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 . ...

May 22, 2017

The Dark Cloud of the H1-B Fallout for Indian Companies: Layoffs or Reduced Valuations

India's second-largest IT company, Infosys, put out a press release on the 2nd of May, 2017 (link), that it would be hiring "10,000 American Workers Over the Next Two Years and establish four new Technology and Innovation Hubs across the country focusing on cutting-edge technology areas, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, user experience, emerging digital technologies, cloud, and big data."
The first hub, the Infosys press release stated, was expected to open by August in Indiana, which coincidentally is also the home state of the US Vice President, and which would create 2,000 new jobs in the state.
Infosys wasted no time in advertising for jobs in the United States, prominently linking it to its announcement. Nor was there any dearth of tweets on social media site Twitter to give this news more amplification - see this, this, this, this, or this.

While this is certainly good news for the United States and for its President Donald Trump's goal of making American "Great Again", the impact on outsourcing companies like Infosys is likely to be less positive.

Illustrated Mahabharata - Errors

I
n my review of "The Illustrated Mahabharata", I wrote that this is a magnificent coffee-table book that fills a need for a lavishly produced book on the epic.
The only blemishes in the book are the innumerable errors that have crept into the book as a result of the editors sourcing the story of the Mahabharata from Devdutt Pattanaik's adaptation, "Jaya".

These are just some, a small percentage, of the outright errors, distortions, and subtle misinterpretations that Devdutt's text contains:

GANDHARI'S PREGNANCY
What the book says - "Impatient now, Gandhari decided to force the child out of her. She ordered her maids to strike her belly with an iron bar...." See the screenshot on the left.
What the Critical Edition says - "Unknown to Dhritarashtra, Gandhari violently struck her belly and aborted herself, fainting with the pain. A hard mass of flesh, like an iron ball, came out." [Unabridged Mahabahrata, Adi Parva, Ch 107]
What the Gita Press says - it is more or less consistent with the Critical Edition (see the screenshot below).

Devdutt is wrong in writing that Gandhari ordered the maids to strike her belly.
He is wrong when he writes that Gandhari ordered the maids to do so "repeatedly."

If Devdutt believes he is writing a new Mahabharata, then it is certainly his creative right to do so. If, on the other hand, he is talking about the Mahabharata the epic, then he has no right to take such creative liberties that border on the absurd. A scholar, or even a self-proclaimed "mythologist", should know better.
Mahabharata, Gita Press on Gandhari's pregnancy
SATYAVATI'S DEPARTURE

What the book says - Satyavati "decided to leave the palace on witnessing a public fight between the Pandavas and Kauravas."

What the Critical Edition says - After Pandu's death and last rites, it was Vyasa who told Satyavati that hard times were ahead, and advised her to "give everything up and live in a hermitage. You will not be able to witness the destruction of your sons and lineage." [Adi Parva, Ch 119]

What the Gita Press says - is in line with what the Critical Edition says. See the three screenshots below from Ch 127 of the Adi Parva.



So, firstly, there is no mention of a "public fight" between the Kauravas and Pandavas. Where Devdutt thought of this fight is not clear. Perhaps Vedvyasa whispered these secrets to him. Perhaps.

Second, it was Vyasa who advised Satyavati to retire to the forest. It was not Satyavati's decision alone.

Again, it begs the question, and let us assume that some version of the Mahabharata does in fact contain a description of such a fight, why is Devdutt so eager to deviate so often from the universally accepted version of the Mahabharata? Is it his attempt at preening his knowledge of the epic? Or is there something more than meets the eye here?

KARNA DONATES HIS EARRINGS AND ARMOUR

What the book says: when Indra, Arjuna's celestial father, approached Karna and asked him for his earrings and armour, "Karna instantly gave them away."

What the Mahabharata says: this episode is described in the Kundala-harana upaParva of the Aranyaka Parva. When Indra, disguised as a brahmana, asked Karna for his "natural armour and earrings," Karna refused. Yes, he refused, saying, "I will not part with them."

Devdutt gets it wrong, yet again, when writing that Karna "instantly gave them away." To be clear, Karna did NOT instantly give away his earrings and armour.

