Sunday, March 10, 2019

To LA (on not..)

Enough of me harping my stories. To make this more interactive for the readers, let’s try to approach this topic with a Q& A session.

Q: Come on! LA can’t be that bad. Things could be worse..
A: Well yes, a lot of things could go wrong. A scenario analysis of such an instance:
1.     1.   You drive to Rodeo Drive and pay a parking fee more than your car’s worth.
2.     2.   You liquidate all your assets, submit all your property deeds to buy a small bottle of perfume from one of the gargantuan showrooms here at Rodeo Drive of those unpronounceable labels.
3. You reach the airport holding the prized possession closely, only to be informed that it is 101ml/ 3.401 oz, and hence you ought to dispose it before flying out.

Q: You mentioned LA feels dilapidated. But I’ve seen LA on TV over the years, through Street Hawk, Knight Rider, Jack Bauer Bawaal (of 24 fame). It does not seem old at all.
A: See.. There you go- I expect you are still stuck in a time warp, with all those series you mention are from the 80s-90s era. Did Neil De Grasse Tyson manage to tutor you on space time after all? Sure, LA must have been growing when Arnold Schwarzenegger Baba reloaded his shotgun with a ‘Hasta La Vista, Baby’ in Terminator 2. But then, as soon as the battle of T-800 and T-1000 reached the final stage in Terminator 2, LA stopped growing.
What you see today are those age-old neon signs, roads and pavements in state of disrepair, etc. I take great care when I say this: The buildings, shops, etc. seem to be kind of broken dreams. Not been able to grow or change with times.

A: Well, we stayed right in the heart of Hollywood. Griffith Park was nice to look at, but all those famous streets- Hollywood Boulevard, Vine street, etc. failed to impress. If you ask me, the real culprit could have been San Francisco. The Griffith observatory does offer pretty good sights, though I must say- that Hollywood sign is overrated. We had driven down from SF and thus LA just couldn’t keep up with our expectations.

Q: We hear you went to Hollywood’s Universal studios? How was that?
A: Ahh.. An early jog in the morning around Griffith park and Hollywood Boulevard proved that there was nothing we could do out here in LA. Hence, we headed out to Universal Studios, complying with my parents’ recommendation- when they had heard about our LA plan. That was a treat for sure.

Q: Universal- It’s kind of a theme park right? Isn’t that kid-ish?
A: Bah.. Humbug. You know there’s the Water-world, where all those guys come jumping around on these really fast water scooters and do jumping around and save the girl. That’s so cool!! Then there’s the Minions-land where we join Gru and his minions to save the world. 
And the Harry Potter world- it’s like the best thing everrr!! Lots of places to Chillax in Hogwarts places; with butterbeer and really cool candies..
And.. and.. you know what? They’ve opened up the Fast and Furious portion- where we team up with Dom in his Pontiac GTO, driving past bad guys and all. And in the lower section of the studio, there’s the Mummy, Jurassic Park & the Transformers ride. Isn’t that cool!!

Q: Did you visit the Trump National golf-club out there in LA County? Which reminds me, there is an intolerance issue back at your home as well, right?
F&F: Dom Toreto's Charger
A:  What is this term ‘intolerance’? I’m afraid I can’t quite follow you. Intolerance? Alluding to such convoluted and perplexing words mystifies me. Who is this Donald Trump by the way? Never heard of him/her. Will ask this to the smarter person in the house: my wife and get back to you..

Q: Santa Monica is great we hear.
A: Correction. Not great, it’s awesome! This is where the legendary Route 66 starts. The pier is amazing. While Pier 39 and around in SF was more of a carnival, this one here had a great lazy feel to it, maybe close to Europe as well! A few stalls here and there, lot of street performers and people immersed in the sound of the ocean, with their fishing gear. It was a treat to see some live catch. The neighborhoods by the sea here radiate a pleasant charm.

Q: I am planning to cover downtown, Griffith observatory, the Hollywood sign and Walk of fame in my trip? Is there anything wrong with my plan?
A. Leave the plan. The problem is you. You should not be looking up to LA for tourism. You could go to Universal or Santa Monica though.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Always want to get back to SF

San Francisco – What a city! 
No other city liberates your heart the way that this does. If you want to witness beauty, head out to the pier.

