Tag Archives: handful

Library sourcing

It’s been close to two years since I took up membership at the British Council Library in Bangalore and of late I’ve been thinking that I won’t extend my membership after it expires this December. The library hasn’t been very active in updating its book stocks, and seeing the same books in the same places again and again (my interests mean I’m limited to a handful of shelves in the library) gets monotonous, and there have been times when I’ve borrowed books just for the heck of it.

Yesterday, I was meeitng Kodhi after which I wanted to go to the library (since books were due for return), and he offered me to come along with me. And for the first time in a very long time, I had too many books from which I had to decide which ones to take home. There had been books which I’d been seeing at their regular places time and again, and had never felt the need to read until Kodhi told me about them and convinced me to borrow them. Overall, it was a very pleasant visit to the library.

Going forward, I think I’ll extend this strategy. Every time I go to the library, I’ll take along a different person – hopefully someone who understands well my interests and reading habits, and see if I make better use of the library. Since there are two months left before my membership expires, I hope to have got more data on this (how “successful” visits to the library are when I go with a friend) and can make a better decision about giving up the membership (it costs around Rs. 2000 per year).

Tailors

In a little street called Narayana Pillai Street, off Commercial Street in the Shivajinagar area of Bangalore there stands a building called “Ganesh complex” which can be called a tailoring hub. There are some ten to twelve shops (forgive my arithmetic if I’ve counted too low) all of which are occupied by tailors who stitch women’s clothes, primarily salwar kameez and its derivatives. I don’t know if there’s much to choose between the stores, and I think it’s a question of “tailor loyalty” the way it’s practiced among beach shacks at Baga beach in North Goa.

The wife is friends with a tailor called Ahmed, who runs a shop called HKGN tailors in this complex. Till recently (when he took two weeks with a consignment) his USP was “one hour tailoring”, where upon receiving cloth and measurements, he would stitch your dress in about an hour. I hear that there are a large number of tailors in the vicinity (though not sure if they’re in Ganesh complex) who offer the same terms. In fact, I know a lot of women who travel to that area to get their clothes stitched both for the quick delivery and also for the network of tailors that is present there.

While waiting for Ahmed to deliver the wife’s latest consignment yesterday (the one he took two weeks with), I was watching tailors in neighbouring shops working. The thing that struck me was that there isn’t much economies of scale in bespoke tailoring. Each piece  of cloth needs to be cut separately, in its own size, and there’s nothing that can be “batch processed” across different samples. Of course, there is tremendous scope for specialization and division of labour, so you see “masters” who measure, mark out and cut cloth, and “stitchers” who stitch up the stuff together.

However, across the city, except for the handful of tailors in the Shivajinagar area, the standard turnaround time for stitching seems to be about two weeks. And given the wife’s experiences (I usually buy readymade garments so not much insight there) it is a fairly disorganized industry and requires several rounds of follow-ups and waiting at the tailor’s shop in order to get the goods.

The economics of the industry (that there are no economies of scale) makes me wonder why the two-week-turnaround time has become standard in this industry. Isn’t the turnaround time solely because of inventory piled up at the tailor’s? Can the tailor not manage his inventory better (like say going a few days without fresh orders or hiring a few extra hands temporarily or working a weekend) and thus lead to much shorter turnaround time? Given the individual nature of the job, what prevents tailors from offering instant turn-around like the handful of people in Shivajinagar do? Or is it that bulk orders (one person coming with a bunch of clothes to stitch) mess up any “quick turnaround model” the tailors could offer?

There is only one explanation I can think of. “Sales” and “production”, for the tailors happens at the same spot (their storefronts). For “sales” purposes they need to be there all the time, though they don’t need to be actively doing anything. Hence, it suits them if production is also a continuous full-time process, so that the time they spend at the storefront isn’t all “wasted”. By piling up an inventory of orders, tailors are always assured of having something to do even if no fresh customers are forthcoming.

So as the wife’s experience with Ahmed has shown, the “quick turnaround” hasn’t been sustainable at all.

Jobs and courtship

Jobs, unlike romantic relationships, don’t come with a courtship period. You basically go for a bunch of interviews and at the end of it both parties (you and the employer) have to decide whether it is going to be a good fit. Neither party has complete information – you don’t know what a typical day at the job is like, and your employer doesn’t know much about your working style. And so both of you are taking a risk. And there is a significant probability that you are actually a misfit and the “relationship” can go bad.

For the company it doesn’t matter so much if the odd job goes bad. They’ll usually have their recruitment algorithm such that the probability of a misfit employee is so low it won’t affect their attrition numbers. From the point of view of the employees, though, it can get tough. Every misfit you go through has to be explained at the next interview. You have a lot of misfits, and you’re deemed to be an unfaithful guy (like being called a “much-married man”). And makes it so tough for you to get another job that you are more likely to stumble into one where you’re a misfit once again!

Unfortunately, it is not practical for companies to hire interns. I mean, it is a successful recruitment strategy at the college-students level but not too many people are willing to get into the uncertainty of a non-going-concern job in the middle of their careers. This risk-aversion means that a lot of people have no option but to soldier on despite being gross misfits.

