Untitled - 29th Feb 2012

Today is 29th Feb. I dont remember when was the last time I saw a 29th of Feb. I am sure I did see it in 2008. And in 2004. And in 2000 and all the previous years. Going back to 1984. And I am not too sure if I'd see it in 2016. The world, as they are very sure (except NASA), will end in Dec this year. But then Dec is more than 8 months away and I dont really have time to worry about something that may happen that far in future.

What concers me, is now! Like right now, I am working on a presentation that should have been finished by last week and I am still working on the first section (out of 4 sections). Like right now, I should be working but I am whiling away time, writing things that in almost all probability no one would read. And if they do read this, I am not sure what value would this add to them. Value, one of the most abused words of the globalized world. Almost all business meetings, transactions, ideas and all such things hover around the concept of value. Its the greatest intangible IMHO. An intangible that defines all the tangibles. The concept of time then is also intangible. We've just defined units as per our convenience and then we use it as the lowest denominator to define things that we dont understand.

Anyways, let me cut this lesson in armchair philosophy. Coming back to the reason of writing this, I am sitting on the new chair that the office ordered for everyone and the chair and the slanted table makes for an awesome writing posture. And I am trying to use that to maximum.

Tweek needs serious tweaking!

Last few days, my twitter stream was abuzz with stories and links about the new iPad only magazine from the Times Group. Called Tweek, it promised to be a refreshing take on the "new" publishing. From what I have seen so far, I am terribly disappointed with it. Apart from content, a magazine on an emerging platform needs to do just two things right. Social and Platform. Tweek fails on content and on delivery. Here's why.
  1. Platform. IMHO they just ported a pdf document to an iOS. The experience on an iOS can be so much better and can be so immersive that I would not want to go back to print at all. Its that big an opportunity! Tweek is a shot at that opportunity but its an half-hearted attempt to be honest. Of course swipes and zooms work but thats not the point of a tablet. Things as simple and basic as rich-media, for example are missing. So, if I am reading an article about travels to Africa, rather than mere pictures that I am used to seeing on a pdf or an e-magazine, on a tablet, I should see a video. And why cant I have audio content? And I should have the ability to find and get more content, that is similar to what I am reading. It should understand my preferences and recommend me things that I could be interested in. It should be an intelligent magazine on an intelligent medium. Tweek just doesn't get it! And if Flipboard can get it right, anyone else trying to do anything with a magazine on the iPad has to get it right. Wonder if there was any research done before the product specs were drawn!
  2. Social. The best part of an iPad is that it has tons of "social" elements built into the platform. Tweek fails miserably on this. Of course the magazine has options to send the links to twitter and facebook and email but isn't that around since, what 1947? And is that all there is to it? What about creating interactions around the content? Why cant I see comments and ratings of each article? Why cant I talk about the content like I do on blogs? Why cant we have ratings for each article? Why cant I see the author's bio? Why cant I submit my feedback on it? Etc etc.
  3. Content. For the publishing and entertainment business, content is the king. Cliched but true. Tweek's content is nothing to write home about. The articles should be special. They are run of the mill right now. It seems that the edit team quickly pulled out articles from the huge TOI stock library and curated the magazine! If they took a leaf out of Crest, their cousin, the stories would be so much better! In fact, rather than Tweek, TOI should have created an iPad experience for Crest and that would have made me much more happy.
In the end, the idea and the intentions behind Tweek are awesome. But then, the execution is a big let down. I wish I was part of the team that worked on Tweek. I cant promise a good job but I would have got the basics right for sure!

Published first on sandbox.

Dear Sudhanshu

Dear Sudhanshu,

Congratulations on the launch of your first book. I am sure this is just one of many you would end up writing. You have to. The world needs you to write and see things from your lens.

Coming to the real reason why I am writing to you. You already know I have always considered myself lucky that I have known you. There are so many things that I think are common between you and me, such as ... wait, before this turns into a love letter, let me cut the flow and come straight to the point. I have known about your book since 2010 (remember that goals thingy that you made?) and to be honest I never thought you could actually finish the book. Till you told me that you have found a publisher and you proved me wrong. And that was big. More than you, I was happy for myself. It was like an affirmation to me that there's hope. That all's not lost! If you can do something, I can do too. And of course I have no qualms in being a follower and aping you.

Thanks to The Lost Story, Serai will now be fast tracked. I have been at it for about 29 years now and I know am not half good a writer as you are but then what the heck, I have been wanting to write this for a long time and its time I take it up seriously. You've given me inspiration. You've given me hope. You've shown me the way. You can even connect me with a publisher who would be willing to publish a book for me!

