Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Branding in education sector

Co-author: Suharsh Dikshit

On a hot, sunny afternoon in June, a plain looking bourgeoisie taxi lumbered through the busy roads of Delhi. While the driver was busy exchanging chosen expletives with the fellow drivers on the road, Suharsh and I sat impassively, engaged in our respective avocations. We had just arrived in Delhi and were heading towards Panipat to attend a consumer session. While we love to disagree with each other on most things, we share a common passion for branding and the Indian consumer.

“Looks like every second ad is trying to sell either homes or education”, I said, referring to the constant stream of college and property ad-jingles blurting out on the radio. Driver, who had by now broken out of the traffic, added his own view in Delhi style- “Makaan ke gaane toh aise sunate hain ji jaise makaan muft main bant rahein hon” shutting down his laptop and placing it back into the bag, Suharsh quipped- “Makaan muft main mile na mile her college naukri dena ka wadaa zaroor karta hai”. Driver concluded the discussion with a dismissive statement- “yeh sab brand walon ke natak hote hain”. Suharsh and I exchanged an amused look; evidently we were not too impressed by general opinion of our profession.

Coming back to the topic, I said- “higher education is a unique category. You know, from many FGDs I have attended with small town consumers, I realise that the both parents and the kids see education as a sure shot ticket to a better life, like a sort of insurance for better future”

Suharsh added to my line of thought “For today’s youth, it is not only important to be successful, but it is as much important to be ‘seen as’ successful. They are extremely exhibitionist in nature”

I took it up from there “and probably that explains the success of the Facebooks and the Orkuts of the world. The social networking sites give them an opportunity to- show off. The uploaded images on most profiles can be classified as- my foreign trips, my happening parties, my hot girlfriends/ boyfriends, my gadgets, etc. Everyone wants to put up their best face on the web- kind of carefully craft an image for themselves”

“You got to agree; sometimes movies provide amazing insights on the Indian youth. I am sure if life was a bumper sticker, it would read ‘main apni/apna favourite hoon’ for majority of youth today. I love that dialogue from ‘Jab we met’- it defines the youth of today so well” none of my discussion can go without a reference to bollywood.

Suharsh smiled and took out a copy of the matrimonial page from The Sunday Times - “you are right and there is more to it….education is not only a passport to better future, it’s also the new caste have a look”. I glanced at the circled matrimonial ad, it read- “….match invited for a slim, fair girl….and went onto mention- “elder sister married to IIM graduate, settled in US” I chuckled and read the ones around it- “Match invited for an IIT graduate…”, “….BTech, Software engineer, settled in New York…”

I was with Suharsh on this one- “Yes, education is the new caste system and come to think of it- caste is nothing but a social stratification and education and occupation provide easy handles to stratify. Education- particularly your degree or the college you pass out from is certainly a part of your identity”

Suharsh was thinking like a brand manager now- “if education is given so much importance, then it is natural that education category will have a very complicated, lets put it this way, purchase decision process”

I nodded in agreement pulling out a cigarette, indicating that I was already getting involved in the discussion- “you are right; after all it has all the characteristics of high involvement- huge investment, infrequent purchase and more importantly its irreversible. The other category which is as complex that comes to mind is buying a home, but in case you are not happy with the investment, you can sell the property and exit but what would you do if you are stuck in a course that is dissatisfactory and takes away few important years of your life?” I sighed.

As I gestured driver to roll down the windows and lighted my smoke, Suharsh spoke “branding in education is a very tricky issue. If you are too vocal, you are seen as too commercial and selling education like soap or a moisturizer and if you don’t speak at all- you remain anonymous. Of course, barring the top institutions like IITs, IIMs and other few which have already established themselves as formidable brands in the category, this is a problem that most emerging institutions face”

I got his point and elaborated it further “very true, what adds to the problem is that majority of private institutions consider brand building to be all about organizing high profile events, developing slick ads, getting a good-looking logo and a flashy website…what they forget is that each brand should stand for certain values and unless those values are credible, relevant and distinct and unless each stakeholder understands, imbibes and demonstrates these values in a consistent way, they are really not building brands or delivering on any brand promise. It’s all about getting the basics right”