The wind was had those two traits-
it is always fresh and has a mysterious pleasantness about it. For those of us used to living in cities where a nearby waterbody signifies dampness, dark waters marked by industrial effluents, the freshness of SF’s bay and the air around remains a mystery.
Vanchi - the successful Cali entrepreneur & his BMW
Territorial war at Pier 39 - the big guy won..
The dynamism of the city does not cease to impress. One can already hear residents of a lot of other great city proclaiming supremacy for this fact. However, until I travel other places, SF remains at top for me. For starters, just see the people around you: You see technologists, start-up folks of all genre, design people, finance guys, junkies, and what not. The last two are of little help to the society, as pointed out by a lady in the BART on our way to Oakland. The fellow lay on the floor in a quite a queer manner: The only normalcy about his stance was how his hind was seated. His buttocks were planted on the seat as is the case for most of humans, and everything else differed remarkably. The top of his head was planted on the train floor,  and was serving as an anchor supporting majority of his weight. His hands, as lifeless protuberances, swayed as per the direction in which the train traversed, staying true to centrifugal force and associated principles of physics. “Is he dead?” is all what the commuters commented, and after assessing that the creature was still inhaling and exhaling, he was left alone. The incident portrays the other social aspects of a free society. While SF does inculcate creativity like no other, the freedom other tools (they call it ‘almost legal’ here) can put you in a fix.

The cool wind was levitating. In the bay tour, an emotional story of the city was told – ensuring you connect with the heart and spirit, that makes this city. Though history is something that is very limited in the States, it was beautifully recited for the city, from the era of the Spanish quests, to the gold rush and the fire that burnt the city down. You seem to live it along with the sights.  

Undoubtedly, there would be problems with the city, part of a bankrupt state, poverty of a sort rampant in some pockets. We are However, it is a living dream- this city. I envy those who can call this city their home, breathe in the California air, mixed with the air of the pacific, funneling through the bay.

I looked at the woman of my life, and thanked my stars for making this possible- to be here with her, for that promise well kept.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

From Saki Naka to the Parliament: A letter from a common man

Saki Naka: the land of chaos. So is Ghantaa Ghar of Ghaziabad, Dadar station or Bakaara market of Mogdishu in militant era Somalia – I am pretty sure you all have a list of places you dread all your lives. 

I, for instance would give a limb to escape this silly city and annihilate that hell on Earth called Saki Naka. I don’t need cigarettes to kill me. For each time I pass Saki Naka (which is twice every-day), my life reduces by a fraction. The rowdy crowd, the filth of the planet and eternal chaos on whatever’s left on the road: leads to a remarkably high blood pressure and mental agony – slowly rotting my flesh and soul.

This had to be the most dreaded place on the planet, or so I thought. Until today, when I happened to watch Sushma Swaraj soldiering her way, to make herself heard in that place they call the Parliament of my nation.

Dear Ms. Swaraj,

Respect. That’s the word for you. For having been a real worker throughout your life, for maintaining a commendable work ethic and surviving between maniacs. I salute you for braving those mindless morons shouting slogans yesterday and managing to get your message across.

I was let down a bit when you pulled up the Gandhi family so blatantly, for fighting an accusation with an accusation was the forte of those hollow ones. You -  I see as a firebrand fighter, who ought not to stoop to such levels. Come on! That “Mumma, Quattrocchi ne kitna paisa diya” was too much for the Gandhi junior.  Maybe this is the only way left for you to work with these rogues; but I still expect you to be above this.

Anyway, I am so glad that you fought within the system, right in the house, amidst that chaos and came across victorious. Somehow, maybe even unknowingly, you have set an example for the youth:  That this is indeed a country riddled with scum of people (as proven in the parliament yesterday), and maybe we all need to fight to make our own way rather than waiting for a fair & conducive redressal system or a systematic way to proceed.

I have to say, Mr. Jaitley's speech was very impressive as well. How he calmly explained the issue in detail. I am happy to see the support you have within your own party, which in these days, remains a luxury not many afford. Congratulations!

Dear Prince Pappu,

(#pappu.. While I expect a person of Ms. Swaraj's stature to maintain dignity and limit her mudslinging, I have the luxury of slinging mud behind the veil of a common man, who in some limited way is empowered to express him/herself freely by our constitution  :) )

You are certainly not ready for what has fallen in your hands. Please explore the world and get back once you have proven something. My recommendation to you is to embrace an environment (preferably in India) which mandates struggle. Pick your stuff: sports, business, journalism, baba-ism & spirituality (quite in rage these days), services, acting – whatever you like. Struggle is what characterizes the way of life (and possibly some success) in our nation. How a commoner manages inflation, feeds his family, how a middle class wars to get his family a scrap of so called luxury of electricity, food and a home (otherwise a basic amenity in many countries I am told) and how a businessman struggles to keep his enterprise afloat in this hostile environment – You have a lot to learn.

It would be great if your dear bro-in law accompanies you for these lessons; at least he could come to terms with how different life is for the common man and the least he could do is be discreet about his loot.

Ah, one more thing. Please stop playing the bhola-bhaala boy. Please do not ever pretend that you had no control over what your hooligans were doing in the parliament yesterday. If you are still the leader in your party, I hold you responsible for all that happened yesterday. 

Or should I be asking for your resignation? 

When people say you are the ‘opposition’, that does not mean you are meant to oppose each and every thing. For the act of your idiots has cost my nation a lot of money, has stalled many bills critical for the economy and hit the image of India by your acts of hooliganism. The Parliament is not a place for such acts and I urge you to get some sense into your people and uphold the dignity of this country.

