Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's your excuse?

I've been a businessman almost all of my working life.. I've been selling apparel in USA for close to 10 years, and have travelled here multiple times. But I'd never been to the Bay Area and had never interacted with startups before.

Over the last year or so, I've had the good fortune of interacting and creating beautiful friendships within the Mumbai Startup Ecosystem. I've also had a very slow period of work at my Apparel company which I've been retooling for a while. Hence I haven't travelled to the USA in the last 3 years or so - which is a very long time.

On my recent trip here, I had a rather different perspective than previous trips. Now that I've had a lot of exposure to startups in India, and am in the process of building out my own startups, launching 2 new businesses, and advising / consulting with other startups for fulfillment in India, my perspective was of a startup founder, not a small businessman.

So this was my first trip to the Bay Area, which is like Hollywood for Startups (I've been staying in LA for the last 10 days so forgive the cliches / comparisons). And I noticed a lot of interesting factors here that may or may not completely resonate with most of the startup community either here or in the USA.

Before I start on my rant, a few caveats:

- These are my personal observations, and the evidence is extremely anecdotal in nature.
- I am referring to startups that rely on either transactions or subscriptions for revenue.
- I am not a big fan of advertising-based startups simply because they need tremendous scale to be profitable. Those are also the Outliers in the current scenario.
- I am not deriding anyone. I'm just pointing out some facts as I see them.
- I am not discouraging startups from following their gut / instinct / path / etc. 

1. So the first point I want to make is that I dont understand the difference between a startup and a business. Dave McClure pointed out in his answer to this Quora post that the difference between a business and a Startup is that a Startup is trying to find out what it's product is, who it's customers are and knows how to make money. Thats a beautiful explanation, and in my opinion, without these 3 things, Nobody should even start a business, let alone ask for other peoples' money before testing their concepts.

2. The era of making mistakes with other peoples money (OPM) is dying fast. It's still prevalent in the Valley, but only for great entrepreneurs and some kick ass teams who have the confidence of Seed Stage Investors / Angels. Debacles like Color are ensuring that even previously successful entrepreneurs don't have a paved road to fundraise and "figure it out".

3. Raising money is harder than ever, even at the angel stage / seed stage where money seems to be "plentiful". Startups are struggling to put together seed rounds 6-8 months after demo days. Eeveryone's unduly worried about a Series A, but the fact on the ground is that Nobody seems to be able to raise the early stage / seed round they need without:
a) A clear cut revenue model 
b) A road to profitability (if not cashflow positive yet) 
c) Strong customer insights
d) A great execution capability and 
e) Operational experience (to avoid crashes while scaling)

4. Distance matters. The surprising fact is that whether you are in L.A. or Bombay, it is all the same to VCs / Investors in the Valley. Angels and Investors will not invest in startups outside the Valley. As Mark Suster puts it in his blog post here, Investors are not inclined to invest in startups they cannot oversee. And the truth is raising successive rounds of capital is tougher even if you've raised your 1st round of capital, if you're outside the Bay Area.

5. Investors don't care about your company enough to save it. Investors are turning more and more "ruthless" about the funds they deploy. Don't expect investors to put good money after (what they consider) a bad investment. Even if you can show them the promise of better execution, fewer errors and a road to EBITDA profitability, increasingly their stance is that if you haven't figured it out with your Seed Stage funding yet, you probably won't be able to figure it out down the road. They'd rather cut their losses and walk. 

6. You need to be self-sustaining. Lifestyle businesses are not unsexy. In fact they show that you have the chops to run a business day to day without external help or funding. They are happy to see you slug it out for 8-12 months before they feel you can be funded for scale. They dont want to subsidise your losses. They want to double down on your ability to replicate a profitable business model. Angelpad's latest lineup are all B2B cashflow businesses. The message is clear: Get profitable with your Seed Round or chances are, you will die. COGS (Cost of Goods / Services) is no longer an irritant. Operational Streamlining cannot be postponed. Increasingly a lot of startups who have learnt to stay lean and grow slowly are being liked by Investors. Maybe Indian investors asking for discipline with funds are not that bad after all.

7. Incubators and Accelerators are helpful. Not omnipresent. Incubators like 500Startups, yCombinator, Angelpad are not a Panacea for early stage companies. These incubators are very clear that they are rolling the dice in backing the companies. Their business model is structured that their incubator fees are paid and are unlinked to their investment objectives. Also, the funding is rarely more than 50,000 - 120,000 USD in equity funding. For a US based startup or a startup visiting USA, these funds are a 6 - 9 month runway. After that? Without a sustainable revenue base and a profitable transaction flow, most of these startups will struggle. 

8. VC is changing, evolving. As this article that was retweeted by many VCs points out, LPs aren't too enamoured by the consistent failure and inability to produce results from VC firms. VC Fund sizes are shrinking, and even though there are still a number of exits that are returning money to LPs, they are not converting into larger size funds that can support a Series A / B funding for a lot of the startups out there for the next few years. What these exits are doing is creating more early stage investors who are able to spread their risk by investing in a lot of startups in the hope that atleast 1 or 2 of them will go ALL the way. Is your startup that one?

There is a huge amount of opportunity and a lot of industries begging / crying out to be disrupted. eCommerce opportunities abound. But that's only if you are looking to do business, not raise money and play the valuation game.

I have heard a number of Indian startups lament the fact that Indian investors don't understand them and they're dying because they're stuck in the Indian ecosystem and that if they were in the Valley, they'd get funded because American Investors "get" what they're doing. But, without a clear goal, and a strong emphasis on execution, it seems that even Valley startups are struggling to grow to the size and scale they dream of.

And if you did make the jump to the USA, and were unable to convert your "startup" into a credible, sustainable, self-perpetuating "business", What would be your excuse then?


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Solving a Real Indian Problem

So I read Fred Wilson's blog yesterday where he starts his post with "So I was having lunch with (insert name of powerful but private startup person here) last week and the conversation veered towards (insert topic of blog here)...

I am proud to say that taking this awesome style desi, I was discussing VC attitudes towards tech-enabled startups in India with Pravin Jadhav and Kulin Shah of Social Discovery Website, Wishberg yesterday. In an animated conversation about the kind of problems tech startups are facing while raising funds, Kulin said that one of the key problems in India, while raising VC is having an offline component to your business. If you have even a small offline fulfillment component to the business, VC / Seed funds are loath to touch you, citing "execution" issues and / or "IP problems".

This, I feel points to a much larger problem, and one that deals with both scale and profitability. In truth, a true "tech" startup is one that invites you on a communications network to test, use and buy it's service online (whether on a phone or a tab or the WWW) and fulfills it's deliverables online itself, entailing no physical touchpoints.

*Incidentally Wishberg is such a startup which creates, constructs and delivers a purely online user experience and leverages your user habits to create virality.

However, in INDIA, if you must think about true global scale, your aim must be to create a Billion Dollar Company (by Revenues). However, Most of the problems that can yield these billion dollar opportunities are dirty, disorganised, fragmented offline markets that have traditionally thrived since over 200 years using paper, trust, and recently telephones to generate, negotiate, close and fulfill business - both on a B2B and a B2C level.

To scale to that level in India, you need to take your eye off that pitiful variable number of Indian Internet Users that varies as per convenience, and focus on the larger picture: Almost 1.1 billion people that are not online yet.

Most of these people have not used technology in any meaningful way (Owning a smartphone is far different from using it effectively). To reach those people, you need to use technology as a bridge, not a delivery mechanism. This makes your startup "tech-enabled" not "proprietory tech". Using tech to enable your business gives you scale, speed, distribution, lowered costs of access and a scalable method to handle 100,000 customers.

Some of the most successful startups today are solving real Indian bottlenecks that have eased up people's lives considerably - Startups like RedBus, MeraDoctor, Practo, Mirakle, PayTM, Freecharge and Suvidhaa have done it at awesome to middling scale.

***Any other Indian Startups that you feel are creating completely new value chains in otherwise fragmented markets, please let me know, I will add them here***

There are still many markets / sectors / industries that are ripe for disruption of traditional practices, where technology can provide that killer edge / advantage over entrenched systems and allow for cheaper, more efficient, completely revolutionary methods of scaling and solving business problems.


**Plug Alert: At eVitaran, we are attempting to solve the Tier-2 and Tier-3 apparel / textiles distribution problem for low cost unbranded apparel. **

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Community, Not Numbers.

The problem with everything digital is that ultimately all that seems to matter is the numbers. No thoughts, No words, No feelings, No intelligence. Just numbers. Spew out stats, Reel off metrics, Measure the tapelength of your subscriber base, and voila, you have a PPT. There's relative safety in inane numbers.

Last week, we read about the State of the Indian Startup Union. We read the report, then we read feedback on the report. Then we read feedback on feedback on the report. If you want to read my take, it is here on Quora.