And ya, that's about it. Like I said, love letters are reserved for sgMS. In the end, congrats once again for the launch and please know that you are now in the same league as that sardaar that changed me life.


P.S.: When am I getting my autographed copy of The Lost Story? And no, this blogpost is NOT an elaborate and contrived way to get a free copy. Divin0's already ordered a copy for me. That too COD.

Then and Now

Lemme try a new style. For the lack of imagination and better words, Id call this, Then and Now. And ofcourse this is about sgMS. I am thinking that I should start a new blog all together and call it "Letters to sgMS" or something. May be. But for the time being, here is the post. 

Wake up. Think of her. Think of all the things that I could do. Make a plan of action of things that I could do during the day. Look forward to the day ahead.
Wake up. Sulk. Go back to sleep.

Call her moment I leave for work. Even before I lock the doors to my one bedroom existence or step into a rickshaw. I know that I would meet her during the day eventually but still, call her moment I am out.
Wait for her call, message, email, something. Hope that something from her comes my way. Of course I cant call or send messages. All I can do is write things and then hope that someday she reads these. I know that these would lose meanings when (and if) she reads these but then I can only try.

Reach work. Boot up my computer. Message her that I have reached. Get a feedback on what I am wearing. Share my office gossip with her. Hear her office gossip. Play music that she likes. Tell her about the music that I am playing. Take requests even though she may not hear them.
Reach work. Regain sanity after a two hour drive. Ignore what I am wearing. Do not participate in gossip. Try and play some music. Shut the music before the first song is over. Sulk.

During the day, after I have done some work, take a break and go get a coke for myself. Take VP or Rr with me for a walk to the coke shop. Talk to them about whatever. Try and bring her up in the conversation without anyone knowing about it. Miss her.
During the day, do nothing. The entire day is a break. No coke. Miss being with her. Miss talking about her. Miss talking to her.

Look forward to the evening when I would actually get to spend time with her. Even if its at any of those coffee shops.
Dread the fall of the evening. Once its evening, wonder what to do. Kill time wondering. Get dejected and head home. Struggle through traffic for two hours.

End the day, alone on my bed, trying to sleep and thinking about her. Conjuring up dreams of she and I living happily ever after.
End the day, alone on my bed, trying to sleep and thinking about her. Conjuring up dreams of she and I living happily ever after.

Untitled - 24th Feb 2012

I am no statistician but I like to play with numbers and data. Most of the numbers are meaningless if you ask. Take 8 for example. By itself, it does not mean anything. But moment I put it in perspective, things and patterns change. The last blogpost on this blog for example was 8 days ago. And before that I was posting almost twice/thrice every week. This may mean two things.

One, I did not have access to Internet. And this further may translate into a lot of reasons. I could have been busy, I could be travelling, I could be unwell or it could be any of those million things that would have kept me away from the Internet. In fact it was a combination of all these. I was indeed travelling. I didnt really have access to Internet. I have been unwell - mentally.

And two. I dint have anything interesting to say. Interesting anyways is a bad place to be at. It would mean that all my 900 odd other posts are interesting. I am not too sure if this is case, considering that I dont really get a lot of hits and there are no regular readers. But anyways, its been some days since I've posted something and I was itching to.

Hope to get back to blogging soon and start posting some "interesting" things soon! Oh, I did start another project. Its called DIY Entertainment. Do check it out.

Untitled - 16th Feb 2012

Its 5 AM local time. I am not in India. Not that it matters but the fact that I cant just pick up my phone and call you. It must be what 3 in the morning there? Unless you are out partying with your super happening friends, I dont stand a chance. I mean even if you were not partying, I still wont have a chance. After all I am no where close to all those people you have around you. Nah, not trying my hand at self-deprecating humor. Being really serious.

Since we havent spoken for the longest time now and I now know that you can live without me, I still cant live without you, hope you are doing good.


The Lost Story

Suds, my classmate from MDI, has done it again. He did something that I have always wanted to do. Write AND publish a book.

He wrote a book and its gonna be out in a few weeks! Called The Lost Story, he has co-authored it with yet another MDI dude, Amit Goyal. I dont really know Amit that well but if Suds has put his name on the book, it has to be awesome. 

I have read a couple of chapters and its gripping to say the least. I have done everything in my powers to get Suds to send me the rest of the chapters but so far he hasn't shown any inclination. Its like grass. You have some and then you are going to keep having it over and over and over again. You wont stop. You wouldn't want it to end!

