Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Baking: A fun activity for weekends

I entered Sin-A-Mon's baking contest a while back and won this book as Runner Up. It was when I was in search of a hobby after MBA that I came across Monika in Times Life, the Special Edition of TOI.  Looked her up on the Internet and booked a seat for her 2-day baking basics classes.
Thus began the story of how I got interested in baking. After scouring over dozens of food blogs that can make you go mad, when I actually attended the classes, a wonderful new world of baking opened up to me.
The amazing taste of home made, self made cookies, muffins, rolls and cakes were a class apart. After that I haven't bought any of the above from store. If I do, those are the things that I buy just to compare the tastes and see if I have made them better. Yes, was the answer everytime.

It wasn't after 2-3 months after classes that I actually ventured into baking on my own. I don't own an OTG (Oven Toaster Grill) and I don't have enough space in my kitchen to keep an oven along side the microwave. After persistent reminders from my dear friend Kanchan, I finally bought all the essential baking items and ingredients and set out to bake. We have made chocolate chip cookies, chocolate muffins, chocolate cake, blueberry cheesecake, savoury onion cheese muffins and vanilla muffins. These have turned out very well and were devoured by family and friends.

Looking forward to buying an OTG soon after somehow figuring out the solution to my space crunch and then baking regularly. With Cupcakes & Muffins book in tow, I should be able to experiment and make some more flavours of muffins as well. More than all that, the heavenly smell that wafts through the kitchen and the entire house makes for such a warm and cozy feeling. 

Happy Baking!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ek Tha Tiger: A Pleasant Surprise

Ek Tha Tiger was a surprise. Had very low expectation for the movie, thinking about usual Salman Khan Dabangg-eshtyle antics, but was pleasantly surprised. Peppy music, great stunts and new locales unlike we have seen in Bollywood so far and some actual acting by Salman Khan instead of goofing around as usual. Hmm, nice.

*SPOILER ALERT* Don't read anymore if you haven't watched the movie and do want to. :-)

Salman Khan's entry was spectacularly shot and made me wish I knew how to whistle. The scene where he comes back home after Iraq assignment and his neighbours' reaction were hilarious.

The background score used the music from the region where the story was unfolding enhanced the story telling. A constant irritation was the theme music which was clearly a rip off from Don. Wish they had created a new catchy theme. It was like an itch that does not go away through out the movie. Tiger is even better than Spiderman! While spiderman almost fainted after stopping a train, our dear hero stops a train (or was it a tram?) with such as ease, that too with the help of his jacket. And the jacket is still immaculately pressed and ready to use after being used for stopping the train. Can someone get me that jacket? I would like one too!

If Tiger has assumed the name of Manish Chandra for his assignment, why is Zoya is undercover with her real name? why? why? Doesn't make sense. She looks real sweet in the part of an agent torn between love and duty, but wish she hadn't got botox (or whatever it is) done on her upper lip. Looks like a bee bite that just doesn't go away and it is irritating when you can see that only her lower lip is moving and that's the only action/emotion you can see on her face throughout the movie. Disappointed. But a relief to see Hindi heroine kick some ass :-D Would have liked to see some fight between Tiger and Zoya when he finds out she is a rival agent. No idea why she was unarmed and was sitting like a Barbie doll when she was supposed to be stealing missile technology from a top Indian scientist's house and then looked real sorry about it.

Even though the script was real neat, the glaring mistake is when the super agent, from whom the whole of RAW agents are supposed have learned their trade, looks directly at the camera after crashing a crook through ATM kiosk and says 'Zoya, jaldi chalo yahaan se' just so that he can let the poor RAW & ISI know that he and his lady love are in Havana. Couldn't the RAW/ISI have been smart enough to find the eloped agents through real "intelligence"? Tch tch... God save such intelligence bureaus ;-).

Salman attempted to be acting the part of a tough spy who has never known anything else in life and comes out well with his restraint. His action sequences were brilliant. He looked like a lost schoolboy trying to get close to the leading lady which was rather sweet. Probably he should continue acting and quit portraying himself. Salman Khan, please, don't Dabangg anymore, I beg you. In the Laapata song, he seems to be clearly enjoying himself and you can see the glimpse of Hum Aapk Ke Hain Kaun kinda boyish charm in his smile. Cool.

Liked Ranvir Shorey and Girish Karnad in the movie. And Roshan Seth too as Prof. Kidwai. All in all, a feel good movie with a good story. Full paisa vasool.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Great lessons from MasterChef Australia 2012

I got hooked to the MasterChef Australia when Season 4 was on. Never understood before what the hoopla was about and I used to feel that it must be boring to watch someone cook. But then I developed an interest in baking. Suddenly, MasterChef became my most (and the only one) favourite TV show.

