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Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

What  do you expect the future of a boy who had a pathetic childhood, no schooling, a painful adulthood with petty jobs, who  was in and out of prisons for petty crimes? The odds are very high of such a person amounting to anything significant in life.

His parents were migrant labourers from erstwhile East Pakistan who migrated to West Bengal during partition. He was a toddler at a refugee camp in south  24 Parganas then. His sister died of starvation and father was ruined by gastric ulcer.

He worked as a dishwasher in a tea stall, pulling cycle rickshaw, daily wage worker and a caretaker in a Chhatisgarh crematorium. Last 20 years he has worked as a cook in a ramshackle hostel in Kolkata for the hearing impaired.

In the early 70s when the Naxalbari movement was at its peak, he used to take part in protests and quite often he was beaten, tortured and put behind bars. He used to be frequently arrested under the charges of arson, looting, bombing and attempt to murder. He was sent to Alipore and Presidency Jails a number of times.

Manoranjan Byapari is no trader of entertainment but a personification of pain.

All these years, the only thing that was simmering in him was anger against the unjust establishment. One day while in jail one of the inmates said to him,” Getting angry at others may not solve your problem. From this window can you see the sapling on the rooftop of National Library? If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.” That day Manoranjan started learning Bangla alphabets on the walls and floor of the prison; first with dust and stones and then with chalk. Two years in prison, he  was able to read and write Bangla fluently. When he came out, he started reading voraciously whatever he laid his hands on.

Throughout the day he used to pull a cycle rickshaw sometimes as long as 16 hours. The spare time while waiting for the passengers was devoted for his new passion of reading. A word called jijibisha from a story caught his attention. He could not decipher the meaning He asked a number of passengers but no one could answer him properly. One day a passenger, an old lady answered his query saying the word jijibisha meant a will to live. Finding something exceptional in the rickshaw puller, the lady  scribbled  her name and her home address on a piece of paper and asked Manoranjan to meet her later.  After the lady alighted, he  took out the novel underneath the seat. It was Agnigarbha by Mahasweta Devi, ( Jnanpith Award winner, Political activist and writer of books – Hazar Chaurashir Maa, Rudali etc.) the same lady who was in the rickshaw a few minutes before.

His first piece of writing, Rickshaw Chalai (I pull a rickshaw ) was published in Mahasweta Devi’s journal Bartika.

His autobiography Ittibrittey Chandal Jibon when translated into English, spread his fame beyond West Bengal and he was invited to Jaipur Lit Festival. He has to his credit 17 books over the last 40 years of his toil and has received number of awards which include West Bengal Sahitya Academy, Ravindra Smriti Puraskar, Gateway Litfest Writer of the year, Hindu Award for Non-Fiction among others. His writing focusses on the marginalized sections of the society  be it the sex workers, daily wage labourers, beggars etc with whom he has one-one interactions. His writing is authentic as he is able to empathise with his protagonists. In one of his interviews he says:

Quote

I too have worked very hard to progress step-by-step. I would labour throughout the day and then sit down with pen and paper at night. My body would droop with fatigue. My guts would twist like burnt cobra in hunger, but I would keep writing page after page ignoring all the pain.

Unquote

Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing says, If you have to write with passion you need to have something original, something authentic to say. His philosophy is, “Every morning I jump out of bed and hit a landmine, that landmine is me; it explodes. After the explosion,  I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

Manoranjan Byapari was born a Chandal,  considered as among the lowest in Shudra caste and he says that you just cannot get out of what your birth has assigned you irrespective of your achievements. His autobiography Interrogating a Chandal Life – Autobiography of a Dalit  won him a number of accolades. However the elite Bhadralok literati still shuns him. Even after being a writer for 20 years he was struggling to get a decent job and had to work as a cook in a shanty  hostel.  It speaks volumes about the Hindu caste-based hierarchy.  He says, “I write because I cannot kill.”

 

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Who is Responsible for Our Actions?

Imagine you plan to write on a piece of paper. You have a pen and the paper on the table. If you were asked to describe the event the logical sequence would be:

  1. There is a thought in the brain that you wish to write.
  2. Associated with the thought, there is an electrochemical reaction in the brain called as the readiness potential.
  3. Based on the readiness potential the brain sends a signal to the hand to perform a desired action of writing.

Man has a free will and when he makes a conscious decision, the sequence of events would be first the thought or the decision, then the brain getting ready for the implementation of the thought through readiness potential followed by the impulse to the organ culminating in the desired action.

This theory of free will received a rude shock when Benjamin Libet, a pioneering neuroscientist performed a simple experiment in 1985. While performing an experiment on his participants, he asked them to take a simple action of raising their hands and also indicate the time when the decision to raise the hand was taken. While monitoring the brain activity, he found that the readiness potential had occurred in the brain not after the decision was taken but about 200 ms before the decision was taken. The decisions we feel we are taking consciously are actually not taken by us but already by our unconscious mind. A number of psychologists and scientists questioned the validity of such an experiment. A series of such minute readiness potential -thought –action sequence happens so rapidly that we feel that there is someone inside our body termed as the self who has a free will and takes conscious decision.

