Monday, February 10, 2014

Switzerland



Switzerland is like a 5-star hotel in Mumbai, surrounded by relative mediocrity & poverty. Everyone outside is enamoured by its splendid facade, has heard stories of its spas & beach-facing swimming pools, and the tabloids catch the rich & famous zipping in & out.


Back in the day, when this 'hotel' started out, some of its enterprising owners realized their great location advantage, and invested in creating the best infrastructure for the biggest marketing campaign of all time - the Swiss Alps. Needless to say, it was a roaring success. And since so much money & effort was put behind making all this infrastructure, the 'prices' had to be prohibitively expensive. This meant only the richest of the rich could come & 'stay'.

As this started happening, the enterprising Swiss figured a common thread running through these rich visitors - their need to stash away their cash, secretly. So the 'hotel' started offering 'other' services as well, very discreetly. The rich paid more & more to enjoy the benefits. Over time, everyone from the waiters to the guy who sorted the hotel trash started earning enough to be driving around in Mercs - some did, some chose not to and even left. The 'hotel' continued to get facelifts, and the common people outside continued to look on with awe. But the 'benefits' that the hotel provided, known only to the rich few, became one of the biggest USPs of the hotel, keeping it well ahead of other magnificent hotels.

But then two strange things happened in quick succession.

The owners of the hotel were impressed with the stupendous growth the hotel was seeing, and wanted more. They realized that too many people were leaving and not enough coming in, especially for the kind of growth they wanted. So they decided, undoubtedly correctly, to let anyone from around the locality in to help work at the hotel. This was a strange thing as this was never ever done in the history of the hotel, which was always a closed, selective community. But it brought in fresh ideas & 'unspoilt' people who were willing to do whatever it takes to make their lives, and by design, the hotel's future a success.

The other strange thing that happened was that laws got passed to have a 'camera' in all 'hotels', including Switzerland, with full access for global governments. The carefully built, and biggest standing, USP of the hotel was no more. The rich and famous could no longer come in & get other services without having Big Brother watching them through that wretched tin can on the wall. Many clients swore never to come again. There were murmurs of some other hotels somehow having the ability to have a few rooms without cameras. Many of the rich & famous promptly began going there.

Business dropped dramatically at the hotel. Enough clients were not coming in.

What's worse, some of the original inhabitants of the hotel started complaining that the stream of folks from the locality were getting too many. There were meetings & demonstrations, and open rejection of some of the cultural ideas of the ‘new ones’.
The owners had no clue what had hit them. They had two problems to solve at the same time. One, how to get business back. And two, how to quell this discontent amongst some of its inhabitants against the people coming in.

Interestingly enough, these problems might be linked. But more on that, and the first problem, later.

Bowing to pressure from this dissenting group, the owners did the unthinkable. They made it everybody's problem by asking them to vote on whether the people from the locality should be allowed in. They thought, rather naively that this group was a minority and the problem would solve itself with the vote saying that everything's fine, “keep 'em comin' in”.


The result of that vote came on Sunday evening. A shocker, to say the least. 44% of the people didn't even bother voting. Of the 56% that did, 50.3% were the dissenting group. That's well less than a third of the total. But as it happens, the owners have to go by the result, and tell all those locality groups that they cannot allow people to come in indiscriminately. The two problems are now even bigger.

Had the owners' thoughts of a victory in the vote materialized, the people from the locality would have come in, with fresh ideas, hard work & ambition, and helped solve the first problem, of business going down. Because people trying hard find a way, eventually.

The once magnificent hotel is now at a crossroads, its future uncertain. The best bet for the owners would probably be to go back to the original USP, around which in the first wave of business was built - beautiful, natural gifts complemented with amazing infrastructure, and a dazzling marketing campaign. But they would need people, and if not recruiting from around the locality is a constraint, they might well fall short. They might need to take down pricing in pockets, so as to gain volumes, but then would existing infrastructure suffice?