As the Season 4 progressed, I encountered interesting episodes where I was able observe some great lessons apart from learning difficult to understand dish/ingredient names and sexy French dessert names :-D. Amina, Mindy, Audra and Julia were my favourites in the competition. They were really consistent through out the competition and one unlucky day did each of them in.

1. Being a good individual player and good team player are different ball games. As team challenges were being played out, one could clearly see Debra struggling. All the participants understood that although she was a great cook individually, she was not a team player and she was the last one to be picked in the team challenges. 

2. Alice showed great character and strength when she chose TWICE not to use her immunity pin and chose to contest fairly. And thank God, she won both times. So if you believe in yourself and put yourself out there, you will always come back victorious from the pressure tests of life. One need not step on others while getting ahead. There's always room for skilled individuals, so believe in yourself and be the best you can be.

3. Did you notice that none of the contestants who gained advantages won that particular round? For example, in the Final 6, Kylie who chose to make dessert she was confident to nail, was out of the competition because the cream had curdled. So even if someone else seems to have upper hand in the beginning, it is skill, expertise, hard work, focus that wins the day.... and the challenge.

4. Did you notice that the dessert queens never won the challenges that the others predicted they would because it was their forte? What went wrong? Did the pressure get to them or was it something else? Rookies like Andy, Ben, Sam, who had never cooked desserts before, took the game away from the experts. Determination and imagination can get you surprising results.

5. The biggest surprise was Andy, who transformed from an ugly duckling to MasterChef Cinderella (did I just combine 2 stories into 1?!!). He proved that if you apply knowledge, technique into something you love, you can transform yourself from cooking steaks to mastering the fine dining.

6. The team challenges were always interesting in testing out the contestants' team playing, leadership and communication skills. In one of the challenges, Matt Preston mentions that the red team lost because "there was no Alice in your team". It was not only a compliment to the bubbly Alice, but also a reminder to everyone that communication skills are very important no matter in which field you are.

7. It was heartening to see that during the Immunity Pin challenges, the helpers to the contestants wanted to do better lest they let down their friend who was in fray to win the immunity pin. If it was India, probably the helpers would have purposefully ruined the dish, who knows! I am sure the contestants must have been really competitive but they supported each other throughout the competition. Julia was outstanding and she helped all the others no matter what the challenges were and how tired she was.

Closing note: You can learn lot of management (or otherwise) lessons from a cooking reality show as well :-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The $10 Trillion Prize - Panel Discussion at IIMB

 IIM Bangalore along with Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) hosted a panel discussion titled “The $10 Trillion Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India” today evening.   

Panel Members included:
1.       Ms Vinita Bali, Chief Executive Officer, Britannia Industries Ltd
2.       Mr Srivatsa Krishna, IAS
3.       Professor J Ramachandran, IIM Bangalore
4.       Mr Michael J. Silverstein, Senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group
5.       Mr David Wan,  Chief Executive Officer, Harvard Business Publishing
 The panel discussion was moderated by Mr Abheek Singhi, Partner and Director at The Boston Consulting Group.

The auditorium was full. The participants were welcomed on stage with thunderous applause.

Abheek presented a brief about the purpose of the book The $10 Trillion Prize on which the panel discussion was based on and some interesting tidbits about how unprecedented growth opportunities in India  and China have changed the life expectancy, disposable income and hope, aspiration, dreams and energy of its people.

After that presentation, the panel discussion was opened with 3 questions. 1) Are there any reasons to be bullish/bearish in these markets and what are the risks involved 2) What does it take to win in China and India. 3) If you look at the government and societies in these countries, what either of them have to do in order to improve the hurdles?

Ms. Bali first spoke about the market and that given the high level of consumption due to population, there is no question that the opportunities are huge and that for huge markets like India and China, at every price point there is a large base of consumers. Be it a Re 3/5 packet of biscuits or BMW/Audi/Mercedes, there is a large consumer base. Hence the absolute numbers add up and make the businesses worthwhile.

Mr. Srivatsa started with a humourous anecdote and went on to talk about entrepreneurship in India and about the opportunities in both countries.

Mr. Silverstein talked about the 'paisa vasool' and the exuberant experience of a consumer when they get a product at a great price point.

Prof. J Ram talked about education and the part it plays in shaping up a nation. Also that the level of importance given by parents in investing their money in education with the hope that the children will have better future. But the challenge is tht there are millions to reach out to. Elitist education is not enough.

Mr David Wan said that the demand is so high that few institutions can not fulfill the requirements of high quality education. And that the HBR blogs and forums get 30% traffic from India where the commentaries are of the highest quality.

After opening comments by each participant, the discussion focused about 2-3 specific topics:
1) Education: What is the way forward for India? Prof. J Ram pointed out that we have a policy issue and that we are focused towards elitist education. IITs, IIMs are not enough. We need faculty coupled with knowledge, hence our PhD programs should be strengthened. Our primary schooling system is broken and it has to be rectified. Only then as a nation, we can be ready for the future.

