Pinned Post - Flipkart vs Amazon Series

Flipkart and Focus 4 - Beware the Whispering Death

The fourth part of my series on Flipkart and its apparent loss of Focus and its battle with Amazon appeared in DNA on April 20th, 2015 . ...

Feb 20, 2017

Flipkart and the Revolving Door

he contrast could not have been more striking, or poignant.
2017 began on a sombre note for Flipkart, when it announced on the 9th of Jan that Kalyan Krishnamurthy had been named CEO, and its current CEO Binny Bansal would become group CEO. It was the Indian e-commerce startup's third CEO in less than one year.
Three days later, on the 12th, Amazon let it be known via a press release that it intended "to grow its full-time U.S.-based workforce from 180,000 in 2016 to over 280,000 by mid-2018." To let that sink in, Amazon, already a company with a 180,000 employees in the US, would add another hundred-thousand full-time employees in eighteen months. Media was all over the news.

The battle for dominance of the Indian e-commerce market continues well into its third year. For all practical purposes this battle began in earnest only after Amazon entered India in 2013, and since then it has transformed into a brutal, no-holds barred, fifteen-round slugfest between Flipkart and Amazon. Yes, there is SnapDeal that is entering its end-game (there are talks of a merger between Paytm's marketplace and SnapDeal and of senior-level exits amidst rumours of a cash-crunch), there is ShopClues that has had to defer its IPO plans, and an e-commerce tragedy by the name of IndiaPlaza that was among the earliest e-commerce entities, which survived the dot-com bust of 2001, and yet folded up in a most ignominious manner. Ever since Amazon entered India in 2013, it notched up one success after another against the Indian behemoth, Flipkart. Flipkart went from strength to strength when it came to valuations even as it reeled from one blow to another in the market. Flipkart's party finally entered its long-expected yet still-painful endgame in 2016. For Amazon the costs have been equally staggering - billions of dollars sunk into its Indian operations, promises of billions more to be spent, break-even years and years away, and almost every last penny of profits from its parent company being shoveled into its Indian outpost.

Feb 17, 2017

Aamir Khan's Games and a Management Lesson on Celebrity Brand Endorsements

Movie poster of Dangal
[image credit: Disney]
ow that it is becoming clear that Aamir Khan's latest movie, "Dangal", is going to be a blockbuster hit (it's already recorded the second-highest opening of any movie in 2016), and with significant financial contributions in the form of ticket sales from the so-called right-wing brigade, it is time to go back in time a little bit and look at lessons learned and not learned. Lessons on brand management, lessons on social boycotts and boycott-fatigue, and lessons on adaptability.

Jan 26, 2017

Diwali, Hinduphobia and the Great Indian Derangement Syndrome

iwali (or Deepavali) is a time for celebration.
Diwali is a time for celebrating the return of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana back to Ayodhya after fourteen years in exile.
Diwali is a time for bursting firecrackers to welcome the return of the Prince of Ayodhya.
Diwali is a time for celebrating the victory of Krishna over Narakasura.
Diwali is a time for happiness, joy, prosperity.
Diwali is a time for lighting lamps to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into our lives.

Diwali is also a time for welcoming the return of the annual Great Indian Derangement Syndrome. It is a rabid affliction which is marked by the apogee of a ritual that many Indians punctuate with long, haunting howls of dirges, for several nights at a stretch, every night, their penned faces pointed towards the west, the words contorted into a grotesque visage that seems to beg forgiveness for collective sins unknown. The climax of this annual ritual is a long, unbroken shriek of guilt that is somewhat quaintly reminiscent of the atavistic call of dogs to their savage masters out on their hunts. So powerful is this ritual that several people who have witnessed this ritual have lost their sanity. Let us take a look at once such recent example.

