikshaws charge Rs 10 Per kilometer and Taxis charge 50% and odd more. A/C Buses are also expensive, except for long travels. Non A/C Buses are slightly cheaper than Metro.

However, Metro seems to be having plans to counter the ‘bus’ threat. They are selling Smart cards for 10, 20, 40, 100 travels with significant discount (~20%). Also, they sell daily passes for Rs 70/- (Non A/C) and Rs 110/- (A/C) which can be used for unlimited travel in any metro trains / buses. This will be a killer deal, when Metro is well connected.

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As of now, Metro stations are clean, cleaner, cleanest (By Bangalore standards). Also, they are HUGEEEE. I can’t stop thinking when is the last time I saw so much of open space in Bangalore.

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Also, these stations are well staffed. In each platform you find at least two security people using their whistles to ensure nobody goes near the platform edge. That  is a good safety measure, but after couple of minutes, it becomes irritating.

In fact, when you are entering the Metro station itself, they check you twice (Why?) in Airport style. Can they do it when the stations become fully operational and busy? I doubt it.

These stations have ATMs, Mobile Charging Points, Water, Lift and many other basic facilities. But no shops yet. Announcements are in English, Hindi and Kannada.

As of now, Metro trains run in two routes (MG Road to Bypanahalli and Bypanahalli to MG Road) and trains are available every 5 or 6 minutes. A huge electronic display board says when the next train is expected and how many minutes you have to get ready.

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“Namma Metro” is very girlish in design (pink pink everywhere!). I couldn’t guess how many coaches it has. It looked like 2.5 (two big coaches and a small one). and a tiny driver coach is there in the front, I saw two people there. Not sure if they really drive, or there just in case automatic mechanism fails.

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Both the trains I travelled were very crowded and no seats were available. Bangalore is yet to get used to automatic doors and hence lot of safety announcements (again in 3 languages, minus whistle). Additionally there are TV screens which display the route, next station and lots of Tourism Advertisements in between.

Journey from Trinity Circle to Halasuru (and the other way) took just 3 minutes. I am sure on road it would have taken at least 15 minutes, which is the prime USP for “Namma Metro”.

As many Bangaloreians haven’t seen Metro yet, almost everyone inside the train were clicking pictures, taking videos etc., that they could share with their friends and family. Or may be, they plan to blog about this experience, like this post!

***

N. Chokkan …

24 10 2011

This is a post I wrote long back (2008 December) about Bengal’s famous ‘Misti Dhoi’. My friend P. V. Ramaswamy has translated it in English. Posting it here with special thanks to him:

It was my first trip to Kolkata, which looked like an overgrown village, that intimidated me a bit.

Specifically rainy days in Kolkata can be scary. All it requires is a light drizzle to make every road a filthy drainage.  To climb down the bridge below and to reach the railway platform calls for loads of patience.  Modernity was visible, but sporadically here and there, all over the city (?).  Otherwise from the buildings to the way people dress or speak reminded one of the B&W cinemas.

Adjacent to the guest house that we stayed, was the long street for shopping.  No not like malls, but small tiny kiosks.  Each separated by a short wooden board.  It was even difficult to understand who buys what and from which stall. It seemed to me probably the guy in the middle stall would give the item from his right side stall and put the money from customer into the left side shop’s drawer.

Tea stalls were scattered to refresh these shoppers and kiosk-wallahs.  Tea supplied in mutka – Kolkatans gulp down the tea and throw away the mud vessels on the streets.

Then the sweet stalls. In each of them is stacked like bricks, some 100 or 150 varieties of sweets. By the time one tells the names of all these varieties, I am sure, he would turn diabetic.  On the previous night, during a chat with Pa Raghavan, I conveyed my observation to him…. “Bengalis seem to be a sweet lot”

“OMG. Hey, I for to tell you…” was the excited response from him, adding further “don’t miss that sweetened curd –  sweetened with palm candy.”

The mere mention of a combo of sweet and curd almost made me throw up!  “No sir, I won’t”, I replied.

“Listen to me, try it once for me; post that, you will become an addict” – Pa Raghavan.

