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The Wordsmith Book of Business

A book by an
Obscure but surviving business owner
For his tribe in office cubicles, homes and classrooms

Pritam Bhattacharyya
wordsmith.bengal@gmail.com
First Published as E-book - August 2009

Published by Pentasect – www.pentasect.com under Showcase Project

CopyLefted: Please only acknowledge the author

Typeset, E-book rendering: Mr. Pannalal Bhattacharjee

Email : asis.ind@gmail.com

Contact: Author: Pritam Bhattacharyya – wordsmith.bengal@gmail.com

editor@pentasect.com

[This book is free to be forwarded to anyone you may choose. However, author
felt that this will be most relished by people who are in Indian Telecom sector and
within the age group 25-45 years. This is a very loose assumption, though]
Preface
Like all my books, this book is actually addressed to me. In this book, I have tried to
recount and tell my story – a story of surviving in business for last four years [2005 – 2009] after
leaving my naukri of ten years. I found out, after four years and having paid quite a price for the
learning that I should not have been an employee at all. If I would have resisted the temptation
ten years back – the temptation of security, self-image, peer-pressure and especially the sweet
and charming siren of my own ‘programmed’ mind, the learning would not have been that
costly.

Traditional business Inspiration books, Case Studies tend to focus on successful and
numerical miracles (Rs 500 to 5 crore saga) and Larger than Life areas. I am neither big, nor
have achieved any miracle of that sort, still I think that to me the experience has a worth – not
less than that of the worth of the so-called miracle story.

I also hope that this story, if I am able to tell simply, sincerely and powerfully, many men
and women will be empowered. The word has been misused so much but I could not find any
other better word for expression. They will be empowered because it will not be intimidating.
Greatness, Success, Win, Great Ideas, Great Visions all of these seldom come without a sense of
intimidation. In many cases, they make you feel small instead of being empowered.

I have lived and worked in Calcutta and Eastern India all these four business years with
frequent travels to meet and listen to my client’s stories. This is important to keep in mind
because no business can ignore its external environment completely. Nor it can accept it
completely.

The whole motivation of doing business came to me, in short, in defying the
environment. It sounds grand, but it is not.

The innovation called fire came in the ancient caves of our forefathers not after power
point presentations or brainstorming or from Hominid Innovation Centre – it was to defy the
natural tendency hitherto to be dinner of wild beasts in the night.
To all the members of my tribe in this planet –

Those who are thinking, those who will act, those who will win and those who will
fail just to come back next time.....
Contents – No sequence, No page numbers..
1. My early conception about Business

(This Chapter tells what I felt regarding business)

2. My continuing ignorance about business for a decade as an employee for ten years

(How ten years of being an employee made me dumber about business)

3. Absent Minded Footfall

(Monthly ATM top-up stopped. Salary Day vanished from personal calendar)

4. The First Year in the Pit

(Nightmares and sweat. Unknown pain and a rattling inside. Darkness and No net below)

5. The Light at the end of the Tunnel

(Change of Language and View on Life in general. Sleepless nights under dazzling skies)

6. The Journey Ahead

(From service to product and then a service to the world : New You)

7. What have I learnt

(Till Now – while you read this)

Thanksgiving and Acknowledgement


  :  t mpk ।
 n  i     ।।
Some poet-wordsmiths have told this history earlier, a few are telling now and in
future, others will also talk about it

( As quoted by Buddhadev Basu in his magnum opus –   and in my opinion the most ambitious literary
project launched ever in the History of Bengali Literature )
Chapter 1: My Conception about Business
Background and Possibilities:

Being born in mid-seventies in India and in a salaried, middle class family


in North East, I had no idea of business. I don’t remember my parents ever
discussing – business is/is not good in whole of my teen years. What I knew
that one needed to study well, get oneself admitted to a good school/college
and from then the auto-pilot of state would take over. The virtues mostly
taught was hard work, sincerity, being respectful to authorities and not failing
in anything – be it mathematics or language classes. Failure was considered a
no-no. Nobody ever told us that it pays to fail.

In this background, the possibilities of understanding or even being


aware of business were pretty bleak. I was no genius and hence I missed as
well. It never occurred to me to enquire as how some shops in the
neighbourhood remain open for decades as some close and re-open. What
was once a glossary became a hair-cutting saloon, then remained closed for
two years, re-opened and became a pretty busy ladies beauty parlour and
again after few years – a mobile top-up store. We were asked to read and
master states of matter in physics and metamorphosis of cocoon into butterfly
in biology rather than these business transformations in the neighbourhood.

While I was eighteen, I went to Malabar – some 4000 km from my home


to become a telecommunication engineer [1992]. South of India, by this time
was responding to the winds from other shores. We were busy mastering how
satellites and optical fibres work, classmates who knew C, C++ and as such
were looked with awe and respect. In short – we were putting great efforts to
become employees in the technology companies which were not known even
a decade back.

As far as I remember, there were two or three classmates of mine who


used to subscribe to Business India and used to discuss words like ‘start-ups’,
‘funding’, ‘capital’. We considered them somewhat betrayer of the engineering
discipline and with an oblique idea that they lack ‘funda’ – fundamentals in
short and of course engineering / technical related. We were still engrossed
with the ‘son’ – employment whereas the ‘father’ – business never crossed our
mind. This provided me a great learning ex posto facto: The environment has
terrible influence in us. Terrible because once when you are distant in time or
geography or perspective, you feel the terror of the influence cast.

My aunt was married in a business family in Calcutta. They were printers


and were a Government supplier. The interaction with the cousins provided
me with an idea that business means perpetual stress about finance, union
issues (something more pronounced in Bengal than elsewhere), keeping the
babus in good humour and greasing the palms from peons to president.
Naturally, these felt and received notions were not helpful in providing
conceptual ideas. Learning: We can never conceive anything even in close
touch if we don’t look at it objectively and without pre-judice.

Looking back into this part of my life – after some two decades made me
aware as how axioms, truths, beliefs gain status of immutable truths from the
habit of mind. Our society stamps us with a habit of mind since childhood
which is mostly a majority consensus. We are taught to read the lives of great
men and memorize well but social incentives work in the way where the social
consensus works.

I think I now seem to grasp the reason as why business never touched
me during my teen years. Our society, at least at that time was relatively more
closed, low-information circulating, a huge and all absorbing public sector and
a morality which made a short-circuit of business-wealth-bania-profit-retail
shops-bribe-licence-permit-risk into a mental structure of a hotch-potch which
is very close to anything called yoga/spirituality that many of our countrymen
sell to the eager students of West. With a huge bureaucracy and its attentive
sufarish-process, secrecy was a competitive advantage to advance one’s
career. Business on the other hand is the most public, most clear message of
undertaking the path of highest risk where chance of failure remains
overwhelmingly higher than being successful.

During 1990s, the career-life route for many of my generation and in the
social class where I belonged went somewhat like this, with descending order
of preference/value:

IIT  NIT/RECState Engineering Colleges; MS (USA) Other in Anglo


Saxon World - Non-Anglo Saxon World  IIM  next to IIMs.

In job scenario, the order was somewhat like this:

US based employment non-Anglo Saxon geography based


employment  Pure Government – Central  Public Sector, Central  State
Government  Private Sector  Business /Self Employment

The social class put business or self-employment as the last option.


People spurned many private offers, waiting for that Government job after
writing many exams. One of the most lucrative was the Bank Probationer’s
Examination.

Whether we knew it or not, accepted it or not, an economic change was


underway which started since early nineties. I would tell a story to illustrate as
how the decade of 90s was most socially impacting decade and that impact
was visible. It is a common phenomenon of any organized society that social
changes do not run linearly with economic / technological changes. There are
in-built buffers and dampeners in a society that prevents shocks of changes to
travel slowly across the whole structure. In 1998, one of my uncles told
categorically that he would never get his younger daughter married (he had
two daughters) to anyone whose income was not guaranteed by Reserve Bank
of India. In 2000, he had a concession made and settled for some Top 5 MNCs
of the globe. In 2001-2003, after the dot-com boom and bust, he became more
flexible as regards to the income guarantee of the potential groom. However,
there were other issues: although Indian young men and women were taking
up computers at an ever increasing pace, the society has not forgotten its
concern to ask whether the father is ignoring his duty of keeping a 30+
daughter still unmarried.

She was eventually married in 2006 with a businessman. This common


incident tells me that our society is like an organism other than a mechanism –
it makes choices and concessions. The nature and direction of these choices
and concessions are not internally generated but guided in combination of
internal and external economic and political factors.

