Feb 26, 2009

Rants of an uncertain manager

My manager at P&G once said, "We all spend 9 hours, 5 days a week, in office. That is most of the time we are awake. We deserve to be happy during this time. As do all of our technicians" (the audience comprised of managers, and all techs reported to us). While my relationship with him turned very sour, very soon, this statement got etched in my head.

As a manager, I believe I have some responsibilities to my people. These include:
  • Providing a cheerful environment. Pressure at work is inevitable, but it should be minimized as far as possible.
  • Providing opportunities, and guidance, for them to learn and grow as much as they can, as quickly as possible.
  • Being reasonable and transparent. I realize I have some 'power' over them, but I try to never abuse it, and always ensure they understand and agree with my decisions - even when the decisions might appear tough.
  • Appreciating and rewarding good work and good behavior - with salaries, bonuses, promotions, position within the team - whatever means are at my disposal.
I always assure my people that their concern should only be to perform well, within the boundaries defined for their roles, meeting and exceeding expetatations that have been shared with them, and NOT worrying about things they can not control. I've always told them that it is my job to provide them the opportunities to perform, and that I would take care of their growth aspirations as long as they delivered results.

Till a short while back, I felt invincible professionally. The past week or two have been a humbling experience. For the first time, I was faced with problems to which there were no clear-cut solutions. Basically, our business doesn't look like its going to grow much in the next year, given the glum economic scenario, and we have people whose capabilities, experience and aspirations have grown - and will continue to grow. Clearly, some people are not going to get the opportunities they deserve, and are going to suffer for no fault of their own. I (and a few peers) have the unenviable task of allocating the pain.

We had a tough time working out a plan, that we thought would minimize the damage. What had been a few hours exercise in past years, took weeks this time. We knew there would be problems, but we thought we could manage them. Till we heard the first reaction from one of the people affected.

The reason I'm feeling very guilty right now - is that I am currently responsible for the person we got the first reaction from. This person has not only been a great performer in every way, they have been unconditionally devoted to their job, while we have pretty much made of mess of their role/job over the last year. Even if tough decisions need to be taken, this is one of the few people who definitely deserve better. We realized that. But, in the midst of all the chaos we were dealing with, we just failed to pay enough attention. I had made some promises to this person, but forgotten about it when faced with a big problem. After the reaction, I think we've fixed most of their problem, but I shouldn't have let them down in the first place. And I'm not the only one who should feel guilty about this.

While this problem may be solved for now, I know there are going to be others - and in some of those cases, I know solutions will not be possible. It's going to be a very tough few weeks ahead, and I'm sure I haven't yet realized just how tough they will be.

I don't know if I blogged about this, but I have been feeling for a while - that India's young working adults have been growing too fast. In my company, that is definitely the case. In good times, we may feel all smug and unstoppable. But now we are about to find out just how tough things can be for managers with no grey hair...

Feb 22, 2009

25 things...

So, I got 'tagged' by both Daddy-san and his wife on this one. It's doing the rounds on Facebook, and the rules force you to write 25 random things about yourself (that's a lot, even for me!), and to tag 25 (unfortunate) people who then have to do the same thing. It's damn annoying. I didn't have the patience to fully read others' notes, let alone writing one such note myself. But I've decided to test my patience, so here goes. (I'll try and make this interesting, but don't blame me if I fail).

