The prosumer is the future of electricity supply

I can still hear my mother scream into our neighbours phone trying to speak to a operator requesting a ‘PP’ (person to person) call to her sister in Cochin. I was in primary school those days. We did not have a phone, while my neighbours with a successful business could afford a phone. My neighbours used to tell my Dad that they could help pull strings and get us a phone within 3 years. The waiting period those days was 5 to 7 years in some areas of Chennai where I grew up. My father always refused, as it was an ostentatious signal for a middle class person like him. 

Cut to today, where my new household help from Assam walks into an Airtel store and gets herselfa cell phone connection, and is heard talking to her family. My Dad, God bless his soul will not believe this was possible!

What happened? Countries like India leapfrogged technology and jumped straight into cell phone technology instead of going through the entire land line stage. This was facilitated by costs dropping, and quality improving dramatically. Add to this the fact that purchase decisions were made by individuals and not by the utilities.

Using the cell phone industry model, the world has been debating the merits of a centralised Vs decentralised approach for the power industry in the developing world. Is it better for central power stations producing power and distributing it using thousands of kilometers of cables or is it better that every household produces its own power using a roof to solar installation? The answer is obvious.

As a nation we are still trying to install coal powered electricity generation stations and attempting to lay cables to get electricity to remote locations. Let’s examine a few facts. More than half the population in India does not have access to electricity at all.  32 – 50% of India’s electricity output is lost during transmission and distribution. India loses Rs 414,800 crore of our GDP, to electricity shortages.

The way to go for a nation like India is to aggressively take the roof top solar route for households. This will ensure we get electricity to remote parts of the country. This is now catching on globally. Homeowners in Bangladesh are installing solar PV systems at the rate of two per minute. Rural schools in Seirra Lonne are using solar to power their laptops in school. In rural Kenya, a micro grid project is on to provide electricity to 100 different villages in the Western counties of Kisii and Nyamira. More than 90,000 people will get electricity in the region.

The great news for us in India is that we have reached solar parity in many states and net metering systems are up and running. This means you can even sell back to the grid, the excess electricity you produce. With net metering, you don’t have to worry about storage, as you use what you produce and send the rest to the grid, because the grid then gives you electricity at a subsidized rate as you are a producer! For the first time the world is seeing the emergence of the ‘prosumer’, where the consumer of electricity is also the producer of electricity.

Being thirsty in a flood


I remember the first time I presented my business card in a business meeting and saw the puzzled look in the face of the recipient because he saw raised dots on my card. These raised dots were my name in Braille, and I told him that if you can read my name, then feel my name and feel fortunate. While I put my name in Braille on my cards to support the visually impaired, the primary reason I do this is to remind ourselves of not taking anything for granted. We take too much for granted.

We are not aware of our eyes until we get a sty in the eye. We are not aware of our knees until we injure it. Here I mean true awareness. How often do we shovel food into our mouths while watching TV. These days we have to be grateful if we just get to breather clean air.

I speak about not taking things for granted in an elaborate manner when I delver my ‘Cycle of Life’ talk. There are some very powerful examples that I quote in this talk. But recently, I came across some other facts of life that reinforced my belief in the dictum of not taking anything for granted.

This happened when I started tracking rain fall patters in some areas of the world, and then when I read about the situation in Chirapunji. Chirapunji, which receives the highest rain fall in the world, is now facing water shortage! Is this even possible?

In the 29 year period, 1973 to 2001 Chirapunji received 12,054 mm, compared with a 74-year average to 1980 of 11,430 mm. According to Wikipedia, Chirapunji received 26,461 mm of rainfall between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861. This is a lot of rainfall for a state came into being in 1972 and was named as ‘Meghalaya’ (The house of the Clouds) because of the weather in the state. In 2015, the rainfall has been so intense that it crossed the monthly average of around 2500 mm in just 10 days into June. According to SkyMet, the rainfall total had reached around 3000 mm and with more than half of the month remaining. This is only the third instance that the 3000 mm mark has been breached in the last decade. The other two instances being in the year 2010 and 2012 where around 3340 mm and 3445 mm of rainfall was recorded respectively. The record breaking rainfall was last observed in 1966 when the city received a whopping 5832 mm of rain.

But after all this rain, it still does not have enough water for its residents. This is because most of the water runs off down the plateau into the plains of Bangladesh and then eventually into the Bay of Bengal, about 250 miles down. Add to this is the fact that the population has grown tenfold to around 70,000 now and with some visible forest degradation, the problems of water add up.

