Tuesday, May 30, 2006

the retail difference

This is ASDA, a typical retail superstore in the UK. Sorry for the pic, will try and get a better one.

ASDA Stevenage

Compare this to the multitude of people thronging Big Bazaars in Lower Parel, Mumbai or Hosur Road, Bangalore or East Delhi Mall, Ghaziabad and the contrast couldn't be starker. Though broadly the concept of a cut rate retail megastore is similar in theory, there are a lot of differences that remain between stores here in the UK like ASDA and back home in India like Big Bazaar or Giant.

A typical ASDA patron belongs to the lower strata on the socio-economic scales. The slightly more affluent ones are more likely to shop at Sainsburys while the rich are more likely to found at Marks and Spencers and even Harrods. While customers of Big Bazaar are most likely to belong to the upper middle class. Credit Card usage at Hypermarts in India is remarkably high as compared to the rest of India's shopping habits, a clear indicator of the difference.

Another significant difference lies in the entire customer experience. Megamarts in India, particularly Big Bazaars, are disgusting when it comes to the shopping experience. Too crowded for comfort, no one with enough knowledge about products or special offers, and pathetic product placement. Just to quote an example, you are very likely to find the more commonly sold brands of toiletries like bathing soaps and toothpastes at the lowest shelf in Big Bazaars which means a lot of back breaking bending down to reach them.

And to make matters worse, there is no process of automatic triggering of a refill process when a shelf runs out of a product. There is a manual inspection just once the entire day which means that on weekends fast moving goods are all cleaned out within hours and nothing is done about it. Some stores seem to have found a way around this problem by keeping the manufacturers' wholesale packaging carton next to the self.

What this results in is absolutely shameful,in my opinion. Customers are forced to actually sit down on the floor and rip the cartons open to take whatever quantities they want. What is more, the staff is not even apologetic about it. And to add insult to injury, the check out lanes are so long, it has taken me 75 minutes once to buy 2 trousers. They are supposed to have an express lane for less than 10 items, but that doesn't bother either the staff manning the till or the customers.

In short, a pretty harrowing experience to save at most 5% of your total purchase value. The fundamental reason for this is that we Indians have not yet learnt to put a value to our time and comfort. The fact that a saving of hundred rupees is not desirable if it comes at the cost of waiting for an hour in a queue is something that we have not yet understood properly.
And coming to ASDA, well, it is my holy grail as far as food is concerned. It has about a dozen different types of ready-to-microwave rice dishes and about twice as many vegetarian dishes which are the sole reason why I am alive here till now.

The only problem is, the food here is pretty bland and I did not find it palatable until I realised that all I had to do was sprinkle chilli powder or crushed pepper or both liberally and it would be just fine. Bas ek wo din tha aur ek aaj ka din hai, mujhe yahan kabhi khane mein koi pareshani nahi hui. Bas, ek microwave hona zaroori hai.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Pichchurr Hall - Friends with Money

Do not watch it. Over and Out.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Snaps of the hotel

Here are some snaps of my hotel room. I kinda like it :-)

My room

My room

My room

View from the Back Window

View from the back window

And here is one of the entrance.

View from the back window

And this is the view on a typical rainy morning from the front of the hotel.
View from the back window

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pichchurr Hall - Prime

Every now and then, a movie comes that has no pretensions of being an epic for the ages. It just has a very simple premise for a plot, some earnest actors for its roles and a director who is totally convinced about what he wants to do.

When these magic ingredients come together, what results is always something that is so pure, so beautiful that you are left with no choice but to sit back and think about life and the world the stars and the people you love and the woods and your priorities in life and the birds and what do you want to do right now and honey and everything else that is nice and worth living for.

Prime has a very simple and beautiful premise. 37 year old Uma Thurman finally decides to divorce her husband to get rid of the pain and agony that her married life has brought her. She is also consulting a Psychiatrist to counsel her through her difficult time. Her counsellor, Meryl Streep, is totally supportive of her decisions and encourages her to open up to the possibility of meeting some people and see if she can find someone special.

