Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Growing up is not about giving up!

Had a bad day at work today and as a consequence I returned home visibly stressed.

Vedaant, my three year old opened the door for me and greeted me with his characteristic big smile and a glee in his eyes. I tried concealing my feelings and hugged him tight. Watching this from a distance, my wife enquired “why are you looking so stressed?” Now, my son has picked up this habit, where he sometimes repeats whatever we say. So, he repeated Tanu’s question to me, without looking curious for an answer though.

Even before I could answer, he muttered to me “chill papa, chill” of course without understanding what that meant. He probably picked this up from me or Tanu as we tend to say this to each other quite often.

On any other day, I would have shown my displeasure and asked him to be careful with the language. But today, it sounded to me as the best piece of advice I ever got. What was worrying me was completely out of my control and there was actually nothing I could do than just chill and let things take their own course.

Now I am distracted, I am no more thinking about the office stuff. What I am thinking now, is how in all their naivety- kids sometimes teach us some of the most valuable lessons of life. There have been times, when suddenly out of the blue, I have felt touched, inspired and surprised with something that Vedaant either said or did.

Sometimes, without any obvious reason he just hugs me tight, kisses me and announces that I am his best friend or the times he frowns to expresses his displeasure in an extremely cute manner when I do something he doesn’t like, say changing his favorite channel or polishing off his candy. These are the moments when I can feel my heart melt. It also makes me realize how much joy unbridled emotions can convey. Not saying that we adults should act like kids and express ourselves explicitly.

Most of us are not good at communicating to people, the things we don’t like about them. What is more concerning is that we are growing shyer even in communicating the things we like about them. A genuine compliment, a word of appreciation, heartfelt thanks, even a tight hug, telling someone the good things you genuinely feel about them is also becoming rare these days. This everyday business of shaking hands, customary hugs; high fives are all becoming so ritualistic, superficial and mechanical. Why can’t we adults just be open about our feelings, why do we like to complicate stuff? Why can’t things be simple like how it was when we were kids?

While I try to answer some of the most random questions posed by my son or when I am trying to gauge the flight of his imagination. I sometimes wonder- since when did growing up meant giving up? Giving up on our imagination, on inquisitiveness, on our ability to ask questions, on challenging the so called norms and most importantly on the belief that anything is possible

While we plan for our life on weekends and vacations, wait for those special moments to celebrate life, kids live in the moment. Be it at a doctor’s clinic or an ATM joint. Be it in a five star in Goa or a super market where you buy groceries from, if they have decided to have fun they will have fun. Simple! They can make friends, discoveries and memories anywhere. Not like us, waiting for the perfect occasion, perfect company or perfect place and eventually ending up being disappointed because there is actually nothing called perfect or at least that what we cynics think so.

My son is obsessed about cars. Toy cars, real cars, car show rooms, car movies, car ads, cars in any form. He is so passionate about them that he insists I buy car magazines for him. He snatches the newspaper from me every morning just as to see which car ads have appeared in the paper. I am worried that he is so much into them but I am also happy that he is so passionate about them. Passions make us, define us and makes our lives worth living. I am sure at some stage or the other all of us were passionate about something- food, movies, travel, fashion, whatever. But eventually we get into the rat race and mistake it for life. Our passions take a back seat. We make a compromise with self that once we arrive in life, we will have ample time and resources to pursue all our passions, without realizing that life’s never a destination. It’s actually a journey, and the only way to live it is to enjoy it.

In two weeks from now, I turn thirty two. It’s that time of the year when I wrote a note to self, reflecting upon the year that went by and thinking about things I should do next year. This post is my note to self this year. I only want to do two things this year. I want to live like my son and I want to chill. Rest will take care of itself.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day Ma!

(Writing on my behalf of my three year old son, who never runs out of questions. Probably this is what he is thinking on Mother’s day)

Ma, when I woke up this morning, Papa as usual came to me, kissed me morning and asked me to wish you ‘Happy mother’s day”. Mamma I really don’t know what exactly he meant. I know ‘Happy Birthday’ and I am excited for my birthday next month. I already have a plan on what kind of cake I have in mind. Ok, you know I can’t keep secrets with you- I want cake in the shape of a….CAAAR! Now can you at least pretend to be surprised Ma? You didn’t look too happy either when I asked for a car shaped bed or a car shaped room.

Ok, more about that later, but you tell me first what is special about mother’s day? Papa tells me that it’s a special day when we thank mothers for everything they do for us. Now I am totally confused. Other day, when I asked you how did I come into this world, you said that God gifted me to you because you were a good girl. If that is the case, shouldn’t you thank me for being your favorite gift?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want to say thank you to you. I say it whenever someone makes a kind gesture just like you taught me to do. But with you ma, it’s not like that. We are best friends, right? So there should be no ‘thank you’ between us. Honestly, if I start thanking for everything you do for me, I have to say ‘thank you’ so many times that I don’t even know how to count those many times.

Like the time you teach me rhymes while making all those funny actions, I can’t stop laughing when you act like that. But you know what the best part is- when I repeat those lines after you with those funny actions, I see your face all lit up and a big smile appears on your face, bigger than any car I have in my collection. I love that face of yours ma. I wish you always looked so happy.

Or like the time when we play Eye spies, when you close your eyes to count while I go hiding. Every time you catch me, you look so thrilled Ma. Is finding me really so difficult? Let me tell you a secret, I always hide at the same spot ma. Ha-ha, see you didn’t know that.