A businessman in India will do him a great service if he remembers this


aspect always and this would help him in avoiding the following common
follies while operating in India:

a. Localization: Due to the historical evolution of our society, we have


an unseen, intangible and palpable social regulator. This regulator
has powerful impact in our society. Models and processes of other
climes, however efficient cannot be expected to deliver results here
simply because it worked there.

b. Social Recognition: In India, social recognition is a high incentive. As


an employer, one has to be always conscious of the perceived value
of this in one’s employees. An Indian, unless he/she is completely de-
natured, economic recognition minus social recognition will be
counter-productive.1

c. Risk: Indians are not risk-averse per se. They undertake highest risk
when they are convinced that there is no risk. I would like my readers
to note the huge debate of the performance of Indian National
Cricket Team and its Coach’s philosophy. A section of very talented
cricketers told that they are paralyzed in fear and cannot deliver their

1
I had offered a young man to be a freelancer with the option of working from anywhere and his average income
per month would be INR 25,000 with a fixed one of INR 15,000. He joined a firm in Central Calcutta at INR 5000
with an hour of commuting in one of the most hellish city traffic in the globe – since the discovery of wheel and
internal combustion engine. In this case, as a freelancer, economic recognition was three times higher but in the
latter, the social recognition was higher: going to office, coming from office, party in office!
performance because of constant, mathematically precise
measurement.

d. Power: Indians don’t behave easily and naturally with power. As a


business owner, you have all the temporal powers except the power
of sovereignty. Hence, you need to understand, appreciate and use
this very very sensibly.

Going back to the storyline again, as for myself, in 1996, I joined a state-
owned telecom monopoly in India as a freshly minted telecom engineer and
became a Government employee. I remained a Government employee for
next six years, i.e. upto 2002.

In the next Chapter, my six year experience as a Government employee and


how these six years reinforced my ignorance about business will be told.
Chapter 2: The Ignorance Deepens: The Monopoly
Experience
1. The dangers of Monopoly Comfort
There is a saying in Hindi: Aram haram hai means Comfort is Sin. The
immediate effect of any monopoly is comfort for all who are within the beneficiary
network. Human beings, but anything was created for comfort. The very birth
process tells us what struggle lies ahead. Monopoly of any kind – private or public
beacons with comfort – aram se and if that’s a state controlled and that too the
Indian state, the sinner needs strongest purgatory to reclaim the inner man.

Unfortunately for my inner man but fortunately for the creature man, I had
joined a monopoly which provided all but robbed the most valued resource: to
practice the art of surviving everyday. This is a winged sentence and the very
purpose of this book is to elaborate on the theme: The Art of surviving everyday in
business.

For a monopoly, cheaper is money2 and cheapest is time3. Hence in a


monopoly, people grow from early twenties to late forties easily and time seems
so plenty. The salary becomes a right, an entitlement and after some passage of
time, the whole economic aspect of salary is completely forgotten. Job becomes a
priori a lifelong bandobost or arrangement. It was this same spirit of arrangement

2
This is a story which I experienced: In 1999, I opened a courier where there were 2 cheques totaling INR 42 Lac+
from French Bank in favour of the monoploy where I was working. Enquiries were made as for what service this
money is for but for few weeks, no one seemed to know! Finally we sent the Cheques to HQ, Accounts – the
gateway of last resort!
3
Why time is cheap? After the strategic sale, while the new owners were ‘downsizing’, an employee with 20 years
of experience was told by the Restructuring Manager: Your experience is not 20 years but 1 year X 20 times. My
question: if this is true, then how come in these 20 years, organization did not even know that such stagnation is
occuring?
that in human society’s kings claimed to have divine rights, i.e. rights and privileges
which are as permanent as sun and moon are. The roaring laughter of
revolutions and her excesses had proved how futile that arrangement was.
Consider this: in the period of 1914-1918, after the first Great War, three empires
which were four to five centuries old (Hohenzollern in Germany, Hapsburg in
Austria, Romanov in Russia) just vanished. Monopolies become hollow with time
and a facade always betrays the moth eaten hollowness within.

2. Six years: Observations and Reflections

Employee of a monopoly in general becomes most virulent special interest


group. They see their interest first, foremost and only one. The monopoly where I
used to work was hinted to be privatized by 20014. One quite senior officer told
me that they (the officers association) would go to Court with a PIL (Public
Interest Litigation). I asked as what interest public would have in this? There was
no reply as such – it was purely a special interest lobbying.

In India, any Government organization was designed by the erstwhile


Colonial Powers. The rules and regulation were always prohibitive rather than
indicative. British Rulers since Warren Hastings had a low opinion as regards to
the ethical and moral standard of the native Indian people. As the empire grew, it
became necessary to recruit employees from the native and the bias remained. As
the brown sahibs took the rein of the nation after independence, within two
generations, the brown sahibs became more biased than their British role-models
as far as trusting their sub-ordinates.

It would need some examples to prove that I am simply not talking about
some theoretical issues.

Incident 1: In 1990s, while officers of the monopoly went abroad for


training or some meeting, they were given USD 300 per day allowance. Out of this
the organization assumed that the officers would stay in a hotel with USD 150 per

4
This company was eventually sold to the Tata Group in 2002 and it was called strategic sale.
diem5 as befitting as that of an officer of a sovereign country. Reports started
pouring in from those who stayed in USD 30 per day that some are sleeping in the
city-parks of the Western cities.6

One of the reasons was of course our very strict and strange foreign
exchange rules as well as socialistic structure of the economy. But in individual
level, this cannot be so easily explained except for the fact that Indians in general
have a very great hankering for money in spite of our very consistent
advertisement everywhere for our ‘spirituality’ and ‘other-worldliness’.

The Chairman brought in the regulation that now onwards, hotel would be
directly booked and paid and only USD 150 will be given. The result: another layer
of one of the most formidable, most impenetrable structures known to organized
mankind: The Great Indian clerkdom.

Incident 2: Monopoly hates competition and that is the reason why


Communists, Dictators, Mega Corporations hate the other or the others. In
Monopoly, to bag a high-value order might depend on the very fancy of the
Chairman’s wife or even his dog. Indians in general have high historical experience
in dealing with such exigencies.

There was one Dr. B in the organization. He shot to organizational hierarchy


faster than any greatest inventor in history because while the Chairman was sick
and in the hospital, Dr. B never left his bedside for 72 hours. Intelligent Indians,
through the ages have understood that a Caesar is vulnerable to the honey tipped
arrows of flattery and sycophancy.7 It should not be understood that only Indians
have this trait. This is a universal human trait. What is surprising in India is

5
This was the exact Latin word in the Order. Those who are of the opinion that people change easily, kindly note
this.
6
Most visited were Anglo-Saxon capital and major cities – in Europe and USA and Japan.
7
I can recommend for my Bengali reader’s the Life of Muchiram Gur by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to find how the
heirs of Roman Caesars in India – The English Governor Generals were not immune to it.
complete silence about it in public by its greatest practitioners and whining in
private in semi-expressed form.

Incident 3: Monopolies are great decorators. That is the reason why very
astute observers sometimes miss the disconnect and hollowness just beyond the
veneer. An efficient bureaucracy generates huge paperwork (or email). Talking
about work is more than work. Present Large Corporations suffer from this as
well: the Talk-Act Gap. MBAs are mastering this art of previous Indian
Babus.
I had seen, in my own eyes and in golden year : A letter acknowledging
some receipt was drafted six times by the Head and the debate was whether ‘Best
regards’ or ‘Yours faithfully’ was proper to show either faithfulness or conveying
regards. It was a horror show for the witness not experienced enough to
appreciate the beauty of such drama of non-sense!

I am one of the beneficiaries of monopoly and it would be treason for me


to launch only a savage attack, without acknowledging my gratitude. Monopoly,
in happy circumstances provides leisure – the most sublime treasure for thinking
men. Monopoly provides that stability to plan things for years or decades ahead.
Monopoly provides mis-fits like me the great opportunity to remain un-detected
and hence un-acted upon.

3. The Business Learning

There were many experiences but learning about business was zero. Since
survival was ensured, there was no learning that stays with you. There were
neither great exhilarating moments nor abyss of frustration. The work life was a
dull, passing-on – dotted with some events – distant and by definition having little
repercussions in terms of relieving or amplifying the dull ache.

We understood that our salaries were coming to the ATM by some black-
box operation and in time, 72 months, I even forgot that salary is not a right or
entitlement. One of the Heads used to have a weekly meeting with his
overstaffed office and that meeting was so beautifully named: Salary Justification
Meeting!

4. A digression on Contemporary American situation


It appears that American Government is monopolizing many areas of
business – automobiles, banking, and real-estate. Many other sectors may be in
the way.

If this process really goes accelerated, American public would have to get
precedent and that precedent is there, open – a treasure trove of knowledge,
wisdom, anecdotes and commentators : in the geography where their greatest
out-source partners have perfected the art for centuries.
Chapter 3: Absent Minded Footfall
1. The Wandering
Nobody with full senses fall into a well. The person may be a philosopher, a
fool, a blind person or someone pushing him into the pit. In my case, first two
factors seem to have worked in almost equal proportion.

