Friday, November 17, 2017

The No Asshole Rule, by Robert Sutton

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, by Robert Sutton

I
n preparation for a review of Robert Sutton's latest book, "The Asshole Survival Guide", I went back to his bestseller, "The No Asshole Rule."

Prof. Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering and Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University. In 2007 he wrote "The No Asshole Rule", which turned out to be a blockbuster bestseller, selling close to a million copies. The book itself was the result of an article he wrote in 2004, "More Trouble Than They’re Worth", and which became a Harvard Business Review's "Business Breakthrough Ideas for 2004".

Dealing with, interacting with, being at the receiving end of, and sometimes even acting like one are an inescapable fact of the workplace. What is? Who are? Being what? An "asshole", is what the author writes.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mahabharata and Wealth

W
hat does wealth mean to you? Let me start with myself. It has meant different things at different points in time and life. I suppose this is true for many of you as well. As a child, wealth meant being able to buy a new Amar Chitra Katha comic, or a shiny new toy. A little older, after I got a job, it meant audio cassette collections of my favourite artistes, books, then more books. A car, a house, and so on… What wealth is not, is a measure of my, or anyone else’s, worth. Is it?

The pursuit of wealth, often, means having to choose between doing what is right versus doing what is expected. The two are often not the same. While situations are rarely black or white, doing what is right may lead to self-satisfaction, while doing what is expected to wealth. Should I do one and not the other? Would you? Should I try to do both by finding an acceptable via media? Or, do one and defer the other, to a later, unspecified point in time? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Is it really a zero-sum game? The answer, as in so many things in life, lies in determining what your dharma is. Dharma is, if nothing else, subtle.

With that prelude, let me turn to the Mahabharata to bring out the subtleties when discussing wealth.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

T
here is a famous story in the Mahabharata concerning Yayati, one of the ancestors of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Because of a curse, he lost his youth, yet yearned for it. He asked his sons to exchange his old age for their youth. All but Puru - the youngest - refused. Yayati and Puru swapped their youths. Yayati had his fill of desires, and at the end of long period of time, realized there was no end to desires. He returned Puru his youth, and renounced the kingdom to spend his last days as an ascetic.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Black Money and Tax Havens Paperback, by R Vaidyanathan - Review


Black Money and Tax Havens Paperback, by R Vaidyanathan

T
he subject of black money and tax havens that facilitate and act as conduits for such black money has been the subject of intense fascination and speculation by the lay public for decades. It has been the subject of countless novels and movies, and some action by governments the world over. In India, the war against black money is one of the few areas where there seems to unanimous political consensus on the need for inaction. Prof. Vaidyanathan's book is a short and accessible reckoner for people wanting to gain more than just a superficial understanding of this subject.

First, some numbers. Calculating accurately the amount of black money generated in an economy is neither possible, nor estimable with any degree of accuracy. This is well-borne out by the varying estimates that have come over the decades.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Aadhaar, by Shankkar Aiyar - Review

Aadhaar A Biometric History of India's 12-Digit Revolution

by Shankkar Aiyar

T
his book is perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Aadhaar and the people who played a role in its birth and evolution. The author, Shankkar Aiyar, is a veteran journalist, and has marshaled his skills and experience in bringing out this short but crisp account of what is the world's largest biometric authentication system. The book is enriched by the access Shankkar had to the people who were central to the schema, at one point or other, including Nandan Nilekani, Rahul Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, and even Narendra Modi. The book traces the birth, growing pangs, the creeping at first and then uncontrolled spread of Aadhaar. A long epilogue is dedicated to the issue of privacy, which acquired urgency in the light of a case in the Supreme Court asking the government to clarify whether privacy was a fundamental right. In a most fortuitous turn of events for the book and its author, the Supreme Court, just as the book was released, ruled that privacy was indeed a Fundamental Right, but subject to reasonable restrictions. The book is, on balance, a good place to understand the roots of Aadhaar, the timeline of its evolution, and the contribution of the people involved. It, however, overlooks some of the deficiencies of Aadhaar, but perhaps that is a subject for another book.

