Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bombay meri jaan! (Mumbai, my sweetheart)

After staying in quite a few cities across the world I got a chance to stay in Mumbai for couple of weeks. I realized once again that this the city I admire the most, despite all its inadequacies. This city has inspired a lot of writers, poets and film makers who have portrayed different aspects of this city. The Movies explore hidden aspects of life, relationships and motivations of living here. There are various songs composed just about this city. I don't know of any other city which has received such creative attention. Resilience of this city stands out across all the natural calamities and foreign attacks this city has witnessed. I never thought I would find something to talk about this city which I haven't heard of before. But as surprising as it may sound, I did, from management point of view off course.

[caption id="attachment_1120" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Crude but effective tag! Crude but effective tag![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1119" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Enterprenurial instinct at its best! Enterprenurial instinct at its best![/caption]

In this city, it appears as if everyone has a plan. Everyone has figured out what they want in life and they are running after that. Whether rich or poor, men or children, immigrants or locals everyone seems to be clear about their dreams and way to reach there. That's why everyone is in a hurry. Once I was at a bus stop and a beggar approached me. Usually, I avoid paying them anything but this time I thought of paying him a small tip. I took out my wallet, as usual all coins from different countries were mixed in my wallet, I took a while to find Indian coins. As I picked it up to offer it to the beggar, to my surprise he was gone. Even a beggar didn't have time to wait to get his alimony. Even he was clear about who his potential donor was.

Mumbai is also oozing with entrepreneurial instincts and ideas. I met up Prashant a shop-keeper. He has a shoe shop barely enough for him to sit. He uses the vertical area as display. When I was buying a pair of slippers, I noticed something unusual. He had some chillies and lemons in front of him. Usually people use a string of lemons and chillies to protect from evil eye. I asked him what was that all about.

He replied that there was a small temple right in front of his shop. He saw people buying the lemon-chilly string every Saturday. Some customers started asking him if he had them. Thats when he started stocking them. Soon he integrated backwards and started making them in his spare time. He developed some specialization by using an ingredient that wasn't easily available. Soon he got a loyal client base. In due course, the temple shifted elsewhere but due to his specialized ingredient the customers kept coming back. And he runs two unrelated businesses concurrently from same premises. What an amazing entrepreneurial story!!! I accidentally stumbled upon this. Imagine if one starts hunting for such stories, there were would be stories galore.

Also realized that this city is extremely meritocratic. Its the work you do, the value you add that counts not your age or years of experience. You find many young entrepreneurs who do well in this city alongside oldies who are doing same thing year after year. In my recent trip, I was staying at a local no-star hotel. I called the reception and asked for my laundry to be picked up.
The receptionist said , "Theek hai sir. Ladake ko bhej deta hu" (Ok. I will send my boy)
After 5 mins there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and was surprised to see a man on the side of fifties on my door to collect the laundry. I was expecting fresher, younger person who might have just joined the hotel to do this job. But I had an elderly person at my door. He couldn't be called as a "ladka" or boy by amy stretch of imagination.
I asked,"Ladka busy hai kya? Aap aaye ho" (Is the usual laundry-boy busy?)
He said ,"Nahi sir. Mai hi ladka hu. Abhi abhi aaya hu chhota mota kam karana padata hai, Paisa thik hai par log ladka ladka bulate hai" ( No. I do the odd jobs here. They pay me well but call me a "boy" despite my age.)
Since he was doing low skilled odd jobs, it was only appropriate that he was called a boy - a beginner - despite his age. It may sound harsh but meritocracy is another name for harsh world.

Another thing I noticed is although this city appears chaotic, it runs on smartly designed, efficient but crude looking systems. Dabavalas and their six sigma process is legendary but every small business also has its own system. I used the laundry facilities in the same hotel. I guessed that many hotels and shops have a common vendor to do the laundry. Obviously, on a daily basis hundreds of clothes would be collected from various pick-up points, brought to central location, washed, ironed and sent back to respective pick-up points. All this should be done without any error ie I should get back all my clothes and should not get anybody else's clothes. I was quite curious to see what system they follow. Do they have any RFID or bar code or at least some computerized records? Well, its neither of these three. I discovered a small tag which was an inexpensive, custom made but an unsophisticated tag. This custom tag contained the entire information about the origin of the piece and the batch size. This simple looking tag eliminated any possibility of an error. The system looked very unsophisticated but it worked. I imagine that this whole chaotic looking city works on such crude but effective systems.

I spent just a week in this city and learnt so much. No wonder poets who live here sings its praises - yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!! (This city is my sweetheart!!)

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