The Rise of Hastinapur – Book Review

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Image credit: Amazon

I picked up this book with a lot of expectations as Indian mythology is one of my favourite genres. The Rise of Hastinapur is based on some of the events that happened in the Indian epic, Mahabharata. Specifically the story revolves around the lives of three women – Amba, Pritha, and Gandhari. This book is the second in the Hastinapur series by the author, Sharath Komarraju. I have not read the first one, The Winds of Hastinapur and hope maybe had I, things might have been clearer.

The book is divided into three sections and the first one dedicated to Amba, the princess of Kasi. She is a princess wronged by several men in her life. Bhishma, the warrior prince of Hastinapur ‘wins’ her for his brother. Amba’s father lets Bhishma take her even though he was not invited for the Swayamvar. Her lover Salva, refuses to take her back when she returns from Hastinapur. Such a premise should have made the reader connect emotionally with Amba and back her plans for revenge. Strangely I could not connect with the character. Amba is as flawed as the men in her life and perhaps the characterisation is not strong enough. Amba becomes a priestess and sired a girl child who she hoped would kill Bhishma. While I do understand that this story is fictional, I do find it hard to accept some facts like a priestess sleeping with a king to ‘cure’ his infertility.

The second part of the book chronicles the life of Pritha, the princess of Kunti. Her brother Vasudev marries Devaki, Kamsa’s sister. But they are imprisoned by Kamsa after their marriage. Furious over this fact Pritha enlists the help of Surya, the celestial god of light. But Indra has plans of his own. Though he promises to help free her brother and sister-in-law he fails to do so. Instead, he blesses her such that her sons would be celestial beings and they would destroy Kamsa. Heartbroken but left with no other choice, Pritha hopes Surya’s words would come true some day.

The final part of the book revolves around Gandhari, the queen of Gandhar. She is a young maiden losing her eyesight each day. She finds out that her kingdom has been looted for years by Bhishma, the prince of Hastinapur right under their nose. Her brother Shakuni goads her to launch an attack on Hastinapur. But she knew that Gandhar’s army was not strong enough to win a war. Also having lost a lot of their gold, they did not have the resources to recoup an army. Help arrives in the form of Kubera, another celestial being from the mountains of Meru. But like Surya he too has plans of his own and uses Gandhari to achieve them. Decimated by Hastinapur’s army, Gandhari is no longer a queen. She concedes to Bhishma’s offer to marry his blind brother, Dhridrasthra. She does so with the intent of destroying Bhishma and Hastinapur.

The one problem I noticed in the book was some portions of the story zips through so fast it takes a while to connect the dots. For instance, there are elaborate discussions about the war in the last part of the book. But the actual war is described in less than page and lacks a coherent connection. The book is interesting in some parts and has some sudden pitfalls that sort of mars the flow of the story. I hope the loose ends are tied up in the next book in the Hastinapur series.

 

You can find the reviews for this book on Goodreads page. Do check out my reviews for other books as well!

The book will be available on December 9th and you can pre-order it on Amazon via this link.

P.S: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Doing an MBA taught me not to do it

I have always been intrigued by the men and women in the C-suite making big decisions that make or break a company. There is a common perception (at least in the IT industry) that only the engineers work and the managers just talk. Students from top B-schools are paid their weight in gold by consulting firms like McKinsey. And there are many leaders who have risen through the ranks and doing wonderfully well without an MBA behind their name. So which is better? The only way for me to find out was to take a plunge in the world of business education.

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Part time does not equal full-time

While filling up an application for an MBA program, the first question is why do you want to do an MBA? The reason varies for each person. For some, it is money, promotion or taking over the family business. To me, it was to improve my analytical thinking.

As an engineer, I have been trained to solve a problem. But I wanted to think like a leader – envisioning the impact of my solution on the world at large.

But was it a good enough reason to take a break from my career and spend lakhs? Probably no. So I stuck to pursuing a part-time MBA along with my job. After doing my due diligence, I concluded that a part-time MBA would never equal a full-time degree. The reason being doing an MBA is not about learning concepts and passing exams. But rather the whole experience of interacting with peers, learning there could be different ways to solve a problem and above all developing and fostering networks.

A part-time course is applicable for people who have been in the industry for quite some time and possess the knowledge but need just a little polishing off their skills.

The degree is not worth the paper it is printed on

While researching the various distance learning programs in the country, one thing was clear – a part-time degree is worthless. Even if it is from IIM, it will never be considered on par with a full-time degree. Harsh but the inevitable truth. A part-time degree might help you advance a rank or two in your current organization, but the chances of ending up as a top notch globe-trotting consultant are slim to none. Some universities claim they are accredited by some board but never buy into it.

