Sunday, December 02, 2012

Bangalore city needs some diversity

Every city has got problems of its own, and Bangalore is no exception. I feel that one of the primary reasons behind the various issues that are plaguing Bangalore today is the lack of diversity here. Unlike other cities such as Mumbai and Delhi where people of wide variety of occupations and income levels reside, Bangalore is majorly populated by IT professionals. The issues with this lack of diversity are manifold. Look at the traffic situation for example. Everyone travels to their workplaces during peak hours causing traffic jams; everyone thinks they are rich and travel alone in big cars adding up to the traffic woes; no one wants to travel in BMTC buses or any public transport for that matter. Needless to mention, these are the same people cribbing about traffic snarls in Bangalore every now and then. 

Of all, one thing that annoys me the most is that even on weekends and holidays, people want to do the same set of things, as if weekdays weren't enough. Come on guys, get some diversity here at least! Everyone wants to watch a movie over the weekend sky-rocketing the ticket prices. I find it very difficult to digest the fact that movie tickets on weekends are in the range of Rs. 300-500 and yet it's very difficult to get a ticket, unless booked in advance. Everyone wants to hang out in a mall crowding the malls to the point of suffocation. Everyone wants to eat in restaurants leaving a long trail of vehicles from residential areas to the commercial ones. 

I think we've already tested the limits of the city and it's high time we diversify a little bit, at least over the weekends. 

Go, watch a movie on a weekday evening or watch it in a local theater over the weekend, if you must. Even better, watch a play once in a while. Ever been to Rangashankara? If not, you are missing out on a beautiful and serene place. 

Go on a trek or on a long drive to a scenic place. Bangalore is blessed with many such places in and around herself. Explore! 

Try giving back something to the society by engaging yourself in a social cause e.g.,,,, etc.

Travel in a BMTC bus to work once in a while (I know you are rich, but still do this for the sake of the city). If traveling in a BMTC bus hurts your dignity (really?), cycle to work once in a while. At least do the car-pooling, if you must travel in a car. Please don't take out your land-cruisers when traveling alone.

Coming to the ritual of eating out. Bangaloreans are crazy when it comes to food. Restaurants in every nook and corner of the city are full to their maximum capacity most of the times. How about some local food joint for a change? Ever been to the food street?

Let's do our bit for solving the city's problems. After all, cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thindi Beedi aka Food Street aka Khau Galli in Bangalore

I'm a foodie. And I feel lucky to be in a country that keeps my taste buds titillatingly happy. Every city in India has to have a food street, and Bangalore is no exception. It didn't take much time for the gourmet in me to discover the food street in Bangalore. The Food Street or Khau Galli in Bangalore is known as Thindi Beedi  (Kannada word for food street).

How to reach:

It is located near Sajjan Rao circle  in VV Puram. If you are taking a bus or an auto, get down at Sajjan Rao circle, and the food street starts right next to it. If you are driving, you can get the driving directions from google maps:

View Larger Map

General Info:

It's a very small street (hardly a 200m stretch), and the shops are located adjacent to each other. The street is open all days of the week from 6 p.m. till about 11 p.m. It's pure vegetarian, and it's local. Although the street might look crowded over the weekends, it is still less crowded than a food court in a mall in Bangalore, and I pity Bangaloreans for this. Most of the shops don't have any seating arrangement, but eating out on the street is an exhilarating experience in itself. The prices of food items are pretty low as compared with any other eatery in Bangalore. Even for a devourer like me, it's difficult to eat stuff more than Rs. 100 even on an empty stomach.

What to eat:

The street starts with the landmark V.B. Bakery, serving its customers sincerely for more than 50 years now. The bakery is known for its fresh products, especially the cream puff and honey cakes, and calling its bread soft would be an understatement.

V.B. Bakery (left), Honey cake (top right), Cream puff (right bottom)

Eating Ramu’s ghee masala dosa will make you go on a guilt trip, especially if you have watched him make the dosas, generously doused in ghee.

Ramu's Masala Dosa

I've had the best Idli in my lifetime at a shop beside Idli Mane. The Idli is so soft and fresh that it nearly melts in your mouth. You could also try other local delicacies here such as Paddu, Kolbade, Akki Roti, Ragi Roti, and Thatte Idly.