Mr Silverstein said that India is seriously disadvantaged in terms of education. India is under funded. He specifically said "YOU TOLERATE. You tolerate that 70% of your schools are sub-standard."

China on the other hand directs graduates to study what it wants them to study and it is a global competitor as a category killer.

2) Entrepreneurship: What prevents India from being entrepreneurial? Both Vinita and Srivatsa had the opinion that India doesn't have the ecosystem for the entrepreneurs to flourish and is not conducive. For being entrepreneurial, one needs some beliefs and attitude which is missing. Here even those who are entrepreneurs are  only to meet daily requirements. And one doesn't drive at excellence here and we encounter "CORRUPTION" every step of the way which is a huge deterrent to growth.
Prof J Ram mentioned that an ambition of different order is required to scale entrepreneurial heights and one thinks about the cost of NOT doing while starting a venture here.

 Also significant points were that we should strive for excellence. We Indians tolerate nonsense. And that kind of permeates into accepting less than the best. We must showcase more and unleash the energy (like Olympic athletes strive for excellence). Our education system should be invested in and we should be unwilling to accept less.

Mr Silverstein concluded that the next decade is for India and China. Both must put in the resources and provide access to capital for the nation to grow and the most critical resource for the next decade would be 'water' and that we should strive to improve water access, power, and other natural resources. Corruption costs India and China 2GDP points per year and hence the governance should be put in order and corruption must be reigned in.

Key takeaways:
1) No questions that the opportunity is huge in India and China
2) In India, policy issues must be tackled. Primary and PhD education system must be strengthened.
3) Corruption eats up 2 GDP points every year. Must be handled.
4) An ecosystem conducive to entrepreneurship must be encouraged
5) India must invest in agriculture; in seeds, technology, machinery. It will free up 100 million hands to do some other productive work.
6) We must strive for excellence. "Chalta hai" attitude won't do. We must not accept anything less than the best.
7) Key question: Will India fix its governance first or China fix its politics first?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Back to BB: Review of Blackberry 9220

After (literally) giving away my Blackberry Curve 8520 which was my life, I had resolutely stayed away from buying a new one. But last week, I decided enough was enough and went to the store and bought myself a BB Curve 9220.
9220 vs 8520
 This phone has the OS 7.1 which is the latest OS of BB phones. That makes the icons and the display a little different than 8520, but not a game changer in any sense. With a better processor, RAM and ROM, it is definitely worth the buy. The frustrating clock that used to appear while processing in Curve 8520 is a rare occurrence in this one. The battery is 1450mAh as compared to 1150mAh of 8520, which is definitely a big thumbs up. So far, I am able to use my phone for 1.5 days without charging it.

FM Radio
Ah, BB has finally woken up to the fact that we Indians like FM in our phones, smartphone or not. So presence of a basic FM is a big plus and that decided it for me. 2MP camera and music player is okay, but then we don't buy a BB for the camera & the music, do we? Addition of a 5MP camera would have made it even more special though. But I am not complaining.
BBM connected apps for those who are addicted to Social Media
There is a dedicated side key for BBM and camera respectively. You may change and configure them to something else though. Volume keys at the side have a small button in the middle which acts as Pause - for the music or FM. The rubber keys on the top as in 8520 are gone and instead there sits a Lock key which is very useful. This will prevent accidental calling and subsequent embarrassment. The hands-free connects on top, so you can keep the phone completely covered and still listen to FM/music.

When I saw the pictures of 9220 for the first time, I hadn't liked the keypad because they looked very fat and blunt, in person they are not bad at all. The trackpad which was one smooth surface in 8520 has been separated into keys (phone, BB, Return and Ignore). Took me some time to get used to, but nothing to complain about.
Keypad of BB 9220
 As soon as I connected to BB App World, I got to know that there is an introductory offer to download free applications worth 2,500 rupees with the Curve. I was prompted to upgrade BB Messenger, BB App World and BB Protect (which lets you remotely track your phone and erase the contents if you lose the phone. by God, I hope not. Not again!). In the last 8 months, Apps have definitely improved in quality and I hope they improve further. Haan, there is a facility in this Curve to set up your payment channel like credit card or Paypal so that you can use these whenever you require to make payments.

I got a Bluetooth headset free with this phone. I haven't used it, so can not comment on it. All in all, a BB for those who don't want to spend too much yet want to have a BB experience. If you own a BB 8520, you will like 9220 too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh! the joy of reading for pleasure...

Being on sick leave has its perks. Devouring as much books as you can. Doing MBA meant I was constantly reading Management books which left me with little time to pursue my hobby - reading. Being on leave, I have got that time get back to it with vigour.I am not much of a reviewer and this is my first time 'writing' about books that I read.