But there is more to life than 41% of Startups in Bangalore and 33% of Startups in eCommerce. There is a network. There is a community. There are interwebs that hold and bind and cement our friendships, our relationships and make us become safety nets for one another. There is a trust, a faith that we will ask for nothing materialistic. We will give of ourselves. We will joke and banter and make complete fools of ourselves. But we will also do our best to be there for the next founder. 
When I need help with my company or my finances, I will ask Mehul.
When I need some tech advice I will ask Tushar.
Like when I want to buy a mobile phone or meet other founders, I ask Annkur.
When I want to know whether or not to buy a Financial Product, I ask Ronak.
When I need help on cutting through the bullshit on selling a SAAS to SMBs, I ask Avlesh or Sahil. When I'll need to get a phone service, I won't go to Airtel. or Vodafone. I'll ask Vijay.
When I want to attend or plan an event and colllect money for tickets, I will ping Santosh.
When I will need feedback on what I've built, I will harass Pravin or Noel.
When I need an insight into how a VC *really* thinks, I will ask Kulin or Ajeet.
If I need to go backpacking into the Indian hinterland, I will ask SoumPaul for advice.
If I need to go SkyDiving, I will bully Talvinder into giving me a discount.
If I want to know whats going on in Mumbai, I will go visit Garima.
If I want help with studies, I'll message Samudra.  or Rajeev
If I want my home redecorated, I will visit Shubh.
If I need protection from Mafia, I will go to Kris
If I need help organising a Startup Event, I will ask Deven.
If I want to sell my songs or my articles or my time, I will bother Sampad or Akaash
If I need business cards, I will ask Milap. Or even if I want IceCream.
If I want to hustle for customers on my website, I will bargain with Sameer.
If I ever need to serenade my wife with a singing greeting card, I will ask Divyanshu.
If I need help with just anything fantastically techie, I will bug Anirudh or Siddharth or Sushrut.
When I want to sell to Mobile Companies, I will understand their mindset from Sameer Shah.
If I want to hitch a ride in Mumbai, I will ping Raxit.
If I'm hungry, I will ask Ankita to send me some food.
If I want to listen to Music, I will ask Brijesh or Aditya.
If I need stuff for my pets, I will ask Rana
When I need to get information about MBAs, I ask Kartik or Sameer 
If I need a place to work from for a few days, I will ask Shekhar or Gargi
If I want to sell stuff on the internet, I will speak to Nameet or Nitin
If I have lost my phone, I will implore Sarang to restore them.
If I want to know who followed / unfollowed me on any Social Network (soon), I will ask Nischal.
If I need to share news about me or my Startup, or I need some inputs on a sector, I can talk to Jubin or to Ashish or to Srinivas.

These guys have their hands full, running their own Startups and dealing with their demons. They mostly don't have time to think about mundane numbers and/or statistics.

But we try to make each other's lives easier. Not with numbers. But with faith, advice, connections, and honesty.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Welcome to the Machine

It stands just beyond arms length. It surrounds us, pervades our life and screams at us from the Newspapers. It is multi-hued, and multi-shaped. It does not have a name or a face or a personality. It roams freely and is not bound by truth or honesty or intelligence or talent. It has no trappings and is yet snobbish. It has no physical needs but still occupies the entire world. It sits lightly on people's minds but is too heavy a concept to teach.

It is the Machine. And the code is Money. The key is Money.

It belongs to the rich, to the moneyed, to the wealthy. It has no emotion, no ethics. It believes not in good or bad, or right or wrong. It believes in power and progession and in the steady, unhindered accumulation of wealth. It dotes not on the journey but on the evident visible results. It has only the spotlight and the stage. No rafters. It is by invitation only and the invitation comes printed on Money.

Crisp, Red 1000 Rupee Notes. Bright, Crinkly 1000 Rupee Notes. In Textile Paper with Intaglio Printing with the smooth ruffle of the edges and the comforting feel of Gandhiji. Stacked in packs of 100, and bound by static free tape.

You can hit it.You could kick it.
You can hit your hammer against it'outer wall.Or even a battering ram.

You can hit your head against it's even flat surface. Only your head bleeds from the effort.
You can smile at it. Or wince at it. Or show your tongue at it. Or ignore it.
You could recite a million sob stories and a thousand outstanding poems. Stage a Play. Act in a Film.
You could paraphrase Freud and expand on Newton. Or invent stuff. Or discover stuff.
You could photograph stuff. Or kill people.
You could get angry and scream at it. Rave and rant and curse and berate it.
You could call it names, tell it it has no ethics, no code; that It has no sense, no business being in business.
You could disgrace it before your friends and peers and family and bitch and moan about it to your boss.
You can write about it in your blogs and swear to maim and kill it if you got the chance.

You despair and cry and tear your hair out.
You can grow old and get hypertension and acidity and stomach ulcers.
You can ask it for pity and ask it to remember old times.
You could stare upwards and ask God to help you overcome it.
Or ask your friends to give you a leg up. But it stretches infinitely upwards.
You could grit your teeth and run faster and sweat and toil all your life.
You stare at the computer screen or you run around your vendors like a headless chicken.
You cajole your customers and beg from your vendors.
You kneel before your partners and beg them for some understanding.
You hope and pray that you dont fall by the wayside before it passes you over.

Because, eventually it will outlast you. That is because You could not crack the code. You did not acquire the key.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Of introductions to Moriarty and Khurana

And so while I grapple with germ-sized ideas to make up even more BS, and struggle to return to writing fitness (or even real-world fitness), since I am alone again, here are a few stray thoughts, some random sentences and some considered points of view (All my own work)

So it is just another function of my spectacularly schizoid personality that I am a failed writer and a failed businessman. And it is also a considered point of self-realisation that I am no longer the boss's son now.

After actively reviewing all the soap operas that are running valiantly on channels that are still on air, and after watching all currently revered social dramas that are worth mentioning, but are too obscure to be listed, I have reached the conclusion that my family dramas trump them all. And by a fair distance.

That while it is still 11.35 PM in India, people in USA have the privilege of waking up later every day, starting their Sunday when it has ended here, and of living the day exactly the way you wanted to live yours, but regretted it after it was over. They also have the choice of turning forward and/or turning back their clocks twice a year. Almost like Olay Total Effects. No wonder my wife decided to go back in time, do Coke and watch CNN.

Like if you can sell, you can eat. Whether it is video games or a sci-fi fiction franchise or T-Shirts or Flip Flops.

Like I have realised that the writer has infected the businessman. He has made the businessman more nostalgic, has made him a dreamer instead of a doer, and has made him rationalise errors in judgement and has made him accept losses.

Like the businessman has had absolutely no effect on the writer. Except to make him stop. The writer still cannot complete a project, he cannot sell his work for nuts and he sounds like a pathetic abject amateur while describing his work.

I have decided that I shall be naming the Writer Moriarty and the Businessman Khurana. Both quite apt but still no sign of convergence.

Like I have realised that all the artists and the painters of my life are now either rich, successful or materialistic. I am seeking refuge amongst artists who are young, enthusiastic, and are not yet scarred by life. I think Khurana will take that responsibility upon himself to educate these younglings in matters of loss.

Like I am quite sure of my self. I have planned my secret formula for world domination. I have charted out my course of success and I am sure of victory. Unless that idiot, Moriarty doesnt get all wobbly and blurt out my secrets.

And so I have inadvertently slipped into middle age and now pot bellies, and receding hairlines are more acceptable rather than shocking. The time to cover these up with puffs of hair and loose clothes is fast fading. Instead the novelty offered by ready-aim-fire techniques of lipo, tummy-tucks, hair transplants, and vitamin supplements threatens to entrap me in the life of yonder aging film star.

Was it 5 years I promised Khurana or 10? I do not remember which. But it is way too long for me to stand by silently, elegantly as all my dreams are ruthlessly trampled over.

When this is over, My Empire shall strike back and Moriarty will be working for me. In the Corp Comm department.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And then there's me

And so these past few days after grappling with the tools to construct a multi-storeyed blog post, here is something fun I thought I could do..

So there's assinine and there's feline. There's notoriously homosexual and there's metrosexual. There's hygienic and there's facetious. There's facial hair and then there's me.

There's erudite and there's sanctimonious. There's understanding and there's pomposity. There's humility and there's highhandedness. There's Linkin-Park-Gotcha and then there's me.

There's smooth criminals and there's Ocean's Eleven. There's James Bond and there's Mission Impossible. There's Shaft and there's XXX. There's shoplifting-the-booty and then there's me.

There's girlfriends and there's lady-friends. there's stuffed lady fingers and there's fried brinjals. there's fantasies and there's cold showers. there's stale fungus and then there's me.

There's desperation and there's announcements. There's shadow-games and there's bravado. There's silent suffering and there's convenience. There's complete ignominy and then there's me.

There's first class and there's a toilet. There's room service and there's a bike pillion. There's velvet gloves and there's phadka-maar-ke-fan-chala. There's the nose pressed up against the glass display and then there's me.

There's "food-for-thought" and there's "chew-on-that-for-a-while". There's "oh-my-god-she's-so-hot" and there's "we're-just-going-to-be-friends". there's "i'm-allowed-to-sleep-with-6-celebrities" and there's "wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee". There's "can't-find-time-to-struggle-in-the-film-industry" and then there's me.

There's potential and there's ego. There's "he-has-the-skills" and there's "hes-a-faker". there's lots of ambition and there's a hot air balloon. There's "atleast-he-knows-how-to-swim" and there's a 100 foot fall into the ocean. There's squeamish and then there's me.

there's a blog post and there's a theme. there's a plotline and there's a scene. there's a good idea and there's a "failure-to-communicate". there's a literary masterpice gone-abegging

And then there's me.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ironical Laddoos...

I can travel whenever I want. I do not have to check up on programs or take permission or ask for my mother's credit card to pay for the tickets. I don't need to meet my parent's friends and smile and be polite, or feel guilty about calling the driver early.

