The Insurance

It was around 9 PM, a warm day in September 1976. I was a 12 year old and my brother 16, we were just getting ready to go to bed and that’s when we heard loud, distressed shrieks ‘fire, fire’ from the portion of our house which was rented out.

My brother and I were in the hall and unthinkingly we ran towards the shrieks and were stunned by the sight that was unfolding before our eyes.

Ebrahim who was a heavy weight (fat) was standing outside his room transfixed; his eyes bulging, almost popping out of the sockets, staring ahead at the entrance of the kitchen from where Orange – Red hot flames were shooting out. There was a strange wailing sound coming from his mouth, which sounded more like a prayer. His roommate, the bearded, skinny Yusuf, who was standing next to him immobilized was shrieking, ‘fire, fire’ like a broken record, unable to stop.

The house IMG_0001 (2)that caught fire was my beautiful parental home in Mulky, the sleepy little town of coastal Karnataka. Our house was over a 100 years old, it had solid carved wooden pillars and a wooden ceiling. The staircases in it were also made of wood. The house was in the shape of the English letter T (upper case). While we lived in the base of the T, the horizontal portion was rented out to a couple of Indian origin South African Hindu & Muslim students.

Most households in Mulky those days went to sleep by 8.30 or 9 in the night; the dimly lit, deserted streets gave an eerie look to our town.

That year the holy month of Ramzan had come in September. Now Sudhakar the Malayali cook of the boys was always dressed in a colorful lungi and half sleeved shirts, with a permanently ruffled mop of curly hair. This particular year, he had a tough time as he had to cook for the Hindus during the day and for the Muslims in the evening and early mornings. He was sleepless and dazed most of the time.

He was leisurely regretting his hasty act of chasing his assistant, just a few days earlier in a fit of anger. That particular day, he was in the final stages of dinner preparation for the Hindu boys and was in a hurry to go to sleep. After he lit the Kerosene oil stove to make the last item – Rice, he stepped out to have a shower. Unthinkingly or carelessly he must have flicked the match stick into the dustbin. As he had just that day finished his monthly grocery shopping, the dustbin was full of waste paper, some of which was used to wipe the spilt kerosene oil. Next to the dustbin was the 20 liter plastic can of kerosene oil.

In just 5 minutes the dustbin caught fire, due to the heat the can melted, 20 liters of oil – highly combustible, spread on the floor adding to the fire.

Adjacent to the kitchen was our cow shed, my mother was struggling to shift the panicking cows to a safer place. Her worry was the highly burnable, dry hay stacked in the attic of the shed and she wanted to save the cows.

My dad and a Raghurama, the goldsmith – our neighbor were running to the only house in the vicinity that had a phone, to call the fire brigade from Mangalore – 30 kilometers away! All my dad kept saying was ’Raghurama dada malpuniya’, ‘Raghurama, what shall we do?’ And Raghurama, gave him courage (which he did not feel) saying ‘Shenere Dever ulleru’ which meant ‘don’t worry sir, God is with us’. The fire brigade will reach quickly in the night…

Ignoring Yusuf & Ebrahim, my brother and I rushed (as only children would do) into the blazing kitchen and my brother tried to pick the plastic bucket which originally contained water. As he held the partially melted bucket, he cursed loudly and dropped it.

By then the power went off, as there was a short circuit somewhere, so we could not use the pump to draw water. And the only light was that of the blazing fire. The acrid smell of Kerosene permeated the whole place. Someone trying to pull water from the well, using the rope and pulley dropped the rope into the well. By now the fire was already touching the roof, the tiled roof could have made things even more difficult as the tiles start flying when it catches fire. I had it easy, someone literally pushed me out on to the street to keep me safe in the company of another student who was a nervous wreck! But my brother had a couple of burns, singed hair and eye brows.

Our community saved us that day from losing everything we had. Had it been 30 minutes later, we would have had difficulty in waking up our neighbors. Nearly 50 of them cut their banana plants, coconut fronds and put out the fire by beating it. Not sure how long it took, but it looked like forever to douse the fire.

We had to ensure that the wooden ceiling didn’t have any burning embers left, so we removed the hot tiles and let the light September drizzle into the burnt out kitchen. By the time all this was over, it was well past midnight. My sad but grateful mom served all of us tea and light snacks and heaved a sigh of relief…

Fire Insurance was unheard of in those days, I remember many Diwali’s when, someone or the other used to come to my dad and request help to raise funds to rebuild their home. It is the goodwill earned from this selfless act that saved us.  Our relationship with our community was the only insurance we had.

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Little kitty jumped

Attempting to climb

The compound wall

Failed, fell down

Not to be deterred

She tried, a second time

In vain

Not concerned,

Who watched

I thought,

Aww, don’t worry little kitty

Come again tomorrow

For now,

Go, play someplace else

Not one to give up

She tried a third time

Landed, successfully

Not concerned

Who watched…

Last Sunday My elder son and I were on our morning walk and near Bagmane Tech Park, when we saw an adorable white kitten. With the reassuring presence of her mother in the background, she was oblivious to the dogs lurking around. We watched her fascinated as she made her multiple attempts to climb the 2 feet high wall.