23 years later, the April 2008 issue of Nature Neuroscience has published a research paper on similar lines. The experiment was simple. There are two buttons. The participant has a choice to press any button, in a random fashion. He was asked to indicate the time at which he has taken a decision and the subject was asked to press the button. While the experiment was going on, the brain scan was carried out by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. (FMRI) which can record the activities happening in the different parts of the brain.

The patterns generated does not tell what a person is doing. However different parts of the brain were getting brightened depending on which activity was being performed. .The surprising observation was that the computer was able to predict which button the subject will press based on the FMRI scan. And the brightening of the specific part was happening at least 7 seconds before the subject said that he was taking a decision. The experiment was repeated 100 times and the computer was able to predict at least 70% of the time which button may get pressed, based on the part that glowed corresponding to  the decision whether it was right or left. Prof John Haines and his colleagues who conducted this experiment in Germany came to the startling conclusion that when we feel that we are consciously taking any decision, the unconscious mind has already taken the decision 7-10 seconds before and the conscious mind just has to follow its unconscious counterpart.

In another experiment, Prof. Eric Candel and others conducted an experiment to see the linkages of the conscious and the unconscious mind A group of 17 participants were shown a series of pictures with associated with different emotions fear, anger, hatred, disgust etc. While showing the pictures the brain activity was similarly monitored. Let us assume 100 pictures which can evoke such  emotions were displayed at a normal frame speed of 5 seconds. In between these 100 pictures 2/3 pictures at random with extreme emotions were shown for a fraction of a second. The participants were not able to recollect that they have seen such pictures. Amygdala which is the seat of emotion in the brain used to get brightened when such pictures were shown. However a specific part of amygdala used to get brightened depending on whether the fear was experienced on a conscious level ( picture shown for 5 secs ) or at the subconscious level.( picture shown for 0.1 sec) The amygdala is the seat of primal emotion like fear, anger etc. and the response is used to trigger the fight-or-flight response used for the survival of the organism. The responses are instantaneous.

There are some people who get panicky for trivial reasons or flare up on small issues. This can be correlated with their  amygdale make up. In the same event of traffic jam A may get easily angry whereas B may not get too upset. For sake of simplicity we can say that a short tempered person may operate at a higher level of amygdala arousal say at 900. wheras a cool and composed person may operate at a level of 200. So when a picture  was flashed for a fraction of a second both A and B got panicky but at their respective levels. So A gets angry at a level of 900 and B at a level of 200. However when the same picture is shown at a lower speed the level of arousal corresponding to fear is not proportional to the base level but at a constant level . A goes from 900 to 1000 whereas B goes from 200 from 300. Stated otherwise,  when confronted with an emotion like anger or fear at an unconscious level, the panic response dependent on the individual genetic makeup and while facing the same at a conscious level it was not that terrible.

This research has some interesting fallouts. When people face irrational fears of closed places, air travel or swine flu, they need to bring that experience into the conscious level  where the unwanted emotion is seen and felt in real time and by doing this exercise, the amygdala arousal can be reduced.

Sigmund Freud had propounded the same thing by talking oneself out and thus reducing the unwanted emotions.

Gautam Buddha has proposed the same technique in his Vipassana meditation where such emotions are faced head-on by watching one’s breath continuously and by doing so, the impact of the irrational fears comes down.

The conventional wisdom propounded by the motivational speakers, and evangelist says that one should always think positive and if one gets negative thoughts they should be driven away or rather put under the carpet. And then we tell our children , “you should be seen not heard”, “don’t act like a sissy, boys don’t cry” etc. .But such facades of confidence actually crumble over a period of time making the situation worse. Let me give another example: Let us say at night you are not able to get the sleep and you are tossing from one side to the other. Under such conditions it is logical that most of us get negative thoughts like Why I cannot sleep and try to make the maximum efforts like counting the numbers etc. On the contrary if you just watch your thoughts and then say, “ At this moment I am not able to sleep and that is the current reality. If you go on watching the breath and focus on the process without bothering about the end result there is a greater possibility that you may get  quality sleep much faster.

The conclusion of the above research as corroborated by Gautam Buddha is:

  1. You can handle your irrational fears by bringing them into the conscious mind.
  2. The impact of the fear reduces drastically by repeating such exercise.
  3. The subconscious mind does not have the word NOT in its dictionary, as such whenever unconsciously we say a negative thing the subconscious mind rebounds in an opposite manner. For example, The more you say I will NOT get angry you tend to feel more angry. The more you resist, the more it persists.

One of the greatest hoaxes of life is to feel that that there is a self which goes on directing ourselves. However the truth is otherwise. Most of the conscious actions which we feel we do by choice are actually done by the unconscious. As the difference between the action and the readiness potential is  small, and such actions are happening at such a rapid pace that first we take action and a conglomeration of such rapid actions make us feel that   there is a self inside that that I am doing an action.

