Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Black Pearl

Pirated from Bangalore Mirror

There’s something very ironic about ‘borrowing’ a ship’s name from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and using it to run a restaurant with a pirate theme! Even more ironic when it’s located right next to an establishment called Empire! (map) But that’s exactly what The Black Pearl has done, and they have obviously invested a lot of effort into doing justice to the theme. Across three floors – the top floor akin to an upper deck with open sky above – there are décor elements that accentuate this – anchors, cannons, mannequins, chains and ropes, skeletons, swords. There is a tinge of tackiness too, like the huge bones that became the butt of many jokes, and it was a little funny to have pirate-costumed service staff valet parking and speaking in Hindi. But ambiance is only part of the tale – the service, and the food had a role to play too, and that’s where the seas got rough! In the end, keeping with the theme, looting did happen, in the form of a bill.

Except for some pirate lingo, there was hardly anything on the menu (though the one we got was quite different) that went with the theme. When we began ordering the starters, we realised it was pointless to navigate the Continental and Chinese sections since they weren’t available. That went for some of the more interesting (sounding) drinks as well! From the Indian menu, we asked for a Til aur Paneer ka Tikka, an Afghani Mutton Boti Kabab, Aatishi Murgh and a Pirate Special Macchi Tikka. The veg representation was superficially spicy, though the paneer itself seemed quite fresh. We were served what was claimed to be the chicken, but easily sensed that it wasn’t. For a while, we pondered the various possibilities, until we were told that it was just the mutton dish. A little too bland. The Aatishi Murgh made an effort to live up to its name in terms of spiciness, and was quite a favourite. The Macchi Tikka was mildly spicy and quite tasty. In addition to some standard fare, we had ordered a Masala Cola. That turned out to be a Hajmola cola in disguise, with an overdose of masala! Exactly the opposite happened with the Pomegranate ‘N’ Tamarind Martini – it had no trace of a tamarind flavour. In the meanwhile, the ship was under aural attack – a singer was methodically gunning down favourite numbers!

It took so long for the main course to arrive that we joked that it had to be brought from the mainland! The Dal Peshawari was watery and had none of the butter and cream that was promised! We unanimously agreed that the Navaratna Korma deserved a spot in the desserts section! The Malai Gosht turned out to be its near-cousin, the only consolation was that the meat was well cooked. The Murgh Matka suffered from a methi overdose, though the boneless chicken was tender. The Ulte Tawa ka Paratha was mentioned in the menu as a must-try, but was nothing special. Ditto for the Afghani Kulcha, which had a few dry fruits slivers tossed into it for the name’s sake! The excitement was delivered as Crispy Roomali Roti – another ‘must try, but deservedly so. It was huge and we thought this was the Family Naan we’d ordered! When we realised it wasn’t, we had a sinking feeling, soon justified when we saw the size of the actual Family Naan! Gigantic and they obviously had the Indian joint family in mind! Thankfully, it was quite good.

Meanwhile, penance was happening in the form of bottled water, which was being served for free! The singer, as though understanding his limitations, was now crooning ‘Please Forgive Me’

From about ten dessert options on the menu, only four were available, and that included ice cream! Considering the experience thus far, we decided to play safe and try just the Gulab Jamun. That was surprisingly not bad! By this time, the singer had reached ‘Take me home’, and we heartily agreed.

For about Rs.1800, you could share a cocktail, a non veg starter, a couple of main course dishes, rotis and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) But ‘Arrgo’ would be a pithy way to describe our predicament – six of us held hostage in a pirate-themed restaurant serving not-so-great food. Such is the restaurant scene in Koramangala that a new place needs to run a tight ship just to keep its head above the water. Shape up or ship out, as the saying goes, and it’s mercilessly enforced. There would be first visits courtesy the theme, and the place was full while we were there, but unless there’s a sea change in the service, food and pricing, The Black Pearl could soon be in Davy Jones’ Locker!

Black Pearl, Vikas Tech Park, 2nd & 3rd Floor, #105 1 A Cross Road, Koramangala Industrial Layout, Jyoti Niwas College Road, 5th Block, Koramangala, Ph: 080-64333111

Humachines and the role reversal

In his post ‘Virtual People‘, Scott Adams writes that his generation would be the last of the ‘pure humans’  raised with no personal technology. Someday historians will mark the smartphone era as the beginning of the Cyborg Age. From this day on, most kids in developed countries will be part human and part machine. As technology improves, we will keep adding it to our bodies.