It all began with a tweet on the 27th of October by @padhalikha that I was pointed to:
The screenshot embedded in @padhalikha's tweet was of a tweet by the controversial news channel, @NDTV, of a five-day awareness campaign on child sexual abuse launched by the The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (@NCPCR_), and which was jointly launched in Delhi by the Delhi government and the Childline Foundation (@CHILDLINE1098). The Delhi government is run by the AAP Party (@AAP).

Screenshot of tweet from NDTV

Dec 31, 2016

महाभारत कथा - बल या प्रज्ञा

महाभारत की इस कथा का सूत्र हरिवंश में पाया जाता है । इस लेख में तीन पात्र हैं, हालांकि उन तीन पात्रों में से दो व्यक्ति हैं और एक शहर है ।

मुचकुन्द की आँखों की ज्वाला से कालयवन का जलना
यह तो सब भली भांति जानते हैं कि श्री कृष्ण की ही राय पर मथुरा को छोड़ने का निर्णय लिया गया था। मथुरा से दूर, समुद्र तट पर द्वारवती नामक स्थान पर एक नए शहर का निर्माण किया गया । मथुरा छोड़ने का कारण था जरासंध के उस शहर पर निरंतर आक्रमण । वृष्णियों ने यह भी स्वीकारा की वो जरासंध को सौ साल में भी पराजित नहीं कर सकते थे । ऐसी स्तिथि में मथुरा नगरी छोड़ने के अतिरिक्त कोई और विकल्प था ही नहीं।

जरासंध का अंत हुआ, और श्री कृष्ण की उसमे अहम् भूमिका थी, हालांकि वध भीमसेन के हाथों हुआ था। जरासंध वध की कथा महाभारत में  सभा पर्व के जरासंध वध उप-पर्व में पायी जाती है । इस लेख में मै जरासंध से अधिक कालयवन पर ध्यान देना चाहता हूँ । जरासंध की भांति कालयवन भी ऐसा व्यक्ति था जिसे वृष्णि और अंधक पराजित नहीं कर सकते थे । क्यों? कालयवन की क्या कहानी थी?

कालयवन की कथा भी एक ऐसी कथा है जिसमें सारे मानव भाव पाए जाते हैं । गार्ग्य एक ऋषि थे जो वृष्णि और अंधकों दोनों के गुरु थे । पर मथुरा में उन्हीं के बहनोई ने उनका तिरस्कार किया, यह कहकर की गार्ग्य मर्द ही नहीं थे। गार्ग्य अपमान नहीं सह सके और उन्होंने मथुरा नगरी त्याग दी । पर अब गार्ग्य, जिन्होंने न विवाह किया था, जिन्होंने न संतान जन्मी थी, उसी गार्ग्य मुनिवर को अब संतान चाहिए थी । यह था अपमान का परिणाम! गार्ग्य ने शिव की आराधना की, और रूद्र से वरदान प्राप्त किया की उन्हें न सिर्फ़ एक पुत्र की प्राप्ति होगी पर एक ऐसा पुत्र जो वृष्णि और अंधकों को पराजित करने में समस्त होगा । अब यह एक पहेली ही है कि गार्ग्य ने संतान के साथ क्या वृष्णि और अंधकों को पराजित करने वाली संतान का भी वरदान माँगा था, क्योंकि हरिवंश पुराण ने इस विषय पर रौशनी नहीं डाली है । पर जो भी हो, शिव से यह वरदान तो मिल गया था गार्ग्य को ।

Dec 30, 2016

The ‘Intolerance’ of the Book That Wouldn’t Sell

hat makes a book? What makes an author? And, what makes a bestseller? The obvious answer, if one is a journalist in India, would be - the ability to use one’s influence and connections to get a publisher to publish it. Getting a book published is for such people the easy part. The content few care about, since the purpose of such books is neither to inform nor entertain - it's mostly the fulfillment of an unsatiated ego, and many a times an unstated agenda.
Books written by controversial journalists in recent times

One such book is "2014 - The Election That Changed India", written by controversial journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. Why "controversial"? Several reasons spring to mind.