Strong positive, business building steps need to be taken…

Else, the hotel is destined to die a slow, painful death, eventually taken over by those dissenters who think they can do without help.

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As a new member of the hotel staff, I find myself in the midst of this calm chaos. The natural wonders that this place possesses coupled with the painstakingly built infrastructure is even more amazing than what it looked from the outside. But the murmurs of dissent against 'us' just got a voice today. Albeit only 28%. Hope they realize that we're all eventually working for the prosperity of the same hotel, that's how the system was designed.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Delhi Polls - Analysis & Prediction

I have been a relatively mute spectator in the political space. While I do read a lot online, almost every article I read ends with my eyes rolling at the sheer moronery of the tamasha called Indian politics. From 'paid media' to 'social media armies', it seems that you can never believe anything you read. And yet, you're expected to form an 'informed opinion' before you vote.

This has meant that while I am reading so much, I'm hardly 'giving back' anything online, in the form of opinions or endorsements of articles. This article is my attempt to give something back. It is, one may say, an 'opinion', based on numbers and certain assumptions.

Experience
I have had only ONE real, ON-GROUND, experience of the political process. It was back in my days as a Sales Manager in Tirupati. Chiranjeevi was launching his party and purportedly, some 7 lakh people had arrived in the city for the rally. Everyone was given a chicken biryani and a small bottle of liquor. I was barely a few minutes away from the venue and was getting these live updates from my team.

I got the distinct feeling that the whole election process is a game of money - of how many voters you can buy. Now, us, English reading, web-surfing junta, we would think that who would be stupid enough to vote for a certain party basis what money/gifts/alcohol they received? Well, that seems to be what's happening in the country for the last 60 years! And with some media outlets, both on paper and online, brazenly taking sides one way or the other, even WE are voting basis our limited reading online. How many people really go through ALL the view points on any particular matter. The media certainly doesn't help. I don't remember reading too many balanced articles on any matter. The media takes sides, authors take sides, and we end up with a skewed view basis what media we're exposed to.


Number games
So to make the whole process a bit more exciting for me (as opposed to exasperating or disillusioning), I jumped into some data, put together some assumptions and came out with a prediction for the Delhi polls.

We all know that media hoo-haa counts for little as a very small percentage of the population sees what we see in the form of 'premium' news channels. At the end of the day, its a very local decision made by a largely locally-exposed bunch of people who would have vaguely heard of the Modi's and Dikshit's of the world.

While the above is true, it is changing, slowly. Every year about 1% is added to the electorate by way of youngsters coming into the polling fray. People are also getting more involved and we're seeing voter turnouts increasing. These small, incremental, changes can alter the overall picture. Let's explore how.


What an election looks like on an excel sheet
In the last elections in Delhi in 2008, the Congress (INC), won over 60% of the 70-seat assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was far behind with just 30% of the seats.

That being said, the percentage of people voting for the INC was 40% while for the BJP was 36%. There were many seats where the Congress just pipped the BJP, whereas most of the BJP victories were by huge margins.

It is in these details that, I believe, lies the future of this episode of the elections. The new voters coming into the fray, by way of age, or 'realization' (that their vote counts), can tilt the balance the other way. A large percentage of the voters will continue to vote as they voted the last time. Not by habit, but because their candidates will use the same tactics they used last time to coerce them and they will invariably succeed.

Coming to the assumptions
1. I have used the grid below to (assume &) describe how the 2008 voter will behave in 2013, and how the 'new' voter will vote. For example if 100 people voted for the Congress in 2008, 80 will continue to vote for them, 10 will vote for the BJP and 10 for other parties. This is largely due to the anti-incumbency factor. For the new voter, I've given the BJP a slight advantage over the INC as I feel they are doing a better job with the youth.


2.  As we can see, I still think it will be firmly a two-horse race. The new, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is small, doesn't know how to win an election, and is a distraction at best. Moreover, would have to take enough votes away from the BJP AND Congress, in each constituency that they want to win - I don't see that happening.

