September 24, 2015

Gods, Kings & Slaves: The Siege of Madurai - R. Venkatesh - Book Review

Gods, Kings & Slaves: The Siege of Madurai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The key reason for me to touch upon this book was 'Madurai'. Historically Madurai has been associated with Sangam Literature, Meenakshi Amman Temple and the Pandian Dynasty. And this book is about the downfall of the Pandyan dynasty which once had its wings spread across the entire Southern India and Sri Lanka.

The timeline of the story is late 13th and early 14th century. There are two parallel story lines. One revolves around Veera who is the illegitimate son of the ruling Pandian king Kulasekharan Pandian. The story deals with Veera's fight for power with his brother Sundar who is the legitimate son of the king. On the other side, we are taken through the Gujarat Region where an young boy Chand Ram is born with the prediction that he would become the ruler of Hindustan. Chand Ram is castrated when he tries to elope with a slave girl from the king's Harem and later he becomes slave to a Arab tradesman, where he is named Malik. Further he becomes the slave of Allaudin Khilji and later the general of the great ruler.

Malik becomes a great strategist and becomes the key for Khilji to acquire the wealth of temples from South India. Veera becomes king and doesn't expect the sudden strike from Malik along with his brother Sundar. Madurai has been left unprotected as no one expects a strike. Thus ends the mighty Pandyan dynasty.

What impressed me in the book was the vivid writing. Right from the childhood of the princes, the childhood fights, politics of crowning the princes, the strategies of Veera's war in Lanka or Malik's war in Warangal, the deception all make it a great reading. The Human emotions and psychology have been captured wonderfully. When Veera is afraid in the last war, the author portrays how the administrative nature of King's work has depleted the warrior in him. Even at the end when the entire city is destroyed, the brothers would be fighting for the rule which reflects the ego and rivalry they had in them. Similarly in Delhi, Khilji would have become a very timid person afraid of the great strategist Malik and would suffer a very bad end.

A great book to read if you are interested in History and wish to know about what happened in India in the 1300s.

Happy Reading!

August 2, 2015

Having Momos with uninvited Cats!

Hi Guys,

A few months back, we (me and a few friends of mine) went on a trip to Coorg and on the way we stopped by at Bylakuppe to visit the Tibetian Monastery. We decided to have lunch at a small Tibetian restaurant. It was a pretty small place and we found out that we were the only guys at the restaurant.

We ordered a few Momos and as we started eating, two small cats came by. They were kittens maturing into the cat phase. Our table was right next to the window and one cat just peeped in. First she was a bit careful about stepping in. Once she learned that we were not going to do anything, she started to walk across our legs underneath the table. The other cat was still a bit shy and was just peeping through. Meanwhile, she started lying in between my legs and my friend Ankur was saying that she is fond of me. I was a bit scared as to if she would bite or scratch my legs. So, I constantly had a look on the cat.

Personally, I love cats for a few reasons. They are so quiet creatures. They move without creating any noise and sit on walls peacefully. Their movement is so graceful and they appear naïve, but are great observers of things around them. Somehow, I find some of those characteristics in myself and hence have some fondness on observing cats. They are so nimble that nothing happens to them even if they fall from a great height.

And so, while we were eating, an old Tibetan lady and her grandson came to eat. So, my dear cat left me and went there in search of something interesting. I was a bit relaxed as she was no more at our table. The old lady just took one of the Momos and fed it to the cat. So, I assumed that the cat might be domesticated and must have lost the hunting skills (domesticated cats rely on their owner for food and the hunting capability is lost). After finishing it, she came back to us. This time we gave a small piece of Momo and finally the other cat also came in.

They kept on roaming around the place for some time. They went out and sat on the window frame from outside. Finally, I gathered some courage and took my hand to touch the cat (something I haven’t done before). And this time she got scared and jumped down before even my hand went near her head. I never left her to touch me and she reciprocated the same to me in the end.

It has been a few months since it happened, but the cute cat does come into my mind quite often…

Happy Reading!!!

July 19, 2015

The Indian Taxi Industry - The competition intensifies

Hi Guys,

It has been nearly 8 months since I wrote a post on the increasing competition in Indian Cab Industry and how players are pumping in lot of money to attract customers. While the discounts and free rides have come down, the competition is yet to settle and the major players are trying hard to attract customers and most importantly retain them. While attracting has been easy, retaining has been difficult. Let me provide you two scenarios that I faced along with my friend.

  1. We go for a team dinner. Come out at night 10 pm. Check out Ola. The app says you will be charged 1.4X as it is peak time. Check Uber. No additional fare. Uber wins
  2. We are working on a Saturday and want to leave around 5 pm. Ola has a discount of Rs. 50 on that particular day. We check Ola. Again the app says that it is peak time and you will be charged 1.4X times, meaning the discount is virtually useless. Again we check Uber. No additional fare. Uber 2 –  Ola 0

The point to be noted is that we checked Ola first before going to Uber. Ola had created that First Mindshare, but sadly they weren’t able to convert prospects to customers.

Regional players like Fastrack and NTL are also hitting back strongly at the new entrants targeting the Peak Time gimmick and over reliability of technology. When people thought that the regional players are out of Business, I think they have their own set of customers – Old timers without a smart phone, pre booked rides (Ride Later is very poor in Ola and Uber doesn’t have one), etc. Now, these players are also getting smarter and are rising their service levels.