Let us see what the ancient Buddhist text say on this subject which has now been confirmed by the latest neurological research:

  • There is no Self as the agent of any action..
  •   There is no Self as the feeler of any sensation..
  •   There is no Self as the experiencer of any perception..
  •   There is no Self in or outside any bony frame of body..
  • There is no Self in or outside any shortly sensed feeling..
  •   There is no Self in or outside any experienced perception..
  •   There is no Self in or outside any remembered memory..
  •   There is no Self in or outside any constructed intention..
  • There is no Self in or outside any momentary consciousness..
  •   There is no Doer experiencing any effect of any action..
  •   There is no Definable Entity transmigrating at Rebirth..
  •   There is no Stable Identity lasting even for a moment..
  •   There is no Owner of anything, whether material or mental..
  • Yet beings, since an endless beginning, passionately maintains this mere IDEA of a stably enduring yet invisible entity, supposed to be the Self, I, Ego, Me,  Identity or Personality, with which they fall deeply & dramatically in love.

Assuming such an IDEA, constructing such an Imagination, Defining such an Invention is more than FATAL, as it causes the constructer to come back to  birth, ageing, decay & death & thereby suffering again & again for aeons.

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Winning a Jackpot: How do you decide?

Situation: Imagine you are participating in a game show and after going through qualifying and elimination rounds, you have reached the finals.  The game-show host presents you three options A, B & C and you have to select one of the options which are the respective doors. One of the doors leads to a jackpot (say a Mercedes) and the other doors to an insignificant prize, say a tennis ball through each door. Now let us say you have selected option A. You are curious and excited to see if you have hit the jackpot. The host asks you to be patient, opens the door C and what you see is a tennis ball. Now he asks you whether you would still stick with option A or switch to option B? What would you choose and why?

When this question was put on different platforms like linkedin, what’sapp it was observed that 95% of the respondents voted for A. Now read on:

Analysis: Generally people tend to stick to option A, the reason being they would not like to regret their decision. If A is selected leading to a jackpot, then he would be happy; however if otherwise, then he  blames  the circumstances or his fate. But at least he has the consolation that he was firm in his decision. However if he were to choose B, and were to lose; he would regret his decision and also for not being firm in his decision making process.

Let us see how this situation can be seen from a statistical probability basis. Generally people make decisions through their self-interest and do not look at a situation objectively. For example we tend to discount the impact of the environment on our decisions. When a person selects option A, the  probability of success is 1 in 3. However when door C has been opened with a tennis ball, the probability of B has increased to 50%. Assume instead of 3 options you were given 100 options. And now 98 doors are opened without any jackpot. Would you still bat for A? Now you will appreciate that at the beginning of the game the probability of winning A was 1% but after the events have unfolded B has risen to 50%. So in a single event even though A and B has equal chances, over the long term it makes sense to switch over considering the environmental factors.

What happens if the game of ABC is played 100 times. or 100 people play this game simultaneously? Now you will understand that the human mind is not programmed to think in a statistical manner. During most of programs our clients ask us to train their executives to think out-of the box. But sadly they  are hardwired to think otherwise.

Most people tend to overestimate fatalities and death in aeroplane crashes more than car accidents even though statistically air travel is much safer than car travel. One of the main reasons people tend to assign higher risk to air travel is due to wide publicity in media to such rare events.

A survey was carried out in the US after the 9/11 disaster. More people died in the three months  on  roads than those killed in the aircrafts during  the twin tower tragedy.  People tend to fear dread risk of low-occurrence and high consequence events such as the twin tower attack. ( Dread Risk : September 11 and fatal traffic accidents, by G. Gigerenzer) .There are two types of risks,  actual risk and dread risk, the latter is more out of anxiety quite often overestimated than the actual risk. This in part may answer why people would still go on playing option A.

Another reason for dread risk is an illusion of control. A person driving a car feels more in control of the situation than while flying in an aircraft driven by someone else. Most of our unconscious processes control our thoughts and behaviour, which in turn creates an illusion of self- I or the soul. It also makes us feel that I exist, I am in control and thus I can make my own decisions. But the truth is otherwise. Most of the events in life are beyond our control; there is no self.  And to create that illusion we tell stories, we fabricate them saying how intelligent we are.

The above problem is called as a Monty Hall problem ascribed to the presenter of the famous game show in USA,  Let’s Make a Deal. Monty Hall Problem states that there are two errors people make while taking decisions:

  1. They ignore the influence the external environment makes on their decision making and
  2. How their perceptions are shaped by the external environment. In fact we feel we are making decisions in a neutral environment and our decision making is rational. We feel we are safe when we are in control of our destiny. Rituals and routine give us more control of the situation. However truth is otherwise, Dan Ariely, author of Upside of Irrationality says we are poor in risk analysis and are irrational animals.

