A Multi-faceted Genius

Paraphrasing what Lata Mangeshkar said about Kishore Kumar in the Album Shradanjali “Kya nahi the?” meaning What was he not?, I would like to start with the question “What was she not?”, the she referring to amma, my maternal grandmother Thiruvengadavalli alias Jayalakshmi Sudarsan who was born this day, 5th October in 1923.

Jayalakshmi Sudarsan

She was
a composer (aasu kavi) having composed hundreds of songs on many deities with the tune and the tala
a violinist,
a vocalist,
a person with a phenomenal memory for dates, names, events, slokas, paasurams and the like,
an excellent cook,
a brilliant administrator and organizer,
a stickler for discipline as well as an embodiment of love and affection,
a willing teacher and even more intense student,
a store house of knowledge about traditions,
a wizard in money management,
an engaging conversationalist,
an avid reader,
a genius critic of movies,
a tireless worker,
a shrewd assessor of people,
a person with a high threshold for pain and a penchant for subtle humour, skilled in card games like literature,
a person capable of forgiving those who had wronged her,
someone who wouldn’t think twice before extending a helping hand to others ….. I can go on and on but let me start with a few examples of some of the few qualities as above.

My earliest recollection of her in late 1960s was her attending classes in cookery including jams and squashes and doll making. Very quickly, her stuffed dolls of different shapes, nationalities and hues were adorning the walls and the huge glass case in the hall. I particularly remember the Japanese ladies that she made. I have relished her various dishes that she had learnt including the juices. In fact, she used to make grape juices and sold them in the neighbourhood as well. When she was in her mid sixties, she would walk to Triplicane in the late afternoons to learn a composition or two from Dr S Ramanathan and quickly teach me the same. A paralytic stroke that struck her put paid to her efforts to continue to learn.

This is just a beginning and I will attempt to bring to light the genius I was privileged to call “Amma”.

This is neither health(y) nor care

We have always thought of hospitals as places where there is always activity and excessive attention! when my mom was recently admitted into a neighbourhood hospital, much against our willingness, i saw this place as an anti-thesis of my notion of hospitals.

Since she had a nasty fall at her place of work, she was rushed to this hospital (I wouldn’t name) for some first aid and for some comfort.  Strangely, they did neither.  on the contrary, they were trying to make the visit as uncomfortable as possible.

on reaching the place, I was aghast when the chief doctor suggested that she be admitted in the ICU. When I asked why, he pointed out to the high BP and blood sugar levels.  I told him that she was given some coffee with sugar immediately after she fell down and that might have contributed to the spike and suggested that BP taken after a few minutes to establish.  But he persisted with the line that she be admitted and I gave in after a while.  Didn’t know what was in store for us subsequently.

It took a while for me to complete the admission formalities and advance payment but by the time I came back to the casualty room, I was informed that she was already taken to her room.  the staff on the third floor where her room was located were either too tired or were plain incompetent.  we had to remind the duty nurses several times to attend to every small issue and still were rebuffed, albeit politely.  Doctors were taking forever to come and take a look at an inpatient and patients were being needlessly ferried to x-ray rooms multiple times.

because her knee was swollen, I had to ask them to check it out.  I heaved a sigh of relief when they finally took her to the x-ray room only to get the chest x-ray done.  when i protested that what was more important was the knee, they just plain over-ruled me on the grounds that chest x-ray was standard and required for the physician who would be taking a look.  they even disregarded my suggestion to get the knee x-rayed at the same time to avoid the need for her to come again.

soon the bp and the sugar levels came under control but still the physician was nowhere to be seen.  and when i went out to get the dinner, he had apparently called on my mother and asked her to stay for a while.  and when i went to get some medicines from the in-house pharmacy, she was again ferried to the x-ray room (this time mercifully for the shoulder and knee), had the ortho doctor look at it and declare that all was fine and brought back to the room.

As her knees, shoulders and the head were aching, we had been requesting for some pain relief and that came almost late in the night in the form of an injection and some tablets.

Finally, at around 9 am the next morning, I convinced the chief doctor to start the discharge process and it was an amazing 3 1/2 hour ordeal during which I had to make multiple visits to the billing, accounts, nursing station in the 3rd floor.  We eventually left at 12:30 pm and reached home.

I’m not sure if this is the standard ordeal that most people go through but I could clearly see 3 patterns:

a.  There is a real conflict of interest when they force a person who has come to the casualty to get admitted rather than alleviate the pain for which the person had come in the first place.

b.  This hospital was trying to do with fresh and inexperienced nurses

c.  There was not even a sign of interest amongst the physicians and the staff to even listen to the patient and the attenders, let alone redress them, even though there wasn’t many patients clamouring for their attention.  Just plain casual approach!