Akki Roti, Thatte Idli, Paddu, Kolbade (Clockwise from top left)

The next must-visit stall is the one that sells bondas and bhajjis. Aloo bonda, chilli bhajji, onion pakoda, banana bhajji...the list goes on...the capsicum masala is a must try.

Capsicum Masala Bhajji (left), Assorted Bhajjis (right)

You could also hog on some of the North Indian delicacies such as paranthas, gulab jaamun, and pav-bhaaji  or some chat items like bhel, pani-puri or some Chinese ones like gobi manchurian.

Chat items

Another must-try stall is the one selling holige (puran poli). Coconut holige is my personal favorite. Even the plain Dal Holige drenched in desi ghee is sumptuous.

Holige stall

Towards the end of the road stand the corn sellers stocking over ten varieties of corn including the slightly puzzling "lemon butter baby masala corn". You'd also find fruit vendors selling fruit plates at this end.

Fruit plate (left), Corn (right)

And the last but not least - Shivanna Gulkand Center. Your trip to the food street isn't complete if you haven't tried some of the unique delicacies at this center. My personal favorite ones are:
Exotic fruits + Gulkand + Ice-cream = Butter Gulkand Fruit Salad with Ice Cream
Masala Pepsi

Shivanna Gulkand Center (left), Butter Gulkand with Ice-cream (top right), Masala Pepsi (right bottom)

There are still so many items that I haven't tried yet even after numerous visits. I wish I had two stomachs to devour more food. If you are a true foodie, then you wouldn't be in front of your computer by now :)

Disclaimer: Most of the pics in this post are taken from various sources on the internet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Buying a new house in Bangalore

A well settled job, a dream house, a car, and a loving wife...that's the dream of the middle class in India. Anything over and above this is a bonus :) We talked about marriage in the last post. Let's talk about the dream house in this post. I've tried to compile the info I gathered in the last few days by reading through some online material and through discussions with a lot of people. See if you find the following info useful while buying a new house in Bangalore.


When should one buy a house? Well, the simplest answer would be: As early as possible. Real estate prices in Bangalore are shooting up day-by-day. So, if you can't afford to buy a house today, chances are very bleak that you'll be able to afford it tomorrow. Contrary to the common misconception, real prices never come down. Even in the worst recession of 2008-09, the real estate prices remained leveled, to say the least. The only difference during the recession times is that it's difficult to find buyers. But that stage is generally temporary. The real estate prices in Bangalore are still half-way through the prices in  Mumbai and Delhi. I personally feel that Bangalore has a potential of reaching Mumbai or Delhi in the coming few years.


This is the time you'll realize how you have fared so far since you started earning. The savings thus far will give you an estimate on your spending habits. While this might teach a lesson to a few, some might get a sweet little shock. The following things might help you in deciding your budget while buying a house:

  • You need to pay at least 20% of the total cost from your pocket upfront. Make sure that you can manage to accumulate that much cash in a short period of time.
  • Banks will give loan only up to 80% of the total cost. Public Sector Banks like SBI are very strict in this regard, whereas private banks can give even up to 85-90% of the total cost, depending upon your financial status.
  • Banks will sanction loans keeping in mind that your EMI should not be higher than 50-55% of your monthly take-home (after all the deductions). Again, private banks are a little generous in this regard too. Just google for EMI calculator and you'll find tons of those available online. Try out different combinations of the loan amount, tenure, and the rate of interest, and check your affordability.


Choosing the location can be a real headache, when you begin your search. Bangalore is expanding in all the four directions and this can give you a nightmare in deciding your location. You should not decide on your house location depending on your current working location, because you never know where you might land up a few years down the line. A few things that might help you in choosing your location:

  • Subscribe to the Times of India (I hate to say this), especially the Friday edition. Real estate ads is the only useful thing in ToI, which otherwise is full of crap.
  • Read through some of the online resources such as blogs, real estate forums like, etc.
  • Talk to people. Talk to your friends, office colleagues, acquaintances who are staying in different localities. The actual residents are the best sources of information of any locality. 
  • Many builders arrange a site visit (free pick-up and drop) to the property. You can leverage those. Otherwise, you can go on your own to a particular area and see all the properties in and around that area.