Singularity has appeared on this blog in various forms, and in at least a couple of posts, I have written about the augmented human, and like the proverbial frog in the slowly-boiling water, we wouldn’t know when it happened. (check this post for a fantastic short film on the subject) In fact, medical applications of 3D Printing are already accepted and on the rise. Not just ‘accessories like hearing aids or dental braces, we have moved on to a lower jaw, (previous link) 75% of the skullan ear, and yes, ‘cyborg flesh‘! It’s obvious that the applications are improving the lives of many. My question though remains – as we replace more and more of ourselves, possibly the brain itself within my lifetime, what happens to the essence of us that makes us human – the feelings, the emotions, the zillion unique reactions to various physical and mental stimuli?

In this wonderful post titled “How not to be alone“, in which the author writes about how we have begun to prefer (diminished) technological substitutes to face-to-face communication, (I couldn’t help but remember this)  he quotes Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” And from that statement I realised how the the narrative might come full circle – I remembered this post I had read a few months back. It mentions bots that have passed the Turing test (“test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of an actual human”) and has a compelling argument that while we’re singular entities with a complex design, we’re still just blueprints –  with many similarities. This also  entails that we’re building machines that can mimic, and evoke, our emotions. Thus, he writes, the era of artificial emotional intelligence is not far.

Perhaps, in the future we will outsource our humanity and reverse roles – half-machine former humans who deal with each other in mechanical ways and go back home to a humanoid bot that will give it all the empathy and emotional anchoring needed. Or would it need it at all? :)

until next time, be human, comment 😀

Once Upon A Time In Aparanta

Sudeep Chakravarti

I picked up this book because I liked Sudeep Chakravarti’s earlier work – Tin Fish. In both cases, the author sets up the story in very familiar and much ‘abused’ settings, but manages to give it a completely different and memorable treatment using his unique characters and narrative.

In this case it is Goa – Aparanta – the Land at the Horizon. The characters are well defined and to some extent even familiar – Winston Almeida the power hungry thug and land-grabber, Fernandes the corrupt cop, Sergei the Russian drug lord, the politicians who abet them so long as they get their stake, Antonio the innkeeper who is concerned more about his marriage and is content to sit on the sidelines as the thug-politician-drug lord nexus pillages Goa, Dino Dantas the crusader who refuses to give up, and so on. Even Princess, a Brazilian transsexual who lends the eccentric touch to the mix, is made to blend in naturally. Small detours in the narrative provide context and colour to the secondary characters – Ida, Anastasia, the Professor etc.

The reason it works is because like many good books, it adds the place as a character. Goa spills out of the pages – colorful people, unparalleled natural beauty, language which oozes flavours, the colonial hangover, the regular tourists who consider themselves locals, and their temporary versions who consider Goa’s pleasures a temporary answer to all their woes. The other reason is the prose – flexible enough to accommodate descriptions of Goa’s bountiful beauty as well as the satire that makes the brutality bearable.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending, especially considering the chapters that preceded it. It felt like a compromise, very accommodating, and in stark contrast to the rest of the book which pulled no punches. However, it still remains a must read for anyone who loves Goa and has seen it change over the years. For others, it could be the story of a land and its citizens, the choices they make and the price they pay for ‘development’.

Brands and the Personal API

Lifestreaming and I go way back, at least 5 years. 2008 was when I wrote about it first, though the experiments had started earlier. Most of the services I’ve mentioned in the post are now defunct, but my interest in the subject never waned. From the perspectives of memories mentioned in that post to speciation to brands using their lifestreams to build communities around it, I have had several thoughts on the subject. That’s why I found this post at GigaOm, which was about Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai sharing data logs from his life (weight, sleep, activities) and hoping developers would hack his ‘personal API‘, very very interesting. There have been stories about people and the tons of lifestreaming data they have amassed, but I had never heard of an API, and therefore consider it pioneering work.

Pioneering, less because of the novelty, and more because I think it has the potential to become mainstream, and even, the default paradigm of creation and consumption. Since the engagement @ scale framework refuses to let go of me, I immediately thought of the personal API in that context. With technological advances, I think it’ll become easier to create one’s own APIs and you can see several companies mentioned in the GigaOm post that are working on it. So I’d hope that its evolution is as fast as (or faster than) that of self publishing (on the web) which about a decade back was a relatively complex thing to do. So, in essence, we’re talking about huge amounts of data that are being generated and captured by individual users, and this is only going to be accelerated thanks to phenomena like wearable technology.