I went in for healthcare but experienced neither care nor a healthy attitude and came out with a much depleted wallet!

Perhaps more important than the FreeChargewallet

I noticed a flurry of tweets about the impending launch of the FreeChargeWallet by Snapdeal and FreeCharge.  It made me wonder if we are on the cusp of a revolution and realized we are not.  But it served the purpose of writing this post which has been pending for quite some time now.

As a regular and happy user of FreeCharge, I am observing the evolution of their service from only pre-paids to cover post-paids, DTH and now certain utility bills as well and I must really compliment the team for a smooth and gradual increase in coverage.  I have also noticed their emphasis on the user experience and the constant efforts to minimize the friction. I must also compliment the social media team, especially the customer care unit on twitter which is very responsive and active.

I have gone on record on twitter that I would continue to use freecharge even if there were no coupons.  In fact, skip coupons has become a default setting for me.  I enjoy the convenience and the hassle-free experience.

Given that the freecharge team is trying to get its existing user base to use the service repeatedly, I have experienced a clear chasm as a frequent user and i have shared the same with the key people a few times.

when i effect my post-paid payment, i go through the process of selecting the card or payment mode, enter the amount and authenticate via otp.  And when I want to recharge my wife’s mobile immediately thereafter, I am forced to repeat the process much to my chagrin.  Given that I am most likely to use the same credit card, for both the transactions, I would prefer to check out after all my bills are ready for payment and do it at one stroke.

Imagine the situation at a e-commerce site like Snapdeal where after you have selected your shirt, you cannot add a pair of pants but must pay for your shirt first!!

I am confident that the key folks at FreeCharge would make the overall experience of customers smoother by making these subtle changes rather than focus on big bang announcements.

Arvind Kejriwal! You made history but don’t become one

Arvind Kejriwal (AK) has done the pheonix by rising from nowhere to virtually owning the Delhi assembly!

arvind kejriwal

It is not my intention to analyze how he managed to do it and what were the factors that led to this remarkable victory because that is already done ad nauseam. I am more concerned about going forward and this is where AK will do well to learn from history.

Circa 1982: NT Rama Rao started his Telugu Desam party in Andhra and within a year he won a landslide victory by securing 201 seats out of 270 against Indira Gandhi, then PM.


Circa 1984 Dec: Rajiv Gandhi swept the Lok Sabha polls by winning a massive mandate of 404 seats (a feat that his illustrious grand father or mother could not even come close). Incidentally, there were only 2 BJP members in that lok sabha viz AB Vajpayee and LK Advani


1991:Jayalalitha’s ADMK with Congress won 225 out of 234 seats in Tamilnadu and the then incumbent party DMK managed to get only 2 seats.


The common theme amongst these examples is that all of them wasted the huge mandate possibly because they weren’t ready for that! Or possibly the results got into their heads!! You may be already aware about what happened to them and more importantly how the nation/states lost out despite giving them such clear and massive mandates.

Now let us look at the other extreme.

At the same time as Jayalalitha, PV Narasimha Rao took over the mantle of PM leading the INC which won only 244 seats (less than the minimum 272 for a majority) but then transformed the nation.


So Mr Kejriwal, you have a choice of fulfilling the aspirations of the Delhi voters who have given a never-before drubbing to everybody else in your party’s favour or letting the verdict get into your head.  You have got a second chance but you may not get a third one.  More importantly, Delhi and perhaps the Nation will go back to the cynical mindset.

Wish you (and Delhi) all the best!! Jai Hind

Is WhatsApp serious about being the complete messaging platform?


As someone who has recently started using WA on the web after a few months on the mobile, I have become a convert to the WA experience. I was extremely keen to try the WA on the web not because of the novelty factor but going solely by the utility.

What do I mean by that?

a. All said and done, typing is easier on the desktop or laptop as compared to the mobile.  And we can truly leverage this ease by using WA on the web.

b. Further, it is now extremely easy to share something that we have discovered on the web thro WA on the web than on the mobile.

c. Yes, it is a pain to have the phone connected to internet for us to use the WA on the web but for the benefit of instant sync that we get, it is a small price to pay.

d. If you have not tried using WA on the Web yet, here is the way to do it.  Incidentally, it is only available for Android and Chrome browser as of now.

Btw, this post is not about WA on the Web.