Dear Speaker,

I can’t thank you enough. Thank you Ma’am: for managing the house yesterday; for not allowing the catastrophic parliamentarians to murder democracy. You reminded me of an old teacher of mine who had a hard time making us cacophonic brats sit in the class or abate any form of destructive plan incubated by us. Now a mature person, I always feel ashamed of the trouble we created for our poor teachers. However, yesterday you stood through and bravely managed something beyond what I had seen or experienced in the past.

“Show them on TV. I am requesting Lok Sabha TV. This is not the way. I won't adjourn the House... Let people see what kind of behavior they are showing. Let the whole of India watch. Forty people are hijacking the rights of 440 members”- Your move was a masterstroke.

Dear Hooligans,

Shame on you. For your behavior, for creating a ruckus in the Parliament, for your shallowness and for the lack of sense & brains.

I was left aghast by your lack of intellect – a point proven when I tried to hear your slogans: 
  •  “Ek. Do. Teen. Chaar.. Band karo ye atyaachaar..”

I had a hard time believing this and had to confirm this again when you kept on yelling this multiple times. For this slogan served us last when we graduated from class 3. Is that all you could come up with? Just shows how dead your brain cells are.

And what good did you achieve, I ask? Asking a minister to resign does not mean that you can stall the parliament. Do you realize the futility of your argument? The country does not lose money when Lalit Modi travels to UK, Sweden or Nalasopara. But we certainly do lose money when you sit in that house and carry out your antics instead of facilitating something fruitful.  If the papers are to be believed, each session costs somewhere in the tune of Rs. 2 crores. This is direct cost; I am yet to factor other costs and as far as we citizens are concerned, we need to see some concrete returns for our taxes. I do not shell out that money for your drama.

This brings me to my request for coming to terms with reality. You primary accountability is to the citizens of this nation, Pappu’s and Madam’s orders ought to be secondary. Did you see how Pappu and Madam maintained a silent stance, leaving the dirty work to you people? Do you even comprehend the kind of fools you have been proven to be? Chanting a rhythm of slogans without an iota of inkling on the proceedings in the Parliament: you could not have been dumber. Your antics (under the leadership) have ensured that I will never consider your party worthy of any meaningful outcome in the near future. In fact, if you could legalize murder, citizens of the nation will make sure you are crushed in seconds.

I thought I had found the perfect profession for you: Fish mongering in Saki Naka. But then, careful deliberation of the matter proves that you are not even worthy of that. For the trade certainly calls for hard work and some basic intelligence, which I doubt you possess. So in conclusion, you might just be worthy of being sycophants to Pappu and corporation. 

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations for completing a year in office. Amongst many, some of the facts that have helped you earn respect are as follows:
  • ·         You have worked your way up the ladder. I am sure you understand our country well
  • ·         Winning an election in a country as diverse as ours is no easy feat, so you are marked an achiever
  • ·         You have given that much needed push of positivity  & hope everywhere, investors included
  • ·         By addressing basic, and even in some cases, embarrassing issues of our country, you have brought hidden discussions in the foreground. Addressing the toilet issue in our country, cleanliness, etc. does provide a starting point
  • ·         Make in India: Brilliant move.. While we are trying hard to directly jump from being an agrarian economy to a services based economy; I am still not convinced if we would get far skipping the production stage.  Make in India is my hope of setting the basics of an economic cycle right. 
  • Hitting the fundamental problem for women safety: Asking mothers to question not their daughters, but their sons on what they were upto, their whereabouts (not eve-teasing, eh?), berate them if they ever considered women anything less- You made sure that I became a fan
  • ·    While we have a long way to go, I feel that accountability has somewhat increased, with questions being asked across the bureaucracy and officials turning up on time

But now, that dreamy image is coming to an end. And one thing I agree with those ruffians shouting slogans in the Parliament is that: Please.. Get back to real work.

All those trips around the world are fine with the promises of investments etc. but that is not exactly what only you are supposed to do. Some pointers:
  • ·         Gentle reminder: Ms. Swaraj is the external affairs minister, not you.
  • BJP is not equal to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. We would like to see the core team empowered further.
  • ·         There are pressing issues back at home: that call for leading by example
  • ·         Your personal interest in our domestic projects ensured that things went on as per plan and the officials were monitored and questioned periodically, pray get back and continue
  • ·         I, as an Indian am never convinced on promises until they are delivered- The ‘hope’ of foreign investments needs a lot of ground-work before they are realized
  • ·         Don’t get a bad bargain for us just to make news. For eg: the $35 billion investment from Japan sounds great as a headline. But there’s nothing in it for me. The Japanese banks are responsible for managing disbursements with no mention of Indian financial institutions; the asset creation proposed and the emanating revenue is still not clear. Plus, these investments come with riders. The money will never reach here until we assure that our reforms take off and the environment is worthy of a constructive development

I have to say: of late, your behavior is somewhat in the lines what the country would expect a village idiot to do, once elevated to a position of power. For instance, if you put me in a position of power, the first thing I would do is scamper around to get myself invited to snazzy places, make sure I am pampered by an army of dignitaries, clock as many air miles as long as I am in power, and create a cocoon to protect myself from the problems of the system.