The current way of looking at Big Data is to synthesise actionable insights from processed and unprocessed information from touch points related or unrelated to the enterprise. As I’d mentioned in my presentation (on engagement @ scale) this is then used to target users better or drive more efficiencies.  They don’t really operate at the higher levels of community/meaning/purpose. Now think of the personal API and the data it holds. What if we looked at this individual streams of ‘Big Data’ not from the enterprise’ perspective but from the user perspective? What if brands created platforms that  would allow people to upload data that they choose to so that the brands could solve their needs better? Like I wrote in my ‘maker’ post, with massive technology leaps happening in areas like 3 D printing, there are tremendous opportunities for co-creation. Brands could even aggregate data from these individual streams to find need gaps and package that for a larger market. In fact, I’d say that this is probably what Nike+ is doing already.

But the real story is that these personal APIs could give great insights into the individual’s purpose in life, his priorities – in short, his life’s narrative. It gives brands the window to latch on to the narrative that they can identify with, and create value and meaning in the individual’s life. I think that’s what brands originally strove to do!

Update: Thanks MJ, for pointing me to the Nike+ Accelerator!

until next time, AP”I”

PS: Over at Soylent, they’re creating the nutritional equivalent of water, an ubiquitous ‘meal’ that is customised for body types. Funding? Kickstarter of course! :)

Bak Bak Bar

the bak bak appeared on Bangalore Mirror first

The place has a bakstory – the Manchester United Restaurant and Bar. But after its game ended, the buck was passed on to Bak Bak Bar on Children’s Day in 2011. (map and menu at Zomato) It belongs to the same group as Bakasur, and even if you miss the mention at the door, you might find an odd stirrer or two that have the Bakasur motif. But there ends the connection. The theme stays true to the name, sometimes in the form of good advice – “Don’t walk into a bar. Use the door instead” (though the poster is inside) – and sometimes as great conversation starters – “Avoid nuts. You are what you eat.” Coasters, posters, plates, bak bak is all over the place. A special mention needs to be made of the music – from Modern Talking to Peter Andre to Coldplay, it seemed to be a soundtrack of an average 30 year old’s life! The volume level is generally toned down to allow bak bak, but Saturdays are a loud exception! But enough bak bak, and on to the bar and the rest.

It’s difficult to slot the menu into the regular starters, main course silos, so we’ll just proceed in the order of consumption and move to the next section at half time! The drinks have amazing names – mostly popular culture characters! It was difficult to believe that Captain Jack Sparrow was a mocktail, but even then it was more entertaining than Mary Poppins. We also tried Princess Leia. Yes, that does sound wrong given that she’s an (ahem) icon among males, and unfortunately, we found her lack of taste disturbing! Since the idea was to pig out, we began with ‘Porkalicious. Though the meat was well cooked, it was a bit bland given that it was supposed to have a green chilli presence. The Beef Kheema Pav made up for it though and was probably the best of the starters. In close contention was the Prawn Pesto cutlet, though we felt that the signature gunpowder mayonnaise that came with it did not live up to gunpowder standards. We’d also tried the Spiced Beef Baklet earlier, and it wasn’t bad either. The PCP (Perfect Citrus Potatoes) had an excellent masala coating, but (thankfully) was not as addictive as its more famous acronym. The Lemongrass Fish steamed riceballs were really strong on flavours, and if you find that too overpowering, its dip is a real help. The Chicken Sausage Kalimirch is usually a safe bet, but during this visit, was lacking in spice.

The Monk-Flamed Chicken provided some flambé entertainment, but was more or less a flame out. The Mushroom Tikki ‘bakwich’ was also very mediocre and it was only the Beef Burger (with the bacon contributing generously) which brought some respite. The patty scored well on texture and flavour, though it was a task to ignore the over-excited lettuce leaves which was forever trying to get in the way! The Lamb Seekh ‘Bak Wrap’ failed to evoke any extreme reaction and played a decent supporting role. The star though was the Chicken Roulade with Makhni sauce. The cheese filling was subtle and allowed the Makhni sauce to shine. The only tiny chink was the strong mustard flavour in the mashed potato. We had tried the Butter Chicken pizza (yes, you heard that right!) the first time we dropped in, and it was awesome, but the second time, it was a huge disappointment thanks to its unavailability!