Suharsh added an interesting dimension to the argument “Hmmm…now that you have brought it up, I think there are more stakeholders involved in this category than in any other category that I know of- students, faculty, parents, recruiters, alumni, aspirants and even government. Any exercise in brand building should involve and factor in the needs of all the stakeholders and the brand promise should appeal to all. The brand building process has to be inside out and not vice versa”

I chipped in with my bit “come to think of it, all ads in this category look, feel and sound the same. Every institution talks about the same 3 or 4 things- 100% placements, best in class infrastructure, reputed faculty, industry exposure and in some cases even foreign associations and collaborations. Mostly making exaggerated claims, they are- as in your face as they can get. I mean how is size of the campus, guaranteed laptop and air-conditioned classroom even remotely correlated with the quality of education”

Suharsh had another piece of data ready- “…and I recently read that education sector was one of the highest spenders on advertising last year, the sector spent a sum upwards of 900 crores in advertising”. My face reflected genuine surprise and anguish- “900 Cr spent on communicating generic attributes, that are either undifferentiated or irrelevant…come on, these colleges have some very intelligent academicians and businessmen at the helm, I wonder why they can’t understand this basic flaw in their brand building endeavors?”

Suharsh requested our over enthusiastic driver to desist racing with other cars on highway and went on with his explanation- “Consider the example of a private management institute that dares the aspirants to think beyond IIMs. It has an exaggerated, albeit unique communication and they spend generously in promoting themselves. I am sure they have right media weights. Though this particular institution might be fairly well known (speaking strictly in terms of share of media voice) when you compare it with IIMs (only because it wants us to think beyond IIMs), the two institutes conjure up completely different imagery. While one stands for the best management education in the country the other…well, lesser said, the better”

Digging into the sandwich we packed from airport, I complemented his thoughts “probably that’s where IITs, IIMs, XLRI or NITs stand as formidable brands…they communicate certain values and conjure an imagery that’s not based on generics like placements or infrastructure”

Drawing form his own MBA experience, Suharsh added- “you’ve hit the nail on the head. In fact the campus size of XLRI might be smaller than what some of these private colleges claim in their ads, but that’s absolutely irrelevant…what matters is the values that XLRI stands for and the promise of ‘socially responsible managers’ it delivers on. IIMs take pride in claiming ‘we don’t guarantee placements!’ because they deliver on a much bigger promise of grooming and creating the leaders of tomorrow, the placements in such scenario is a given”

I retorted- “but we cannot ignore the fact that even then the private colleges are packed to capacity, right?” checking his mails, Suharsh replied- “Agreed, there is always a queue even outside the private colleges. But don’t forget that this queue is no measure of a good brand. We all know that demand supply equation in Indian higher education sector is skewed with huge population and too few colleges. So there is no surprise that a seat in any college never goes vacant, and that gives an opportunity for lot of these colleges to charge huge premium on admissions. But it’s a mistake to confuse this premium with Brand Equity. This premium is simply the result of yawning demand-supply gap”

I had an example to illustrate the point “my cousin appeared for the engineering entrance examination this year but couldn’t get a seat in any of the top, reputed colleges. He didn’t want to take a break, so started evaluating the available options. He was utterly confused, he referred to rankings by various magazines and websites to make a decision but they only added to his confusion- each source had their own rankings which was different from all other rankings. It came to a point when all the available options started looking the same and he finally chose a college on the basis of convenience and proximity to his home. I am sure lot of aspirants face this dilemma and this is nothing but an indication that the sector is getting commoditized”

I guess we were bored of discussing on the same topic for so long. As the car cruised on the highway, Suharsh and I curiously looked at the landscape dotted with private engineering and MBA colleges at every few kilometers. Another private university ad jingle played on radio followed by a property ad when I quipped- “I want to be the guy who is selling land to these private universities”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Independence Day

I am not very fond of driving, especially on weekends. The whole city seems to be in transit and the traffic moves at a crawling pace. It also doesn’t help that I stay in the lane next to a Big Bazaar. The ‘Independence Day’ sale at Big Bazaar is the biggest ‘mela’ that you can see in an urban setting and all roads within a radius of few kilometers from the store are choc- o- block. So, in the evening when I had to go to a temple I decided to take an auto rikshaw.