The kitten, unlike me, had

No self doubt

No fear of failure

No concern about passers by who might watch her fall

She had a single minded focus on her goal – of climbing the compound wall and playing on the other side.

Her attempts to climb were purposeful, energetic and enthusiastic. When she fell, her mother did not fuss over her, she was just there… probably to the kitten, a re-assuring presence.

Why am I narrating all this? Well,  that day  I learnt a beautiful lesson. These lovely animals whom we, humans consider inferior (to us) are so resilient. Inspired by this incident, yesterday during my coaching exercise with a co-participant, I decided to call my shine goal as the ‘White kitten goal’…

kindle at CCD

Today I was at the Koramangala CCD (short for Cafe Coffee Day) to meet a friend and was pleasantly surprised to see a placard detailing kindle paperwhite loaded with some popular titles like – I am Malala, The Election that changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai and a couple others.

kindle CCD 2Kindle in CCD

Responding to my query regarding the promotion, the store in-charge explained to me that there were 5 or more Kindles in the cafe and they encouraged the patrons to explore the product. She was of the opinion most people already had a kindle of their own, as was my case! She clicked a couple of my photos after taking my permission…

Pleasurable experience while waiting for a friend.

I would like to know details and  effectiveness of the campaign 🙂

An event with a difference!

Yesterday & today, I was at the InTech50 – 2015 edition at The Leela Palace, Bangalore – 2 days of action packed event with 50 innovative product companies pitching to 25 Global CIOs and an equal number of their Indian counterparts. The audience also had a sizable presence of VC firms! The enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs was palpable.

Organised by iSPIRT & Terenne Global Leadership  Network, InTech50 is not a regular conference, here each product company is given a 5 minute slot to pitch. Each of them was assigned a mentor or a Guru to help them sharpen their sales pitch.

While I enjoyed the event immensely and connected with many of the delegates, I also had an opportunity to understand what the CIO’s expected from the product pitches.

Below is the summary of my interaction with a couple of the CIO’s :

  1. A Clear understanding of your Target audience and their requirements help make a clear and precise presentation.
  2. Focus should be on the business issue or requirement the product solves. The founder who is in love with his or her product they tend to get into too much of detailing.
  3. Showcase a used case, while focusing on how exactly the product solved the business issue.
  4. While the CIO appreciates the superior technology deployed, the time given should be better utilized to explain the benefit to the customer.
  5. Be unique in your presentation, passion and humour help.
  6. Don’t waste time by being repetitive.

It was interesting to note that many of the VC’s and CIO’s were meticulously making notes of the products they liked and then went in search of the booth where it was demonstrated. The purpose of the was very clearly either to invest in the company itself or to procure the product.

While I probed further a CIO was patient enough to explain the way to win an order:

  1. Doing your homework by researching the delegate’s background and unique needs help to sharpen your pitch.
  2. The ability to respond to all the queries, the prospect raises, helps cinch the deal. Most often a deal is lost when the seller is unable to answer a query as he / she is unable to say ‘No’. It is ok to say that you do not have all the complete solution and to accept that your product may have some gaps, in which case the product can still be sold to solve part of the issue.
  3. Listen to the prospect and clearly understand his/her needs.
  4. Be sharp on your Marketing & Communication.
  5. Demonstrate your staying power, the prospect may be wary of investing in a company that may fold up his / her operation. Conviction in your product helps convince the prospect to invest in your product.
  6. Build a relation with your prospect; be in touch with your prospect on a regular basis. If the prospect remembers you and is convinced about your product, he will reach out to you when the need arises.

Happy selling people!

Karna

Though I’ve  exited most of the groups on WhatsApp, there are still one or two which keep my inbox full! People vie with each other to send messages, jokes or videos. I usually delete most of them after a cursory glance, but today there was one which held my attention and made me think… Let me first narrate the story (with small enhancements but without changing the story) that was shared:

Once Lord Krishna and Arjuna were walking towards a village. Arjuna was pestering Krishna, asking him why Karna should be considered an unparalleled Donor & not him ?

To pacify Arjuna, Krishna, turned two nearby mountains into gold.

Then he turned to Arjuna and said,  “Arjuna, distribute these two gold mountains among villagers living in the vicinity, but make sure that you donate every bit of it”.

Arjuna went into the village,  proclaimed he was going to donate gold to every villager, and asked them to gather near the mountain. The villagers sang his praises and Arjuna walked towards the mountains with a slightly huffed up chest.

For the next two days and two nights Arjuna shoveled gold from the mountain and donated to each villager. The mountains just did not diminish in the slightest. Most villagers came back and stood in queue within minutes. By now Arjuna was exhausted, but not ready to give up or accept defeat (let go of his  ego), told Krishna he couldn’t go on any longer without rest.

A bemused Krishna called out to Karna who was in the vicinity and told him to donate every bit of the two gold mountains.

Karna without any hesitation called out to the  villagers,  and announced “Those two Gold mountains are yours. share them among yourselves” and walked away.