Dec 23, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - Is Might Right

his one comes from the Harivamsha. There are three mini-tales here. Two of them have to do with people, while the third has to do with a city. That the Harivamsha has less to do with Hari may also come as a surprise, but that is a tale for another time. For this one, let's take a look at the the mini-tales.

Mucukunda Burning Kalayavana
It is well-known that Krishna advocated the abandoning of Mathura and relocating the populace to the western shores, to a place called Dvaravati. He did this because of the repeated attacks on Mathura by Jarasandha - that much is also well-known. The Vrishnis agreed with Krishna and told him that Jarasandha could not be killed by them even in a hundred years. Thus they left Mathura, and made Dvaravati their new home.  Krishna did eventually get Jarasandha killed, but through the hands of Bhimasena (this story is recounted in the Jarasandha-vadha Parva of Sabha Parva).

Before I come to the interesting bit in this context about Jarasandha, let us look at the second person. He is Kalayavana, who also could not be defeated by the Yadavas. Why couldn't he be defeated by the Vrishnis, the Andhakas? What was his story?

Dec 9, 2016

Harivamsha, by Bibek Debroy - Review

he Harivamsha is the final, final part of the Mahabharata. Not quite a part of itihaasa - which the Mahabharata and Ramayana are - nor quite a Purana, the Harivamsha nonetheless gets by by being called a "kheel" (appendix) to the Mahabharata. The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, over several decades, compiled a Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. The Harivamsha also forms part of this Critical Edition. The critical edition of the Harivamsha contains a shade less than 6000 shlokas - thus bringing the total length of the Critical Edition of the epic to just under 79,000 shlokas. An English translation of this version is what Dr. Bibek Debroy has come out with (he came out with translations of the Critical Edition between 2010 and 2015). He informs us that "Non-Critical versions will often have double this number, reflective of the slashing."

Nov 12, 2016

Sati, Evangelicals, and Atrocity Literature

Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse
by Meenakshi Jain

(Amazon India, Amazon)

n many ways this book documents the birth of atrocity literature and its first application in India on Hindus. The successful template of manufacturing atrocities, hyping them, and then using the resulting public opinion to further an evangelical agenda may appear new, but it is one that was honed more than two centuries ago. This is yet another stunning book from Meenakshi Jain, coming after her 2013 tour-de-force, "Rama and Ayodhya."

What was the evidence and prevalence of Sati in ancient and medieval India? Did it have religious sanction? Was it mandatory? Was there coercion? Was it confined to certain regions and castes or widespread? Did it change over time? Did it increase or reduce over time? Did the English or the East India Company ban it? Did they want to ban it? What were their motivations in banning it? Were they driven by the need to put a stop to a widespread evil? How did Indians react to the ban? When talking of Sati, these are some of the questions that should spring to mind. These are the questions that the book asks, and answers.

Nov 1, 2016

Diwali 2016 Photos

eepavali (Diwali) 2016 is over. It is time therefore to post the photos.
And here they are.

Oct 13, 2016

Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal - Review

f history is to be written to make it accessible to the lay reader, the student, and make it interesting, Sanjeev Sanyal is one author I would pick. I say "one", because I would also pick Michel Danino, but that is a different story and for a different book! Sanjeev Sanyal's previous book, "The Land of the Seven Rivers", was a grand, sweeping, and ambitious narrative of India's history that tied it to the equally fascinating geography of Bharatvarsha. His 2016 book, "The Ocean of Churn", goes one better in both scope and sweep. This time Sanyal takes the reader on a ride along the Indian Ocean, and ties together the histories of the lands touched by the mighty ocean. In doing so, he sheds light on several fascinating episodes that deserve a wider audience.

Oct 1, 2016

Eventful Travel Travails

here are travels that begin on a note that tell you to prepare for the worst. Of course, as a rational person you do not believe in omens, signs, or any such irrational nonsense. Till all such omens, signs, and irrational nonsense turns into events. Real events. That happen to you.

