Saturday, October 25, 2008

Slugfest @ Indian domestic airlines : Kingfisher, Jet and Indigo fight it out


Soft drink brands are infamous for advertisements which focus on spoofing the rival brand's copy ( think Pepsi vs Coke, Mirinda vs Fanta, 7Up vs Sprite ) ... hence the term "Cola Wars". Understandably, with sugared water its difficult to create meaningful new USPs ... so this is probably the easiest way to ensure sustained recall and interest  in the target consumer's mind.

With increasing competition in the Indian domestic airline sector here are a couple of intersting "Cola War" type of ads I've noticed recently :

1) Kingfisher takes on Jet ( before they decided to work together for synergy savings earlier this month ) : Jet put up the first hoardings announcing changes in their branding graphics, crew uniforms, in flight entertainment etc. Within a few days Kingfisher had hoardings erected right above the Jet hoardings claiming that Jet's change was actually forced by Kingfisher's superior services.

2) Indigo takes on Kingfisher :  Kingfisher's brand tagline is "Fly the good times". Of course with the economy in doldrums, rising oil prices, high operating costs the times are not really good. Jet and Kingfisher decided to put their rivalry on the backburner and save some money by synergizing operating costs, laying off personnel,  rationalizing the routes / # of flights between city-pairs and jacking up airfares. 

Indigo one of the leading "low cost" domestic carriers, capitalizing on the situation announced that they continued to exceed consumer expectations in terms of service quality and pricing both in "good times and bad". Just to really rub it in they captioned the ad "Let the bad times roll" !!! 

Both these counter-ads, though confrontational are factually correct. Jet was forced to transform a number of their services in order to stay competitive post the launch of Kingfisher. Also with the price hikes across the domestic airlines Indigo continues to offer the best deals ... at least in the Mumbai-Kolkata sector ... I speak from personal experience coz I just bought Indigo tickets for our mini-vacation in Kolkata this November :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chess World Championship 2008 : Anand poised to beat Kramnik


Anand has crushed Kramnik in 3 of the 7 games of the ongoing World Chess Championship 2008 ... in the 3rd, 5th and 6th games with the other games ending in a draw. Looks like an unassailable 3 point lead with 5 games remaining. Kramnik will need a miracle to win from here.  Featured here is the 5th game which Anand won with the black pieces.

During my schooldays I was an avid reader of Sportstar primarily for their cricket coverage. The first time I heard of Anand was in one of the issues in '87 which carried a cover story about a guy who had just won the Junior World Chess Championship held in Philippines. 

Soon after that in quick succession within the same year he became the first Indian Chess Grandmaster ( youngest in the world ) and also the youngest ever Indian to win the Padma Shri. 

Vishy ( Vishwanathan Anand ) quickly became a phenomenon and a role model ... many of us even skipped cricket after school to play chess and cram opening moves and middle game tactics ... which later helped me win some inter-hostel chess tournaments at IT-BHU :-)

Over the years of course Vishy has been going from strength to strength ... being one of the few to have a near par win-lose ratio with the mighty Kasparov. In rapid chess he's of course unparalleled having beaten the best : Kasparov, Karpov, Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Shirov, Topalov et al multiple times to win most of the tournaments. In 2007, after the unification of FIDE and Kasparov's breakway PCA, Anand became the "undisputed" world chess champion ...

Anand will surely win the championship yet again this year ... which will re-establish his status as the undisputed Chess champion of the world !!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Will India have a sub-prime crisis situation ?

Looking out this is what I see from my window ... an apartment complex which was being constructed at record speed until 2 months ago ... suddenly all deserted and abandoned. There are many such half-finished projects in Mumbai ... and completed apartment complexes which are not finding any buyers.

The real-estate market in Mumbai is in a state of suspended animation ... potential sellers not willing to bring down prices and prospective buyers waiting with bated breath for the inevitable price correction ... obviously no one wants to make the first move. 

Eventually however owners and builders who are holding on to apartments will succumb and the prices should come down by at least 30%. Thats why builders have lost interest in completing constructions or starting new projects.

So yes, there will be a Real Estate price correction in Mumbai and even more so in the rest of India. This is your usual demand-supply game in which the spanner of global recession, liquidity crunch and negative sentiments has been thrown in. 