But it seems that there is no silver linings in their dark clouds, as a according to Dr S V Ngachan, Regional Director, ICAR Northeast who said in an interview with InfoChange, "Barapani in Meghalaya alone has recorded a rise in temperature by 2 degrees Celsius in the last decade and rainfall in world-famous Chirapunji has reduced substantially over the years, changing the weather cycle of the region. The rest of the Northeast region has recorded an increase in temperature by 0.08 degrees Celsius in the last decade along with static dispersion of seasonal weather phenomena in the region." So there is the climate change factor also that is building up. Locals report how the rain was much heavier than what it is today.

When on sees water tankers climbing up to supply water to the residents of Chirapunji, it is a sad reminder of how it never focused on rain water harvesting, as there was no need for it at one point in time. But with the weather changing in a manner that very few of us can understand, it is best not to take anything for granted. If the residents of Chirapunji are not taking water for granted, I think there is a lesson in it for all of us too!

The real question for all of us living in urban areas like Bengaluru is this; if there can be water shortage in Chirapunji, imagine what can happen to cities like Bengaluru! It is really about the lessons we learn that is more important.

But the bigger issue for all of us to consider is when will we stop taking things for granted? Our health, our friends, our spouses, the love we get from our siblings, the fact that we have clothes, a home…. I could go on and on.

So here is a starting point that helped me. Every morning as I wake up, I say a prayer of gratitude. Thank you for my life for another day, thank you for my breath this morning, thank you for all the great things that happened yesterday (the trick is to only remember the good stuff!), thank you…thank you…thank you!


Don’t throw anything behind you!

I am sure that 2015 has been a significant year for most of us. I wonder if there has been any year that goes past that was not significant, but we always tend to look back at the end of the year and exclaim how quickly the year went, how much had happened and how phenomenally significant the year was. I do that too. However this year is going to be markedly different, because on the first day of the year, I was able to make sense of and process a couple of issues, which I know will make the year even more significant!

2015 was a year full of events (there I go again saying how significant a year that went past was!). Lots of illnesses in the family, a disproportionate number of deaths in the family, hopes being raised and dashed in abundance, and through all this I kept saying that we need to look at the bright side and move on. In fact more than five years back, I had started the habit of saying a gratitude prayer when I wake up every morning, recalling all the positive stuff that happened the previous day. All the stuff that did not work, all the stuff that upset me, all the grief, all the pain, all the irritations, all the negativity was thrown behind me in one swift moment during my gratitude prayers sessions every morning.

My sense of positivity and optimism was amplified when I trained to be Re Birthing Breath work therapist, few years back. In the course I learnt about negative core belief systems, how to identify them and then how to get rid of them. While this was a long and painful process, it was very fulfilling, one develops the skill to spot a negative core belief system a mile away, as and when one enters a room filled with people. This learning coupled with my gratitude prayers was a significant step forward on how to handle life and its complexities. Add to this a good dose of regular Vipasana meditation, and I am on my way towards daily life enlightenment!

Today I realised a small flaw in the race of life, which is what I think will make the year significant. Recognising this flaw is the beginning of a wisdom trail for me, I think. So here starts a new journey, so wish me luck.

What is this small flaw?

For starters I am in the race of life. So there you go, I have admitted it. I am in a race. I say this with not a sense of pride but with a sense of disappointment. This is because I was once in a race that I did not enjoyed – the coporate rat race. I got off the corporate rat race, because I was tired being a rat in a race, and thought I was a lucky cat for having got off the corporate rat race. But today, I realised that while I got off the corporate rat race, I seem to have immediately jumped onto another race track – the race of life! This is disappointing. But, as always, I mange to see the silver lining in what seems like a dark cloud, and I have identified what will help me convert this race into a more enjoyable journey.


Earlier I described, how I put behind all the stuff that ‘’did not work, all the stuff that upset me, all the grief, all the pain, all the irritations, all the negativity was thrown behind me in one swift moment’’. It is this action of putting it behind me that was the flaw.

Never put behind you all the negativity, grief, disappointment of life, because one day when you want to step back a bit to get a better view of the road ahead, you will step on some unpleasant stuff that you threw behind you. When you look back at life, you will see a garbage pile which will not smell very good either. So what do we do?