Sounds good when I do it for myself, but not what is expected from the Prime Minister of a nation.

Your current strategy of hard-selling without a robust underlying product can take us only so far. May I remind you of the number of investments that have returned thanks to the real environment at home?

Let us talk accountability in terms of numbers in a fair period: say two years. Discounting problems back at home, delays etc., if there is even a 35% realization of the commitments emanating from your foreign tours, I may contemplate lauding the efficacy of your travel and may ask you to continue with your globe-trotting spree. If that goal seems un-achievable, please get back and work, before I place you in the same category as above.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Saga of Proton

This is the story of Proton: the automotive star of Malaysia.

Appalled by the degradation of investigative journalism in the recent times, our dear Shubham has donned a long kurta, picked up the pen, diary and a side-sling bag to cover the journey of Proton. To avoid personal biases creeping into my study & assessment, I refrained from referring to the media or even the Malaysian people, majority of whom are very proud of their country and its national produce (especially Proton).

Hence I decided to direct my studies and discussions to the dispassionate assessors of the product. The native inhabitants of the land were nominated- those of who were not necessarily using the product, but have seen it evolve over generations.
One of the First Proton Saga to roll out: @ the National Museum, KL

1. Malaysia & Proton

Good journalism calls for understanding the roots first before getting into the detailed study, and I am not someone who disagrees with this. To understand the genesis of the country and evolution of Proton, I went to the ancient Hornbill.

SP (me): Greetings Ms. Horn-Bill, how you dooinn..?
HornBill (HB): Squeak.. Snarl..
I recalled reading somewhere that hornbills hated small talk and thought it would be wise to get straight to the point.

SP: It would be great if you could throw some light upon the story of Malaysia and its rise..
HB: Malaysia gained independence in 1957 and we have worked tirelessly to emerge as a newly industrialized economy. To give you some perspective, let me throw some numbers. The per capita GDP of Malaysia is $17,500 (against $4,000 in India). In terms of Forex reserves, we are ranked #20 in the World and #26 in terms of export, ahead of many advanced economies.  The economy had been traditionally fueled by natural resources but we have evolved a lot with our former PM: Mahathir Mohammed’s vision of creating an industrial power to be reckoned with.

Under Mahathir, Malaysia undertook an ambitious range of traditional industrial-policy programs. The two most prominent focused on the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) in export-oriented manufacturing, and efforts to develop “national champions” in mass manufacturing and heavy industry, most contentiously in steel and automotive.

(Source: CIA World Factbook)

SP: Could you tell me something about Proton?
HB: Ahh.. Proton.. Well. We are proud to be the only South-East Asian country to have indigenously designed cars. Sure, Thailand next door has a lot of manufacturing facilities for Toyota, Honda etc, but they are simply shops producing the designed pushed from Japan (or elsewhere). The idea was conceived by Mahathir Mohammed himself, who had the vision of creating a product that will not just be an enabler for the citizens of the nation, but also a means to reduce the import bill of the nation. Initially, we started with the Proton Saga, which- along with the subsequent models were essentially re-badged Mitsubishi Lancers. However, we have come a long way since.
SP: Is Proton still the leader? Do we have any numbers to back that fact?
HB: Not precisely.. Proton was the leader for many years. It was only recently, that those pesky mini-cars from Perodua have taken the lead in Malaysia.

SP: Thank you for your time Ma’am, its been a pleasure.

2. The Rise: From Domestic leader to a true Multi-National

The Chimp
Armed sufficiently with an evolution story, I sat down for extensive research. My initial findings did not portray a very clear picture, for there were a lot of things happening at Proton. There were a wide array of models, some phenomenal hits, with certain vanishing without a fight. The journey was a ceremonial one, marked by an incredible takeover of a British sports car firm by Proton and the transition from a state owned company to a privately held one. I decided I needed to head to my second interviewee: the Chimp. I had reservations about approaching this species, but I was time and again reminded of their street-smart nature and analytical abilities.

SP: Hi there!
Meeting the Analyst Chimp
Chimp: Howdy..