In 2002, the monopoly was really sold and I became a private sector
employee and lost my GoI-employee status. I was in my late twenties and search
for a partner in life was more important for me to explore than to know what
strategic partner GoI had chosen for the ‘strategic marriage’. But within a year, I
found out that from the school of absenteeism of monopoly, I was being pushed
into the sordid mediocrity of an Indian corporate. It was also the time, Indian
private sector was booming and for the first time, some optimistic Indian told that
the millennium would be millennium mirabilis for India. So be it.

What was more terrible to bear was the onslaught of the MBA-hordes who
pounced on the Monopoly with a feeling mixed of sneer and respect together. I
witnessed in front of my eye what is called in MBA circles as cultural-fit. The new
owners were no less experienced in dealing with the Indian Government (unlike
British were with the Indian Nabobs) but Indian Government was also changing in
many aspects.

I deployed all the stealth techniques but as more and more people were
laid off and some old timers left, it was becoming increasingly difficult to evade
detection. I have repeatedly found that if one follows one’s gross, naked survival
instinct and become unwavering into the path that would prove to be the best
strategy in the long, short, immediate run.

I did. I had decided that I would have to learn the business detectors and
their detection techniques quickly and at a low cost to outwit detection and find
my own niche. Our time declared that such techniques are to be learnt in a course
called MBA and hence MBA was decided. But where? The wandering started.
2. The MBA Journey :
I did my research and cost dictated that it was better if it could be done in
India. I met some MBA students in our Tier 1(IIM/XLRI) and Tier 2 (IIT/Bajaj/SN
Pai) institutes and my research could be summarized in the following two Lemmas
which due to intense self-love, I would call as Wordsmith’s Theorem on
Indian Management Education8 :
Lemma 1: MBA is a survival kit and not something of pleasure. Hence, you will be
trained to become a Serf who will wait for this Masters at the end: The Campus
Recruiters.

Lemma 2: It will be assumed that as an Indian, you will be able to transmute and
transform seamlessly all the knowledge and perspective into Indian situation. The
fountain head lies in other geographies and your achievement is to move yourself
there. Hence you need not lose heart if you find complete disconnect between
what you are taught and trained and what you find in the local geography.

Since I neither wanted to be Serf now or some Slave-driver later and time
was running away – I was 28+, married and time was important.

My research made me understand that MBA’s in The British Isles was one
year in duration and so let it be Albion’s distant shore. Then came the sterling
issue of managing the pound sterling which was Rs 82 at that time of exchange.
[2004]

I also reasoned that MBA-hordes, in terms of supply would soon resemble


as ubiquitous and replicable as babus, digital clerks (software/IT engineers) in the
economy. If the economy cannot absorb them as rapidly they are coming out
from our bania-powered private schools, situation will be dire indeed. Hence I
settled for a specialization in telecom-business management.

8
In order to assure our readers that this is not simple light-heartedness, me and a very erudite ex-colleague of
mine are authoring a treatise called: Codex Management Indicorum: A semi-occult practice called Management in
India.
Fortunately for me, a British scholarship called Chevening Scholarship made
the financial cost zero and I was off to Scotland9 to fulfil the part of my actual
dream : to survive detection.

3. The Footfall
The corporate where I was working – somehow understood my intention
and they launched a great dilatory technique in terms of allowing or not allowing
me to leave as Gladstone, the English premier once told: our hands are forced to
sign this. My hand was forced and I had to sign my resignation to make sure that I
may at least enjoy the Scottish products – solid and liquid without being irritated
by these bureaucratic quadrupeds.

My intention at this stage was to complete the course, come back to India
and then, fortified with the knowledge, spend some more time in some unknown
shade for few years. I had a son of few months old that time and what was
bothering me was this fact that the family needed to stay together as well.

Now, I come to the most interesting and chance driven affair of this part.
During my monopoly days and continuing to the corporate mediocrity time, I used
to write essays in some of my sites hosted by me10 (which are called b-log now)
and that somehow caught the attention of some researcher in UK.11 What was my
own survival strategy to pass time, or convincing myself of working and also a
mental catharsis proved to have high economic value.

I was not having any job and heading a family and that too in pound-land
where I was pounded heavily by the exchange rate which shot to INR 85 for a
pound. The load was heavy and future uncertain. I became, quite suddenly and
absent-mindedly: from the manager of a quite mediocre corporation to a cross-
cultural consultant and freelance writer in a land where wage was paid in the

9
I had detailed this part here at http://personal.vsnl.com/calcutta/bengal11.htm
10
www.syhlleti.org, An Intimate History of Bengal
11
Please see www.wordsmithcommunication.com About Us on this for more detail.
same pound sterling. I grabbed it with my both hands and started to survive day
by day.

In the day, I learnt how to outwit my MBA-enabled-detectors in the


business school and in night and afternoon, fortified by genuine Scottish Water of
Life, I looked for freelance work. The work came. Keeping my wife and six month
old son in Merchant’s Square Flat in freezing Glasgow, I started my mercantile
activity and travelled across the Isles. A librarian in Oxford’s Bodleian entertained
me12, grandson of an ex-colonist near Oxford13 fed me and his wife’s care
reminded me a sloka of Chandi and such criss-crossing.

While I was graduating in an unusually sunny Glasgow morning in January


of 2006, I found that I had to check with my clients whether I would make my
time for the ceremony.

Six months later, while I boarded a BA flight from Heathrow to Calcutta –


alone, I was thinking mostly about my clients and their concerns and how I would
solve them.

In July 2006, the seed that was once sown in my mind in Central Indian
Ocean14 came to fruition after crossing many oceans and mountains. This story
will be told in the next chapter.

12
Please see this even here in AIHB http://personal.vsnl.com/syhlleti/aihbpreface.htm
13
Please see in AIHB http://personal.vsnl.com/syhlleti/aihbpreface.htm
14
The Unknown Mariner – This Voyage is described here http://personal.vsnl.com/syhlleti/voyage2.htm
Chapter 4: The first year in the Pit
1. Flashback : 1999 and the Crisis in the Deck
My readers might have got the message by now: I did not enter business
with full consciousness. I wanted to continue my monopoly comfort (which is the
right of every organism since Jurassic period) and ensure survival for me and my
family (a mammalian trait rather than the reptilian). However things took turn
quite differently. But destiny, being inscrutable is not completely random. It gives
us signals – faint perhaps, but it gives. My entry into business had a glimpse and
that was in a dark and clouded night while I was in the deck of a French Cable-
Ship CS Vercors in Central Indian Ocean.

In 1999, GoI decided to invest in the undersea optical fibre cable. These
cables are laid by a special kind of a ship called Cable Ship whose deep belly
contains the cables in drums and the ship moves very slowly and the cable is laid
over the deep ocean, the route of which was pre-mapped. My duty (a duty I
voluntarily took) was to be GoI representative on-board a ship that would lay the
cable from Cochin to Singapore, passing the infamous Straits of Malacca (Pirates).
CS Vercors was a France Telecom Ship and crew were all French. Brighter news
was this: It was stuffed with French cook, cuisine and wines. Since I was a
representative of the client, my treatment was bound to be a la royale.

The greatest threat in such projects is break of cables by deep-sea fishing


lines or even from small troller nets. One night, I was awakened by some
commotion and came to the bridge to find that there was some fishing vessel
away and they are not moving. The ship was standstill and the vessel lied just
across the cable route. Announcement was made but no response. The Captain
asked me whether I can speak in some Indian Language over the mike. I spoke in
Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali but no change. Then I spoke in broken Tamil and lo,
there was a light and the vessel moved. I was a hero. As we passed near, I
translated to the crew that they were from Sri Lanka and they were sleeping on
anchor.
Later in the day, I discussed with the Captain and asked him whether it
would not be better if they had pre-recorded announcements in many languages
and could play whenever such eventuality appears. He said there was none of
that sort in the US 250 million worth ship. Using Intelsat phones and Internet, I
handed the Captain audio announcements in some 15 Indian and Far East
Languages on those basic warning messages. The effect was electrifying. So much
so that a small cocktail party was organized in my honour where I only said: Vive
La France’. Later I had met the Captain in Paris and he still remembered that
incident with relish.

This incident with pleasant ending sowed inside me the seed of launching a
Language and Cross Cultural Agency which was named as Wordsmith
Communication in 2006 – after some seven years.