As we put stuff behind us, we need to ensure that we process them completely before we put them behind us. Much like composting the garbage from our kitchen. When we look at the beautiful dark sweet smelling compost, it feels good. It feels even better when we use this compost and grow our own flowers, vegetables and fruits in our garden – aah what a sense of achievement…we took all the kitchen waste and produced beautiful flowers and nourishing tasty food for ourselves!

So we need to take all the stuff did not work, all the stuff that upsets us, all the grief, all the pain, all the irritations, all the negativity and ensure that we process it completely, much like composting for it to benefit us. No lessons are learnt when we thrown behind the stuff and move on, like I had been doing. We need to stop, analyse, process, distill, absorb the learning, and then move on. We need to do this as and when the incident occurs or quite soon after the incident, or else we will keep running in the race of life, and forget that we threw some garbage behind, until it starts to stink and cause sickness in our soul. No special skills are required I think, as long as we raise our awareness, and do this with a sense of equanimity and with the sole intent of learning.

I realised all this because, recently, along with all the illnesses and deaths in the family, we went through a significant work related disappointment. We were working on a life enhancing deal, (or so we thought). When such opportunities come along, one needs to approach it with a large sense of skepticism, is what I had been told. But as always I threw myself into this with a sense of optimism, and I was disappointed – extremely disappointed, because I liked the people who were behind this deal. They had similar value systems, aspirations and visions that I had. But like I was told by a wise friend when the deal bombed that, in commercial transactions and deals, there is only one value system – the value of money! Something similar had happened to us a couple of years back, and I took that very badly, but this time, I was ‘prepared’ I thought, and quickly moved on. I threw this incident behind me and ploughed through work and life in a focused manner. I even said a quiet thanks to the universe of this harsh lesson, and moved on. Moved on because I am in the race of life and one has to move on.

Perhaps I should have paused, and grieved the loss of this deal. Perhaps I should have paused and grieved all the losses that I had endured the whole year. I should have grieved all the disappointments that I felt from friends who I thought were very close to me. I should have grieved the pain that I felt when a loved one said a harsh word. I should have grieved the irritations that I felt in situations, all the negativity that I went through. I should have grieved, instead of throwing it behind me and moving on in the race. This grieving may have taken just a few minutes, hours or just a few days, but it would have left behind so many sweet smelling flowers. I missed that opportunity. I realised it today.

2016 will be significant because I will get off the race of life and start to experience the journey. No more throwing things behind, as I will ensure that I compost it well. The gratitude prayers will continue. The positivity and optimism will continue. The passion that I have will continue. The celebration of all the people in my life will continue. Aahh…what an amazing entry to the New Year!


Watchful eyes, willing hands, large hearts - just what the planet ordered

The climate talks finished, and reporters from news channels were found wandering around streets of Paris with expressions that begged what did I miss, did any of you see something that I should have seen, what is the big news? For all the hype that the talks generated, in the end it was like an old, damp, bad quality Chinese Diwali cracker that would hiss, splutter and then quietly close its eyes and die in a corner out of embarrassment without anyone noticing.

Most of the outcomes of climate change were on the table even before the talks started, and it was fairly certain that no one was going to throw a bombshell. India was certainly well behaved as the diplomatic harsh lights were shone in our eyes by some smart Chanakya’s ensuring we did not upset the Western apple cart. So the talks overall passed like a quiet ship in the dark seas, the drone of its engine being some murmurs of ‘developed nations were short changed with lack of adequate financial and technological support’ which everyone ignored, like the crackle of a chips packet in the movie theater.

While governments have signed and sealed the agreement, there is much work to be done.

They should now achieve clarity in their thinking and prepare for adaptation, as the big storms are coming. They need to prepare their countries for the bigger climate events that are going to occur. Chennai was a classic example of what governments should not have done. Allowing construction in catchments, lakes and marshes was a huge mistake in urban planning. So now what do you do? You can’t bring down all the new buildings because citizens have paid their life savings for an apartment that they did not know was built on a marshland, they should not be punished. Can you punish the politicians now?  So what do you do? Just start re planning how you are going to cope when the next down pour comes. Ensure you build more storm water drains, ensure that the drains you have already have are cleared of debris, ensure you have a decentralised disaster management system for releasing water from lakes that are getting filled up during a downpour, etc.

They also need to enact legislation to help in mitigation efforts. Most of the efforts here are going to be in the space of preventing emission of green house gasses. Governments need to start setting up utility level solar and wind mill generation plants. They should start developing incentives for citizens to install roof top solar like it has been done in states like Karnataka.  They should find the political courage to pass legislation restricting emissions from vehicles so that we do not have a Delhi like situation where the HC declared that living in Delhi is like living in a gas chamber!