SP: I am here to get gain cognizance of Proton’s strategy. I heard that Proton initially started as a manufacturer of Mitsubishi vehicles, then there was a failed partnership with Citroen and the Lotus. Are Proton cars truly Malaysian?
Chimp: Well you are right about the journey. What you miss is the major milestone: The Waja. This was the first indigenously designed Proton car. While we have considered partnerships, we are now truly capable of designing and producing our own cars.
Proton Waja: Going Indigenous
SP: Ah! The Waja! I have sat in a couple of Wajas here. Not all great reviews to hear, I’m afraid. Some people end up comparing it with the old Wira.
Chimp: If you would be kind enough to list the names of those who dislike Waja, I will pray hard that they all be struck by lightning.. That is after I have personally shot them twice. Moving on. What more do you need to know?

SP: Now I have to tell you: when Proton took over Lotus, a premier sports automotive marquee, I was very much impressed. I find a dash of irony there as well; for while the British ruled Malaysia in the recent past, it is stunning to see the Malaysian powerhouse taking over (and saving) one of the brands that had played a vital role in establishing British supremacy in automobiles in the early world war era.
Chimp: Well, that’s how things are in the flat world. Have you read Thomas Friedman’s books by the way? Once we Asian tigers have grown well after capitalizing our home-ground markets, the world is our next playground. Whatever Proton has done is remarkable but so have what you Indians and other Asian tigers have.

SP: Err.. I do not quite get it. You say we Indians have done something similar??!

Chimp: Bah. And they call me chimp brain.. Of course you have Mister. This South East Asian automotive phenomenon started off with Thailand first, China and India thereafter. And as for the acquisition story, what better than your TooToo fellow buying out those automotive houses that are still considered the pride of Britain.

SP: Wow! Right you are!! It’s Tata by the way. Not TooToo.. Mr. Ratan Tata. A great man, if I may add. Yep. Tata did come in as the white knight for Jaguar and Land Rover brands. This also helped Ford revitalize itself with the cash, which I am told, was what it was desperate for in those times.

Chimp: Yea Yea. Tata it is. And it does not stop there. It was your home grown Tractor company that made sure that SsyangYong survived. Did you know, what a great task this Mahindra has done?

SyangYong: A formidible player in Korea in the past
SP: SsyangYong??! Those overpriced monsters they try to sell us in the name of luxury? I don’t think that’s what I call an achievement. Taking over a tiny motor company.

Chimp: Your ignorance with worldly matters is highly irritating. Wait.. I had it on my files somewhere. Looking Looking.. Ahh!! Here it is! This is not what I say, but what KPMG guys say in their reports:
So much for your claims about SsyanYong being a miniscule forgettable player. You homo-sapiens have much to learn..

SP: Thanks chimp, I walk away with a better understanding of how automotive players transition from domestic markets to the global platform

Chimp: Glad I could help.Now if you could excuse me, I have a banana to finish..

Baby Croc
To further the discussion on the recent state of affairs of Proton, I headed to the Crocodile park of Langkawi. All the crocodiles here were in deep slumber and none responded to my rapid fire of questions. Finally, I accosted a jovial young’un, who seemed quite interested in a tête-à-tête.

The fellow analyzed me very deeply, seldom blinking or breathing. So I thought we were in a good frame to exchange ideas.
SP: So what are your thoughts on the future of Proton? Do you think it will perform beyond it’s home market?

Baby Croc: Wheee… Look how I wag my tail..

SP: Charming.. But your thoughts on the domestic player getting out of its comfort zone into mature international markets…

Baby Croc: Watch us! We siblings can pile up each other.. Wait.. Sara’s not here. Nor is Tommy.. It’s a lot more fun when we all create a mountain out of us…

I chose not to continue the discussion. It seems 4 month old crocs are oblivious to the future of their nation’s champions. I ought to have carried on the discussions with elders of the clan, but as I elucidated earlier, it was impossible to wake them up from their slumber.

3. The Road Ahead: What Destiny has in store..

I decided that the matter needed someone wiser and more experienced. I decided to look up to the wise one of the land; the name of whom I had been hearing ever since my arrival to this nation. After running for dates with the wise brains of the land, I finally was granted audience with the wise white bird. On the fateful date, we met for our round table conference. Excerpt from the discussion:

Wise Bird (WB)
SP: Greetings wise bird! Thanks for meeting me at such a short notice. Really appreciated. My mind has been burdened with a pressing question all these days.

WB (Wise Bird): Glad to see you distant traveller. Now tell me: What is it that weighs your mind? 

SP: I am a bit worried about Proton. In Proton, I see a lot of hard work and effort of the nation. I will be crestfallen if it fails.

WB: You read Wodehouse, don’t you? Pray ponder on these lines: Success comes to a hard-worker as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed

SP: I cannot in my dreams try to belittle the toil of Proton, but hard work alone does not make you a winner. I am particularly concerned about the road ahead for Proton. In the local market, another homegrown behemoth: Perodua threatens to weaken Proton (see figures attached herein). Internationally, I am not sure if Proton is actually making a significant impact. So in short, I am anxious about the future of your national car maker.
(Source: Malaysian Automotive Association)

WB: Ahh. I see concern. Is it love? Yes. I see it in your eyes.