If Devdutt has indeed read the complete Mahabharata, and at this point, one has to have serious doubts if he has indeed read the complete, unabridged Mahabharata, or whether he has been relying mostly on hearsay and ersatz translations.

Karna told Indra that he could take his earrings and armour only as an "exchange" or not at all - "Otherwise, I will not give them." The exchange was Indra's celestial weapon, the Shakti. The rest, as they say, is history; or shall we say "itihaas"?

The Mahabharata is infinitely subtler than the coarse, black-or-white colours that Devdutt uses to paint the epic in.

DEVAYANI and YAYATI
What the book says - "While helping her out, he had held her hand. Having done so, tradition demanded that he marry her. So Devayani married Yayati and went with him to his kingdom as his wife."
What the Critical Edition says - "After pulling the one with beautiful hips out of the well, Yayati gently bid farewell and returned to his capital.
...
Devayani said, “O son of Nahusha! Earlier, no man except you has ever touched my hand. Therefore, in accordance with the dharma of accepting the hand, I accept you as my husband. My hand has been touched by you, who are a rishi and the son of a rishi. How can a proud one like me allow any other man to touch my hand?
...
Devayani said, “O father! This is the king who is Nahusha’s son. He grasped my hand when I was in trouble. Bestow me to him. I will accept no one else in the world as my husband.”"
[Adi Parva, Ch 73]

Once again, Devdutt's interpretation is incomplete and incorrect. It is simplistic, at best.
How so?
Devdutt's interpretation would have one believe that Devayani had no choice but to let herself get married to Yayati because of the "demands" of "tradition". A lack of choice on the part of Devayani is implied here.

The Mahabharata suggests the opposite.

It was in fact Devayani who asked Yayati to marry her. Yayati was reluctant to do so - this also the Mahabharata tells us.

Devayani more or less forced the matter. Devdutt's interpretation suggests the opposite.

Devayani went to her father and told him that Yayati was the one she had chosen as her husband.

Again, Devdutt has trouble accepting the fact that Devayani was a strong-willed woman with her own mind. He seems intent on portraying women in the Mahabharata as helpless and without the freedom of choice. Subjugation of the feminine is trope, a western stereotype, that Devdutt seems desperate to perpetuate.

JAYADRATH'S DEATH:
What the book says: "Drona was livid that despite his desperate measures, Jaydratha had been killed. He ordered his troops to continue fighting against the Pandavas after the sun had set..."
What the Mahabharata says: Drona was the commander of the Kaurava army at the time. The decision to order the army to continue fighting after sunset was indeed his. However, chapter 125 of Drona Parva tells us that after Saindhava (Jayadratha) was killed, Duryodhana sought out Drona and poured out his litany of woes in front of his guru, ending his tirade with an accusation that Drona had "always been partial towards your excellent disciple, Dhananjaya." Drona felt hurt at these biting words and unfair accusations. After all, hadn't Drona, just a day ago, told the Kauravas how to disarm and kill Abhimanyu? Drona now reminded Duryodhana of the fateful game of dice where he had refused to listen to Vidura's advice. In Drona's words, Duryodhana was "reaping the fruits of that adharma now."

To say Drona was "livid" is a fanciful flight of imagination not supported by the Mahabharata text.

"Desperate measures" is poetic license at best, or worse, a shoddy misrepresentation. Drona was clear that the blame for Jayadratha's death could not be all lain at his door. He pointedly asked Duryodhana, "All of you surrounded Arjuna and sought to protect the king of Sindhu. How was he killed in your midst? O Kouravya! How was Saindhava killed when you, Karna, Kripa, Shalya and Ashvatthama were alive?" He finally ends chapter 126 with this pronouncement to Duryodhana, "The angry Kurus and Srinjayas will fight, even during the night."

Therefore, Drona ordered the army to fight through the night only in response to Duryodnaha's accusatory tirade, and not out of any "lividness".