Rajan Parulekar|rajan@paradigm-info.com|98450 14098

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Difference between Convincing & Con-Vincing

Soumyajeet Mohanty ran Edu Solutions,  an educational consultancy service in Bhubaneswar Odisha. Initially he started Sunrise Coaching Solutions providing tuition to engineering students. As the venture did not yield much returns, he ‘moved up the value chain’ by providing  ( fake) admissions to students wishing to get into medical colleges. Continue reading

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On Human Nature – Case of Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila has called off her hunger protest against AFSPA. She went through pain, misery and deprivation for 16 long years. There were hundreds of people who have been killed in the encounters with army. What was Sharmila’s demand? It was to repeal the AFSPA act or to modify some of its provisions. Continue reading

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Chogyam

Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa is a collection of his talks delivered at Boulder Colorado in 70s. On the main path of spirituality (which is supposed to lead us away from suffering and towards enlightenment) there are a number of sidetracks, bylanes which hoodwink us in believing that we are on the right track. The author calls such misleading tracks as Spiritual Materialism.The book delineates the bylanes first and then takes us to the main path. One such bylane  is the belief that  an external entity like a book, a discourse is going to help us towards salvation. A Guru  will provide us answers for all our problems. You download your problems on your Guru and he will take care of you. The process of initiation into spirituality clears the road towards enlightenment is also one such misconception. A master once told his new disciple after the initiation process; remember, wearing a robe does not make you enlightened and if you are enlightened you do not need a robe.

The author says that a true Guru actually does not give you answers but helps you look into yourself ; the frustration, the anxieties and guides you in facing and penetrating them. Most of the activities  that are carried out on the path of Spiritual Materialism like chanting a mantra or a Sutra or thinking about the  positives and eschewing the negatives may help us feel better but it may not lead us towards  self-realization. In fact most of such activities are nothing but ego-enhancing tricks played by the mind.  We may watch endless youtube videos, read multiple books and listen to a number of audiobooks but unless and until we realize that knowledge like gold, has to be burned, hammered and beaten before wearing as an ornament. Now it becomes your wisdom, otherwise it is just a downloaded information of others. On this line I remember Carl Rogers’ statement that most of the cognitive knowledge is useless.

Another dimension of Spiritual Materialism is a misplaced sense of humour. Some people feel that humour is a roadblock on the path of spirituality and are serious all the time. Others try to be funny likewise. As Buddha has said, an extreme of an error is another error. Both the situations, where one is  trying to be serious and the other trying to be funny are equally ridiculous. A truly evolved person sees both sides of a situation and thus takes an aerial view. It involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes so that one is not caught taking them seriously. Thus there are rare chances a truly spiritual person taking extreme views.

After discussing the sidetracks the author discusses about the main paths of surrendering, the four noble truths and the most important concept of Shunyata ( emptiness)

 

This book has been my companion for the last four years. It was never on any best-seller list. There are no anecdotes, no jokes, no one-liners, no quotations from eminent people at the beginning of each chapter, not even any endorsements from celebrities.  It does not even try to impress you. It simply states the truth as it is.  Just sample this:

The conventional concept of enlightenment is that you aim for a higher level of consciousness from a lower level by silencing the thoughts. For some, the targetted goals may  include understanding past lives, predict future, becoming one with supreme consciousness etc. Compare this with what the author says. The journey of enlightenment is not that that you go up but you fall down, Every day you fall down to such an extent that you hit the rock bottom that you cannot fall down further. And what is this act of falling down? It is to see through your negativities; be it anger, jealousy, frustrations, pain, the games you play.  It does not mean that you detest such negativities but simply acknowledge them as a part of you being human. And then you start accepting others as they are. And when you hit the ground, you become a sane person, you know how to make a cup of tea with simplicity and precision, how to communicate with others in a non-judgmental way. And that is enlightenment. The first approach is an ego-boosting activity ( spiritual materialism) where one wants to achieve a goal of becoming extraordinary like the  celebrity who struggles hard in life to become one and then wears dark glasses to remain incognito. In the second instance it is to become thoroughly ordinary, the right path towards self-realization. As someone has said one of the most ordinary things in life is to become extraordinary.

Putting your best foot forward- Does it work all the time?

As a startup founder, if you were to make a presentation to your potential investors, with an opening slide: Few Reasons why you should NOT Invest in our Company, what would be the outcome? You would sum it up as nothing but a disaster!

Rufus Groscom and Alisa Volkman started a company in the US called Babble which was an online magazine with blog network. The company had positioned on the new paradigm of parenting by  challenging  the dominant parental clichés. In 2009 when they approached for the Venture Capital (VC) funding, their first slide was:  Five reasons why not to invest in Babble. They received a $3.3 Mn funding.

Looks a bit counterintuitive! Isn’t it? Normally the convention is to highlight your strengths which works well when your target audience is either neutral or has a positive disposition towards your offerings. But does a typical investor look upon you in a similar way?