Lots for the governments to do. Let them do what they have to do or may not do.

I was particularly happy when I read the 31 page declaration that was signed by the 195 countries in Paris, as I saw the opportunity to take on more responsibilities for my planet. Taking on responsibility expands you said a guru. I believe this, as I feel bigger when I take on more responsibilities. Being self centered shrinks you, as you are only thinking about yourself, your family, your kids, your neighbours. We need to become more world centric from being just ethno centric. This is not just to feel big and good, but we have no choice! So much damage has already been done to the planet, that it now requires efforts from all of us.

I am referring to the opportunity for the private sector, civil society and NGO’s, to do what they have to do to help the planet, while also helping their governments. Article 6, point 4b of the climate change document from Paris urges all countries ‘To incentivize and facilitate participation in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by public and private entities authorized by a Party and to contribute to the reduction of emission’. This means, all of us need to contribute, and not just the governments. The private sector, civil society and NGO’s have energies that no government can match. Its enterprise and creative thinking abilities is what the planet needs now. In the end it is our lives and the lives of our children and grand children that are at stake. Here is our chance to come up with crazy ways to save the planet!

I for one am all up for the challenge and have already identified what all I am going to do. I have identified projects that I am going to do to save the planet. Ok, I can’t save the plant on my own, but I am definitely going to try! I have thought up of some projects that will help in climate change mitigation efforts-to help reduce green house gas emissions in a variety of ways for India and for the world. These are detailed in www.GreenDreams.Vision.

But all of us citizens, private sector citizens, civil society folks, NGO’s will all now have to do our bit to move this huge ship along to its destinations. Destiny has thrown all of us together onto this planet, and now we all need to hold each others hands and do this together.

I say this because governments cannot do it all on. Most actions of governments are based on their own vested interests, interests of lobbies, political compulsions etc. They last 4 to 8 years and then they go. It is only us as citizens with our own work places, and businesses and civil society friends and committed NGO’s who have to take on tasks.

So here is what I think all of us need to do as watch dogs, ensuring governments do what they promised to do;

1)      Ensure that governments keep their focus on adaptation measures. Push them to ensure that our local infrastructure is up to the mark to withstand extreme weather events – droughts and massive downpours.

2)      Encourage aforestation efforts where ever possible, as we need to develop larger carbon sinks to absorb the CO2 we are emitting.

3)      Encourage governments to pass legislation to reduce green house gas emissions. It may be to restrict number of vehicles n the road to motivate specific industries to switch from diesel generators to roof top solar for electricity.

4)      Provide the environment for the private sector to invest in utility scale solar farms so that the state slowly but surely starts the journey of moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

 This will go a long way to ensuring that the promises made in Paris are kept alive. We need to have watchful eyes to monitor, willing hands to work, and large hearts to ensure we do the best for our own planet earth! 

From Chennai with Love

I was born and brought up In Chennai, and there is something here amidst the crowd and sweltering heat that is unique and different that I love about Chennai. Its wide roads, huge beautiful old heritage buildings, the bustling Central Station, the ever so beautiful Marina beach… The last few weeks have been so difficult, watching the pain that Chennai was going through. But some obvious and hidden lessons have to come through from this pain.

 A lot of analysis will start soon on the reasons for the flooding that drowned Chennai. Yes, Chennai did get its heaviest rain fall in 100 years. This is big. But Chennai and its politicians and bureaucrats will have a lot of answering to do on why they gave away the marshlands and lakes that were meant to soak up excess rain to developers. Perhaps these very same politicians and bureaucrats were drowned with lots of cash at that point in time. But how dare they do this and drive the lives of thousands of citizens to misery. And the floods were merciless not caring if you are rich or poor. I saw an amazing picture on social media in which I believe it was AC Muthiah, the millionaire industrialist being rescued in a boat with his wife – what a leveler nature is! Soon the debate and blame game will start, and reports will be written and given to governments on what lessons Chennai has for the other cities of India. Seminars will be held, NGO’s will be busy urging other state governments with petitions from Change.Org and Avaaz to clean up their act.

Amidst this entire lesson learning frenzy, I suspect a vital lesson may be lost, a lesson on sustainable living. While the huge section of the population suffered loss of life and property, majority of the population suffered immensely because of other reasons – lack of electricity, water, food, and waste disposal. I want us to look at all these factors….