Work life balance goes out of the window

There are several variants of distance learning programs. Some involve attending courses online or weekends, turning in assignments and giving exams. And some give you a ‘degree’ just for paying the fees and turning up for the exams. If you choose to do any course that actually does teach something of value to the students then you will have to put in a lot of effort and time. It involves working on assignments after coming back from office, discussing with peers on weekends and lots of self-study. The onus is on the student to make the extra effort. This can take a toll on your health, family and relationship. So my advice before starting a program would estimate the number of hours that would be required for studies each week and get the support of the family.

No degree is going to make you some soup when you are unwell.

Peers who do not give a damn

This was the final nail in the coffin that made me rethink my MBA journey. In my course, I had several group assignments that involved discussing case studies with peers whom I have not seen face to face. Some of the challenges I faced was coordinating a time for discussion suitable to all. Almost everyone seemed to be in a different city, country and working hours. Having been in different groups, I noticed people do not want to take responsibility to coordinate. This is quite surprising. Isn’t an MBA all about taking responsibility and becoming a better leader?

The worst part was people do not turn up for the meetings. I would end texting them, calling and sending emails but to no avail. These were people with about ten years of experience. Being the youngest of the lot, I felt a bit awkward bossing around my peers at first. But then I manned up and started assigning work to each. But the fact that I ended up doing it all myself is another story!

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It will get worse

Keeping in accordance with Murphy’s law, things will get out of hand at times. Personal commitment, work deadlines and multiple courses going on at the same time will make you want to pull out your hair. It is going to take a lot of effort to keep one’s sanity and move ahead.

Though I have decided to discontinue my studies after completing my first semester, not all is lost. I did learn some valuable lessons in the past few months:

1. Be ruthless with your time

I started cutting down on all activities that do not add any value to my life, found ‘smartcuts’ to complete my work before time, no more binge watching TV shows all night and ending up with a headache.

2. Say NO

I learnt to say no to both good and bad things that would require my time and effort. Saying no to bad things like skipping a weekend movie fest may be easy but saying no to good things like putting off an amazing idea at work may be tough.

Chasing the next shiny thing is quite easy but seeing a project to completion is tough.

I believe a commitment to deliver the promised is paramount and takes precedence over having multiple side projects for the sake of being busy.

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3. Steal time from yourself

The heart doesn’t like to be told not to laze around and have fun, so sometimes we need to trick it. No more one-hour lunch sessions or half an hour coffee sessions. Put on the thinking hat while stuck in traffic and come up with solutions to the assignments. Take a walk or a power nap in the afternoons for the second innings.

4. People management skills

This is sort of the most valuable skill I learnt. As a software engineer, I do have any experience managing people at work other than mentoring freshers. Over the past few months, I learnt to take the lead, assess people, assign work based on their skills, follow-up and get it done. When meetings veer off topic or comments starts to get personal, I learnt to become a moderator and be mindful of my own actions to not do the same mistakes.

5. Only YOU are responsible for your life

When my peers did not cooperate with me for doing the assignments, my first reaction was anger, followed by I-am-not-going-to-do-it-either-as-well, then grumpily finishing the assignment before the deadline and cursing everyone while submitting it. The second time this happened I realized that I need to take control of my life and my grades. Being a first bencher all my life, I did not want an F on the report card ever. I did my best to rally the troops. Even though the results were not the best, at least I did not end up scrambling to complete the assignments before the deadline.

Overall it was a roller coaster ride for me. There were hardships but also learnt to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I now have a taste of MBA and found amazing online resources where I could continue learning. After all learning is a life long process.

The travails of the lone diner

The weekend is a magical time that somehow makes up for the perils endured in the past five days. Tired of cooking and eating alone in my apartment though out the week, I catch up with friends over lunch or dinner. Be it ordering in a bucket of chicken nuggets and watching movies or tasting pasta ravioli at a fancy restaurant, food is best enjoyed with good company.

Despite meticulous Whatsapp messages, this weekend I was stranded in my home with no soul to talk to. Some are out of town, some still in office and some still under the spell of Hypnos. After having counted every tile on my floor and cleaning the kitchen cabinets for the millionth time, I head out for lunch alone rather than ordering takeaway and wait for ages to get the cold food to be delivered late.

Dining alone in a small, crowded restaurant can actually be quite a blessing. I always get seated immediately bypassing extended families waiting to get in. In such places nobody cares who you came with, all they want is a seat for themselves. But the ostracizing happens in fine dining restaurants.

By fine-dining, I mean the ones where you are expected to use the cutlery and any dish on the menu costs more than a week’s groceries. People dining alone at such places are considered a social pariah and do not be surprised if the waiter marks you in scarlet. If you still ask for a table despite the manager’s insistence of getting a takeaway, you will be kindly escorted to a dingy corner next to the kitchen or the wash area.