1. I like to think I'm a very open person. So, I don't believe I have 25 things to tell people, that they wouldn't already know.
2. I love long, intellectual discussions and arguments with friends. Back in IIT, I used to spend entire nights on the hostel roof with some 4 friends - arguing over god's existence and suchlike.
3. I'm a very 'here and now' person when it comes to relationships. I don't keep in touch with people. I think this is a defense mechanism I developed during my childhood, as a result of dad's frequent transfers.
4. When I meet people after a gap as long as 10 years, I'd still behave as if we'd been meeting regularly till the day before. I don't take cognizance of the long period we'd have been out of touch, and that surprises some people.
5. In recent years, most people have viewed me as the 'wild, beer-guzzling, party-going bachelor'. It's a mirage. I've been doing that for lack of options. It's not who I am, nor who I want to be. They'll see soon.
6. I had like a dozen crushes in school, beginning in class 4. I don't think I ever spoke to any of them, but I still remember each one in vivid detail - including their birthdays. Yes, I am that guy.
7. I had a steady girlfriend from 2000-2005. I'm still not sure if letting her go was the right decision.
8. I avoided smoking all through college years, and started drinking booze only at B-school.
9. I quit my job at P&G with no offers in hand. I sat at home for 3 months, thinking through my career options and goals. My parents didn't know this. It was a tough time, and I don't think I could ever do that again.
10. Having said that, I must also say it helped a helluva lot. If people are confused or dissatisfied with their careers, I'd encourage them to take a complete break and think everything through.
11. I want to make CEO by age 35. I know it can't be a company like GE that early, and I wouldn't be satisified if it was a tiny setup (where I could basically use any designation I wanted). WNS R&A sounds like a reasonable target ;)
12. I hated 'the Fountainhead' when I first read it. But warmed to Ayn Rand's philosophy over the years. I've read nearly all her works, and consider Howard Roark my role model.
13. I am a closet nerd. I spend most of my time online, and a lot of my free time on Wikipedia. And I have a Universal Remote Control for 5 devices (TV, DVD ...) at home, and I've actually programmed some routines into it. And yes, I assemble my desktops myself - using specific parts purchased from different shops. 
14. I used to love comp programming. I know C,  C++, Java and VB quite well. I created computer games (using C++) in class 10. Between class 12 and college, I wrote a program that simulated the on-field behaviour of 21 football players (the user controls one player). In college, my gf liked playing snake on her cell-phone so I created a comp version in 1 day. I called it happy-train - coz the 'snake' was replaced by a chain of Yahoo Messenger smileys, and the smileys get happier as the chain becomes longer. (If anyone's interested, I can email it to you)
15. When I finished college, the IT bust happened, and being a programmer wasn't an appealing career choice. So I had to give up programming, and went to IIM,L instead.
16. Contrary to what most people believe, I love to travel. It's just that when they suggest places like Gokarna - I feel 'been there, done that'. Suggest an overseas trip and you'll see just how much I really like to travel.
17. Speaking of travel, I have serious plans of going to Bora Bora for my 5th or 10th wedding anniversary (as soon as I have enuf moolah) 
18. I want to have a baby-boy someday. I intend to name him Yash, send him to Doon School, and wish to see him grow up to be a celeb of some sort.
19. I am a perfectionist, and I strongly suspect I suffer from OCD
20. Few things enthuse me, and I convey an impression of being lazy and indifferent to most things. Thank god for that - coz when I do get excited, or take a liking to something, the OCD kicks in. 
21. I was brought up in an unusual environment - I had a lot of exposure to different kinds of people, many places and all sorts of activities - and a lot of freedom to explore. But there were also strict no-no's. As a result, I can handle just about any situation thrown at me, and would usually be very diplomatic.
22. I get annoyed by PETA and animal-lovers. People are dying of starvation and disease in 3rd world countries. In India, we have female foeticide, child labor, naxalism, farmer suicides... I just don't understand how animals' problems can take precedence over any of those, and I see such people as snobs/hypocrites with their priorities seriously f***ed up.
23. I also feel enraged when people cut queues, drive recklessly, evade tax, or chatter in cinema halls. Each of us owes some basic courtesies to other people - but in India most people don't get it. This may be the single strongest reason for me to leave this country someday.
24. I love music, and listen to it all the time. I still don't understand just what my preferences are and why, but some songs just 'connect' at a deep level.
25. I really believe the 'IIT-IIM' label defines me for people I don't know personally, and I don't mind that at all. That label, and IQ of 135, are a big deal.