I can go anywhere without thinking about potty schedules and PTA meetings and cricket matches and stage shows. Without worrying about buying a gift or gifts, or looking for that one gift article that offers my relatives a distinctive flavour of that region.

No diaper changes, No lamaze Classes, no obstetriticians, no gynaecologists, and definitely no paediatricians. No choices between blue and pink, and no allergens to take care of.

No pressure to own my own house, no reason to be a slave to an EMI. No chance of making a career compromise, and absolutely no reason to plan for any futures.

I can order chicken tandoori while watching the India-Australia Cricket match, and yell loudly if Sachin gets out without worrying about waking someone up. I can go drinking after work, and come home late.

I can wake up with a hangover and I can choose when to wake up. I can leave my bed unmade and I can choose what I eat and when I eat. I have the energy to flirt, and the energy to work.

I can sit in a coffeehouse at 11 AM and read the newspaper, while I idly sip a coffee and watch the world go by. I can take off on a vacation when I choose to and I can go off for a drive on a moment's notice.

I can stand in an airport queue holding my overnight strolley, watching the half balding bespectacled executive juggle 2 handbags, 1 stroller, 2 holdalls, 3 suitcases, 1 wife and a wailing baby while he feverishly searches for his passports, his tickets and his pen to fill out the immigration form. And I can smile indulgently.

I can do all this because I am eating the DINK Laadu. Although sometimes I wish my wife were eating it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Taller than Trees

I like my home. Many many nice things have happened in our home. But before I tell you about the things that have happened in my house, let me tell you how it looks.

It's light, and bright, and has long windows down to there, and with nice open railings and a cozy balcony that runs the length of the house. It has a round bedroom and has a small window in a bedroom that is like a square porthole. It has
an atrium outside the master bathroom that has no floor and so it is a sheer drop down. But the grills are criss cross and they make funny sunlight patterns at 2 PM in the afternoon.

And the nice thing about my home are it's imperfections. Like you measure the depth of the alcove in the bedroom and buy furniture, but the curve wasnt uniform and so our hulking 4 door closet sits in the middle of our bedroom, rather than fitting neatly into the alcove.

Like the main door opens straight into the kitchen which is 2 parallel platforms, 2 alcoves, and a service door onto the balcony.

Like you can look and look but you will not find a power point on 2 walls of the living room. So good luck with placing your television, and your computer table, and your music system.

Like none of the ready made furniture you bought fits perfectly. Either the space shrank or the furniture grew 4 inches and everything juts out or is short by just those 2 inches to remind you that you are not the boss. The house is.

And since the home is on the eastern side of the 7th floor in a locality otherwise dotted with buildings less than 3 floors tall, we have certain privileges..

Like we have open views stretching till the Ghatkopar mountain on one side, Nhava Sheva Port on the second, the cloud-tipped BARC mountain on the third side, and RCF and Sewri on the fourth side.

Like we can see birds nesting in the trees, and we can see crows playing "King of the Roof" and we can see Parrots and Kingfishers, and Warblers, and Mynahs fighting and aimlessly roaming from rooftop to treetop to rooftop again.

Like we are insulated from most of the day to day affairs and from ground realities. No seriously. We only have to deal with them when we get out of the elevators :)

Like we can hear the wind whistle when the August cross winds whip up a heady portion of rain, thunder and lightning.

And when you stand in our circular balcony with the Sunlight filtering in at 4 PM with the breeze flowing across you from right to left, you stare across the christian graveyard, and the RBI quarters across to the BARC Mountain and you feel like you are on the bridge of a boat, rising and falling with every wave you encounter. And your knees bow instinctively, and your eyes close and you break out into a random smile...

Like It's just July 22nd and I have already seen 4 beautiful rainbows in a perfect arc - from Vashi to BARC :)

And a lot of nice things have happened after we have started living here..

Like we have found a nice maid who nags me like a Mother-in-Law, cooks up a storm in the kitchen, and has gotten me hooked onto the groundnut powder she makes.

Like my Father in Law now kicks butt at Street Racing on the iPod touch. and he is seriously contemplating writing a blog.

Like Tuesday evening dinners at Oro Cafe.

Like Saturday morning lazy Hazelnut mochas at barista, diamond garden.

Like late night movies at the mall.

Like the pestering crows who have nested in the coconut tree directly across from our living room balcony and now stalk me while they peer continuously into our home and caw irritatingly all day long (when it's not raining).

Like having miles and miles of Open Sky to look up at and being able to put your life's plans on hold.. for a few minutes at least.

Like not needing an Air Conditioner in the Summer.

Like late night carom games with my friend from the 3rd floor.

My home is on the 7th floor, and it has been christened "Taller than Trees".

Monday, July 19, 2010

Energiser Bunny

And so at a client's office the other day, we ran into a Energies Consultant.

An amiable old gujju chap with a cap.

So he was talking with our client, and I happened to lean over my chair and smile politely at him. BIG mistake.

So he whipped out his book of souls, and turned his attention to me. "Haan beta, so what's your name?" "Pranay" "Poora naam batao bhai" "Pranay Srinivasan" "Achcha how old are you?" "31" "Date of Birth" "3rd February 1979"

All this while he's scribbling furiously in a foolscap notebook (probably not Sundaram Notebooks - ha!) and then suddenly he starts doing some awesomely complicated mental calculations to figure out which numbers are missing and which ones are not in my life.

I wanted to suggest that all I wanted was any 1 number with a lot of zeros at the end (without decimals, ofcourse) but he interrupted my benign dream with:

"Bahut spiritual hai; Ma Baap ka laadla hai; Pet ka problem hai (Stomach, not Dog); time pe khaana khaaneka; Paisa rehta nahin hai (SOB SOB); Bahut knowledge hai; doston ko paisa diya abhi tak vaapas nahin aaya; khud a paisa lagaake business karta hai" and as token confirmation he would merely look up at me with accusatory glances to check if I acknowledged his glances or not. A bemused smile covered my face as I leaned back a little in my chair.

"Achcha, shaadi ho gaya?" "Yes Sir" "Toh Biwi ka detail batao" So I told him... "Achcha Biwi ko gussa jaldi aata hai; bahut ziddi hai; knowledge achcha hai; biwi aane ke baad hi paisa aaya hai tere paas (I shrugged, "where is that money???" - Also DON'T TELL THE WIFE this); Pet ka problem hai (THE stomach, you DODOs, NOT THE DOG); time pe khaana khaaneka"

And then he asked for my business card... and he suggested changes. A lot of changes. He saw my signature and said that it looked like the signature of a confused man...

He then went on to talk about energies, about a sadhu who'd lived over 100 years without eating, about how Krishna lived for 356 years, about how Gandhiji and the British failed at talks because their conference was around a round table, about a 100 foot high pyramid in Bangalore, how the Aztecs learnt to build pyramids from us (No I'm just joking there), about how India had energies in the wrong places and how Kashmir has made India a headless chicken. And he promised that if we changed our energies around, it would be "A MIRACLE".

I was moved, I was impressed and I was deep in thought. So I accepted the proffered acupuncture hand squeezee thingy even though it hurt my palm like hell, and I focussed on fixing my bad energies...

I changed my signature, and I reprinted new cards; I started sleeping on the right side of the bed, and I hunting for square tables. I started worrying about where I sat, what I ate, and what direction my house pointed in. I started wearing blue on saturdays, and I chose colors that matched my element.

But all this took a lot of time, and I forgot to answer my customers, and I forgot to complete my paperwork, and I did not pay attention to my wife and I could not understand why I was unable to perform "A MIRACLE".


Sunday, July 18, 2010

How thoughtless of Me

And so today, under the unrelenting pressure exerted on me, I yield the stage to my friend, my counterpart, my alter-ego - the Boss's Son.

I have built my world and broken it down. Countless times. I have built my business, and earned my profits year after year. I have created financial models and I have fantasised about my life in the years ahead. I am a victim of my own ambition. I feel sand on my eyelids, and weights on my legs. I am sagging at my waist, and receding at my temples.

I broke the chain that held me and bit the hand that fed me for the curses and pain were unbearable. I have journeyed through the night, and above the clouds towards the glowing sun. I travel by plane and transit through airports. I love my life and I love my wife.

I travel ceaselessly, and I nurture and grow this tiny seed of a trade I have plied for close to half a year. With my visions blurring my sight, I set out to conquer the world.

I am master of my own destiny. And I am a slave to my own path.

I have lived on a beach and I have run on a beach with my children. I have swum the 7 oceans and I partake of the world's cuisines. My words linger with the masses I address and my generosity dwarfs my ruthlessness. I have seen all this and much much more.

I smote down all my avarice and I have lit up my beacon of hope. I know not the pain of the underachiever. There isn't that luxury to enjoy anymore.

My legs are tired, my hands are weak. My shoulders ache, and my voice is low. But my brain is shivering and my nerves are jangling. And my unceasing fingers exhort the treadmill of life to run faster. and faster. and faster.

I cannot predict what the future holds. But I have judged myself already. I am a marked man. In the sights of myself. I am the sniper and I am the mark. I pin myself under the weight of my own ideas and thoughts. For it is inevitable that I will succeed. It is untenable that my thoughts are unworthy of fruition.

I long for a warm blanket and a cold compress. For a soothing wave of blank darkness to envelop me completely as I await the cold harsh reality of tomorrow. But I am denied this every night. For uncaring to my choices, my brain processes thought.