UTTARAYANA

What the book says: "Bhishma chose to die on the auspicious day of Uttarayan, after the winter solstice, when the sun moves close to the Pole Star - the bright half of the lunar month, when the moon is waxing."
What the Mahabharata says: the first chapter in the short Bhishma-Svargarohana Parva has this to say about Bhishma - "He saw that the sun had retreated and was proceeding towards uttarayana."

Uttarayan is not a single day. Rather, Uttarayan refers to the six-month period between Makara Sankranti and Karka Sankranti. In some ways, one could refer to Uttarayan as the day when the sun starts to move towards the Northern Hemisphere (in a manner of speaking).

And whichever way one looks at it, Uttarayan has nothing to do with the lunar month. The "bright half of the lunar month," as Devdutt refers to, is the Krishna paksha, when "the moon is waxing." Uttarayana has nothing, I repeat, nothing, to do with the waxing or waning of the moon. Devdutt is, again, hopelessly confused.


SHIKHANDI

Devdutt writes that Shikhandi's "contribution has been given little importance."

This is an absurd remark, given that one entire Parva, the Ambopakhyana Parva, deals with Amba and Shikhandi's backstory.  This history is recounted by Bhishma on the eve of the war, which surely is a sign of the importance that the commander of the Kaurava army lent to Shikhandi. Furthermore, the term Shikhandi itself has lived on and is remembered and used in several contexts even today, most often to refer to the use of a proxy in a fight against an enemy.
Perhaps Devdutt has an agenda here that he is not quite willing to be open or honest about. His readers deserve both from him.

BHISHMA's VOW

What the book says - "I shall never marry. Neither will I ever be with a woman..."

What the Critical Edition says - "I have already relinquished my right to the kingdom. I will not destroy the doubt that has arisen about my sons. O fisherman! From today, I take the vow of brahmacharya. Even if I die without a son, I will attain the eternal world of heaven.”" [Adi Parva, Ch 95]
Bhishma does not talk about never being "with a woman." Yet, Devdutt attributes this sentence directly to Bhishma. It is not Devdutt's interpretation. He would have the reader believe these were the words of Bhishma. The Mahabharata tells us that was not so. In other words, Devdutt lied.

RUNNING WITH THE ELDERS, HUNTING WITH THE CHILDREN

In one place, the book talks about the "plight of old men and women and the way they are treated by their sons and daughters." I am speculating that these also are Devdutt's inputs,

Elsewhere, the book, and Devdutt (again, I am speculating) talks about the "stranglehold of tradition over modernity", where "a father demands and extracts a sacrifice from the son" and how the "older generation dominates society."

So, by Devdutt's logic, and certainly his words, the older generation on the one hand dominates society and where a father extracts a sacrifice from the son, and yet on the other hand the same older generation suffers a pitiable plight at the hands of its sons and daughters.

This is a leap of logic that defies logic. Perhaps Devdutt's logic is beyond, err, logic?




KOUSHIKA or VISWAMITRA?

It was Rishi Viswamitra that the apsara Menaka distracted and seduced, not King Koushika. Yes, it was the King gave up his kingdom and went on to acquire the status of a rishi with his penances. But after becoming a sage, he is almost always referred to as Viswamitra.

The Menaka episode certainly does not refer to Viswamitra as Kaushika; not even once. The story of Shakuntala's birth is recounted by Shakuntala herself, to Dushyanta, as she had heard it from Sage Kanwa, her adopted father. This story is in Chapter 66 of the Adi Parva. Shakuntala tells Dushyanta the story of her birth, as she had heard it from Sage Kanwa,

YAYATI COMPLEX
The story of Yayati is fascinating in its own right. Not only can one trace the history and divergence of the the fates of the Kurus and Yadus dynasties from Yayati, but also the desires that burn in humans, the burning desire need to quench these infinite desires. It is parents who turn to their children to help fulfill these unsatisfied desires. But to phrase this so-called Yayati Complex as explaining "the stranglehold of tradition over modernity in Indian society" is a very, very western view of Indian society. Such a sweeping, simplistic stereotyping would fit more naturally inside the warped world of a Wendy Doniger. Given Devdutt's cloying adulation of Wendy Doniger (notwithstanding his recent attempts to distance himself from her), perhaps it is no surprise.

