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 . ...

Dec 18, 2015

E-Commerce in India - A tide lifting many boats

India, with an estimated population of 1.2 billion, had more than 900 million mobile subscribers in 2014. Of these, about 150 million were smartphone subscribers. As more and more people get connected to high-speed Internet, mostly via smartphones, it is estimated that there will be more than 400 million smartphone subscribers in India by 2018. India has already gained the attention of the world's leading Internet companies. India is Facebook's second largest market in terms of monthly active users, the largest market for WhatsApp, the fastest growing market for Twitter, and so on. The implications on e-commerce are even more significant. The e-commerce market in India, which is expected to cross $25 billion in 2015, has attracted billions of dollars in venture capital funding, giving rise to a second e-commerce boom in the country. Unlike the dot-com boom at the turn of the century, that was driven almost wholly on the illusory metrics of and "page-views", with little to no real revenue behind those "clicks", the story this time is different. The e-commerce boom in India is a tide that is lifting many boats.

Dec 4, 2015

Rearming Hinduism, by Vamsee Juluri - Review

Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence Paperback, by Vamsee Juluri (@VamseeJuluri)

Who controls the history of a people controls the people. Colonization of the land is easier to fight than colonization of the mind. Who gets to define Hinduism today? Should they? For those who have, what's their agenda, their motives? For those who support, what drives them?

Academia in the United States has a well-deserved reputation for independence, and exercises far greater intellectual honesty - for the most part - than compared to, say, many of the leftist-controlled institutions in India. This streak of honesty breaks down, however, when it comes to Indology, and especially Hinduism studies. Almost without exception, Hinduism as a subject in US academia has for decades been in the control of the racists, the xenophobes, the bigots, the supremacists, and at times the outright insane! Like the person who insisted in an "acclaimed" book that "most of India" lay in the Northern Hemisphere (for the record, and this is not a matter of opinion - all of India is entirely within the Northern Hemisphere; not "most", but every square-inch. In fact, the southernmost tip of India - Kanyakumari - is a good 800 kilometers north of the Equator, and has been that way for at least the last 15 million years)!!!

Nov 25, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 3

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 3 of 3 (part 1, part 2)

As 2014 drew to a close, the Indian IT industry was rocked by rumours that TCS (the largest Indian IT company by annual revenues) had completed an internal review and had initiated lay offs of thousands of employees - mostly in middle management. Some stories talked about a number as high as 30,000. The saga finally ended with a round of clarifications and denials by TCS and some well-deserved opprobrium over its inept handling of the needless controversy. What the fracas however served to highlight was a stark truth that's been staring at the Indian IT industry for some time now - the skills that the typical Indian IT worker possesses are mostly undifferentiated and prime candidates for automation.
What is worse, from at least one perspective, is the fact that (smart) humans have built technology that has becoming adept at "engineering the labor out of the product." One will need to be particularly myopic to not also recognize that "the machines are coming for the higher-skill jobs as well." This much should have been clear in part two of this series, through the examples I cited from Martin Ford's book.

Nov 24, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 2

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 2 of 3 (part 1)

Machines have been able to do mechanical jobs faster than humans, with greater precision, and for longer periods of time - the cotton gin invented in the eighteenth century for example. The inevitable loss of jobs called for a re-skilling of the people affected, and the mantra went that you had to pull yourself up by your socks, learn a new skill, and get productive again. Martin Ford's book shatters that illusion. There is not a single profession left - whether unskilled or skilled, whether in technology or medicine or liberal arts, whether one that can be performed remotely or requires direct human interaction - that is not at threat from the machines. Whichever way you slice and dice it, you are left facing one or the other variation of a dystopian future, with stark income inequalities, a substantial population that will require doles on a permanent doles, and the concomitant social upheavals.