The writing was on the wall (actually a plate, but you get the message) “Exercise is good, but desserts taste better” So we tried everything that was available. The chocolate easily won – Ganache Tart with Badam Milk sauce, though the latter was ignored. The second half of Apple Pie with Pista Kulfi was a favourite as well, and if they had been less stingy with the Caramel Rum Sauce, the vanilla ice cream would have left us in high spirits as well! The Apricot Meetha Pastry couldn’t really match up to the other performances.

In terms of price, for about Rs.2000, you could share a cocktail, a couple of non veg starters and main course dishes each dishes and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) But beyond that, Bak Bak Bar serves oodles of character – from the liberally strewn fun messages to the yellow cycle. The food they served was not stellar, but it doesn’t make you go ‘What the bak’ either. There’s a definite buzz about the place, and courtesy that, and the Bak Bak meter (a bill holder) that thankfully doesn’t do a one-and-a-half, an extra point.

Bak Bak Bar & Restaurant, #1, Kira Layout, Hosur Main Road, Ph: 8792000390/1

Kodagu Moments – Days 2,3

Continued from Day 1.

The replacement for the early morning trek was a coffee trail trek that began at 10.30. Breakfast was sumptuous, and in addition to the elaborate buffet, you could also get dosas and eggs made-to-order. We returned to our room before getting to the Leisure area to begin the trek. Arun Poovaiah arrived on time, but we had to wait for a few guests who took a while to land up! After introductions, to each other, and to some fauna near the building (like the Burmese you can see in the second image – it stops growing if it comes in contact with an alternate life form! And I thought I was asocial!) we began walking higher, towards the second phase of the property’s expansion. On the way, we were shown the Arabica and Robusta coffee plants. The second phase was where the deluxe suites were being built – they were complete except for the work on the interiors. I think 227 was the suite we saw, and it was a rival to the ‘best view in the resort’ tag. To top it, there was a Jacuzzi on the balcony!

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Here’s a quick view of the scene from the balcony.

Poor Arun, having encouraged questions, was at the receiving end of some utterly random questions! I hate to sound like a jerk, but I really wished I had lmgtfy stickers! When he asked us for feedback on the stay, most guests said there were not enough activities – live bands was one suggestion! Led me to wonder whether humans had lost their ability to make their peace with silence and stillness. ​Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. 
 ~ Tim Kreider. Ah, well. Arun replied that live bands were not really in the scheme of things, but they did have tennis, basketball and badminton courts. We had also discovered a ping-pong table, carom and several board games in the Leisure area earlier. This is one feedback we had – that the welcome folder in the room should have this information, WiFi passwords etc.

We had been asked specifically to wear jeans and shoes for the trek, but several in the group pretended not to have received the memo. Thanks to that, the leeches in the area decided to invite themselves to the party! Arun totally downplayed it saying that it was blood donation. 😀 We then saw a rudraksh tree and the poor guy was asked for the significance of the number of faces a rudraksh had! He did say that a single faced one only appeared once a century and apparently Rajinikanth, Sonia Gandhi and Queen Liz had one! From there we moved on to see Elaichis, and the leeches decided to crash the party again! I got a video of one doing its version of the pub crawl.

We also saw the soon-to-be spa, the sports courts, and even the area for the swimming pool before we completed the trek.

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Lunch was another buffet, and there was still no pork! We asked for it and were told that we’d get a portion for dinner. We also saw a couple of kids whom we suspected were aged less than the resort’s 12 year old criteria. Hmm. On the way back to the room, I thought the buggy ride would serve as a good proxy tour of the resort. Here it is!

D had already made plans of how to spend the afternoon – Arun had invited everyone to The Verandah to make their own blend of coffee. I begged off and went into deep meditation, from which I emerged bleary eyed an hour later, when D came over to call me to taste the coffee she had blended, ground and brewed. We even got a packet of it. After we walked back to the room, we played a Calvinball version of chess, and then (for the first time) walked to the restaurant from the room. Silence except for crickets, a light breeze, bliss!

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We did get the pork curry, but though it was tasty, it was too little too late. This is another feedback we gave – when in Coorg, it is unpardonable not to serve pork in every single meal! After dinner, we played carom, and D was convinced that we should buy one. Yay! I’d been asking for one forever now!

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And thus ended Day 2, and our check out time the next day was 11 AM.