Electricity was cut off in most parts of Chennai to prevent electrocution from loose live wires falling onto the roads. In the 70’s when electricity was cut off we calmly used candles and carried on with our lives. But now lack of electricity resulted in one major catastrophe – cell phones could not be charged. Even when charged, there was no network because cell phone towers perhaps had to turn off their electricity because of flood waters damaging their electrical infrastructure. This caused panic as people could not get in touch with each other, something they were accustomed to. If they needed help, they could not reach anyone as they were marooned in their homes. They charged their phones in the cars, and soon the cars ran out of gas and the petrol stations did not have electricity or were flooded and could not supply gas to charge the cell phones! In parts of Chennai electricity could not be restored for more than 4 days. All UPS’s shut down as they could not be charged. Total chaos!

The second factor was water. In the old days, we got most of our water from our well in the backyard and most homes had a well for their household needs. With the depletion of ground water resources, wells dried up and every one if now dependent on either water purification RO plants or bottled water from the local super market. Remember there was no electricity so even the charming ever green Hema Malini could not help us get shudh paani from her Kent RO plant. Most super markets were closed because of flooding and those who were open were selling water at rates close to hi octane jet fuel.

The third factor was food. People could not cook because their homes were flooded. But for those whose homes were not flooded, they did not have electricity to use their electric induction cookers. Those with LPG cylinders were dammed if they ran out of LPG on those days. Add to this the fact that food in the refrigerators were rotting because of lack of electricity. No chance of buying any food because all establishments – vegetable vendors, super markets, restaurants, hotels were all shut for 4 to 5 days in a row. It was heart wrenching to see people waiting for some food to thrown to them from helicopters. The warm hearts of India ensured that they responded fast enough to ensure supplies of some food for the suffering.

The fourth factor was waste disposal. At a home level, residents could not use their toilets leave alone take a bath, as they had no electricity to pump water to their overhead tanks. Apartment complexes with generators ran out of diesel so even they suffered. Excessive flooding caused drainage water to overflow and mix with flood waters and this is going to haunt Chennai for months to come. In some households the drainage stared to back into their own bathrooms making them completely unusable. There was no place to dispose of whatever little food waste in the homes, so they started to rot within the house.

I am reminded of the circumstances that prompted me to develop a fully sustaining living model which I eventually did with my resort – Our Native Village, an eco resort,  just outside Bangalore. On the farm land where my resort is built, we do not have the civic services that urbanites enjoy in the city. We do not get electricity most of the time, we do not have water supply from the government, we do not have municipal waste management services, and the closest market for food is 45 minutes away. At that point in time I saw what I termed ‘man made poverty’; farmers suffering because they did not have electricity to use their bore well pumps. These were the same farmers who knew how to harness and live in harmony with nature. They had skills passed down across generations that helped them avoid the harshness of droughts and floods. But these same farmers were told, as part of the green revolution in India, that they have to be progressive and not dependent on rain to grow crops. They were given bore wells and soon became dependent on it and lost all their skills and knowledge on how to harmonise with nature. And then the same benevolent government that gave them their bore wells pulled the plug and said, sorry no electricity! When I saw this, I said to myself that there is a flaw in what we term and perceive to be progress.

This flaw is coming back to my mind when I looked at the lives of the folks in Chennai for 4 to 5 days when all civic services that they have become so dependent on come to a sloshing, wet, drowning halt. We have to become self sufficient and live a more sustainable life style and stop our dependence on the any outside entity to provide us with basic civic services like energy, water, food, waste management. We did it with my resort a decade ago. It is even more easy and cost effective now.

Here is a list of 4 if’s…..

If every household in Chennai had solar panels over their roofs to power their homes, their first problem of electricity would have been solved. Even with not too much sunlight, these new age solar PV cells are quite effective in generating electricity. If every household in Chennai has enough rain water harvesting capacity for their own homes, not just to charge the ground water but stored water for their own use, they would not have suffered lack of water. If every household could grow most of their food, it would have been so much easier and healthier also! A household of 4 needs about 500 square meters of space – space, not land to grow their own food. If every household had a small sewage treatment plant and a mini home composting unit for their waste, their waste disposal woes will have been taken care of. The least we can do is to take responsibility for our own waste.

What happened in Chennai was a once in a hundred year event. Will this repeat? Will it be worse? Will there be other such calamities that we are just not likely to be prepared? Will we learn? Will we apply the learning?