Nov 23, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 1

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 1 of 3

"I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're small. I'm right; you're wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Thus spake Harry Wormwood in the movie "Matilda". This well could be the message that robots will have for us in the not too distant future. The dramatic improvements in the speed, the accuracy, and the areas in which computers have begun to comprehensively outperform humans leads one to believe that while a so-called singularity may well be some ways off, the more immediate effects of this automation are already being felt in permanent job losses. In a country like India, which has used digital technologies quite effectively in the last decade and a half to grow a $150 billion IT-BPM industry, the impact could be devastating - especially where an estimated 10 million people are employed.

Nov 12, 2015

Deepavali 2015

Deepavali (also called Diwali in much of North India) came this year on the 11th of November, 2015. The date, as per the Gregorian calendar, is quite meaningless. But if you look at this tithi (date) according to the Hindu calendar, light strikes! It was Ashwin amavasya, of Krishna paksha. Which means it was a moonless night. As Rama and Sita, along with Lakshman, returned to Ayodhya, the stars were the only heavenly bodies that provided light.  Thus the residents of Ayodhya, having waited for more than fourteen years for their prince, lit lamps to light the way. In more ways than one, they were dispelling the darkness that had persisted in Ayodhya for many years. 

Yugas have passed, but the thought and tradition lives on.

Nov 6, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 15 - When Bhima Was At a Loss of Words

Bhima throws an elephant at Karna
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
That Bhima was a man of action is not in dispute. One could write an epic in itself on Bhima's love for letting his actions do the talking. But do not think his words lacked a punch either! Far from it. Bhima was never short of strong words either. Let us examine a few instances.

Yudhishthira's weakness for gambling combined with his ineptness at the game to hand over his kingdom, liberty, his brothers and wife to the Kauravas. Bhima had watched quietly as Yudhishthira had gambled away - losing round after round - everything, but Droupadi's insult in the assembly hall was too much for him to bear. He turned to his elder brother and spoke - "O Yudhishthira! Gamblers have many courtesans in their country. But they are kind even towards those, and do not stake them in gambling. ... I think you committed a most improper act in staking Droupadi. She did not deserve this. ... It is because of her that my anger descends on you. I will burn your hands. O Sahadeva! Bring the fire." [Dyuta Parva]

Oct 27, 2015

Vamsee Juluri - Hinduism and Its Culture Wars

Hinduism and its culture wars

Vamsee Juluri's essay in 2012 has been published as an e-book, "Hinduism and its culture wars", and I would recommend it whole-heartedly for all. In some ways, it can also serve as a short primer for his longer, and more recent, book - "Rearming Hinduism".

For those unaware, there has been a raging battle being fought for more than two decades for the soul of Hindu academia. On one side have been the liberals, the orientalist academia, the Hinduphobes - all of whom have had a stranglehold on the mainstream narrative of Hinduism. On the other side have been a section of Hindus who have risen up to challenge this bigoted and jaundiced view of their faith.

Oct 16, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 14 - Playing By the Book? I Don’t Think So!

Playing by the book to win is a myth that has cost us dear. We should know better, but we're probably poor learners! Among several arguments put forth to explain Indians’ losses against foreign invaders, one of the more commonly heard one is that Indians could not – or refused to – adapt to the new rules of warfare and insisted on fighting by the more traditional, dharmic, rules of war. But is that really the case?

Let’s use the Mahabharata to evaluate this assumption more closely. Was this war at Kurukshetra fought as a dharmic war? The Pandavas certainly believed theirs to be a just war, yes. But the means? Most would disagree, I hope. Women were not supposed to take part in the war – at least one did. There was not supposed to be any fighting at night – there was. The unarmed were not to be attacked – they were. A warrior was not to be engaged in battle without warning – he was. Warriors were not to be attacked when sleeping - they were. And so on… Every single rule was broken, by both sides.