Uma agrees to look, and runs into Bryan Greenberg, and sparks fly almost immediately. Everything is nice, except that Bryan is only 23 years old and is Meryl's son. To make it worse, Meryl, being Jewish, wants her son to find a Jewish girl for himself.

After about an hour of nice cute plot twists everything ends the way it must and everyone is happy. But what sets this movie apart and makes it watchable is the sheer luminiscence which both Meryl and Uma lend to the story. They life it from any watch-it-only-on-TV movie one that you must must must watch the first chance you get.

The Continental Breakfast

My hotel accomodation in the Holiday Inn here includes something what they call the "Continental Buffet Breakfast" and that name is quite interesting.

The only thing continental in it is the fact that people from all continents are forced to go through the agony of consuming it. For the life of me, I can't figure out the "Continental" influence on Bread, Butter, Fat spreads, more bread, marmalade, flavored yoghurt, cheese, even more bread, whole milk, semi-skimmed milk, skimmed milk,earl grey tea and even more and more bread.

Another astonishing aspect is the total absence of any form of salt or pepper anywhere in the entire hotel building, leave alone the breakfast table. Why would the Brits inflict the torture of a breakfast totally devoid of salt is beyond me. No I am not exaggerating. They really do not have any salt. I think that is the reason they do not have a restaurant at all. I mean, even the Brits couldn't manage lunch and dinner without salt, could they ? After all, what else could they possibly sprinkle on their beloved potatoes baked with the skins on ? Its funny to think that the humble potato, the staple food across India, is a much revered and almost exotic item on the menu here. Its a pity that the vast majority of these unfortunate people will never know the delights of piping hot Alu tikki and Alu Paranthas.

Being a vegetarian also does not help matters and I would have probably gone mad by now due to this total lack of vegetarian options in traditional British cuisine if it was not for the entrepreneurial spirit of my fellow countrymen here in Brittany and retail chains like Tesco and Asda but that is the subject of another post.

Pichchurr Hall - The DaVinci Code

Dan Brown has four well known fiction titles to his credit. Of the four, The DaVinci Code is the weakest in terms of plot strength, flow of the narrative and sheer credibility. However the one area where it scores above Angels & Demons to some extent and Deception Point and Digital Fortress almost entirely is the sheer scale of furore its inherent premise could cause.

The assertion that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God but a human being with a wife and a child, is certainly more agitating than Bernini leaving a series of markers towards the church of the Illuminati, the premise of Angels & Demons, or NASA finding an alien object deep under the ice only for another scientist to figure that it was all a huge hoax with potential political implications in the US, the premise of Deception Point, or a disgruntled scientist inserting a virus in TRANSLATR, the ultimate code-breaking computer developed for the NSA, the premise of Digital Fortress.

And that is precisely the reason why TDC got made into a movie before any of the other three, out of which Angels & Demons remains my clear cut favorite. Having read all the four books, I was quite sceptical about the movie and didn't really think that the movie would be able to reach any heights of excellence.

Couple that to the fact that Tom Hanks was starring as Robert Langdon meant that my hopes were really really low from this one. I just could not bring myself to accept that an established start like Hanks could play the rather nerdy Professor of Symbology from Harvard.

Well, I was wrong. Hanks managed to pull it off, and pretty superbly at that. A nice and faithful rendition of the book, TDC managed to portray everything that the book essentially hinged on, without ruffling any conservative feathers.

There have been wide scale protests about the movie in India and in many parts of the world. I was quite amused by the same and couldn't figure what the brouhaha was all about. Now, having seen the movie, I can only pity the ignorance as well as arrogance of the poor sods who were protesting against the movie.

Its just a story, told reasonably well in the book and brought to life on the screen with dexterity. Nothing more. The protests are as pointless as the movie is harmless. Go watch it for Tom Hanks' restrained portrayal of a Professor of Symbology and for the sheer taut pace of a thriller that the movie runs at. Even if you are a devout christian. Its fun all the way.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where are the people?