Initially while dining alone I felt awkward and pretended I was on the sets of Downtown Abbey. Every clickety-clack of steel against porcelain had to be precise or might attract pitiful stares. I kept my head down in my begging bowl and gulped down the food as soon as it came and left before anyone I knew recognised me.

It was after a few awkward experiences I started noticing people around and observed one thing. Drum rolls.

Nobody bothered to cast a glance at me. Apparently the earth revolved around some ball of gas called the sun and not me.

The only people that end up looking at other tables are disgruntled housewives, sloppy husbands or bored kids. If you find all of these characters in the same table, please refer them to a nice family counsellor.

Once while dining alone, a gentleman kept staring at the food in my table rather than minding his business; no wonder his wife was off in her own thoughts. I tried to ignore the insolent fool and continued eating. When the waiter got the bill, the nosy gentleman peered into it. Sick! My middle finger wanted to say him a hi but I withheld. After a few seconds of deep breathing, I realised pigs like to play in the muck and I did not have to get dirty. I just stared at him long enough to make him uncomfortable and look away before I waltzed out of the restaurant.

Foodgasm!

When I am dining alone my focus is on the food and not on making conversations with people around me. I relish every bite and morsel as it touches by tongue and puts my taste buds into a psychedelic trance. When I am eating alone, I am mindful of every grain that passed through my mouth. It is like listening to my favourite song on headphones and discovering new notes that I had not observed earlier.

Are you a person who likes to dine alone and what were your experiences on your gastronomic adventures?

The one book you should TOTALLY avoid reading

I recently read the book Megaliving! by Robin Sharma. I had earlier written about my experience in doing an experiment described in the book. You know the feeling when you are halfway through a movie and know it is terrible but still continue to watch it to poke fun at every loophole, well that is exactly how I felt while reading this book. After reading this book, I have decided not to waste my time any longer and unsubscribed from his mailing list. Had I not, the neurons in my brain would have paired up and shot each other. So what was so bad about the book that triggered such a visceral reaction in me?

Actually, there is nothing bad with the content of the book, it is the sheer debauchery of words under the pretence of self-help that bugs me the most. There are books stuffed with pages of unrelated information(read Dan Brown’s Inferno where he describes every pebble, pillar and grain of sand) but this is probably the first time the entire book is a fluff piece.

What should have been a 2000 word blog post has been blown to grotesque proportions to add another book to the Self-Help section.

Robin Sharma promises a life of mastery and success through Megaliving! by combining the teachings of the East and the West. The entire book revolves around improving these three areas of our lives:

  1. Mind
  2. Body
  3. Character

The entire book is split into two parts: the first speaks about the importance of identifying goals and how improving these three aspects would help us live a life of glory and abundance. The second part claims to be a 30-day action plan to revolutionise our life. If you thought that only the first half would be a soporific yarn, wait until you get to the second half. To give a gist of the what the reader can expect in the book, let me summarise the key points mentioned in the book:

Improving Mind

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Concentration exercises
  • Reading books
  • Stop gossiping
  • Think positively
  • Visualise your success
  • Affirmations

Improving Body

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Cut down on meat
  • Eliminate junk food
  • Go for a walk
  • Workout regularly — gym, yoga, sport, swimming, etc.
  • Get enough sleep (minimum 6 hours)

Improving character

  • Be kind
  • Practise gratitude
  • Journal every day
  • Be emphatic
  • Be honest
  • Surround yourself with the people who inspire you

Now you might be wondering why I said this book was not worth the paper it was printed on. These are all perfectly good suggestions and I do not have an ounce of doubt that a person’s life will become better by practising these.

The problem is the same thing has been repeated so many times I wonder if a someone fed a paragraph to a computer and it spit out a book with various combinations saying the same thing.

In the second half of the book, Robin outlines a 30 day plan tackling one attribute each day for improving the mind, the body and the character. There is a myriad of suggestions for each day derived from a permutation matrix of the above-listed points. There is no chance that any regular person would be able to tackle all the activities prescribed for a day unless he worked on it from dawn to dusk. Forget having a job, kids, family or any other responsibilities if you intend to try out each activity.

While I have nothing against seeking help to improve one’s life and with the plethora of books flooding the bookshelves each day, my intention is to save time, money and trouble for people who are already in pain and in need of help. What are some of the best self-help books that have truly helped you and how different were they from Megaliving!?

Ordering food online sucks in India!

There has never been a better time to be a lazy foodie in India than now. With a new app launching each week promising to deliver sumptuously, mouth watering delicacies at your doorstep rubbing the smartphone each time feels like unleashing a genie with a hot pack. Despite the plethora of options, the ground reality is far from juicy!