And so I dream.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Zen and the Entrepreneur's guide to Investor-gyaan

In his recent quest to start up my retail venture, The boss's son has been knocking on investors' doors for about 8 months now, and the false promises, and the high hopes and their super-flatulous gyaan is now clogging my senses and blurring my vision.

When we met the co-ordinator for a famous "Angel" Investing Network recently, he heard us out, and nodded his head quite wisely. He then proceeded to trash the industry we were in, and made pointed but casual references to the "big" deals he was brokering (or as he put it, 'mentoring').

So amidst his advice to take a super-large view of the industry (in his words, from 30,000 feet above sea level) and his warm offers for advice on taking on other investors if I found them, and the fact that "Your business plan is great, your attitude is good, you have all the blocks in place, but you dont have a long term cutting-edge in the industry. Yes you'll make profits but there's nothing innovative about this business plan..", I forgot that Investors fund fancy innovations that sit on their mantelpiece, they just dont care about a 5X return in 4 years now...

He then advised us to make a business plan, and an excel projection of a quarter-by-quarter analysis of the next 3 years!!! with the ways the money (if he funded me) would be spent, where it would be spent, and what the business growth and sales would be like!!! I felt like telling him that if I was THAT good at crystal ball gazing I would be Baba Pranay-Nath not simple Pranay Srinivasan!!!

Thats when I politely pointed out to him that his association could no longer be called an "Angel" investment network since their due diligence extends into years, not weeks, and angel investors are people who invest small amounts of money on gut-feel and an instinct for the entrepreneur to start up their business. He gravely nodded his head and said, "Yes, I know, We at XYZ Angels are very distressed by this turn of events.. We only invest now in mid-level and running organisations."

I wanted to drop a 5 rupee note in his outbox for the tea he offered me and which I politely declined, and tell him that if he didnt have the money, he could have told me at the outset.


Travelling Observations

And so a few observations, local and national..

Like 10 Rupees is the new 2 Rupees on local trains. I have borne witness to the super-charming 2nd class travelling salesmen selling passport covers, plastic pouches, ayurvedic tooth-manjan, chinese ball pens (4 for 10 rupees!!), combs, wallets, and keychains for this magical sum, which currently does not even buy us the minimum Rickshaw fare anymore.

Like everyone is now using backpacks to travel to work. Gone are the pudgy briefcases, those Samsonite and VIP Black and Silver briefcases that held the promise of bundles of 100 rupee notes inside them, but when opened, revealed a comb, a lunch dabba, a hand towel, 2-3 newspapers, and a picture of god. Earphones, MP3 players, "DELL" backpacks that hold the promise of a super-cute gleaming chrome and black laptop computer, but when opened, reveal a comb, a lunch dabba, a hand towel, 2-3 newspapers and a picture of Bipasha Basu / Katrina Kaif / current presiding heroine. Yes, our gods have morphed into Bollywood goddesses.

Like Coimbatore Airport is now gleaming and all shiney. Like Surat actually has an airport where a flight can land from Delhi. Like Tirupur is now a district all on it's own. And you can now travel to Erode on a spanking new expressway without worrying about trucks running into you.

And some of the most interesting people I have met are while I'm travelling.

Like an Excise Collector in Vapi.. or the CEO of a Solar Energy company... or a travelling magician.. or the owner of one of India's oldest diamond companies..

And now my life will be a tale of small(er) cities - Amritsar, Surat, Rajkot, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Coimbatore, Erode, Salem, Tirupur, Ludhiana, Ooty....

And there is much to learn in these cities.. And much more to observe..


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

And I have been away. Yes, for a long long long time. In really short-time world, that is.

In the real world, 6 months is nothing. But I've been away for longer than that. I've been helping the boss's son fight his battles. What is a poet doing on the battlefield, you might ask? Well, you see I'm a Darwinian. And rather than lie down and play dead, I figured it just might be fun to live out your dreams, rather than fold them up in frost-bitten wrapping paper and put them away in an attic.

We confronted our dragons. We chased our unicorns. We killed our elephant and we laid it to rest forever. We went on a crusade. We smote down dastardly thoughts and we fought the world without armour. We forged nerves of steel and we built our bastions around our humble positions.

We rallied the support of our inner circles. We honoured our dead and we upheld our values. We chose to be noble and we were inspired to be brave. We brokered a truce when a friendly hand was extended to us. We found happiness in our pumpkin patch and we tend to it with all the care that we can. And so We honoured our commitments and we never sullied our image. We gave back in greater proportions than we took. We never hesitated when blood was asked of our people. We shed tears and we displayed a united front. When the truce was broken and the faith was destroyed, we chose to walk away with humility.

And so first we pursued the mythical creatures - the chosen ones. We tried to gain the appreciation of the "compassionate" investor. This term, I fear is actually A misnomer, a tragicomedy of the wildest proportions. Before the demi-gods of today - they have conferred that title upon themselves by virtue of the pomposity emanating from their material possessions; a fraction of which they may bestow upon such exalted beings whose requests for fulfillment they may look upon with benevolence and compassion. They who inhabit single cabins within larger offices from whose mouth was born clutching a silver spoon; They who spent an eon glaring at a dull glowing screen from They who have become the rulers of the haves, and who implore the penniless to eat cake when bread is scarce.

And we pursued those "great ones". In their gleaming chariots, and their bright new places of work, we pursued them with bright eyes and a tightened belt, longing to be the chosen one who were able to realise the golden dreams of our life.

And we dreamt our dreams. Of living in alien rooms in foreign cities and becoming a denizen of HER world. we looked in from the display pane and we longed to be a customer. A valued customer in her brothel. We painted and preened and polished ourselves. We smiled coyly, and we glanced at them with intent. At first she showed us interest, she accepted our applications and she lovingly let us touch her skin. "Come visit me", she seemed to say, without a single lip movement. We submitted our claims, and we requested our slots from the pimps who grinned subserviently at first, and connivingly at last. We offered them our life, we offered them our minds. We bared open our deepest thoughts and our darkest desires for but a short romance with HER. We were not alone. We joined the line of suitors as they turned out in their Sunday Best.

Alas, we turned up one day and the brothel was shut and the investor had flown away. All that remained was a note on the wall that began with the words, "We regret to inform you..." We wept and wept. We drowned our sorrows in silence. Our world was at an end. Our hopes had been dashed. Cruel words and evil thoughts touched our lips and graced our mind.

But then we walked onto an open plain. And we stared up at the sky. We begged to be struck down by lightening, but we were asked by a grizzled old stranger to dig instead. So we dug and dug and dug. And lo and behold! We found a silver coin. We We chose our trade carefully and we forged new alliances. We unsheathed our skills and we re-examined our forte. And so we bartered. And we traded. And we have chosen to ride our silver coin, and ascend into the celestial heavens upon our silver steed.

Not for us, the ties of blood. Not for us, the spires of education. Not for us, the clinking of money bags. Not for us, the lucre of the quick fix.

For us, the heat of sweat and toil. For us, the daily run-about. For us, the dreams of being self-made and proud. For us, the dream of penning down our thoughts. For us, the dream of leading more young ambitious, yearning minds akin to the mind we used to be.

And we did not chose our path. Our path has chosen us.

Yes I have been away a long time. I was away meeting myself.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"It Depends" and what it really means...

So this MBA Aspirant calls up this freshly minted MBA Graduate he used to work with. They used to be close friends, and Mr Aspirant wants some pointers on whether he should do an MBA...

Aspirant: Boss, MBA kiya, how's it going man? Any good placement offers? Jump in salary?
Grad: It's going well. I've got 2 offers - evaluating them. The package is being negotiated.
[Read: Saala, 2 offer mila. Ek 8 lakh ka - Selling Soap. Ek 10 lakh ka - Selling Insurance. One's in Varanasi, and One's in Daryaganj. Fascinating, No?]

Aspirant: But it's been over 2 months since you graduated yaar. Still no decisions?
Grad: These are important decisions that should not be rushed.
[Read: I have no more choice in these matters. I have an frikking education loan to pay!!!]

Aspirant: Cool cool. Boss, I'm thinking of doing an MBA. What do you think?
Grad: Great yaar! It's probably the best investment of your life, yaar.

Aspirant: So how is the BSB you attended? Awesome campus maan....
Grad: Yes, I'm very happy with BSB.. Its a once-in-a-lifetime experience
[Read: Like marriage, once you're in, you're stuck with it.....]

Aspirant: Boss, what do you think of my chances yaar. Do I need more Work Ex?
Grad: It depends on how you present your case.
[Read: Saale buddhe, ek hi company mein 7 saal se kaam kar raha hai. Computer toh bechna aata nahin, Sabun kaise bechega???]

Aspirant: Boss, what should my GMAT be?
Grad: There is no upper or lower limit.
[Read: You RETARD, 800 is where the debate ends!]

Aspirant: Boss, Whom should I get my reccos from? They're really confidential, no?
Grad: Get them from someone who knows you well. Make sure you adhere to the code of conduct.
[Read: Such an idiot. I wrote my own reccos and then invited my boss over for dinner when I submitted them.]

Aspirant: What about the essays? I cannot think of material to work on.
Grad: You need to introspect on your life and what makes you special. Interests, life experiences, anything that you can showcase on your app.
[Read: Anything you write can, and will be used against you in a court of Law.]