The concept of Aadhaar, or a national identity register based on some form of foolproof authentication, is not new. As far back as 2003, a pilot project was launched by the BJP-led NDA government in thirteen states to issue National Identity Cards. In March 2006, the communist-propped Congress-led UPA government "announced a grand plan" to implement a project to provide Unique IDs for BPL (Below Poverty Level) Families within 12 months. Yes, within twelve months. Seventeen months later, "the process committee, which included officials of seven departments, had held seven meetings and put up a proposal for the creation of the UID Authority." Not a single card had been issued, but bureaucrats had kept themselves busy in making themselves look busy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Text and Interpretation - Types of commentaries


Text and Interpretation - The Indian Tradition, by Kapil Kapoor


T
his is an excerpt from Prof. Kapil Kapoor's book, "Text and Interpretation - The Indian Tradition".

The author divides the history of linguistic thought in India into four phases. The first phase is seen as from the beginning to Panini, roughly up to seventh century, BC.

"The other major contribution in the first phase is in phonetics and phonology. In fact, speech sounds are studied and analyzed in this phase... which not only fix the sound-patterns of each school of the four Vedas, but also propound finished theories about the articulation and properties of speech sounds in isolation and in the dynamic  context of actual usage. To this perfection of phonetic and phonological studies, we owe the fact of the oral texts having come down intact." [bold-emphasis mind]

"
Rajasekhara in Kavya-Mimamsa gives a complete list of different kinds of commentaries. He distinguishes eight:

  1. Commentary that explains the ideational content of a sutra is called vrtti.
  2. Analysis of a vrtti is paddhati. (पद्धति )
  3. Bhasya is a detailed analysis that takes into account the possible objections and counter-arguments. (भाष्य)
  4. Samiksa gives an explanation of the intended and deeper meanings and issues implicit in a bhasya-analysis. (समीक्षा)
  5. A mere indication of meaning in the simplest and briefest language is tika. (टीका
  6. Explanation of only the difficult words is panjika.(पंजिका)
  7. A brief statement of the meaning of a sutra is karika.
  8. In the same manner, an analysis of the unexpressed or suggested meanings and implications of a sutra is called varttika
"

Book info: Amazon IN, Amazon US
Publisher: DK Print World Pvt.Ltd,India
First edition: September 15, 2005
ISBN-10: 8124603375
ISBN-13: 978-8124603376




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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Rise of the Robots, by Martin Ford - Review

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

"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.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Infosys, NRN, Sikka - No one is smelling of roses here


C
orporate sagas seem to come in twos. The mega-fracas that erupted in 2016 between Cyrus Mistry, then Chairman of Tata Sons, and the iconic Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus at Tata Sons,  was starting to come to a close by the second half of 2017 (though I fear the last words have yet to be written). Ratan Tata had annointed N Chandrasekaran, CEO of TCS, as thew Chairman of Tata Sons, and re-asserted his complete control over the sprawling Tata empire. Now comes the rather unexpected news that Vishal Sikka (@vsikka), CEO and MD of Indian IT behemoth Infosys, had tendered in his resignation, apparently unable to tolerate any longer the constant "drumbeat of distractions" from co-founder Mr. NRN Murthy, and, some speculated, a lack of support from some members of the Infosys Board itself.
In particular, this is what Vishal Sikka wrote in his letter to the Board:
"Over the last many months and quarters, we have all been besieged by false, baseless, malicious and increasingly personal attacks. Allegations that have been repeatedly proven false and baseless by multiple, independent investigations. But despite this, the attacks continue, and worse still, amplified by the very people from whom we all expected the most steadfast support in this great transformation." [link]
In this perhaps altogether avoidable saga, no one has come out smelling of roses - not the Infosys board, not Vishal Sikka, and not Mr Murthy.