For all the love that the world has shown Chennai during these past weeks, and through all the pain that Chennai has gone through, this vital lesson on sustainable living is the return gift from Chennai to the world. 

5 lessons hoteliers need to learn from the modern day banking industry

My father was scampering up the short flight of stairs as the metal sliding grill gates were being noisily dragged to be closed by the guard. While he was fit at age 60, even he ran out of energy not just because he had to sprint the last 50 meters, but because this was such an energy draining exercise – a visit to the bank in the 70’s.

Many will remember banks those days. You went into a crowded space, with reluctant staff who made you wait longer than the neighbourhood doctor in his run down clinic. You had to have the skill of a calligraphist to fill the small spaces in the pink challans, printed on paper so thin, you could use it as a strainer for filter coffee. To meet the manager, you had to be a local politician or a senior bureaucrat, as the manager did not waste his time with all customers. You had to wait in long queues to deposit money, draw money, speak to a staff and to even enter the bank when it opened. Staff went off on their coffee breaks in the middle of a conversation, and the first half hour was normally spent reading the newspaper, as the ayah shoddily swept and mopped the floors, as customers waited patiently without any protest or demand for service. This was banking in the 70’s.

Cut to present times where you don’t even have to go to the bank for banking services. Money is delivered in your home or picked up for deposit from your home. Bank premises are like lounge bars, where staff politely wait on you while waiters serve you coffee. Bank managers pride themselves in knowing the names of all their customers and make it a point to meet all customers irrespective of their net worth. ATM’s were invented, net banking has become the norm and if you can’t transact on your cell phone, you ditched the bank. Debit cards ensured you could step out with a light pocket, and credit cards ensured that your lifestyle was always beyond your earnings. Working hours of banks matched your convenience, and generally a visit to the bank, as rare as it has become, can be quite pleasant.

Yes Dad, this is real, and not fiction! (that was me telling my Dad, as he reads this in disbelief from heaven)

So what changed in the banking industry? One thing only – banks started to put their focus on the customer. While operations were important, their focus shifted to the customer. While many other factors motivated banks to do this, the single biggest among them being the entry of international banks, it is noteworthy that even the nationalised banks were forced to morph into providing services like the international banks – which is good for the customer.

Banks started hiring staff from the consumer products industry, so the Citi bank’s and HSBC’s were poaching executives from multinational consumer marketing companies like Unilever, Nestle, and advertising agencies like Lintas, Ogilvy and HTA. None of these executives were ‘bankers’, but they understood the consumer completely. They had mastered processes to understand the usage and attitudes of consumers across a multitude of categories. For these MBA’s from the consumer products industry to now focus on just one category like banking, was like asking Dhoni to hit a sixer with a rubber ball – so easy! And they did it successfully in style, and not only accumulated vast amounts of wealth for themselves, but revolutionsed the consumer banking industry in India.  Corporate banking followed almost simultaneously, and my father is seeing stars from where he is!

This disproportionate focus on the consumer is what hotels need to do.

The biggest focus for hoteliers is amenities and facilities. Hotelier’s boast about the refurbishment of their rooms - a remote to operate the curtains, branded equipment like Sony LED TV, Braun tea kettles, GE mini refrigerators,….! Add to this one hears boasts of how their hotel bathroom has 15 towels, and bedrooms have 12 pillows….Seriously! Guests don’t care for 12 pillows and 15 towels in the world today! Guests of hotels have these and more in their homes. At one time Persian carpets, Italian marble champagne and caviar were luxuries, but today guest live these every day in their homes. The large LED TV in a hotel can never compete with the home theater that has been custom built in a home! The hand woven Ghashghais carpet in a home can never compete with anything a hotel has. The single malt whisky and wine collection of an average Indian executive will never be as good as what any hotel can offer. On the service side, the only movement upwards we have seen are CRM systems which some hotels have to do some predictive pampering. Other hotel management systems come in the way of service. All of us have heard lines like ‘Sorry Sir I have to charge you extra as the check out time was 12 noon and it is 2pm now. I have no control as it is a system generated issue. Manager has left for lunch….’.  

It will be good for the hospitality industry has to become more consumer focused like the banking industry did and benefited. Here is what I mean.

In the world we live in today, everyone is travelling a lot, on work and on leisure, which is when they use hotel and resort rooms. Because they travel so much and because they are exposed to the world from their cell phones, their expectations from a hotel or a resort is not just the facilities and amenities – (these are expected to be top class and yes the 12 pillows and 15 towels are ok and I love it), but a resort or a hotel will excel when they deliver ‘experiences’.