3. I have assumed that we will have 70% voting on the 2008 base in all constituencies that had a 60+% turnout in the last elections. So for example, Rithala polled in at 63% last time round with 116k / 183k people voting. This time round, we will see 128k people voting. Overall, we should see around 500k people MORE who will vote vs 2008.

4. All constituencies that polled lower than 60% in 2008 will add 5% voters to their base. Vikaspuri, for instance which polled in at 56%, with 137k / 248k voters will now have 149k people casting their ballot.

5. I have ignored people being deleted from the list due to death, etc. I think the number is too small to be considered.

With the above assumptions in place, I arrive at the following results for 2013:

BJP - 36
INC - 28
Others - 6

Here's the link to the working document I made for this.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B24jHHFCzAOFdkZfV3h2SlhPcXM/edit?usp=sharing

Now, let the real games begin...!

PS - All data was taken from the official website of the Chief Electoral Officer of Delhi : http://www.ceodelhi.gov.in/

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eurotrip 3.0 : Monaco & Cannes!!



As we, the weary travelers, drove out of Pisa and by & through the Cinque Terre, the Italian & French Riviera, we were treated to some of the best views in any stretch of road in the world. So good in fact, that we were re-energized for the chequered flag of our journey, the last 3 days in Monaco, Cannes & finally in Milan.

We arrived in the evening in Beausoleil, France. The town is on a hill with Monaco down below, by the sea. One can literally take an elevator from France to the Principality of Monaco!  Our apartment-hotel (the Odalys Les Jardins d’Elisa) was a superb one with a well set up apartment overlooking the sea & the country-city of Monaco below.

Shyam stepped out to get wine & groceries for the evening and I was busy readying the pasta with Hari. The night views from the apartment were stunning and I managed to click some good long-exposure shots.

After filling our tummies with some more pasta and wine, we veritably crashed in our beds! The next day was going to be a drive down to Cannes, the red carpet & more!

With the season over, Cannes was almost a ghost town, as if people had simply run away. The drive into Cannes was an uneventful one and we reached there right in the middle of the day. Parking was not to difficult to find and was surprisingly inexpensive given it was Cannes! Certainly way cheaper than London, Hari confirmed.

We took a walk by the beach and ended up at a really nice restaurant in one of the by-lanes. Lunch was the ever-dependable  pizza. A good 25% more expensive than at most other places on our trip, but quite good! We drove up then, to the Church of Notre-Dame which gave some great views out to sea. The Church itself was quaint and simple, with not much to do.

As evening approached, we drifted towards the famed Cannes Red Carpet and did our customary Bond snaps and such. It felt quite weird, re ‘normal’, without all the celebrities and paparazzi… All in all, it was a nice, relaxed day, as was needed as our (in hindsight) grueling trip wound down to its last 48 hours. We had a quick bite at a McDonald’s and headed back to our apart-hotel overlooking Monaco.

At night, Hari, Vidya & I suited up to go spend some time at the Grand Casino of Monte Carlo, Monaco. The place was fairly deserted but it still had a slew of Ferrari’s, Benz’s & Porsche’s waiting outside – the owners and staff perhaps? My time spent studying at the casino in Kranjska-Gora earlier on in the trip came in handy as we won some money at the roulette table – something like a net gain of 100 euros. It was fun, but I was getting really sleepy by the end of it, as the clock sped well past midnight!

We returned to a good night’s sleep followed by a relatively early morning for checkout! The next few hours were spent driving up to the Oceanographic Museum, followed by the Prince’s Palace. While we didn’t go inside, the stunning beauty of the land standing tall against the sea kept us occupied.