PARASHURAMA FIGHTS BHISHMA
This also Devdutt gets somewhat wrong. The fight between Parashurama and Bhishma ended because Bhishma withdrew a weapon that he had drawn, ready to unleash at Parashurama. The gods advised Bhishma against doing so, and he complied. Parashurama took that to be his defeat. The fight thus stopped there.
Why Devdutt sees a need to distort even this is not clear. It really is not clear.


On almost every single page that contains Devdutt's text from "Jaya", or blurbs with his commentary, there are errors. Some are outright errors, but many are those needless, small, lies and distortions that seem entirely unnecessary. Devdutt is obviously a hard-working neo-scholar of the Mahabharata. Yet the kinds of errors in his text and the frequency of these errors suggests that there is perhaps a pathological aspect to his behavior.

Why? Why? Why?

Devdutt is an unabashed fan of Wendy Doniger. Wendy's work on Hinduism has been marked by needless lies, omissions, and distortions that have been called out innumerable times by scholars, and yet which she has been unable to respond to. Her reputation as a scholar in the West continues to thrive, despite an unending stream of Hinduphobia that runs through her work on Hinduism and scholarly incompetence that would end most academic careers.

Devdutt is an unabashed fan of Wendy Doniger. It is entirely possible that he is subconsciously paying homage to his idol by littering his work with the same kinds of errors and distortions that line Doniger's work. It is perhaps, in his mind, the ultimate act of submission, an intellectual prostration.

© 2017, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

May 14, 2017

Illustrated Mahabharata - Review

Even with the scores of books that have been written on the Mahabharata - translations like Dr. Bibek Debroy's, abridgments like John Smith's, retellings, adaptations like Chitra B Divakaruni's or SL Bhyrappa's, commentaries, poems, criticisms, plays, children's versions, comics, satirical takes, and even parodies, there was a need for a coffee table book. Not a half-hearted "illustrated" version of a book, but a beautifully illustrated, lavishly produced, comprehensively researched, designed with this end in mind - a complete coffee table book. The "Illustrated Mahabharata" fills that need.

How lavish? It is more than five-hundred pages long, with more than five-hundred full-color illustrations, glossy paper, hardcover, and lay-flat binding which means double-page illustrations are possible (see the two images below).



The book invites you in. If you know the story, and scarcely anyone in India would not be familiar with the story in some or the other level of detail, you can dive into the book at any place. The start, the middle, the end. The Mahabharata is divided into 18 Parvas and an appendix - the Harivamsha. Fittingly enough, the book is also divided into eighteen chapters, and one un-numbered chapter, 'Harivamsha'. At over a hundred and twenty pages, the longest chapter is the first one, "Adi Parva", and appropriately so, since the Adi Parva contains a massive amount of information and stories that form the core of the Mahabharata over the remainder of the book. "Bhishma Parva", which contains the Bhagavad Gita, is the second-longest, with fifty pages devoted to the Gita. There are shlokas from the Gita written in the Devanagari script, with an English translation following.
Table of Contents - one chapter for each Parva
Each chapter provides a summary of the story, and is accompanied by hundreds of illustrations and photographs of paintings (of Raja Ravi Varma or Madhubani for instance), temple sculptures (from Angkor Wat for example), art, archaeology (of Painted Gray Ware associated with the Mahabharata period), geography (Dwarka and Kurukshetra), history, and more. Where relevant, similarities between the Mahabharata and Greek mythology are also dwelt upon.



The book, as is common with and often the goal of coffee table books, will invite readers of all ages and levels of interest. The enticing illustrations are what will invite even young readers to flip through the book. This is the opening that is often needed to draw the new, young, reader into the fascinating world of the Mahabharata. The mainstay of such an approach for decades has been, and still remains, the venerable Amar Chitra Katha series. Do not, however, expect them to be able to understand it on their own. Here is where some adult supervision would be required. Describe to the child the organization of the text into eighteen chapters, and what each chapter covers. Pick a chapter to begin with. I would suggest Sabha Parva, since it is perhaps the most pivotal of all Parvas in the book, and one with which even young readers of the Mahabharata are likely to be familiar with. If not the Sabha Parva, pick any other of your choice. Read out the basic text with your child, and then let the child explore the other snippets, pull-quotes, illustrations on their own. The book cannot be covered in a day, or a single sitting. Rather, the reader will keep going back to it over days, weeks, and even months. This is where the lay-flat binding helps, but I have already mentioned it, haven't I?