The cost side of the Business is reducing as the driver acquisition is no more a high priority. When I went to Bangalore a few months back, had a friendly chat with one of the drivers who has tagged himself with one of these services. He said the company has stopped giving additional incentives for staying with them. For every km, a customer is charged Rs. 10. The service provider gives him extra Rs. 3. The commission is 10% which is Rs. 1.3. So in effect the service provider is making a loss of Rs. 1.70 for every km a customer rides. This is to keep both the customer and driver happy. He said before tagging himself with the service provider, he was riding for a travels which paid him Rs. 8 per km. So, he is getting at least 30-40% more and he is also getting more rides per day.

With introduction of peak time charges and increasing number of rides, I guess these players would no longer be pumping in money. Recently Ola has reduced their charges in Chennai by about 20%. The reason given is that there has been optimal usage of fleets leading to ‘economies of scale’. A quick search reveals that Ola has around 13000 Cabs in Chennai against Fastrack’s 4000. Uber’s figures remain unknown.

The other issue faced by Ola and Uber is the reliability of the drivers. A viral news spreading in the Social networking sites questions the authenticity of the fares as the drivers might start a trip well before they arrive at your place. This might be happening at a few places, but it raises a big question about the credibility of the Cab services.

A few months back, Ola and Uber looked very cheap and affordable. The customer acquisition phase is nearly over as the customers are used to the new age players by now. The key now is to retain the customers without affecting the trust. It is the trust factor that the new age players seems to be losing.

Competition is also good for the end customer as they get the best out of it. While the dust might have settled, the road ahead doesn’t look smooth. Lets see if someone can become a market leader, or if the industry would remain fragmented.

Happy Reading!

May 5, 2015

Why do we love some foods and hate some?

Hi Guys,

I am writing after a long time. I had many ideas to write, but didn’t write as I didn’t either have time or I was lazy. I will try to be regular from now on and I really hope I am. To comeback, I thought of choosing a very light topic.

As a kid I used to like Mint Chutneys very much. But as I grew up, I started hating it. Today I can forcefully have it, but never as fond as I used to have it when I was a kid. I never really liked Cauliflower as a kid, but now I have started having a certain liking for it. I don’t like a large variety of food stuffs, but I do forcefully eat them these days. But, still few items like Capsicum and Brinjal are too difficult for me to have.

Researchers say that genetics play an important role in our food habits. Genetics in the sense, not just a few generations, but the entirety of Human Civilization. Nutrients and Energy was very important for the survival and daily activity of human beings. So, they were adept at picking Ripe Fruits which were a good source of Nutrients and Energy. They were sweet. At the same time, many poisonous plants were bitter. You need to avoid them. It is hardwired in your brain to prefer sweet and avoid bitter taste.

One of my friends hates chocolates – anything that has chocolaty flavor like cakes, sweets, etc. She says the bitterness in the chocolate that makes her avoid it. But she doesn’t have a problem with White Chocolates. Another one of my friends hate Nuts. He doesn’t have a chocolate if it has Nuts.  The list goes on with others too – Watermelon, Mushrooms, Apples, fries, Ice Cream, etc. Me hating Capsicum and they hating chocolates and nuts are because of the same reason. Somehow, our taste buds pick up the unique taste in them and send a strong signal to the brain.

But then how have do you start liking and disliking a few things. As a fetus in your mother’s womb, you inhale and exhale amniotic fluid, which is flavored by your mother’s dietary habits. So, whatever you mother eats when you are in the womb, you tend to develop preferences for them (in my case, my preferences and my mother’s preferences are completely different). And as an infant, you tend to eat whatever is fed till the age of two years – you don’t have personal preferences. When you turn two, you become Neophobic. That is you tend to completely avoid new food.

So many parents leave it at that and say my child doesn’t like it. But in reality, the child hates anything new. It takes nearly a dozen times to get used to it. One clever technic is to mix up new food with a used food. If the child still doesn’t like, then the child’s taste buds are really averse to them. This technique is known as Learned Preference and can be tried at any age.

What about my hate for Mint Chutney and liking for Cauliflower? I vividly remember me throwing up one fine morning after having Mint Chutney when I was 11 or 12. From then on, my mind has created a barrier between me and Mint. How much ever I try to convince myself that it is not going to do anything, I can’t eat it. Good thing, it is slowly changing. And I started preferring Cauliflower because of the Fries and then slowly it spread into other varieties as well. It was a Learned Preference.

Food is influenced by Psychological factors too. You prefer certain colors (I guess the orange color of Cauliflower made me like it), textures, shapes, etc. Similarly your mind is always looking for survival mechanisms and taste aversion is one of them. If a food made you sick, your mind avoids that considering it might be a poisonous substance.

The culture in which you are grow up also plays a role. Indians prefer spicy food. Many foreigners find it hard to even taste it. There are many cultures that eat anything and everything – ants, spiders, crabs, etc. It might appear gross to you, but is their staple. Even without tasting you are averse to them, but they are used to it.

It is too frustrating to hear comments from people, ‘How can you not eat it? It is so delicious’ or ‘How do you eat it? It tastes very bad’. Understand that it is because your taste buds vary and psychological preferences vary. Learn to respect the differences and move on.

Happy Reading!!!


References and Extra Readings