Earlier this year I had to travel to the United States on business. This meant traveling to several cities, taking several flights, with several layovers, meeting customers, the team, friends, family, and then flying back. In less than ten days, I had to transit via or fly-in to the airports at Washington DC, Newark, Chicago O'Hare, Milwaukee, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco - basically an airport almost every day. With such a travel itinerary, the best you can hope for is an uneventful journey.
Sometimes it is bad to hope.

The Canary that Wouldn't Sing

The door handle of the VW Beetle (it was black on the car I had rented)
The first call of business was at San Antonio. I would need to come back to San Antonio the next week, and that was another story, but the first port of call was San Antonio. After twenty-four hours or so of traveling in cattle-class, eating as little food and as many fluids as possible (because it is more convenient to do the 'little' thing than the 'big' thing while traveling), all I had energy to do was to pick the car from the rental agency - a nice, canary-yellow, Beetle at that - and find my way to the hotel. After meetings the next day, I packed and was ready to leave for the airport the next morning. An early rise, an early breakfast, and I was in the parking lot, ready to drive the shiny, new Beetle rental car to the airport, and be on my way to San Francisco. Click - went the car remote to unlock the car.

I click, expecting to hear a reciprocal click that would be the unlocking of the car.
No click, no unlock.
I check the clicker.
I check the car.
I circumambulate the car, in an ancient pagan ritual, my nails digging deeper and deeper into the clicker. Again, the dead silence of the clicker greets me in return.
A lady walks by. "Is that your car?"
"Uh huh."
"Someone left the headlights on the last night. I think the battery's drained."
"Oh. Thank you ma'am."

Sep 10, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 20 - Abetment or Abandonment

The second meeting Karna had was with Kunti. Kunti, the mother who had abandoned her first-born son and Karna, the son who could not bring himself to abandon the friend who gave him a kingdom. Karna-Upanivada Parva (an upa-Parva in Udyoga Parva) describes both these meetings, and captures brilliantly the complexity of human relations and emotions at work.

After Krishna returned to the Pandavas after his meeting with Karna, Vidura had provided an update to Kunti of Krishna's unsuccessful entreaties to the Kauravas. Kunti started thinking of the looming battle, and her mind naturally went to the warriors in the Kaurava army who would pose the biggest threat to her sons - her five sons. Kunti correctly thought that Bhishma would be "kindly disposed towards the Pandavas" and that Drona would "never willingly wish to fight with his disciples." This left Karna, who Kunti saw as the pivot around whom the war could turn.

I wrote in the earlier post that Krishna had approached Karna with as open and generous an offer as could have been made, by man or god. Krishna had made one last attempt at averting war.

Kunti was at this point in time more interested in the preservation of her five sons. With Karna fighting on the other side, there was no guarantee of the safety of any of her five sons. One way of ensuring their safety was to turn Karna over to the side of the Pandavas.
"Karna has always been against the Pandavas and I am now tormented by that. Today, I hope to turn Karna’s mind towards the Pandavas. I will meet him, tell him the truth and seek to obtain his favours."

Aug 15, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 19 - Karna and the fear of abandonment

Kunti abandoning Karna
(image credit:
I will stay with Karna for this post also (the previous post was also about Karna and how his life can also be viewed as a cautionary tale against distractions).

Karna was abandoned almost immediately after his birth. His mother, Kunti, "flung" (ch 104, Adi Parva) him into the river, where he was found by Adhiratha, adopted by his wife Radha, and grew up the son of a charioteer. He later became the lifelong friend of Duryodhana, the king of Anga, and a mortal enemy of Arjuna.

A question comes to mind - why did Kunti need to fling her first-born son into the water? It was because of a boon granted by the "fearsome" sage, Durvasa. His boon to Kunti was thus - "Whichever gods you summon through the use of this mantra, will grant you sons through their grace." Durvasa had granted this boon to Kunti because "he knew that she would face the dharma that is indicated for times of distress." Once Kunti had this boon, she became "curious." Curiosity led her to invoke the boon, summon Arka (the sun god), who placed an embryo in her womb. Thus Karna was born, and almost immediately thereafter, abandoned by his mother.