However this is nothing remotely like the sub-prime crisis in the US ... and India will definitely not have a "sub-prime" crisis ... and for this we need to be thankful to multiple stakeholders ... the Indian banks, builders, the Government and finally ourselves :-)

First of course the Indian Banks who had the foresight to disburse home loans based on the income / earning potential of the individual and not the projected future value of the house that was being purchased !!! This is in sharp contrast to US Home mortgage agencies Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac ... whose sole reason for existance was to dole out mortgages to any jobless / homeless tom, dick, harry or even their grannies if they wanted it !!!

Freddie & Fannie actually got banks to dish out the loans. The Banks knew what they were getting into so to cover their asses they got the "smart-alec" i-banks into the act. These dudes created AAA rated securities with these mortgages as collateral and sold them to institutional investors ... insurance companies, banks etc thus spreading the shit far and wide ... the base assumption was that since house prices would keep rising the shit would never blow up in their faces. That assumption unfortunately was terribly wrong ... none of this will of course happen in India coz ...

Our government never had the time to dabble in mundane things like housing for the masses ( the roti, kapda, makaan rhetoric was thankfully only for election speeches and never implemented ). So India never had the equivalent of a Fannie or Freddie or any of their clones which the US Govt created post the great-depression ... thank god for that !!! 

Ironically the very same institutions which helped the US economy to come out of the Great Depression has now propelled US into the next mega recession !!!

Our builders mostly smalltime shrewd marwaris know the supply - demand paradigm better than any of those now jobless i-bankers ( ie. Goldman Sachs, Lehmann Brothers et al ). They never constructed or released enough houses to meet even a fraction of the pent-up demand of millions of Indians who still dont own a home. This ensured that they were able to price whatever they did construct astronomically so in any case most Indians were not able to afford houses !!! So thanks to the millions of citizens of our great nation for not being able to afford homes in the first place ... where there are no homes there is no crisis :-) 

India is also a nation of "savers" which also goes a long way in "saving" us from a crisis like situation ... the perils of "aamdani athanni kharcha rupaiya" is something we truly understand ... unlike our american bros who go to the extent of taking out a second mortgage on an existing mortgaged house to pay off credit card dues which was used to clear previous credit card dues ... I may be exaggarating a bit but you get the idea.

So net net of course we are feeling the ripple effects of the US recession and will continue to do so over the next many months ... thats the pitfall of open markets and our exposure to the global economy the extent of which remains to be seen. One thing for sure : there is no possibility of an "indian sub-prime" crisis triggered by murky real-estate mortgages to aggravate the situation in India.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Top 5 Ganguly moments

With just 3 more test matches left for the final farewell its time to pay a tribute to the best captain India has ever had, dada, bong icon, maharaja, prince of kolkata and god of the off-side !!! Here are my top 5 Ganguly moments :

1) Bare-torsoed shirt waving @ Lords : The single most memorable moment that I've witnessed in Indian cricket history ( I did not see the '83 World Cup ). After India won the Natwest trophy  thrashing England and chasing down 300+ runs, Ganguly in a pre-meditated move tore off his shirt and ecstatically waved it around his head. This was a fitting reply to England in general and Flintoff in particular who had done exactly the same when England had defeated India in a previous one-dayer at Mumbai ... An act of pure distilled aggression ... which has clearly rubbed off on the entire Indian team since then ( Sreesanth / Bhajji etc ... ).  

2) Taming the Pakistan demon : Ever since Javed Miandad smashed Chetan Sharma for a six to win a Sharjah tournament off the last ball sometime in the mid-eighties ( the single most forgettable moment I've witnessed in Indian cricket ) Pakistan had held a psychological edge over India.

The decade long shadow was finally lifted in Dhaka ... at the final of the Silver Jubilee Cup. Pakistan batted first and amassed 300+ runs ... for India to win chasing that huge a total and that too against Pakistan was unimaginable and most of us were not even watching the India innings.

However, news trickled in that Dada was batting rather well so we tuned in to watch ... Ganguly had just reached his half-century ... and went on to score 120+ virtually winning the match for India single-handedly. 

To me this was a tipping point in Indian cricket after the slump of the mid-eighties / early-nineties when a resurgent team with fresh new players under Ganguly's captaincy brought about a whole new attitude to the game.