The early pioneers of food delivery were pizza companies that offered a 30-minute hot-or-not promise, but I am yet to get a free pizza. I can understand that in a country like India, bad roads and traffic make it tough to meet the stringent delivery schedule. And also I do not want the poor delivery boys risking their lives and others on the way. To me, a reasonable waiting time would be 45 minutes (within a 3–4 km radius), given the fact Indian delicacies take a longer time to cook as compared to tossing dough into an oven. But nobody wants to respect the customer.

I have had several bad experiences, but I would like to point out to three of them that made me cringe and roll my eyes with a WTF plastered on my forehead. I have no ill-will against any of these restaurants and do not wish to malign them by my comments. I am merely stating my experience.

Dominoes

I wonder why a brand as popular as Dominoes has a pathetic online ordering system. There is a dominoes outlet about 1.5 km from my house. I ordered online and soon enough got a call from a branch that is 3 km away saying they have heavy orders and will not be able to deliver in the next 45 minutes. I explained to the person that he could re-route my order to the branch nearest to me, but he said it cannot be done. I cancelled the order and dialled into the customer care. Again routed to the branch further away from me!

Faasos

If Dominoes sent my order a bit far, Faasos wanted a gold medal for apathyand routed my order to an outlet at least 7–8 km away. This is despite me writing my address clearly down to the pin code. The worst part is they called me half an hour after preparing the food and informing they will be late to deliver. Seriously! Were they playing peek-a-boo with my order? Again I cancelled the order and hope I will get the refund back in a week.

MK Dabbawala (Mast Kalandar)

Almost every Mast Kalandar branch I have ordered food has a notorious reputation to not deliver food before I pass out in hunger. Recently they have launched the MK Dabbawala service hoping to cash in on the office crowd ordering lunch takeaways. Despite my concerns, I ordered lunch to be delivered to my office. There is an outlet in the mall adjacent to my IT park and wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to walk to my office. Guess where they routed my order? To a branch 6 km away. After explaining to the restaurant to re-route my order, I was told I would get a callback. I didn’t for an hour and fifteen minutes. Frustrated I ended up having lunch elsewhere. Then the delivery boy calls and asks where he should come. I directed him upwards to hell.

In all these scenarios, the one thing in common is a hare-brained routing algorithm. A monkey throwing darts on the map might have better accuracy.

Sometimes it’s the restaurant owners who take their sweet time to deliver. I hope they realise I have a credit card in my hand and not a begging bowl. I do not mind paying extra as long as I get quality service. Receiving groceries an hour late is acceptable because a pack of biscuits isn’t going to melt butfood needs to be delivered hot. Period.

So my suggestion to the startups and established restaurants in the food ordering and delivery business are

1. For god’s sake learn to read a map. When Ola and Uber are able to pick me up in minutes why not use my GPS location and then route to the nearest branch. All the examples I mentioned were done via the mobile app. Heck, even desktop browsers have reasonable accuracy in determining location.

2. Please do not treat your customers like beggars. You are not doing them a service, they are by visiting you. Honour the time commitment.

Whichever service solves these hassles, gets my money.

What were some of your experiences while ordering food online and are the new age food delivery services making it better or worse?

10 things I learned from shooting people

Disclaimer: I do not own a gun and don’t intend to. All I own is an iPhone and ‘shot’ some people with it. The click-bait title was just to get your attention. Sorry if you were expecting a gory encounter.

In our company we celebrate an “Engineering Week” each year, where the best minds from various teams present their ideas to the company at large. This year, the organizing committee decided to record few employees speaking about the event. It was something I had never done before and so volunteered to interview people. These are the 10 best things I learnt from my experience as an interviewer/videographer.

1. A well-defined agenda saves a lot of time

The first couple of meeting invites just had the time and location since these employees were already intimated earlier about the questions they had to answer. This lead to a lot of retakes. Since it was the first time many were going on camera, not being prepared in advance required a lot of time to help them figure out the right words to convey. Once we started sending the questions along with the meeting invite, things went really smooth and a lot of people got it right in the first take!

2. Men are from Mars and women are definitely from Venus

In general men are quite shy when it comes to facing the camera compared to women. It was a bit funny to hear men saying they should have shaved or worn a better shirt 🙂 It took a lot of coaxing but they did come around and spoke confidently after the initial hiccups. Women came well dressed and prepared with their answers. I must really give it up to the women for taking the extra effort.

3. Patience is golden

At times it took over ten attempts to record a 30 second montage correctly. This experience taught me to remain calm and patient. Hurrying things would have only made it worse.