2. The First Year : 2006-2007

The core nature of my business was to identify clients across the globe and
then establish a supply chain to serve their requirements. Their core
requirements were transformation of oral, written, video from one language to
multiple languages and cultures. My value-add was to find best quality-cost
supply chain (linguists and cross cultural consultants) Quality Assurance, Project
Management, Co-ordination and Post delivery support.15 During first year, I had
no financial power to recruit anyone. Hence I was doing all of them, including
translation (in Bengali and Sylheti) as well as all other functions – including that of
peon : posting letters and dropping cheques. My wife summarized the whole in a
neat Bengali idiom: я "i  n$% ।16

At that stage, I also felt that relationship with clients is everything in my


business. Yes, it is everything. If you know a person pretty well, email from
him/her is important, if not, even if it’s the greatest business interest email, it is
most likely a spam. That begs the question: How would a client know you? There
15
If some dissatisfied soul needs to dig deeper, please see this small essay by me on this theme
http://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/article104.htm
16
This is actually untranslatable: Literally: From stitching of shoes to reading scriptures.
are many ways to make that happen. I chose the most real problem of mine to
differentiate myself: My poverty or more euphemistically my lack of financial
resources. This provided me the added advantage of speaking on my greatest
power with greatest clarity: You don’t need elocution training or to be
concentrated to understand that you are in danger while you approach
bankruptcy!

Providence also helped me. My Provident Fund and Gratuity came in too
gratuitous a moment and I had established myself in a small 2-room flat in one of
the impoverished quarters (then in 2006) of the city with one luxury which many
posh locales don’t have: with a huge, natural, water-green pond in the rear side of
my flat. In the morning, as I open my window, I can see the sparkle of sunlight in
the feathers of a meditating kingfisher. It was also the time while I was firmly
convinced of the theory that debt – home debt especially enslaves you. With flat
purchased in cash to the last penny and all settled, I had run out of cash and for
few weeks – of all enthusiasm as well.

3. The Temptation and Stroke of Luck :


At this stage, I had to pay my suppliers and being very new, I had little
bargaining power over my clients to ask for money either before the due date or
as an advance. I had no internal fund. It was very very scary.

Then I thought of searching for jobs – with a heavy heart and after few
interviews, I was convinced that I had been changed by the experience of
previous 18 months. I was advised by some of my close friends also to re-think my
decision.

Suddenly, my business school in Scotland asked me whether I would be


able to come to London for the annual meet and they were also sending 500
pounds as travel expenses. It was a gift of God. This time, I attended Conference
less but met my clients more. I was possessed as if by a demon and never in my
life, I was so stark, so clear and cold in explaining my situation to them. One of my
clients understood my dilemma: If I need to stay in business, I need funds. With a
business few months old, no bank would give me fund17. The client gave me an
advance with this sentence, a sentence which should be bound in gold and
displayed in all business schools: You see Mr. Wordsmith, I am not doing you any
favour. If you succeed, I succeed. I am investing on my success and I know my
investment is safe.

This angel of a lady, fifty years old and survivor of thirty years in business
was right. We worked now not to succeed but to make her success an absolute
certainty. We both succeeded. I never felt even a billionth of this joy in my whole
ten year career while I worked for some so-called great brands.

By the end of 2006, I was in a position to recruit at least a single full timer.
It was done and that gave me the idea of reverse franchisee. This I will
explain in the next chapter.

This one year taught me few Life-Skills. By life-skills, I mean those skills; you
carry always with you, like your breath or digestive fire – in all situations unlike
your certificates and resume which are dead ambers. I would try to serialize
them:

1. Don’t be shy. The best banker you have is your customers and suppliers.
They have a stake on you because if you succeed, they succeed.

2. Please understand that banks are not interested whether you succeed.
They are just interested whether you’re complete and total failure still
covers their risk on interest payment. This attitude is fundamental and is
more applicable for small borrowing. I remember an adage, if you borrow
one hundred thousand from a bank, you are fucked. If you borrow 1 billion
from the bank, the bank is fucked. Moreover, there are many businesses in
the line for that fund from the bank. They can afford to be very choosy. You
cannot.

17
I tried this as well but with no success and there was a bitter taste of humiliation
3. Don’t be in debt if you are interested to start a business with no
fund. Debt will enslave you – literally and you have to borrow the peace of
everyday. Remember that sun shines every day, birds sing and they are
looking at you while you work in peace and with an honest resolution. Debt
clutters that.

4. Work for your clients and customers, suppliers, employees. You are not
working for your success, but that of your customers. The more you think
of them the universe will think of you.

5. Be brutally honest and ethical. Be absolutely vocal and clear that you don’t
have much money or resources but you have pledged that you would
succeed. How? You don’t know even. Ask the passing wind, ask the stars.

6. In India, such a decision may tend to create huge unrest among


your family and social circles. At times of weakness, remember
that as a leader and architect of a new thing, you belong to whole
humanity.
7. Please understand that there is only a wall of time between you and your
success or failure. You are here to climb this wall of time. Rest are all
diversions.

8. While there is real trouble of money, don’t talk about it. This silence will
activate cosmic forces and if your resolution is sincere and strong, the
cosmic connection will happen. You will be breathless to see this happen.
You will be simply awe-struck. This is the most sacred cosmic law18. Respect
that Law. Ancient called this deep silence as prayer.

9. Observe the small businesses around: the small tea-shop, small roadside
shop selling provisions. Observe closely the freelance shoe-polishwallahs,
the ice-cream vendors, and the hawkers in the street and trains. If you
observe with respect and patience, you will see those survival instincts
18
The Gita - anan
which your career-oriented professors in business schools never knew nor
communicated to you. You will suddenly find that you are part of a great
community. You will be empowered19.

10.This is particularly for Bengali origin readers and is quote from one of the
greatest un-Bengali of Bengali origin: "  d t я   । No great
work is ever achieved through petty tricks – Swami Vivekananda.

19
You can read this where I found my business mentor in a panwallah in my neighbourhood
Chapter 5: Light at the end of Tunnel – 2007-2008
1. The Indian Tunnel Effect
Physicists know of certain behaviour of sub-atomic particles in a
semiconductor where after a critical level of barrier becomes insurmountable,
the particles tunnel through in a rush, changing the intrinsic property of the
semiconductor into a conductor. This is called tunnel effect and is the heart of all
microwave devices.

In Indian context, for any enterprise, a tunnel effect is encountered. The


barriers are so insurmountable for any enterprise (means – to create, to develop,
to explore, to give birth to, to build) of value that a time or other tunnelling is
needed.

Historically: the best tunnelling effect for Indians seemed to be the


Western World or more importantly – the Anglo Saxon world. From Raja
Rammohan Roy [1774-1833] to Mr. Narayan Murthy [1940 -], the common issue
is their partnership with West, be it in the issue of social reform or about
information technology.

I had to search for my own tunnelling effect in surviving in


business. My tunnelling effect proved to be the Anglo-Saxon world and
the medium called Internet.
Even though the West today is passing through crisis – not only economic
but civilizational, but it is still the place where a man is respected only because
he or she is a person. In India, we have only deification or ignorization. In this
land of extreme, there is seldom any balanced ground. That is one of the reasons
why Indian who went to study engineering in Australia prefer to be a taxi-driver
in Sydney rather than be a white-collar worker in Gurgaon. That is also at the
core of the Indian preference for Anglo-Saxon world rather than other
geographies, some offering better in terms of opportunities.
As a descendant of the ancient Hindu, I claim my same inheritance into the
Indo-European culture and cannot forget my debt to that Civilization. I go on
record here that no Indian, who does not consider West or other lands as an
expanded motherland would be able to contribute anything truly substantial. I
would also caution my readers that there does not exist anything called purely
indigenous or Indian or desi - unless you prefer to live in the deep jungles of
Andaman, you have to pay your civilizational debt.

2. Building Team – Reverse Franchisee Model and Indian Advantage

By the end of 2007, it was clear that market was taking notice of us and we
bagged few top brands in our client list. This also forced upon me the decision of
building a regular team of in-house translators and cross-cultural consultants. I
would narrate this process in terms of small anecdotes to make this process less
academic and dry:

My first call as a recruiter: Since I was till under the MBA-conditioning, I called up
an MBA to assist me in building my team. Even before listening to what I need,
the person started a barrage of words – symbiotic, best-fit, optimization,
strategic, leverage and so on... I kept the phone down on speaker and the speech
was text to speech conversion of some common trash that goes under the name
of management process. The Argumentative Indian would do him a
great service if he listens well.
Discovery of my team in North East: I have my ancestral house in one of small
towns of North East India – a region considered under-developed in the halls of
Delhi and other corridors of power in India. I went to a cybercafé for my work in
the town and met the owner: a 20+ young man. He listened intently what I said
and within 15 mts, solved my problem. He printed a small advert in an A4 paper
and pasted in the most visible part of the cafe. The advert read: Need good
Bengali / Sylheti translators from English. Typing ability in MS-word essential.
Apply at wordsmith.bengal@gmail.com. Arijit Sinha alias Vicky is our IT-head now
and me and all my team members are indebted to him for making our life smooth
and peaceful.
Our First Laptop: It was soon felt that we need laptops with GPRS (broadband in
that region was still not available). I had asked my team members to make sure
that we get best product and support as well as cost. They have to decide. The
team worked in such a manner that we had got two laptops instead of one in the
same price. Once, in order to get better reception of signal, a team member put
the mobile in the top of a tree and made an indigenous way of connecting to USB
port. The method worked.

