Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Retail Blitzkrieg

The retail boom in India has just begun. With giants like Reliance, ITC, Pantaloons, Bharti etc jumping into this bandwagon (Walmart not far away), this blitzkrieg may simply wipe out all the small and medium vendors. We also hear that global players like Walmart are not keen on sourcing the products locally, they may do it from China where they get better margins.This boom may certainly increase employment opportunities for the huge number of youth in the country, the job market being projected at one lakh plus. There's a serious point of concern here. What would be the plight of local traders, the kirana shops and supermarkets from whom we’ve been buying our grocery for ages? We can already see the impact of Reliance Fresh on push-cart vendors and the like. Competing with it are Fresh@, and other similar ventures.

There’s no doubt that big retails outlets offer more variety, at competitive prices. But I sometimes found it difficult to resist my temptation to buy more and often buy ‘unnecessary’ stuff getting lured by the brand or display. A small outlet close to my home would serve my needs in a better way, where my purchases are need-driven and not greed-driven. Added to it are questions about sourcing the produce. Who’s actually getting benefited in the whole chain? Government initiatives like Rythu Bazaar can save the farmers from the middlemen to some extent, but I’ve often found these direct sellers cheating people in weighing the stuff as the prices are fixed.

One of the ways to face the giants is prepare small vendors like the push-cart guys. This is how ITC is planning to compete with big brands by giving professional training and customer skills to these people whose livelihood depends on day-today sales. Sounds like a workable strategy to combat the undesirable effects of giant retails.

Going Mangoes

Mangoes and summer go together. Remember those days when as kids we enjoyed picking up tiny mangoes that fall after a heavy summer shower or a hailstorm. How we relished the tangy sourness of the tender fruit. Or, the thrill of plucking mangoes by climbing a tree. I’m sure each of us has a story to tell when it comes to mangoes and our adventures under the mango tree or time spent in mango orchards. Summer vacation was virtually a mango treat! Mangoes after breakfast or occasional Aamras with poori or dosa, mangoes as dessert and of course a piece or two soon after dinner. My mother generally insists on drinking a cup of milk after eating mangoes, perhaps to reduce the acidity.

In my campus house we had two mango trees. But the yield was not so good, by the time the trees really matured we moved out of campus. Several houses, especially the Director’s bungalow had several Banginapally mangoes. We never missed our share of naturally ripened mangoes from them and also from some other profs gardens.

Aam ka panha is a coolant made from raw mangoes. Mummy used to always make it ready when we came back home after writing our final exams. In fact, a paste made with raw mango pulp and cumin powder was applied on the soles and palms to reduce the effects of sunstroke. Pickling mangoes is an annual ritual that has its own charm. There was a sense of anticipation about the whole process, cleaning and drying them, grinding the spices, adding the right brand of oil. And there you are! The taste of fresh Avakai or the North Indian style pickle in mustard oil and occasionally the sweet pickle, or even the scraped chutney type of pickle… the list goes on. New pickles would be exchanged between neighbors and friends. I simply enjoyed the Maagai from my Telugu friends which we never made at home.

Today eating mangoes are not free of toxins. This lovely golden colored fruit with heavenly taste is being ruthlessly exploited for commercial reasons. With all the best varieties being exported to other countries, we are left with not-so-good ones. This link tells you more about how dangerous these toxins can be.

Alternatively check out for naturally ripened fruits. These are mostly sold directly by farmers. We also have several retail outlets claiming to sell such fruits. However, I was quite disappointed whenever I spent exorbitantly on varieties like Alphoso. Dasheri and Langda are ok towards the end of the season in Hyderabad. My all time favorites are Cheruku Rasalu, Banginapally (Benishan) and Dasheri.
Our Cabbies make it to F1

Very soon Hyderabad can boast of another feat - our cabbies making it big at F1 , F2 or F3 and similar racing events. Forget Shumacher and our very own Karthikeyan. Here we have a vast brigade of dare devils who can maneuver into narrowest lanes with nothing less than 50-60 kmph. Some of them can even overtake you from any side of your vehicle at 60-70 kmph, that too during peak traffic hours. And on relatively empty roads, voila! Nothing less than a 80-100 kmph. Do we call them rash and negligent? Certainly not, at such great speeds they never forget to 'warn' you flashing those high-beam headlights any time of day or night, from opposite side of the road or from the rear view. If you don't know how to take care of your vehicle it's your fate and luck.

Sad, our government has not recognized their talent. It has always seen them as threats on the roads and issued them warnings. We simply cannot afford such a gross underestimation of talent, especially at a time when we have no great achievements in international sports and games. Why can't the government directly send them to international racing events. They don’t even need any investment in training, grooming, coaching. One look at them and you know how aggressive they are, their body language speaks volumes about how determined they are to make it to their destination, at any cost. And look at the returns; we haven’t made it big in either tennis or cricket but we are sure to reign the world when it comes to cars. Just imagine headlines like: Cabbies from Hyderabad clinch all racing titles. Our city will have a stream of Ferraries, Volvoes and Peugeuts, thanks to the rewards they will earn in global competition.

Next time you encounter such driving, please note the number and put in a word with organizers of racing events. Just think about how many champions we can brag about - now that we have neither Sania nor Sachin on our side.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

11th March 2007 - an Apology

My heart thumping and racing
Nerves all tight as I stand and wait for the test report
Would the PSA* count rise or fall?
Several questions, speculations and I surmise…
A smile if the count had dropped
Or anguish at the negative report

Today I recollect those moments of joy on a positive report
Though short lived, it gave me courage and hope
To prepare for the worst or just wait and watch

This was the routine for a year and a half
Then one day I had to hear the inevitable
The count has risen alarmingly
This was followed by more tests, scans and x-rays
My heart pounding, suddenly leaving me cold

I feared to see you lifeless
I feared the sights I imagined
I feared everything that had to do with death
For I had never experienced the loss of a loved one
From such close, vicarious proportions

My apprehensions knew no bound
You were in coma and I did not dare to see you lying in that state
Even though I reconciled to the fact that it’s a terminal illness
What kind of palliative care could we give you?
How do we make your last days less painful?
My agonies crossed all the bearable limits
Did I cry often?
Yes, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly
Sometimes unable to swallow that lump in the throat
Sometimes just to let that well of tears roll down
Sometimes unable to control my distress and helplessness

Eleventh day of March, at the eleventh hour
The expected and inescapable had happened
And I was there when you breathed your last
Though not shocked, I was benumbed
Did I hear what I always dreaded to hear?
Yes, the doctor made the final pronouncement
And I was trying to control myself

This day liberated you from prolonged suffering
It’s taken you away from all of us into a world
Where there’s no pain to endure
From where you continue to wish me well
As you did always, from my birth till today
One year later I ask myself, ‘What was I afraid of?’
Fear of losing you, how selfish I could be!

Death! You’ve relieved my father of the incurable
Saved him from more hours and days of agony

Today I apologize
For, we had kept you in the dark Papa
Hiding from you that you were diagnosed with advanced stage of cancer.

*PSA - Prostate Specific Antigen