A Retrospect for Vishal Sikka

image credit: pexels.com
Let me start off by revisiting what I had written in 2014 - "A 'Vishal' opportunity awaits Infosys" - at the time of Mr Sikka's appointment as CEO and MD of Infosys.To summarize, I had made the following points:

Was Sikka a "trophy CEO"? I had written, "There will be more than one voice heard whispering that Sikka's appointment is more of a publicity gimmick meant to save face for its iconic co-founder, Narayan Murthy, who has been unable to right the floundering ship of the software services giant." This is still a pertinent question. Once the excitement of the "trophy CEO" wore out, did Mr Murthy's interest in Vishal Sikka also wane? Conversely, once the excitement of the CEO's crown wore off for Mr Sikka, did the thorns of leading and growing a company, with close to two-hundred thousand employees, in a difficult business environment, start to prick?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Between Strategy and Success Lies Execution


Why Do We Undervalue Competent Management?

T
his one comes from the Sep-Oct, 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Between strategy and success lies the minor matter of execution. Execution in turn is dependent on the managers tasked with implementing the strategy.  After all, if a firm can’t get the operational basics right, it doesn’t matter how brilliant its strategy is. Execution is about figuring out the right way to do things, and then doing those things right, time after time.

Therein lies the rub. "Managerial competence takes effort, though: It requires sizable investments in people and processes throughout good times and bad. These investments, we argue, represent a major barrier to imitation."

Sep-Oct 2017 issue of
Harvard Business Review
The authors of the article use their research of "management practices across more than 12,000 firms and 34 countries." They rated companies' "18 practices in four areas: operations management,
performance monitoring, target setting, and talent management." These four areas, they believe are good-enough "proxies for general operational excellence."

The authors found clear laggards and clear "superstars" in their rankings. Not surprising, given the number of companies and the geographic spread of their survey. The laggards, for example, tended to have "promotions and rewards based on tenure or family connections." This begs the question, do companies where senior management has strong family connections are also more likely to be laggards? In either case, the authors found that family-run businesses had the weakest governance structures and lowest management scores on the survey. Lower scores translated to poorer financial outcomes.

Since this was also a longitudinal study in some ways, lasting several years, it also highlights the fact that changing management practices is not easy. The costs are high, and which may therefore also explain why so many companies pay only lip-service to improving management practices.

This is a useful and informative article. Leaders at companies, small and large, would do well to pay attention to the basics of management. The successful ones will be the ones who get these right. The ones who do not will die.

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Inside Chanakya’s Mind: Aanvikshiki and the Art of Thinking - Review

Inside Chanakya’s Mind: Aanvikshiki and the Art of Thinking, by Radhakrishnan Pillai

T
he relevance of Chanakya to today's world has only recently received the kind of attention it deserves. The author's 2014 book, "Chanakya's 7 Secrets of Leadership", co-authored with D Sivanandhan, was perhaps the first mainstream bestseller in this genre. The author's latest book in the series, "Inside Chanakya's Mind", provides many more insights into the mind and thinking of the greatest strategist in the last two thousand years and more.

First off, let's get the meaning of this word - Aanvikshiki - out of the way. I say "out of the way" because beyond the word is the book itself. It is therefore important to understand what it means. This will allow the reader to understand the book better.

Aanvikshiki is the combination of two words - "anu" and "ikshiki". "Anu" means atom, while "ikshiki" means "a person who wants to know."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Jobs Trilogy - 1 - How to Add Skills to your LinkedIn Resume

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
Seeing the gay abandon and effortless ease with which people in today's hyper-connected world seem to acquire skills, I was impressed.
Impressed that skills that should take years to acquire and hone were now within the easy grasp of so many, and apparently with so little effort. Perhaps technology had indeed been the manna that technologists had long claimed and always known to be.

I started thinking just what exactly prompts so many people to add new skills to their resume on LinkedIn. After all, it had to be a process more deliberate than random. What if the ingredients in this heady concoction were exaggeration, hope, aspiration, bravado, and plain envy?

In the end, I decided that these rules-of-thumb, that I list below, were likely the best explanation...

How to add skills on your resume:
  1. Put "Cloud Computing" on your resume if you know how to use Gmail.
  2. Put "SaaS" on your resume if you have heard of "Salesforce.com" or "AWS".
  3. Put "Mobile" on your resume if you own a smartphone, any smartphone.
  4. Put "mobile visionary" on your resume if you ever owned a smartphone that ran Android Froyo.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Jobs Trilogy - 2 - Six and One Types of Interviewers

R
emember Chuck Noland? The character in the movie Castaway, who has to use the blade of an ice-skate to extract his abscessed tooth, without anesthesia? The scene is painful to watch, yet you can't look away.