Phew! That wasn't easy. But I managed :)

Feb 17, 2009

Another foodie post

The last post got me thinking - why haven't I ever blogged about restaurants and food?! So, after devoting one post to Yellow Chilli, I'm writing another one. This is a list of some of my favorite restaurants, and in most cases - favorite dishes there, too.

(This is not a ranking, just writing about them as I remember)

1. Stuffed crabs @ Britto's, Goa. Twice I went to Britto's. Twice we ordered the sea food platter. Twice the only item repeated - multiple times - was the stuffed crab. Eating whole crabs can be quite a chore, but one you don't have to bother with at Britto's. They scoop out the meat, cook it, and serve it in open shells with a layer of cheese on top. Heavenly!

2. Poutine @ Mocha, everywhere. Add: shredded chicken, cottage cheese, pineapple & corn. Ok, this isn't a spectacular dish, but I love it anyway. It's simple, it's tasty, and it fills your stomach without emptying your pocket. And Mocha's always a nice place to visit. Even if you order a terrible dish, the ambience, milk-shakes and hookah esnure you have a great time.

3. Bombay duck fry (starter)Surmai masala and steamed rice (main) @ Mahesh Lunch Home, Mumbai. Mahesh's is the best Indian sea-food restaurant I've been to, and I think I've tried all the famous ones outside of the 5-star hotels. Good food, awesome sea-food aroma (?) all around, and some kick-ass cocktails to go with it. Try their LIIT - it's one of the best. The dishes I've listed are my standard order there. They probably have better stuff - but this is so good I never thought of trying anything else. BTW - did you know the so-called Bombay duck is actually a fish, and found only near Mumbai? I didn't, and I was educated by the Queen of Snobs about this. Well, the food was good anyway.

4. Pacific Islander, off Soi Bang La, Patong, Phuket, Thailand. This is a true hidden gem. Soi Bang La is a commercial street in Phuket - with in-your-face sleazy establishments on one side, and clean establishments - restaurants, tailors, tour operators etc. on the other side. And, no - I didn't mean that they're on two opposite ends of the road, I mean sides - facing each other. The contrast is stark, almost surreal.

Now, on the 'clean' side, there are many little restaurants - each of them indistinguishable from not just one another, but any restaurant near a beach in a touristy town. They're all full of loud, jovial, pot-bellied white men drinkin their beer and watching football on TV. One such restaurant is Pacific Islander. They serve the best Thai food I've ever had. Even the hotels and popular restaurants I visited (in Thailand) weren't anywhere near as good. And they serve some pretty darn good Continental fare as well. Between two of us, we had prawns in green curry, liver and kidney pie, cheesecake and fried green tea ice cream. Every single thing was mind-blowing.

If you ever visit Phuket, do check out this place. But let me warn you - the amount of chilli n spice will blow ur brains (This comes from a guy who regularly devours andhra chilli chicken, kohlapuri curries and chettinad cuisine - so take it seriously)

5. Shammi kebab, chicken masala and mughlai parathas @ Dastarkhwan, near hotel Gemini Continental, Lucknow. You must have heard about Lakhnavi kebab, and probably the name of Tunde Miyan in old city. If you wanna see pictures of a chef with Dilip Kumar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Shah Rukh Khan etc. - go to Tunde's shop. If you wanna have good, friggin lakhnavi kebab, go to Dastarkhwan. Dastarkhwan is also much easier to reach, but keep in mind that you won't be dining with the upper-class there. And like all genuine Muslim restaurants, the food is sinfully greasy and spicy.
Sidenote: Lucknow is famous for its kebabs, but in my not-so-humble opinion, you also get the best chaat there. That's right - the best 'chaat' - not in Delhi, definitely not in Mumbai, but in Lucknow. Just go to any decent looking shop.