Arjuna who was a mute spectator was dumbfounded. Why hadn’t this thought occurred to him?

Krishna smiled mischievously and told him “Arjuna, subconsciously, you were attracted to the gold, you regretfully gave it away to each villager, giving them what you thought was a generous amount. Thus the size of your donation to each villager depended only on your imagination.

But Karna has no such reservations. Look at him walking away after giving away a fortune, he doesn’t expect people to sing his praises, he doesn’t even care if people talk good or bad about him behind his back. That is the sign of a man already on the path of greatness or enlightenment”. Giving with an expectation in return in the form of a compliment or thanks is not a Gift, in such cases it only becomes a Trade!

Well! lovely story, I’ve not verified whether this story is factual. Because my belief is that these stories are the best method to get us to introspect or to look around us.

How would a typical corporate executive have behaved? probably he or she would have tried to prove his/her ownership… or would have installed maximum security, weighed the fold multiple times before giving it away…

Why was a Karna able to walk away from humongous wealth without expecting anything in return? Why was a brilliant Arjuna unable to resist the lure of gold? Is this story relevant in these times?

Repeatedly my mind tells me that it would be a very difficult test for most of us to pass today…

Karna, though born into royalty, was a child abandoned by his mother at birth. He was brought up by a poor charioteer in abject poverty and later was made a king by the proud Duryodhana (the eldest Kourava). Ridiculed by droupadi  that he was not a prince and so not worthy of marrying her. It is hard to imagine the kind of repeated humiliation he had to go through,  yet he retained his dignity.

As I’m signing off, I wonder what made Karna so noble and generous? May be some stories and some enigmatic characters are not to be deciphered…

Gandhi – The master PR practitioner

Mahatma-Gandhi-Sketch

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who is hailed as the father of our nation in my opinion is one of the most effective PR practitioners. He was a master strategist and understood his target audience very well and crafted the communication accordingly.

Although he held no office, he was able to captivate the minds of India’s millions, and also took control of Congress and its highly educated, sophisticated and cynical leadership. It was his passion, careful consideration and discipline which got him the recognition.

Let me discuss briefly the reasons why I think he was the ultimate PR personality:

The Salt march:

The Salt march was probably one of his most powerful campaigns which had a wide spread support. The Salt Acts imposed on Indians prohibited them from collecting or selling salt. Indians were forced to buy salt which was a natural resource and a staple in the Indian diet. The British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also exerted a heavy salt tax.

Gandhi the brilliant strategist thought that a Mass civil disobedience was the best way to tackle this issue. In March 1930 Gandhi and 78 of his close associates marched from Sabarmati ashram, some 240 miles to the Arabian sea to take a pinch of salt. He informed the government well in advance about his intention to break the law to make salt. The British government threw people in jail for violating the law and censored the press. Despite that, the Media covered the event in great detail and  people across the nation followed suit even though Gandhi was already in prison. Jails in India were filled with 60,000 Satyagrahis whom the British imprisoned.

Effective use of media:

Gandhi was probably one of the greatest journalist of all  time, and the publications he ran and edited were probably the greatest ones the world has known. In 1904 in South Africa, he had taken over the editorship of the ‘Indian Opinion’ and published it in English, Tamil and Gujarati, sometimes running the press himself.

He is known to have written on all subjects; he wrote simply, clearly and forcefully. His writing was passionate and burning indignation. He believed that the objective of a newspaper, is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments, and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects. He took up journalism more as a service to public and he was devoid of any personal ambitions. He used his writing as a vehicle to present his various experiments to the public.

Signature style:

He believed in powerful symbols and designed a headgear as a symbol of Indian unity which later came to be known as the Gandhi Topi. His own dress was one of the foremost and most visible symbols he adopted–the loincloth and shawl of homespun fabric –which he deliberately chose, after careful consideration, to show solidarity with India ’ s grinding poverty.

This eventually got him a name of ‘half naked fakir’ from Sir Winston Churchill. This way of dressing was Gandhi’s rebuke to the pretensions of the imperialists and became his trademark attire.

By the time that India’s independence was won, the homespun cloath or Khadi was inextricably woven into the fabric of India’s life. Even today Khadi is the unofficial uniform of India’s political leaders.

Powerful Orator:

Gandhi is seen as one of the world’s great inspiring public speakers. He could inspire all classes of people whether they were freedom fighters, thinkers or even the farmers. He was very articulate and considerate in expressing his thoughts. His talk was authentic and could move the whole nation into action.

He created influencers who believed him and championed on his behalf. The way Gandhi worked was to identify the Sarpanch or the administrative head of a village, influence him to practice the simple, ideal ways of the Gandhian philosophy, after which the whole village followed suit.

Campaigns for social justice:

Gandhi launched himself into campaigns for social justice; especially the two movements where he actively participated – the Champaran movement to save the indigo plantations and the Kheda Satyagrha – mill workers union in Gujarat. Gandhi supported the causes by resorting to satyagraha and wrote letters to the various editors of publications informing them about the development of the movement that he was participating in.   The government finally relented and relief was provided to the aggrieved.