Kripa and Shikhandi fight
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)
Shikhandi had been born Shikhandini – a woman. You could also see her as Amba reborn. A yaksha gave Shikhandini his male form, and she thus became Shikhandi. Bhishma looked at Shikhandi as a woman and refused to engage him in a duel. The Pandavas used this to shield Arjuna from Bhishma. Thus was brought down the first commander of the Kaurava army. Rules of engagement were clearly asymmetric. The Pandavas adapted when faced with rules that put them at a disadvantage.

Oct 6, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata 13 - Fated to Fail, the Sarpa Satra

Sarpa satra of Janamajeya
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Yagyas do not always end happily in the Mahabharata. I wrote about two such sacrifices earlier, both performed by Yudhishthira. The most famous was the first one - the Rajsuya Yagya. It ended with the death of Shishupala at the hands of Krishna, and initiated a series of events that culminated finally with the eighteen-day war on the battlefield at Kurukshetra.

My favourite however is the Sarpa Satra. This was the sacrifice initiated by Janamejaya to avenge his father's death, who had been bitten to death by Takshaka. The sacrifice was to ensure the destruction of all snakes. The sacrifice started, but did not complete. It was halted, at the instructions of Janamejaya himself! What followed thereafter was the first public retelling of the tale of the sons of Krishna Dvapayana.

So who were batting - so to say - for the sacrifice to be successful?

Sep 25, 2015

Hygiene as the New Burden

The white man's burden, 1898 Detroit Journal cartoon
Remember the “White Man’s Burden” – the phrase that grew out of Rudyard Kipling’s nineteenth-century poem of the same name, and which exhorted the white man to take on the “burden” of colonizing and serving their “captives’ need”? This was but a natural duty befalling the white man because in the words of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, “negroes” and “all other species of men … to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

Well, times have changed. It is now no longer politically palatable to be using such phrases. What has however stayed invariant is the assumption of the west’s superiority over the unwashed, unlettered heathens. Hygiene is the latest burden the western man has to bear.

Sep 16, 2015

History - 1 - The Accumulated Wealth of 348 Years

Nadir Shah at the sack of Delhi
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)
Of all the depredations that Delhi has suffered over the centuries at the hands of invaders, the one that stands out the most is the plunder by Nadir Shah in 1739. The Mughal empire would finally dissolve more than a century after this event, though it had started to become dissolute and decrepit after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

Nadir Shah had consolidated his position in Persia, and had conquered Kandahar to buttress the security of his eastern provinces. This conquest of Kandahar however left him cash-strapped for further conquests against the Turks. He wanted territory, money, and fame. The decaying Mughal empire looked like an ideal candidate to satisfy all three urges.

Nadir Shah's pretext, we are told, for invading India was the Mughal ruler's refusal to stop giving asylum to the Afghan rebels that had been troubling the eastern provinces of Nadir Shah's kingdom. This is only partially true. Such firmness in refusing Nadir Shah would have been quite out of character for Muhammad Shah.

Nadir Shah had first sent two envoys - Ali Mardan Khan Shamlu and Muhammad Ali Khan - to deliver this request to Muhammad Shah - the Mughal emperor - but "had received evasive replies." Nadir Shah then sent Muhammad Khan Turkman as his Persian envoy to deliver another protest to Muhammad Shah, with instructions to the envoy that he not "prolong his stay beyond forty days." Muhammad Shah again did not give any firm reply. Instead, "his advisers wasted their time in the controversy as to how to address the Persian upstart." The last straw for Nadir Shah was "the murder of two Persian courtiers who had been sent to Delhi under escort to bring news of Muhammad Khan Turkman."

Sep 7, 2015

Gita for Children, by Roopa Pai

The Gita for Children, by Roopa Pai

Yes, there is a need for one more book on the Gita. This one fits a particular niche quite well.

On the one hand you have over-simplified adaptations of the Bhagavad Gita that throw in a sentence or two from the text but fail to either capture the essence or its substance, leaving the young reader none the wiser at the end. On the other hand you have scholarly translations with detailed commentaries that bring a life's worth of study to bear on the subject, are a joy to read, but are ipso-facto mostly out of reach of most children, unless assisted by an adult. Then there are books that seek to bridge this gap, like Swami Chinmayananda's "Gita For Children" - but even that is more a parent's reading companion than a book meant to be read by children.