6. Karim's, Nizamuddin, New Delhi. The owners claim that Karimuddin was a chef to the Mughal royalty, and the stuff they serve you is made using genuine mughal-court recipes. To drive the point home, they do not have 'Mughlai Chicken' on the menu. In stead, they have Akbari murg, Shahjahani murg... ostensibly prepared just the way each of the kings liked it. I find the legend hard to believe - coz the dishes at their Jama Masjid branch taste nothing like dishes of the same names at Nizamuddin, so at least one version is not genuine.
But if you go to Delhi and are non-vegetarian, DO NOT LEAVE TILL YOU'VE HAD AT LEAST ONE MEAL AT KARIM, NIZAMUDDIN. Then, you can happily tick 'good mughlai food' off your 'things to taste before I die' list.

7. The Dome, 64th floor, State Towers, Bangkok, Thailand. Not the best food. But you can feel like a king sipping your drink in the open, atop 64 storeys of concrete - looking down upon the rest of the world. And a Johnnie Gold there costs just 300 THB! Add some good Sushi for THB 500 :)

Random sidenote: To understand the concept of 'sister' or 'twin' cities, visit London and Singapore. Both are business/financial centers. Both have amazing demographic mixes. Both have public transport systems considered among the best in the world. Both have depressing climate, and erratic showers. And in both - I couldn't find a single remarkable eating joint or dish in a whole week!

Well, these are all that came to mind tonight. I might update this list with more entries later, but these are certainly the most memorable!

How about naming some of your favorites in the comments? If I've missed them, I'll make it a point to follow your recommendations :)

Feb 14, 2009

Yellow Chilli

I eat out a lot. Lunch has been at a restaurant almost everyday for the past 3 years, and even before that, I wasn't a fan of mess food in college. And I've visited restaurants in most cities of India, and tried a variety of stuff abroad as well. While I've enjoyed all of that, I don't remember ever blogging about a restaurant. So, when I say Sanjeev Kapoor's Yellow Chilli is exceptionally good, you'd better believe me!

Most restaurants use some standard tricks to prepare their food faster, and also give their food an appealing taste - they use an excess of oil, often use baking soda to soften meat etc., and are generous with their use of spices. The downside is - most of their dishes end up tasting similar, and these trick-ingredients drown out the real flavors and aroma of the meat or vegetables used. And, of course, you often get the chef's version of a dish - which may be nothing like the traditional version of the dish as prepared in the region of it's origion. The best examples of this are Butter Chicken Masala and Mutton Roghan Josh - the versions I've had in Punjab, UP and South India taste nothing like each other. And, of course, the sambhar you get in North Indian restaurants is a joke.

Yellow Chilli stands out for the autheticity of dishes served there. Each dish is prepared with care, using fine ingredients, and by devoting all the time necessary. And everything tastes the way it ideally should. It's pretty close to home cooked food, except Mom might sometimes get the quantity of salt wrong, or the mutton available in your neighborhood store on a particular Sunday morning may not be very lean and tender. At Yellow Chilli, the food will be perfect.

It's been a month since I had my only meal there, but I still remember everything in vivid detail. We ordered a Nalli ka Roghan Josh, a Rarha Chicken and a Methi Malai Chaman. The mutton was excellent, with a mildly spiced gravy, and you could taste the 'red meat' flavor in every morsel. The Rarha Chicken has a perfectly Punjabi onion-tomato flavor. The Paneer was rich and soft, with a bitter-sweet taste (the combination of fenugreek and fresh cream). No two dishes tasted alike. There was no 'oil to be drained' layer on top. And the typical restaurant-ish taste simply wasn't there. Rarely have I been so pleasantly surprised by what a restaurant had to offer.

On second thought, I realized that I should have expected this. Sanjeev Kapoor is the guy who's been teaching people how to cook, on TV, for many years now. As he had leant his name to this restaurant, they had to get everything perfectly right. Otherwise, he'd lose his credibility.

I have heard some others' opinions about Yellow Chilli, and not all are favorable. Oh well, you just can't please everyone. I guess if you totally want to get a 'restaurant' feel when you eat out, this may not be the place for you. But, if 'authentic' is your thing, you simply have to try out Yellow Chilli.

Now, I'm hungry :)