The Client Call from + 44 prefix: One of our clients, a leading law firm in Lincolns
Inn, London had once called me, thanking for completion of a project. I requested
him to call my team member in North East as a favour and explained him as why
this call would inspire the young man. The client did. The young team member
was called first time in his life from someone in London and was thanked for his
work. It was something he would remember. A single call for someone but it can
be perspective changing for someone.

The Wordsmith advert to impress the potential mother-in-law: One of our early
well-wishers, an LIC agent by profession and a romantic by nature approached me
as whether Wordsmith can help him in his knotty problem of impressing the
mother-in-law. The problem was this : the young lady has agreed but since he did
not have a naukri of formal kind, mother-in-law was hesitant. The problem was
put to the team and I pledged to assist them in their solution. The solution: give a
full blown advert in the local newspaper (which is subscribed by mother-in-law)
and ask the readers to contact Head-Customer Service, North East, Wordsmith
Communication with name and phone number and even his nick in bracket to
leave no confusion. The cost was shared by Head-Customer Service and
Wordsmith. The idea was a runaway hit. The mother-in-law even called me to
know whether this is correct and was very much happy that this young man of
promise has at least got a job in a decent company. They would get married in
2010 and the bride with English major would soon be a member in Wordsmith
family.

Our first overseas deputation: One of our key clients, a top telecom brand of the
globe had a localization project with us and the project needed someone to meet
the client team in Singapore and work there. In one memorable day, our whole
team sent him off to an Eastward flight and with it went all our team’s hope and
prayer. To the young team, it was an event that we had come of age.

Bandwidth Redefined: Once it so happened that the key specialist was in a town
56 km from another town with better broadband facility. There was a Samsung
Project which needed some 1 GB of data to be uploaded and the internet
connection in the remote town was poor and transfer rate was 1.33 Kb / per sec.
We needed to send this within 3 hours and with that transfer; it would take years
and tears in our eyes. WC-K Project Manager hit upon an idea and that was
nothing but redefinition of bandwidth. There was a flight going to Calcutta from a
town 50 km away in next 1 hour. He went to the airport, searched for some
familiar face in the driveway bound for Calcutta. He found one, handed him the
DVD (with one USB drive as a back-up) and instructed me by a sms. I had sent one
of my team members in Calcutta to be in the airport, collect the DVD and in order
to save time, be in the cybercafé there and transfer to the client. The file reached
client by FTP with one hour to go before the deadline. Bandwidth: 1 GB / 2 hours
= 0.13 Mb / per sec

Brand Name Evaluation and Local Pharmacy: We had project from a client who
provides brand name evaluation across global markets for very large pharma
companies. Once they sent us a list of possible names for a new product they
were launching in Eastern Indian market. The idea was to know whether these
names of the product have got any negative connotation in local language /
culture, easy to spell, having any brand-recall for existing product in the market. It
was an interesting but tough job. I was pondering on this and our romantic LIC
agent entered. I explained him the situation. We first went to a Doctor. He
advised us to check with Indian Drug Distributors directory. My companion
became impatient. Suddenly, he pulled me and we went to one of the large
pharmacies of the town and here was the dialogue with the man in the counter:

Q. Hello, you see I need to purchase some 20 – 25 medicines. I have the list with
me. Can you check whether they are there ?

A. Yes, sure.
Q. Ok. Let me see. (pulls out the printed email having those names)

Q. Reads slowly each one.... Kelper, Atriol, Porpit, Glosysxx..

A. No.... No... Yes, Kevlar is there

Q. What is that medicine for? Which company makes it..

Within 15 minutes, we not only have the information whether any drug by that
name exists in the market but all drugs with manufactures and popularity which
have slightest phonetic similarity with the list client had sent us. We sent the
report to the client with detailed, spot-on and market-tested information. It
costed us a tea for the counter man and a small present for his time and effort.
We made US$ 500 on this.

From these anecdotes, readers can understand that we found that our team was
growing and we were enjoying. But our operational scale was increasing and we
needed to ramp up urgently. That made us to invent the Reverse Franchisee
Model for our Operational Team.

3. Reverse Franchisee Model : Start and Implementation

Reverse Franchisee Model was inspired by two constraints of ours. We


needed to grow, get excellent people but we had no finance to recruit full-timers.
Moreover, it would ruin us, if we have a bench system but we needed to do
something. And quickly.

I reasoned like this, remembering very bitter experience of asking loan from
banks previously. Suppose you go to a bank with an intention to borrow INR 1 Lac.
Consider, you are in the lobby sitting with a gentleman who has come to borrow
INR 2 crore. Now for the second gentleman, the amount which for you is of
Capital status (i.e. 1 Lac) is of some operational expense status. If he would have
known and got convinced that you could give him a RoI of 25% (which you can
because you have pledged to succeed and you have nowhere to hide – under
stock market or under restructuring or other bureau-mediocrity exercises), you
don’t need to see the Bank Manager. He would write the cheque of 1 Lac then
and there.

With this thought-experiment, we decided to be that intelligent and


success-oriented gentleman for small teams of people. All wordsmith members
became Recruiters. All wordsmith members starting from Founder to most recent
recruit became talent-spotters – online and offline. It was a great missionary
enterprise. Convince, Convert and Convert further.

Within 3 months, we integrated 2-5 member teams, based in a single


location and made 30 such teams. We gave them free training
(Linguistic/Cultural/IT/Basic Project Management), a seed fund to procure
hardware and network devices and for paying running cost. Then we gave the
team projects and work. We decided that these working tools will be an interest
free loan for 2 years so that they should concentrate more on their work, rather
than how to repay the loan. The method worked.

As for the HR policy of the team, we had a simple rule. Every team has a
Project Manager who is the SPOC for the team. If a single member finds the PM
not up to his satisfaction and this is made in writing, the PM would step down and
within next 15 minutes, the team members need to make a new PM from their
midst. If there is no consensus reached within next 15 minutes, the previous PM
stays. Because the client project cannot suffer for our disagreements. For last 20
months, no such incident happened.

Every week, we have an online chat with all members and we all know each
other. The most recent recruit has access to me or all other team members and
can anytime contact us. This I think is important because for many organizations
the top decision makers (considering some true leaders in them rather than mere
careerists) reside in some Mount Olympus with necessary inaccessibility and the
person who joins at the bottom sometimes only find some promoted slave-
drivers in the immediate vicinity.

In my career as an employee, I came to the conclusion that the unhappy,


more mediocre and more slothful an organization is, more are meetings and
phone calls. We decided that one should call anyone if it’s really urgent and only
voice communication can convey the message. For everything, a short sms –
please see your email or the issue will do. Why this extreme step? Because
Wordsmith Members work from anywhere and hence their time-privacy needs to
be respected.

From 2007 end till today, we have found that the Reverse Franchisee
Model is working well and growth (from 20 to 1000+ today) has not put strain on
us. We could still work from anywhere, we could still use our time the way we
wish and we could refuse a project just because it does not fit into our core
working philosophy.

Limited financial Autonomy is provided to each PM/team. I had observed in


monopoly as how millions are spent to protect hundreds. I had also seen that in
the name of financial approval and as such, growth of the organization gets
stunted. A brilliant engineer seeking few thousands to innovate / experiment is
thwarted by those so called custodians of finance. Accountants rule companies
with an imperial air. It was made clear to all PM that they can spend INR 20,000
without asking anyone – they just need to send a line to the accountant and the
money will be there. Surprise, surprise! We always find that PM/members always
talk with everyone before exercising that right. They need not but they do
because they know that they are empowered: the accountant cannot quiz him.
And for our type of operation, the amount is quite OK to back up any spot
decision financially.

4. The Indian Advantage of Reverse Franchisee Model

Returning back to the tunnelling effect in Indian context, the success of


Reverse Franchisee Model was pre-ordained. I would try to summarize them
below and this I do as an authority of working, living and surviving in India for last
ten years. And that authority cannot be substituted by living and working in Ivy
League Universities and the knowledge gained thereof.

1. The One Billion Funnel: Indians are extremely obsessive about success.
They are fascinated by best (school), largest (salary), biggest (house or
office), highest (company position) and being a relatively static society,
this status remains quite longer. For example, if someone from
India wins a Nobel Prize, his future life as a Deity is almost
guaranteed. Example: Indians watch cricket with a perfervid passion –
but only the highest level of cricket. They don’t even show one millionth
interests in state or local cricket matches. Conclusion: to get noticed
in India, you need to make your way through the 1 billion
funnel.
Hence, an Indian is bound to be born with a sense of threat, a
monstrous challenge of fighting more than three times the number of
gods in one of the most crowded proverbial gods in Hindu pantheon:
Thirty Three Million.