Interviews have this habit of turning up a Chuck Noland - in the interviewee or the interviewer. You willingly agree to subject yourself to the wanton abuse by random strangers who you may have to end up working for or with. Apart from the talented few whom companies are more eager to hire than they are to get hired, most are in less enviable positions.

What about interviewers? Not all are cut from the same cloth. But there are at least six types that I think we have all met in our lives, and a seventh one.

1. The Interview As an End In Itself - Hyper-excited newbie

You know this guy. You have been this person, most likely. You have a team now. You expect your team to grow. You have to build a team. You believe that you, and you alone, know what it takes to hire the absolutely best person for the opening you have. You sit down and explain to the harried hiring HR person what the role is, what qualifications you are looking for, why the job is special, why just ordinary programming skills in ordinary programming languages will simply not cut it, why you as the hiring manager are special, and how you will, with the new hire, change the product, the company, and eventually the whole wide world. The HR executive therefore needs to spend every waking minute of her time in the pursuance of this nobler than noble objective. You badger your hiring rep incessantly, by phone, by IM, by email, in person, several times a day, asking for better resumes if you are getting many, and more if you aren't getting enough. You read every single resume you get, several times over. You redline the points you don't like. You redline the points you like. You make notes on the resumes. You still talk to every single candidate. You continue interviewing, never selecting, till the economic climate changes and the vacancy is no longer available. Yes, we all know this person.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Management Mantras for Startups - Waste Not, Vacate Not

Image credit: pexels.com
Waste Not, Vacate Not.

W
hen Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, started out Amazon, he, along with Shel Kaphan, programmer and a founding employee, used sixty-dollar doors from Home Depot as desks. It was the demand of frugality. More than a decade later, when Amazon was a multi-billion dollar behemoth, conference-room tables were still made of door-desks. It reflected its CEO's adamant belief in "frugality." A leadership principle at Amazon states that "Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention." In case you have been living in a world without news, you would know that Amazon's market capitalization, as of July 23rd, was a shade under US$500 billion, its trailing twelve-month revenues in excess of US$140 billion, and has been growing at an annual rate of more than 20%.

All this about Amazon's culture of frugality are captured in Brad Stone's brilliant book on the company, "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon."
"Bezos met me in an eighth-floor conference room and we sat down at a large table made of half a dozen door-desks, the same kind of blond wood that Bezos used twenty years ago when he was building Amazon from scratch in his garage. The door-desks are often held up as a symbol of the company’s enduring frugality."
...
They set up shop in the converted garage of Bezos’s house, an enclosed space without insulation and with a large, black potbellied stove at its center. Bezos built the first two desks out of sixty-dollar blond-wood doors from Home Depot, an endeavor that later carried almost biblical significance at Amazon, like Noah building the ark.
...
"Door-Desk award, given to an employee who came up with “a well-built idea that helps us to deliver lower prices to customers”—the prize was a door-desk ornament. Bezos was once again looking for ways to reinforce his values within the company."
...
"Conference-room tables are a collection of blond-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidized. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment—including the backpack." [The Everything Store, by Brad Stone]

So what does this have to do with Flipkart?

Flipkart has been in business for (almost) ten years now (it was founded in October 2007). It has raised more than $4 billion dollars from investors, the most recent round of funding closing in early 2017. The Indian e-commerce pioneer however has yet to make a single new paisa in profit. In its fiscal year ending March 31st, 2016, its losses doubled to ₹2,306 crores (approximately US$350 million). Keep that in mind as you go through this post.

Tuesday, July 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.

Tuesday, July 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.

Monday, July 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.

Friday, June 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.

Thursday, June 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." 

      Monday, June 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." 

      Monday, 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

      Sunday, 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).


      Sunday, April 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.

      Tuesday, April 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.


      Friday, April 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.

      Sunday, March 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.

      Saturday, March 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.

      Monday, March 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. 

      Tuesday, February 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.

      Monday, February 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.

      Friday, February 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.

      Thursday, January 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