After being denied rather impolitely almost half a dozen times, finally an autowallah gave me a fair hearing. Thick beard and a skull cap made his religious identity quite clear. “Ulsoor. Balaji Temple?” I asked him unsure of his response. “Return bhi ana hai kya?” his interest surprised me. “Haan bhai, abhi permanently jaane ka waqt nahi aaya hai” I said jokingly. He got the joke and smiled with a “kyaa sir aap bhi…?”
Getting back to business, I said “it will take ten minutes. Can you wait?”

“Baitho…par ten Rupees extra dena…waiting ka ” he said pointing towards the seat and we began our journey. The traffic was awful and we were hardly moving. I could see him getting all worked up, so to break the tension I started the conversation “Naam kya hai apka” “Ahmed” he said without turning back. “Traffic kafi bura hai” I commented. “Puchiye mat sir. Yeh road hamesha jam milta hai” “Aur yeh metro ke kaam ki wajah se bhi problem ho raha hoga. Kab tak banega yeh?” I asked him sympathizing with his problem. “Sir, yahan koi kaam time pe hota hai kya? Sab jagah corruption hai. Aap ne news mein dekha hi hoga commonwealth games mein kya gadbad ho raha hai” “Hmmm…” I said in a reflective tone, impressed by his awareness of current issues. “Sir aap ko kya lagta hai…yeh games ho payange India mein? Country ke izzat ka sawal hai” I didn’t have an answer really “ho jayage. Kisi na kisi tarah manage kar lenge. Hume aadat hai na aise kaam karne ki” I reassured him.

“Acha ek bat batao- aap log ye hamesha extra kyon charge karte ho. Meter ke upar?” I tried changing the topic. “Aap ko to pata hai sir, mehangayi bhad gayi hai itni. Petrol Diesel ka keemat har din bhad rahai hai. Bolo kya karega hum log?” he was quick with the retort. While we were engaged in this conversation a young boy selling national flags in various sizes and shapes approached us. It was the eve of 14th August and every signal had these selling. Ahmed was a smart negotiator, he asked the boy picking up a small one “kitne ka diya?” the boy announced the price “15 Rupees” Ahmed made another offer “Agar bada bhi loonga to discount dega” While the boy was still calculating in his mind, Ahmed offered a solution “yeh chota, bada aur saath mein badge (to be worn on shirt) sab mila ke fifty mein de de” assessing that he couldn’t get more from Ahmed the vendor said “de doh” and closed the deal.

I was intrigued when Ahmed began carefully folding and stacking the flags “You are not putting them now?” I probed. “Nahi sir. I will put them tomorrow morning” he explained. “Why” I asked intuitively and my heart clenched at the dumbness of my question. “Kal 15th August hai na sir. Apna independence day. Isliye” he explained without judging me. “Aap yeh har saal karte ho? Yeh flag aur sab?” I wanted to know. “Yes sir, har saal... aur is din mein ekdum fresh kapde pehanta hoon auro auto bhi chakachak rakhta hoon” he replied in an excited tone.

I was both impressed and puzzled with his narration “par abhi toh aap itni complaint kar rehe the. Poor infrastructure, corruption, price increase in sab ke bare mein? Fir bhi?” I voiced my doubt.

“Sir, tell me which country is perfect. Har mulk ke apne problems hai. Mana yeh problems hain…lekin yeh hamari hain aur hum inse nipat lenge. Kisi ke gulam toh nahi hain na hum. Aap freedom ko problems se compare nahi kar sakte. Aur tarakki bhi toh kar raha hai na India. Sochiye agar hum Pakistan, Afghanistan ya Bangladesh mein paida hue hote toh? kitni buri halat hoti?” he was forceful in putting forward his point of view.