Aspirant: Dude, whats the college like? Gimme some gyaan I can write specifically about this college.
Grad: Well, BSB emphasises on teamwork, working in diverse groups, understanding global networks, and using the platform to network effectively. It's a great learning experience as well.
[Read: You're on your own, your team members are from UP, Kerala, and Bangalore, You're treated like shit by exchange students, and if you don't beg with alumni, you wont get even a reply, let alone an interview. Oh and my grades were in the bottom 15% of the class.]

Aspirant: Boss, I just want to make money and get a good job so I can get married, and settle abroad. I also want to get into a job that is glamourous. Is this OK to write in the essays?
Grad: Your life goals are a deeply personal matter. But your main aim must be your professional growth. Concentrating on financial and/or material gains should not be your primary focus.
[Read: You dufus, you think I came here for the trees and the stones???]

Aspirant: Dude, what do you think of My Extra Curricular Activities? Do you think I should join a Social Service League?
Grad: Social Service should not be done just to put it on your resume. You should be deeply involved in what you do..
[Read: I quite liked my own story: I cleaned blind men's shit for 6 months, and then told the Adcom that my maternal uncle's brother-in-law's driver's son had blinded himself during Diwali. This moved me to helping other blind men cross the road. I also think that firecrackers should be banned. Wah Wah Wah!]

Aspirant: What do you think of my chances, maan?
Grad: I think you have a really strong case. But its important to write a strong application and communicate your strengths well.
[Read: Flip a coin, dude. FLIP A COIN.]

3 months and a lot of chewed fingernails later...

Aspirant: Dude, I got DINGED. They interviewed me and then DINGED me!
Grad: I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe you should study your goals more closely and re-apply. This is not a personal judgement on your profile. It just shows how strong the applicant pool was this year..
[Read: YOU STUPID LOSER. Thank god I'm still the only one who got an admit. Go back to selling hardware at Lamington Road. DO not even THINK that you are good enough to get in here, unless you use a fancy essay consultant and you learn to game the system. UNDERSTAND???]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gabbar Singh in Mumbai

A News Anchor is looking into the camera.
Aaj hum baat karne wale hain Gabbar Singh se.
Haan toh Gabbarji, Aap Mumbai mein kaise?
Sholay film ke success ke baad mere sab daaku-on ko film star banne ki chaahas lag gayi. Kaalia jaake Marathi film karne laga, Sambha ne idhar Hindi filmon mein villain ka role kiya, aur Viru ne bhi Basanti se shaadi kar liya.
Ramgarh mein IT revolution ho gaya. Sab log khet chhodkar IT aur Real Estate mein busy ho gaye. Baju ke gaon mein SEZ aa gaya toh sab gaon walon ne apni apni zameen karodon ke bhaav mein bechkar idhar aa gaye.
Thakur ne USA jaakar apne haat theek karwa liye. Radha ne Jaidev se shaadi kar liya.
Toh main akela daaku kya karta. Mumbai aa gaya kaam dhoondne.
Toh aapka ghoda aur pistaul kahaan hai?
Pistaul toh main Police headquarters mein chhodke aaya hoon. Aur mera ghoda aaj kal maine Salman Khan ko de diya hai – Usko ghod-savaari ka bahut shauk hai. Veer-ta mein No.1 hai Sallu beta.
Aap ko kaisa kaam chahiye?
Mujhe politics mein ghusna hai. Suna hai aaj kal Samajwadi party mein vacancy hai.
Aapko lagta hai aapko ticket mil jaayega?
Haan mil jaayega. Mulayam ka bhai mere hi jail mein tha. Achchi dosti ban gayi.
Toh yeh they Gabbar Singh. Aaj retired daaku, Kal honge Samajwadi Party ke naye General Secretary!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Report Card

And so about a dozen days ago, the Boss's Son received his report card.
Physics: 42 / 100 (You coulda been a contender....)
Biology: 63 / 100 (First Class. No More, No Less.)
Calculus: 10 / 100 (Can't earn, Cannot Count, Can Definitely Spend!)
Chemistry: 55 / 100 (And the ratings continue to slip from their lofty perch of 100%...)
Geometry: 30/ 100 (What goes round.... Comes in 3 shapes - round, oval, and globular.)
Algebra: 52 / 100 (The equations are changing)
History: 25 / 100 (When Rome burnt, I wept... When your father weeps, I....)
Geography: 5/ 100 (French Windows, a Higher Floor, A Garbage dump, a graveyard...)
P.T.: Fail.
IQ: Fail
Interpersonal Skils: Fail
Ambition: Pass
Achievement: Fail
Result: Condoned and Promoted to Year 2 of a Wonderful Marriage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

GOLDen Opportunity

Hi All,

I had an ISB interview yesterday.

When I waked in, they were busy counting money manually. In 100 dollar bills. They were all wearing suits. All six of them. Black Suits with White Shirts and Black Ties.

Mr Pink asks me: Why do you want to go to ISB?
Me: There is gold there sir. GOLD!
Mr White: Where is the GOLD? We dont know about this. We wuz there 2 days ago.
Me: Why you think Telangana want Hyderabad!! there is GOLD there!
Mr Aquamarine
Sorry readers, This is my Reservoir, I choose the colors!)
Mr Aquamarine: So What are your Plans after ISB?
Me: Las Vegas or Bust!
Mr Pink: Bust? Whose Bust? That marble one in the foyer? Thats worth nothing.
Me: No sir,
Mr White interjects: Shut up! Spoke when spoken to! Mr Pink stated, not questioned!
Me: Sorry sir, I thought this was a relaxed interview. Not a stress interview.
Mr Yellow: This boy is useless. He thinks this is a stress interview, when even I know that this is an ISB interview.
Mr Orange: So boy, Why ISB?
Me (exasperatedly): BECAUSE THERE IS GOLD THERE!!!!
Mr White: Alright fine, where is this GOLD you speak of?!?!? Near the CAS? Or in the Lake? Or near the Tennis Courts?
Me: (Silent)
Mr Red: You, boy. If there is GOLD in ISB, why didnt we find it?
Me: *sniggers* No comment sir, on grounds it may incriminate me.
Mr Aquamarine: Why should we recommend you to ISB? (Furiously counting notes).
Me: Because I am the best GOLD-DIGGER in the world, sir.
Mr White: (thumps the desk suddenly) ENOUGH! Answer this. If the world was square, and the diagonal passed through New Delhi, would Mumbai be on the Equator?
Me: If the world was square, all the animals in North America would do the Macarena, and the Rubiks Cube would be obsolete!
Mr Aquamarine: If Telangana is formed, will the Ganges be merged with Infosys?
Me: If Telangana is formed, The Western Ghats will be merged with Madhya Pradesh.
Mr Pink: Sing a song for us
Me: Oh when the saints... Oh when the saints come marching in.. I'll be standing in my undies... When the saints come marching in...
Mr Yellow: What if you do not find GOLD in ISB?
Me: Sir, I will become a deep sea diver who plays music on the radio.
Mr Red: Ok son, any questions for us.
Me: Sir, why are you counting Money and what is that Money for?
Mr Orange: Good Question! This is the next bailout that Obama wants to administer to the US Economy. He wants us to count before he announces it. We are charging him an hourly rate and we insisted that they be delivered in 100 dollar bills so we could maximise our rates.

I got up to shake their hands. Suddenly I found myself stretching my hand out and grabbing a pile of the currency and running. On my way out, I turned and screamed, "Just in case, Sir. Dollars in hand is worth GOLD in the bush, sir!"

And then I woke up and wrote this post.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Studiously UnCouth

I was recently invited to become a "fan" on Facebook by another International School in Hyderabad, which is privately run, and charges students from KG onwards, a fee of over Rs 2.50 lakhs per year. It has an amazing campus, great facilities, and boasts of being a world-class school. It seeks to be a temple of learning, a cauldron of cultures, and a centre of academic excellence.

However, it never ceases to amaze me how much our education system is going the way of the Americans. Gone are the days of Convents, and Jesuit schools that could educate anyone at less than Rs 100.00 a year. I studied alongside my maid's kids, and we both got the same education, the same homework, the same canings, and the same disciplinary sermons from the priests (father this and brother that) who taught us for free. They were often mocked for being gay, for being clannish, for being peculiar. But the one aspect nobody questioned were their motives. They demanded our respect and gratitude, and we gave it unquestioningly, because we were naive, and we believed that they had no ulterior motives in educating us, and in fuelling our growth as human beings.

Our teachers were paragons of virtue, not because they were intelligent, or articulate or because they were able to instruct us well. They were respected also because of their impecunity. Their "holier-than-thou" image of a poor, impoverished teacher who lavishes her students with the wealth of knowledge, but is self-sacrificing, and compromises on her own life to ensure she can educate students for the greater good.

A big fall-out of the American Education system is the popular notion of pedigree, network and public perception. You end up gunning for the best brands, the biggest colleges, and you pay top dollar for the privilege of being educated in these colleges. In the USA, it is shocking to see how derogatory students are towards teachers, and it is a rare, inspired, courageous teacher who can earn and retain his/her students respect. You don't worry about whether you'll pass or fail, or get a distinction or if you will graduate, or if your leaving certificate will have "Good Conduct" on it. You take it for granted if your dad is a benefactor of the college.

More than the academic rigor, and the right education, and the knowledge an course brings you, the reasons for choosing a particular school have increasingly become pedigree, reputation, standing, alumni network, and opportunities you get to make your presence felt across the world, and land the best job at a great salary.