The Sins of the Father (Jeffrey Archer) was a let down of sorts. Even though the book starts with enough suspense, it fizzles out and leaves you extremely disappointed at the end. I don't like reading from different characters' perspective in one story since it doesn't provide continuity, but the first few chapters were entertaining.

The Litigators (John Grisham) I was left wondering if this is the same John Grisham who wrote novels like The Pelican Brief, The Street Lawyer and The Firm. Horrendous story because there is no story at all. Most excruciating book and I would gladly advise everyone to avoid. Kanchan, won't forgive you for not warning me!

Calico Joe (John Grisham) had an emotional story involving the protagonist and Baseball. A quick overview of baseball by the author was extremely well written and the whole book makes for a quick read. Nothing earth shattering, but nothing to do with the Lawyer-giri (like Gandhi-giri) that we have all come to associate John Grisham novels with. After The Litigators, Thank God for that!!

After growing with on staple diet of Mary Clark Higgins, James Patterson, Jeffrey Archer, Robin Cook, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, I have had enough of firang stuff. I have started reading Desi authors (most of whom are 2nd Gen Indian Americans). Since we are so used to western stories told by westerners getting used to the language and the thought process is a bit difficult, but these books are not that bad as others make them out to be. Of course, I hate those Indian authors who write in such difficult English and long sentences that you forget what it was about when you come to the end of the sentence (just to show how superior their linguistic skills are so they can eye that oh-so-nice Booker prize). But breezy stories make for a good read.

StarStruck (Rajal Pitroda) was my first book by Indian-origin(or shall I say ABCD?) author. We all have our perceptions about Bollywood. This book is about an Investment banker who comes down to Mumbai and as fate might have it, ends up working for a Hindi Film Producer. As the story goes, the story brings up the quirks of stars, the extra marital affairs right under the nose of spouse, underworld links and a sudden twist which ends the story and has the protagonist ending up back in NY and trying to console herself that her i-dream-of-doing-something-different-i-feel-something-missing-inside-me has been sufficiently pacified and that the effort was worth it. Breezy read, not bad for a first novel. I wonder why it is that all the Investment Bankers, Management Consultants shun the mega bucks and turn authors!! :-P (Pun intended, read Dork if you want to understand what I mean).

Hindi-Bindi Club (Monica Pradhan) One more 'Management consultant' turned author. Stories told through the eyes of 6 characters -3 mothers and 3 daughters who see life from different angles and are going through different stages of life. The story has enough emotions, the tumults of being 'India-American', ladies who have spend almost 3 decades in US but still yearn for homeland, a semi-arranged marriage, father-daughter quarrel, a twist with tragedy and the resulting philosophical view when one stares death in the face and has the chance to live again, an extra marital affair(?!! why was that necessary, I wonder), Partition and the painful emotions associated with that memory; secrets held due to unfulfilled teenage love. Every chapter has recipes of most known Indian (read Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali) dishes. So you can cook these dishes as well if it pleases you. All in all, a nice story.

Dork (Sidin Vidukut) It contains all the private jokes an MBA would know and smile about no matter how many times he/she has come across it. All regional stereotypes that we make fun of, those job interviews and politics behind it, life as a 'management consultant'!! First 2 chapters are hilarious and then the language becomes crass and the story too predictable. Some situations are really funny and overall a good read.

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 and happy to be free*

I have been away for too long this time. Apart from a quick post last Oct, I have been MIA (Missing In Action, for the uninitiated) for more than 6 months now.

Anyways, there are so many things that have happened. 2012 has been great so far. New year, New Life. Following in Prof. Ramya's footsteps, I take this opportunity to count my blessings.

Things I am grateful for
1) Loving and supportive family who supported me through thick & thin these past 3 years as I struggled with balancing work, life and everything else.
2) Professors who made 2.75 years' of my MBA a journey to cherish.
3) Friends who have provided a reality check when I was struggling to stay sane (Dear sis, you count here too).
4) A wonderful vacation in Nepal, which is also my first full-blown International vacation. (UK was more of a pain-cum-pleasure trip (all the dental surgeries being the pain part and some sight seeing thrown in by family being the pleasure).
5) My new car which is so small and so cute!! (Oh, you will hear more about this sooooon, I promise!)
6) An opportunity to receive my MBA from none other than Mr Mukesh Ambani on 30th March
7) A surgery last that took care of the implant in my leg. Am also grateful for having a wonderful Orthopaedic Surgeon who is also my uncle.

Well, with some things crossed off my check list, I am looking forward for the rest of the year. As I recover from the surgery, it is time to unwind but put the plans that have been on hold to action. May God be with me.


* Free in my context means free time that I have (now that I have completed my MBA) to pursue my next round of dreams.