Roopa Pai's book, "The Gita For Children", therefore fills a much-needed gap. It's a book written for children, makes even the difficult sections of the Gita accessible to children, and which patiently explores some of the knottier questions that arise when reading the profound work. Actual shlokas from Gita are also present - the most obvious ones are all there - but used sparingly.

Sep 5, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 16 - Black, White, and Coloured Too

Kurukshetra (credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
The Mahabharata has lived for thousands of years for the reason that it serves as that vast ocean human emotions in which everyone can pour their own understanding and find acceptance without judgment.

There is an innate human desire to see and interpret things in a monochromatic palette of black-and-white. One could argue that stereotyping is an "energy-saving" device that allows us to make "efficient decisions on the basis of past experiences." ("Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox") . Therefore, is it any surprise that many of us look at the characters in the Mahabharata also through similar, stereotypical lenses? It simplifies things if we view Duryodhana as the jealous usurper, Shakuni as the manipulative uncle, Bhishma as the noble but helpless elder, Arjuna as the hero, Karna as the tragic and righteous hero fighting on the wrong side, and so on. No, it is not quite proper or kosher to include in this group of admirers (and critics) of the Mahabharata those that bring their own neuroses and neo-colonial prejudices!

Ganga presents Devavrata
to Shantanu
(credit: B.P. Banerjee, via
the free encyclopedia)
Bhishma, who took a vow of celibacy to ensure that his stepmother Satyavati's sons would reign, and yet who ended up acting as father to three generations of Kurus - Satyavati's sons Vichitravirya and Chitrangada; then Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura; and finally the Pandavas and Kauravas. Bhishma, who renounced the throne and yet ruled Hastinapura as the regent for most of his life, on behalf of his step-brothers and step-sons. Bhishma, who took a vow of lifelong bachelorhood and yet was cursed by a woman - not for harassing or molesting her, but for not marrying her! Not quite the life a celibate bachelor would have imagined. His own father's boon to him - that of choosing the time of his own death - would see him lie on the battlefield of Kurukshetra for fifty-eight nights, pierced with arrows shot at him by his beloved grandson Arjuna.

Aug 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.

Aug 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.

Aug 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.

Jul 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.

Jun 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.

Jun 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."

Jun 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?

Jun 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:
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.

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]).

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.

May 14, 2015

Flipkart and Focus - 2 - Mobile Advertising Numbers Can Be Misleading

The second part of my series of articles on why I believed Flipkart was at losing focus, at the wrong time, when faced with its most serious competition to date. This one focused on why a fascination with mobile advertising numbers could be very misleading.
It was published in DNA on April 14, 2015.

The Numbers Game Can be Very Misleading
According to the Internet Trends report of 2014, mobile internet advertising spend grew 47% year-on-year in 2013 to reach $12.7 billion, or 11% of the total global internet advertising spend. This mobile ad spend number was about 32 per cent of total mobile app revenues of $38 billion. Clearly mobile ad spend has been growing several times faster than non-mobile ad spend.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has been stunningly successful in growing its mobile revenues. So much so that “In the final three months of 2014, Facebook served 65% fewer ads than a year earlier, but the average cost of those ads to advertisers was 335% higher.[i]” As much as $2.5 billion in Facebook’s annual revenues came from these mobile ads – shown on smartphones or tablets. So successful has Facebook been in making money from selling these mobile ads that it “launched its in-app mobile ad network” in 2014[ii] to sell ads within other apps,

May 8, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 10 - On Pollution

My post on what the Mahabharata says on pollution appeared in Swarajya Magazine on March 10, 2015.