Since he was so insistent, I called the room boy.  Not knowing what they say in Hindi for Palm Candy,  I asked him whether ‘Meeta Dhahi’ be available there.  He corrected me: “that’s not ‘Meeta-Dhahi’ saab, but ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.  He flew out with some change from me and returned in two and a half minutes – carrying two mutkas.

The mental block that I had for the sweet-curd-combo returned. I wrinkled my nose and face at the earthy tiny pots. Now the dirt in this mutka will also be added to the combo and I was worried about getting sick.  Invoking Pa.Ra’s name, I collected the 2 mutkas; and on removing the rubber band supported paper on top, I saw the deep-off-white colored curd.  Yes, deep-off-white, which killed even traces of appetite.  What could in this be that Pa.Ra so strongly recommended, was the thought I had as I took a spoon of that stuff to my mouth.

I had never experienced that strange taste. Yes, it was curd – but that sweet taste was different.  No, I did not feel nausea at all. Actually wanted to take more of it!

In Bangalore you get something in the name of ‘Lassi’ – a sweetened curd (or buttermilk). The way they mix the curd and sugar make it horrible – in one swig it would taste of sugar and in yet another, the awful sour.  When in Bangalore, instead of taking lassi, it makes sense to drink a glass of buttermilk and then take two spoons of sugar separately.

But, this Mishti-Dhoi is not like that.  Curd and sweet had blended – fused so well that while retaining the original flavor of curd, every particle had become sweet.  Divine delicay.  My friend Suresh and I finished both the pots in the next five minutes, flat!

There is no count for the ‘Mishti-Dhoi that we consumed in the following fortnight.  Initially we were chasing the room boy for it, but the taste drew us so much that we started legging to the place ourselves. It was a special pleasure in standing at the crowded kiosk, and eating ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.

I had been to Kolkata twice after that.  I might miss Kali, Ramakrishna Mutt or even Ganges. But never did I miss the ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.  Last time when I was leaving Kolkata, I wondered why I could not buy some ‘Mishti-Dhoi’ for my wife and kids.  The kiosk-wallah promised that he would pack them in such way that they won’t break during the journey through flight.  But I had some apprehensions and I did not buy. I could only describe the taste of Mishti-Dhoi to my family.

Probably because of that, I did not get the opportunity to go to Kolkata in the next eighteen months.  The taste of mishit-Dhoi had vanished.

Yesterday, post lunch, as I was lying scratching myself, suddenly a thought of paying a visit to the ‘DC Books’ showroom newly opened in Koramangala.  I walked, listening to Ilaya Raja through my cell phone and reached Koramangala in 20 minutes.  I started searching for DC Books showroom, amidst various small and large sized shops.  I could not locate what I had came for.

It was then that I noticed in large bold letterings “MISHTI’ on a blood-red color board.

Engulfed with surprise, I inched closer.  In small fonts was written, “Traditional Bengali Sweets Available Here’.  Since the shop’s name itself was ‘Mishti’, I was confident that Mishti-Dhoi must be available and almost ran into the shop.

However, having entered, I a had peculiar shyness, preventing me from uttering the name ‘Mishti-Dhoi’. What if I had been pronouncing it wrong! (Even now, even as I am writing this, I have that anxiety) Will the shop keeper not laugh at my wrong pronunciation?

So, I used my time tested trick, asking ‘do you have Meeta Dhahi?’.  “Ah… Mishti-Dhoi”, said he, pointing at the glass walled container – thus pouring the sweetened curd into my stomach.

I saw Mishti-Dhoi in various sized plastic containers, instead of the mutka.  Price twice the rate!

So what, recession had impacted world over, why not the Mishti-Dhoi seller too? I bought two bowls.

As they were getting packed, I raised a sudden doubt: “why is this in white colour instead of the deep-off-white?”

He laughed, “it would be deep-off-white when seen inside the mutka.  This is transparent plastic and hence looks white to you”

I was not sure whether he was bluffing or telling the truth.  In any case, I thought if it tasted as good as I experienced earlier, it would be fine, irrespective of its color.  I took the pack and left for home.