Day 3

The only time the service faltered was after breakfast when we asked for a buggy. It was raining heavily, and we had to wait for about 20 minutes before we got one. I have to say that this was the sole exception – the staff had always been courteous, and understood the meaning of service very clearly. They’d go out of the way to help and always made it a point to ask if we needed anything. Most everyone smiled, and that was wonderful! We ended up paying Rs.34500, inclusive of the driver’s food (nominal charges, and his accommodation was complimentary) for 3D/2N and while it might seem on the high side, and the place is not the easiest to reach, all things considered, it’s worth it if you can convince them to feed you pork regularly! 😀

We left out by around 11.30. and the driver’s clock showed 4.50. Our time was not right, I should have taken it seriously! We had initially thought of lunching at Madikeri but we made quick time on the way back and based on the distance, decided on Cafe Coorg near Hunsur for lunch. At Kushalnagar, the driver braked suddenly thanks to an idiot in front of him who, without any warning, decided to stop and attempt a U turn in the middle of the road! A bike scraped our vehicle a bit, cursed us and we thought that was the end of the day’s adventures. We stopped at Cafe Coorg and managed to keep down the food. Enough said. (Probably a good idea to have an early breakfast at Tamara and lunch at Madikeri)

A little after that, the awesomeness began. A sudden hump ahead made the driver in front of us brake. Our driver was too late to respond, and we could only watch in helpless silence, as despite the hand brake, we skidded straight on to the back of the vehicle ahead of us! No one except our car was hurt. The other car’s owner was a Mallu and after mildly complaining about the damage to his vehicle, (which wasn’t much) prophesied that our vehicle wouldn’t move! He offered us a lift till Kengeri but we declined. We then limped r.e.a.l.ly.s.l.o.w.l.y till Srirangapatna, where we got a mechanic. There was a theatre playing ‘Bulbul’ opposite the workshop, but D wasn’t very interested. The ‘fix’ took half an hour, and we resumed the journey. Turned out in a while that he had made it worse – the engine began to overheat! We barely managed to reach Mandya. Several bullock carts chose this opportunity to add wins to their CVs! Hmmph! Our driver managed to get us an alternate vehicle at Mandya, after unsuccessfully trying to convince us of the benefits of a Volvo bus, and then practically assembling all the taxi drivers around to offer bids, and suggestions!

We started from Mandya at 6, and managed not to touch other vehicles. But this driver also understood that we were on a vacation and despite directions and suggestions, decided to show us most of Bangalore before dropping us in Koramangala at 9.45. Ten hours and fifteen minutes on the road! D claimed that all the tranquility she had attained at Tamara was lost on state highways! But hey, we have 2 posts and photos to show for all of it! 😉

Kodagu Moments – Day 1

A variety of factors led us to look nearby for the first of this (financial) year’s vacations – a relatively unambitious trip to Coorg. But it was our first trip to the area, so we decided to make it special by resorting to luxuries that we otherwise stay away from during our travels. The trip began on a Friday morning, and our Celcabs driver was only about 15 minutes late. At 7.30 we got out of Koramangala on to tolled NICE and un-tolled other roads, and parts of Bangalore that we’d seen only on Google Maps.

Though we’d have liked to try out breakfast at Maddur Tiffany’s, hunger and a persuasive driver led us to Kamat Lokaruchi, just after Ramanagara, at about 9.15 AM. We decided that the ‘buffet’ option would be the least taxing mentally. At Rs.120 per head, it wasn’t the stuff legends are made of, but pretty filling and reasonably tasty – pongal, dosas, (masala and standard) Kotte Kadubu, vada, jalebi, kesari bath and so on! The pit stop was short and we then passed more Kamat outlets, a few CCD, McDonald ones, and even a KFC and Empire, all much more spacious and luxurious than the ones in Bangalore.

On to Channapatna, Maddur, and a Mandya quite different from the muddy little town that I had somehow visualised. Ambareesh (whom we have something bordering on affection for – thanks to Sumalatha’s mallu movie connection :) ) was everywhere, and thanks to ‘Bulbul’, so was Darshan! Shaded roads, a smattering of brand outlets and large parks, Mandya made a pretty picture. Neither of us knew that we’d meet again in a more elaborate way during the trip, but that’s for later.