SP (shocked): Err.. Love?! Well I don’t know.

WB: Speak without fear child. It will easier to further the conversation once you pour your heart out.
Proton Wira: Loved by all

SP: Thinking about it. Yes.. I do want Proton to survive. Love? Well yes again. It started when I saw the first era Saga and then the Wira. It is the Wira that won me over. A huge fan of the boxy low riders of the 80-90s, the Wira did not have to try too hard. Like every red blooded male, I loved the original Lancer & the Evo series. When I got to know that the Lancer design was carried over for the earlier Protons (more prominently in the Wira), I was elated! 
Proton Persona
To top it all, all the cab drivers in the interior of Malaysia seem to be in congruence with my line of thought. And in my opinion, who are better judges than cab-driver: who spend a lot of time with their cars in varying terrains. Why, I met one in Langkawi who said he would never trade his 10 year old Wira for the latest Persona; for there was no car as tough and durable as the Wira. He went on to say that stopping production of Wira was a conspiracy aimed to make room for other Proton cars.

WB: Great to have shared your feelings for the Wira. I am glad to see the respect it commands not just in Malaysia but even beyond.. But you did not impress upon where your concern for Proton comes from? I believe there is more that you have to say.

How did the wise bird know I had more? That I was apprehensive in admitting my feelings for a relatively small automobile player? Could it read minds as well?

The challenger: Perodua MyVi
SP: I am intrigued by your powers o wise one. You are right. There is more to Proton that just a car (Wira) or two. My admiration is more to do with the story of Proton itself. I happened to read the recent history of Proton and am awestruck. A nation which gained independence later than my country- went on to dream of a superb infrastructure and produce cars to reduce the weight on the economy due to imports. Under Mahathir, Malaysia did make this dream a reality. It is an absolute delight for me to see Malaysian families moving around in Protons and Peroduas. For I feel Proton has indeed been an enabler for the citizens, giving them good cars at a reasonable price. And in return, the nation loves Proton and it is great to see the pride in driving cars designed by your nation. At the same time, I do feel a pang of jealousy that my nation has been left behind in this domain.

WB: Thank you dear fellow. Pray take a seat. Now tell me, Don’t you have the same feelings for your national players: Tata, Maruti & Mahindra?
I took a seat, as Ordered

SP: I do O wise one. More so on the two wheeler front. In fact, I ride a motorcycle indigenously designed in my country and am proud of the fact. I can’t say the same about the other names you mentioned. Mahindra and Tata make really great feature rich vehicles but age does show on them thanks to the gaps on the quality front. As for Maruti, I feel as market leaders they are cheating us a bit for the substance they put. Moreover, it is not Maruti- it is a Japanese Suzuki.

WB: I understand your concerns mortal. But do not be too harsh on your national jewels. Quality is not something that evolves overnight. Give Tata time. Rather, it’s time is just around the corner- I have heard of its new product offering. As for Maruti, I agree they try to pinch you when they sell you outdated models or jack up prices of their bestsellers like the Swift. However, do give them credit for setting the right examples for the industry, by giving India specific solutions. I for instance am very impressed by the Auto Shift transmission (not Automatic) on the Celerio. A great solution, at a great price.  

SP: Thank you wise one. I will try to assuage my thoughts to a more rational side. But forgive me. I fear I drift from the topic.

WB: Coming back to our discussion, I would like you to come up with the answer. I can show you the path, but you are the one who has to tread on it.

SP: I am afraid I do not quite follow you wise one.

WB: Stay with me fellow. Now let us address your concerns one by one. First, you were concerned about Perodua right? I can’t blame you there. Perodua’s little cars have taken over Proton market share since for a good time. Now tell me all you know about Perodua.

SP: Well. As far as I know it is controlled by the formidable Japanese Daihatsu, which in turn is controlled by Zeus of mass automobiles- Toyota! So we are looking at Daihatsu Sirion/ Toyota Passo being labeled as the Perodua MyVi to become the biggest seller of Malaysia.

WB: Right you are. Now can you name Perodua’s mid-size offering?

SP: I’m afraid I can’t. As far as I know, Daihatsu specializes in mini-cars and small jeeps.

Spreadsheet: Prices in Malaysia (1 RM=INR17)
(Proton Saga costs 55% less than similar sized Honda)
Little Laddu: Not as little as the Perodua

WB: Excellent. So that answers your first question. Remember, small cars may be a temporary phenomenon in a nation with great roads and low fuel prices. And as our nation’s people are empowered further, they will aspire to move from hatchbacks to saloons. And that is what Proton is prepared to do. It is the starting point for a mid-size car, coming at a fraction of price of its Japanese rivals.
Sample this spreadheet:

SP: The Price comparison puts things at perspective. But do you feel that Proton is slowly being labeled as a cheap brand?