Of course, in school, these reasons are not YET as much of importance, but with the advent of greater fees, I think that parents / students will become less obedient and will demand more as consumers. Greater bang for their buck! I mean, I know that my aunt told me about Ecole Mondiale where parents asked the teachers how they failed their child, when they were paying all the money that was asked for!

I mean, with the money paid out, a parent who already has no time to spend with his kids, will assume that the school is also parenting his kid, and guiding the student towards academic success, since that is the "product" he has purchased for his kid - a great education.

We did not have any access to television, or radio, or the internet. We did not have cell phones or sms or any kind of satellite tv. We watched movies in cinema halls, bought Simba Chipmiks and Popcorn and bought stall tickets for 10 rupees. When I was in college, Sterling cinema dress circle tickets cost 45 rupees, and were considered rich kid's seats. Or a special treat for your birthday.

My point is, we were naive, and we did not possess the cultural or the economic aspirations of today's generations. Today, 10 is the new 15, 15 is the new 22, and 5 is the new 12. The kids are sharper, smarter, and more money-minded than even the toughest gujju sharebroker you know.

Where is the respect a teacher earning upwards of 12-15 lakhs a year will earn, when the students ( and kids are sharp today) will point out that they are effectively paying for her salary and that she shouldnt be in the position to govern them?

And thats just sad. We (the people who were kids in the 70s and 80s), are lively, intelligent, happy creatures because we had the shit beaten out of us by these priests (i went to a catholic school too!), and we were taught to respect, love, and be disciplined. And we respected them because we felt that they because they were altruistic, and that it was just the nobiity of the cause that made them teach us.

Child Plans and Insurance companies are the unsuspecting benefactors of the rising cost of education in this country, and are not afraid to flaunt it with their hackneyed attempts at promoting aspirations for both parents and their kids.

I'm think that Education is the best aspiration of the middle-class and the worst bedfellow of capitalism. The consequences of this seemingly unstoppable collision could be catastrophic for the one last competitve advantage we hold over our other similarly aspiring developing countries - our underpaid, English-speaking educated population.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soul Catcher - 8

Cris plonked his cup of coffee down on the scratched, dishevelled, unkempt, dirty grey table, as he scratched his head. He hadn’t had a bath in over 36 hours, and he was feeling really grimey. He also hadn’t slept in over 2 days, and the lack of sleep was catching up with him. He rubbed his eyes, and collected his thoughts. He started writing about how Robert had contacted him, and then proceeded to describe the mission. When he reached the part where the Bezdusan rose out of it’s body and flew off, he paused. He remembered that the parabolic bolts had hit the Bezdusan’s backpack, which contained it’s tools. He immediately reached for his phone and punched Roshan’s co-ordinates into it. Roshan showed up on the screen. He yelled above the chopper’s roar, “What is it?” Cris told him to get the Bezdusan’s tools when he returned back. Roshan nodded, and disconnected the phone. Cris smiled, and returned to finishing his report.

Martin hit the “Enter” button for the 15th time, and growled in frustration. Why wasn’t Roussaini’s nephew on the grid?? Where was he? Why couldn’t he find his soul?? Martin decided to call his house in Paris. He called the residence on the regular phone. A butler answered. When he heard Martin’s voice, he immediately transferred the line to Roussaini’s sister, Jeanette. Jeannette picked up the phone in her study, and greeted Martin. “Why Martin, what a pleasant surprise! What makes you call here?” “Jeanette, I need to speak to Seb. Is he home?” “No, Martin. He and his fiancee are on holiday in Corsica. They went to my brother’s cottage in L’Ile Rousse yesterday. They’ll be on holiday for a week. Why?” Martin went cold when he heard this. He politely backed off, and wished her good health, and hung up. He rang for Cris and asked him to come in immediately.

“Cris, What was the human’s name who you rescued from the Bezdusan yesterday?” Cris replied, “Sebastian Armond and Sheila. Why?”. Martin’s face drained of all it’s color when he heard this.

Martin bellowed, “We have to go out to L’ile Rousse immediately. Notify the Andeli station in Milan to meet us there in 3 hours. The sooner the better. And we need atleast 6 agents with us. Experienced hands, you hear?” “Yes, boss”

The Bezdusan got off the email server, and switched off the computer. He had to get to Paris immediately. His brothers had been found out, and those idiots had picked fights with the Andeli. Why, at this time could they have not laid low??? He cursed under his breath, as he adjusted his robe, and shuffled across the carpet to the main hall. Sheila entered with a tray of breakfast –waffles, and honey syrup. “There you go, honey. Made just the way you like it.” He looked at her, and smiled. “Sheila darling, we need to return to Paris tonight. Something urgent has come up at the hospital.” Her smile disappeared. “But we just got here!!! And you’re injured. What is this obsession with this stupid hospital? First it was your uncle and now it’s you. Sometimes I think you don’t think about anything other than that bloody hospital. First decent vacation in years, and you have to head back immediately!” She stormed out, tears in her eyes. The Bezdusan sighed, and Seb’s body followed her up the stairs to the master bedroom. She walked into the bedroom, and he followed her. At the entrance he felt a tight band across his chest. He couldnt move forward. He moved a step back and stared in disbelief.

The entire master bedroom was covered in silken silver energy threads crisscrossing it. He was unable to enter the room. He saw Sheila sobbing on the bed, but he could not enter the room. As he stood there, he saw the floor covered by a carpet of silver threads, and the fireplace was covered by a door of silver with a silver bolt across it. A shield was stamped across the fireplace, that was shaped like a 5 point star. It bore a lion, who held a broadsword in one hand of a warrior. He smiled evilly. What luck!

He called out to Sheila, “Darling, please calm down. OK, we won’t leave immediately. I will work on the phone to solve my issue. Please don’t be mad. “ Sheila kept on crying, and told him, “Leave me be, OK? I want to be alone right now. Go away.” The Bezdusan turned around and went down the stairs immediately. He needed his tools right away, so he could control this portal as soon as possible. He eyes glittered as he considered the possibilities. A portal in the heart of Europe!!! This was a gold mine! He went to the computer and switched it on. He had to call his brothers here as soon as possible. His brow furrowed with concentration, The Bezdusan began typing furiously. The glow of the computer screen reflected on Sebastian Armond’s face, and The Bezdusan’s bloodshot eyes.

SoulCatcher - 7

Martin got up from his chair, and walked over to the white board, picked up the marker and started writing something. Roshan, Cris and Robert looked at his broad back as he intently wrote something on the white board. When he turned, and walked away, the white board seemed to scream at them in Blue Ink: “DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY. GATHER ALL HOLY SOULS AND ASSEMBLE THEM AT THE VATICAN.”

Roshan and Cris knew then that this was a crisis of huge proportions. That whiteboard was a communication device between all the regional Celestial Chiefs. The moment Martin wrote that message on that white board, it would flash across all similar whiteboards across every Chief’s office, and will make it’s way to every Celestial’s beeper. Sure enough, their beeper began beeping, with the message notification.

“So the Sotona are not actually the Sotona. They are renegade soul catchers, the Bezdusan. How are they entering this world? There must be a portal that is allowing them access...”, Martin mused.

“Boss, I thought we plugged all the holes about 300 years ago!” Cris exclaimed. “I remember, I personally bombed that portal in Westminster Abbey in 1698!”
Martin said, “Yes, but they must have found a way out. I think this Bezdusan you encountered in Corsica, is the key to these soul catchers. If they can teleport and jump bodies, they have much stronger powers than even the Sotona.”

Robert’s phone rang. It was Gene. “Robert, this is Gene. That trapped soul beacon is still ringing in my ears! How many hours do you NEED to pick that bloody soul up??!?!?!?!?” Robert said, “Gene, we’re in the midst of a crisis here! Gimme a break!” Gene replied, “Come on Robert, I’m just a part-time here, trying to purify my soul by monitoring this god forsaken undermanned post by night. Get this soul picked up, for god’s sake!” Pun unintended, Gene slammed down the phone.

Robert turned to Cris and Roshan, and said, “We forgot to pick up the trapped soul out there.” Cris hit his forehead, “Thats what sent us there in the first place! Maybe this trapped soul will give us a lead on the Bezdusan.”
Martin directed Roshan to go pick up the trapped soul. Roshan left with a group of celestial constables to pick up the soul. Robert went back to the control tower, to monitor and scan the network for the 7 souls that were still missing. After they left, Cris drained the remnants of his coffee, and sighed. “Boss, do you think we can stop these creatures again?”

Martin shrugged, and turned to his computer. “Let me message Roussaini’s nephew and inform him. He’ll be able to patch us through to Roussaini. Although he’s human, he’s almost immortal. He runs a heart hospital in Paris.” Cris stood up. “Well, I have to go file my paperwork on tonight’s encounter. Atleast those humans survived.”
“What humans?” Martin asked. “Those humans in the car, who were the Bezdusan’ primary targets. We managed to send them off successfully.” “Really? How did that happened? I’m surprised the Bezdusan let go of it’s prey. They’re normally like bloodhounds. And considering the earlier trapped soul beacon, I think this one was hungry as well. It’s not like a Bezdusan to leave it’s prey.” Martin asked. Cris replied, “Well, looks like we scared this one pretty good.” Martin returned to his computer, and started searching for Roussaini’s nephew.