Type of house:

 Independent House
closely knit-community,
common amenities, secure, 
easy to put on rent,
you get everything ready-made
you own your land, 
you get to choose the building architecture and floor plans,
more free space for gardening, playing, etc.,
you can control the quality of construction
you own your land,
more free space for gardening, playing, etc.,
common amenities,
you get everything ready-made
you physically own a very small land share, limited or no flexibility in choosing the floor plans,
no control over the quality of construction
not very easy to put on rent,
security concerns,
no common amenities,
more time and efforts in building your own house 
generally expensive,
generally in the outskirts of the city,
not very easy to put on rent,
limited or no flexibility in choosing the floor plans


The prices of renowned builders could be at least 20-25% more than a normal builder. Although the prices of smaller builders are on the lower side, their projects are very prone to the following issues:

  • Many-a-times, you won't get what was promised.
  • Delays in completing the projects.
  • Legal issues.
  • Compromised quality of construction.
Some of the projects of even the renowned builders are plagued by these issues, but chances of such issues surfacing are lesser with the renowned builders, hence the premium price (same logic as for branded clothes, etc.). There's also a common belief that properties of renowned builders tend to last longer and would fetch more resale value a few years down the line. However, if budget is a constraint, you can get a good house by a smaller builder in a good locality. But do verify thoroughly on the above-mentioned aspects as much as possible before finalizing.

Renowned builder or otherwise, do bargain on the final price of the house. In most of the cases, as much as you are desperate to buy the house, the builder too is desperate to sell it.

Do make sure that the property you are buying is approved by the various renowned banks, especially SBI. These banks do a review of the legal documents, etc. of the project before giving approval. SBI is supposed to be very strict in this verification.


A lot of options are at your disposal as far as home loan is concerned. If they find that you are capable of repaying the loan, banks will chase you like anything. I was advised to go for SBI by most of the people who had opted for private banks. SBI generally offers a lower rate of interest, and doesn't have any hidden charges. They are also pretty strict in verifying the property documents before approving the loan. However, you may have to run around a bit, if you choose SBI, whereas private banks will come to your doorstep.

Banks will try to enforce you to take home loan insurance, along with the home loan. However, as of today, there is no mandate from RBI on taking insurance for the home loan. I personally prefer taking a simple term insurance plan, which would cover even the loan amount, than going for a home loan insurance.

If the house is under-construction, you will have an option of going for either pre-EMIs or full-EMIs. For an under-construction property, the loan amount is disbursed in stages by the bank to the builder. In pre-EMIs, you pay only the interest component of the amount that's disbursed by the bank to the builder at a particular stage. So, you will need to pay smaller EMIs in the beginning until you get the possession of the house and the full-EMIs start. However, your loan tenure would generally increase if you are opting for pre-EMIs, as the repayment of the principal component of the loan starts only after you get the possession of the house. To cut a long story short, go for pre-EMIs only if you are really short on cash in the initial stages of the loan. Otherwise, always go for full-EMIs.

You almost end up paying double the loan amount by the time you repay the loan completely. So, stretch your limit as much as possible and take only the minimal required loan.

Income tax benefits:

Loads of stuff is available online on this:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Maggu's Dilemma - Love Marriage ya Arranged Marriage?

Maggu was good at studies since his childhood. A bachelor's degree in Engineering from IIT and an MBA from IIM spoke volumes about his academic achievements. Working for a top-notch Consulting firm with a hefty salary package, he was living the dream of today's Indian youth. All was going well until he reached the age when it was time to get married. Having devoted his whole youth to studies and career, and having studied in a highly-skewed-sex-ratio environment, he hardly had time/opportunities to interact with women (of his age). So, when most of his not-so-qualified (non-IIT, non-IIM) friends were getting married to their girlfriends, Maggu felt an intense peer-pressure. 