If you can just reach those Indians who are success ready and
remove the threat of the funnel (IIT? IIM? CAT passed? JEE
rank?), you have a giant as your partner.
2. Symbolic Attachment of Indians to differentiate: Indians prove the
maxim that symbols rule our lives to a large extent. In reverse
Franchisee Model, laptop, company paid phone, international client calls
all carry very high symbolic value. In themselves, these may not be very
valuable in but in Indian context, they are social de-limiter.

In a crowd of 1 billion, the most sought after need is the


need to differentiate.
3. Intuition vs. Process: In general and please note that I am stressing on
the word general, Indians are predominantly intuitive. Hence all quality
process, from Japanese kaizan to Six Sigma and other finally did what it
was primarily designed for: to earn considerable riskless revenue for
hordes of consultants. What is seldom understood is this: Indians are
neither Japanese, nor German, nor Swiss.
Without the social environment of loose affiliation, social bonding,
personification (we give our cars and buses names of proper noun),
Indians deliver second rate products and services and later become
counter-feit. Indian ingenuity shines best while we have a great leader
and an autonomy based process. Think of Laagan the Movie!

4. The Need Hierarchy: The ravenous greed of Contemporary mega


Corporation can no longer be masked by cosmetic veneer. Indians,
although no less interested in money-making have a natural aversion
towards naked greed and aggressive money-making attitude. This has
given us a wonderful moral situation of No-Ask-No-Tell society.

Indian young men and women in their mid 20s have tasted what is to be
in a free-consumer choice society and initial euphoria being over and
many downturns and crisis past, there is a genuine search among the
refined ones of balancing work, family, social milieu and especially : the
worth of the social status. Is it really worth to live in a garage like
dormitory in Bangalore and working in an MNC or it is better to live in
the Shillong villa (one’s home) and work for an organization like
Wordsmith over Internet?

A small section is asking – a still further segment is acting and another


fraction is with us – enriching us and enjoying their time.

In the next Chapter, I again become the narrator as well as participant of


the phase which can be called as the phase of greatest risk: The
Phase of Early Complacence.
For that, it will be described as how we passed from the phase of day to
day survival economically but a further danger lied ahead. As we were
preparing for this, came the Recession (or Depression) and what were
considered options / choices became imperatives.

The next Chapter tells that tragic but heroic-battle story which is still
waged and fate undecided.
Chapter 6: The Depression: within and without: 2008 –
2009
1. The Time Surplus of a CEO
Karl Marx, aside from his other achievements was one of the most
observant students and perhaps the greatest one of the economic order which is
called Capitalism. One of the core concepts he introduced was surplus value of
labour which very roughly can be stated like this as an example: An IT engineer (a
labour in our software factories) gives 14-16 hours within 24 hour sidereal day
and gets a wage. Now, the engineer has no way of knowing where, how, how
many times his labour will be sold, re-sold and re-cycled. His labour perishes as
soon as it is delivered and the decision-makers decide the pricing, re-cycling and
all other aspect of it. They have this power firstly because of the initial capital
they have ‘invested’ and secondly for bearing the ‘market risk’ in running the
factory with gym, AC, power and other ‘prestige’ amenities.

In the assembly age production, time surplus was measured in terms of


assembly hours. In our times, it is not so easy and straightforward. Hence CEOs
have something very important resource at their disposal: time surplus.

In 2006-2007, I was CEO-to-peon and was an assembly line worker myself:


translating, reviewing, proofing, writing reports, customer support, and finance.
Later, many such functions were delegated one by one after proper training and
some trial and error. By early 2008, I found myself rewarded with surplus time.

We as a company had no external debt and we took massive loans from our
customers and suppliers as explained in previous chapter. No debt meant we
were enjoying poverty laced freedom and an attitude of positive snobbery. We
ploughed profit back into the organization with a percentage kept for a rainy day.

I made it a point that every team member needs to experiment with an


idea  project  implementation in its full cycle and a small sum was added for
this. Everyone was supposed to be a student as well as a teacher. Such ideas
made us finalize on few new areas where it appeared that we could explore
opportunities.

2. The Circuit of Threat : Gradual may mean overnight

Every person who has worked in present corporations has the


experience of hearing words like continuous improvement, gradual
development and so on. Ironically, in many cases these words and
resulting exercises are like farts – signalling core process going wrong
and a casue of discomfort for any corporeal being and people around.
By mid 2008, global outlook on business was ominous.20 Anglo-Saxon world
was definitely undergoing recession of worst category, if not a depression far
deeper than that of 1929. We started some thinking where we asked very
uncomforatble questions and tried to be as sincere and candid in answering
them. Here is a summary of that exercise which precipiated into some decsion,
followed by implementation plan and some implementation.

Excersise 1: Extinction by overnight

We started with a thought-experiment again. Consider this fact: We provide a


service where people anywhere logged in can have the online/offline status of
people they are interested to know. Suppose we are doing well in the business
and we are getting steady revenue. Now imagine, tonight, at around 2100 hours
India time, we sleep to see another day. Imagine, at the same time yahoo and
google announce the feature which is standard now: the online status pane at
the left. Within next 10 hours, before the sun shines in Japan, there will be
millions of users of these services in other hemisphere. And within the day of the
next closes, this single event has crushed many verticals, many business models,
and many supply-chains and without any whimper... Our unfortunate business
has gone, if not completely, but quite substantially.

20
I have tried to tell what I was feeling in my successive editorial of this period in www.pentasect.com
Lesson 1: Gradual, Continuous do not exist. There are combinations pf
events which can make things change overnight. Think before you
sleep.
Exercise 2: The Great Indian Hoax: Non-product based busines Leadership

I watched with mortification – since 2000 – forwarding a doctrine that our


IT companies are world-class and deification process was underway in Indian
media.21 It is not my intention to be-little them. As a matter of fact, these
companies gave us an invaluable asset: the confidence that we can compete in
the global market in a certain segment. These companies gave the message to
You are not born simply to become a clerk in the
Indian youth:
socialist bureaucracy. You can do many other things. Indian men
and women heeded to this message.

But after 10 years, we need to ask some pertintent questions:

a. What are the global IT products we have?

b. If we are really so vaunted in IT expertise, why we did not hear anything


called an operating system from an Indian compnay?

c. If in some cataclysm, USD depreciates 80%22, can our IT companies exist? I


think it that happens; my company and Infosys23 both will have something
in common: going extinct.

d. We have no global product in IT space in spite of the fact that our media
and our Anglo-Saxon friends (?) both hailing us of doing the miracle of

21
Infosys, Satyam, Wipro, and HCL: those four players of purely Indian orgin became the blue-eyed boy of market
and mind. One of the devas – Satyam later on proved to be a company which was I-con in the most truthful (satya)
sense of the world.
22
This is not something very unlikely as some commentators in US proclaim.
23
As a comparison, I found you have to multiply an order of million on all basic counts between them, except
number of employees.
becoming a Leader in an arena where we needed a map to show where is
Bangalore24 some two decades back.

Hence I call this as a hoax with and was also party to it.

Lesson 2: We needed a product. A tangible product which has a need in the 1


billion country, which is not dependent on forex caprice and which can be made
by us – best in quality, best in price.

Decision: As a team of wordsmiths, we know best our native languages and a


language called English. We know best what people read in their native language
and English. Finally: we know that it needs very little money to push words
(content) over Internet once we know whom to push (target audience)

Implentation: www.pentasect.com – a bi-lingual (En / Bn) monthly online e-zine


on Contemporay Bengal. Apart from connecting to creative writers, we used our
advnatage in digital rendition of Bengali fonts, translation expertise and design.
Mr. Arijit alias Vicky whom you got introduced earlier became the Head of Digital
Works of this ‘product’. We had been publishing since September 2008 and in a
very narrow sense, it is a unique cultural product in the marketplace in its
segment of rarefied population.

Learning and spin-off: It had been my conviction that one of the major reasons of
individual or corporate misery is the talk-action gap. This had been transformed
into a syndrome by MBA-hordes. The talk-action gap syndrome manifests itself
where projects were discussed and talked about in massive proportion but
followed up with little or no action.25

We started work on pentasect quite immediately, knowing full well that we


have many constraints and lack. But we started. As time went on, this very action

24
I read in Outlook that during the initial days of Infosys, the founders needed to show in a map where Bangalore
is to their clients in Anglo-Saxon world.
25
One writer of Indian origin, while talking this syndrome in context of Independent India called this as The
Nationalized Factory of Words – Nirad C Chaudhuri in The Continent of Circe somwhere in 1960s
proved many of our thought-to-be essentials proved not to be so essential and
many auxiliiaries became more important. The spin-off was Project Showcase.