Aug 11, 2016

Dalits, Muslims, Gurkhas, Chambal, and more. Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India - KS Lal

he myth of Dalit-Islam unity has been doing the rounds for a few decades now, despite a copious amount of evidence to the contrary and a near-complete absence of historical evidence to support the premise of any such unity. The primary causal factors for the persistence of this myth are poor scholarship among modern historians (which in turn can be blamed on the cabal of leftist historians who have a vice-like control on almost all institutions of historical research in India), the resurgence of radical ideologies that seek to warp facts to force-fit their worldview, and above all a general apathy towards the study of history in India. Dalits have found themselves at the receiving end of communal violence at the hands of Muslims in riots - whether it was the horrendous violence during Partition, or the equally horrific riots following the burning of 59 Hindu men, women, and children in a train near Godhra in Gujarat in 2002. Yet the myth of "Dalit-Muslim unity" lives on. To then say that the credit for the growth of India's tribal population (sometimes also referred to as Dalits) goes to the centuries-long Muslim rule in India between 712-1707 CE would be a surprise to most. Yet it is the proposition made and proven by distinguished historian, K.S. Lal, in his book, "Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India."

Jul 30, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 18 - First Things First, A Lesson Karna Forgot

It is not without reason that the character of Karna has attracted so much fascination and attention from readers of the Mahabharata. People have seen and identified in him an ideal friend, an ideal giver, and above all - the fatally wronged son who never got his due from either his brothers or his mother. The right warrior who fought on the the wrong side.

But among all that has been written in the Mahabharata, is there an underlying narrative, hiding between the pages, that that may tell us something more about Karna, and therefore, about human nature itself? To do that, it is instructional to revisit some of the pivotal moments in Karna's life.

Parashurama sleeping on Karna's lap
[image credit: Wikipedia]
A young Karna had convinced Parashurama to train him in the use of weapons. So desperate had Karna been to receive this knowledge that he had described himself as a brahmana, and not as the kshatriya he was (a suta perhaps, but certainly a brahmana he wasn't). Parashurama would teach no kshatriya. One day, as Parashurama slept on Karna's lap, a bee stung Karna. Not wanting to disturb his guru, Karna bore the pain. When Parashurama woke up and saw the blood, he accused Karna of having deceived him. No brahmana - or so Parashurama believed - could have withstood so much pain. Parashurama cursed Karna that he would forget the knowledge of his weapons when he would need them most. This is well known. The question is - why did Karna not get up or otherwise take some step to swat the bee away? Why was it so important to show that he could withstand huge amounts of pain, if only to not displease his guru?

Jul 17, 2016

Hosur Road, NH7 - Past and present

Sometime between 2013 and 2015 a considerable stretch of NH7 got six-laned - from Hosur to Krishnagiri. This is also one of the busiest stretches on this national highway, that runs through Bangalore, and all the way down to the southernmost point in India - Kanyakumari.

Jul 9, 2016

InMobi, Privacy, and Penalties

image credit: WDnet Agency,
In 2015 I had written a series of articles on the e-commerce battle between Flipkart and Amazon, one of which focused on why companies are so obsessed with apps Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy. Now it turns out that InMobi has agreed to pay a US$950,000 in civil penalties to "settle charges it violated federal law." InMobi is described by the US Federal Trade Commission complaint thus: "describes itself as the “world’s largest independent mobile advertising company.” In February 2015, Defendant reported its advertising network had reached over one billion unique mobile devices, with 19% of those devices located in North America, and had served 6 billion ad requests per day." According to the FTC complaint [bold emphasis mine], "Even if the consumer had restricted an application’s access to the location API, until December 2015, Defendant still tracked the consumer’s location and, in many instances, served geo-targeted ads, by collecting information about the WiFi networks that the consumer’s device connected to or that were in-range of the consumer’s device. "

Jun 19, 2016

Sticks and Stones, by Emily Bazelon

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, by Emily Bazelon
The Name of the Game
(AmazonKindle, Flipkart, Kindle India, Amazon India)

It's the appearance of difference that leads to bullying. The three cases the author follows in great detail make that much clear; tragically so in one case. The book is a fairly engrossing account of the sometimes very disturbing specifics and details of bullying.