I kept my promise of not more than ten minutes waiting and returned with a packet of ‘prashad’ for him. He thanked while taking it and as a mark of respect touched it to his forehead before consuming it. On our way back, the auto came to a sudden halt at a signal and refused to start. “Sir kuch problem lagta hai. Sorry aap ko doosra auto lena padega” he said. “That’s ok. Kitna Hua” I wanted to know. Looking at the meter and referring to the new rate list he said “Seventy Five sir” “Extra Mila ke?” I asked “Nahi sir, extra rehne dijiye. Aapne prashad khila diya bahut hai” he spoke in a friendly tone.

As I settled the bill and started to walk, he called me aloud “and sir Happy Independence day” “aap ko bhi” I responded. Happy Independence day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


"If there is a heaven, it's certain my dog is going to be there because No heaven will not ever Heaven be, unless my dog is there to welcome me. Rest in peace Donnie- you are buried in our hearts"

I have always been fascinated by dogs. As a kid, I envied people who had pet dogs. The sight of people walking their dogs fuelled my imagination and I would picturize the day when I would be the proud owner of one. The collage of images of my pet walking obediently next to me, leaping at me with a wagging tail as I come back from school, fetching the ball that I threw far in the air- gave me an adrenaline rush. So crazy was I about dogs that I used to befriend people who had dogs and insisted on visiting relatives and family friends who had pets.

I used to feed stray dogs in my locality, give them names and feel supremely happy when any of them responded to my name calls. My happiness knew no bounds whenever I spotted pups on the street. I used to spend all my pocket money in feeding them with bread and Parle biscuits. I would experience the biggest joys of my life when any of them followed me after these feeding sessions. I would pick them up, kiss them on their faces, talk to them and promise them that I would return next day. Bollywood portrayal of dog as the most faithful (and often sacrificing) companion in movies like “Teri Meherbaniyan” and “Mard” firmed my belief that only my pet dog could be my best friend.

My parents were completely aware of this obsession of mine and cleverly dodged my umpteen requests to own a pet. They somehow believed that I would get rid of this obsession as I grow up, but with age, my resolve only got stronger and my arguments became more powerful and they finally succumbed to my demands when I was in teens.

I vividly remember my first encounter with my ‘pet to be’. It was a veterinary clinic and he made a rather grand entry, escaping from the doctor’s arms, jumping on to my parents, snatching and trying to chew up my mother’s purse and finally came to a halt after peeing in geometric circles on the doc’s table. My parents were sickened; it was their worst nightmare coming true. This creature was an absolute contrast to what they had in mind. The common archetype of a puppy- the coy, cute being was shattered by this wild, misbehaved beast, almost like an experiment gone wrong. Poor parents who thought a pet meant a furry Pomeranian were scandalized to see a three month old boxer. Let alone fur, it didn’t even have a tail. Being a brindle, it had stripes running all over the body that looked like dirt marks. There was more, the breed has a face which looks swollen like it was punched, a broad skull and hanging jaws.

My mother was numb from the shock and all my father could utter was “Beta yeh kya hai?” My younger brother who was my key supporter in my negotiations for owning a pet was now hiding behind my mother, scared if the dog would pounce on him next.

But I was determined; I only wanted a boxer, a breed that stands out in the crowd of dainty looking Pomeranians or spitz which most households had. To me they were plastic dogs and this was the real dog- the man among dogs.

Dad was unmoved “remember, if you get this one, we won’t have anything to do with him. You have to take care of him all by yourself” he said. But I had already made up my mind and like always my parents succumbed to my stubbornness.

The first thing the dog did when he entered our house, was running all around, sniffing each nook and corner and simultaneously peeing all over the place, as if it was marking its territory. Exasperated, my dad said “welcome trouble”

My father was indifferent to him, my brother was scared of him and my mother was a fence sitter. Dogs have a very powerful sixth sense and he could make out that I was the only one backing him. So for the first week, he just kept following me like a shadow- sit next to my study table while I was reading, sleep next to my bed and even follow me to the bathroom and wait for me till I came out. He used to desperately search for me when I stepped out of house and wait for me at the gate till I got back. From a distance he would pick up the hum of my vehicle and start jumping at the gate, vigorously wagging his two inch tail. He would not even let me park and jumped right into my arms, licking me all over the place. No one had ever given me that kind of undivided attention and affection and I felt like the most loved person on the earth.