What kinds of experiences can hotels and resorts deliver will depend on a multitude of factors including their location, their theme, their geographical uniqueness, etc. but they have to aspire to deliver experiences.

When hotels and resorts recognise this, then they will start to dig through what the consumers want and then their journey towards becoming consumer centric will start. Hotels and resorts should start hiring executives from the consumer product industry to bring this consumer focus, like what banks did in the 70’s.

From the beginning the focus of my resort (Our Native Village) has been consumer experiences. Guests love my place (Trip adviser reviews being a barometer) and welcome all the new mind opening experiences that we deliver. The better and more unique the experiences they get, the better their overall experience of my resort. We are doing something right considering 60 to 70% of our business is repeat or referral.

So here are 5 things to note:

1)      Become more consumer centric

2)      Banks moved to becoming consumer centric and moved away from being operations centric.

3)      Hotels need to become more consumer centric and move away from being amenities and facilities centric.

4)      Hire consumer marketing executives from the consumer products industry – they have the mind set to dig in and understand consumers. This results in better product development and marketing.

5)      Every establishment should have an operations head (who is a hotel management graduate) and a consumer experience head (a consumer products/marketing person).

What will this ensure? This will ensure that businesses grow and the industry moves towards being more marketing/ product led rather than just sales/price led. It will also make my father smile…!

Why do we sneeze when the Western world catches a cold?

Winter has arrived in Bangalore. Clinics and doctors are busy nursing citizens who have fallen ill with a cold. All kinds of viral fevers are knocking out even the toughest and healthiest. When I took my maid who had fallen ill yesterday to the local clinic, the doctor mused that this is normal – when the weather changes, people will fall ill.

This chilling of the Bangalore weather is in stark contrast to the fiery discussions that are taking place around the world on the upcoming climate change talks. The Indian media which normally does not bother much about the climate change talks, as it is busy with all kinds of domestic ‘breaking news’, has suddenly heated up to the remarks that John Jerry made.

Kerry in an interview with a leading international business daily had recently warned that India could be a “challenge” at upcoming climate change talks in Paris, with its government reluctant to accept more of a role in addressing global warming. “We’ve got a lot of focus on India right now to try to bring them along. India has been more cautious, a little more restrained in its embrace of this new paradigm, and it’s a challenge,” he was quoted as saying.

The Economic Times quoted a ‘top government source’ who said that the statement was deliberate and an attempt to divide developing nations. “This is how things happen. Sad but true. India does not quarrel. When he (Kerry) made a comment on India, it was intended," the source said. Indian Express reported Environment Minister Prakash Javedkar, ““It is in a way unfair to say that India will be a challenge. It is actually not doing justice with India. The US is our great friend and strategic partner. His (Kerry’s) comments are unwarranted and unfair. The attitude of some of the developed countries is the challenge for the Paris conclusion,” he said. The Hindu reported that India has reacted strongly to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that the country will be a “challenge” in the coming climate change talks in Paris. The First Post wrote ‘India rebuts John Kerry remark; displays new appetite to take on US at climate change convention’. Ajay Mathur, Director General of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency was quoted in the Mint saying “What that means is that any country which puts forward a point of view for negotiations should not say so. Especially if it is different from the US point of view. Then why do we have negotiations,” The Asian Age stated that John Kerry is creating divisive climate.

What the hell, I ask!? This seems like a typical case of the US catches a cold and all in India are sneezing! Who cares what John Kerry says!

It is obvious that he is trying to intimidate India. For the first time, India has taken on a strong leadership role and made ambitious INDC commitments. We should have expected that the Western world led by the US, which is on the defensive will react badly to us. Ignore them I say. Leaders don’t bother about stray comments that challenge their leadership. Leaders keep their focus on the road ahead and not get distracted and drawn into small road side battles. This is exactly what the US is trying to do – to draw us and distract us with irrelevant comments.

The fact that India has taken on the role of representing the interests of the entire developing word is bound to rattle the US. Never before has India done this and never before has India been as prepared for the climate change talks like it will be in Paris.

Don’t bother about these chaps India….don’t bother about these comments Mr. Javedkar! India and its citizens are with you. Don’t catch a cold in Paris. Be prepared for all kinds of derailment plans.

Sneeze at the criticism that will be leveled at us. 