Here is the original article:

Jayadratha comes across as a rather despicable character in the Mahabharata. He tried to kidnap Droupadi - his sister-in-law - while the Pandavas were in exile, and escaped with his life only because of Yudhishthira's intervention. During the war, on the thirteenth day, he held back the Pandava army from entering the formation - the chakra vyuha - that Drona had formed, and thus preventing help from reaching the beleaguered Abhimanyu. The Kaurava warriors ganged up against the lone teenager and killed him in a battle most unequal and most unfair.

May 1, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 8 - The Most Well Laid of Plans

My eighth story from "Tales from the Mahabharata" - "The Best Laid Plans...", was published in the February 2015 print edition of Swarajya Mag.

Here is the link to the article, and the full article:
The Most Well Laid of Plans...

Failing to plan is planning to fail - so goes a much trite cliche. Karna however can certainly not be accused of failing to plan. He had a plan and a backup plan to take on Arjuna, his lifelong adversary.

That Karna and Arjuna were rivals is well known. That Karna got the chance to defeat four of the Pandavas in battle is also known. Only a promise made to Kunti, his mother, stopped him from finishing off these other Pandavas. "Other" as in all but Arjuna. Karna was clear that in an encounter between the two, only one would come out alive. The hostility between the two brothers was mutual and implacable. That fateful encounter took place on the seventeenth day on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Karna had prepared and prepared well for that encounter.

Apr 30, 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Review

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

by Jon Ronson (@jonronson)
Buying info:
US: PaperbackHardcoverKindle
India: FlipkartFlipkart e-bookAmazon PaperbackAmazon Kindle

Also published on,, Flipkart, and Goodreads.

Like Having Your ** Electrocuted

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself! What you did was shameful! I am ashamed of you. You have shamed the entire family!"

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" - never has a more false proverb been more convincingly uttered. The power of words has been underestimated; severely, grossly, terribly, massively underestimated. If you don't believe me, ask James Gilligan, described as "about the world's best chronicler of what a shaming can do to our inner lives." In the 1970s, he was a "young psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School", and was "invited to lead" a group of a "team of investigative psychiatrists" ordered by a "US District Court judge" to "make sense of the chaos" that were Massachusetts prisons and mental hospitals. What was the scene like?
"Inmates were swallowing razor blades and blinding and castrating themselves and each other. ... Prisoners were getting killed, officers were getting killed, visitors were getting killed."

Apr 27, 2015

The Case of the Secretive Sister - Review

My review of Nilanjan Choudhary's latest book, "The Case of the Secretive Sister", was published in DNA India on December 1, 2014. I would whole-heartedly recommend the book!

What happens when Mr. Chatterjee, a retired widower, decides to put his ample spare time and girth towards starting a private detective agency, unimaginatively and unsurprisingly christened the "Chatterjee Institute of Detection"? The only worthwhile case he gets is that from Mrs. Pammi Chaddha, a loud Punjabi - but I repeat myself - who wishes desperately for her daughter, named Aisharadhya (no surprises there either, because any other name would sound too down-market), to get into the toniest of schools in town, the Holy Angels Convent School. Mr. Chatterjee finds himself taking the case on, despite his protestations. A substantial retainer helps ease any misgivings he has. Mr Chatterjee's inventiveness does not find a willing partner in his luck, and a hare-brained scheme to convince the convent's headmistress, a stern Ms. D'Souza, to grant admission to Pinky (the home name of Aisharadhya) sees our budding detective losing his shirt - literally, and on the run from a determined Inspector Gowda. Does he get his shirt back, does Pinky get admission, and does Inspector Gowda get the satisfaction of laying his hands on Mr Chatterjee's throat and more? What secret does Sister D'Souza have that could come to Mr Chatterjee's rescue? Could he blackmail her? Or will Inspector Gowda get his sweet revenge before Mr Chatterjee his shirt?

Apr 22, 2015

Is Flipkart Losing Focus - 1

This is the first of a series of articles I wrote for DNA in April on why I believed Flipkart was at losing focus, at the wrong time, when faced with its most serious competition to date.

