15 May 2008

Sport A Hat This Summer

Not long ago, The Times of India used to be a newspaper in India, of Indians, by Indians, for Indians. That was in its paper version. Then the Internet happened. Like most older entities, the 'The Old Lady of Bori Bunder' could not figure out the Internet, and how to deal with it.

Allow me to digress a little. Sometime in the late 1980s the ToI ownership underwent a generational change. In line with changes in ownership, the management team also underwent a change. The term 'management team' itself should have set off red flags! Newspapers were meant to have editorial boards, not management teams. Anyway, one of the first changes to happen was that the ToI decided that the staid black-and-white look will not do, it started printing pages in colour. While the decision to go colour was more of a technology decision - in that the capability, to print in colour, was available at a affordable and cheaper price, the decisions that followed or accompanied it were not technology decisions. They were dictated more by a change in management and, therefore, by a change in management thinking. The ToI management made the decision to treat the news business like a commercial venture, and, profit-and-loss considerations, rather than editorial decisions, started to dictate what would appear in the newspaper and what would not. In line with this new management attitude, The ToI acquired a corporate look and feel, and started to recruit MBAs to run the paper like a business. Marketing professionals(?) started to define a new audience for the newspaper, and all of a sudden the ToI started to become all things to all people. Sports had always been there, it just gained in prominence. Youth Times, College Times, Delhi Times, Patna Times, Science Times, Lifestyle Times, Bizarre Times - somebody just had to think of it and the marketing types would jump on the idea.

Little digression over, Time(s) :) to get back on track. In the age of the Internet and the marketing professionals, was added a new factor. The expanding Indian diaspora. The ToI had a new market! That was just the excuse The ToI management needed to start printing all the junk that was earlier found in American or British fashion glossies, tabloids, and travel magazines. So now, you get to know about the life and times of Brangelina(who?), of Prince William, and 50 cent. Never mind the fact that a majority of the intended audience doesn't care for the foreign tag anymore. Give them something Indian to be proud of, and they will be more receptive to that. Witness the excitement generated by the Nano - the entire automotive world was there to report its launch. But the Nano launch was an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime event.

However, the ToI is apparently not run by people who have any pride in their being Indian; they still have that fixation with things foreign. So we have this ridiculous story in the the ToI - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Lifestyle/Trends/Sport_a_hat_this_summer/articleshow/3035441.cms.

True to the title, this story is about wearing a hat this summer. The story tells you that you should wear a hat which suits the shape of your face type. People with round faces should wear asymmetrically brimmed hats and people with large faces should wear wide brimmed hats. Wow! What wisdom! Thank you, O exalted ones on the editorial board of the the ToI. Never mnid that no one wears hats even in America these days. But who are we to complain? We do not belong to the decision making class. We belong to the class which is used to have its decisions made for us.

Unfortunately, that is the same class that the editorial board of the ToI belongs to. Otherwise, they wouldn't be blindly copying tabloid stories. They even go to the extent of copying agency reports for things happening in India.

Can they get an Indian to work for them, please?

10 May 2008

The Pot Calls The Kettle Black! Or, Is That Brown?

Harbhajan Singh has been 'Unmasked', says the great Ricky Ponting. The great Ponting, who knows everything about everything! What about Ponting himself? And, what about his Australian backers, both in and outside of the media?

Let's look at the next-to-Bradman Ponting's record, and let's see if we can unmask him; here's what Wikipedia has on him:(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricky_Ponting#Controversies)

1. Ponting was suspended from the Australian National Team for a fight outside a pub in NSW in early 1999. He was given a suspended £2000 fine and banned from the team for 3 matches.
Just as an aside, guess who the Chief Executive of CA was? You guiessed it! The same Malcolm Speed, who was livid when match referee Mike Proctor let Yuvraj Singh off in the First Test of the 2007-2008 series between Autralia and India.

2. In 1998, Ponting was thrown out of Equinox night club in Kolkata after misbehaving with several women and assaulting the management staff. He was reportedly pulling his zipper up and down, drawing attention to his zipper. As per the oh-so-proper and holier-than-thou Australian Manager Steve Bernard's narrative to the journalists, Ricky couldn't remember doing anything wrong.
Ponting still copped a fine - for doing nothing wrong!

3. On the way to losing the Ashes to England in the 2005 series, Ponting was unhappy with the use of substitutes by the England side. He was fined 75% of his match fee for his rant against the England team.
The reason I mention this here is that after his return to Australia, Ponting had the temerity to claim that England were playing within the rules of the game, but not within the spirit of the game. More on this later.

