Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Brand Monopoly

Much of management jargon makes way for lucid understanding through real life examples. Especially, the many convoluted terms related to brands/product management strike congruous notes when combined with practical experiences of customers.

How many times have we seen shops with boards displaying – STD, ISD, PCO, XEROX? How many times have we read the following note in application forms – “Please produce attested xerox copies of certificates”? How many times have you and I uttered – “I have to take two xerox copies of this form, I am going to the nearby xerox shop”?

XEROX is the name of a company and photocopy is the name of the process/product we are talking about. I need to submit attested photocopies of the certificate would have been the appropriate way of saying had it not been for the brand monopoly exercised by Xerox. Xerox Corporation headquartered in Connecticut, USA is a global document management company that manufactures and sells black and white printers and photocopy machines/photocopiers. Founded in 1906, Xerox rose to prominence in the year 1959 with the first developed plain paper photocopier named Xerox 914. Thereafter, Xerox has only monopolized the field to elephantine extents that the trademark of this corporation is an acclaimed verb in most dictionaries including the Oxford English Dictionary. Therefore, the next time I/you say, “I xeroxed the document and sent it by post” we justifiably are correct.

How many times have we had a conversation such as below with shop vendors “One litre refined oil tetrapacket, please”, “Please give 1 frooti; in reply, the shopkeeper – “Bottle or tetrapack?” ? Here again, Tetrapak is a multinational food processing and packaging company based in Lund, Sweden. The company founded in 1951, by Ruben Rausing began with a tetrahedral package called Tetra Classic, its inventor being Erik Wallenberg and rose to a universal stature in aseptic food processing and packaging of liquid foods. Rausing improved upon Tetra classic (shaped like a tetrahedron) and created different forms like rectangular cuboid carton (Tetra Brik), wedge like (Tetra Wedge), pouch like (Tetra Fino) and pyramidal (Tetra Prisma). His sons/successors made Tetrapak a ubiquitous name in packaging, a synonym for a carton like package for fluids. And truly, today we hardly bother about the shapes/forms, for us everything is TETRAPAK. Such is their omnipresence in industry that similar products from competing firms are only fondly addressed as Tetrapak by customers world over.

An exceptionally noteworthy example is that of Dalda, how it simply replaced the product name Vanaspati, rather eliminated it completely from the Indian kitchen. There were times when every Indian household provisions/groceries list featured Dalda – 1 Kg; not Vanaspati, just Dalda. The yellow color container with a green palm picture on its body bears a brand that has a tellable story. You may visit - http://www.daldaindia.com/about/history.asp for it or refer to its smaller excerpt stated below.

The name Dalda has Dutch roots and was imported into India for the first time in 1930s by the Dutch company – Dada & Co. The Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Co (Now HLL) wanted to start manufacturing Vanaspati and Dada & Co insisted that its company name be used for the product. Hindustan Lever too wanted to establish its mark and therefore evolved a name Dada with a L (for lever) in between – Dalda that simply rocked South Asia. Dalda is currently owned by Bunge Limited, a big North American oil-producing firm. Today, Dalda India is entrusted with a job of manufacturing & marketing sunflower, soyabean, mustard and groundnut oils but the customer interface with this company largely rests on a single name “Dalda” that implicitly refers to Vanaspati.

Such are cases of brand monopoly that the end customer uses the company/brand name interchangeably with the product only to give bountiful uneasiness to competitors in the same arena.

Well, I still cannot forget those days when chocolate to me meant only Cadburys. “Papa, I want Cadburys”, I would say and happily devour the contents of a purple colored wrapper with the symbol of two glasses of milk on it. Such is the sustained monopoly of this company in chocolates/confectionary industry that it recently filed a patent on the color “Cadbury purple” and christened it as Pantone 2685C at patent office.

Friday, June 19, 2009

With Rahman, there is so much to hear!

AR Rahman, has undoubtedly heralded a new era in music. There is so much to hear, with him composing tunes, blended to perfection with right proportions of Indian and Western styles, the resultant amalgam compounded with Sufi and Arabic elements, making a potpourri that has won many hearts all over the world. Recent string of movies – Ghajini, Delhi6, Slumdog Millionaire stand as an unshakeable proof for the above fact with the latter winning him an unprecedented international acclamation, one that Rahman deserves in every way for his meticulous creations starting from music for movie Roja or may be even earlier , from many TV commercials/advertisements that carry his background score.