Srirangapatna, Hunsur (which has a few highway eateries) Periyapatna later, we passed Bylakuppe, where ocher and saffron robed monks swarmed, and a couple of them managed to scandalise D when she spotted them in a non-veg restaurant which heavily advertised chicken as a specialty. I told her about the Dalai Lama being a non-vegetarian and she refused to believe me! After Kushalnagar, we were at Madikere just before 12.30. Given that our destination was only about 40 km away, we decided to wait till we got there, for lunch. But 40 km actually took almost a couple of hours, and past Napoklu and Kabbinakad lay the end of our journey – The Tamara, where we had reserved a weekend break package.

The billing happened first, heh, as did a welcome garland a vanilla drink that was oh-so-refreshing! Since we were reasonably famished, and there was some confusion regarding the room, we went straight to the restaurant. A buffet awaited us, and we weren’t really discerning of what we ate – I remember it as a large blur! Our luggage saw our room before us. A buggy (on-demand and a call away) is the most common form of transport, unless you want to walk, which is a splendid option. We’d specifically asked for Room 111 (or its adjacent 112) because they offered the best view in the property. And so it was.

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Since even a few thousand words aren’t really enough, here’s a video that D shot.

As with every other trip, my headache decided to pay a visit in the evening! Thankfully, there was an option to lounge around on the balcony, or to watch the landscape change colour right from the bed! Easy to guess what I chose. :)

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The buffet dinner had a couple of Coorg dishes but not what we had come seeking – pork! But we pigged out anyway. By then, it had begun raining. That meant that our trek planned for 6.30 AM had to be canceled, since the paths would be slippery. I pretended disappointment, but apparently not enough of an act to convince D! Haha. Day 2 would therefore begin a little later. At least one of us was not complaining!

To be continued…

Life of Pi

Yann Martel 

Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi Patel is a a 16-year-old boy who becomes the victim of a shipwreck and survives for 227 days in a lifeboat in the Pacific, accompanied by a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orang-utan and a 450 – pound Royal Bengal Tiger. That, in itself, makes an interesting story, but what adds to the book’s intrigue is the spiritual subtext that seems to be left open to the reader to interpret. The story itself begins with the words of an old man in Pondicherry, who tells the author “I have a story that will make you believe in God”.

Part 1 sets up the book quite well. Piscine, named after a swimming pool in Paris, manages to get rid of his first nickname and gets himself to be called Pi. The rest of this part is about his growing up in the premises of his family’s zoo in Pondicherry. He learns a great deal about the ways of animals and we get to see the characters that shape his perspectives – his father who swears by reason, his atheist biology teacher, a Catholic priest, a Muslim baker, and to a lesser extent, his mother and his elder brother. He simultaneously becomes a devout practitioner of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, something everyone finds difficult to understand. I wonder if the author felt that such a (relatively) sane setting would constrain a spiritual debate and thus the change in scenery.

Thanks to the uncertain 1970’s, the family decides to relocate to Canada. Tsimtsum, the Japanese steam ship transporting the family and the animals, sinks off the Philippines coast however, with only Pi, a female Orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengali tiger escaping on a twenty-six foot lifeboat. Thus begins the second part ‘Pacific Ocean’, whose initial stages are a savage struggle for survival that ends with two winners – Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger. Pi finally manages to make a raft and set up an alpha-omega relationship with the tiger. The rest of this part is his survival on the sea, as well as his experience with a carnivorous island.

The last part consists of Pi landing up on the shores of Mexico, where Richard Parker leaves without even a goodbye, and then, his interview with the shipping company representatives. When they refuse to believe his story, he offers an alternate story which also sheds some light on the probable subtexts and leaves the reader wondering whether the animals’ story was Pi’s way of dealing with the things he was forced to do.

Our ability to do things we would consider repugnant, when it comes to survival, our need for rituals to bring a sense of order to what happens around us are a couple of themes that I could sense. Richard Parker’s character is probably the side of Pi which he is forced to bring out for survival. The way in which he demarcates their separate areas physically is probably a metaphor for how much Pi would allow it to dictate him.

Pi’s disdain for agnostics is brought out directly early in the book and the flow of the book would indicate that everything we experience is for a reason and is not a random coincidence. Pi would probably like us to believe that there is a higher power that has filled the world with amazing wonders, each of which has its own significance in the order of things.