I am quite perturbed by the recent updates from this company (possibly on account of it being bought by FB) because it displays confusion and lack of clarity of purpose. Rather than make the messaging experience more compelling and useful, WA is going in a totally different direction ie calling!! Perhaps it has been compelled to do so because of the other players.  So the giant has become a follower!  There are already free options to call like Viber.  So what’s next? Video Calling?

On the contrary, I would have loved WA to focus its energies towards making the messaging experience more fulfilling.

For example, it is a real pain to share a message with a number of individuals on WA.  It doesn’t make any sense to create groups for a one-off communication and if the group members don’t find value in being part of a group, then they will leave it.  There is also a problem of the limitation on the number of members in a group.   WA may argue that we can use the broadcast option but that also is irrelevant when I want to do a one-off share.

A much easier to use option is having a simple interface where I can choose multiple contacts when I click on the forward button as compared to the single contact selection that is available now.

By the way, the same solution would work beautifully as well when I want to copy and paste because currently I can do that for only one contact at a time.

Are Jan Koum and Brian Acton listening?  Or should I pose this question to Zuck?

5 Serious Questions to Banks on their new practice of charging for ATM Transactions

Yesterday at an ATM of Union Bank of India, I saw a poster (see below) that was revealing and self-explanatory in the context of charging for ATM usage beyond the ‘free’ transactions.  The poster had clearly differentiated between Financial and non- Financial transactions.

Displaying photo.JPG

Background:  For many years, Banks have been campaigning to get their customers away from the branches to reduce the cost of transactions.  They started with the ATM culture where a customer can withdraw cash only from the ATMs of that particular bank and then as adoption increased they made it possible for customers of any Visa card to withdraw from any bank that supported the network.  And just like the mobile revolution, customers started using ATMS and more or less stopped going to the counters to withdraw cash except in situations where the withdrawal amount was more than the limit for withdrawal by ATMs.

And now when ATMs have become a habit, they have chosen to limit the transactions and charge for anything more than the limit.  So what was created as a service to help customers enjoy convenience has now become a ‘Revenue Model’.

When I first came to know about this ‘free and then fee’ model, I thought it was fair on the grounds that if a customer can do 5 Free Transactions on the Banks’s own ATMs and 3 more in other ATMs in a month, he/she can actually transact 8 times using an ATM in a month.  It seemed inconceivable to me that anyone would require more than this until I started reading the small print.

It was not just withdrawals but anything that you do in an ATM.  See the above image once again and you will notice that Free Transactions would include Financial and Non-Financial and they have clearly listed out what would constitute a transaction. (I am happy that they have not included (as yet) “asking for a receipt for the transaction” as another Transaction)

I see that different banks offer different limits for the ‘Free’ but I am going to consider them as a single entity for the 5 questions (on the lines of daily 5 questions that BJP is posing to the AAP) that follow.

1. So do the banks want more people to come to the branches now and use the ATMs sparingly?  This defeats the original purpose of offering this service because the cost of say ‘cash withdrawal’ at the branch was significantly higher than at the ATM.

2.  Will there be a warning to the customers at the ATM or via sms when they exhaust the number of Free Transactions for the month and that they will be charged for further transactions during the month?  I suppose Banks don’t expect their customers to keep track of their transactions on the own Bank ATMs and the network ATMs.

3. If the bank’s intention is that customers should pay for the services they enjoy, will it also extend to the number of debit card transactions and going forward Internet Banking? There is a high push from Banks to encourage the customers to use the debit cards instead of cash and I suspect that they will charge for debit card usage once it takes off.  Likewise for the other services like sms banking, internet banking, app banking to just name a few.

4.  Will banks allow carry forward of unused transactions for a period of 6 months? As a customer, I can plan my usage on a larger time window than just a month.  If the Banks have the wherewithal to track the number of financial and non-financial transactions, surely they can offer this facility.

5.  Is this a ploy to create new products like a premium account where the number of transactions on ATMs (or any other channels) will be unlimited to attract more customers?

Bonus question:  Are the charges levied for the extra transactions inclusive of Service tax? I know that this is trivial but since there is no * in the poster above, I want a clarification.

I’m surprised and shocked that RBI has allowed Banks to get away with such customer-unfriendly practices.

Mr Raghuram Rajan, are you listening?

Continuing ‘Economist’ malice towards Modi


In April 2014, the Economist wrote a cover story titled ‘Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?’.  It created a furore.


The recent print edition of the same Economist dated 24th May 2014 carries another article titled ‘India’s Strong Man’ again featuring Narendra Modi (who else!!!).