It is different. Not just for the sake of saying it, it actually is. To start with, its not a love story. And its not a boy chasing kites. And its not about those mushy love letters that a lot of people (including me) write. And its not about two college kids with dreams and ideas about changing the world! For the want of better language skills, this is what the back cover says...
Sandy, an aspiring young writer gets an incredible opportunity to work with his idol – the celebrated and reclusive author Saleem Afzal – who hasn't written a new book in 23 years.

In a novel idea, each writer writes one half of the story, leaving it for the other to finish. Together, they imagine an epic battle between balance and chaos, a tale of a haunted house, a simple journey home that turns into a man's greatest nightmare, and even the end of the world.

As the stories take shape, Sandy gets curious about Saleem's past and the several unanswered questions that he encounters… Why did Saleem stop writing? Why can he no longer finish stories? What is behind the locked door in his house? And… what is The Lost Story?

Written like the premise, the stories in this book have each been done in two halves. One part by one author, and the second by the other, never discussing the story in between.
Of course, you have to read it. Here are the links for easy access. Pre oder on Flipkart and the Facebook fan page.

Please show some love by preodering it on Flipkart. And no I am not being paid for this. I may get an autographed copy for posting this but knowing how popular Mr. Gupta is, I am not sure if I can get dates from him!

Wait, here is a deal. If you actually read this and preorder it, I can ask Suds and Amit to give you guys a signed copy and a poster of the book cover. Just let me know. Not kidding. Suds can you please endorse this claim?

The Compulsive Eating Disorder

Spoiler Alert. This is one of those rants that has been inspired by surfaced because of shit at work. Readers discretion advised, I tend to use profanities when I am pissed off like this. 

So, I work at a place where, in the words of the great Mr. Daniel, we are in the business of saving other people's jobs. And I guess we do our jobs well cos the clients keep coming back to us and we have no time to go and chase outside business. And all this while, new clients keep queuing up outside our office and keep begging us to work for them. We are awesome.

But then this is not about my work place, or my clients or about all the things that we do to keep clients happy. This is about me. Its about how stressful my job is (apparently, what I do is second highest on the list of jobs that stress people out, after the Air Traffic Controller and no, there is no scientific evidence to support it). And its about how stress makes me hungry. And how much I can eat when I am hungry. And how the location of my office is not helping the cause, with a million road side vendors selling everything from Chole Kulche to MoMos (thats Dim Sums in English) to Maggi to Omelet (what? Omelet is not spelled as Omellette?) to ice cream to parathas to chaat to samosas. Like they say, in retail, the three things that matters are location, location and location, I am strategically located to hog like a pig. And the feedback and inputs from clients dont really help matters.

So today started as any other Sunday would. Woke up, got ready, had an awesome breakfast and left for office. The drive was brilliant. There is no traffic on Sundays. In fact while driving I thought what if I could work only on Saturdays and Sundays, it would be so amazing. More on this later. So it started like a regular sunday (p.s. another social experiment. I am linking each piece to the tweets that I posted and lets see how it goes) and it got screwed moment I reached Gurgaon. I wore my shoes, called the client, entered the flunky in the white shirt mode (more about being the flunky in white) and started to wait for the God client to call me. He did after a while and in the meeting, he took my arse royally. And then I came to the office and this is where I realized that all the effort that my team and I had put in last few days has gone for a toss. And this is when the hunger pangs first hit me.

And then, I made a choice. Do I give into the pangs and eat the next things that I spot. Or do I wait and do something to divert my mind and attention and save myself those extra miles on the treadmill (as and when that happens). The result, ladies, gentlemen and PD, is in front of you. I did go for a stroll in the sun but then I refrained from ordering anything stupid and here I am, in office, typing fervently on the keyboard, hoping that someday, the infinite monkeys inside me, actually start making some sense!

Hello Facebook!

And just like that, I am back on Facebook. Few months ago, when I realized that I was spending way too much time on Facebook and getting overawed by amazing lives of people around me, I decided to give it a break. But now, as I prepare myself for the next attempt at entrepreneurship (yes I have something in the pipeline - nothing that I can talk about right now), I need to be connected with strangers, acquaintances, friends and family.

In my experience, Facebook is an amazing tool to do so. However this time, the approach would be a little different. More than any planning per se, I have rough ideas where I want to take it and I would play as things move along.

More on this as and when I learn things. In the meanwhile, you may want to add me on Facebook. Here

The Shopping Spree

You never knew that a trip to a mall could fuck your head. I was at this mall in Bangalore, miles away from Delhi or Mumbai and I saw this amazing store that stocked all things Indian and ethnic. Since I am very interested in such stuff, I had to walk in.