4. Make people comfortable

If there is one thing I learned from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGenres, people open up when you make them comfortable. I made sure people felt relaxed and comfortable before I whipped out my phone to record. Each person is different and this taught me to adapt my approach to get to know a person better in a short span of time.

5. Think before you start

I did a huge blunder which I realized only after 3 days of shooting. I had recorded all the videos in portrait mode instead of landscape mode. Now all my videos were going to look different from the rest shot by the other volunteers and would require additional post processing.

I was obsessed about making sure other people doing their job right, I had forgotten the fundamentals myself.

6. When you screw up, come clean

Once I realized my mistake, I googled frantically to fix this problem. And once I learnt it was not possible, I decided to come clean. I apologized to the organizing committee and they were quite understanding. Besides we did not have time to re-shoot. And so I walked away scot-free. Phew!

7. Finding value in your work

Once while speaking with a senior employee at our company who started out as an engineer but was now the operations head, I asked if he was happy with his job now. He said, “As long as the work I do, adds some value to the people around me I am fine with it.” Simple yet profound wisdom.
Staring at a computer monitor all day can get monotonous at times. An opportunity like this to get out of the cubicle and help people made me realise what he meant. Life is not perfect, it is up to us make the best if it.

8. Multi task like an octopus

There were moments in the last week I wished I had eight hands instead of two. Following up with people, making sure they turn up and rescheduling if necessary in addition to my existing job was challenging but still fun. It made me realize the super-powers I possessed.

9. Do not read too much into other people’s actions

I got the chance to observe different facets in people. Some people were in a hurry to get it over with and some kept asking for a retake. Some just left without a Hi/Bye. Initially I found this a bit bizarre but then later realized everyone has a lot of stuff going on in their work and personal lives. Heck, I myself behave odd at times. So it is best not to read too much into other’s intentions and just do my job.

10. Have fun

Being at a party is fun but cleaning up afterwards isn’t. Though I had to clock in extra time to complete all my commitments on time, at the end of the day I loved engaging with people and learnt some new tricks as well. When you love what you do, you are no longer working.

Have you ever signed up to do something completely different from what you regularly do and how was your experience treading unknown borders? Drop in your comments below.

Love is in the air

No urban dweller’s day is complete without incessant blaring of horns and watching time stand still while waiting for the traffic signal to turn green. Such moments of solitude are spent cursing at the driver who cut across, checking Facebook or just zoning out from work. We are usually so self-absorbed in our own thoughts that we seldom pay attention to our surroundings. But what happens when we do?

Last week, while driving back from work I was waiting at a traffic signal. A hawker came by selling guavas. A taxi driver in front of me bought some fruits. Then he stretched out his hands and offered a fruit to an old lady sitting in a lorry adjacent to the taxi. She was probably a construction labourer headed back to her makeshift tent after a day’s gruelling labour. She took the fruit, no questions asked. Just a few creased lines on her wrinkled face. They did not speak a word and went in different ways once the signal turned green.

I was surprised by this random act of kindness/bonding two strangers shared. They were probably never going to meet or have the favour returned but what had prompted the driver to reach out to the lady. All I heard in their conversation was:

“I see you and I am with you right now”.

On the left, I saw a kid playing in the mud with unkempt hair and clothes as brown as the mud around him. His dad (I presume), who was in a trench digging the road, took a break from his job every moment to check up on his child. He would sometimes tease the kid, wink at him or just cast a cursory glance ensuring his son stuck to his muddy playpen. The kid in turn smiled at his father with all the 12 teeth he had. Love was definitely in the air and I could not but smile.

A lady walked amidst the labyrinth of vehicles with a man’s hand in town. He seemed blind from the glasses he wore and the walking stick in his hand. The women sought alms by rattling the box in her hands that jingled from all the coins in it. She did not fake a sad face or utter monologues to utter sympathy. She moved from vehicle to another with a grit that she needed to earn money to feed her husband that night.

It is easy for a person like me who has always had a roof over the head and food on the table, that people should not beg but instead work for a living. But I have no idea about her life, her situation, why an able-bodied woman not leaves her blind husband behind and seek a better life for herself.

The moment we step out of our tiny little shoes and step into the tiny little shoes of another person, a lot of things suddenly make sense. Their anger, frustration, joy, sadness and the complete medley of emotions perceivable by every human being on earth. This TED talk by Sam Richards sums up this very beautifully.

While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer,nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

The signal turned green and the bus next to me is spewing venom in my eyes and lungs, the vehicles behind me start honking and so I leave. Beauty is in the little things. There are always such beautiful acts of love all around us, it is up to us to experience them.