Just imagine when you say that you have a ‘killer idea’ and that you will reach your breakeven in the first year and  will scale up to 20x revenue in the next two years what must be going on in the investors’ mind? Rather than getting impressed, a conventional sales pitch is normally looked down with scepticism. The investor is also operating from a position of strength which is due to the funds at his disposal as well as the number of ‘killer ideas’ he has encountered in the past.  Psychologically he is tuned to find out the follies in your sales pitch. What happens when you take a counterintuitive approach of focussing on your weaknesses?

  1. You create Trust: When you put your cards on the table you look vulnerable which makes you look trustworthy. Your investor feels that if you are speaking about something wrong, there might be a lot of things you may be doing right. You are perceived with a positive intent. In the conventional sales pitch, the intent is perceived as getting the funding by hook or by crook! (for details refer Trust: The Difference that Creates the Difference, from Contextual Selling)
  2. You look smart: You may speak about your strengths but if they are hyped the investor may feel you are beating your own trumpets. However, when you critique yourself, you may be perceived as smart.

Teresa Amabile, professor of Business administration at the Harvard Business School conducted an experiment on how a writer is perceived by her audiences. A sample of a New York Times book review was taken. The book review which was primarily of a complimentary nature was modified with a critical tone; major part of the content remaining the same. Minor modifications were made from inspiring to uninspiring, tremendous impact to negligible impact etc.

People rated the ‘critical’ reviewer 14% more intelligent and having 16% greater literary expertise vis-à-vis the ‘complimentary’ reviewer. After all an amateur can appreciate art but only a professional can critique it!

  1. Objections are Pre-empted: There are two groups who have been given a task of identifying reasons for being happy.  Group A has to list three reasons whereas group B has to list for 12 reasons. Which group according to you should be happier between the two? Most of us would opt for group B.

Norbert Schwarz (Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California) in his article Ease of retrieval as information has given an interesting example on Availability Heuristics.  Also called as availability bias, it refers to the mental short cuts that come to people’s mind while evaluating and solving a problem. Group A may think the reasons of happiness can be attributed to spouse, children and the career. The available answers which were quick to find makes them happy. Group B may explore possibilities beyond the first three which may include vacation, hobbies etc. but may find it hard to reach the magical number of 12 and they start questioning themselves whether they are happy in the first place or not. So, the counterintuitive answer is A.

Looking at the Startup founder’s admission about his challenges the investor now has to struggle hard to find out new problems (as those have been already pre-empted in the first slide) and he concludes that the startup’ s problems are not that significant!

Coming back to the Babble story, a few years later Rufus and Alisa approached Disney for a takeover. The opening slide was:  Why you should NOT buy Babble? And the reasons included

  1. Poor user engagement,
  2. Only 3-page views per visit
  3. despite being a parenting website 40% of posts were from celebrities etc…

Disney bought Babble for $40 Mn.

A note of caution: Aspects like technology model, IP, revenue stream, scaling, breakeven, competition, manpower cost, future disruption etc are going to be equally important and the presenter needs to be focusing on the strengths too. The article only wishes to point out that speaking about the negatives may be also relevant at appropriate times!

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com

Personal Growth Companion by D.M. Silveira

Circa 2002, while visiting the IIM Bangalore library, I came across a book titled Personal Growth Companion (PGC) by DM Silveira. PGC addressed the  dilemmas faced by people and takes them through a simple process of self-assessment which paves the way for new awareness of capabilities and potential. Some of the chapter titles were: Have you met yourself recently, what is your paradigm? Do people feel good about you? It is not a typical self-help or a how-to book telling you about success or a millionaire mindset but more on introspection and reflection. It helps you through the limitations of psychological categories and transcends scientific classifications, a few sample questions to illustrate the point:

On Busyness: Am I caught in a hurry? What am I trying to tell myself and others through my tearing hurry? Is it tied with my ego? Do I lack an inner focus and am I hurrying as a compensation?

On creativity: Is my life over-organized and repetitive? Does the routine enslave me? How much of novelty and surprise is there in my life?

The elaborate questionnaire was more on reflection rather than pigeonholing you into a category like introvert, extrovert etc.  The book was written in a simple yet a profound manner.  I got literally hooked into it. I carried the book while on a trek in the Sandakphu-Phalut range of the eastern Himalayas (near Darjeeling) and the book truly lived upto its title. By the time I returned to Bangalore, I was so impressed by the book, I penned a book review. The Sunday Supplement editor of Deccan Herald replied that it could not be published as the paper had a policy of putting up the reviews of books published in the current year. PGC was published in 1996. I searched for PGC in a number of bookshops but could not succeed. In retrospect, I felt relieved the review was not published considering the unavailability of the book.

DM Silveira, the author was living in Vashi, New Mumbai. I called him over phone and asked him whether I can buy a copy of the book from him. He said, “I am happy to note you liked Companion but I have to express my apologies. I publish only one edition of my book. And the only copy is on my dining table.” That statement revealed DM’s (as he preferred to be addressed) paradigm about the triviality of success and ephemerality of phrases like ‘Million copies sold,‘ #1 on New York  Times Best Sellers List’ etc.  There were no celebrity endorsements on PGC either.

