India at Davos: Advertising the unavailable

They advertised India’s $35 dollar computer in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2012. The photo on The HIndu op-ed page came as an  ‘eye-opener’ for me, in the sense that I didn’t realise our India-brand building specialists were capable of advertising abroad something that is not available off the shelf in India.  Anyway,  I don’t suppose anyone in Davos took up the computer maker on their  bargain offer (of $35) .

The advertising agency involved in the  ‘India Ingenious’  campaign may well be  justified if they say  they are in the business of marketing,  not a product, but  a perception.  The product in reference – Aakash tablet computer –  going by its  status reports,  is still  very much a work in progress.

The photo credit: Ravinder Kaur,  associate professor,  Modern South Asian Studies,  Copenhagen University,  who took the photo to go with her article : Dazzling images do not a shining nation make.  Notable among the points made  by the author  is that India,  in mounting the  image campaign through billboards,  and promos .  on city  buses,  cafes,  streets and, even half-empty parking lots,  of  Davos,  has  had to compete  with players such as  Mexico,  Thailand and  Azerbaijan,  for attracting foreign investment.  China, they say,  was conspicuous through its visual absence.

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

Mysore: Airport in search of flights

Now that the city has an airport with no flights,  Mysore is faced with the problem of generating passenger and cargo traffic that would make it worthwhile for airlines to come in here.  A recent seminar on the issue came up with the idea that Mysore-based IT corporates and other business establishments should hold out a promise of minumum seats occupancy to lure the airlines.

The idea doesn’t seem all that bright or workable because no airline can be expected make its business decisions on the minimum seats guaranteed  by a few corporates. Anyway,  no such assurance can be binding on individual companies.  Besides, airlines are reported to be looking for a state subsidy by way of a cut in fuel tax (27 perecent in Karnataka).

Air-traffic projection by Infosys has it that 800 of its employees  would use air services every week to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. To be meaningful such projection ought to be able to give a break-down, city-wise, and also in terms of seat-occupancy on weekdays,  and weekends.

It doesn’t require much study to say that much of the corporate employees traffic out of Mysore is on weekends. Check the Chennai Shadabthi bookings from Mysore on Friday/Saturday. Viewed in this perspective, Mysore could at best function a weekend airport, to start with.

Among other wild ideas that spring to mind:
1) Make Mysore a cargo hub for carrying  vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other perishables from distrcts and nearby Nilgiris to  major market centre. This would need deep-freeze storage facility.
2) Airlines operating from Mysore would do well to  look at traffic to tier-2 destinations such as Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Bellary, Mangalore, Tirupathi, Cochin.
3) The Airports Authority of India  could consider developing  a shopping complex for air passengers and also local residents, in view of the relative proximity of the airport to the city limits.
4) Doubling the railway track could attract air traffic from towns on railway route.
5) Early completion of the Mysore-Bangalore expressway would make Mysore a credible alternative for air passengers in Bididi, Kengari and other Bangalore suburbs on the Mysore-end.

Bhopal gas: A lethal trade secret

The Times of India,  December 1984

Twenty-five years after the Bhopal gas leak,  I still wonder if we are any wiser on an antidote to Methyl isocyanate.  Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for MIC antidote.  Presumably,  it still remains a  trade secret of Union Carbide  (now owned by Dow Chemical) – a secret that killed thousands in Bhopal and left thousands of others physically impaired.

Doctors in Bhopal on that December night in 1984,  clueless and left to their own devices, administered drugs for cyanide poisoning, as victims who inhaled the gas poured in at Hamidia Hospital  only to die  by the hundreds. I recall,  reporting in The Times of India, ‘ all nine cremation grounds in town were kept busy round the clock’.  And all that Union Carbide could be persuaded to say,  in the face of such calamitous gas leak,  was that methyl isocyanate ‘had nothing to do with cyanide and  that the two substances had entirely different effects on tissues and human health’.  They weren’t being very helpful, were they ?

Postmortem indicated that the deaths were due to respiratory failure following pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs).  It was found that the lungs of gas victims contained 250 cc of fluid and weighed 900  grams against the normal lungs weight of 400 to 500 grams.

Sourced from my article : The night Bhopal Turned a Gas Chamber.

Child labour in posh flats

Snag is many of us don’t even see any wrong-doing in employing  child labour for household work.  And many who have a chokra or mundu in residence believe they are  doing the  unfortunate children and their parents  a huge favour by  giving them a livelihood.  Children in household jobs are,  in most cases,  brought from the employer’s native village with the consent of  their parents.