Meanwhile, my brother grew jealous of this growing bonding between us, so, while I was away, he started making attempts to befriend the pup. Also, the maternal instincts of my mother got into play and she started pampering him. But my father was disinclined even now. The poor dog used all his antics to charm him but nothing worked with my dad.

Now it was time for the big decision, what should we name him? My mother and brother enthusiastically suggested few names but I had the veto. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the villains or so called dons in bollywood movies. The raw power they had, their weapons, the fear they evoke and the unflinching respect they used to get in their clan used to inspire me. At the same time I was aware of my own limitations of stature and physical strength. I envisaged that my boxer would make up for all my weaknesses and together we would become a force that would be revered and respected just like the ‘dons’ whom I idolized. So, I wanted to call him Don but then realized it would expose my hidden intentions and even sounded like a hyperbole. I finally settled for a ‘Donnie’- Don with a cute suffix. Rest of the family was disgusted with my choice of name but then came around as usual.

But Donnie grew up as an exact opposite of the menacing beast that I wanted him to be. He was the most docile, playful and friendly dog I had ever seen. While walking on the street, he would wag his tail at every passerby and pulled me towards anyone who gave him half a glance. The only reason I tolerated this behaviour was because it gave me an opportunity to strike a conversation with beautiful strangers. The only people whom Donnie troubled were the kids who used to play cricket in front of my house. Every time the ball fell on our side of fence, Donnie would quickly grab it, run inside and hide it in a place even we couldn’t find. As we couldn’t return the ball, the kids suspected us to be the partners in crime and eventually stopped playing there.

One of the reasons why people keep dogs is for security, but Donnie was anything but a guard dog. He refused to stay out at night and scratched the doors till we let him in. We acknowledged this very early and set up a small bed for him in the living area itself, but he refused to sleep there. He wanted an equal treatment and wanted to sleep in my room and my bed. My mother caught him red handed several times snoring away to glory happily tucked under my blanket in the wee hours of morning. He was punished and we (brother & me) were given strict instructions not to allow him on the bed. But Donnie was a clever dog and he found a perfect solution for this. He would pretend to sleep in his bed initially, then, as my mom went off to sleep, he would quietly enter her room, sniff around and carefully touch her toes with his wet nose to see if she was really asleep. Then he would come to my bed, put his front feet up and slowly slide his head under my blanket, stay like that for while and assessing the situation he would lift rest of his body up and sleep peacefully with me. In the morning, just before my mother got up he jumped out of my bed and inhabited his bed.

One underlining characteristic of his personality was his hunger…he was perennially hungry and gulped food in such a hurry as the food would vanish. His tummy was a bottomless pit and he would drool for everything that was food, including ants and the contents of our dustbin.

In one such excavations of the kitchen waste, Donnie tasted a mango for the first time. Thus started the biggest love affair of his life- his obsession for mangoes was beyond description. He could beat the best sniffer dogs if the search was for hidden mangoes. He used to create havoc whenever mangoes were brought home, standing by the kitchen door he used to bark continuously till he was given one. He had to be the first one to taste the fruit and mind you he didn’t touch the cut fruit. He only wanted the whole fruit with skin. He would eat the fruit so voraciously that by end of it his face would be smeared with pulp and he continued licking the seed till it went dry and didn’t give any taste.

He also loved car rides; he used to hop in whenever we took out the car and would refuse to get down till we took him for a ride. Settled on the back seat, he kept peeping out of the window thoroughly enjoying the gush of wind on his face. Once I remember, we took him for a ride and driving at a comfortable speed, I was engaged in a conversation with my brother when I suddenly had to apply breaks. I saw a dog running along the car, it took me few seconds to realise that it was Donnie. What happened was that he saw a push cart loaded with mangoes and jumped out of the car, on being chased by the vendor he started running to catch us.

