How We Lost Microsoft India

It’s rare to experience two very different perceptions around the same central idea, on the same day.

Those of us from Pune will remember that Microsoft India at one point (~ 1998) did consider setting up operations in Pune. This weekend I had two different conversations with colleagues of mine from Pune around Microsoft’s role in our eco-systems.

Both of them were well-educated individuals from different cultural backgrounds. I hope they’ll forgive me for using the content of our conversation here on my blog. But there’s an overarching purpose which our conversations illustrated. I happen to simply be the medium to have spotted the content of both these conversations.

My purpose of relating it here is to encourage thought around what is soil to a farmer?

One of them highlighted how important it was to bring products-led thinking and technology to India’s IT leadership efforts. He said, and I paraphrase – the work in Microsoft India, Hyderabad is hardly the kind that an IIT’ian would aspire to.

Without focusing on the truth or otherwise of this statement let’s move on to the next one.

The other one highlighted how sad it was that Pune lost out to Hyderabad in bringing Microsoft to India. He asked, what is it that we’re missing that Hyderabad has? We have the talent, educational institutions and so on.

In my own journey, I’ve travelled to the United States and studied, worked there in the hope that their culture will influence me enough to give up on any unnecessary habitual ways that I’ve acquired from the culture that I belong to. This is true of an ongoing trend of so many thousand students who make the journey every year.

I’ve also seen first-hand how brilliant migrants from tier-II, tier-III cities aspire for different lives in tier-I and metro cities of India.

For both of these migrants, their journey is essentially the same. Some stay, some don’t.

In order to build a product eco-system with self-belief, we’ll need many, many Satya Nadella’s who can find work to aspire to and in the process, find themselves in Pune. Of those many, perhaps one will build a Microsoft that Pune can call its own. Then both queries will be satisfied.

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My Stay at the Ananda Yoga Retreat

In 2012, I committed to myself a three-day retreat to work on my meditation practice and myself. Its a great way to simply pause routine and bring focus on the tiny habits that creep in to practice and attitude.

My search triggered after a friend classified the Osho Ashram in Pune as more a resort than a retreat. Ever since, I’d been looking for a destination that offers both solitude and at the same time isn’t too expensive to get to. On one hand are destinations such as the Bodhi retreat in Kodaikanal. Getting there for me isn’t trivial. I was looking to keep the cost of my travel, stay as low as would be possible.

The Ananda Yoga Retreat is an ideal solution. The retreat is a great place to go if you’ve got a practice in mind. All the acharyas, residents at the ashram support each other in their practice. At the same time they’re agnostic to the specific path you’re following. They do dedicate the ashram to the teachings of Swami Kriyananda and Swami Yogananda Paramhansa. I guess this is as clear as it can be.

The ashram is a little before Lavasa in the valley that also houses Camp Temgarh. Travel time from Pune is a little over an hour by car. In the summers it can be bare and hot, we were fortunate to get a day’s rain that helped cool down the environment and radically transformed the valley.

Its important to let them know you’re going to be there a couple of days in advance so that they can prepare for your stay. They’ve got a range of options to choose from and also offer the option to work in the ashram if you’d like to do that.

On day one, I spoke at length to Shamini who helped me get settled into a quiet, one-room cottage on one end of the ashram. I was given a badge saying that I was in silence and that it would be respected by the other residents in the ashram.

Life on the ashram is simple. My stay included breakfast, lunch, dinner and nimbu paani (lemonade) in the evenings. There’s no room service, you’re expected to wash your own dishes and not lock your doors when you leave. The food served is vegetarian and low on spice. Often devotees will bring food with them to share and experiment with western food. The cottage comes with a convenient small stove, drinking water and a refrigerator. It’s a good idea to bring tea bags, coffee and anything else you want to cook in your room.

I found my room to be homely, about ten minutes of uphill walking from the dining area. The room stayed fairly cool in the surrounding tree shade. Apart from a noticeable brackish taste in the drinking water, it was an uneventful and comfortable stay. A healthy time to focus on my practice. I took regular breaks to step outside and walk around the huge multi-acre premises. Cleanliness across the ashram is well-kept and you may even wash soiled clothes in the ashram machine if you choose to do so.

It was difficult to stay in silence as the other residents were incredibly friendly and inviting. Dining was a cheerful event with lively interaction between everyone present. Except for breakfast, which is done in complete silence. I was eager to break silence on my final day and be introduced to the others. All are welcome to join in on the Ashram events (includes, meditation, yoga, satsang, prayers and so on) – it ought to be said that you don’t have to do so if you don’t want to.

At all day times Narayani and Shurjo, Ashram Managers are available if you need to have a chat or share your thoughts.

