Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cyclone Nisha is all over us

"Nisha is all over us...", I remarked casually to my colleague at office with tongue firmly in my cheek 2 days before the monstrous cyclone Nisha struck Chennai with all her ferocity.

Never one to have witnessed the kind of wreckage a cyclone can cause, my wife and I were caught totally unawares. And so were the people of Chennai. It rained non stop for 5 days causing water flooding. 5 big lakes across Chennai were breached and water poured out of them to add to the misery.

Being in an area of Chennai which had housed a lake that had been drained about a decade earlier to make way for housing plots, I was ensured the excitement of watching the havoc caused by Nisha in full glory and from centre stage.

All kinds of drama unfolded in the 4 days that we had been confined to the 4 walls of our house with no power, no communications to the outside world. Our only saving grace was the roof top of the house which we used to frequent to see how the rest of the world is coping with the disaster.

Here are some snapshots !!

Flooding right in front of my house ! Waist level water for 2 days in a row

There was no telling the difference between the mini "kuvam" behind my house and rain water

Our neighbours fared no better when water from 3 lakes around the Ambattur area was released

A few lucky ones who were at a slightly higher ground

Marooned cars...

...and flooded ones too that needed manual water scooping

Work going on at nearby building that was being newly constructed

Dogs had the experience of a lifetime

And as the flood started receding, the stuff it had deposited started showing up

Don't be fooled by the color of the is contaminated to the core.

And in this water lay earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, snakes, scorpions, rats, crabs and every other creature that can give you the creeps

Elsewhere in Chennai, a school building flooded...

..., a Chennai urban transport bus met a watery grave.
Life goes on for some Chennaites...floods or no floods.

And the earth opened up right in the middle of a main road.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chain Store Business in US

Chain stores are a common sight in US and each one is a brand by itself and has a history to its origin. There are chain food stores, chain commodity stores, chain garages, chain book stores, chain coffee stores, chain electronic stores, chain grocery stores, supermarket chainstores and even chain Indian stores. You name a consumable and you will have at least one chain store spread across this country specializing in that commodity.

Lets kick off with food stores first. Food comes first, right ???. Be it food for the growling stomach or food for thought !!! McDonald's tops the list in brand popularity across the world, followed by KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).

The other more popular ones across America are the TacoBell, Dunkin' Donuts, Subways, PizzaHut, Jet's Pizzas, Wendy's and the list goes on endlessly. Be it Chicago , Detroit, San Francisco or Texas, you will find these stores sprinkled liberally all over the landscape. They serve burgers, French fries, tortillas, tacos, pizzas and donuts.

For the uninitiated, donuts are Indian Vada shaped sweet buns that may have been dipped in hot chocolate, cheese, cream and any other combination you can think of. Tacos are the Indian chapatti rolled up with a salad of your choice or a rajma like gravy. Tacos come in a variety of ways. There is a 2 layer taco, a 3 layer taco and a Jumbo 7 double layer taco. Pizza Huts too differ in the fact that

So what is common between all these restaurants. The only commonality among all these is the fat rich food that they serve... ;-). And do the Americans love these ? Well, they don't just love them, they thrive on them !!! That should explain the obesity factor clearcut !!!

These stores even compete with each other using funny but quite innovative slogans !!. KFCs have huge signboards that scream "Finger lickin' good".. Wendy's advertises "Where your family can have more for less". McDonald's have a bright smiley emoticon saying "Lip smackin' good". And Taco's which need to compete with all the other fast food outlets which offer bread and bun products, keep running TV ads that say "Think outside the bun !!!" That one really is a hard jab at all the others in the fray !!!

Unlike the Indian counterparts, these fast food outlets really are fast. All of them have "Takeaway counters" and "DriveAways". Driveaways allow a person to drive right around to the kitchen and place his order, pay up and drive away with his goody !!!. All without even alighting from his automobile seat. As I said earlier, these stores do everything to maintain the fat wrapped around the American tummies and keep the health experts sprouting one more worrisome wrinkle everyday !!!

Buuuuuuuuurp !!! That was food enough. Let's talk about the other chain stores. Lemme think...Yeah, the next best candidate on the list would be the FMCG. Here again you have a hoard of players. Walmart leads the list followed by a host of others like Meijer ( pronounced "Myer"), Kroger, Sam's Club and many more.

Walmart stands out distinctly because most others in the scene today have borrowed the idea from the Big Daddy of them all. Each Walmart outlet is nothing less than a monster outlet offering everything you would want to have in life under one single roof.

The Walmart outlets are also famous for their lowest prices in the market. They proudly display "Walmart prices...always reducing". This also has been the butt of many a joke. One goes like this "If Walmart prices are always reducing, then they ought to become zero sometime soon..." Now who woudn't love to see that day.

Meijer is another famous kid on the block. Meijer, I suspect is an Italian word for commodities.
The word Meijer somehow gives me the creeps for my brain has somehow associated it with the other infamous Italian word "Mafia". However, I love Meijer chain of stores much more than Walmart.

Now chain garages must really have come as a surprise, because it is not something that has yet caught up in India. You have Firestone, Belle Tires, Midas...quite fancy names, eh.. All have outlets spread across the US. However, unlike the previous two categories of stores we talked about, these, are based on an entrepreneurship scheme. If you have the money and moolah to invest and a good real estate spot to bank your cash upon, you can open a garage and get affiliated to these groups. Very much on the lines of computer institutes like Aptech, NIIT, etc having spread across India.

Chain Coffee stores are yet another common sight across America. The one that revolutionized the way Americans consume coffee was Starbucks.

The other that has carved a niche for itself is the Tim Hourton's coffee stores chain. Both these do serve amazingly intoxicating coffee. Two months into US and I am already a fan of the Starbucks Cafe Mocha .... With a cup of this in hand and a nice novel to drool upon in the other hand, I would say "Paradise Gained".

