Tuesday, August 18, 2015

History - 3 - Battle of Palkhed

Peshwa Baji Rao I riding a horse
(source: Wikipedia)
Among the notable battles fought in India, the Battle of Palkhed, between Peswha Baji Rao I and the Nizam-ul-Mulk, would not readily spring to mind for many. Which is a pity, for several reasons. While the three battles of Panipat – in 1526, 1556, and 1761, the battles of Talikota in 1565, Plassey in 1757, and Buxar in 1764, are rightly remembered for their pivotal impact on India’s history, the battle of Palkhed does not readily spring to mind. It should, for it is not only one of the notable battles in history, it also holds lessons that perhaps deserve a closer look.

The battle of Palkhed was fought in 1728, between the armies of Baji Rao, the second Peshwa of Maharaj Shahu, and the Nizam. A brief look at the three principal players who were involved directly or indirectly reveals a fascinating if not turgid brew of politics and intrigue that had by then become the staple of the putrefying Mughal empire in Delhi.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mahabharata Vol 10 - Swarajya Review

My review of Dr. Bibek Debroy's Mahabharata, Volume 10, was published in Swarajya on March 27, 2015, titled, "3 Years with Vyasa" (the title was not my idea; credit to the Swarajya team for that!)

The Mahabharata, Volume 10

Translated by Bibek Debroy

Or Three Years with Vyasa
In the Ramayana, most of us think of the epic as ending after the reunion of Rama with his sons and Sita's descent into Mother Earth. We don't often ask or care to know how did Rama and Laxman die - both were after all human. Similarly, for most of us, the Mahabharata had for all practical purposes ended with the defeat of the Kauravas on the plains of Kurukshetra, and with Yudhishthira crowned the rightful king. What after that? Sure, Parikshit was crowned king when Yudhishthira ascended heaven in his human form. We also know of the faithful dog who accompanied him along the way. But there are several details that are often glossed over in most retellings. A reading of the unabdridged Mahabharata is therefore revealing on many fronts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 12 - Yudhishthira's Chilling Words

A chilling side to Yudhishthira's personality came to the fore as the Kurukshetra war was dying down. My piece appeared in Swarajya on 12th April, 2015.


Not a quarter given
Yudhishthira is revered as dharma-raj, the man who never uttered a lie (except for one very prominent occasion during the War and at least one other occasion when he knowingly chose to remain silent lest he be proven a liar). Yudhishthira saved his brother Bhima when he had been trapped in a python's coils - Nahusha in a cursed form. Yudhishthira's wisdom was what revived his brothers during the famous Yaksha prashna samvad in the Aranyaka Parva. His insistence on the truth was noble, indubitably, but at times it grated. His brothers - Bhima mostly, but Arjuna also - chafed under the yoke of what they saw an unreasonable burden of dharma.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata 11 - Something About Yudhishthira and Sacrifices

My piece on the curious tendency of yagya's to not go off as planned in the Mahabharta was published in Swarajya on April 5, 2015.

Among the many sacrifices described in the Mahabharata, three stand out. There is the Rajsuya Yagya, performed by Yudhishthira, and described in Sabha Parva. Then there is the Sarpa Satra, the snake sacrifice that became the raison d'être for the first public telling of the story of the Bharata family. The third is the horse sacrifice, performed by Yudhishthira after the Kurukshetra war. There are also other sacrifices - like the sacrifice that resulted in the birth of Droupadi and Dhrishtadyumna - but those are not described in as much details as these three are.

Among the three listed above, the Rajsuya and Ashvamedha sacrifices are very interesting, but not quite for the reasons that would immediately come to mind.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flipkart - 5 - Focus and Free Advice

I wrote about the obsession of Flipkart (and Myntra) with "mobile-only" without even having an iPad-optimized app! I also talked about the stunning advances being made in voice-search by using machine learning, cognitive learning, natural language processing, even as voice-based search capabilities of e-commerce companies - including Amazon - remain abysmal. Finally, I also included several use-cases that these companies need to work on incorporating into their capabilities.

That piece, Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice, appeared in DNA on June 27th, 2015.


My earlier pieces on the same topic:

  1. Flipkart vs Amazon: Beware the Whispering Death - 20th April '15 (blog, dna)
  2. Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy - 18th April '15  (blog, dna)
  3. Mobile advertising and how the numbers game can be misleading - 14th April '15  (blog, dna)
  4. Is Flipkart losing focus - 12th April '15  (blog, dna)

Flipkart, Focus, and Free Advice – Shipping Charges Also Waived!


What is one to make of a statement like this - “India is not mobile-first, but mobile-only country[1]”? Especially so if it is from the co-founder of the largest ecommerce company in India, and it turns out the company does not even have an app for the Apple iPad?

I have written at length on the distractions that seem to have been plaguing Flipkart and why it cannot afford to drop its guard in this fiercely contested space[2] - especially in light of all the noise surrounding its mobile ambitions. Somewhat paradoxically, this post is about offering advice to Flipkart that calls for some diversification!