The circle of life

I have been in Chennai for close to 10 days, as my mother feel seriously ill. She had a severe stomach pain and was diagnosed with a perforated large intestine. At age 87, this is not very good news. She was rushed into emergency surgery, with the doctors warning us to expect the worst, meaning she may not survive the surgery. But she did. Spent 3 days in the ICU and then another 3 days in the room and then got home. She is resting now and in a stable condition.

She is quite a strong woman. While she started off her married life as a typical housewife, she evolved into quite an amazing person once all of us 4  kids grew up and went out of home. While bringing up 4 kids in itself is an amazing feat, she went onto greater things after all of us left home. 

At age 60, she learnt to drive a car! She ran two schools for the Sai Baba organisation, manufactured incense sticks at home for the organisation, and with my father ran a free medical clinic for the  under privileged in our veranda. She traveled a lot, did a lot, endured a lot, learnt a lot, taught a lot, laughed and smiled a lot....

At the hospital something happened. The surgery she underwent was major - lasted close to 5 hours, because of which she was under the influence of anesthesia and other milder sedatives and pain killers. All this cocktail of chemicals will has a strong effect even in a youngster. When it is administered to an 87 year old it it plays havoc in the body, and most importantly, as we discovered, in the mind. My mother started having delirium and hallucinatory attacks, which disturbed her tremendously. She was seeing and hearing things, having terrible dreams. She did not sleep for nights together because of this. 

One such terrible night, she screamed and woke up saying someone was in the room, and did not recognise my voice. The nurses rushed in, calmed her and told her that I was her son, and she instantly said - yes I know this is my son! The wise nurse then gently advised her to say the name of her God and then go to sleep if she has another bad dream, and my mother closed her eyes. 

Soon her dreams started again, and I then went up to her, gently patted her brow in a soothing loving manner and told her that "I am around Amma, don't worry, no body will harm you....just say your prayers, close your eyes and everything will be fine". I repeated this over and over again until she calmed down. Soon I had tears running down my eyes, as I recalled how my mother used to say these exact words to me when I was a kid and when I used to get bad dreams "I am around my son, don't worry, no body will harm you....just say your prayers, close your eyes and everything will be fine". As I write this blog, I have a lump in my throat, as I recall her love for me as a kid.

Here I am as an adult, getting the chance to serve her along with my sisters and look after her, like she did when I was young and vulnerable. Her I am getting the chance to give some of the love to her, like she did for me when I wanted it the most. Here I am telling her to be be brave like she told me when I was a little scared kid, snuggling up to her for comfort. I feel so grateful that I am able to do something for her. I wonder if it will ever be enough.

God bless my mother and all mothers in the world. God bless all of us children who get the chance to serve their parents. May the strange circle of life envelop all of us with love. 

Expectations are hot!

Every one is scrambling…anyone who has anything to do with the climate change and environmental movement that is. There is so much frenzy with the COP 21 talks round the corner. All the slots for entry to any of the sessions are full!

It is much like the big Indian wedding…so much of preparation, so much of anticipation. What will the bride be wearing. What will the groom be wearing. What kind of food will we be served…who will dance the best for the sangeet…! Much frenzy….much expectation….

This is what will kill the COP 21 talks. No one knows what to expect, but are still expecting a ‘lot’. Lot of what!? Most nations of significance have submitted their INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). In other words, all these countries have made their promises. They have set targets for themselves and have announced these targets. No what?

Remember that from the last few rounds of climate change talks, what has been achieved until now with the INDC’s is something the world has not achieved until now – so first lets step back and say, well done! Sure, I understand that we cannot declare victory as yet, but what will be victory, what will be success. Too much is expected off the COP 21, and I am sure that we will all come back disappointed.

It is pure politics now – politics of who will pay more money. There is a general expectation that the richer countries will contribute significantly to the $ 100 billion fund per year. Something tells me that they will not commit to it as the developing nations want them to. Of course, the tone of the developing countries is not very encouraging too especially when we hear then say that all nations should contribute! So this is where it is all going to come down to – who will blink first!?

In the meantime, lets tone down our expectations a bit, so that we allow the great intentions with which all  – politicians, civil society, corporations, are approaching this to come to fruition. We have a general consensus that great steps have to be taken. When the Kyoto protocol talks were first concluded, we could never have imagined that we will actually have nations commit to reductions of green house gases ever, and that has happened. For now, lets all give some space, and chill a bit. Great expectations will only dissapoint!