Every time, Rahman has impelled forward some new talent through his creations. Hariharan, who primarily rendered ghazals until movie Roja, won audience’s hearts through song "Tamizha Tamizha". Thereafter, he has only risen to the status of an eminent playback singer in many languages. Harini, found her entry into Tamil industry with a soothing, child-like rendition of the song “Nila kaigirathu” in the movie Indira. The Bombay theme leaves us in silence even today, in serious contemplation on where we are heading in a sphere of violence that engulfs us. Suresh Peters, Febi, Minmini, Shahul Hameed are all names we saw on cassette covers of movies like Thiruda Thiruda, Gentleman, Roja, Bombay, names if not for AR Rahman, would have got lost without recognition in the indomitable arena of SPB, Mano, Chitra, Sujatha and Janaki of those times. Songs like Veerapandi Kotayille, Kannum Kannum from Thiruda Thiruda, Chikku Pooku Railey, Ottagatha Kattikko from Gentleman are enjoyed by many even today as one reminisces how he/she danced/swayed to these tunes in younger days.

Not to forget Urvasi Urvasi from Kaadhalan and the super melodious number – Ennavale from the same movie that fetched its singer, Unni Krishnan a national award in his first attempt. He later shone brightly with numbers like “Thenmerkku paruva kaatru” from Karuthamma and “Uyirumm Neeye” from Pavithra making a perfect team with AR Rahman. What will one call a combination of Superstar Rajinikanth and super musician AR Rahman? Terrific, Spectacular – well, it truly's that! Not much is required to justify this. Just listen to the opening piece of song “Oruvan Oruvan Muthalalee” from movie Muthu, it will pump additional joules of energy in you. Udit Narayan arrived in Tamil industry with his funny, yet adorable Tamil pronounciations in "Kuluvaalilley" song.

While new names did taste success under aegis of Rahman, the masters – SPB, Mano, Chitra and Sujatha remained unconquerable with their renditions in Roja (Kaadhal Rojave, Puthu Vellai Mazhai), Puthiya Mugam (Netru Illatha Maatram), Duet (Anjali Anjali), May Maatham (Minnaley), Bombay (Kannalaney, Uyire Uyire) and in fact, many more. Be it bringing forth Kadri Gopinath’s Saxophone, largely in Duet movie, moulding Carnatic talent Bombay Jayshree (Narumugaye, Iruvar) and Nityashree (Kannodu Kaanbethellam,Jeans) into cine music, adding fresh voices - KayKay (Strawberry Kanney, Minsaara Kannavu), Saadhana Sargam (Vennilave, Minsaara Kannavu) into Tamil music from up North; bold, experimental moves from Rahman have only won him bountiful fans and limitless appreciation.

The period also saw him foray into Bollywood with movie Rangeela that won him a Film Fare award straightaway. Accolades in Bollywood for Rahman were inevitable as his music reached listener’s ears through melodious voices of Alka Yagnik, Kavitha Krishnamurthy; not to miss that of legends like Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar, coupled at times with beautiful lyrics penned by Gulzar. I am sure many of us cherish songs of Dil Se, not just for its music but also for Gulzar’s poetic streaks running all through. Worth mentioning are songs “Tu hi tu, satrangi re” in which Sonu Nigam draws us close to Mirza Ghalib times with his deep, mesmerizing voice and “Chaiyya Chaiyya” where Sukhwinder Singh, virtually offers the listener a journey on the train, chugging through tunnels, leaving behind deep valleys.

While Bollywood prospered with Rahman’s tunes in Rangeela, Dil Se, Taal, Pukar, Takshak and Zubeidaa, Tamil movies like Indian, Minsaara Kannavu, Mr.Romeo, Mudhalvan, Iruvar, Rakshagan and Padayappa placed AR Rahman on the throne that none could supersede.

A good number of movies bore the jewel of Rahman’s music. His music drew crowds to theatres even if the film was devoid of a good script and good looking faces. The maestro treaded on the path to more glory and fame without a halt, his attempts were not lackadaisical at all. Born out of his enduring passion were Alaipayuthey, Kandukondain Kandukondain and Lagaan from which to pick one hot favourite would be an act of grave injustice. The Kannathil Muthamittal title song rendered by Chinmayee, am sure, brings tears in eyes of every parent who dotes on his/her child. Singers like Suresh Menon, Srinivas and Karthik showcased their talent and routed the maestro’s creations with an algorithm - shortest path first to our hearts and heads.