Just like most of the TV shows and the print media in India who are unable to digest the clarity of the electoral verdict in favour of BJP and Modi, this recent article of the Economist also has played mischief.  In the guise of congratulating Modi, which it does reluctantly, the article spews venom and vitriol.

Let’s see some excerpts of this article now.

Although we did not endorse him, because we believe that he has not atoned sufficiently for the massacre of Muslims that took place in Gujarat while he was chief minister, we wish him every success: 

First of all, who is Economist to endorse an Indian politician, especially the one  who has carried people across the country? That audacity aside, look at the reason for not having endorsed him!  ‘He has not atoned sufficiently’! Now Economist has acquired the moral authority and the standing to decide who is atone and what level of atonement is sufficient!!  Further, look at the language “massacre of muslims’! That Hindus also lost their lives in the riots is immaterial!  It clearly shows that the Economist has outsourced, unwisely, the generation of false content to the Indian media!

Next look at this:

Mr Modi has a mandate for economic reform. Although his core supporters are religious nationalists, steeped in the glories of a Hindu past, it was the votes of the young, urban and educated that won him the election

Notice the slant?  And the lies?  Despite the fact that he has won 71 seats out of 80 in UP and 22 seats in Bihar, he is painted as though only the young, urban and the educated have supported him.  No doubt they did but they were not the only folks.  The poor, the rural and those so-called ‘uneducated’ too gave him the mandate.  And look at the branding of the core supporters as ‘religious nationalists’, that too steeped in the glories of a Hindu past! Typical of a British media that has played truant with our history and heritage! But then what else can we expect?

And that is not all!

But while he has already worshipped at the Ganges since his victory, promising to clean up the river sacred to Hindus, he has not brought himself to mention Muslims, who make up 15% of the population.

The author sounds like Sagarika Ghose of CNN IBN who asked Modi if he will visit a Dargah too after offering prayers at the Kasi Viswanathar temple!  All of them have conveniently forgotten the fact that Modi is a Hindu and is practising his faith! Just because he is a PM designate, does it mean that he gives up his religion or should pander to every faith!  This is the ugly version of the psuedo-Secularism rightly called as Sickularism.  Modi has not mentioned Christians or Sikhs either! When he mentions and he has done it countless times of ‘Everyone’, it obviously includes all faiths, religions and denominations.  If the Indian Media and the liberals behave as if they will accept Modi as Secular only if he wears a skull cap or visits a mosque or dargah, he has clearly told them that he does not want their certificate.  Certainly, he does not need the ‘endorsement’ from The Economist.

Some of the possible predictions of his tenure outlined by this article are fascinating.  Read this

Mr Modi’s strength will go to his head, and he will rule as an autocrat. Mr Modi has authoritarian tendencies.

I did not know that the author of this article has closely observed Modi for a long time, going by the declaration that Modi has authoritarian tendencies. Conclusions are already drawn and the verdict has been written even before the case comes before the court! Some journalism!

If this is the quality of a reputed international magazine, then we can imagine the state of affairs of the others!

Wow! Indian Main Stream Media (MSM) has truly gone global! 

No wonder we are in this mess!!

Yesterday, a good friend of ours came home and quickly our conversation veered to the elections.  


He said he will vote for the DMK candidate of his constituency because that person has worked in a bank, is educated (CAIIB) and speaks English.

And in the same breath, he said that he had arranged for a meeting to help the BJP Candidate because they are from the same caste.

So much so for the parameters of the ‘so-called’ educated middle class to choose our representatives!! And he had the audacity to blame  those in the slums for the political situation!!

With these kind of electorate, I am not surprised about the depths to which our political system has fallen.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, e-mails, sms & Life

On a regular basis, we get emails, sms and calls and those of us who are active in the social media, get a barrage of notifications from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn to name a few.  Some of these are in response to our own initiatives and some others are on their own. There is nothing we can do about the latter, except perhaps switching off the phone or not opening the email, in which case we needn’t have bought/got into them in the first place.

The real question is: What do we do about these inputs we get from different sources?

We can respond to each one of them as they come in, ignore them totally or deal with them selectively.  What most of us do is the first or the second, depending on our moods, whims and fancies.

  • If we get entangled with these inputs on a constant basis, we sometimes realize that we have wasted a lot of time and effort but continue to do it because we are addicted and conditioned.  How many times have we found ourselves reading an update on FB, then the comments from others, write our own and respond to the responses to our comments?
  • If we ignore them completely, it is akin to cutting ourselves off and that puts off people who are keen to interact with us.  Man is a social animal, so they say and hence there is an element of social interaction that we need to have.
  • The most appropriate option is to selectively respond, depending upon the merits, the relevance and our own priorities.