3) The Lord's debut : A dream test debut of 131 runs and that too at Lord's ... mecca of cricket ... followed by yet another century in his second test. This was after 4 years in the wilderness post his ODI debut in 92 ... which showcased his tenacity and comeback spirit ... this would again come to the fore much later in his career ie. the comeback in 2007 after the Greg Chappel fracas.

4) Nemesis of Australia : Was captain for the 2001 and 2003-04 test series ... both of which will be remembered for the sheer quality of cricket ... and the fact that India simply dominated all aspects of the game. 2001 Kolkata was a major turning point where India prevented Australia from winning a record 15th Test Match in a row and then went on to nail the series by winning the decider in Chennai. The major contributors were of course Laxman with the bat and Bhajji with the ball ... but Ganguly 's captaincy and leadership was never in doubt. 

2003 Brisbane first test ... Ganguly set the tone for the series with a 144 even when the Aussie bowlers consistently aimed for his rib-cage ... a gritty performance which proved that he had the technique to play the rising ball ... something that the pundits had constantly questioned. India drew the series 1-1 ( should have won the 4th test as well ) but Ganguly still lifted the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

5) Propelling India to ODI World Cup finals in 2003 :  While the finals was a case of so near yet so far ... getting India to the finals was a huge achievement in itself. Ganguly himself performed quite well in all the World Cups he played ... in 1999 against Sri Lanka he scored 183 which at that point was the highest ever ODI score by an Indian.

Dada will retire from cricket in a few more days but his cricketing legacy will surely remain as folklore for generations to come !!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lokhandwala Durga Puja, Mumbai 2008


The Lokhandwala Durga Puja started by Abhijeet is the most happening puja in Mumbai ... the puja of choice for all the bollywood beauties and tv soap opera starlets who ensure that the glamour quotient is always high !!!

It also has the yummiest food stalls and the grandest evening cultural shows ... this is one pandal where we'll surely spend more time in future ...


On the left here is the Poonam Nagar Puja on Mahakali Caves road ... we had a tough time finding the pandal. This puja has a nice homely and para feel what one would expect in a neighbourhood pandal in Kolkata ... see all the mashimas and kakimas decked up in saris participating animatedly in the puja proceedings !!!

While driving around on Dussera morning in Juhu we saw an effigy of Ravana all ready and waiting to be burnt up in the evening ... Ma told us a very interesting mythological tale connecting Durga Puja to Ramayana :

Ravana had abducted Sita and was holding her captive in Lanka. Ram, Lakshman along with Hanuman and the vanar sena immediately waged war on Lanka. One by one they vanquished the Lankan stalwarts like Kumbhakarna, Meghnad, Indrajeet et al ... finally it came to the crux ... the battle between Ram and Ravana. 

Ram was not too sure of his prowess vis-a-vis Ravana so decided to seek some divine intervention and started praying to Durga for her blessings. Now this was not the usual time of the year when devotees prayed to Durga so she was kind of taken by surprise and was a bit peeved ... also she had a soft corner for Ravana who inpite of all his follies was also a great scholar and a bigtime devotee of Ma Durga !!!

Durga decided to put Ram's devotion to test ... so she completely ignored his tapasya for the first 8 days of Ram's puja. On the ninth day Ram sent Hanuman to get flowers for the puja, with instructions that he should get the rarest of flowers which would hopefully appease the hard to please Durga. Hanuman, scoured the world and found a lake in the himalayas which had exactly 108 unique blue lotuses ... and got all of them for Ram to offer in his puja. Durga played a trick and removed one of the lotuses ... so when Ram started offering the flowers he fell one short of the magic number of 108. 

At this critical juncture Ram immediately decided to offer one of his eyes as the 108th lotus offering to Durga ... he took out his dagger and was about to gough out one of his eyes when Ma Durga appeared before Ram and assured him of victory the next day ... so on the 10th day Ram fought with Ravana and defeated him.

Thats the reason why we have 10 days of Durga Puja just as Ram did ... with the 10th day celebrated as Vijay Dashami or Dussera ... signifying the victory of good over evil !!!