Their website, stay details, camps and rates are online. Hope my review helps!


A Hundred and Fifty Years of the Bishop’s Colours

This year it will be nineteen years having left school. In the years gone by I’ve done little to stay in touch with the school. In that time familiar teachers have moved on. Times have changed and old school friends have drifted away to be replaced by new ones.

Earlier this year, Principal Friese invited alumni to a special assembly. Bishop’s was going to turn 150 in 2014! At the assembly he asked for assistance for the upcoming year-long celebrations.  The assembly rekindled a deeper connection and natural curiosity. Had the school ventured to change their teaching methods? Did they still place great emphasis on all-round development? I had no excuse for having stayed away for so long.

At the sesquicentennial committee meeting I was surprised to see alumni from as far back as the 1960’s. Some had children who were studying at Bishop’s, others were simply there to help. I met alumni from the IT committee, Marketing committee, other old boys and teachers. The committee was chaired by the principal and the headmasters of each of the three schools in Pune.

The school appointed historian related her findings. She’d found verifiable documents (maps, plans, communications) that Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington had planned out an offensive against the Maratha’s (Second Anglo-Maratha war 1803 – 1805) from the bungalow that currently serves as the Principal’s residence. She’d also verified that the original underground Peshwa-era water supply pipeline did pass through the school grounds.

A couple of days earlier I’d met with the  historian who interviewed me for interesting anecdotes and to learn how the graduates of the ’94 batch had done in life. As I recollected details of the alumni I was still in touch with, the list consisted of entrepreneurs, industrialists and even a film director (ever watched Karthik Calling Karthik?). Everyone had done well. Recalling school days wasn’t easy emotionally. In my opinion, my teachers at Bishop’s stood out for their commitment to the general welfare of their students. I say that with great care and an educational background spanning two universities across continents and two schools. The old boys themselves are the greatest testimony the school could have.

As I watched the committees share their progress, their spirit was infectious. I headed back and I thought hard. I’d contributed to the history book and I felt I could do more. Although I wouldn’t be an effective contributor at this late stage I could help in other ways. As I reached out to my professional network to other old boys I was amazed by the enthusiasm with which they got back. Would they like to contribute their memories, reach out to other alumni? Yes, of course they would.

Today, Bishop’s has grown from one school campus in Pune, Camp to two new areas – Kalyani Nagar and Undri. However, they’re still constrained in their teaching methods. Having been around for a long time can be both a boon and a curse. Another entrepreneur Phil Libin Founder, CEO at Evernote shared his insight into the same paradox earlier this month – his dream is for his company to endure for a hundred years and to continue to innovate despite it’s age. The hope is that with this renewed connection back to the school and with the help of other parents, we might have a hand at influencing the course the school charts next.

As the celebrations shape up there’s a lot more that could be done. If you’ve attended St. Helena’s or St. Mary’s Pune, do get in touch. Our historian would love to get your views on the Bishopites you knew or met. If you’re an old boy and have photos, anecdotes or anything else you’d like to share – please get in touch as soon as you can. Your material will make it to a coffee table book that will cover the school through the ages. If you intend to travel to attend the celebrations in 2014, follow the school website for event dates and details.


May Sky

Still undecided ...

Indecisively weighing both blue and red.

Orange-red gulmohar flowers.

Orange gulmohar flowers add a touch of flair and drama.

Reflecting ...

Giving in to the thirsty spirit of the summer evening.


Happy to see all the action on POCC!

When I started the Pune Open Coffee Club in March 2008 on the suggestion of a friend, Vijay Anand (Founder, Proto.in), little did I know that in a short span of three months, the Club would attract over 200 members.

Anjali and I used to brainstorm ways of marketing POCC, and one of the ideas that really helped was coinciding our first major POCC meeting with the VC Circle conference in Pune in April. Since the conference was filled with investment bankers, the VCs who wanted to meet entrepreneurs came to the POCC event 🙂

It’s exciting for us to see new members joining the Club every week, especially with all the action they’re bringing with them.

Here are some of highlights of June and July in case you’ve missed something.

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Nurturing the Pune Startup Eco-System through Open Communities

I’ve been helping the Pune OpenCoffee Club bootstrap itself here in Pune. The community is designed to help Tech. Startup Enthusiasts, Entrepreneurs, Developers, Advisors, Investors and everyone else.

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How did the Fabia do?

Fabulously! A number of users left comments talking about how great the car was. However, on closer analysis – I found that some of the comments were fudged. Looks like Skoda has hired an online marketing firm to go plant comments trumping up the cars features.

Here are the best comments from my earlier blog post discussing the Fabia’s launch in Pune, thank you for your comments and your attention!

Rajan Khanna: Some useful info on Fabia that I got it:
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