Two books I read recently

Posted on June 5, 2008. Filed under: Books |

Couple of books which I read recently are “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri and “If God was a Banker” by Ravi Subramanian. Both the books are real good reads and I enjoyed reading them. The novel by Jhumpa Lahiri has been made as a film as well, it seems.

While reading these books, I realised that I tend to read it in one go if it really appeals to me. Else, I leave it half-way or read it in bits and pieces always wondering where did I last stop. I guess that should the habit of many other people as well. I should say I read both the books in one go. It made me to be awake till very late in the night for couple of days. I cant just keep the book down and wait for the next morning to start again.

“The Namesake” is based on a story of an young Indian student going to US for pursuing his higher studies and settles there to raise a family. The story revolves around the emotional struggle faced by him and his wife living in an alien land through out their adult life. Though they are in US for most part of their adult life, they still consider India as their homeland and feels attached to them. Very natural! The second part of the story is about their children, primarily their son, Gogol, born and brought up in US. How the second generation US born Indians look at their life, their priorities and preferences, their attitude towards India and fellow Indians were beautifully bought out. I could easily relate the life situations narrated in the novel and empathise with the characters. The flow was very good and the presentation was neat. Good book and enjoyed it to the last word.

The next one, “If God was a banker”, is a story about the lives of modern day bankers, who are ambitious and aggressive. The novel revolves around two young IIM graduates, Swami and Sandeep, who enter a Multi-national bank to pursue their careers. Both of them raise the corporate ladder but of course following two entirely different approaches. Swami, a South Indian Tam-Brahm, is portrayed as hard-working, ethical and intelligent whereas the other character, Sandeep grows using dubious ways. Since I have a first hand information of how competitive the entire banking industry has become for the employees, I was glued on to the novel. Of course, at times it looks like few of the situations as cliched but on retrospect thats how it happens in real life as well. Though the novel is an imaginary one, as the author claims (the author Ravi Subramanian is a IIM graduate currently working in a MNC Bank in their retail banking operations) it is rumoured that it has a close resembelance to real life story.

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Everything you desire – Harshdeep Jolly

Posted on March 25, 2008. Filed under: Books |

Everything you desire“is a book written by Harshdeep Jolly, an IIM Bangalore Alumni on the 21 months he spent there studying for his MBA. This books vividly chronicles the events, culture, expectations, peer pressure, internal equations, staff attitude and all in IIM Bangalore. This is a honest description of the events.

The first 45 pages of “Everything you desire” are a drag and I was in two minds to continue or not. It looks like a student diary in the initial pages. I persisted with it and the pace started getting better. The important thing about the book it makes you understand the difficult life in a IIM without the author overtly talking about the difficulties. The author makes you imagine how each student undergoes these gruelling 21 months. While reading the book you get used to various IIM acronyms like MAP, CC, CGPA.

For those who think there is no time for romance in IIM’s, I guess it is not true. Inspite of hardpressed for time, our guys and girls go about this. I also understood the pressure these IIM guys go through during the campus recruitments. We are all fancied by the huge salaries IIM graduates get but there are guys who dont land up in a job either day 0,1 or even 2. The agony they undergo, the peer pressure as a part of the campus recruitment process has been brought out well.

I didnt study in IIM but this book provided an opportunity to live the life of a student in IIM. There are various spelling mistakes throughout the book and I don’t know it was ever proof-read!? The book is a good read if you manage to hold on to the first 45 pages!! Well done, Harshdeep!!

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Saravana Stores – a front-runner to Pantaloon Retail!!

Posted on February 18, 2008. Filed under: Books |

When I wrote about Pantaloon Retail’s story I failed to mention about the reference he makes about Saravana Stores, T Nagar, Chennai. Kishore Biyani accepts that before starting the retail venture across India, he himself has visited Saravana Stores at T Nagar many times to understand their business model and how customers buy things in an organised retail set-up.

It is not only Kishore Biyani who visited Saravana Stores, but the entire top management team has to mandatorily visit Saravana Stores, T Nagar and take notes to be discussed during their Management meeting.

I guess this a great acknowledgment of retail revolution ushered in by Saravana Stores in late 1980’s and early 1990’s before the better organised players expanded it in a big way. Though the group has split into may companies, it stills remains a great attraction for all shoppers at T Nagar Chennai.

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"It happened in India" by Kishore Biyani

Posted on February 14, 2008. Filed under: Books |

It Happened in India” is a book written by Kishore Biyani, the founder of Pantaloon Retail Ltd., telling us the story of how Pantaloon was created. As we all know Pantaloon Retail is now a diversified retail enterprise with presence across various retail formats like Big Bazaar, Hypermarkets, Central etc. selling everything from readymade garments, to electronic goods to provisions. In this book, Kishore shares with us his trials and tribulations he underwent before things started going right with Pantaloon Retail.

Kishore Biyani, belongs to a trading family from Rajasthan settled in Mumbai for more than 60 years now. He was born in a family of traders and though you cant call them very rich, but I guess they were quite well-off. He was never interested in studies but did complete his commerce graduation and always had ambition of making it big in business. He didnt join the family trading business but rather than tried out different things on his own, like readymade garments, textile production, creating brands before he ventured in retail business of selling garments.