The lady Elon Musk of India

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In India, women in tech conjure an image of software engineers and project managers but not a woman willing to get her hands dirty and do some core engineering. Hemalatha Annamalai broke such myths when she founded Ampere Electric in 2007. Ampere manufactures a wide range of reliable, cost-effective and quality Electric Vehicles with a vision to empower the lives of people through affordable mobility solutions, worldwide. Last week, I had the opportunity to interact with her when she addressed our company (Applied Materials) as part of the Engineering Week celebrations at Bangalore.

She started her journey as an entrepreneur at the age of 27 and started several other successful ventures over the years. When quizzed about what the secret behind her success as a serial entrepreneur, Hema told her life revolved around these four pillars that gave her strength and vigour:
1. Family
2. Yoga and meditation
3. Health
4. Business

Family

The idea to build an electric scooter was planted in her head by her husband Pachyappa Bala, who after seeing an electric scooter in Japan thought this technology could revolutionise the world’s transportation problem. He urged her to consider starting up a company and be part of the change. Recollecting a conversation Hema had with her kids before selling their $1.8 million apartment in Singapore and relocating to Coimbatore, a small city in Tamil Nadu, India she said

I don’t want to be a successful entrepreneur, but a failed mother.

Yoga and meditation

The idea of inculcating spiritual practices in her daily life was influenced by her mentors many years back. As an entrepreneur, it is important to rely on your gut to take some decisions. Yoga and meditation have enabled her to be centered and make good judgments, both in personal life and business.

Health

A healthy body makes a healthy mind. Hema begins her day early with a game of shuttle and yoga to keep her fit and active for the rest of the day.

Business

If you start a business with the sole aim of making money, then you are most probably going to fail.

Money, success, fame are all merely by-products of solving a greater problem for the society. When a person in the audience asked her, “When I have taken a loan to start my business my focus should be on the money, shouldn’t it?” She replied in the affirmative that money is indeed essential to sustain any business, but that should not mislead a person from the path they set out to.

Lead by example

When starting a new business, the entrepreneur should bootstrap the venture and begin with a small pilot. This would bring accountability as opposed to burning away investor money. Also, it is very important to start small, make mistakes, iterate and then refine the product rather than going all in and ending up with a perfectly product that nobody wants to buy.

Another aspect she is proud of is not greasing palms to get things done. While setting up her company in Coimbatore, she ran into some officials who expected bribes to issue the license. But she stood her own and submitted all the documents drafted perfectly to the tee and surged ahead. She refutes the fact that one cannot do business in India without bending the rules. It is definitely tough to maintain a moral ground but not impossible. Also, it is our responsibility as well to stop bribing people just to get our applications on top.

Obstacles and solutions are equally aplenty

In 2013, Tamil Nadu was undergoing a severe power crisis and Coimbatore, where Ampere is situated had electricity for only 6–7 hours a day! A lot of textile mills went out of business and shut down. It was a trying time especially for manufacturing industries. I asked Hema how she navigated this crisis. She said initially she hired the people who were working in textile mills and re-trained them. Talk of making the best use of a situation. But when the going got very tough, she was forced to let go of some people. Even then, she made it a point to retain the senior talent on her team. She feels it was a wise move in hindsight. Ups and downs are a part of the business, but it is difficult to find experienced staff.

Finding talent

How does a startup compete with well-established brands to attract and retain talent is an age old question? Hema has found an innovative way to tackle this problem. One issue she faces while interviewing college students is that lot of them is from small towns and quite shy to speak up. So she gives them a tiny assignment and asks them to complete it. The ones who crack it get appointed and it also serves as an icebreaker. In fact, some of the projects undertaken by the interns have become a full-fledged project at Ampere.

The right fit matters a lot

Hema interviews everyone right from the engineer to the janitor. She says a person should believe in the values of a company they are working for or else problems are bound to arise. Once when she wanted to hire more female workers to work on the production line, the manager then complained that women would not be ideal for this work and kept coming up with various excuses. So she first fired him and hired more women!

Empowering women

Right now, about 25% of her workforce is women. She dreams of the day when the entire production line is staffed by women. As a woman, Hema did not wait for others to empower her but rather took the initiative on her own. Now that she has broken through the glass ceiling, she wants to empower more women. She believes by hiring women, she not only provides a means of livelihood to them but also their family gets uplifted through the kids’ education.

Meeting the Man of Steel

Meeting Mr. Ratan Tata was one of the high moments in Hema’s life. With a strong intent to democratize automotive industry, she wrote to Ratan Tata several times to secure face time with him and talk to him about bringing the electric vehicle revolution to Indian villages. Finally, she got an opportunity to meet him for 10 minutes when he was in Coimbatore. That meeting turned into a 45-minute session and later lead to Mr. Tata investing in Ampere buoyed by Hema’s vision!