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shivaji Park Durga Puja, Mumbai 2008


The Mumbai Sarvajanin Durgotsob at Shivaji Park is the oldest Durga Puja in Mumbai ... 2008 is the 72nd consecutive year !!! Its also well documented that Shivaji Park is where all Mumbaikar cricketers Tendulkar, Manjrekar, Gavaskar and other xxx-kars have honed their skills ... not so well documented is the fact that I've also played some cricket at this hallowed ground but I'm digressing :-)

Given all the background above this was one pujo I just had to see for myself ... so Piya and I drove down to Shivaji Park today. To be honest it was a bit of an anti-climax as we had very high expectations. 

The pandal itself is tucked into one corner of the park, totally enclosed ... almost claustrophobic. In fact its not even a pandal in the true Bengali style which would usually have a theme ... more of a large tent actually with no external decoration. There are some food stalls inside the enclosure and I tried a egg-chicken roll ... oil-soaked and tasted like cardbord ... totally unpalatable. 

Overall, there is something missing in the ambience ... could not put a finger to it ... but maybe the whole affair is too commercialised and lacks personal touch and attention to detail which is the hallmark of a good pujo anywhere. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My Top 3 Durga Pujos in Mumbai


Here are my top 3 Durga Pujas in Mumbai ... may change though after we visit some more Pujos over the next 3 days :-) 

Best Pujo ambienceRamkrishna Mission Durga Pujo, Khar ( Top Left )
Best Protima : North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Pujo, Santa Cruz ( Top Right )
Best Pandal & Lighting : Hiranandani Gardens, Powaii ( Bottom 2 )

The phrase "Pandal Hopping" is appropriate for Kolkata where there are 3 pujos on every street each a stone's throw away ... in Mumbai driving from one pandal to the other is an ordeal ... takes hours with all the traffic ... then actually discovering the pandal & finding a parking slot ... its more of a "Pandal Expedition" !!! 

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Durga Pujo @ Mumbai 2008

Durga idol being transported to a pandal ... picture taken from my car on Sahar road.

Usually we spend Durga Pujo in Kolkata as Piya gets all nostalgic about adda sessions and cultural evenings at the Durga pujo in her SaltLake para, egg-chicken rolls in Park street, phuchka anywhere, Maddox square where she loves to gossip endlessly with her JU friends, khichuri bhog, shopping in Gariahat and New Market, night-long pandal hopping sessions and in general everything else associated with pujo in Kolkata. 

This year however we're planning a longish vacation in November, so nostalgia notwithstanding, are completely stranded in Mumbai due to paucity of Privilege Leaves. So the idea is to make the best of the situation and check out the Mumbai Durga Pujo scene which Mumbai bred bongs assure me is quite happening ... thanks to all the bongs in bollywood !!!

Here's the itinerary we are planning :

5th Oct : 
a) Amra Probashi Durga Pujo, Hiranandani Estate, Thane
b) Evening at the Pujo at Hiranandani Gardens, Powaii

8th Oct :
a) Juhu Cutural Association near Rithambara College.
b) North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Pujo, Santa Cruz (w) ... the one where Rani Mukherjee apparently hangs out. 
c) Pushpanjali at Ramkrishna Mission Durga Pujo, Khar
d) Bhog at Shivaji Park Durgostav 
e) Evening timepass at Lokhandwala Durgotsav ... organised by Abhijeet and where you can see the Bollywood biggies paying their homage to Ma Durga.

9th Oct :
a) Chembur Durga Pujo ... the pandal this year reportedly is inspired by Victoria Memorial
b) Vashi Cultural Association ... read in the papers that they have a budget of 3 Crores ... should be the grandest of the lot ( as they say save the best for the last !!! ).

Ma also flew down from Kolkata to be with us during the pujo season so we should have a rocking time ... readers of this blog please leave a comment if there are any significant Mumbai Pujos missing here and also if you guys want to join us on our pandal hopping expedition any of these days ... more the merrier !!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Dada rosogolla khaben ???

Saurav Ganguly has done it yet again ... just when everyone thought he'd been booted out for good ( after all he was left out of the Irani trophy by Vengsarkar ) ... he's back with a bang into the Indian squad for the Australia series ( at least the first 2 tests ).

Of course he's had a bit of luck ... Srikanth took over from Vengsarkar as the chariman of the selection committee just at the nick of time. If Vengsarkar was still around I'm sure he'd have found a way to keep Ganguly out.

So Dada can now celebrate by eating rosogollas to his heart's content ... only beware of scoring them !!!

Photo courtesy : Mumbai Mirror