Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last Man in Tower - Book Review

Vishram Society located in Vakola is the ideal target for ambitious developer Dharmen Shah - a crumbling society with two towers, close enough to the Mumbai domestic airport to be a desirable location with jaded occupants eager to lap up the offer of a lifetime. Thus begins the saga of the residents of Tower A as each apartment owner begins salivating at the unbelievable amount of money, upto Rs. 20,000 per dilapidated square foot that holds the promise of transporting their lives into realms that were beyond their imagination. Adiga introduces us to the characters who have lived in communal harmony, sharing meals and tears over the years of living in close proximity to each other.

Mrs. Rego (Batteleship), the Saldanhas, and the Pintos represent the dominant local Christian community of Vakola while Ibrahim Kudwa and his happy family lends the diversity touch. Mrs. Puri, a friend of the late Purnima, wife of retired Masterji, Yogesh Murthy is the key character who drives the residents towards freedom from Vishram, as she aspires for a better life with the money from the sale which can go towards paying for the care of her eighteen year old mentally challenged son. The central character of Masterji, who joins the Pintos in their dissent is etched beautifully by Adiga. The outdated idealogy with his rigid views about people, sharply contrasts with his sentimental memories of his wife and emphasizes the divide with his son. There is a point early on in the novel where Masterji remembers his wife's words "A man is like a goat tied to a pole. You may have free will but only so much." Those words ring true when the momentum builds up as the deadline provided by the builder for residents to accept the generous offer approaches.

All the characters are portrayed as flawed individuals, each responding to their own circumstances, including the characters of the apparently ruthless but physically sick developer Shah and his "left-hand man" Shanmugham. The evolution of the idealists in Vishram from nay-sayers to eager aides as they deviously plan to get Masterji to agree happens gradually and in the process some unexpected surprises are thrown from the stereotypical secretary Kothari and the wily broker Advani. As Masterji faces one challenge after another in his solitary battle once the Pintos succumb to threats of physical violence, the callous nature of the law, the silence of the media and the connivance of his son, you feel terribly for the lone crusader. You almost wish he would turn pragmatic and choose to live even if the money was inconsequential to him. The end is almost pre-decided but still catches you by surprise. After baring the heart of maximum city, Adiga shows how heartless it can be. As a Mumbaikar I may wish otherwise but the taste of betrayal lingers long after the book it put down.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Entrepedia by Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan

Entrepedia!  The title sounded like Wikipedia and I picked up the book for the tag line, “A step-by-step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India”. The book seemed to be just the thing I wished for along with a couple of friends who are in the entrepreneurial mode.

 I read about the author a while ago when she came for a program at ISB and thought it would be at least a reference book even if turned out to be another academic book.  But, to my pleasant surprise - the author's note started with "This is not a textbook on entrepreneurship.......This is not a scholarly treatise on entrepreneurship either......... This book is a ready reckoner for entrepreneurs in the start-up phase in India”.  Bang!!! It seems like she read my mind on books by professors.

The 20 step format is very easy to follow - like a road map for starters and checklist for those already on the road to e-ship, entrepreneurship for short. The story telling approach is leveraged to the maximum to get the point across. The case studies were attention-grabbing and presented in a conversational style making it very easy to follow. One example is how MTV got Indianized.

It seemed like Nandini is a gourmet. Her takeaways at the end of each chapter are like quick reads. I really liked step 14: How do you put a face to your customer? The case study is of an upmarket Thai restaurant but it applies as well to the specialty Idli stall around the corner. The analysis is simply superb and if we answer this right half of e-ship problems can be solved right away.

The info on currently available support in India for e-ship on line and off line is very useful. Information like 'The Honey Bee Network in India promoted by Prof Anil Gupta, of IIM Ahmedabad, has mobilized 1, 40,000 ideas from 545 districts in India’ inspires the readers. Entrepreneur and Antarprerna -they sound similar and spelt similarly. Isn't it? It’s a discovery by Nandini.  "Antarprerna is a Sanskrit word which means' inspired from within".

The content takes us across continents but always answering the 'What's in it for me' factor very well. Nandini isn't walking with us through the e-ship. She literally is making us run at e-ship Olympics. That's the amount of commitment seen in the research of the content.

It felt like this book can be to e-ship in India what RTI act was to anti-corruption movement in India.

 The content is more oriented on leveraging the technology and showcasing more of urban success stories - not much done to connect well those who aren't that tech savvy or who live in small cities - the huge class of people who can bring about successful e-ship movement in India.

Here’s an excerpt from Nandini’s note in the book. "One last word. I want this book to be your pocket mentor. What I would love to see is that it is on the bedside of every aspiring and practicing entrepreneur, in every nook and cranny of India, dog-eared, heavily annotated, and looking every inch like it belongs in your life." I happily second it hundred percent.