Project Showcase: In these nine months of interaction with writers/reviewers on


Bengali language, we found out many aspects which were unknown to us. And all
these issues have business ramifications.

a. We found that there are many writers – passionate and talented who want
their work to be read and commented by genuine readers. Established
publishers generally ignore them and those who do sometimes ask them to
be SFO (Self Financing Author).26 Being an SFO needs high courage and
higher purse strength.

b. There are many readers (as well as writers) who want to share their
comments on some work they liked (or disliked)27. Many of these works are
shared value of a community. We felt that a platform of reviewers would fill
that need.

c. We also found that many of our readers make small films / documenatries
as hobby or being driven by passion. Their prime interest is again to
showcase their work.

Implementation: We had started these in Pentasect platform but we are


not able to go as fast as we should be.

26
Those who want to know in detail the dark secret of publishing industry on this, please read The Focoullt’s
Pendulum by Umberto Eco
27
Amazon understood this basic human nature of sharing one’s views, beliefs and perspective without any
slightest incentive – the Review system of amazon. Alas, amazon has little content on books of Indian language
An executive summary:

We came to understand that without a product (and its associated non-perishable


halo), any business is in threat.

We need to pump our profit from services to build a series of products. This
means sacrifice28 but that is the only way to survive and see tommorrow (because
things can vanish overnight).

In order to build a product that is going to look after us, we need to be patient,
direct, hard-working and shedding all hubris and stupidities that are too much
available in our land.

We need to understand that we would be working with many people whom we


might never see in our life.

Business is about engagement and self-examination. Business is about working for


your customer with the belief in the promise that universe will look after us if we
think about our customers.

Survival is excellence.

There is no Royal Road of Business.

Even the greatest of the land may be part of a grand hoax, consciously or
unconsciously.

28
At the height of dot com era, many companies could have purchased many good and established businesses
using their market value. Very few did because the going was good and all tommmorrow was the next hi-value
tommmorrow. Very few companies did that and most of them soon found in front of the bankruptcy judge.
Imagine valuation of Yahoo and General Motors in 2000!
Chapter 7: The Journey Ahead: 2009 and beyond
1. Future is a marvellous vice born of ignorance
There are few words in a dictionary where we find deep silence around.
Future is one such word. Men had dug deeper into past in knowing what future
is. Men have neglected the palpable present to understand that future has in
store. Ignorance is the father of Future. And ignorance about future is a
blessing because that is the motive force behind the wings of history’s angels.

From a deep mooring in present, future actually does not exist. Planning for
the future, in a subtle sense is negation of preparation. Hence, instead of
future, we would like to say the journey ahead. Because journey has no future.
It creates its own future and sometimes there is no future at all. No future is
not non-future.
2. The Anticipated Journey

It is my belief that in our journey ahead, we need to deal with some core
business issues that were not so crtical for our previous generations. I am
summarizing them below. These are not born of intellectual exercises29 but
from experiencing day to day survival:

1. The Increasingly scarce item: Attention is going to be the scarce item more
and more. Since most of the products and services, due to very structure of
the mode of production will resemble more and more alike. Human
attention for human and prducts and services created for human will
become scarce and will become zero. We have reached a continum-
terminus in a way in differentiation. The only way it seems to escape this is
to change the gestalt or way of looking into the problem. In practical terms,

29
For that, one can happily refer to many volumes; eminent scholars produce each year in institutions without
diryting their hands on anything so low as surviving day by day. They continue what I had and still miss –
employment in a monopoly !
future organization’s performance will be measured on the human attention
it is delivering to the customers.

True and sincere attention can come from a deep well within – love and that
too will be too diluted if this is spread over a critical threshold of those
whom attention will be given.

In our journey, we need to learn how to be attentive and how to be


concentrated in that. It means that organizations will be smaller, leaner and
personal.

2. Creativity : the shelter for the lazy, the alibi for the non-creative and non-
existent for who is persevering

Creativity in 99% cases is a result where 0% perseverence


looks into 100% perseverence across years, decades. We consider a
poet creative not only because he is so, but also because, he has given years
together to write those four lines which seem so creative to us at the instant
we read them.

Many lazy and laggards will tell that situation is so non-conducive for
creativity. Many truly non-creative will remain so because they are not so.
But a truly persevering person does not even know it exists... He embodies
it. Please note the difference.

In 1996, while a graduate student, SPICMACAY organized a recital by


Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in my engineering college. After the recital, he asked
whether anyone has any question. I asked: After a recital is over, how do
you evaluate the quality of the performance? He answered: after you have
studied for years and years together and then you finished the exam. How do
you feel just after that? A peace, a silence......a reberberation...

Dont bother to be creative. Find a niche – your swadharma – go on


persevering – give your best – give totally – and then one day, what you will
do as the most routine, most matter of fact work will be called creative by
people. And you will wonder, wonder in disbelief at the world.....
The greatest barrier between creativity and you is the desire to be
creative.

3. Be concentrated on the Self

Please swtich off all your internal switches of spirituality, yoga, New
Age, Illumination, samadhi while your eye reads the word Self. I had to use
this because there is no other word available.

As we move in our journey at this time of historical timeline, we are


going to cross some singular points. Let us fix some immutable entities
about us (and at the bedrock of business)

• Our body (the material organization): There are increasing threats


from external environment: global terror, global warming and
indirectly: global financial crisis or collapse.30

• Our Mind (the etheric organization): Have you observed that our
ether (the imaginary fluid believed to be permating free space – since
the days of ancient philosophers till today) is no longer free now.
Millions of invisible meanings in the form of cellphone, media waves,
TV and as such are filling this ‘ether blob’. This has happened in our
time only.

• Our mind-body complex: Our mind-body complex depends on a


crucial aspect to function: re-cycling of energy. In living beings of
higher organization, this is signified by breath. In lower organisms,
these are photonic energy. In in-animate beings, this is temperature
gradient. There can happen many cataclysmic events – natural or
triggered which can partially or fully inhibit these processes.

In all most all the cases as above, we as an individual have no control


whatsoever. It only leaves two options: ignoring them altogther or

30
These ‘global’ catastrophic situation are all told – I am not saying they would happen but they are probable.
exploring something – some ‘what we are’ component that is beyond
these.

Self is that concept – that supreme consolation or the supreme victory of


us.

In business, it means that in any part of the journey, we should know that
the Journey continues.... even we are not in the journey but some
imperishable part of us remains....This realization will help us to be out of
any moha : where we are prisoned by our own success and refuse to
acknowlege reality.

Many companies became extinct not because of external environment


going hostile but they were blinded by that small-mind: Aham-kar.

This is and is not philosphy – this is the wisdom to grow and learn always.

Our journey ahead needs to balance highest attention on what is at hand


with the highest awareness of what is always beyond us.

Business – mundane or not, is that supreme challenge where we are


given an opprotunity to practice that most sublime Art. Yoga karmashu
kaushlam: The Art of Work is Yoga.

In the next Chapter, which is the final chapter, where as an author and the
narrator would sit on a self-examination and reflection as what has been learnt in
these few years.

In our time, in spite of its all faults, there is an opportunity where you need not be
a Who’s Who to tell your story – at least in Internet.
Chapter 8: What have I learnt (in these 4 years)?
1. The Art of Waiting

I have been waiting for last ten days to write this Chapter. Suddenly, as if in a
flash, I realized that one of the learnings in these years have been initiation
into the Art of Waiting. Patience has been extolled as a great virtue by an age
which had a much lesser pace of Life. But that was perhaps not directed to
the outward aspect of Life. It was about our Mind – the restlessness and the
feverishness and that way we all inherit the same mind.

One of the major causes of business underperformance is lack of patience.


Lack of patience makes one waver from one’s swadharma.

I learnt that patience is not passivity or inaction. Patience is the art where you
mature to the realization that things happen, yes momentous things happen
and you are just a witness and sometimes an instrument. The more patient
you are, the more productive you will be.

I would try now to be patient and let the chatter inside die down.