Curiosity had the better part of me. I decided to meet him at his home in Vashi. A fair, slim and bespectacled person around six feet tall with a cheerful disposition was indeed much different than my expectations.

I also came to know that DM had to his credit a book called Human Resource Development. It was acknowledged as a scholarly work and was appreciated by the practising HR professionals then. Once he narrated an interesting anecdote. Reserve Bank of India had placed an order for 200 copies. DM used to publish his books under his own company called Classic Publishers Pvt Ltd. which was based in Kandivali Mumbai. DM along with his son Nikhil had been to the RBI for delivering the consignment. As DM was carrying the boxes on his shoulder, Nikhil said,”Dad, you are the author of this book, you are not supposed to carry the boxes on your shoulders to the stores. Let me take it.”

DM started his career as a clerk in Goa Secretariat in late 60s. His boss coaxed him to go to Mumbai for completing his graduation and explore better career opportunities. Working part-time as a journalist he completed his graduation in literature. One day I asked him about his journey of authorship, he said he decided to write full-time and live in Pune for an year. He said,” Rajan it was  a tough call. Actually India Today had offered me the number 2 position, but then I insisted on #1 position. But then Aroon Purie ( founder of India Today) did not find the idea too interesting and so I am here.” For some time I thought he was pulling up a fast one on me or a case of sour grapes. The second possibility was difficult to digest for a person who earlier was the editor of magazines like Newsmag, Onlooker and later on for a newspaper called Free Press Journal.

DM was the one who coaxed me into writing a book while cautioning it to be a painful process.

Whether in person or on a mail his opening sentence used to be ‘Patrao kosso assa, chennagiddiraa? ( meaning bossy, how are you, all well, smattering of Konkani, Portuguese, and Kannada) He connected me with Union Bank of School of Management in Bangalore where I conducted a number of lectures for the executive MBA program. His recommendation to clients used to open doors with a number of corporate clients for me.

For few years while in Delhi, he used to publish a yearly book of facts called India Book. DM, writer of great books, editor of FPJ and other magazines, Gold Medallist in Masters in English Literature from Bombay University was truly a humble man.  He had no qualms interacting with a much younger and inexperienced person like me. He used to be in his elements while sharing interesting anecdotes about Piloo Modi, LK Advani  etc

On 31th March 2009 he passed away due to a massive heart attack, while brushing his teeth; just shy of two weeks of his 60th Birthday on 16th April. It is said little knowledge makes one arrogant, a little more makes one reasonable and the final knowledge makes one truly humble. DM, the maverick, belonged to that rare but a truly humble creed!

 

Lust for Life- The Story of Vincent Van Gogh

The year was 1986 , when I was working with Larsen and Toubro,my colleague Amrit Gangar (now  a noted film critic and a scholar)  said, ”Rajan, this craze for MBA is a pure hype. If you really want to know what life or passion is;then you should read this book, Lust for Life.” He handed me a copy of the book which was more than a decade old, worn out yellowish tinged paper with a semi torn cover. The first impression being the worst impression, the book literally remained unopened for six months in a corner of my book shelf in Goregaon Mumbai.

One day I had to leave for Mysore for an official trip from Mumbai. As a junior executive, I was entitled for train travel. Being an unplanned last minute Journey, I could not get a confirmed ticket. I had to opt for a general compartment. (Tatkal quota did not exist then.) The journey from Mumbai to Mysore was of 24 hours. By happenstance I picked this book. and literally got hooked into it. By the time I reached Mysore, I had completed the 500+ pages book; oblivious of  the cacophony and the discomfort of a typical second class general compartment.  And then I recollected the adage: Don’t judge the book by its cover (or the lack of it)!

I narrated this incidence to my friend Dr. Vally D’Souza,  ( Ph. D. in Botany) with whom I used to travel in the mornings from Goregaon to Churchgate in the 8.50 local. Dr. Vally who borrowed the book used to work in a company in Flora Fountain then.  At Churchgate station we parted ways for our offices.

The next day I asked him, “How did you find the book?” He said, ”The  book was so mesmerizing that while passing through Azad Maidan, I dropped the idea of going to office. I finished reading it lying on a bench using my briefcase as a pillow; returned home taking the 6.13 Borivali slow local.”

Lust for Life by Irving Stone is a fictionalized biography of Vincent Van Gogh the Dutch post-impressionist painter considered as the most influential figures in western art. He lived a short life of 37 years. Without a formal background in painting, he developed a passion for this art and in the last decade of his life  created 2100 art-works which include 860 oil paintings. He did not earn a single penny throughout his life and was ably supported by his younger brother Theo while Vincent was painting with a passion. However some of the most expensive paintings are credited to him, The Portrait of Dr. Gachet being one of them was sold for US$82.5 Million in 1990.