In  a few cases a  faithful boy from the village comes with a bride in the family, as part of  the ‘dowry’ she brings. Our movies glorify  child labour by portraying the leading man in a family drama as someone who came into the family as chokra . Viewed in the light of the middle-class indifference to the issue and  the domestic compulsions of parents who send their children out to  work in cities,  The Hindu report makes refreashing reading.  According to the report,  it was the Mangalore media that first took it  up with the authorities.  The newspaper not only played the story on  Page One, it also identified the  wrong-doers –  a  local businessman and a doctor couple.  Whether or not they get punished under the  law such negative publicity may well be deterrent  to others in their social circle.

Case for Doordarshan Farming channel

Scene-1

farmweeklyCanegrowers association in Mysore  and  neighbouring  districts  publish a  farm weekly – Raitha Dwani – to share information on farming,  notably,  cane and paddy.  The one-year-old publication plans to increase its subscriber base,  from 1,000 to 5,000 farmers  in six months. Much too modest a goal; and,  presumably, not cost effective either.

Scene-2

farmweekly 002In  neighbouring Tamilnadu  they have a website –  Chandhai.com –  that seeks to bridge buyer-seller gap  caused by  lack of information on commodity prices,  poor marketing,  exploitative middle-men  and inadequate infrastructure.  Online market such as chandhai.com connects buyers and sellers for meaningful trade.

The website provides information pertaining to commodity prices,  cropping pattern,  seeds and fertiliser availability,  agro-based business opportunities,  veterinary,  organic farming,  self employment training,  herbal medicines,  value addition in farm produce and  farm credit. But then the digital divide and illiteracy limits the reach of cyberfarming  among  farmers in  our country.  An overwhelming majority stay untouched by cyberfarming.

Scene-3

farmweekly 005A Tamil channel – Makkal TV –  runs a phone-in programme – Uzhavar Sandhai – that covers the same ground,  and,  given widespread TV viewership and extensive use of cell phone even in rural areas,  telefarming of the type adopted by  Makkal TV  has a reach among illiterate farmers.

At a recent Uzhavar Sandhai programme a  farming expert, responding  to viewers’ questions, came up such info.:

1) Fruit-growers in Cumbum (TN),  where they grow grapes on 2,000 plus acres,  should  come together to put up a  juice-making unit.  In the absence of such value-addition the farmers are constrained  to  sell their grapes  for  Rs.15 a kg .

2) A farmer seeking guidance  on  growing   lemon is advised  to visit Gudur (AP)  where they grow lemon of varied grades on a large scale.

3)  A retired army officer in Chennai has set up a unit that markets lemon concentrate in small sachets, with capacity to make  two glasses of juice.  The sachets have potential for retailing  at grocery stores,  pavement paan-bidi shops,  and platform vendors in railway stations.

4)  With ever-increasing vegetable prices,  people in cities take to roof-top kitchen gardening.  A variety of vegetables,  and spinach, can be grown on roof-top,  with no more than  two feet deep soil cover.  The expert on TV spoke of someone who has grown even  plantains on roof-top.

During an hour long programme  they can’t take very many questions  from viewers.  Besides, Makkal TV runs Uzhavar Sandhai only once a week,  Friday.  There may be a case for such interactive  programming on a daily basis;  even for a full-fledged farming channel.  We have channels dedicated to healthcare,  religious discourse and bhajans.  Why not a TV channel to address concerns of farmers –  about marketing their produce,  procurement of seeds, fertiliser, opportunities for agro-business,  horticulture,  livestock and farm equipment maintenence?

Ad. and sponsorship may be  inhibiting factors for  private channels.  Doordarshan, which apparently has no such concerns and is  not dirven only by ratings  coud think in terms of  a full-fledged channel for farmers.  A krishi channel  would get more ad. revenue for DD than the  Lok Sabha channel.

Ad. intrusion in news space

The Hindu, Sept. 29, 2009

We know about the increasing hold ad. sponsors have on our newspapers. But doesn’t this appear a bit intrusive ? Or is it thinking out-of-the-box in page-designing?

That this can happen in The Hindu speaks of desperate times for the print media. The newspaper’s managing director N Murali speaks of  excessive reliance of the print media on advertising  revenue.  He reckons the ad. component accounts for an ‘unsustainingly staggering’  85 percent of the total revenue of an English newspaper.

HinduSept29 001No wonder we have  the ad.agencies making newspaper pages, such as this one – back-page of The Hindu of Sept.29, 2009.  If editor has a say in how  news items are to be displayed in a given page,  it doesn’t seem very evident. Editor still retains editorial freedom; he/she is free to endorse  ad. manager .

 We have a media group where a  newspaper is termed a ‘product’;  and its editor reports to  the ‘brand manager’.