The carnivorous island/algae is the one I found most intriguing. The algae with the sweet exterior that lures in an unsuspecting victim and then kills it later. I read one account that it was a metaphor for Pi’s pessimism. But I’m not convinced. I wonder if it’s a metaphor for what we cling on to in life. The algae, sweet outside and bitter inside, give us a zest for life, and lures us in. Even the dead fish, which serve as a warning, go unnoticed by us. And in the end, it will just suck us in deeper and eat away our soul. But if like the meerkats, we take up a high ground, or like Richard Parker, come back to a haven, we might keep ourselves safe for a while. (Is that a spiritual high ground?) However, in the end, you would have to leave the island completely if you want to survive.

Like I mentioned, it is the intrigue of demystifying the subtext that will keep you going, even if you find the actual proceedings tedious. A really strange tale indeed, but as Pi asks “What is your problem with the hard to believe?”

For brands to make it….

At #SBS2013 Jeff Dachis posed an interesting thought, captured by Gautam in this tweet.

Both Gautam and Haroon then shared interesting links in this context – content from Jeremiah Owyang and Loic Le Meur respectively. (had not seen the first one before) The ‘lunch conversation’ didn’t really happen around this, so I thought I’ll share my thoughts here. :)

Jeremiah’s post also has a link that shows how fast this collaborative economy is growing. Recently, he also wrote a post on the ‘maker movement’, and his experiences at a fair he attended. It also had a short note on how brands could leverage the movement – become enablers, building a marketplace around themselves, and offer customised products directly to individuals.

At #SBS2013, as part of my presentation on ‘The Currencies of Engagement @ Scale‘ I’d shared a rendition of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to show how engagement should be scaled to (also) satisfy the needs (of a user from a brand) at the top of the pyramid. (slide 17 here) It had both collaborative consumption and co-creation listed as narratives because they traded in the currencies of community and esteem respectively.

At this stage, I thinks brands have a great chance of being a significant part of the ‘maker movement’ if they can change the outlook of their business processes – from production to marketing. After all, they’re makers too, except that when they attained massive scale, they moved more and more towards a one-size-to-fit-everyone approach, pursuing efficiency @ scale. Again, it is not as though brands who do not change will suddenly cease to exist – it’s just that their narratives won’t be strong enough for any affinity. As I said in  the presentation, there is a limit to the currencies of efficiency narratives – cheaper, faster etc – because once a better player comes along, a switch is imminent.

In the medium term, these brands will exist because not everyone has the same involvement with every category. Let’s take the example of an automobile. I still ride a two-wheeler, because for me the narrative is a very functional one – move from Point A to Point B. When I do buy a car, it will continue to exist in the functionality narrative, but I know several for whom the car is a reflection of their achievements in life. Just like the t-shirts I wear are a representation of my philosophies. For those several, a t-shirt might just be another garment they wear, or again, a representation of their material possessions – easily captured by wearing a costly brand with little involvement in the design. My belief is that in every domain, there’ll be enough consumers who buy a brand for the currencies they offer at lower levels, (price, convenience etc) and that will continue to be the short head. (in the long tail concept) But as time passes, the economics won’t work out because the resources a brand has to spend to keep its consumers would prove to be far more than the money it makes out of them.

At this point, all the narratives at the higher levels of the pyramid (co-creation, collaborative consumption) are in the long tail, but brands will soon realise that with evolving technology dynamics, it will have to learn to cater to the long tail, where the currencies will be different. This is most definitely an evolution and not a sudden shift. For starters, brands would have to learn the new dynamics of production and distribution and the impact on their balance sheets. They will have to learn balancing acts. Imagine a branded retail store that allows you to buy their regular products as well as make your own versions (which are also branded – hello NikeID) at various levels of customisation. In terms of economies of scale, the former would be better off with traditional mass production and the latter with a technology like 3D Printing. The online version of this store would also have both, and probably the ability to buy the materials and print it yourself as well.

It is not just the production side which will require a balancing act, think of what the brand stands for. It needs to speak different languages to different kinds of consumers – from the guy who wants a convenient off-the-shelf purchase to the guy who wants every-part-customised, so that both feel they’ll get value from the brand. There are nuances as well – sometimes my association with the brand is not because it allows co-creation or collaborative consumption, it is only because I identify and relate to other things they stand for – and my consumption of them deals with the currencies in community or esteem. In short, what does it mean for brands? Exactly what’s happening to everything else – massive disruption. The way to tackle it is to try and get a bearing of the narratives your brand should be part of, (oh yes, Big Data and predictive analytics can help) because no brand can compete for every consumer with every maker.

until next time, break first, then make

Bonus Read: Emerging Bets at the Intersection of Technology & Culture