The first thing I saw in that store was a leather purse shaped like a her favorite shape. And it brought back memories of the time when I had bought her that very purse, on my last visit to Bangalore, from a different store. It brought back memories of her smile and excitement in her voice when I gave her that purse.

I have always loved the concept of gifts. Don’t really like getting em but nothing like a well planned and executed surprise. I totally believe that life's too short and you can’t really wait for the right time to make someone happy. If something reminds you of someone, you better pick it up and dispatch it. And since she was is obviously more special to me than anyone else is, get always got a truckload full of surprises. Every time I met her, I got her something. A small stupid hand written note, a large box that has nothing but small post-it notes where I'd written things that I loved about her, a teeshirt, a fake flower and million such inconsequential things.

Coming back, I saw this purse and after the adrenaline rush, my heart cringed. Before I could think, I saw this set of small ceramic dolls. I had got them from yet another place for her. Then there were these pencils, that coaster, a mirror, a wall clock, a bunch of fake flowers (I dont, as a policy give flowers), a tee shirt (that she refuses to wear, her taste is better than that) and some more things that I had bought for her. It was like she had decided to open a store and stock it with stuff that I got for her.

All those things were bought for a reason. Everything had a back story that’s miles long!

And then there were these things that I have always wanted to buy with her, once we started living together. The bookshelf to start with. It could stock books, CDs and all the little kick knacks that both of us are fond of. There was this rug that I had thought I’d put next to the TV in our living room. And that small chandelier that I would have put in the dining area. The damned store had it all. If not with me, I am sure she would have bought some of those things. May be not actually. Despite knowing her for all these years, I still have a hard time guessing what she likes.

Its been a week since I went there and even now I regret the decision of entering that store. After a point, I just couldn’t bear to stand in that store and look at all those amazing things. Dejected, while I was walking out, right at the exit, I saw this yellow nameplate that I always wanted to buy for our home. It read, "The Happy Home".

P.S.: Sucks the way this has come out :(

An Opportunity for Snack/Food/Beverage brands!

At some point in time, a few years back, I was an account planner with a then emerging advertising agency. I was there for almost two years and dint really do lot of work that I could speak about out loud but I did learn a lot in the process and it helped shape my thinking quite a bit. It has programmed my mind to question every premise My mind was already wired to question everything and a stint with the agency made me learn to try and find reasons for all the actions. Today something interesting happened. During one of those long taxi rides, I started questioning a basic premise and it led me to come up with some amazing insights that a food/beverage/snack company may want to look at.

So, while I was on my way from Bangalore airport to Indiranagar (about 90 minutes cab ride through open highways and crowded city), I had this desperate urge to take a break, rest for a bit, seep in the scenery, tame my mind/thoughts, relax my head/body, eat/munch onto something and generally stop. And there were tons of places where I could have done that. It was an open highway with shops that sold stuff ranging from cheap country made liquor to tea to coconut water to aerated drinks to snacks to chips, cigarettes etc. And this is when I realized that for a non-smoker like me, there is no alternative to smoking a cigarette when I want to take an unscheduled break.

Let me take a break from the back story a bit and talk about a cigarette. A typical planner, would define the cigarette and the use as...
  • A social object. When I am smoking, there is an instant connect with anyone else who is smoking close by. Both the smoker and the other unknown smoker, suddenly belong to the same tribe. They could start by sharing a light, a stick, a tea, a conversation and eventually a relationship. I can safely say that people bond over a cigarette and its as social an object as they come. 
  • Cheap at 5. It costs anywhere between a rupee and 10. This is the right price point that customers in India are oblivious to. They can spend this kinda money without thinking too much about it. Ofcourse this is a gross generalization (more on this in the next planning posts).
  • Kill time. A typical tick takes about 5 minutes to consume. This is the right amount of time that someone may want to kill when they are taking a break. Anything short is too short. Anything longer is too long. This is the right amount when you could disappear from that long/boring meeting and yet go unnoticed. This is the right amount of time that you need to recharge your batteries.
  • Un-awkward. If I am standing on a corner idle, I become an eye sore for everyone else. I dont have a business there. But, if I am holding on to a lit cigarette, I suddenly become a part of the scenery. No one questions my presence. My role is defined. I can pass off as yet another cigarette smoker that is just having his regular fix of nicotine. No one would give me a second look. And no, a cig is not alone here. You could have tea, hold a newspaper or may be merely fiddle with your phone.
  • Savor the after taste. After I have had it, there is that after taste that I can savor for long. Of course there are people who have issues with the after smoke but thats a different story. Then the kick that nicotine gives, also helps and for the ease of convinience, I would add to the after taste category.
  • Available. Its as ubiquitous as condoms, potatoes, water and air are. There are small kiosks after every two feets (at least in India, even at remote locations). I can buy a pack, I can buy one stick, I can buy alternatives, I can experiment. Nothing is as easy as buying a cig in India.
  • Does not affect appetite. Unlike a juice, or a tea or fruits, I can have as many cigs and as often and it would not affect my apetite. I would not skip a cig because having too much of it will make my stomach full and make my skip my dinner/lunch. So it serves the purpose of giving me a break, recharging my batteries and yet not affect my subconscious mind (assuming the ones smoking are aware and yet ignore the results of excessive smoking).
So after this rather large description of a cigerrete as a commodity that we humans consume, here is the million dollar question. Can brands/businesses in the foods, beverages or snacks industries, take these lessons from cigerrettes and create a product? Or may be create an experience? Or may be create a social object? Or something that