And then there are those that keep “divorcing” in an attempt to fit in, until they are deemed unemployable.

PS: In this regard, recruitments are like arranged marriage. You make a decision based on a handful of interviews in simulated conditions without actually getting to know each other. And speaking of arranged marriage, I reprise this post of mine from six years ago.

In Perpetual Transition

This post has nothing to do with Ravi Karthik’s blog. It has everything to do with Bangalore’s roads. I can’t recall a single instance in time in the last 15 years when all roads in Bangalore have been in “normal state”. Maybe ever since the KR Market flyover started, there has been one part of the city or the other that has been dug up. And the digging is only increasing. Earlier it would be a handful of places in the city that were dug up. Now, it is tough to find two points over 5 km apart such that you don’t have to take a diversion of some sort to travel between them.

The optimistic among us think that things will become better as soon as these projects get completed. However, what we forget is that there is a small but powerful section of society that survives on the city being in transition. Road-builders, bridge-builders, road-diggers, road-fillers, and all these sundry people make their living based on the premise that the city will be in perpetual transition. And given how critical income from such activities is for their survival, they resort to lobbying and paying “rents” to relevant people in the government to ensure their cash flows continue.

The problem here is one of a small concentrated set of big winners, and a large uncoordinated distributed set of small losers. And the small set of winners can successfully get together and lobby and have things their way, because the other set is too disjointed to do anything about it.

The other (and in my opinion, the bigger) problem is that thanks to lobbying, the government has a natural disposition to spend more than to spend less. And all the spending comes from taxpayer money. So you have the road projects in Bangalore that you think you don’t need. You have the free TVs and Mixies and whatnot in Tamil Nadu. And you have rice and wheat given to the (supposed) poor at rock-bottom prices. And where does the money for all this come from? Your taxes!

I hope sooner rather than later people realize that the only solution to corruption is less government. The problem, however, is that the government has no incentive to reduce its own size – for in that case the kickbacks and  rents that it (to be precise, people who are part of government) can potentially extract come down. You might institute acts like FRBM (fiscal responsibility and budget management, which seeks to put a cap on government spending) but with such a cap in space, what is the guarantee that the government will actually spend that limited money on what is necessary, and not what gives rents for its officers and employees?

Political parties may have different ideologies, and may appear to fight about every little thing. But this is one thing they agree on – that the size of the government be large – that way they all get to (in turns) have a share of the (rental) pie. This equilibrium is stable and I don’t know how we can snap out of this. And till then, our taxes will continue to flow out. And the cities will be in perpetual transition.

FabIndia Koramangala

There are very few clothing stores that I can say I’m in love with. There are very few stores where I feel like buying a large proportion of merchandise on display whenever I visit it. There are very few stores where just the atmosphere makes you buy much more than you had planned to. And it’s a pity that on two of my visits to the store, I bought nothing.

I haven’t been to too many FabIndia stores outside Bangalore (only a handful of stores in Gurgaon and maybe one in Delhi) but having shopped a few times at the FabIndia store in Koramangala, I feel distinctly underwhelmed whenever i go to any other outlet. Having been several times to this beautifully designed house, I find FabIndia outlets housed in less spectacular buildings sad. Of course there have been times (including two days ago) when I’ve shopped at other outlets but the experience simply doesn’t come close.

The first time I went to the store was some four or five years back when Anuroop wanted to check out kurtas. I think we went there on Bunty’s recommendation but I remember that I hadn’t bought anything. I had quickly made amends for it a couple of months later when I bought a couple of shirts, and then a year later when I bought a dozen shirts at one go!

The only other time I went there without purchasing anything was yesterday morning, when I was visiting the store after a gap of some two or three years. The first thought was one of guilt – of having shopped in a less spectacular Fabindia store (the one at Kathriguppe) just the previous night, and then as I got over it I got overwhelmed with the variety on display. I suddenly got afraid that I might over-spend and made a dash for the exit.

I wasn’t gone for too long, though, as I returned in the evening with Priyanka, and this time we discovered something even more spectacular – something that I had completely missed during my hajaar earlier visits - the store cafe. The brownie was decent, and the coffee was just about ok, but that didn’t matter one bit. Once again, it was the atmosphere at play, and that the coffee shop had in plenty.

It’s something like a small arena. If you can perform some visual art (say a play or a dance) in a five feet square area, this is just the place for you! All around the 5×5 “well” (which is full of pebbles) are stone benches, at different levels. Cushions have been placed on some arbitrary benches, and we understood that that’s where it was supposed to sit. There wsa some music that I didn’t quite recognized but was quite pleasant, and the wooden trays in which the waiter brought our coffees were also beautiful – I might have bought something like that from the store had I been in a spendthrift mood yesterday!

If you are in Bangalore and are interested in cotton clothes you should definitely check out this store sometime. It’s in Koramangala, in the extension of the intermediate ring road. Make sure you go there leisurely, for there is plenty to see and buy (the inventory is about six times as much as that of an “ordinary” FabIndia store). And while you are there, do visit the cafe and lounge around there for a while. And think about Priyanka and me while you are there.