Clad in a light blue shirt and a dark blue trouser, the uniform worn by her employees, Hema captivated her audience with candour and authenticity. When women address a technology conference, questions tend to be on their personal lives such as how they manage their work-life balance or are they a good mother as opposed to their talent which put them in the limelight. Thankfully, none of the audience treated her as a ‘woman’ but rather as a ‘successful entrepreneur’ who had lots of wisdom to share. It is time we stopped judging women based on their gender but rather on their talent.

I wish Ms.Hemalatha loads of luck in her journey and may she inspire more women to get their hands dirty.

Yes, I am an Apple fanboy

Last week I read an article about on Medium about a Windows convert who has found asylum in Apple Camp and it got me thinking about my own experience.

Long, long ago

My first computer was a Windows 95 desktop that my dad owned. I must have probably been 12. It was the day of dial-up internet and 8-bit video games. Those were such simpler times! The novelty of ‘creating art’ with MS Paint and countless hours spent playing Dangerous Dave and Prince of Persia sum up my childhood bonding with computers. As a kid, I did not know what was an operating system and assumed a computer meant‘Windows machine’.

Image credit: Wikipedia

It was only when I was in high school I understood what an OS was and got a taste of Linux. Around 2006, the Linux distros became popular spearheaded by the popularity of Ubuntu as a layman’s Linux. While in college, I got my first laptop. The price was cheap and the specs were decent enough for a college kid.

If my laptop could speak, it might have some nasty 1’s and 0’s to say about me!

Unleash the Penguins

Bored of being a Windows user for years, I started experimenting with different Linux distros. Almost a new one each month. I would install Linux alongside Windows and play around with it. Sometimes the installation would fault in between, the boot loader might get corrupted or worse I end up losing all the data on the hard disk. Then I would start all over again by re-installing Windows.

After a week, my hands would itch and I would pop in another Linux boot disc.

Given the fact I had lot of time to kill in college and a curiosity to explore new stuff I kept tinkering with my laptop and learnt some useful invaluable lessons like always back up your data periodically or keep the computer plugged into a charging port while installing an OS. Sometimes the results were nasty but mostly they were fun.

Things changed after I graduated college. No longer did I have to install different IDEs to practice different programming languages. With the time left after toiling away at the office all I wanted to do was to kick back and watch a movie on my laptop when I got back home. I ceased to be a tinker monkey and decided to ‘settle down’.

The beginning of an era

My dad bought a Macbook Pro for himself and it was my first tryst with the forbidden apple. The laptop was a beautiful piece of art, the screen so vivid I wanted to lick the icons, the chiclet keyboard redefined typing on a laptop.

Running my fingers across the polished aluminum chassis gave me mini orgasms.

Beauty comes with a heavy price tag

While the rational side of me struggled to justify spending a fortune on a show pony, the Gollum in me murmured, “My precious”.

After saving up for a year, I spent it all in an Apple Store and got myself a shiny Macbook Pro. Once I got over the initial hiccups of adapting myself to work on Mac, things have been pretty smooth. Personally I found OS X much more intuitive than Linux.

I have been using the Mac for over two years and I do not have much to complain. My activities mostly involve browsing, watching movies, iTunes, and some casual photo editing. Till date, my laptop has crashed twice and I could not recover the data — once during OS upgrade and once for some weird reason no one knows.

Recovering a Mac is a pain in the ass

In a Windows laptop, I would have popped in a Linux recovery disk, recovered the data and then formatted the hard disk before doing a fresh install of Windows. Service Cost — ZERO. Very rarely did I have to take my Windows laptop to a service center but when it comes to Mac I try not to fiddle around much. As such the service charges are high, I don’t want to further complicate the situation. Not renewing the AppleCare after a year was definitely not a wise choice.

So is Apple better than Microsoft?

The answer to this question is highly subjective. A Macbook totally serves my purpose. It works almost always and I do not have to worry about virus and malware. Plus Apple has started offering OS upgrade free of charge to existing customers. And my other iDevices (Phone/Pod/Pad) all sync perfectly well the Mac making my life easier. So pick one that best suits your purpose.

My next laptop would definitely be a Mac. Even if I have to sell a kidney to buy it!

Is Uber taking its drivers for a ride?

Today I took a Uber ride from Indira Nagar to Whitefield in Bangalore and the traffic out on the streets on a Sunday evening gave enough time for a nice gossipy chat with the driver. Once I called the driver after booking, he started speaking to me Tamil, deducing the language I spoke from my name. Brownie points to him for that.