Having been under pressure many a times in his academic life and having come out with flying colors in such situations, he was confident about tackling this situation quite easily with his meticulous planning and hard-work. He planned to solve this issue just the way he had been cracking the client use-cases in the Consulting world. He decided to first brainstorm on the issue at hand, then list out the possible solutions, evaluate those, and finally arrive at the feasible solution. To begin with, theoretically, he had two choices at this juncture: Love Marriage and Arranged Marriage. He decided to brainstorm on Love Marriage first. (In his calculative mind) "hmm...Let me see...For this, first I've to fall in love with a girl. Then, I've to convince her to fall in love with me. This would entail a substantial amount of investment in time and money. Also, going by the scracity driven high-handedness developed in the so-called decent-enough girls, the probability of finding such a suitable girl is going to be very bleak, especially given that I'd be finding a very little time for this extracurricular activity in my tight work schedule. Then there are certain other issues such as convincing the parents if the girl is from other caste/religion, be the mediator if any party raises any concern, etc."

All in all, this looked like a very time-consuming and stressful activity and the RoI (Return on Investment) didn't appear that appealing to Maggu. So, he decided to brainstorm on Arranged Marriage now. (Again in his calculative mind) "hmm...Well, for this too, I've to search for a suitable bride. Here again, finding such a suitable match isn't going to be any easier, given the number of constraints that come into picture such as religion, caste, horoscope, education, career, looks, family background, etc. The bright side in this is that my parents would be helping me in finding the suitable match and my strong academics and career would play a valuable role. But then there are certain open questions such as how can I decide to spend the rest of my life with a person in just a couple of meetings? What if my parent's choice and my choice are way too different? What if I'm not able to find the kind of a girl I've in my mind? What if our frequencies do not match after marriage?...and so on..."

These questions created chaos in Maggu's otherwise sharp mind. Evidently, there was no clear winner. As the time was passing, his anxiety and confusion levels kept increasing. Maggu started to have a feeling that he was too late into the game and should have delved into this issue much earlier. Such was the intensity of this pandemonium that Maggu went into depression and his performance at work took a hit too. Amidst all of this confusedness, forget about the resolution of the issue, all he could come up with were more and more questions: What's the use of my IIT-IIM qualification if I haven't found a girl to marry yet? Why did parents keep telling me not to mingle with girls and rather concentrate on studies? Are my non-IIT/non-IIM friends much happier than I am, even though I've toiled a zillion times more than they have done so far? Why didn't they have a course in college on getting girl-friends which I could have topped and not be in this situation? What went wrong?

And this was the first time Maggu felt in his life that he had failed in something. He realized that there are many other important things in life than studies and career. He also realized that certain things in life can't be solved even by the best analytical minds; such matters are better left to the heart to deal with.

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This post was written for the IndiBlogger contest on LoveYaArrange.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Satyamev Jayate and the great Indian ‘cynical’ middle class

Having grown up watching the serials of the kinds of Vyomkesh Bakshi, Malgudi days, Chanakya, Surbhi, Bharat – ek khoj, etc., the quality of today’s tv shows (barring a few) makes me vomit, to the extent that I’ve stopped watching tv for quite some time now. Gone are the days when we used to wake up to the tunes of mile-sur-mera-tumhara and all the family members used to be glued to the tv for watching 7pm news. (Well, the less said about today’s news channels, the better. Another topic, another day…). 

This spirit was rekindled when Amir Khan launched his much awaited tv serial – Satyamev Jayate. The concept is so simple, yet so catchy. Behind the glory of ‘shining’ India, lies a bitter truth which no one is daring to unearth. The idea has been very well conceptualized, thoroughly studied, and perfectly executed in a way that it touches a wide range of audience. Having seen the deteriorating conditions in villages (which constitutes more than 70% of the population in India) first hand, the so called glories of a handful of city population doesn't impress me much. The show has thrown some light on a number of critical issues that are plaguing Indian society today. While a major section of the society has welcomed this initiative with open arms, a certain section of the society (the cribbers) is cribbing about certain things such as Amir Khan using this as a platform to promote himself, the show showing India in a bad light, etc. While I certainly feel that the show has its own shortcomings, I still think it's a very good beginning towards a great cause. If Amir Khan is able to promote himself with this show, so be it. As long as the show is spreading awareness about the problems that the society is facing, I think it's a well spent hour of the week. More importantly, it's bringing back some value to the television. 