Urban living and restaurants and liquidity

Last night I had dinner at Alfanoose, a small Mediterranean joint off Broadway. I had hummus and salad with pita bread, and had also brought along a falafel sandwich which is now sitting in my fridge and is likely to get consumed today for breakfast. Excellent stuff. Absolutely brilliant. And not expensive at all – ten bucks for the hummus and salad, and six for the sandwich. Considering that USD = 10 INR according to the Idli index, this is extremely reasonable, insane value for money.

I have been intending to write this post for ages, about how one of the best positive externalities of urban living is restaurants. When you are living in a desolate area, with not too many people around, there is no option but to cook your own food. Even if you live in a village ora small town, the number of people who are willing to eat out will be small, which means it makes little business sense for someone to open a restaurant there. You are likely to find a handful of them, but the lack of competition will mean that you can’t really trust quality.

There is a network effect in restaurants. Some people don’t eat anywhere but at home, and some don’t cook at home at all. However, there is the large middle ground of people whose consumption of restaurant food varies directly with quality and liquidity. And these two concepts are inter-related – the bigger the town is, the greater the required supply of restaurants which means more competition and thus higher quality. And higher quality leads to higher demand (more fence-sitters converted) and the virtuous cycle goes on (of course, population and the fact that some people don’t like to eat out limits the boundaries of the cycle).

Another thing is that the larger a town gets, the greater the liquidity of the food market in there, there is more variety. If you remember Bangalore in the 1980s, when I was growing up, there was one standard type of restaurant. Where you would get cheap idli and dosa and a few other standard snacks, and a few “north indian” items at meal times, and every time you wanted to eat out you had to go with one of these. And you would have noticed how with the growth in the restaurant market in the 90s you got more variety.

What makes cities such as London and New York such foodie havens is their size, and also that culturally people here are more inclined towards eating out than in other places such as India. This leads to insane liquidity in the market, and as I explained above that leads to more variety, and so you get more niche food. And when you have cities as large as New York or London, what you get is full-fledged liquid markets in cuisines that are everywhere else considered niche!

So because of liquidity in otherwise niche markets, in each cuisine you will find various kinds of restaurants. Like yesterday I had awesome hummus at this self-service place! While in a place like Bangalore to get any kind of hummus you’ll have to go to a fine dining place and spend a bomb.

Another thing I realized is that when liquidity is thin it usually occupies the top end – like how in Bangalore you get non-Indian stuff only in high end fine dining places. But I suppose I’ll write about that in detail some other day

Arranged Scissors 12 – Rejection Sharing Agreements

This is similar to the Klose-Podolski corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory. To refresh your memory, or to fresh it in case I haven’t mentioned this earlier, the Klose-Podolski corollary refers to a case of two close friends who decide to hit on the same person. The implicit understanding is that they don’t regard each other as rivals but blade together, and first get rid of all the other suitors before they engage in one last showdown so that the bladee picks one of them.

We came up with this corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory shortly after the 2006 Football World Cup, during which Klose and Podolki formed a cracking strike partnership for Germany. Later on, they were to play together for Bayerrn Munchen, but like most Klose-Podolski arrangements, they too ended up in bitterness with Poodolski (who scored the lesser number of goals among the two) publicly voicing his bitterness and finally transferring to his “native” Koln.

Now that the crazy digression is out of the way, let me get to the point. Today is the first day of Navaratri, and with the inauspicious “Mahalaya Paksha” having gotten out of the way, arranged scissors is back in full earnest. This also means that I re-enter the market, though I’m still yet to list myself (don’t plan to for a while at least. OTC is said to give superior valuations). And some casual conversation and some not-so-casual phone calls this morning, I have been thinking of the arranged marriage equivalent of the Klose-Podolski arrangement.

So basically, as part of this arrangements, two parties who are looking to hit the same side of the deal strike a deal to share “rejection information” with each other. “Rejection information” can be of the following two types:

  • Today I found out about this girl. She seems to be really good in most respects – good looking, rich, good family background, virgin and all that. But for some (usually random) reason, my son doesn’t want to marry her. Why don’t you try her for your son?
  • Today I found out about this girl. Talked to her, her parents, etc. Doesn’t seem like a good prospect at all. She is either ugly or too “forward” or her family background is bad. I think the chances of her getting along with your son is quite low. Don’t waste your time with her.

Note that both of this is extremely useful information, especially in an illiquid market. What is important here is the nature of people with whom you strike such agreements. The basic thing is that your correlation with them should neither be too low nor too high. Ideally, they should belong to the same/similar caste, should have a fairly similar family background, etc. but the boys shouldn’t be too similar. Yeah, I think that is a fair criterion – they should be as similar as possible in terms of “arranged criteria” but as different as possible in terms of “louvvu criteria”.

Basically if the correlation is too low, then you can’t really trust their judgment on counterparties. On the other hand, if the correlation is too high, then it is extremely likely that they turn out to be “rivals” and that if one party rejects a girl, it’s unlikely that the other party will like the girl. I supppose you get what I’m talking about.

One downside to such agreements that I can think of – it might cause bitterness later on in life, long after the goal has been scored. The feeling that “this guy married a girl that I rejected” or the other way round might come back to haunt you later on in life.