The Bezdusan stretched Seb’s legs, as he relaxed on the settee. It was 9 AM the next morning and he langurously stretched every part of his new body as he enjoyed the view of the sea through the large bay windows. Situated on a promontory, Le Maison Rousainni enjoyed a breathtaking view of the French Mediterranean sea. The Bezdusan woke up and strolled to the door, and walked outside. The bright dazzling sunlight bore down on him. Realising his mistake, The Bezdusan screamed involuntarily as the sunlight penetrated his body shield, and touched his soul periphery. The heat was unbearable. He ran back inside the cottage. Sheila came running down the stairs. “What happened, Seb? Why did you scream like that??” She asked. “It was nothing. I fell off the settee when I woke up.” Sheila walked over to The Bezdusan, and kissed him tenderly. “You’ve had a rough night. Try to rest. I’ll make up some breakfast for you.” The Bezdusan just nodded and walked to the living room. He thought, “Try to say as little as possible.”

He walked to the computer in the living room, and switched it on. He needed to find out as much as possible about Seb as quickly as he could. Before people starting suspecting that it wasn’t Seb. Without his tools, he could not scan Seb’s brain, and without Seb’s brain, he could not become Seb. He needed his tools. And he needed them soon. He had to get a message out to his brothers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

SoulCatcher - Tweets6

Cris and Roshan walked into Marty's office. Marty looked terrible. His eyes were bleary, and blood-shot. His pants were crumpled, and 2 buttons on his shirt were missing. His hair was dishevelled, and he seemed to be in a terrible mood. He looked at them grimly, and motioned them to sit down. His desk was piled high with papers; his wall looked like it hadn't seen a coat of paint in over a 100 years; his paintings hung crookedly; He absently swept away a pile of papers from his desk onto the floor, as he turned on his computer. "What's up, boss? You look seriously pissed!” Cris remarked. "The Sotona have attacked the Andeli at Prague, Rome, Santiago, Sao Paolo, Glasgow and Aden. We lost 7 angels and about 40 souls. They violated the truce that Roussaini brokered in the last Vremenom." He logged into the celestial network, and turned on the soul-tracker. "We're trying to track the souls to pinpoint their hide-out. But the souls are not appearing on the grid. They seem to have disappeared." Roshan glanced at Cris, and said, "Boss, did the Sotona have a black energy footprint?" "Why do you ask?" Roshan pulled out his motion capturer, and hooked it up to the monitor. "Look at this" He said. The monitor flickered for a moment, before it played the motion capture. Marty massaged his brow, as he stared at the monitor. "Boss, do you want a coffee?" Cris asked, "I'm going to the machine, I'll get you one as well." Marty nodded and smiled tiredly. It had been a long night.

The Bezdusan sat silently in the passenger seat as the van motored along the dark road to the cottage in L'ile Rousse. His mind worked furiously, plotting his next move, even as the eyes remained closed. He concentrated his energy along his forehead, to make a portion of it look like a red crescent as if the blood had accumulated. Sheila was asleep in the compartment behind. The van driver whistled cheerfully.

Marty studied the screen intently, as the motion capturer played back the events of the night past. He saw Cris and Roshan drop to the ground.He saw them approach the car. Cris walked in with the coffee. Marty saw Sheila faint, and he saw the energy profile for the Bezdusan. It was completely black with a green outline. Marty slumped in his seat. "That is a soulcatcher!! How could it exist anymore?? We wiped them out!!!Cris, did you destroy this creature?" "No Boss, he got away. We didnt chase it, because Roshan got the message to report here immediately." The motion capture moved to the actual fight where the Bezdusan rose out of the body shell, he thumped the table in anger. Robert walked in. "What happened?”

The van drew up in front of the cottage. The waves crashing into the rocks in the distance seemed to be playing a symphony in the warm night. You could hear crickets in the fields around, and the grass grew wild. The van driver roused the Bezdusan and Sheila from their slumber, and told them that they were here. The brass plaque gleamed in the dark. "Maison Roussaini"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soulcatcher - Tweets5

The soul of The Bezdusan stretched out two black, inky arm-like tentacles. They melded together into one black glistening shape, with a sharp point. The Bezdusan bent himself, as if in a meditative pose with his joint tentacles resembling a spear, with a single sharp point protruding. A small tear shaped drop of black liquid like substance seemed to be suspended at the end of the point. As Seb writhed in semi consciousness, the drop fell into his ear, from where the blood was dripping. The drop mingled with the blood. The drop turned the blood grey and seemed to coagulate the blood. The blood stopped, and all the blood turned grey and started receding back into the ear. Suspended in the same position, the Bezdusan in his spear shaped pose, dipped himself as if diving into a pool. Like a river the soulcatcher flowed into Seb's ear. As the Bezdusan appropriated Seb's body, and consumed his soul within his body, Seb's body seemed to almost split into half. He writhed in wierd contortions, as if his soul was trying to fight the Bezdusan for survival. After about 20-30 seconds of this struggle, he stood up with a start. His eyes glowed red, as the Bezdusan surveyed the surroundings in his new shell. He had to get out of that forest. He walked over to the car that Seb had been driving, and pulled it up, almost effortlessly. The car righted itself, but it's roof was punctured, and some liquid flowed from under it's radiator. He saw Sheila stir.

As Sheila came to her senses, she looked around groggily, as she oriented herself in the darkness of the forest, blotting out the moon. She saw Seb standing on the grass beside the road and tree, and she saw the Jaguar lie there, crumpled.
She got up and rushed to Seb. "Seb, darling, are you hurt? I feel so dizzy!". Seb looked at her, and replied, witha blank look on his face. "Oh god, my head! It hurts so bad. Who are you, and what am I doing here?" Sheila grabbed his arm, and said, "What's going on, Seb? Don't you recognise me? I'm your fiancee, Sheila! We were on our way to our cottage on L'Ile Rousse!". The Bezdusan smirked inside the shell, and he spoke in Seb's voice, "I do not remember anything. My head feels like it's going to split. Please help me!". Just then, they saw approaching headlights.

Roshan reached Cris's side, just as the Bezdusan rose into the air and fled. Roshan took out a small hip flask, and squeezed 2-3 drops into Cris's mouth. Color slowly returned to Cris's face, and he woke up, feeling his head. "What the hell was that, man? I feel like I went halfway to hell and back. What does that mean?" Roshan said, "We have to meet with Marty." Roshan helped Cris up into the helicopter. Cris said, "Check if the humans are OK." Roshan said, "We'll check on them tomorrow. We have bigger fish to fry."

The van pulled up to The Bezdusan and Sheila, as they frantically waved out at them. Sheila went up to the driver and explained in her French that they needed a lift to the nearest town. The driver obliged, and asked them to sleep in the compartment behind the driver. The Bezdusan smiled at the driver, as he sat in the van, He put his hand in Seb's jacket pocket. He pulled out a white pasteboard card, and saw Seb's business card:
"Chief Resident, Heart Surgery,
Hospital of the Merciful, 148, Rue Madeleine, Paris."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SoulCatcher - Tweets4

Cris whipped out his photon laser and disengaged the trigger. He activated his energy shield. Although you couldn't see it,his body tingled. The Bezdusan cursed, and ran towards his backpack. Cris yelled at Sebastian to get into the car. Sheila lay motionless on the road. Seb ran and picked her up and half-dragged,half-carried her. Cris hid behind the boulder, and shouted out, "Devil's child, you are in violation of Inter-World Laws! You have abused your powers!" "Devouring Souls is against the treaty. Stand forward and be judged!!! Surrender yourself and your weapons before the Celestial Guard!"

The Bezdusan scowled, as he packed up. What a waste of effort tonight. One sealed up soul, and one squirrel. His soul growled. Sebastian ran around his car, and got into the driver's seat quickly. He revved up the car, and put it into gear. Cris motioned him to drive away. As Seb drove away, He mouthed "Thanks" to Cris. The Bezdusan yelled at Cris, "Do not deny me my prey!!!!" Just then, he heard the Jaguar drive away. His lips curled into a sly smile. He took out his teleporter, and punched co-ordinates on it.

Roshan, in the mean while, had quietly slipped out, behind from Cris, and made his way behind the boulders. As Cris shouted at the soulcatcher, he silently armed his weapon, and shield and edged his way towards the Bezdusan's hiding place. "You would dare challenge me?? I am the Bezdusan. Don't meddle with black magic, little one. You have no idea..." Cris engaged the demon-trap on his weapon, and yelled back, "Come on out then, you 'Bezdusan'! Fight me like a god!" Roshan saw the back of the Bezdusan, hunched over, packing up his backpack, and he saw him punch in co-ordinates on his teleporter. Roshan moved into position. He disengaged his trigger, and aimed the energy photon phaser at the creature's back, and fired.

Cris, angered at The Bezdusan's patronising attitude at him, roared, as he charged towards the boulder The Bezdusan was hiding behind. Cris fired his parabolic energy photons in the general direction of The Bezdusan. The shots lit up the sky as they rose into the sky. The fired photons moved downwards in an arc onto the creature.

The Bezdusan felt the heat of energy photon as it approached him in the back; He also saw Cris's bolts shoot into the sky. He leapt to his left, onto the sand, as he saw the energy photon hit the soul-scanner. He jumped up and ran towards Cris, with murderous intent on his face. Cris saw The Bezdusan and fired his demon trap. Pins and Needles emitted from around the muzzle in the form of many arrows, towards the standing Bezdusan. The Bezdusan ripped off his green belt, and swished it around him. The belt let off small circular black bolts, that whizzed through the dark night and cut most of the needles in half.