4. In the spirit of the game, Ponting started to use bats with a graphite covering over the blade of the bat. As per MCC, this was violative of Law 6.1 governing Cricket equipment. Kookaburra Sport, the manufacturers of the bat withdrew the bat from the market and said they would be supplying new bats to all the players using their bats.
Guess what the ICC, led by the cannot-do-anything-wrong-Australian Malcolm Speed did? The ICC approved the bat in May 2006.

5. That Ponting has the divine right to rule on the cricket field is evident from his skirmishes with on-field umpires and also from his propensity to let his pack loose on the umpires. While the Second Test against India, in Sydney in the 2007-2008 series, is a glaring example of his and his team lording it over the umpires, it is not the only one. Playing against New Zealand, Ponting got into a slanging match with umpire Billy Bowden over signalling a no-ball because Ponting believed that there were not enough players within the inner circle. In Bangladesh, Ponting consistently badgered the umpires until he got his way.
Writing in 'The Age', in an aptly titled story called "Big yield on odd regret"(Jan 12, 2008), a surprisingly candid Brendan McArdle writes "Like many of his teammates, he consistently pressures umpires with his aggressive appealing and he often ignores the edict that is supposed to prevent fieldsmen from charging at umpires during their appeals."He further writes, "As a batsman he has always found it difficult to accept line-ball decisions; it was no surprise last week when, despite his earlier reprieve, he showed his displeasure at wrongly being given leg before wicket." McArdle goes on to say that Cricket Australia's boss Sutherland has always stood behind his team, but that is time that he should have a chat with Ponting. And his pack(my words, not McArdle's).

6. In 2006, Ponting was fined his entire match fee for showing dissent in match against West Indies in Kuala Lumpur. Ponting admitted breaching the players' code of conduct, "I made a serious error of judgement. I shouldn't have behaved in the way I did."
Incidentally, that was Ponting's second incidence of dissent within the same year - the incident in Bangladesh being the first.

7. Again in 2006, Ponting and his pack were quick to show their boorishness in pushing Sharad Pawar, the BCCI chief, off the podium. Ponting had to formally apologise for that incident.

8. And of course, who can forget the Second Test in Sydney in the 2007-2008 series against India. Ponting showed that he was not leading a team of cricketers but that he was leading a pack of, well, you decide what. He let loose his pack, not only at the Indian players, but also at the Umpires.
The umpires did his bidding; the picture of Ricky Ponting raising his finger to show that Ganguly was out is still fresh in my mind, and everybody else's. Countering Kumble's criticism that only one team played the game withing the spirit of the game, Ponting had this gem to offer, "absolutely, no doubt about this match being played in the right spirit." He went on to defend the umpires, "All I'll say about the umpires is that they're out there like me trying to do the best job that they can. "Sure, they made a few mistakes, but that's the game of cricket."
Cricket Australia's chief, another cannot-do-anything-wrong-Australian, supported his team wholeheartedly, "We're supportive of the Australian team and the way they play and this tough and uncompromising way is the way Australian teams have always played,"
Australian Cricketers Association Chief Executive, Paul Marsh was quick to jump to the Australians' defence, "They definitely play the game hard but they rarely cross the line …" Rarely? Mr. Marsh, your knowledge of the English Language needs enhancement.
Ian Chappell, another Australian Captain, said that Ponting learnt from his mistakes and therefore, deserved a second, chance. I am sure he meant a 10th, or, did he mean a 15th chance. Ian Chappell went on to say that Test matches need Umpires with Authority!

Long list, eh? So what does Ponting do? He says Harbhajan has been 'unmasked'. And a fawning media, not just the Australian Media mind you, but a subservient Indian media as well, for who the white man can do no wrong, fails to see anything wrong with Ponting. They go to town asking Ponting his opinion of everything under the Sun, giving Ponting a chance to pontificate.

Hey wake up, Ricky! And, shut up! Mend your own ways first and then take care of your own batting. And if you have the guts, speak out in India, not when you are in the safe environs of your native Autralia. But then, you had to keep quiet while you were in India, right? Not only because you don't have the guts to snarl outside your own backyard , but also because even the pitiful $400,000 that you got as your IPL bid might have been in jeopardy!

I have to say this to the Indian Media - not just to the ignorant girls who comment on Star TV, a channel owned by an Australian incidentally, but also to the other guys who know their cricket - respect yourself and your own, otherwise nobody will respect you.

08 May 2008

Pepsico & The IMA - The Saga Continues

Looks like I was the first one off the blocks in criticising the deal between the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Pepsico :) Now, I have company. The Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss and Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have both pitched in to criticise the deal, and the IMA.