"Why Flipkart seems to be losing focus", appeared in DNA on Sunday, April 12, 2015.

Part I
Among all start-ups that have emerged from India in recent and not-so recent times, Flipkart is likely to be at the top of most people’s minds. The list is admittedly weighted heavily in favour of newer companies, given that the Indian start-up ecosystem has only in the last decade or so started to pick up steam. But that is changing, and the list is getting longer and diverse, with such names as Urban Ladder, Zomato, Reel, Druva Software, WebEngage, etc…[1] in just the online segment. But today, in 2015, Flipkart is the big daddy of them; with total equity funding of US $2.5 billion and a valuation of a whopping US$11 billion as of April 2015, it was ranked the seventh most valuable start-up in the world[2] (though that was still a far cry from the $178 billion market cap enjoyed by US online retailer Amazon[3] and $220 billion market cap of Chinese online retailer Alibaba[4]).

Yet Flipkart seems to be in trouble.

Mar 29, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 9 - Shukra

My ninth story in the series, Tales from the Mahabharata, was published in Swarajya Magazine on March 1, 2015.

Here is the article as it appeared.

Let me tell you a tale. Once upon a time the devas were locked in a deadly battle with the asuras. Try as they might, the asuras seemed incapable of being defeated. For the asuras would fall one day, felled by the devas, only to be revived by their preceptor, Kavya Ushanas - also known as Shukra. You see, Shukra knew the knowledge of sanjivani - the secret of bringing the dead back to life. Brihaspati, the guru of the gods, didn't.

Mar 21, 2015

Mahabharata Vol. 9 (First review)

Mahabharata: Volume 9
Translated by Bibek Debroy

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The Beginning of the End

After the seventeen day war was over, the battlefield at Kurukshetra littered with the bodies of the millions who had died, Hastinapura under the control of the Pandavas, the survivors no more than what could be counted on one's fingertips, what else was left? When all had been said and done, or so one thought, it turns out that there was still a lot left to be said.  If you believe that the Mahabharata at one point consisted only of a small and relatively short core of approximately twenty-thousand verses, then its current size of a hundred thousand shlokas is sure to baffle (though it must be pointed out that the Critical Edition, including Hari Vamsha, is a shade less than eighty thousand shlokas). Among the many questions that may arise, the principal one is likely to be - "where?!" "Where" as in where did the epic become an epic, in a literal manner of speakingiterally speaking? When did "Jaya" become "Bharata" and then "Mahabharata"? The short answer, and I use the word "short" deliberately, is in the Shanti and Anushasan Parvas - the twelfth and thirteenth parvas respectively. The long answer is nineteen and a half thousand verses. If you take the seventy three thousand shlokas that constitute the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata - as compiled over nearly half a century by the scholars at Pune's Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, and not counting the approximately six and a half thousand shlokas of Hari Vamsha, which is considered a "kheel" (appendix) to the epic -  then twenty six per cent - a full quarter and then some - of the epic is contained in these two parvas.

Mahabharata Vol. 9 (Second review)

Mahabharata: Volume 9
Translated by Bibek Debroy

"A wife must always be honoured and cherished. When women are not honoured, all the rites become unsuccessful. When daughters-in-law grieve, the family is destroyed." Very strong words spoken in defence of women - and pointedly addressed to both the husband and the parents-in-law. The sanctity of marriage not only results from the vows, but also from the "injunction of dharma that a husband must regard his wife as having been given to him by the gods." What about parents who sell their sons - basically yoke a son to the family who will give the maximum dowry? Such a person has to "progressively pass through seven terrible hells known as "Kalasahvya". After death, he feeds on sweat, urine and excrement." An unpalatable fate that still does not seem to deter many.
Forget dowry, even the act of giving to the undeserving can invite such a fate - "the giver remains in hell for ten years - surviving on excrement."