I've observed that most of these cribbers belong to the great Indian middle class. This is the same middle class which has always been finding some way or the other to be unhappy in whatever situation they are in. Having been through a lot of hardships throughout their lives, some of us have become so much cynical that we have lost hope. Seeing a myriad of issues surrounding us, we've lost faith that this situation could ever be reversed. The bad is when we lose faith that we can do something good to the society, but the worst is when we try to pull back people who haven't lost faith yet. In my humble opinion, we have no right to question someone's intentions, when we ourselves have done zilch towards such a cause. I think it's high time we stop throwing mud on each and everyone, and at least appreciate the good things being done by a handful, if not contribute towards it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When should we drink water?

We all know that water is good for our health. It helps in cleansing the body of toxins, helps digestion, increases metabolism and so on. The most common question I've seen people asking about water drinking habits is: how much water should one drink in a day? And there are various standard answers available to this question. Some go by the "8 by 8" rule - drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, while some customize it further depending upon the body weight. In a nutshell, we do have some concrete answer to this commonly asked question.

However, I haven't seen many people bothered about when one should drink water throughout the day. And perhaps due to this lack of interest in this question, I'm yet to see a concrete answer to this question either. I've seen people recommending drinking/not-drinking water at all the possible times throughout the day: before the meal, during the meal, after the meal, before the workout, during the workout, after the workout, so on and so forth. People have proposed various theories supporting their claims on when one should drink/not-drink water. Out of those, I'm convinced about the following two things so far: Drink water the first thing in the morning and Drink water some time before the meal.
For the remaining timings, I'm still searching for the right answers...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Brown Rice

Having started exercising on a regular basis, I've also started keeping an eye on the food that we eat. Through one of my friends, I came to know about the benefits of brown rice. I did some research about brown rice on the internet and here's a succinct summary of my findings:

§ What is Brown Rice?
Brown rice is also called 'unpolished rice' and is brown in color. It is actually how the rice would look before it goes through the entire process of polishing. Every rice grain has an outer layer of a slightly stiff cover called the 'hull' or husk. The husk is always removed from the seed for both white and brown rice. Under this layer is a thin brownish layer called the 'bran' layer. This brownish layer on the rice seed clings to the seed and is removed through a polishing process. In the case of brown rice, the brownish bran layer is left intact and only the top stiff cover is removed. 

§ Health Benefits
The most important benefit of brown rice is that it is rich in fiber, which is present in the brown bran layer of the grains. The health benefits of a high fiber diet are being stressed by medical experts and this alone is a very good reason why you should eat brown rice instead of the regular white rice. The health benefits of high fiber content foods are numerous, it reduces the possibility of heart diseases, helps avoid abrupt spikes in sugar levels, helps digestion and reduces constipation etc. Some medical tests have indicated that the health benefits of brown rice could include controlling high blood pressure. Besides high fiber content, brown rice also contains other nutrients like, B vitamins, manganese, selenium and iron. By eating brown rice, you will also get the health benefits that such nutrients give the human body. 

§ Pricing
If you thought that brown rice would be cheaper than white rice as it is only partially processed, you are wrong. You will find that in most shops and grocery stores, brown rice costs much more than white rice. This is primarily due to the shorter shelf life as comapred to the whote rice. Brown rice develops a rancid flavour if stored unrefrigerated for more than 5 to 6 months. This is due to the natural oils in the bran layer becoming stale with time. Another reason could be that brown rice despite its growing popularity, has a total consumption that is less than white rice. The economies of larger production scale work in favour of white rice as far as pricing is concerned.

§ Storage
If you look at the brown rice grains, you will notice the brownish bran layer that clings to the grain. In the normal process used to get white rice, this bran layer would be taken off in a polishing process. It is this bran layer that can be affected by prolonged storage and give the brown rice a rancid flavour if stored for more than four to five months. The rancid flavour of brown rice when stored for long periods, is due the natural oils in the bran layer of the rice grains becoming stale. You can increase the shelf life of brown rice by refrigerating the (uncooked) rice. However if you make a direct comparison, white rice has a longer shelf life as compared to brown rice. When you shop for your brown rice, check the manufacturing date on the packet and choose a store that has a high customer turnaround. 

§ Taste
If you compare the texture of brown rice and white rice after cooking, the brown rice will have a much firmer texture than white rice. It is this nutty kind of flavour that makes people love brown rice once they have tried it. White rice on the other hand gets a little more soft when cooked. Brown rice has an appetising flavour of it's own, on the other hand white rice is often enhanced with other flavours. Some Asian countries have become experts in adding flavour and fragrance to white rice. This is very rarely done in the case of brown rice and the natural flavour of this rice is one of the reasons for it's growing popularity. 