Irving stone: was a native and a budding playwright from San Francisco who went to Paris in 1926  intending to write plays. By happenstance, he came across an exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh and was truly fascinated by his work. After returning to New York, he started doing his research not for writing a novel but merely to understand Van Gogh. At one stage  Van Gogh possessed him so much  that at midnight the author  used to wakeup and write the dialogues between the brothers.

Having sold more than a million copies with a 50th Anniversary edition, a film by the same name starring Kirk Douglas which had four Oscar Nominations, the going was not easy for Irving stone when his manuscript was ready by 1931. For three years he had to run from pillar to post. Seventeen publishers rejected the manuscript; most of them found the novel to be too insipid and boring. At last Longmans, Green and Company published the novel in 1934. And lo behold! it appeared in the New York Sunday Mirror bestseller list in just four days.

I thought Dr. Vally and I may have the unique distinction of completing this book in a day. Alas, I was wrong!  A number of readers have expressed likewise on the book reviews!

Irving Stone (1903-1989) was known for his fictionalized biographies which apart from Lust for Life include Agony and The Ecstasy  ( Michelangelo) , The Origin ( Charles Darwin) and The Passions of the Mind( Sigmund Freud). This year happens to be his 30th death anniversary, he passed away on 28th August 1989.

Rajan Parulekar|rajan@paradigm-info.com

How conversions from Site Visits to Apartment/Villa Sales can be Improved?

We were diagnosing for the root cause of low conversion into apartment/villa booking for a renowned realtor in Bengaluru. The ticket size was in the range of Rs. 5-12 Crores. The conversion ratio from site visits to closures was around 14%.

The Situation: The sequence of customer engagement was as follows:

  1. General Enquiries: These enquiries were generated by ATL/BTL (above and below the line) advertising, digital media, SEO, SEM etc. The enquiries consisted of trash ( from sales perspective) which included candidates looking out for jobs, vendors and prospects who were outside the focus segments including price range, location etc.
  2. Genuine Enquiries: These were the filtered enquiries who were contacted by the pre-sales team to ascertain their requirements. The people from genuine enquiries were then exhorted for site visits.
  3. Hot & Warm Leads: These leads correspond to clients who showed interest , those who were to take decisions in 1-2 months were termed as hot leads and those beyond in 3-6 months were the warm leads.

Price and non-price negotiation were carried out for finalizing the sale.

Diagnosis: The conversion from genuine enquiries to sales was a meagre 4%, from site visits it was 15% and from Hot/Warm leads it was 35%. ( Please refer the graph in the heading where enquiries  and active leads correspond to genuine enquiries and Hot/Warm Leads)

Our Observations:

  1. Prospects were pushed into site visits: After the initial conversation, the pre-sales team coaxed the prospect into a site visit without ascertaining the proper need. Quite often, the need might be just a casual interest. ( for more details: different types of needs, Abstract, Clear and Strong refer Contextual Selling by Rajan Parulekar pg 136 to 140 )
  2. Treating HNIs like regular customers: Regular customers can be interpreted as the first-time customers who may be buying apartments in the sub Rs. One Crore range. Here features like apartment size in square feet, the number of bed rooms etc. plays the most critical role. However for the Rs. 5-12 Crores category, the typical characteristics are: age group of 45+, probably buying an apartment for the 2nd or the third time, global traveller who has experienced luxury etc. For the HNI customers the features like apartment size etc. does not cut much ice; what creates an impact is the benefits like type of neighbourhood, exclusivity, personal preferences etc.
  3. Mediocre Customer Engagement: As the sale happens more at an aspirational level (apart from the standard amenities perceived as hygiene factors) the sales executives need to have  exceptional customer engagement abilities, active listening, ability to converse on current topics etc. Our research shows that hardly 10% of the executives read the daily newspapers and generally are not aware of the current events. Some tried to convince us that they get the news on mobile.  But getting a 2-liner on why Jet Airlines collapsed and the ability to talk in-depth on the current challenges of the aviation industry with a CEO or CXO are as different as chalk to cheese.
  4. Handling Customer Objections: Some of the objections customers raised were on Vaastu, the view of the balcony, the floor choice etc. Criteria hierarchy as proposed by Robert Dilts is an important concept in sales, negotiation, conflict resolution during interpersonal communication. The objections occur at the following levels: logical level, behavioural level, values level and the identity level. ( refer Contextual Selling: pg131-136) . Each subsequent level is deeper than the previous one. Objection on floor may be at the logical level but the one on Vaastu may be at the Values or an Identity level depending on the belief system of the customer. The salesperson should know when to convince and when not to.
  5. Complexity in Decision Making Process: Deepak my friend wanted to hire a 3 BHK apartment in a gated community in South West Bangalore, the primary reason being daughter having taken admission in a renowned Art Institution and college called as Chitrakala Parishat (CKP) Having surveyed 50 –odd apartments the deal could not be done for the following reasons:

– connectivity with metro station or the distance from the bus stop was an issue

– the rooms were of small size

– Room size was good but apartment not full furnished

– Flat fully furnished but the rent was too high.