The journey through a masterpiece like Lagaan, “Yaarkai Thiree (Fanaa in Hindi) of movie Aaiyautha Ezhuthu /Yuva, Chinnama Chilakamma of Meenaxi and awe-inspiring “Yeh jo des hai tera” of Swades affirmed Rahman’s regime in Bollywood. From here on, until today, Rahman has kept involvement in Tamil Films to a bare minimum. He plunged to greater depths in Hindi film music through movie Rang de Basanti followed by a better and bigger superhit - Guru. While Naresh Iyer, a new singer, came to limelight with magical “Roobaaroo” and naughty “Khalbali” in Rang de Basanti, Rahman reigned as the supremo, in composing music and delivering it directly to the audience’s ears through “Tere Bina” of Guru. Then, there was Jodhaa Akbar; Ashutosh Gowariker was keen on completing his hat trick with AR Rahman, with Lagaan and Swades being the other two joint ventures.

One could always see AR Rahman seriously involved in songs that paid respect to the Almighty – be it "Piya Haji Ali" of Fiza or "Khwaja mere Khwaja" of Jodhaa Akbar. The message of lending a helping hand to the needy through “Pray for me Brother” was solemnly conveyed. The song Vande mataram rendered by Rahman has always invoked in us, spurts of patriotic spirit and a sense of utmost pride and respect for our nation.

AR Rahman's reign continues, it will forever, for on receiving the most sought after honor of an Oscar, that always appeared a near impossibility to an Indian, Rahman said he chose love over hatred. His undying love for music has instilled in us an unquenchable thirst for quality music. If recent hits from Jaane Tu are not enough, there are songs from Yuvraaj, Ghajini, Delhi 6 and Slumdog Millionaire that follow it.

“Hai Guzarish” of Ghajini, “Masakalli” of Delhi 6, “Jai ho & O saaya” of Slumdog may compel us to conclude that this is Rahman’s best ever, but WAIT - much more is lined up! After all, with AR Rahman, there is always so much to hear.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Princely Isle of Kochi

Set in God’s own land, with a well pronounced imprint of rule of indigenous Chera kings and of many foreign rulers - Portuguese, Dutch and English, Kochi is laden with history in every aspect – from its birth to its prosperous disposition as a royal capital and now as a modern Indian city and sea port of strategic importance. It is a port that found mention in almost every early traveller’s record – Italian, Chinese, Greek or Portuguese. The journey from Perumbadappu Swaroopam (the capital of many thavazhi (branches) of Thamopoorans (kings)) to Kochazhi to Kochi is of exemplary importance and as a tourist to this place, one gets a glimpse of annals of its history.

As the Vembanad Lake opens into Arabian Sea encompassed by islets - Fort Kochi and Vypeen, the city of Ernakulam on mainland overlooks this union from a distance, through a group of multiple isles (Bolghatty, Willingdon and Vallarpadam) scattered around. For a person in Ernakulam main jetty complex from where ferries leave to this group of isles, the sheer expanse of Vembanad Lake dotted with multiple isles housing huge buildings and harbour complexes is a royal treat. The ferry service is an absolute marvel, always on time and free of traffic jams, it offers the perfect way to travel from one isle to the other. Subhash Bose Park on Marine Drive, Ernakulam provides a well laid out pathway along the Vembanad Lake offering a close view of numerous ships safely anchored as gigantic cranes carry out the business of loading and unloading mammoth containers onto/from them. The buoys float on Vembanad as ferries loaded with passengers intercept the path of huge ships; the distant Goshree bridges carry automobile/bus traffic from Ernakulam to different isles – the view is worth all the money you put in for the trip. Add to this a view of a sunset, the lake waters shimmering in soft rays of the sun, one will reminisce it a million times. To top it all, the view of a vast blanket of dark monsoon clouds descending on the high seas, spreading its wild tentacles from the isles to the mainland, the distant lighthouse on Vypeen Island sending periodic light beams that break through eerie darkness – the sight of it all is priceless.

Fort Kochi is one of my personal favorites, avenues with stylish English bungalows, mansions with sprawling green lawns, luxury hotels, prim and comfortable home stays, cafes and bakeries, ancient churches, neatly laid out parks at here tempts one to come back. One can view the mouth of Vembanad lake opening into the mighty Arabian sea as laborious fisherman jostle on sea waters for a pricey catch, big and small vessels travel to safe havens of Vembanad Lake from the rough, monsoon sea while some fishermen maneuver with Chinese fishing nets (cheena vala) that adorn the coastline. Fort Kochi houses many important places such as the Vasco House (Vasco Da Gama’s residence in Kochi) on Rose street;St Francis Church, initially a Catholic church built by Portuguese later turned to an Anglican one under the British rulers, where Vasco da Gama was buried after death before his son claimed his body and took it to Lisbon; Santa Cruz Basilica – a Catholic church with impressive paintings on the ceiling and a Dutch cemetery.