§ Cooking
Most of us are quite used to cooking white rice and the basic concept remains the same when cooking brown rice too. However, when you make brown rice make sure that you allow the rice to soak in the water for around 25 to 30 minutes before turning on the heat. This is the right way to cook brown rice as the grains are a bit more tough and stiff. Soaking in water before cooking the brown rice helps to soften the grains. Cooking the brown rice with too much of water makes the grains stick together and feel like a paste. On the other hand using too little water to cook brown rice will, make the grains too stiff and will also not bring out the full flavour of brown rice. Many cooks would offer advise on how to cook brown rice, but it is best for you to learn the basics and then do the fine tuning to suit your taste. When working out the proportion of water to be added to cook brown rice, start out with a 1:2 ratio. This means that you add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of brown rice. Complete the brown rice cooking and check the texture of the rice by eating a few cooked grains (allow to cool sufficiently before trying this). This will give you a starting parameter to work with and you can then make subtle changes to the time that the rice is soaked (before cooking) and also the proportion of water and brown rice. 

§ Suggestions
If you have never eaten brown rice before and would like to make a start, a good idea would be to mix one portion of white rice and one portion of brown rice when cooking. Gradually reduce the proportion of white rice and allow the brown rice to be the major portion in your rice consumption. You will soon start liking the full, rich nut like flavour and texture of brown rice. Continue with your brown rice diet and if you ever try white rice again, you will immediately feel that it has a bland and starchy flavour that does not impress you. Few people change back to eating white rice after having eaten brown rice for a couple of months. 

Make sure that you see the packing date on when you buy brown rice. You should ideally consume the brown rice within 3 to 4 months from the packing date. Refrigerating it in a tightly sealed plastic bag can increase the shelf life to around 5 to 6 months. Storing brown rice beyond this period gives the rice a stale rancid flavour. 

You might find that some brown rice seeds are very brown while others look like they have been partly stripped of the bran (brown layer). This is because the polish process may be completely left off (fully brown seeds) or partially done. In cases where the brown rice is partially polished, the seeds could appear to have a lighter shade of brown or even appear a bit patchy with brown and white patches. The cooking time and soaking time for the rice might differ based on the extent to which the rice is polished. A little practice would enable you to work out the right amounts of soaking time and the right quantity of water to be added when cooking your brown rice. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rat Race

I finally found out the perfect definition of Rat Race in the book 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' by Robert Kiyosaki. Here's an excerpt from the book:

"If you look at the life of the average-educated, hard-working person, there is a similar path. The child is born and goes to school. The proud parents are excited because the child excels, gets fair to good grades, and is accepted into a college. The child graduates, maybe goes on to graduate school and then does exactly as programmed: looks for a safe, secure job or career. The child finds that job, maybe as a doctor or a lawyer, or joins the Army or works for the government. Generally, the child begins to make money, credit cards start to arrive in mass, and the shopping begins, if it already hasn't.
"Having money to burn, the child goes to places where other young people just like them hang out, and they meet people, they date, and sometimes they get married. Life is wonderful now, because today, both men and women work. Two incomes are bliss. They feel successful, their future is bright, and they decide to buy a house, a car, a television, take vacations and have children. The happy bundle arrives. The demand for cash is enormous. The happy couple decides that their careers are vitally important and begin to work harder, seeking promotions and raises. The raises come, and so does another child and the need for a bigger house. They work harder, become better employees, even more dedicated. They go back to school to get more specialized skills so they can earn more money. Maybe they take a second job. Their incomes go up, but so does the tax bracket they're in and the real estate taxes on their new large home, and their Social Security taxes, and all the other taxes. They get their large paycheck and wonder where all the money went. They buy some mutual funds and buy groceries with their credit card. The children reach 5 or 6 years of age, and the need to save for college increases as well as the need to save for their retirement. .
"That happy couple, born 35 years ago, is now trapped in the Rat Race for the rest of their working days. They work for the owners of their company, for the government paying taxes, and for the bank paying off a mortgage and credit cards.
"Then, they advise their own children to `study hard, get good grades, and find a safe job or career.' They learn nothing about money, except from those who profit from their naïveté, and work hard all their lives. The process repeats into another hard-working generation. This is the `Rat Race'."