Book stores too are not far behind in the chain stores scene, though again you have a only a few names in the big league. One, the Barnes and Noble and the other the is Amazon.

Now comes another of my favorite category of chain stores. The Electronic chainstores. You have BestBuy, Circuit City and Radioshack doing the top rounds.

You name an electronic gizmo and these shops flaunt it, each one advertising lower prices then the other. You enter these shops and any amount of money you have in your bank account suddenly seems a pittance. Well, can't help it....that's the sad part of it.

As I complete this writeup, I would be doing grave injustice if I fail to make a mention of another sort of a chain stores that is making its presence felt. The Indian Chain stores are mushrooming in every US city and that speaks volumes of the growing Indian consumerism in the US. The most prominent among them is the Patel Brother Stores who seem to have a store in every major US city. That reminds me of my Uncle in Toronto who keeps reminiscing the days when he landed in Canada way back in the 1960s. There had been a single Indian store in the entire Great Lake Region and that was in Toronto. Times have changed and definitely for the better when it comes to aiding the Indian who is "globalizing".

Dwarpal - The Door Keeper

Here's an old article I had written based on the experience of one of my colleagues. Republishing for your reading pleasure

Predicaments come in various formats. Some predicaments do end after a short duration. Some come in just to stay with you, eternally. But how would one explain predicaments that seemingly end every moment, only to pop up the very next moment!!!

One such predicament is that of my colleague, Dipankar. And the predicament faced by him is no small one. It assumes gigantic proportions at times and ceases to be even a bother the following minute.

Ours is the cubicle that is present right as soon as one enters the door to our floor. It is indeed a fantabulous place!!! Fantabulous, because no one can really escape our notice while on their way to their cubicles. Not to mention also the privilege of getting to know any news as soon as it bursts open on our floor, be it somebody announcing a special event in his/her family or distributing sweets to celebrate the occasion. We are never left out!!!

Now amidst such a marvelous place, what could possibly go amiss for Dipankar? Lots!!!…. according to Dipankar.

This door of ours requires a proximity card swipe to even get out, something that is not anymore in vogue. But then the whole parody lies in it. And our floor is full of people who keep coming in from other branches of the company and it is obvious that they lack the access rights to come in or go out.

Come in, they surely do, courtesy the security outside. But, go out…. How do they do that? Some do knock on the door to grab the attention of the security outside. But to the majority of others, Dipankar is saviour incarnate. Being the guy who sits closest to the door, they turn to him to grant them access to get out.

Time is 9:00 in the morning. Dipankar is checking his mails. “Excuse me!!! Could you please let me out?” a lady’s voice pips. Our guy flashes the best smile available in his repository, gets up from his chair, swipes the card and opens the door for the lady. “Thank You”. Another bright smile from Dipankar and back he is in his seat. Time ticks by… At 9:15 a voice booms, “Can I have your card, please?” Our guy looks up and hands the card to an elderly gentleman. A Sardarji is next to seek our saviour’s help “Excuse me, Can you please give me your card, so that I can go out. Actually, I do not have access rights for this door, but will soon ask the concerned authorities to grant me the same. You know I was transferred here only yester……” the voice goes on. Dipankar has already opened the door for him and the Sardarji is still showering accolades on him for his munificent gesture. Yet another good turn for the day by our man of the moment. Then there are others who do not even openly ask for the card. They tap Dipankar’s shoulder and put up a face that portrays their helplessness. The very look on their face conveys to Dipankar their requirement. And he gallantly hands them the card as though he is bestowing on them the Param Vir Chakra. You must have a look at the panache that he does it with. Old timers too are his “clients”. They just have no time for all the niceties. They have asked for the card so many times that the request that they make has literally got etched on their face and shows up as soon as they spot Dipankar.

The process has been fine tuned to such an extent that our guy’s hand involuntarily gropes for the badge as soon as he sees a person approaching him.

Now, pray what might it be that turns the whole process into a predicament! It’s the “attitude” of certain people as I have noticed it. There are individuals who just demand “Hey man, open this door”. They just extend their hand in a fashion that reminds one of the mannerisms of a “Supari Killer” who asks for his payment before carrying out the assignment. Our guy opens it but then I can see a look on his face that talks of his displeasure over their behaviour. The look on his face clearly says “What do they think I am sitting here for? Is it just to open the door for them every time they feel an urge to get out? I will surely ignore all these people the next time……” And he reseats himself with a steely resolve.

But then the very next person, who requests him for the card, does so in such a sweet manner that our hero is in a quandary. The big question that hovers in front of him is this…”Do I open it or do I pretend he doesn’t exist ?”

His magnanimity at heart rules the roost!!! So magnanimous that he forgets all the bitter episodes and is back to business. Not an iota of pain on his face!!! “Here you go gentleman!!!” and out he lets the guy.

Amazing Guy!!! So much so that our cubicle guys have christened him lovingly “Dwarpal”. And he loves every crumb of attention that we shower on him!!! And on rainy days it’s the experiences of our Dwarpal that keep us engaged!!! Long live the Dwarpal!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is it the end of the world?

I was witnessing a spectacular halo around the moon on the night of 12th Sep, 2008 in Chennai, when my neightbour drove past me and got off his vehicle. I drew his attention to the halo. He was amazed for a moment. however I could see apprehension creeping up his face. he hurriedly tapped on my shoulder and asked me, "Do you think this is the beginning of the end of the world?". I was perplexed and asked him why he thought so. He whispered, "Do you know that scientists are experimenting in CERN, France with that new atom smasher machine they have got?. maybe this halo is a result of that experiment having gone wrong"

Phew !!!

I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, console this neightbour of mine !!