As a logical next step, I wanted to take a look at Flipkart’s mobile apps – both on the iOS and Android platforms – to see how well they were executing on their very bold ambitions. As an aside, I also wanted to see if these (and competitive) mobile apps were leveraging all the computing power now available on tap inside these tiny devices. After all, apart from the recent – and amazing – advances Google has made in its voice-based search capabilities[3], there was this stunning demo from Hound[4] that gave a glimpse into the huge advances that voice-recognition, search, and machine-learning technologies have made in the last decade.



Monday, June 22, 2015

History (1) Of Frivolous Young Men and Depraved Morals

History repeats ... first as tragedy, then as farce - one of the most repeated quotes of Karl Marx could most political dynasties to a "T". India is no different.

Consider these two paragraphs, that I have partly edited for the sake of dramatic impact: the modified words are highlighted in bold
"He proclaimed his accession at Delhi. Though about fifty years of age, he behaved like a frivolous young man of eighteen. His morals were highly depraved. He drank heavily and passed most of his time in the company of his mistress, whose relations had obtained high posts in government service. Nor could his advisor fill in the void successfully. He had been overtaken with senile decay. He devolved his entire responsibility on his favourite ... With such persons at the helm of affairs, the fate of the administration can better be imagined than described."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mahabharata Vol 10 - Review

The Mahabharata, Volume 10

Translated by Bibek Debroy

This review first appeared in DNA India on April 12, 2015.

Where does the Ramayana end? When Sita returns to Ayodhya with Rama? Or is it when she is banished to the forest? Or when Rama is captured by his own sons and Sita returns to Mother Earth? Or when Rama's life on earth finally comes to an end? What about Hanuman? Oh, but he is one of the few immortals.

With the Mahabharata one can ask similar questions - where does it end? For most of us the answer may be - after the eighteenth day of battle. That would be true in many ways, but it is not the complete truth. What about Gandhari's curse? When did that take effect? What happens to the Pandavas after that? What about Dhritarashtra and Gandhari - the now defeated king and queen? With the Mahabharata, one is even tempted to ask - where does the epic begin?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Creepy Dolls - A Technology and Privacy Nightmare!

This post was first published on LinkedIn on 20th May, 2015.

"Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?"[1]  Fans of the horror film genre will surely recall these lines - innocent-sounding on their own, yet bone-chilling in the context of the scene in the movie - that Chucky, the possessed demonic doll, utters in the cult classic, "Child's Play". Called a "cheerfully energetic horror film" by Roger Ebert [2], the movie was released to more than a thousand screens on its debut in November 1988 [3]. It went on to spawn at least five sequels and developed a cult following of sorts over the next two decades [4].

Chucky the doll
(image credit: http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/)
In "Child's Play", Chucky the killer doll stays quiet around the adults - at least initially - but carries on secret conversations with Andy, and is persuasive enough to convince him to skip school and travel to downtown Chicago. Chucky understands how children think, and can evidently manipulate - or convince, depending on how you frame it - Andy into doing little favours for him. A doll that could speak, hear, see, understand, and have a conversation with a human in the eighties was the stuff out of science fiction, or in the case of "Child's Play" - out of a horror movie.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

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.

Part 4 – Beware the Whispering Death
Monopolies may have the luxury of getting distracted. If you were a Microsoft in the 1990s, you could force computer manufacturers to pay you a MS-DOS royalty for every computer they sold, irrespective of whether the computer had a Microsoft operating system installed on it or not[1]. You dared not go against Microsoft, because if you did, it could snuff you out – “cut off the oxygen supply[2]”, to put it more evocatively. But if you are a monopoly, you do have to keep one eye on the regulator[3], which distracts you. If you are not a monopoly, you have to keep one eye on the competition (despite what Amazon may keep saying to the contrary, that they “just ignore the competition”[4]).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Flipkart and Focus 3 - There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy

The third in my series on Flipkart and focus appeared in DNA on April 18th, 2015.



Part III – There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy
Why do so many companies hanker after apps? Smartphone apps, tablet apps, iOS apps, Android apps, app-this, app-that….
Leave aside for a moment the techno-pubescent excitement that accompanies the launch of every new technology (if you are not old enough to remember words like “client-server[1]”, then “soa[2]” will surely sound familiar enough). Every Marketing 101 course drills into its students that acquiring a new customer is way costlier than retain an existing. Loyal customers (leaving aside the pejorative connotation the word “loyal” carries, implying that customers who shop elsewhere for a better deal are of dubious moral character) are what you should aspire to – that keep buying from you for a longer period of time[3] – and which allows you to refocus your marketing and advertising dollars towards the acquisition of newer customers, faster. If you spend less on unnecessary discounts and expensive retention schemes then margins from existing customers are automatically higher.

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