Things to remember while riding a motorbike

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt while riding motorbikes in various parts of India:
·         Choose a bike with wide tyres. Bikes with wider tyres are stabler and have a lesser tendency to skid.
·         Don’t overuse the clutch. Use it only while changing the gears or coming to a complete stop. Don’t use it while riding downhill. Excessive use of clutch wastes fuel and also reduces engine life.
·         Switch off the engine while waiting at the traffic signal. Avoid excessive throttling while waiting at the signal.
·         Slow down on the speed-breakers. Speeding on the speed-breakers can cause severe back pain.
·         Always keep an eye on the tyre pressure and stick to the recommended settings. Insufficient tyre pressure not only reduces the life of the tyres, but also increases fuel consumption.
·         Refuel the bike only at the selected and trusted fuel stations. Constant variation in the fuel quality might affect the performance of the bike.
·         If you are riding in a group, keep the headlights on even during the day. Makes it easier for your fellow riders to track you.
·         A simple rule to check whether a person driving ahead of you is able to locate you (especially for the trucks that don’t have the center rear-view mirror) - if you can't see the driver in his rear-view mirrors, then he can't see you.
·         If you are being chased by a dog while riding (very common in India), don’t try to speed away in panic. Just stop for a while. Most of the times, the dog will stop chasing once you stop. Dogs have a tendency to chase moving objects.
·         Enjoy the scenic views, the gushing wind, and the adrenaline rush while riding!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The great Indian obsession with the currency 'change'

A subtle incident at a tiny shop in a railway station prompted me to write about something I've been curious about for a long time. I purchased something priced at Rs 4 and gave the shopkeeper a 10-Rupee note. I think I held my expectations too high when I thought that getting Rs 6 back in change was no big deal. As usual,  the shopkeeper asked me if I've Rs 4 in change, to which I replied in the negative. The shopkeeper asked the same question again, and this time I had to show some genuine concern to his recurrent request and I reached my pocket. I somehow managed to dig out Rs 3 in change and told the shopkeeper that that's all the change I had. I think I underestimated the preciousness of the currency change, when I expected that the shopkeeper would ultimately relent, and return Rs 6 to my 10-Rupee note. The unexpected happened, and to my surprise, the shopkeeper agreed to accept Rs 3 for an item priced at Rs 4. (Ain't it a defiance of basic rules of business?)

I've always been amazed by the way currency of smaller denominations is valued at the various stores in India. How many times have you seen the shopkeepers reluctant to give away the change? How many times have you seen the shopkeepers ready to lose profit instead of giving away the change? How many times have you seen the shopkeepers saying they don't have change and then ultimately digging out the precious change from their gallas when left with no other option?

How can the otherwise profit-conscious businessmen succumb to a futile thing like change? Either there is a serious scarcity of smaller denominations of currency or there is something wrong in the system. Or wait a there something bigger going on here...something of the sort done by Dhirubhai Amabani, who used to collect Yemeni coins and then melt those to sell for a bigger profit?

I'm really clueless about these questions. With my limited business acumen, the only thing that strikes my mind  is to open a currency exchange shop, which would shell out smaller denomination currencies in lieu of the higher ones, keeping some profit margin.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sodexo: An evil in disguise?

Recently, there has been a huge hullabaloo about Sodexo coupons. Retail stores stopped accepting Sodexo coupons all of a sudden from January 2012. I've always been curious about the Sodexo business model and this incident acted as a catalyst to my curiosity. In trying to understand more about this issue, I've come to know more about the Sodexo business model as well. I'll try to summarize what I've understood thus far.