Despite the criticism, the IMA is sticking to its guns and claiming that they haven't done anything wrong in signing the deal. Let us look at their arguments for sticking by the deal.

As per a story published in Bihartimes (http://bihartimes.com/newsnational/2008/May/newsnational07May2.html) Doctor Ajay told IANS that if people drink"Pure Juice", they will not drink aerated soft drinks. Furthermore, as per the good doctor, patients suffering from diabetes and kidney problems should be consuming these juices only after they have been advised by their doctors. Now, wait a minute! Looks like the good doctor has never had Pure Juice from Pepsi before; nor has he had really pure juice before. As per the understanding in India, and elsewhere, pure juice is made by crushing fruits and extracting the juice. If Dr. Ajay had cared to read any of Tropicana's cartons of Pure Juice, he would have found that in many cases Pure Juice is made out of concentrate! Pepsico will certainly claim it to be Pure Juice, but if that is Pure Juice then I am the Prime Minister of India.

Furthermore, the IMA claims that they have endorsed products before and do not see anything wrong in endorsing products. While Eureka Forbes' water filters may not be affordable for all, they sure meet a need for Pure Water, which sadly our cities and towns can't provide to their citizens. Even then, I would not suggest that the IMA should be endorsing products. As I stated in my earlier post (http://kumar-alok.blogspot.com/2008/05/pepsico-and-indian-medical-association.html), doctors in India are treated with a respect which borders on blind faith. Even elsewhere, a doctor's words are taken very seriously. To endorse commercial products would be to abuse the faith that society has in Doctors. I tend to agree with the Union Health Minister here; Doctors should partner with the government and/ or NGOs in the fight against TB, Malaria, and other diseases. That would be repaying society's faith in them.

The, there is the confusion about money. While Doctor Ajay would have us believe that they, the IMA, did not receive any money in this deal, there are others who are telling us that the IMA received 50 lakhs for this deal, and the money is to be deposited in their general fund. We are also told that the IMA is in talks with other companies as well, to endorse their products. Sunita Narain has had the last word on this - she doesn't expect the IMA to become the Indian Marketing Association.

07 May 2008

Sons of Fortune

Sons of Fortune is a old book by Jeffrey Archer; well, 5 years old. It was first published in 2003.

Archer does not offer anything new in this; he seems to borrow heavily from his own writings from the past and as usual, from his own life as well. He traces the life and times of two people - twins in this case, separated at birth by a loyal, and well-meaning nurse. He has done this in the past - Kane and Abel, and First Among Equals immediately spring to mind. Nat Cartwright and Peter Cartwright are twins born to Nat's parents but Peter is stolen from his parents at the time of his birth and replaced by a dead child. Peter is given to another family, who've had a history of childlessness. From then on the two children follow the same hackneyed path to adulthood - A life spent in the top private schools, an excellent athletic/ academic record, and early entry into politics. Wait, but isn't that the story of Jeffrey Archer's own life?

As I said earlier, there is nothing new in this book, either in terms of content or in terms of style. If Mr. Acher has trouble selling this book, I am sure he can sell this story to the Mumbai Film Industry. They are bound to love it; after all, even they have been recycling the same stories over and over again.

Pepsico & The IMA

Pepsico and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have reached a non-commercial deal, whereby Indian doctors will be endorsing two products of the company, namely Tropicana Pure Juices and Quaker Oats in India.

As per the story (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/News_By_Industry/PepsiCo_enters_into_non-commercial_deal_with_IMA/articleshow/3016920.cms) published in the Economic Times on 07-May-2008, the doctors will be endorsing these two products in advertisments for these products while Pepisco will help IMA in sponsoring public forums and other such events. In management-speak, this appears to be a win-win for both parties. However, it appears that at least one of the parties, namely the IMA, has not thought of the impact of this deal on the third party - the public. Pepsico is definitely aware of the impact; I will go so far as to say that they got into the deal knowing fully well what impact this deal is going to have and fully intending to maximise that impact.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, who is the past president of the IMA is the chief architect of this deal. Dr. Ajay Kumar is a highly respected surgeon specialising in Urology, and runs his practice in Patna, the capital city of Bihar. Dr. Ajay is a very intelligent person and a very good surgeon, and I say this based on first-hand experience. Dr. Ajay and I went to the same boarding school in (erstwhile) Bihar, though not at the same time. I have interacted with him outside of school and found him to be a highly intelligent person.