The suave Proton Preve
WB: Partly yes. One place where Proton has erred is the brand perception. The problem with this strategy has been similar to the one faced by Tata. The Nano, an excellent piece of frugal engineering saw several Indians shunning it away thanks to the ‘Cheap’ tag. Some of it is true for Proton as well. With rising incomes in Malaysia, people are aspiring for more expensive brands. But now, I believe with a product makeover, Proton is very well prepared to take back the lost ground in the near future. Lets see how the new Perdana, Preve’  and Suprima premium fight to win their lost share.
Proton Suprima

SP:  I hope so with all my heart that the value proposition works for Proton. But this 'cheap' tag is tough to shake off among critics.

WB:Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship”-  Thus spoke Zeuxis in 464 BC. And I stand by his words to defend Proton products, which offer great build & quality at an affordable price.

SP: I agree. A small fact: I appreciate the thickness of metal used in Protons. Different from our Marutis at home- which seem to be thinning the sheets to drive up profitability and fuel efficiency for the Indian community.

Proton Lekir (L) based on the gorgeous Lotus Elise (R)
Legendary Mitsubishi Evo (L) inspires the Proton Jebat (R)
WB: Coming to your second apprehension: Proton in the international waters. I have no qualms in accepting that the company is still maturing in international markets. Ironically, the best way forward is leveraging the expertise of established players while we create a decent user base. Here is the Jebat: ostensibly inspired from the Mitsubishi Evo & the Lekir; based on the Lotus Elise. You have to understand that international markets were limited for Proton, which did not start producing Left Hand Drive vehicles until mid 90s. Though there is not a big bang coming up in the near future, Proton will certainly retain its share in the market of cost effective automobiles in UK (quite a many Police cars are Protons here), Australia, Indonesia, China, and who knows, may march into India as well. History has not written us off yet; we may not Remember- men/ companies in however high power ought to fear the humble.

SP: You say there is no big bang. Pray tell something more. At least even some remote possibilities for the good of Proton.

WB: Haha. So you really are a true well-wisher. As for the potential growth spots, I can say this: Proton now owns Lotus. Though Lotus’ future may be questionable, Proton now does have access to the Lotus Engineering arm, which has a rich history in racing. Also it brings along its experience in designing futuristic cars- in house and in a consulting capacity for other manufacturers. Also, the collaboration with Honda is something to look out for.

SP: Interesting..
Proton Perdana: Based on the old Honda Accord
Mere Mortal: With the Wise Bird (WB)
WB:  As access to engineering opens up several doors of possibilities, I assure you Proton will not vanish in the future. If anything, it will be stronger and a force to reckoned with. It has seen many things in its time and is moving ahead with a stronger resolve.
Borrowing a quote, I say this:

Viklavo veeryaheeno yah sa daivamanuvartate
Veeraah sambhaavitaatmaano na daivam paryupaasate

SP: Err.. Sir, I am not sure I understand.

WB: I borrow these quotes from your scriptures dear fellow, this one from the fabled Ramayana. What I wish to convey is that:
Only the timid and the weak leave things to  destiny (daivam)  but the strong and the self-confident never bank on destiny or luck (bhagya)

Here’s wishing Proton a great journey ahead and hope to welcome it to India soon..

Beyond words: Langkawi

(..Continued from Part 1)
Eagle Square: Langkawi

In the wee hours of the morning, war waged between the screaming alarm out and the somnolent eye slits. Sleep flexed its muscles and it brutally annihilated that pestering alarm, for that wretched thing was put off for good. What followed later at the time of waking up was a mini skirmish with time again and it seemed that the previous battle with the alarm had not been a prudent one. We ran: to freshen up, hit the swimming pool, scavenge the breakfast spread and catch the last morning boat to the pier. Yes, even in this maniacal race we had to hit the swimming pool here. Skipping it is not an option. Once you are here and have experienced its splendor: the beach, sea nearby and the in-pool bar, there is no way you are going to skip it any day. Once the boat brought us from the island to the pier, we hired a bike.

Driving through Langkawi on your own is highly recommended. If you can brave the tropical sun a bit and pray to all Gods against rain, a two wheeler is highly recommended over hiring a car. I love bikes, but those automatic bikes/ scooters with smaller tires scare the living daylights out of me. I announced my trepidation publicly and Sona gladly hopped on to the rider’s seat with me at the back.  The ride is mesmerizing. You witness lush green, thickly tree scented air and keep anticipating as to what a spectacle the next turn will bring for you. 

