Jul 25, 2017

Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra

Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1], by Ashay Naik

A
shay Naik's book, "Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1]", is a fascinating and scholarly commentary on perhaps the most famous of all animal-tale anthologies.

The Panchatantra, like much of great Indian literature, is multi-layered. It is a fable told through animal stories. It is a brilliant exhibition of the frame-within-a-frame storytelling concept, outdone perhaps only by the Mahabharata. This style went westwards, resulting the Thousand and One Nights and later the Canterbury Tales. The Pancatantra lends itself to a simple reading and interpretation, making it ideal for children to read and enjoy when young. As one grows older, and hopefully, wiser, and if the interest should awaken itself, the same text then reveals its myriad facets to the reader. The Pancatantra is perhaps the greatest exemplar of this aspect of Indian literature.

Jul 18, 2017

Flipkart and the Art of Advertising Mishaps - 1


I
n the age of startups, especially in the e-commerce space, where money is plentiful - or till a a year or so back, used to be - the only metric that seems to matter for the marketing function is "spend". Not ROI, CPA, CLV, etc... Splurging money on advertising became an end in itself. Where the mantra to success is growth, unencumbered by thoughts of the bottom line, any kind of growth will do. Therefore, growth in "eyeballs", "page-views", "app downloads", and other metrics of "engagement" - any and all numbers will do. Into this heady mix of unaccountability, if you then throw in lack of experience, lack of competence, and rank immaturity, you get a series of marketing disasters of the kind that headlined Flipkart's slow descent into what seems like inevitable irrelevance. One still hopes it will recover to give a creditable account of itself in its existential battle against Amazon. Then there is Alibaba and WalMart waiting in the wings. One hopes.

In this series of short posts, I will look at just a few marketing and advertising fiascoes at the company.

Jul 3, 2017

Mahabharata, Book Two - Ambition, by Somdip Datta


I
s there a new way to present the Mahabharata? A story as epic and grand as the Mahabharata has inspired the great and the devoted alike, and sadly the mediocre and agenda-driven also, in finding ever new canvases to paint the story on.

Just as Amruta Patil found a graphic palette on which to paint her interpretation of a part of the Mahabharata, Somdip has adopted the graphic route, but given it a digitl avatar. The result is nothing short of stunning.

Book Two, Ambition, is the second book in a series of five planned books. The first one was Seeds of War, while the remaining titles are Riches and Rags, Hide and Seek, the Civil War, and the Uncivil War.

Jun 30, 2017

Usability, Product Management, and LinkedIn - a rant

L
inkedIn began as a professional networking site, has evolved into a social media behemoth, and has yet managed to maintain and sharpen its focus on the professional space. That may, in part, explain why, in 2016, Microsoft chose to put down more than $26 billion Washingtons to buy LinkedIn.
While both LinkedIn's web site and mobile app have undergone substantial changes over the years, and is a far cry from the spartan look both sported just a few years ago, I wanted to call out one peculiarity - call it eccentricity - that the site has. I would call it a glaring UX and product management miss, if you will.
Let me elaborate.
email from LinkedIn in June 2014, announcing the launch of the publish feature.
Sometime in April 2014, LinkedIn introduced a feature that allowed users - by invitation at first, and everyone later - to publish their articles on LinkedIn. This feature is now a great source of user-generated content for LinkedIn, helping drive more traffic to its website. I have written a few over the last couple of years, and it's a great way to my thoughts on relevant topics in front of a relevant audience.

But Where Are My Articles?

From the LinkedIn home page, try finding a way to navigate to your articles - published or in draft mode. Go ahead, I will wait while you wander on the home page.
You can't.
Let me show. See the screenshot below. That is the home page I see when I go to LinkedIn.
  1. The menu at the top contains no links to go to my articles.
  2. I can click the 'Write an article' button and it will take me to the LinkedIn Publishing page, and I can start penning pristine prose there.
  3. I can click the headline and view analytics on my articles or shares.

But I still cannot view a list of my articles. I can't.

  • If I go to the Publishing page, and if I click the 'More' dropdown, then voila, I can see that I have finally found what I was looking for. So will you too.
Why? Why make it so darn tough to find your own articles?
  • By design? Unlikely.
  • Oversight? Likely. A miss, from both product management and UX. Why is an important features such as this so difficult to find? It is not even available from the home page. Why is not anyone talking about discoverability? What about the scent of information? Nielsen, Cooper, Pirolli, anyone?
Solution? Fix it. Fast.

[this post first appeared in LinkedIn on June 29th, 2017]

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

Jun 15, 2017

Quotes - Raja Dharma Parva

The Mahabharata, Vol. 8
Translated by Bibek Debroy
[Unabridged English translation of the
Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute's
 
Critical Edition of the Mahabharata]
This is a selection of quotes from the Raja Dharma Parva. This parva is one of three parvas of the Shanti Parva.
  • "There cannot be a treasury without oppression and without it, how is it possible to have an army?"
  • "When a kingdom goes into decline, the life of that king is one of shame."
  • "There is no livelihood that exists without violence. Even a solitary sage, active and roaming in the forest, cannot manage to do that." 
  • "What is said about dharma is true - it does not exist where there are no riches."
  • "Dharma is stained by jealousy. Artha is stained by secrecy. Kama is stained by excessive addiction."
  • "The foundation of the body is dharma, and artha is based on dharma. Kama is said to be the fruit of artha."
    • "Dharma must not be made to decline, but nor should one come under the subjugation of the enemy." 
    • "If the king's treasury is exhausted, his army will decline." 
    • "It is rare to find a petitioner who is satisfied with what he has got."
      • "It is rarer to find a person who does not disrespect a petitioner." 
      • "There is nothing that is as emaciated as hope."
      • "The dharma of kshatriyas is special. ... All the other dharmas are immersed in this dharma."
      • "Dharma of vaishyas - donations, studying, the performance of sacrifices, and the accumulation of wealth."
      • "If one is destroyed, one can perform no act of dharma." 

      Jun 5, 2017

      Quotes - Apad Dharma Parva

      These are selected quotes from the Apad Dharma Parva of the Mahabharata. The quotes are taken from Vol.8 of Bibek Debroy's unabridged English translation of the Mahabahrata. I have reviewed all ten volumes, and quotes from previous volumes are also available on my blog or on the Mahabharata blog.
      • "Progress on the journey does not take place along a single branch of dharma."

      • "If the root cannot be taken out, nothing must be dug up." 
      • "A debt that is not repaid, a fire that has not gone out and an enemy that has not been eliminated, repeatedly keep on growing." 
      • "Before striking, he must speak pleasantly. After striking, it should be even more pleasant." 
      • "He should be blind when it is best to be blind and he can even resort to being deaf." 
      • "There is a time for allying with enemies. There is a time for fighting with friends." 

      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

      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).


      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 ।