To make it simpler, can someone come up with a fmcg product that is cheap (<INR 10), available everywhere, allows me to kill those 5 minutes, makes me bond with other patrons of the product and does not give me anything but a break from the rigmarole?

More I think about it, more lucrative this seems. Ofcourse everyone would have tried taking this space. From things like coconut water to road side tea to street snacks to big established brands like Snickers (break at 4 PM), Kit Kat (have a break, have a kit kat), all the snacks (Hippo, Lays etc), lot of biscuits and million other assorted things have tried but they lack one thing or other. No one has been able to crack this bit as yet and when someone does, it would be a huge huge market waiting for them.

Wonder what do people in the business have to say about this? I can think of a response that one of clients for my ex-agency would have some up with. What else could be a valid response? And this is more of gut feel research right now and I would love to spend more time and effort on this. Primarily to validate the assertations and to unearth more such ideas. Anyone wants to commission a research? 

Published first on sgSandbox

Goals for Feb 2012

When I started this year, I told myself that I would make this the most special year of my life. The way I have spent January, I dont think its going to happen. And since I am desperate about it, I have to do something about it. Of all the ways that I thought could help me, I thought if I'd break things down into smaller units, it would be easy to work on and easier to track. So these smaller units would be...
  1. One 1000 word essay/post/article every alternate day. 3 in a week. So far I have been able to write regularly this year. Just need to continue the momentum.
  2. Traction of the projects that are occupying your head. ODID, MWL, OffbeatMag, SG.com etc. By end of feb, either get a direction/clarity on these or you shut these down. At least you'd know what you need to chase. 
  3. Sort other shit thats cluttering your head. This includes work, stuff at home, fitness, #sgMS etc. Unless the heads clutter free, dont think I'd be able to do much.
  4. Since the days ahead look packed in terms of travel, need to understand a few ways that could help you catch up on information (as there would be lot less reading). One of the ways could be follow relevant twitter users and rely on the maxim that information that you must know, will find its way to you. Another way could be to stop chasing gossip on twitter and stop indulging in idle chit chatter. Need to fix this.
Ya, this is it. Aint not much in terms of tangibles but if I could get these sorted, they would help me go a long way. 

The itch to travel

If I ever make my CV, I would include travel as one of my hobbies. To be honest, travel to me is more than a mere hobby. Its a very serious passion and I take it seriously. Thankfully I work at a place that makes me travel about 15 days a month. The way I travel is not really ideal but I dont really complain because if I was the complaining kinds, I wouldn't have seen all those countries and all those cities that I have been to in last two or so years.

So today in the morning, I was getting bored and was generally checking my Dopplr. It tells me that the last trip I made out of Delhi (not counting the daily trips between Delhi and Gurgaon) was in December of 2011. And its been more than one and a half month since I went out. No wonder my heads spinning and I am moving around in circle.

Last few days, some restlessness had set in. I had no clue why. One of the ways to cure that itch would be to travel. I need to plan a trip out of the city somehow. And sooner the better.

Now that I am back from the Chennai/Mumbai trip, I can safely say that it was indeed the lack of travel that was fucking around with my head. Of course there are other things but now that I am back after a good three day trip, I am far better.

And ya, like I keep saying, I am destiny's child. After I wrote what I wrote a week back, I got an unexpected call for a meeting in Chennai. And then once I was in Chennai, I got another unexpected call for a meeting in Mumbai. And the boring trip turned out to be an amazing time that I spent with Neo in Mumbai. I mean not that I partied like crazy or something but we lazed around, ate awesome stuff and made that mandatory trip to Sunny ka dhaba on the Pune Expressway.

Next thing I am hoping that destiny would shower on me, is her. Lets see when.

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?