The Langkawi ropeway was a pain. The agonizing line here is to blame for the pain. The websites, travel blogs and tripadvisor did counsel us to pre-book the cable car online. However, this fact was too much for my cache memory, which historically has shown poor performance in such rushed mornings. So here we were, in the bright sun: in the perennial queue that refused to slither on. So here’s what we did: We braved on the sun to excavate our tickets and got the slot for late afternoon. Then, we returned to our dear M-80 Major look-alike-Yamaha and zipped off to the ‘Seven Hills Waterfall’ which was located nearby; according to the map. It is quite a steep trek from the parking – fact corroborated by our screaming knees (the next day). Here Sona had a dreamy time taking a dip in the fresh waters.
Seven Hills Waterfall

Dipping in @ Seven Hills Waterfall..

We then visited the crocodile farm. I am not sure if I can recommend this as a ‘must visit place’, but we definitely had a good time. The Crocs, slimy as they are, do make your spine shiver more than once, but the farm is overall a pleasant place with a lot of variety and numbers to offer. Another place worth a visit is the Eagle Square, which is the town center. Although there’s not much to do here.

Piling up: Crocodile park

We hit the local cafeteria at the Crocodile park and Sona popped up a question which was becoming kind of obvious now: “Where are all the local men? Why do I see only women working everywhere?”. This is quite a deep and powerful question- in a good sense. This question came to us as all the places we had visited (mostly servicing front ends: shops, ticket counters, etc.), were manned (or woman-ned perhaps?) by women. Remember, Malaysia’s population comprises predominantly of a Muslim population, and many nations with similar concentrations are known not to be very conducive in terms of liberty and working environment for women. With so many women working, Malaysia has truly set an example not just for radical nations or the developing countries, but even the developed ones of the world (I refer to this- related article from a recent Economist edition). We both were very impressed by the equality maintained in both unskilled and skilled work domains. We are well versed with the term “women empowerment” thanks to our national jester back home in India (#RahulSpeaksToArnab), and it is good to see more of results than talk here in Malaysia. 

After time well spent at both these places (Seven hills waterfall and Croc park), we headed back to the ‘Oriental Village’- where the Langkawi ropeway originates. There is quite a lot to do here at the oriental village including all the fun and frolic of a fair, such as shopping, joy-rides, eateries, etc. By the time we reached the cable car, I was quite fed up of the queues (which were a reminiscence of my home country). Thankfully, the view cheered us up. There are two legs to the journey (roughly of about 15 minutes each), with the famous Skybridge at the last leg. The SkyCab (gondolas) propel you to an altitude of 708 m covering an impressive distance of around 2.2Km. The temperature here is at least 5 degrees cooler than the island with great winds. The sight at the top is beyond what my vocabulary can attempt to describe.
The ropeway is a scary affair: Trust me!

SRK pulled off some stunts here in Don2; Today it's Sona
Skybridge: The First to catch your attention is the architecture of the bridge: a curved suspension, the balance proves that is a marvel in structural engineering. The spectacle plays games with you. There is a visual game played by the surroundings (which means the whole of Langkawi); the far sea challenges you to pin point that blue of the horizon, where the sky melts into the sea. It gives a moment to witness and appreciate the elements, the expanse of land far below, the fresh cool wind in your face, the sky, the passionate sea; with little violent territories spread over.

Through some unseen powers, all of them seem to be whispering in my ear, my head: gently reminding me of what I am- a tiny speck in the lap of nature. It is a pristine place where you could possibly get lost in the depth of your own soul, where we felt beating of our hearts in midst of howling winds. At any moment of time there are little and big nagging things trapped inside us, all the shackles of the daily life, and here, the free winds magically liberated us.

Another thing I witnessed here was Infinity: Here, in the vast expanse of nature seemed to have perhaps extended time into another dimension, our senses working to soak in everything they could. And when we did come out of this trance to reality, I immediately knew what infinity is. That moment: out there was something that Sona and I will remember forever; no matter how time treats us in various circumstances.

Some ask me: How was Langkawi different?

I sat on that question for a few days, pondered on and could not conclude. Now, I attempt to answer it in my own way.

Kuala Lumpur & Singapore are those Linkin Park tracks or even the trashy Bollywood hit tracks topping the charts (including the crass called Honey Singh of course). Like those tracks, you love Singapore or Kuala Lumpur as they have been certified by the public. There is a lot to talk about them in your circles and make a point that you’ve been there, done that, etc.

We move on to Hans Zimmer’s compositions. They may not be the mainstream hits and more often than not, they are missed out by us. However- unknowingly, they have been the most critical factor for stirring emotions in the Gladiator, Man of Steel, Inception & the Dark Knight trilogy. 
The manner in which Hans Zimmer’s numerous instruments work to create the emotion and add depth to the character; is comparable to none. Similar is the working of Langkawi’s elements which overwhelm you. Once here, you are in a different realm altogether. 
Never mind the obvious heat or the absence of snazzy clubs in Lagkawi, this is a place that sets you in a different frame of mind. A feeling where you may witness clam, quietude and the perfect setup for breathing in the beauty of the surroundings, ponder upon and play with the laws of nature. In fact, this place may make you delve deeper into yourself and the bonds you cherish.