Sodexo (erstwhile Sodexho, wonder if this was inspired by my post) is a French conglomerate which is into food services and facilities management worldwide. Although I do not have any confirmed sources, but they must have invested a lot of money in govt machinery upfront to get a few laws passed. According to one of these laws, an employee gets tax benefit, subject to INR 3000 maximum per month, on the money spent on food and non-alcoholic beverages during working hours at offices.  Most of the IT companies give coupons worth INR 2200 per month (assuming 22 working days and 2 meals per day and INR 50 per meal). Since the employer cannot pay more than INR 50 per meal to the employee, the denominations of the coupons are always 50 or lower.  The use of these coupons was later extended to restaurants and then to grocery purchases. Many retailers accepted them for non-food purchases as well, but when income-tax authorities started questioning this, most organized retailers put systems in place to ensure these coupons would be accepted only for grocery items. Following are the key role players in this business model:

Employee: Employees pounce on every little opportunity to save income tax. Since Sodexo coupons offered a tax free money, employees jumped to this opportunity. Assuming an employee gets INR 2200 worth coupons every month, this effectively saves about  INR 660 in tax, assuming the employee is in 30% bracket. Even though many employees did not use office cafeteria services, they could use these coupons in retail stores and restaurants.

Employer: Employers started giving these coupons as perks and marketed it as an extra money in the employee’s pockets, since it’s tax free. Apart from the administrative headache, the companies didn’t have much to lose.

Stores: Retail stores and restaurants started accepting Sodexos to attract customers. Employees wanted to dispose of the unused coupons outside and this provided a great avenue for these stores to attract these customers. The stores redeem their Sodexo coupons for a 5% discount i.e., for every INR 100 worth coupons, Sodexo redeems INR 95 to the stores. This process usually takes 20-25 working days, compared to 24 hours taken by the Credit Card companies. One cannot rule out the possibility of these stores bloating the prices of certain items to compensate for this loss.
Why did shops stop accepting Sodexos?
Small denominations of Sodexo coupons implied increased processing times at the billing counters resulting into increased waiting time in queues for the customers. Apart from the administrative headache, there’s also a possibility of fake/damaged/expired coupons. To add to this, Sodexo is said to be asking for an increase in the commission (hitherto 5%) and at the same time an increased payback time. The only reason shops accepted Sodexo was because their competitors were doing so and not accepting meant losing customers. When Sodexo strong arm tactics were unbearable, supermarkets teamed up and decided to stop accepting, so as to force Sodexo to revert to earlier norms. And what better time to register the protest? Employees are given to choose Sodexo options in the months of March-April every year.

Sodexo: Sodexo is the biggest winner in this business model. First of all they receive 5% commission from the stores. They return the money only after 20-25 days. That is, they have had the money for a full 20-25 days without paying any interest. In fact, from the time the coupons are given to the employee to the dy Sodexo pays back to the store, it's practically free money to the Sodexo. Sodexo coupons usually come with an expiry date. No store will accept the expired coupons resulting into 100% profit for Sodexo. There’s a complex process by which one could renew the expired coupons, but very few people have the patience and perseverance to go through this process. Hats off to the French baniya who came up with this business model!

After going through so much inconvenience, I’m sure many of the employees have already decided to stop subscribing to these coupons in the next financial year.  The result of this turmoil remains to be seen, but my opinion is that given the unrest in the employee section, Sodexo has no option but to concede to the shopkeeper’s demands.

My 2-cents:

  • The government allows INR 800 a month as conveyance allowance without asking the company to issue travel vouchers. Then why make the distinction for food? The only party losing out in this deal would be Sodexo and hence they'd do their best to resist this model.
  • I wonder if Sodexo is losing money due to counterfeit coupons. If people could imitate currency notes, making fake Sodexo coupons should be a piece of cake.
  • Switch to electronic coupons at the minimum, which would resolve half of the issues at hand. Again, Sodexo would resist implementing this because with Electronic cards, processing becomes faster, which means Sodexo will have to reimburse money to shopkeepers much faster. 
  •  How many times have you driven to a far away supermarket / restaurant just because they accept Sodexo coupons? How much time have you wasted in supermarket queues because everyone wants to pay by Sodexo? How many times have you bought the stuff you don’t really need just because you can use Sodexo? How many times have you lost money because shopkeepers don’t return change when you pay by higher denomination coupon? Taking into account all these points, does it really make sense to boost this parallel economy?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Happy New Year to all the readers! Wish you all a wonderful and eventful year ahead! Not being a great believer in the 'End of the world in 2012' hogwash, I happened to join this event on facebook: I Will Still Be Alive In 2013 :)