Cris's parabolic bolts landed on the Bezdusan's backpack. His backpack exploded, as the slim-net, the soul-scanner, and his other gadgets crackled and sizzled as the bolts hit them. The Bezdusan hurled the belt at Cris. The belt flattened and became rigid as a spear as it flew at Cris. Cris raised his arm, and a silver shield erected on his arm. The belt hit the shield and Cris was thrown physically almost 10 feet away. The belt fell to the ground, and fizzled and died. The Bezdusan advanced onto Cris to finish him off. Roshan ran behind the Bezdusan and fired another energy photon at him.

As Sebastian drove away, behind him, he heard the crack of lightning, as if someone had split the sky and electricity had struck the land. He looked in the rear mirror, and the night seemed to be set alight by white energy flying around. Sebastian pressed his foot on the accelerator, as he negotiated the turns in the beach road. The road suddenly turned into the forest. The Jaguar careened into the turn, as Sebastian fought for control with the sharp curve. He saw a creature appear out of nowhere in front. Sebastian struggled to avoid the creature, and the Jaguar turned turtle as it rose in the air, and cartwheeled into the trees.

The Bezdusan felt a burning sensation in his shoulder. He cried out in pain. He felt the photon pass through the body. He realised that there was no way he could let the photon pass through him. If he let the photon pass through his shell, his soul would be compromised. He would be a marked man. He could not let that happen.He clicked on his teleporter, and hit the white button on it. He felt his soul rising from the shell. Just in time as well. The photon exited his body, just as the soul rose into the air. The shell collapsed to the ground, and burst into white flame. Roshan rushed to Cris's side, as The Bezdusan rose swiftly into the air and zoomed towards the co-ordinates he'd punched in earlier.

The door of the upturned Jaguar opened, and a bleeding Sebastian crawled out. He made his way to the passenger door, and pulled Sheila out. The two dogs, somehow unhurt, ran out, yelping. Sebastian collapsed with pain and exhaustion at the road's edge, alongside the bleeding and unconscious Sheila. As he looked up, a black shape zoomed in front of him. Sebastian passed out. Blood trickled out of his ear.

The Bezdusan mentally smiled. He now had a new shell.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Soulcatcher - Tweets3

Rob cried, "The soul anti-theft alarm has gone off!!". Cris ran to the console and checked the co-ordinates of the alarm. "Hey, those co-ordinates are very close to the beacon that Gene sent you", Cris noticed. "Yes, they are.I'm worried if its a scavenger, Rob". Rob checked on the beacon. "No, the beacon is fine. This is another soul."

Cris picked up his phone and called Marty Krause, Head Celestial. "Marty, we have a STA alert here. It's close to a trapped soul beacon. I think we have a scavenger on the loose." Marty, a grizzled old man who looked in his late 50s, with close cropped hair, and a salt/pepper beard, got up from his bed, and replied, "No Cris, this doesn't look like a scavenger. If it were, why didn't touch the beacon? I want a ground report, with the soul post mortem." Cris looked grim when he hung up the phone. He looked at Roshan and Rob and said. "Marty's asked for a ground report. The two of us will go" Roshan smiled, and said, "Finally some fun! Putting together damaged souls, and filing paperwork for lost souls is so boring!" Rob sat back in his chair, "Do you guys need any backup or weapons?" Criss nodded, "I don't want to take any chances, we need to be armed."

Sebastian stood rooted to the spot, as he saw the man swallow the squirrel's soul. He stared, as the man wiped his mouth, and lift the net. He fixed it onto a cylindrical tube, and Sebastian saw it retract into the tube. The small bulb at the end glimmered with silver liquid.

"Tell me, earthling, what is Your name?" He asked Sebastian. "Sebastian Armond". "And your companion?" "Her name is Sheila. Why?" "What's your name?" Sebastian asked him. He concealed the soul-net, and spun around, and smiled. "My name? Why do you want to know it? He asked. "We told you our names. Please do not hurt us. Who are you?" "My name", He said, almost growling, "is Bezdusan"

His belt started glowing green. He looked at his belt and cursed. They were here. The paratroopers appeared as if out of nowhere, and the sky seemed to be set alight by the white flame of the aerocraft that settled above. It hovered above the soulcatcher, and Sebastian, like a silver orb.

He walked over to the blackmat that was flat now. The squirrel's body had been completely absorbed. He quickly folded up the blackmat and looked at Sebastian. "You are very lucky. You live."

Cris scooted down the jumpthread and Roshan soon followed. They slid to the ground, and as they came down, they saw him. What was That creature? His thermals were non existent. Cris switched to energy vision. He saw a green glow outline the man. It seemed to be burning like millions of small needles dancing. The man's soul was completely black. Cris cried out, "Identify yourself, earthling or skybeing. Demon or Angel, stand forward!"

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Soul Catcher - Tweets2

Gene patrolled the trapped souls distress network from 9 PM to 9 AM in south west europe 3 days a week. He clambered out of bed, and dressed hurriedly, flicking the monitor on, so he could see the location. It was tough enough having a regular human day job. But to do 3 nights a week and report late to work in the morning! Outrageous! The beacon seemed to be in Northern Corsica. Gene sighed. It was going to be a long night.Gene called the French Angels and informed them of the beacon. They said they would try to send a patrol.After all hauling ass from Switzerland all across Europe for one soul was a lot of travel.

The Celestial Guardians Officer in Charge was a newbie, Robert Caulkin. An american who got buggered during the Iraq War. Surprisingly, his soul was never tainted. Robert picked up the call, and answered the French Angels. 'Yes, we can send a patrol to retrieve the soul.' Robert called Gene, to pinpoint the coordinates of the soul. Moments later, he was plotting the site. Rob got excited. Finally an assignment he could contribute to. Manning a 'graveyard' shift really wasn't the most exciting job, since he had received the call-up to the Guardians. He'd expected far more action, but being the youngest shift supervisor on the force had it's low points.

He checked his watch impatiently. They should have been here by now. He tried the soulscanner. It spluttered and died.He fiddled with the soul scanner, trying to extract the last vestiges of its battery life as he peered into it's display. The net rippled in the moonlight sending shimmers across its strands, as it waited. Inanimate, invisible. As He was tinkering with the console, he heard the car swerving around the bend, and 2 seconds later he heard the net crackling and buzzing.

The squirrel pranced onto the road, as it chased the leaf out of the forest, unmindful of the silver trap set for larger targets. Sebastian took the turn at 80 mph, and saw the squirrel just in time, skidding on some gravel on the road in the process. Sheila shrieked as the car swerved violently, and came dangerously close to toppling over. Sebastian twisted the steering wheel violently. The squirrel got shocked out of its skin as it saw this gleaming metal machine bearing down on it. It scampered in the opposite direction. As Sebastian got control of the car and stopped it, he heard a strong crackling noise, and a blinding white energy light up the dark road. He saw a gleaming silver net collapsed on the road, with a white oblong shape in it. Sebastian and Sheila got out of their car, and stared at the net, and the white object struggling inside it, desperately trying to get out.

Gene groaned as the phone rang again. It was Rob again."Yes, Sir, what do you need, Now??" "Gene, I need the co-ordinates again.", Rob said. Gene fished out the co-ordinates and sent it on a topographical map, using Night Vision technique to ensure it matched what they would see.Rob pulled out his phone and typed an sms to Cris, the senior Guardian Retrieval Agent (GRA). "Urgent Soul retrieval. Need someone expert in wooded territories.Beacon transmission OK".

The squirrel's body was on the other side of the net.As Sebastian and Sheila stared in disbelief, the black mat began absorbing the squirrel's body. It seemed to swell up as the squirrel's body was swallowed. Sebastian turned to Sheila, who's eyes were goggling at the struggling white object in the silver net. The net was crackling and buzzing.The soul thrashed about in the net. As it tried to release itself, It had turned mottled grey in color; silver threads like a spider web appeared all over it.

He grinned widely, emerging from the shadowy boulders. He walked over to the net to see what he had caught for a long awaited dinner. The squirrel's soul squirmed as the net got increasingly tight. He walked over to the net, and saw Sebastian and Sheila, standing with ashen faces, looking at the squirrel's soul in the SoulNet. He cried out in dismay. He stooped down and grabbed the soul in anger, and opened his mouth wide. Using both hands, and wringing the soul into knots, he swallowed it whole. Sheila fainted and slid onto the road, unconscious.

The dark heavily built curly-haired man took off his leather jacket, and dusted his weathered jeans, as he got off the Sports Cruiser.He took off the bandana, and shook his hair loose, as he unhitched his saddlebags, and walked into the Celestial Guardian station. "Hi honey. The new boy pissing his pants already, is he?", he asked the receptionist as he swaggered through the reception area. "It's his first week, Cris. Give the kid a chance!", said Roshan, his colleague, another wellbuilt clean shaven balding man, dressed in a t-shirt, and trackpants. "What are you doing here this late?", asked Cris. "Just getting off duty. It's been terrible today, the number of lost / dismembered souls we've had to reprogram. The paperwork is boring. If this is a field job, I prefer the pig to this pigpen anyday."

The emergency alarm shattered the laughter that ensued. Cris and Roshan ran up the stairs to the main control room. Rob came running out, looking pale.