In India, everybody talks with everybody and we like to shove our opinions down other’s throats. The driver was happy to find a customer with whom he could converse in his mother tongue. Occasionally I do not mind a chit-chat rather than looking at the cars stuck in traffic and craning my head over the phone. Once we got talking, I heard some really inside story about Uber.

It was about the new policy rolled out by Uber to the drivers. As per the instructions, all drivers aka ‘Uber partners’ had to do three shifts mandatorily. The rough break up was:

12 AM — 6 AM => 4 trips

12 PM — 4 PM => 2 trips

6 PM onwards => 6 trips

This was a new ‘rule’ rolled out by Uber that seems to be making the drivers angry. As a business, I can understand the rationale behind the move. Making sure, there are cars on the road at all possible times ensures more customers and in turn more revenue. But what I fail to understand is how can a company ‘force’ it’s ‘independent contractors’ to work fixed timings. Is it even legally binding?

In a day, a driver is expected to complete 12 trips which should not be tough in a metro like Bangalore but the problem arises when ‘shift timings’ come into the picture. As per my understanding, the new rule expects the driver to be on the road pretty much the whole day to complete their quota.

How could a person do three shifts without compromising on their health is beyond my cognition? Will the sleep deprivation not cause rash driving and lead to more accidents?

Uber seems to be negating its own motto of “Drive when you want” and “No office, no boss” with such rules. As a customer, I definitely appreciate having more choices at dirt low prices but it comes at what cost?

The Incentive Game

There is intense competition in the taxi wars and each platform is offering various incentives to attract more drivers to its platform. In India, currently the two big players are Uber and Ola. There are frequent reports on each company cutting back on incentives over time. Uber seems to have reduced the cash incentives for each trip and the drivers are not happy about it. Uber’s Bangalore office was vandalised recently for cutting back incentives. Word on the street is they have agreed to re-instantiate the old terms. Ola seems to be offering better incentives for TaxiForSure and my driver has no qualms of switching loyalties.

If the companies want to use us, then why can’t we use them.

Transparent Rating anyone?

One other frequent complaint I hear from Uber drivers is they get blocked from using the service for 3 days if they get a bad review from a user. I appreciate Uber’s stringent actions is the reason that ensures good quality cabs. Like me, many of my friends prefer a Uber to Ola based on the assumption that an Uber car will be neat and well maintained. But how transparent are the ratings?

Best case scenario: Driver was rude, a customer gave an honest feedback and so he had to be blocked.

Worst case scenario: Customer was pissed at his own life and decided to mess the driver’s life. Customer needs to be booted out and not the other way round.

To give an example, in Bangalore we have people from different states speaking different languages. The majority population in the city are from a different state. It is not possible for a driver to know all the languages. The driver’s inability to speak a language correctly should not penalise him with a bad rating.

Also to get the ‘ban’ revoked the drivers needed to visit the office in person and speak to the concerned executives. Feels like we are back in the time of kings.

Kneel before me, you chauffeur!

If the driver is not at fault, would he be reimbursed for travelling all the way to the office? And what about the lost source of income for 3 days?

The one who owns the car makes the rules

A lot of drivers do not own the car they drive. Instead they ‘work’ for the car owner who pockets the major chunk of the profit. My driver told me that if he gets Rs.2500, then Rs.2000 goes to the owner and only Rs.500 is his to keep. While I do not know the nitty-gritty of the details and would not like to comment on who is on the right side of the fence, perhaps this a problem that Uber can solve for drivers.

In the case of such scenarios, the company could step in and set up revenue sharing agreements on a mutually beneficial manner for both parties. No other taxi aggregator seems to be doing this. It will be a great way to retain drivers.

What more can Uber teach its drivers?

I have always found Uber drivers quite friendly and well-behaved. The one who drove me today got way too comfortable with me once I started speaking in a common language.

  • He started using cuss words a lot at the other drivers and pedestrians.
  • Asking too personal questions like what was my salary. When I ignored him, he started guessing. Took a few curt response on my side to shut him down.

It is good to be friendly with customers but not necessarily get in bed with them.

I hope Uber coaches its ‘partners’ a bit more not to encroach its customer’s personal space.

My advice for a better rating

My driver told me he never understood why some people remain calm during the ride but then end up giving lower ratings. From the conversation I had with him, he has a motor mouth and needs to trim it down a notch. But there is one suggestion I offered. I told him to ask the customers what is the one thing that he could improve to make their ride more comfortable. The fact that a driver asks such a question is bound to have a feel-good feeling in the customers who might pardon him and give a better rating. I know, I would!

He brushed it aside nonchalantly. But still I gave him a piece of my mind and asked him to refrain from using cuss words just because I happen to speak the same language. I wonder if he will take it, but it was my duty to give it.

Image credit: Uber