Which is why it surprises me that Dr. Ajay has not taken into account the implications of this deal for the public. Dr. Ajay comes from one of the poorest states in India and Doctors in Bihar, and even in the rest of India, enjoy a respect which borders on awe and blind faith. A patient will go to any lengths to get the medicines and vitamins prescribed by her doctor, even if she doesn't have the money to buy those medicines and vitamins. A patient will also try to follow the dietary recommendations of the doctor to the extent that they can be followed. When doctors recommend Daab Pani (fresh juice from green coconuts) or SugarCane juice or Dalia (Wheat meal), patients try and stick with that recommendation. These things are easily available in every nook and corner of Bihar, and, they are inexpensive. OK, maybe they are not so inexpensive. But Tropicana Pure Juices? And Quaker Oats? Having spent some time in Patna, I can count the number of stores that would have these items in stock; these stores are all high-end stores, with high prices and an exclusive clientele. Besides, the fact that these products are being marketed by Pepsi automatically jacks up the price. I mean, Pepsi will not be selling these products in open containers, will it? Packaging is expensive, you know, and then somebody's got to pay for all that advertising, and the salaries of all those suits. Right? Are the doctors going to pay for all that? So, the poor patient, in addition to the price of the medicines and the vitamins, will also be paying the salaries of the suits that Pepsico employs to market these products.

Sure, Pepsico is not asking doctors to make dietary recommendations to patients , but do you think that Pepsico is going to be content with the doctors' endorsement? At what point in time, does some Pepsico suit turn around and assess the returns from this deal? You bet it is going to within the year. Pepsico is bound to put in a monitoring mechanism whereby it assesses the revenue growth in its sales regions based on the number of doctors in that region, and not just based on salespersons in its employ.

Then there is the local availability of the raw material and cropping patterns to consider. Oats are not a major crop in India and are chiefly produced in Russia, Canada, USA, Finland, and Poland. India does produce Oats but mainly as a fodder crop. Pepsico will, in all probability, source its Quaker Oats from USA for the time being, but given the emphasis on cost reduction in the supply chain it will start sourcing from India in the not too distant future, as soon as it can get its Quality Control processes in place. Now, I am not a big fan of how commercial farming has acted as a disruptive force in Indian agriculture. Sure, it has resulted in increased incomes for the commercial farmers, but at the same time it has decreased the area under food production. Sure, Oats are food, and I am the majority stakeholder in Pepsico!

Dr. Ajay, we are happy with our narial-pani and dalia. Thanks for the Orange Juice and Oats, but we don't need them.

29 April 2008

Harbhajan & The Media Circus

Give a dog a bad name and hang it। That seems to be the lead that the Indian media is following in the case of Harbhajan Singh. Now, Harbhajan is no saint, and he has never portrayed himself to be one. However, the Indian media, in order to provide more meat to their own stories, and to feed the ever-present hunger for more (news) on the internet and on 24x7 TV news, has gone ahead and included a long list of Harbhajan’s past misdemeanors to show that he has a history and that he should be given exemplary punishment.

They are digging up all the ‘dirt’ that anybody’s ever assembled on Harbhajan and serving that as the confirmed truth। This ‘dirt’ is not limited to Harbhajan stories related to cricket. Of course, there’s no denying the fact that were it not for cricket, nobody would have heard of Harbhajan Singh, the son of Sardar Sarvev Singh of Jalandhar. However, the media needs to distinguish between what is private, what is not; what other news item relates to the story on hand and what does not. Many of the writers/ commentators seem to have no inkling of what they are writing/ talking about. I suspect that they are provided ‘templates’ by their ‘un-biased’ editors, who in turn have learnt their art not in a lifetime of journalism, but at the feet of some pushy MBA-marketing type.

So, we have some journalists bringing up Bishen Bedi’s ‘javelin-throw’ comment, while we have some others bringing up Harbhajan featuring in a liquor ad campaign without his turban। This is all to buttress their claims that Harbhajan didn’t become ‘controversial’ overnight; he has been ‘controversial’ all along. Then, there are some who are not content to dig up past stories, but go on to look for new ones. So we have some hard-working journalists talking to Mickey Arthur to enlighten us that Harbhajan created trouble even during the South African tour!

In all this brouhaha, there are very few participants who have shown some good sense. The first, of course, has been the general Indian public. They have acknowledged that what Harbhajan did was wrong, and that he should be punished for it. Most of them have found no linkage with past history, nor do they care about it. The second, have been a handful of journalists who, not surprisingly, are the not the wide-eyed ‘Chhante Ki Goonj’-type TV journalists, but have actually done some real journalism. Ashok Malik of the Daily Pioneer has written a very balanced piece in the ‘Cricinfo Blogs’. I wish I could say the same of the leader piece in Cricinfo, which has done its best to hang Harbhajan.