Donnie had a girlfriend as well, called ‘Sonia’ a beautiful stray I used to feed daily. Both of them used to spend hours prancing on the opposite sides of the closed main gate, often taking a break to come closer and lick each others faces through the grills. Sonia used to accompany us whenever I took Donnie for walks and she was the only person in the world that he didn’t mind sharing food with- and that in the dog’s world is the true test of love and relationship. Once a pack of rowdy dogs attacked Sonia in front of my home, I heard her cry in despair and ran out with a stick to help her, they were four or five of them and suddenly charged on me. While I took a step back I realized that I didn’t close the gate and Donnie was standing next to me. I had never seen Donnie is such an avatar. Raised strands of hair, ears all lifted up and exhibiting sharp teeth clenched in anger, it was ready take on the pack. Before I could do any thing it pounced on them and fought so bravely in spite of being overpowered and bitten by them. By the time I could take stock of the situation, he was bleeding from several places but didn’t let the stray dogs touch Soniya or me. My perception of him changed completely after this and he became my real hero.

Years passed and it was time for me and my brother to move out of Agra. Age was catching up on Donnie too. The hyper active and impatient Donnie of young days who could hardly stay still at a place even for minute would now keep lying still at a place, with head sunk between the stretched legs. The wrinkles on his forehead and the lost look in his eyes gave him the appearance of a philosopher in contemplation. The reason for the inactivity was acute arthritis. The condition affected his hind legs the most and became even severe in winters, when he could hardly pick himself up. He needed help in getting up and needed a great deal of effort in lying or sitting down in a position that didn’t put too much pressure on the weak feet. Donnie also developed a cataract and in spite of treatment somehow couldn’t get his vision fully back. Where he would leap and jump all the time and didn’t let any one enter home without pampering him, now he would just lie quietly in the corner, looking at you with raised brows and wagging his two inch tail expressing his happiness on your coming home. Throughout my stay in hostel, my walls were adorned only with pictures of Donnie and invariably all my phone conversations with family would start with “How is Donnie?”

I went after few months in my first semester break and was surprised to see the turn of events. After we (brother & me) had left home, my parents had divided between them all the chores related to Donnie. My mother would take care of his food and other regular needs while my father was responsible for taking him out on walks and all his medication. For a person who was dead against bringing Donnie home, my father’s equation with Donnie now was beyond belief. The relationship they shared was nothing short of a father son bond. He loved taking Donnie out on walks and on many occasions he would actually talk to Donnie, from a distance it looked as if they were having an intimate conversation. In the evenings they would go to the nearby park and sit there, my dad on the concrete bench and Donnie beside him, watching the kids play. While Donnie had outgrown the habit of grabbing the balls that came his way, my dad often bought him colorful balls and tried engaging him in a sport. He even got a special low lying bed made for him and personally picked up a cushion with a design of stars and Santa Claus on it. On the nights that Donnie had aggravated pain, he would keep going to him and checking on him on an hourly basis. Stroking his forehead, he would every time ask him “are you feeling better Donnie?” My mother on the other hand would refuse to leave Donnie alone. In last five years, she has not visited me ever for more than two days and even in such short visits all she could think of was Donnie. She would call my dad several times to check if he has eaten the food or not, did he go for a walk or not. The affection was mutual, even Donnie was extremely attached to her- my mother had to stand there till he finished his food or he would refuse to eat. On the rare occasions when she traveled, he would not touch his food, no matter what was on the plate- even mangoes.

After marriage, when my wife came first time to my place, there was a traditional welcome ceremony where they do a small puja at the entrance. There were people crowding the entrance busy doing the rituals. Suddenly Donnie emerged to the front limping his way through them. He was very excited to see us and could make out that the new person accompanying me was important for the family. Almost like a special gesture to welcome Tanu Donnie wanted to stand on his feet to reach her. But the weak hind legs couldn’t take the weight and he cringed in unbearable pain. With a loud shriek, unable to tolerate the pain he started chewing the wooden plank of the door. Tanu quickly reached him and consoled him, while my dad ran for the pain reliever.

The next few days were mostly spent nursing Donnie and now it was time for us to go.

Donnie was able to at least stand now and walk slowly nonetheless with a limp. The family including Donnie gathered near the car to see us off. Tanu and I said a very personal goodbye to Donnie. The car just started pulling out when the Driver had to apply sudden breaks. Before I could ask him what the matter was, I saw Donnie next to my side of the door. He started scratching my door wanting me to open it. As I climbed down and sat on my knees to reach him, he started licking me all over my face. While I picked him in my arms, I could feel the tears running down from both our eyes. It’s true; there is no greater feeling of love in the world than your dog licking your face.