– Flat was good but family members did not approve.

The last apartment fit the bill in all respects, deal was about to be closed but then the college postponed the decision of shifting the campus! Now if this can happen for a deal where the monthly rental is around Rs. 50,000 what can be the complexities  when the ticket size is Rs 50 million( Rs 5 crores) ?

Recommendation: The major obstacle in high-ticket deals is the excitement and the urgency to sell to all and sundry.  The challenge needs to be addressed at two levels:

  1. Skills Enhancement: At a behavioural and skills level the salesperson should be able to create adequate value before selling which is achieved by creating trust, allowing the customer to talk active listening etc. ( for details refer Seven-Steps Value Selling Process )
  2. Strategic Level: It is the number of apartments that are sold per month or per quarter that shall differentiate a star performer from a mediocre one. The figure on Sales Funnel Management for the Realty Sector shows the cases getting advanced are marked by green arrows entering the funnel whereas the one with a red x shows the cases which are eliminated. Please note that site visits should be clearly differentiated into Courtesy Site Visits ( CSV) and Quality Site Visits ( QSV). Most of the salespeople hope for the business which is like getting higher success from CSV; it is the latter, the QSV  that will make all the difference.( refer the figure below)    As Santiago, the protagonist says in The Old Man and the Sea (by Ernest Hemingway) , I would not like to be lucky but I would like to be exact! And that’s how fortune favours the brave!!

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com, http://www.paradigm-info.com Realty_Funnel

What’s in a Name?

“Can you give me one ticket for Sri Balagangadhar Natha Swamiji Station, please?” I asked the booking window clerk at Peenya metro in Bangalore. The guy looking quite puzzled said, “ Can you repeat the name, please?” After going through that exercise once again, he said, “why don’t you say Hosahalli then?” I said I would have loved to do the same, but the govt changed the name to the present one.

Other  station names  on Bangalore metro are no different. They may not be that long but are indeed tongue twisters. There is Krantiveer Sangoli Rayanna Station, Nadaprabhu Kempegowda station, Bayappanahalli, Yelachenahalli, Goraguntepalya etc. of which the last one was earlier called as Yeshwanthpur Industry. But then the nearby station being Yeshwanthpur; wiser counsel of Namma Metro authorities prevailed to rename it as Goraguntepalya.

Should a name be simple or difficult to pronounce? Bangalore apart from being the capital of Karnataka happens to be the IT capital of India. There are people from different states as well as from different nationalities too. Once I saw a Japanese commuter struggling to pronounce Yelachenahalli while buying a ticket!

There were huge protests when the train announcements were made in Hindi and later on it was decided to have the same only in English and Kannada. There was hardly any murmur when the project was delayed by more than 4 years or the project cost escalated from Rs. 6000 crores to Rs. 14,000 crores for the green and purple lines. This phenomenon of sweating out the small stuff is not unique to Bangalore but happens elsewhere too. C. Northcote Parkinson, a renowned management guru once said that for a Nuclear Power plant in England, the sanction of additional  5 million pounds for an alternate design was passed in five minutes whereas the committee deliberated for almost   a week about the location of the cycle stand in the power plant. The former topic needed considerable level of technical competency whereas in case of the latter, every committee member had an opinion on the subject.

New York times once said that the greatest sex change operation was conducted in Mumbai a few years back when Victoria Terminus (VT) station was renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) It is  a marvellous structure  ( now declared as a UNESCO heritage site) the headquarters of Central Railway with 18 platforms and currently carrying millions of passengers every day. It took the architect William Stevens and his team, ten long years and the railway station which was completed  in 1888 was planned keeping the future traffic growth in mind. One wonders how could  the British team plan for such a mammoth station when the traffic might be just a miniscule then ( 150 years back) of what it is today? Is there any comparable station constructed in post-independence India? But then changing the name was far easier and more prestigious for the politicians. Some years down the line, the name was extended to Chhhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus ( CSTM). The day is not far off when it may be even called as Gobrahmin Pratipalak, Kshatriya Kulavatans  Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus ( GPKKCSMT) !!

Once a teacher was narrating a story to the class of 5th standard students on similar lines.  During a cricket match played on the school grounds, the  ball  fell into a nearby well. Ram, a fielder, while fetching the ball; fell in the well.  His friends shouted for help.  Luckily Ram was rescued. Next time, in a similar situation,  another student called Ardhanarinateshwara  Sivaramakrishan while fetching the ball meets the similar fate. His friends called for help but by the time his full name was pronounced, it was too late and unfortunately the boy gets  drowned.  Teacher asked Shyam the moral of the story. Shyam replied, “children with long names should never go near the well.”  Hope our politicians do not think on similar lines!

rajan.parulekar@yahoo.com