Words give expression to thoughts, making them tangible and real. Words have a power that is rarely wielded responsibly by those who do not realize the power that words have. Words, barbs, insults, innuendo, gossip, all mixed in the cauldron of malice and apathy results in a toxic mix. Bullying is as much about individual power as it is about societal attitudes towards the weak.

Bazelon's book is divided into basically three parts. The first is more or less detailed reporting and investigative journalism into three cases of bullying - two of girls and one of a boy. One resulted in a suicide. The other two had less tragic endings. The second part, "Escalation", is the weakest part of the book, where reporting mixes with opinion, philosophy, and deft jabs at the conservative right.

Where the book excels is in the reporting of the three different cases of bullying. When transitioning from the descriptive to the analytical and prescriptive, something however gets lost in the book.

May 29, 2016

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain
Aryan Books International; 2013 edition
(ISBN: 8173054517, 978-8173054518)

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain

An indispensable, though brief, compendium to understand the past and present of Ayodhya.

The diffusion of propaganda requires repetition. In the words of someone many leftists have secretly admired for long, repetition is what makes propaganda successful (the full quote is (bold-emphasis mine), "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over".

This was a strategy used to brilliant success by militant Islamists, communist historians, and Indologists of dubious integrity in the west during the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s and 90s.

Diana Eck is a faculty member of The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University (which was established as a result of a $20 million grant by the Saudi prince, Alwaleed Bin Talal). In her 2012 book, "India: A Sacred Geography" (my review), she had very bluntly and pointedly argued against the evidence of a temple at the disputed site, citing "Indian historians and archaeologists, both Hindu and Muslim." The sole archaeologist she cited in her section on Ayodhya had this to say in her book - "There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both." For reasons that should become clear very soon, Diana Eck chose to bury the archaeologist's name in the references section of her book. That archaeologist's name is D. Mandal, from the University of Allahabad.

Apr 30, 2016

Flipkart: Million-Dollar Hiring Mistakes Translate Into Billion-Dollar Valuation Erosions

As the week drew to a close, a story that broke headlines in the world of Indian e-commerce was the departure of Flipkart’s Chief Product Officer, Punit Soni. Rumours had started swirling about Punit Soni’s impending exit since the beginning of the year (link), almost immediately after Mukesh Bansal had taken over from Binny Bansal as Flipkart’s CEO (link).

Punit Soni's LinkedIn profile
Punit Soni was among a clutch of high-profile hires made by Flipkart in 2015, rumoured to have been paid a million dollar salary (amounting to 6.2 crores at then prevailing currency exchange rates — see this and this). This was in addition to any stock options he and other similar high-profile hires earned.
One decision that Punit Soni was most closely associated with was the neutering of Flipkart’s mobile-web execution, where he killed Flipkart’s mobile site, forcing users to download the app on smartphones. The mobile app itself was poorly designed, had a mostly unusable interface, and was riddled with bugs to the point of crashing every few minutes. I had written in detail on its mobile app’s state in 2015 (see this article in dna, or from my blog). At the time I had expressed my astonishment that Myntra, the fashion e-tailer that Flipkart acquired and which had gone app-only, had a mobile app that was NOT optimized for the iPad. The same was the story with the Flipkart app — no iPad-optimized app, but a “universal” app that ran on both the iPhone and iPad devices. Even today, the Flipkart iPad app does not support landscape-mode orientation, even as Amazon’s iPad app has grown from strength to strength.