PS: Exactly two weeks after I wrote this blog post, Donnie Passed away.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I love Bangalore

Sunday, 15th June 2008, Bangalore (Home)

I finally got the job that I wanted so badly and they gave me the location of my preference- Gurgaon. Everyone was happy- my parents, in laws and all others who mattered to me. They always wanted me to move closer to home but were kind enough not to force me. Tanu, the ever giving soul that she is, was happy for me and agreed to apply for a transfer in her organization. I was to join next day and had an early morning flight. But in all this something somewhere didn’t feel right. Didn’t know what was troubling me because everything was happening as per plan- I even had a farewell party last evening.

Tanu broke my chain of thoughts- “come on get up and start packing. You have an early morning flight so finish it fast” I kept lying on the couch surfing the channels aimlessly, I mumbled- “I don’t feel like going” not taking me seriously she said “shut up and start packing. Don’t expect me to do it for you”.

I switched off the TV and asked her to sit with me, now she knew I was serious (switching off TV really means something big) Trying to look as innocent as possible I said “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to relocate to Gurgaon. I want to stay in Bangalore. I love this city” That was the first time I confessed my love for Bangalore. She lost her cool “don’t talk nonsense, we have already booked an apartment in Gurgaon, appointed the movers and packers, and more importantly you have to join tomorrow, what will you tell them- that sorry I love Bangalore I can’t come…and…and …if you realize you will be jobless if you do that” I knew she was right, but had a plan already “all of that can be taken care of. I will call them and apologize and if they don’t understand my situation- frankly, I don’t care. As far as the job is concerned, I had an offer in Bangalore that I refused last month, I will speak to them…If they haven’t hired anyone, may be they would be kind enough to reconsider me” Tanu was perplexed “Where was your love for Bnagalore all this while, why are you doing this at last minute”

“I guess it was always there…just that I didn’t realize it till I had to part my way” I replied. That was probably the most irrational decision I had ever taken in my life- but now when I look back I only feel happy about it.

Some time in 2004, Ahmedabad (MICA)

“If you get this job, you are going to be posted in Bangalore. Is that OK with you? Given that your family is settled in north” asked the interviewer. I was honest in my reply “Bangalore is of the reasons why I am keen on this job. I am an Andhrite who grew up mostly in UP. I always wanted to reestablish my connection with south and this job will give me an opportunity to do that” She smiled at my rather lame explanation, but thankfully gave me the job.

It was long journey for me from Agra to Bangalore and my train reached the Bangalore station at midnight. While the auto was zipping fast on the deserted roads, I could feel a strange sense of familiarity with the city. It is difficult to put it in words and almost impossible to explain, it was my first visit to the city but I already felt like I belonged to this place- may be it was the overriding optimism of the first job which made me feel that way. I have stayed in many cities and extensively traveled across the country but never felt anything similar anywhere.

Bangalore was all that I imagined and more- cosmopolitan minus the madness and pretence of a big city. I can’t say anything about the weather that hasn’t been said before- it is to die for and compensates all other shortcomings of the city. And yes, the beer never tastes as good anywhere.

I am very fond of movies and particularly those where the place plays an important role in the story – sometimes the backdrop is so important and adds so many layers to the story

Similarly, Bangalore has been the backdrop of some of my happiest memories- this is the place I got my first job, where I fell in love and together we built a place that we call our home. Yes, that is the word- Bangalore feels like home.

In last six years I met and made friends with some of the most amazing people and as I discovered Bangalore- I discovered myself.

Thursday, 18th March 2010, Bangalore (Airport)

The immigration officer carefully looks at my passport and still gazing into it asks “How long have you been in Bangalore?” “Six years sir”- I replied. “I am sure you still can’t speak Kannada” he said. “Not much” I said validating his assumption. To make me uncomfortable, he asked “Ninna hesaru yenu?” taking my passport back much to his disappointment I replied “Nanna hesaru Gurudev saar and I love namma Bengalaru”