Ma, the first time I went up on the slide, or sat on the swing, it was only because I knew you were there to catch me if anything goes wrong. And how can I even forget my first day at school, you were so anxious to leave me alone. Ma, I don’t like it that they don’t allow you to sit with me in the classroom every day. It would be so much fun.

You know what ma? I am a big boy now, like you say. When I fall down while running or playing I don’t usually cry. But if I fall down while you are watching, then I can’t stop crying ma. Because when I look at you I know you are crying inside and when I see you cry, I can’t stop ma.

There are so many things ma, that I love you for. Now, you tell me how I can thank you ever.

Ma, you know how much I love cars and thank you for all the cars that you bought for me. When I grow up one day, I will buy a big car, a real big car which is better than papa’s car and runs much faster than his. The day I will buy, you will be the first one I will take on a ride. You know what that means na? You are the most special person in the world for me, not even papa. Ok, I will also let him sit in my car, but only on the back seat. Because the front seat is always only for you.

Now I don’t want Papa to go on and on about this day. So, just to make him happy- Happy mother’s day ma!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Made in India

(The views expressed here are completely my own and do not have any connection with my employers)

Working as a Brand Manager, you often get this question - “So, which is your favorite brand?” And before you begin to answer, they will quickly add “of course, apart from the one you handle”.

Today the kind of work you see from brands across categories is both exciting and inspiring for anyone who has anything to do with brands. That doesn’t leave many of us out as all of us interact with them at least as consumers.

So whenever I am asked to choose my favorite- I confess that it is almost impossible to pick one. If this is agreeable to the person asking the question, I give them three of my favorite brands that have really impressed me in the last few years and what makes them even special is that all of them are ‘made in India’

The first one in the list is Indigo Airlines-

In a category, where traditionally all players were talking about various things like in-flight service, food, discounts, luxury, etc. Indigo promised a very fundamental benefit of ‘on-time performance’ that was not explicitly offered by any operator before. Perhaps a benefit thought to be too generic or category hygiene by other biggies in the business but something which the consumer values a lot when he is evaluating the alternatives.

Unlike quality of service, crew, food, etc. which is very subjective and dependent on consumer’s personal tastes and preferences, on – time performance is very specific and measurable. If you have arrived at your destination on time (even before time sometimes) means that you have arrived on time, there is absolutely no room for ambiguity there. When you have a brand promise that is measurable and demonstrable, it is easier for you to own it credibly.

As a passenger, I have experienced Indigo deliver on this promise each time I have traveled with them and add to this their obsessiveness about ‘on- time performance’ (every in-flight announcement stresses the importance of it, their TV commercial talks only about it, they even want their passengers to help their ‘on- time cause’ by helping them tidy the flight before they begin the descent. Going by their announcements- they seem to have got a lot of awards and accolades for keeping ‘on-time’ promise. It’s also the only airlines in the country which uses a boarding ramp instead of stairs to save time while embarking and disembarking. Last but not the least, every time they make an on time arrival, everyone from the pilot to the cabin crew seems to celebrate it with a sense of pride.

Not surprising then that you hear consumers playing back Indigo’s ‘on –time’ promise from various quarters. Conversations at airports, online reviews, Facebook posts and even word of mouth recommendations. I realized the power of this brand on two occasions- one, I was planning a trip home in winters, and my mother who has nothing to do with the world of brands, in all her sincerity advised me “why don’t you fly by Indigo, it’s always on time, even in winters” on another occasion while I was flying Indigo, I was talking to my fellow passenger about why I like flying Indigo, when the guy in turn added to the list saying that IST now has a new meaning, its ‘Indigo Standard Time’ and unlike Indian Standard Time, this one’s always on time, sometimes even before time.

When it comes to building brands, simplicity is the best policy and Indigo is a fine example of that. A simple promise, well kept by the brand is played back by its consumers with as much simplicity. And that’s all that needs to be done.

There are few more things that Indigo got right, things which are small but add up to a lot. The branding- from the crew uniforms, to the aircrafts, to steppers to in- flight magazine, to merchandise they sell on board- the visual look and feel across all touch points in very consistent. Apart from the visual language, the brand has also developed a very witty tone in which it speaks to its passengers. They have taken advantage of an obvious fact that consumers have lot of time to kill when they are traveling and they will read anything they can lay their hands on. So all the food comes in very interesting packaging with copy that will leave a smile on your face, same with their in-flight magazine which is cheekily called 6E (pun on Sexy)

With all of this what Indigo has done successfully is to bring in certain irreverence to the category which was very stiff and took itself too seriously. Thank god someone did that.

Recently they have added a host of value added services that can make your flying experience even better- like pre-selecting seats with better leg space, Fast Forward-an express check-in service, pre-booking your meal, etc. of course all of them come at a cost but doesn’t that makes perfect business and consumer sense. They even seem to have an aggressive policy to lure corporate travelers and going just by the number of working professionals who prefer to fly Indigo, it definitely seems to be working.

So in nutshell, when I choose to fly Indigo, I don’t feel like a low cost traveler and but a smart one who has made a smart choice. It may sound too simplistic, but if a brand is able to make its consumers feel that way it has done its job.

Not surprising then that Indigo tops my list of favorite brands that are ‘made in India’. There are two more brands that I am equally impressed with. I will write about them in next post. Meanwhile do you want to make any guesses?