Mar 16, 2015

NH3 Thal Ghat

This is the Thal Ghat (also known as Kasara Ghat) section of NH3, near the town of Kasara, and before Igatpuri. This was shot during the monsoons, and the lush greenery and mist made for a memorable drive.

After you cross Kalyan, NH3 opens up, and upto Nashik is one of the better national highways.

© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Incredible History of India's Geography - Review

The Incredible History of India's Geography, by Sanjeev Sanyal
5 stars

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History books come in many flavours. There are the dry tomes that are read by few, yet quoted by many. There are the popular histories - the "pulpy" versions that are written by high-brow intellectuals who dress themselves as socialists yet work their connections at prestigious B-schools to get the sales that deliver impressive royalties. There are however a few notable exceptions here - like the books written by Michel Danino for instance (and Sanjeev Sanyal's "The Land of the Seven Rivers", but more on that later). Then there are the so-called histories written for children - the worst of the lot because not only do they dumb down history to the point of rendering it useless from both an educational and informational perspective, but they also commit the unpardonable sin of perpetuating discredited myths and vile lies about India and her history. The Aryan Invasion myth being the most favoured among them.

Mar 6, 2015

For Sir Wiston Churchill Was an Honourable Man

I penned a short article on Sir Winston Churchill that appeared in Swarajya Magazine on Feb 7, 2015. It, to my surprise, went viral and attracted more than one thousand "shares" on social media.

Here is the full article as it appeared:
For Sir Winston Churchill was an Honourable Man

24th January, 2015 was the fiftieth death anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill. While many celebrated the legacy and work of this British statesman there were also others who pointed out Churchill’s other side

Sir Winston Churchill authored the six-volume magnum opus, “The Second World War”, that proved to be a blockbuster bestseller, helped earn the author millions of dollars in today’s value, and even more – earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature. This work was written substantially by a team of ghost writers called The Syndicate – which researched and wrote the drafts for most of the book, as well as pulling material from the war records and archives. Sir Winston Churchill alone would collect the substantial royalties, credit, and the Nobel Prize.While Sir Churchill’s erudition on geography is well known – where he remarked that India was no more a country than the equator, it is his views on Indians that are to be cherished even more. He told his private secretary that ‘the Hindus were a foul race “protected by their mere pullation from the doom that is their due”‘ “He wished that Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris, the head of British bomber command, could “send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”” No opprobrium would come Sir Churchill’s way.

Feb 21, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata 7- Of Conditions and Exceptions

Tales from the Mahabharat, Episode 7 - Of Conditions and Exceptions - my seventh installment of "Tales from the Mahabharata" was published in the Swarajya Magazine on January 10, 2015.

This is the full text of the article as it appeared:

The Mahabharata presents many a different face to different people. A story of friendship, filial jealousies, passions run amok, and much more. In between the main story, there are a number of side stories and tales that have found their way into the epic. Even one version of the Ramayana is contained in the Mahabharata! The other fascinating element found frequently enough is one of conditions and exceptions. Ignoring or acting upon these results in unintended consequences, which is the thread that pervades the epic. Like the story of Karna's earrings and armour, and how an anxious Indra came in the guise of a brahmana to ask Karna to give them away.

Feb 14, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 6 - To renounce the throne or not

My sixth installment of "Tales from the Mahabharata - To Renounce The Throne Or Not" - was published in the Swarajya Magazine on December 14, 2014.

This is the full text of the article as it appeared:
Arjuna benefited from Krishna's wisdom - most famously before the start of the eighteen day war at Kurukshetra. The wisdom helped guide Arjuna through the war, helping keep his focus on what his dharma was. Arjuna still found himself giving in to his emotions, but by and large he proved to be the ideal warrior. Yudhishthira on the other hand had to wait till after the war to bathe in an elder's wisdom - Bhishma. What he received by way of wisdom was much longer than the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita though. But more on that later.