I have to accept that he is true visionary when he started selling readymade garments when nobody preferred ready-to-wear shirts or trousers. I remember buying the cloth from a textile shop, go to a tailor, give him the measurements and wait for him to deliver the stitched pants. Though it was time consuming, it suited the tastes of people and fitted perfectly compared to readymade garments. Kishore made a big gamble when he started Pantaloon Fashion House to retail ready-to-wear garments. The initial years were really difficult for him both in establishing his brands and finding sources to fund his bold initiatives. Pantaloon went public in 1992 in order to fund their expansion plans. The IPO size was Rs2.25 crores, yes, it is two crores and 25 lakhs. This is miniscule compared to present day IPO’s. I also share the same feeling that Kishore Biyani went public too early to command a premium in the share market or to generate huge capital for his expansion needs. The stock, as Kishore writes, languished below the par value of Rs10 for a long time before it was identified by some smart savvy investors. One instance what he quotes in his book is about how a business after seeing huge crowds build up at his showroom for Republic day special discount sales, went on to buy 4% of the company. The businessman still holds these 4% stake in Pantaloon Retail.

Again Kishore was the first person to introduce the concept of retailing staples through his Big Bazaar and other retail formats. He has a very great understanding of Indian consumers and he introduced the concept of selling rice, wheat and other pulses in loose, so that the customers could touch and feel the quality before they decide to buy them. The same concept is being followed by other retailers like Reliance Retail in their Reliance Fresh stores.

Kishore went by his instincts and doesnot rely on market research or analysis either for opening new stores or building new businesses. He believed in himself and the India story and he has successfully resisted temptations to export goods or expand geographical spread to other countries. He believes India itself is a huge market for anybody and he doesnot see the need to look at other countries for expansion or growth. He believes Indian consumer is unique and never felt any need to bring in foreign consultants for building in retailing business.

Today, the Pantaloon group has been renamed as Future Group and they have expanded their presence across retailing, financial services, real estate management etc. Another example of his vision is that he has booked the retail space requirements for his Pantaloon stores till 2011 at very cheap rates.

The story of Kishore Biyani is truly inspiring on two counts. He strongly believed in himself and showed lot of persistence and perseverance, two great qualities each one of us can imbibe.

The book is being sold at Rs99/-, a true Pantaloon style.

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"In Xanadu, A Quest" by William Dalrymple

Posted on January 28, 2008. Filed under: Books |

In Xanadu, A Quest is a travelogue written by William Dalrymple of his travel from Jerusalem to Xanadu in China. This is exactly the same route taken by Marco Polo some 1200 years ago when he travelled from Europe to Asia. William and his two lady companions (lucky guy!!) did this travel during their college days in Cambridge in 1986. I read this book only now!! His latest popular book on the Indian History is The Last Mughal.

Imagine travelling from Jerusalem to Xanadu, which is 12000 miles, and travelling through very diverse climatic conditions, with language barriers and cultural differences. It is not one of the most interesting of journeys for me but I admire the grit and determination shown by these young college students. They have to travel through various countries sometimes with valid visa and sometimes without. They travelled in all forms of transport from airplanes to motor cars to public buses to hitch-hiking in transport carriers.

Language barrier was one of the greatest difficulties these guys faced. William could not talk Urdu, Arabic or Chinese other than English and some smattering of these languages. Using very minimal knowledge of the local language, they have to fend for their food, accomodation, travel etc., and manages to well fed throughout the journey going by what he has written in the book!

The objective of this epic travel is not to start from point A and go to point B. Enroute he wants to see most of those places and buildings which has been mentioned in the original travelogue written by Marco Polo. William did manages to see many places and gives a very detailed account of the places he visited. These travellers I guess spend lot of time updating their log book at the end of the day inorder to write a travelogue latter!

Many a times in their entire journey, I recalls how he used his minimal local language skills to talk to the natives and convey the messages with regard to places, buildings, food and accomodation. By reading through the book, you will understand that most of the places in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China has not seen any visible signs of development for hundreds of years. The people still continue to do things the same way they have been doing for hundreds of years and ignorant of happenings across the world.

He undergoes very many hardships before he lands himself in Xanadu, his final destination in China. It turns out in the end that the Palace of Kubla Khan which he wanted to visit in Xanadu is non-existent and only the remnants could be seen.

After reading the book, I think:

1. Inspite of many hardships, the determination to proceed further is paramount to success. It applies to all activities in our life.
2. Sign language works as well as any other language. He manages to get whatever he wants enroute.
3. Keeping cool (atleast thats what I understand from the book) in face of adversity is very important.

One thing which I cant stop asking myself is : can this kind of journey would have been possible for a brown skinned person. He manages to travel through prohibited areas in China (closer to their nuclear testing facility) without valid permit, gets caught and manages to go scot-free!!

Can you imagine how much he would have used to complete the entire travel? William and his accomplices completed this journey through with GBP700 in hand. Believe me that is the amount he got from University of Cambridge as a grant!!

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