You might be wondering why I am stating the obvious!  This is an analogy to the root problem of our lives.  Allow me to explain

Neuro-scientists claim that on an average day a human mind deals with 65000 thoughts.  Now where do these thoughts originate from?  They come from everywhere in the cosmos, some as response to our previous thoughts and some on their own, very similar to the emails etc that we saw earlier.


The key question is not whether it is desirable to have such thoughts but how do we respond to them.


  •  Unfortunately and unconsciously, we end up mentally  responding to most or all of these thoughts.  In the process, we get entangled in worries, doubts, feelings of anger etc.  It is not that we allow our mind to do so but we have become so habitual that we do not even realize the self-destructive path that we are in.
  • Can we afford to ignore these thoughts altogether?  That’s virtually impossible.
  • So how can we deal powerfully with these myriad of thoughts that reach us every second?  By watching the thoughts as they come and choosing the ones to deal with and ignoring the rest, in a way very similar to selecting the posts, tweets, emails, sms etc to respond.

Watching the thoughts as against following them indiscriminately is also known as Meditation.

So let’s use the powerful weapons of Awareness and Choice to lead a powerful and peaceful life 

Kaun Banega Champion (Entrepreneur)?

The answer to this Billion $ question came from (someone whose name was appropriately chosen a couple of generations back), KB Chandrasekhar (KBC) of Exodus Fame, in a fireside (sans the physical fire) chat with J Krishnan under the auspices of TiE Chennai!

kbc tiechennai

Chandra, as he is well known, handled a barrage of queries from his chat-mate and the audience with disarming frankness and panache.  

Here are some of the insights from Chandra during this session:

  • Even as a student in Vivekananda college, i was keen on solving problems that I saw in life such as attaching a printer to a casio calculator to solve the problem of delays in buses before the fare stages.  
  • 99.9% of start-ups fail not because of bad technology but because the founders did not really understand the problem they were trying to solve
  • It was easy and tough for me to become an entrepreneur.  Easy because I had no reputation to lose and tough because I was in a foreign land without any connections or money.
  • If your aim is to earn money, don’t become an entrepreneur.  There are thousands of things that can go wrong in the path of entrepreneurship
  • Many people spend their energies and time trying to create favourable circumstances to succeed.  I was more driven by where I want to go rather than where I was.  In fact, I took my company Exodus public when my visa status was only H1B.  
  • At every crisis, I asked myself “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” and if it was something that I could manage, I went ahead.
  • Entrepreneurs swing from one extreme to another many times and some times even in a single day.  There have been occasions when I was considering quitting and a little later feeling on top of the world.
  • Entrepreneurship is a very tough journey.  Don’t make it tougher by going it alone.  Having a co-founder gives you that space to talk to, argue, which is invaluable.
  • A person walked into our office and asked us what we were doing and offered himself to head the sales instantly at much lower salaries that he was earning as VP of sales. Likewise, our head of engineering believed in our vision than in anything else.  It was sheer magic.
  • Your early customers buy not your product but your vision.
  • If you can surround yourself with people smarter than yourself, that is the best insurance you can ever buy against failure.
  • When we started Exodus, we did not quite get the business model for some time and soon ran out of money.
  • Be fully prepared before you take money from an outsider
  • Don’t worry too much about the equity control and dilution.  When Exodus went public, I held only 4.8% of its equity and believe me it was still great although I started with 100%.
  • Investors especially VCs look for a great team, a monster market and a technologically sound product in that order.  If your request for funding is turned down, go back to the drawing board and see if you have all these three or if you really articulated these strengths in your business.
  • I and my partner were on the brink of bankruptcy several times
  • As an Investor I look at how hungry the entrepreneur is and what is he willing to go through to make his vision a reality.  I don’t look at the business plan or the spreadsheet.
  • My biggest mistake was I did not ensure that the Exodus business model was stable enough to withstand the downturn
  • The second biggest was to think that I was invincible after the first success and raised $100 Million for my next venture Jamcracker soon after
  • There is no formula for success but if you have figured one you can be rest assured that it will not work the second time

There were many more like his saga of getting attention and subsequently money from Kanwal Rekhi, how he is giving back to the society by a combination of money and time, how he gets strength to face the ordeals and so on.

Those who did not attend the event missed a golden opportunity to listen to the triumphs and travails of an entrepreneur who had been there and done that and more importantly willing to share the lessons so freely!

Thanks Chandra, JK and TiE Chennai for a wonderful time.

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