The lay-flat binding of the book makes practical double-page layouts
Vyasa authored the Mahabharata. Who has written this book? No one, if you go by the book cover. However, that is not strictly true. There is a team of designers, illustrators, researchers from the publisher, DK World, that worked on the book and deserve credit for putting together this magnificent end-result. In addition, and importantly enough, it has contributors - Bibek Debroy and Devdutt Pattanaik. Bibek Debroy, as many may know, is an economist, and currently one of three Members of the Niti Aayog (@NITIAayog). More pertinently, he is a Sanskrit scholar and translator of the unabridged, ten-volume Mahabharata. He has also written the foreword to the book. Devdutt Pattanaik is a self-proclaimed mythologist, and best-selling author of several books on Hinduism that are heavily influenced by the Western school of Indology, of which controversial academic Wendy Doniger is among the more famous proponents.

The reason I have referred to Devdutt Pattanaik in a somewhat less than flattering light is for a reason. The editors of the book have based their story of the Mahabharata on Devdutt's best-selling abridged adaptation, "Jaya." They have also relied on Bibek Debroy's ten-volume translation of the Mahabharata and of the Harivamsha, apart from David Frawley's (@davidfrawleyved) "Gods, Sages, and Kings", among others. The pull-quotes in the book are almost exclusively sourced from Bibek Debroy's translation. The story in the book, however, is sourced from "Jaya", and this is the source of the only blemish on the book. Devdutt's adaptation is crawling with errors. Whether the episode of Gandhari's aborted fetus, the story of Satyavati, Bhishma's vow, the battle between Parashurama and Bhishma, or the battle at night during the war, there is a deluge of of omissions, distortions, needless embellishments, and outright howlers. These deserves a separate post in itself, which I will put out soon enough. Given Devdutt's obvious hardwork that went into Jaya, why he chose to sully his adaptation with these errors is puzzling, to say the least.

In conclusion, I will still go ahead and recommend this book highly for all, and especially for people interested in a lavishly produced book on the Mahabharata. Despite Devdutt Pattanaik's glaring howlers, this book has a many, many positives going for it. Perhaps the editors would consider putting out a second edition with the dozens of Devdutt's errors corrected, or perhaps source the story from some other, more reliable scholar and author. That would only enhance the timelessness of the book.

The book is not cheap, but you can get it for a substantial discount at online retailers, and is well-worth the price.

Publisher's page,
ISBN: 9780241299722
Publication Date: April 2017
Size: 301 x 252 mm
Pages: 512



© 2017, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Apr 30, 2017

Rama and Ayodhya and The Battle for Rama - Review

 

"Rama and Ayodhya" and "The Battle for Rama", by Meenakshi Jain

Circumstantial Evidence Preceded Archaeological Evidence

(see my earlier review of Rama and Ayodhya and a part-review of The Battle for Rama
This review incorporates material from both reviews as well)

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.

Apr 18, 2017

Amazon Launches Prime in India. Can Flipkart Stay ‘First’?

O
n the 27th of June, 2016, Amazon launched the first of its first AWS (Amazon Web Services) data centers in India, in Mumbai.

Amazon India announcing the launch of Prime (July 26, 2016) 
Less than a month later, on the 26th of July, 2016, Amazon launched Amazon Prime in India. After a free, trial period of 60 days, customers would be able to sign up for what it calls a “special, introductory price” of ₹499 a year. Prime Video was not included in Prime at the time of launch.


Apr 7, 2017

Oracle Looking to Buy Accenture? Stranger Things Have Happened

Image credit: pixels.com
The Register reported that Oracle may be exploring the "feasibility of buying multi-billion dollar consultancy Accenture."

To summarize the numbers involved here, Oracle had FY16 revenues of $37 billion, net income of $8.9 billion, and a market cap of $180 billion.