On this isle, on the other half lies Mattencherry – which also houses some very important buildings. Mattencherry is a slice of history by itself bearing the Mattencherry Palace and Jewish synagogue, the oldest in British Commonwealth. The Mattencherry palace also known as Dutch palace (as it was renovated by Dutch rulers multiple times) was built in 1557 by the Portuguese for Raja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma in return for a temple they plundered and vandalized. The palace, currently a museum abounds with articles used by Rajas of Kochi, their palanquins, mural paintings of Ramayana scenes and pictorial charts depicting royal lineage and history of Cochin from 50 AD to 1956.

Kochi came into existence with a devastating flood in Periyar river in AD 1341 closing the earlier prosperous port of Cranganore (now known as Kodungallur). Kodungallur, then known as Mahodayapura, the capital of Kochi Rajas, the gateway of trade for spices with the West was silted completely by the flood and a new sea mouth opened at Kochi.

The Portugese landed at Kochi in 1503 with Vasco Da Gama pioneering the act by landing at Calicut in 1498. The initial inkling of trade in spices (cardamom and black pepper) matured into local territorial conquests and a vehement urge to spread Christianity accompanied by large-scale destruction of temples. The Rajas of Kochi fled Mahodayapura after a devastating flood and sought the support of Portuguese to fight the Zamorins of Calicut. The year 1663 saw the arrival of Dutch into Kochi and the port became a battleground for the Dutch and the Portuguese. The Dutch won and entered into a treaty with Kochi Rajas’ Mootha Thavazhi (royal branch) until the year 1795, thereafter arrived the British on Kochi soil.
Kochi thereafter remained in full control of the British East India Company with Varman kings (Kochi Rajas/Thampoorans) merely as vassals. Trade flourished at the Kochi port, Willingdon harbour complex as seen today was planned and built by Mr. Robert Bristow in the year 1920. Post independence, in 1948, the Kochi - Travancore princely states under Thampoorans and Thirunal kings expressed interest to join the Indian union and under States Reorganization Act, 1956, Perumbaddapu Swaroopam (Kochi) officially became a part of the Kerala state.

If one wanted a peek into times of Kochi before the 1341 AD flood, one must visit the Jewish Synagouge in Jew Town, Mattancherry. A set of 5 Jewish families reside here with a treasure of information on how they settled, their religious practices etc. The year AD 50 witnessed growing trade relations between Western world and Cranganore, referred to as Shingly by the Jews. The religious tolerance of the Chera king then – Cheraman Perumal saw Jewish families settle in Cranganore. The last surviving Jewish family escaped from the hands of brutal Portuguese finding refuge under Kochi Raja at Mattancherry. A synagogue was built right next to the Mattancherry palace as a place of worship for the Jews, a clock tower erected next to it, its interior decorated with bright Belgian and Italian chandeliers and 1100 blue and white willow-pattern ceramic tiles on the floor.
The Vypeen island, right opposite to the isle of Fort Kochi is a long, narrow island, densely populated that runs almost upto Kodungallur. The ferry journey from Fort Kochi to Vypeen is highly thrilling as one sails right across the mouth, galloping up and down; high sea waves modulate on relatively placid Vembanad Lake waters. On Vypeen island, one can visit the Cherai beach (23 km) and Pallipuram fort (built by Portuguese, 25 km) or take the road that forks off to the right leading to Goshree bridges that connect islands of Vallarpadam (harbour site) and Bolghatty (houses a Dutch palace built for the Raja of Kochi, currently a KTDC hotel) to Ernakulam.

Willingdon Island, an artifically laid out island (year 1920), completely planned by Englishman Mr. Robert Bristow, is a chief industrial centre that houses Cochin harbor, dockyard, many factories including that of coir, tea processing and the currently abandoned Cochin Harbor Railway Terminus. Aboard the ferry, one can see wide, clean roads bordered with stylish mansions, a Taj hotel and Cochin Port Trust building with its typical British style clock tower. On Sundays, you might find yourself walking alone on its roads in absolute silence broken only by intermittent sounds from the busy harbor complex.

Bolghatty Island is a very small island that lies between Vallarpadam  and Ernakulam; it houses a beautiful Dutch palace, now converted into a KTDC hotel. The hotel surrounded by Vembanad waters on all three sides has lush greenery, a golf course, some horse riding activity, a swimming pool and a restaurant offering splendid view of the Harbor and the Vembanad.

Another sunset; the monsoon clouds, in an act of intimidation, settle over the isles and spread in all vigor to the main land, engulfing the twin cities of Kochi and Ernakulam with a thick blanket of rain. Watching the isles get shrouded by jet-black clouds, you only wonder how many more stories, the princely isle of Kochi has, that are left untold.