2. From the world to the eye


In a way, these four years seemed to have given me a new birth. I would like
to set now, not in a very coherent fashion the changes which shaped me and
my view on Life in general most profoundly.

a. I felt that experiences are not substitutable. Your words will carry that
beyond-word force when you have experienced it yourself and
authentically. Implication: Tricks, show-biz, glitz will not sustain for long
and the impact will be lesser. A true and authentic experience will forge its
own language, tone, presentation and techniques.

b. Life of Great Man and Woman can crush you. Many of us respect the
achievers so much that we start losing self-respect. Cultivate a sense of
honest irreverence. In India, we have too much of ‘respect’, ‘humility’, and
many a times these degenerate into servility or ‘unexamined living truths’.
These are great virtues, no doubt but sometimes they become counter-
productive. Cultivate a sense of irreverence. Without this, the greatness –
real or peddled can crush you.

c. If you start some business just for money or power’s sake, you will lose
both. Please understand that money, power, prestige all are far inferior
by-products of what is the most-valuable fruit of the tree of business: Joy
and Wonder. Joy at the understanding as how the world works and
wonder that you are a part of it. Sometimes, you experience such joy,
which is almost suffocating and I think these moments we are very close to
that which is Reality. Many true (as opposed to greatness by media or by
agenda) great men and women of the world, at their ripe age pine for
those early days of struggle and growth. Why? Because where they are
now (famous, successful, and powerful) was only a by-product of what
they sought: joy, boundless joy.

d. Unfortunately, sheep might have advised lions: Many times, environment,


associates, family, and friends, teachers opinions might have instilled fear
in you. You might have given too much value to their opinion. When you
are torn apart by these overwhelming evidences and reproofs vis-a-vis a
great push from inside to plunge, remember: You might have been a lion
forsaken at birth among a group of sheep.

e. Beyond Core Competence: swadharma: This Sanskrit word s-)* literally


means: Nature of the Self. If you are interested to start a business and pass
through all its visicctudes, your inner nature should sanction it. If you are
interested in publishing books and enjoy this but change over and go to
Financial Engineering just because SENSEX has gone 20,000+, you will be
having a rude awakening later. Did you consider why many powerful
organizations– in terms of all parameters fail in their diversification
ventures, in pursuing other lines of business?
Deviation from swadharma needs to be monitored. Only a deep well of joy
inside can keep you in swadharma, from many temptations – grand or
petty.

f. You will see further if you are the shoulder of giants: As you move in
business, you will need to build teams and here comes another test. Please
understand that if you bring pygmies, then they in turn will bring their
tribe and soon you cannot see what a normal person can see. You will be
below average. If you bring giants, they would bring their tribe and you
would be above average.

While selecting your team, your parameter is not only comfort. You need
to bring people who also challenge you. One of the reasons of the collapse
of giant companies and even empires is this slow medicretization followed
by failure to anticipate the changing environment.

g. Respect Truth more than your dearest hobby or love or illusion: Never
start a business just because you find that exotic or you like this or such
‘feeling’ based thing. As I told earlier, starting a business is one of the most
transparent ways of declaring that you have decided to beat the law of
averages which guide most of men and women. You have declared a war –
openly, unambigiously and nakedly against the Law of the Middle. You
have, voluntarily put a badge: It’s ok if I fail. You are working not to suceed
but to survive everyday and that discipline if practiced for a reasonably
long period like a sadhana make the so called success a secondary affair.
As you go on building your business, you have to fight incessantly with
your dearest beliefs, most cushioned and cute illusions, most embedded
‘wishes’ and ‘dreams’.

Nothing matters and nothing will – your decision should be checked only
with those who have put themselves down the line with you: your inner
ring of customers, suppliers and employees.

By the word inner, I mean those of this Trinty who are with you not
because they think you or business nature is cute and fine. Because, they
have convinced themselves that they need you and that need can only be
fulfilled through you.

Use this test and you will get the answer as why there are churn and
attrition in business organization.

Paraphrasing Swami Vivekananda’s admonition: For all your


business years, let this Trinity – Customer, Supplier and Employee
be your only God – rest all the Gods are sleeping. And of this, the
first among equals is the Customer. Because if this God does not manifest
himself properly, others wont stay with you much longer.

A true business founder’s tombstone can read only one thing and that is
what is written at the tombstone of Copernicus who, under overwhelming
observational evidence discarded his previous theory (beautiful, beguiling)
of circular orbit of planets by elliptical (ugly, imperfect) orbits

He did not fail to choose Truth from his dearest illusion.


h. Dont buy the Lie of the Land, Any Land: As I told earlier as regards to
possible unrest in the family once you plunge, remember that as a Founder
and Architect of something unborn, you belong to whole humanity.

A corollary: Dont buy any Lie of the Land. These lies can be gross as well as
subtle and I would illustrate that taking one of the Lands: India - where I
am based.

The Gross: At some point of time, some people would point out that there
are many others who are performing better than you. They would
measure performance by four most gross things: Money, Material
possessions, Hearsay, Rumour (Media etc).

Recommended action: Agreement with a long face (learn to act that way)
and a sad weary smile of acknowledgement. The speaker/speakers will be
happy because their profound understanding is verfied and haven’t they
are right in playing safe in their comfort zone. In India, this attitude can
save you from almost 90% of such disractions.

The Subtle: This would surely happen at some point of time in your
business years, possibly when you are just breaking even. Many well-
informed, experienced and quite talented people would approach you to
be a partner in your venture. It is highly unlikely to be economic because
then it becomes a professional relationship (equity holders/investors).
They would like to be partner – will try to become provider of ideas,
contacts and very inspiring in their approach.

Beware!
The whole trip is to have a career for the fellow at your expense.
(Exceptions are excluded. Disclaimer applies)

i. Business is about penetration: penetrate the obvious: In India, we have to


struggle against the One Billion Funnel since birth. In this land of extreme,
we either hear wealth which two hundred years back was gasped at by
the West as As rich as a Naboob or ‘poorer than poverty can be’. Western
busines Interest31 in India now is more due to the whizzing sound that this
1 billion funnel makes as it gyrates rather than due to any other refined
interest.

Due to these very ancient issues and their resolution, Indian concepts of
success remain quite materialistic in its yardstick, in spite of our quite
successful performance as a leading vendor of spirituality in the West.

This conditioning has to be transcended with the rationality of the


European Enlightenment and with the emotional vigour that Lord Krishna
inspired Arjuna.

31
Thirty years back, it was quite a common practice to tell anyone as CIA agent who used to have deeper
engagement with America. Now, they are the most-welcomed and feted diaspora or NRIs! Rerum magnifique
Indicorum.
You have to get convinced that a very successful business does
not necessarily need to have the following in order:

a. A huge office and a harem-like organization of many lifers,


turkeys, survivors and incompetents.

b. A range of cars, aircrafts and dainty reception desk women.

c. Talk in media and Celebrity Status.

d. Typical arrogance and secretiveness, Olympian inaccessibility

e. Layers and Layers of Indian Clerkdom (digital and non-digital)

f. Media Blitzkreig and necessary Deification in the Land.

g. A very impressive outward gloss and sophistication.

This is quite hard, almost impossible but this has to be


transcended. This is the last barrier.
You have to understand that future business environment is not conducive
for such structures. You have to calibrate your mind.

Remember: Truth is not material and hence it cannot be measured by


material means. A grain of Truth is infinitely valuable that all the kingdom
of the world.

The Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from the Hill of
Temptation. But while Pontius Pilate asked Jesus – What is Truth – He
remained silent ansd just pointed his finger.

You can run a more valuable, more joy producing and more elevating
business from your basement than that done by some mega corporation
with global presence.
Truth, even in India is not a matter of majority, number or size. Be faithful
to that Truth and Truth will make you free.

Remember – you belong to whole of humanity while you have deicided to


be in business to build something new, unborn – yet to be seen by the
world. It is not the product or services that you will produce.

The newness is You.


To this new You, I address my prayer. And I belong to you.
Acknowledgement and Thanksgiving

The Book could not have been, in the most visceral sense if my customers,
suppliers and team-mates were not there. They have actually co-acted to co-
author this book. I have just usurped the credit – for them as well as for the book.

Seth Godin, the tribe management and permission marketing idea-creator


deserves my thanks, especially for his free online book: The Bootstrapper’s Bible.

Our Head-Operations Mr. Pannalal had sowed the seed once while we were
causually discussing about documenting our very early days.

Ms. Koel Chakraborty and Mr. Gobinda Roy – both my ex-colleague and senior
telecom veteran of Indian telecom sector have always endured my antics and
idea-attacks. They have also provided me with a very high-quality discussion
platform. My thanks to them.

Mr. AK Sikdar – my previous Calcutta boss, now Head of my ex-company in


Eastern Region of India has always taken an avid interest in the projects of mine,
including this one.

Mr. Binayak Chakraborty, a young researcher and telecom engineer from Calcutta
has been kind to let me know that the project is an ‘awesome’ one.

Editorial Team of Pentasect and Ms. Ritu have given me space and time to write
this.

My wife Chandrani has provided the most invisible support layer: protecting me
from many issues and clouds that have crushed the enthusism of many Calcutta
citizens - more talented, stronger and more stubborn than me.

My father Mr. Pranab Bhattacharjee, who always asked me to write and get
published, perhaps to aim for some kind of writer’s glory, once the glory of a
corporate high-flyer expectation from me seems to have been dashed forever. My
thanks to him for his persistence in this regard.