When the war came to an end, Duryodhana was dead, Ashwatthama had committed the unpardonable sin of foeticide and had been cursed by Krishna for it, Gandhari had cursed Krishna, the final rites of those departed had been performed (described in Shraddha Parva - and the death toll stood at more than one billion (the exact number given by Yudhishthira in response to a question by Dhritarashtra in Shraddha Parva is "One billion, twenty thousand and sixty six crore" - bringing the total number of 1,660,020,000. The ninth verse from the twenty sixth chapter of the eleventh parva has the shloka: दशायुतानामयुतं सहस्राणि च विंशतिः 
कोट्यः षष्टिश्च षट्चैव येऽस्मिन्राजमृधे हताः ).

Feb 7, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata 5 - Parikshit: Ego, Deja Vu

My fifth installment of "Tales from the Mahabharata - Parikshit: Ego, Deja Vu" - was published in the Swarajya Magazine on December 2, 2014.

This is the full text of the article as it appeared:
Parikshit’s is a most unusual tale, in more ways than one. The posthumous son of Abhimanyu, Parikshit was given life by Krishna himself. Yet he died a most gory death, burnt to ashes because of the poison of Takshaka. Why? Because of the curse of Shringi, the son of sage Shamika. Yes, but why Takshaka, the serpent king? Well, one could argue that Takshaka’s abode, the Khandava forest, had been burned to the ground by Arjuna and Krishna. So what better revenge than to kill Parikshit—the grandson of Arjuna who had been given life by Krishna. But Takshaka per se is not what I want to dwell upon here.
Let us take a brief look at the incidents that led to Parikshit’s demise.

Jan 4, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 4 To Forgive or Not

My fourth installment of "Tales from the Mahabharata - Forgive Now and Fight Later?" - was published in the Swarajya Magazine on November 16, 2014.

This is the full text of the article as it appeared:

Forgive Now and Fight Later?

Was Yudhishthira a forgiving man? One might be forgiven, pardon the pun, for thinking that he was. After all, didn't he forgive Duryodhana and the entire Kauravas for the many evils they perpetrated on the Pandavas over the years? Well, yes, he did, for the most part. Yudhishthira also quoted these lines from a song sung by sage Kashyapa on the topic of forgiveness:
"क्षमा धर्मः क्षमा यज्ञः क्षमा वेदाः क्षमा श्रुतम्
...क्षमा ब्रह्म क्षमा सत्यं क्षमा भूतं च भावि च
क्षमा तपः क्षमा शौचं क्षमया चोद्धृतं जगत्
Translated: "Forgiveness is dharma. Forgiveness is sacrifices. Forgiveness is the Vedas. Forgiveness is the sacred texts... Forgiveness is the brahman. Forgiveness is the truth. Forgiveness is the past and the future. Forgiveness is austerities. Forgiveness is purity. Forgiveness holds up the entire world."

Tales from the Mahabharata - 3 - Fratricide, Suicide, and more!

My third installments of "Tales from the Mahabharata - When Krishna Stopped Arjuna from Killing Yudhishthira" - was published in the Swarajya Magazine on November 2, 2014.

This is the full text of the article as it appeared:
When Krishna Stopped Arjuna from Killing Yudhishthira.
Attempted fratricide, attempted suicide - a bizarre turn of affairs on the seventeenth day!

Krishna may have uttered the most profound 800 shlokas ever at the beginning of the war (Bhagvad Gita Parva). He was successful there - Arjuna picked up his weapons, and the rest, so to say, is history. His words however failed to prevent the war itself. His visit to Hastinapura (Bhagavat-yana Parva in the Udyoga Parva), as a last resort to get Duryodhana to cede to the Pandavas at least five villages did not yield the desired results. Krishna was successful on at least two other occasions in preventing needless violence, once against Arjuna and once against Bhima - but that's another story for another day and time though. Happily enough, Krishna's war prevented at least one fratricide during the war itself - between Arjuna and Yudhishthira!