On the other hand, Accenture had FY16 revenues of US$34.8 billion, net income of $4.1 billion, and a market cap of $77 billion.

Some questions that come to mind:
  1. Why? Oracle buying NetSuite in 2016 made sense. Oracle buying Salesforce would make even more sense. Oracle buying a management consulting and professional services company, and that too one with more than a quarter million employees, on the face of it, makes little sense. Would it help Oracle leapfrog Amazon's AWS cloud business? Would it help Oracle go after a new market segment? The answers are not clear, at all.

Mar 26, 2017

Kurukshetra, A Photo Yaatra - 1

T
he Grant Trunk Road - possibly the oldest surviving highway in the world - starts out in what is now Bangladesh, makes its way through the Gangetic plains, crosses Delhi, and moving northwards, passing the town Sonepat, the historic battlefield Panipat, the refinery at Karnal, and along the way to Ambala and beyond, if you blink you miss it - Kurukshetra. Even as recently as a decade ago, in the absence of flyovers, it was routine to get stuck in hour-long traffic jams while trying to cross the intersections of these towns. There is now an overpass that takes you right over the intersection of the national highway and the State Highway 6 that makes it way to Kurukshetra on one side and to Yamunagar on the other. So unless you are looking for the town, you are likely to miss it. But if you do remember to look left (if travelling north), you cannot miss the welcome arch over the road that leads into the city. Whether you are passing by or whether entering the city, do look at the impressive arch. If you do, you will spot the famous, immortal chariot from the Mahabharata atop the arch. Arjuna's chariot, with Krishna the charioteer. Arjuna's bow - the Gandiva - is down. As long as it stayed down, so did the Pandava's hopes of winning the dharma-yuddha. One hand of Krishna holds the reins of Arjuna's horses - literally and metaphorically - while the other hand is raised, in explanation. This arch is lit up at night, and the visage is all the more impressive, and indescribably evocative.

Mar 11, 2017

Alcohol — Latin, Arabic, or Indian/Hindu? An Etymology

W
hat is the etymology of the word “alcohol”?

According to Wikipedia, “the word alcohol appears in English as a term for a very fine powder in the sixteenth century. It was borrowed from French, which took it from medical Latin. Ultimately the word is from the Arabic كحل (al-kuḥl, “kohl, a powder used as an eyeliner”). Al- is the Arabic definitive article, equivalent to the in English;
What is somewhat puzzling is the reference the Wikipedia page relies on in passing pronouncement on the etymology of the word. The sole claim is a link to a site named VIAS — as in “Virtual Institute of Applied Science”, which is described as “An online encyclopedia of science topics, with a Mathematics section as well as a German/English dictionary.

Mar 6, 2017

The Battle for Rama - 1. Babur's Mosques

In her 2013 book, "Rama and Ayodhya", Meenakshi Jain had presented perhaps the most accessible, authoritative, and comprehensive account of the  literary, sculptural, epigraphic, and historical evidence to support the antiquity and ubiquity of Rama across India, in addition to summarizing the findings of the Allahabad High Court's verdict on the case.

Her 2017 book, "The Battle for Rama: Case of the Temple at Ayodhya", builds upon "Rama and Ayodhya" with new information and evidence that has come to light in the last few years. While it is a short book, at 160 pages, it is nonetheless lavishly produced, with 61 illustrations and full-colour photographs printed on glossy paper. 

Feb 28, 2017

Tunnel of Varanavat - Review

Tunnel of Varanavat: Mahabharat Reimagined
by Gautam Chikermane

 When Duryodhana attempted to poison and drown Bheem during their childhood, it was a shocking incident, but one that was quickly forgotten by both the Pandavas and Kauravas. It was perhaps an accident. It was perhaps committed by a child's intellect. But this was manifestly not so when the Kauravas attempted to burn to death all the five Pandavas and their mother Kunti at Varanavat.

Feb 20, 2017

Flipkart and the Revolving Door

T
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]
N
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

D
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
[श्रेय: http://bhaktiart.net/]
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

W
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

T
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
[credit: http://bhaktiart.net/]
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

T
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."