The streets leading up to the palace were dotted with little clothes-shops and lovely eateries and and we had a nice lunch in one of them. As afternoon was turning to evening, we bade goodbye to Monaco to drive onwards to Milan (in pouring rain!). But not before we did two laps of the famed Circuit de Monte Carlo - an unforgettable experience taking me back to my days of being a formula 1 addict (doing more laps on the  computer game than I had watched in my lifetime)!

Eurotrip 3.0: Pisa...



The drive from Rome all the way upto Pisa was a tiring one. While it’s on most tourist itineraries, it was forcibly on ours as a single drive all the way up to Monaco would have been too tough to do.

After catching the Fontain de Triveli in Rome, we set out on our drive to Pisa. Lunch was at a place on the highway, and wasn’t really much to write home about. On arriving in Pisa, we were treated to its famous foul odour, which is ever-present throughout the town. After checking into our hotel room, we drove out into town to grab some grub. The restaurants weren’t all that great so we ended up having some shawarma at a ‘Turkish’ joint run by a Bangladeshi (again!).

We dropped by the leaning tower in the morning, and it was utterly unimpressive after the grandeur of Rome & the Vatican. After the usual pics of holding up the tower, leaning against it, etc., we were off! Next stop, Monaco!

Eurotrip 3.0: Rome & Vatican!



We arrived in Rome late in the evening on the 23rd. It was going to be another campsite (Camping Roma) just outside the city. With the exact address not showing up on the GPS, we actually ended up asking someone for directions, something we should’ve probably done when we were close to the address anyways! (What idiots technology makes out of us sometimes J). The staff was quite rude on arrival, and even refused to consider Riya as a baby (despite the bookings.com policy not making any mention of it).

The bad mood was all wiped away though by Hari whipping up some awesome spaghetti pasta. Riya was fast asleep and with some red wine also flowing, the scene was set for a super night of fun. We had singing sessions, wearing the Venetian mask sessions, and jokes galore. My throat was a bit of a mess before the night started, and by the end of it, it was a colossal one. But it had capped a memorable birthday celebration for me which had started almost 24 hours ago, in a beautiful restaurant in Florence!

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The next morning was a late one. After having the usual brunch in the camping village, we drove out to meet the monumental achievements of Roman architecture. Starting with the Colosseum, the sheer grandeur of Rome has to be seen to be believed. Each structure is made with utter disregard to scarcity of any materials or space. It was as if the kings just told the architects & engineers “Make it as big as you can, with whatever it takes!” I think, by the end of evening, I had seen so many of these structures with my jaw agape, that it had an irreversible change of shape! And we had, literally, just seen one ‘street’ full of monuments. No pictures can do justice to this place. And to think that it was made all those centuries ago, made it that much more awe-inspiring.

After the 'monument'al dose and what seemed like an age of having pasta & pizza, we were craving for some good-ol’ Indian food. We hooked up the GPS to direct us to any Indian restaurant around, et voila – we made it to a place called ‘Jaipur’ and had some delectable roti & curry!! Ah, what a relief it was!!

The next day was reserved for the Vatican, and for the size and sheer detail of it, it probably needed two, even for the regular tourist. The audio guide was seemingly endless and had so many layers and levels, it was difficult to go through it completely while keeping pace with what we were seeing. And it was near impossible to take time at every exhibit with Riya powering through like a Duracell bunny!! :-)

I simply had to continue my ‘jaw agape’ expression through the Vatican, with each painting or work of art being of such intricate detail and such historical importance. All said & done, they had also packaged it all really well, and I just thought to myself that if some of India’s sites had packaged their art and history even half as well, they would see many, many more international visitors than the Vatican.

After spending the day gnawing through Vatican, we dinked into a McDonald’s to get a quick bite before we headed back to the camping village. On the way, I picked up some wine at a store run by a Bangladeshi, and that was to keep us company as we wound down the day with some light food and snacks. 

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We had planned 3 nights, and 2 days in Rome, and in the end it was just about right. The major sights – The Colosseum, Vatican City and the infinite list of monuments, were all covered comfortably.