Immediately on reaching home, all sat around and ate.  Same old good taste.  Without any inhibition, I slurped.  Neither the bowl nor the spoon had any leftover.

But others in my family did not like the taste. They turned away.

So what, I would consume their portion also – post supper.

***

N. Chokkan

29 12 2008

Super Creative Book Mark by infibeam.com ….

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Marketing genius John Sculley is famous for his unusual shift, from a sugar water company (Pepsi) to a high-tech corporation (Apple). John was the architect behind the creative “Pepsi Challenge” campaign, which resulted in a major success for Pepsi, ultimately overthrowing Coca-cola from its number one position. Later he played a key role in the massive growth of Apple, and had his share of controversies too.

John Sculley believes a company is only as good as its people, especially their creative levels. He gives six principles for creating a higher state of creativity / innovation culture in an organization:

  1. Make people feel absolutely safe about themselves, about the situation, about making mistakes, so that they can focus on creating something unusual and the challenge level is automatically raised
  2. Don’t give people goals, give them directions
  3. Encourage contrarian thinking – they are far better than absolute judgements
  4. You can’t buy creativity, you need to inspire it. Creative people need their tools and environment which fosters their success – the work environment needs to be informal and relaxed, with no symbols of management
  5. Build emotion into the system, passion pays
  6. Encourage accountability over responsibility – treat people as artists, not developers / programmers

(079)

***

N. Chokkan …

11 10 2011

What is the height of Customer Service?

There are many examples. I found one very interesting sample in Robert Spector’s Book “Get Big Fast”. This incident is narrated by Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books, a leading bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi.

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(Image Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nealmoore/4228473030/)

One day, a lady entered Richard Howorth’s bookstore and started shouting. He went to her and asked calmly “Excuse Me, Is there a problem? Can I help you?”

“I parked my car outside your shop and someone has thrown dirt on it” The lady fumed. “My husband just washed it this morning.”

Richard Howorth understood the problem. It was definitely not his issue. But the customer is always right. So he offered, ‘May I wash your car?”

She agreed. They got into her car and went to the nearest service station.

Unfortunately, the car wash in that service station was broken. Richard Howorth didn’t know any other service station or car wash near by.

He thought for a minute and decided, “Let us go to my house.”

“Why?”

“I will personally wash your car.”

The lady was surprised and probably didn’t believe him. But that’s what Richard Howorth did. He took a bucket, detergent, water hose and washed it spot-less-clean.

Finally, they got back to his bookstore & the lady apologized to him, thanked him for this unusual ‘service’. After that she became his regular customer and recommended this book store to all her friends and relatives.

Richard Howorth used to quote this story in his training classes for young book sellers. ‘There is no such thing as going too far with customer service, and in the book business, you will have to go this far.’

True for any business, especially service businesses!

(078)

***

N. Chokkan …

03 10 2011

Near our home, we have a restaurant called “Serengeti”. It is supposed to have an interior / theme based on the African wild-life and many friends have recommended it. For some reason, I never thought of visiting this restaurant. Somehow, the name Serengeti was not attractive enough.

All that changed, after reading this book – It is silly to recommend a book like this, But the truth is, this book was able to create a very grand visual picture in me (someone who had no feelings whatsoever about the name Serengeti) and I could literally see myself roaming around those forests when reading this book. In fact, anyone reading this book will feel like visiting Serengeti.

But, this is not a travel book. It is a business novel which uses Serengeti as a background. Author Stefan Swanepoel takes seven animals from these jungles and uses them to teach us seven life skills which we need to survive the real world.

For example, my favorite part in this book is about Elephants. Stefan Swanepoel uses some rich imagery to show how elephants rule the African jungles (in their own way) and how they interact with humans. Using their lifestyle as a base, he explains how communication is an important skill.

Similar to elephants, this book takes six more animals and explains their life in the real jungle settings. How they live each day and what skills they cultivate, sometimes those skills may be the difference between life and death. After covering each animal a set of detailed review points are given which give us a chance to do a quick review of the book too. A small, but powerful book for anyone to read in a single sitting, and start following the concepts easily!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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