It seems like the people of England have all gone on vacation to someplace outside the country. There is just no one anywhere ! Everywhere I look, there are buildings, there are trees, there are immaculate lawns, there is lots of greenery and there is a bewildering array of cars whistling by at impossible speeds, considering the narrow lanes and intricate traffic patterns, but there are no people, there is no noise. The only sound is a constant hum of cars passing by on the Motorways but that is it, nothing more. Absolutely nothing more.

Just to quote an example, in the 45 minute drive to my hotel after landing at Heathrow, I must have seen not more than a hundred people on the roadside. In comparison, if I had travelled a similar distance in Delhi or Mumbai, I would have glimpsed at least five thousand people, shouting, honking their horns, talking and making all kinds of wonderful noises, a sea of humanity, live and what's more, lively. Oh, what a joy !

Nothing of that here. An occasional passerby, a plastic bag in hand, huddled in a jacket, straggling along, eyes firmly on the ground. Not a heartening sight at all, I must say. Too grumpy for my taste. How these poor buggers manage to come up with their famous Brit brand of humour remains beyond me.

That brings me to the weather. After the scorching heat of Delhi, where 45 degrees was something that everyone was beginning to take for granted, the weather here is so different that I could have died from the shock itself. Temperatures refuse to go above 17 degrees and 10 degrees is the norm. Add a very blistering cold wind and a steady drizzle to the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for a totally dreary atmosphere. Have a look, isn't it dreary ?

Dreary, isnt it ?

Here is the view of the back of my hotel from my room. A bit unsettling, if I may say so. Where are the people ?

Empty on a weekday

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hello from Her Majesty's dominion

Hello everybody, if there is anybody left, that is. The last time I updated this blog on a regular basis Napoleon was still marching on Russia and it doesn't look good at all. But then, you can always depend on me for coming up with innovative excuses every time and I have more than one of those this time as well.

Being one of the first of my IIMK batch to join our respective companies for a life of bondage and slavery, I was left with no choice but to try and attempt and live the rest of my life in the few days of freedom that I had left before I was enslaved by corporate life. And this is exactly what I set out to do and so it was that I toured the length and breadth of the country with different people at different stages of the same.

And so it was that I had that most memorable tour of the Kerala Backwaters, saw a sunset and sunrise at Kanyakumari, stayed at Club Mahindra resort in Munnar, Walked along sun-bathed Goan marinas, ambled in a seaside park in Kochi, explored bits of Gujarat,and topped it all with a couple of days at home in Allahabad.

And of course, amidst all this frantic touring, the blog got totally ignored. And to make matters worse, things did not improve even after joining my company since I haven't managed to sort out the net connectivity issues there. Though I haven't accomplished much yet in terms of work, but the hectic schedule has meant that the blog remains ignored, sulking and desolate.

As if that was not enough, just when I was beginning to look forward to an easing of the pace with which I was being sucked into things at the office, a bolt of lightning hit me from nowhere in the form of a brief query, " You have a passport, right?"

Before I knew, I was rushing to get my visa, going to the Travel Desk at my office to collect my Virgin Atlantic ticket and the mandatory envelope of foreign exchange, British Pounds in this case, and other associated knick-knacks and on a nice saturday morning, I was on my way to boarding my flight to Heathrow airport.

So here I am, nestled in a cosy room at the Holiday Inn, watching some asinine game of what the television channel calls fussball, while I am confident it is football, and having a cup of steaming coffee, and wondering what exactly is going on.

I am here on an assignment which was introduced to me with the words - " We know this project is vague. We know there is no metric to chase and there is no defined path to follow. We know we don't know what we are doing. I hope you know that." and trust me, those words were understatements, if anything.

I was also told - "But do not worry. There is a team already in the UK. And they are experienced people. You have to work with them, together, to make it a success. Just be confident and work hard. You will be fine." And at my first brainstorming session for the topic, the first words addressed to me were - " So Aditya, now that you are here, tell us what should we do ? What do we need to do and how do we go about doing it ? We have absolutely no clue about this project and what it means."

A promising start, isnt it ?

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