Wednesday, 31 August 2011

You save Independent Bookstores and you will help grow Literacy.

Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, writecoherently and think critically about printed material.

India’s literacy rate is at 74% in 2011, well below the world average of 84%. The illiterate population in India is the largest in the world. Although government schooling is free and compulsory from 6-14 years of age, facilities are inadequate and often totally lacking. Approximately 40% of students, mostly girls, drop out by secondary school. It is estimated that by the year 2020 over 50% of the illiterate population will live in India. Literacy is key to social economic growth of our country.

We know that Literacy is key to social economic growth but how do Independent bookstores help grow literacy levels? You may ask.

Key to literacy is accessibility to books and Independent Bookstore by its mere presence here and there ensures accessibility to books.

With the explosion of e-commerce business in India in recent years, the online bookstores are growing at a rapid speed. While the growth in e-commerce business sector is good for the country’s economy, in India, there are no strict e-commerce business regulations in place leading to unfair business practices by if not all but most online bookstores. With evident loopholes in the system, some of the online bookstores are cashing in on the gaps and making life difficult for independent bookstores by unfair or bad business practices.

Lets take a look at this example as to how an online bookstore is killing competition affecting the traditional independent bookstores with its fraudulent business practices.

Cost of the book: Rs.300
Margins offered by Publisher/Distributor: 40%
Discount offered by the Online store to the reader: 40%
Billing price: Rs.180 (A)
Cash on delivery (COD): Yes
Average cost incurred by the online store to offer COD service: Rs.30 (B)
Fulfillment/Packaging/Handling Charges incurred: Rs.5 (C)

Loss Incurred on the book sale = A-B+C = Rs.35

(With little bit of common sense, if we add in the cost incurred on infrastructure, manpower, IT infrastructure and other overheads. The loss incurred on every book sold will be even higher.)

You might wonder why they make a loss on every book sold.

Quite simply it is to get the traffic onto their site to introduce other catalogues to the visitor and to make the visitor build that online shopping habit with them. Number of hits and conversion to sales make the turnover look big on which the valuation of the company is measured with creative accounting practices.

End user or the reader definitely benefits because of the higher discounts that he/she gets. The end user or the reader or the consumer might get rich by such discounts but what about the social responsibility?

By buying on such platforms, are we (the literates, readers and book lovers) not helping indirectly plot the downfall of the bookstores? Its time for us to think.

Independent Bookstores cannot offer such discounts and end up losing money on each book sold because all they get to play around is the same 40% margins from the Publishers/Distributors from which they have to pay their rentals, staff salaries and look after other overheads.

With Amazon coming into India early next year, it adds to Independent Bookstores’ misery and further complicates the survival of bookstores.

Its high time we take a pause and think about those wonderful bookstores where we grew up, learnt to browse, spent hours glancing through the pages of those wonderful books, made friends and enjoyed the conversation with that bookseller about our favorite authors and their works.

If we continue our book shopping on such online bookstores, the bookstores will die and literacy will lose one of its important allies and may slow down in its growth or even dwindle affecting the social economic growth eventually.

The questions that we must ask ourselves are: Do we, as book lovers want the bookstores to vanish? Do we, as literates want the literacy to fall? Do we, as educated people want to affect the Social Economic Growth of our country? Do we, as good citizens want to associate and help such fraudulent online stores make merry?

September 8th is International Literacy Day. Spread this word around so we educate people and create awareness to save our bookstores and help literacy.

Come. Lets go out to buy a book and save a bookshop.

-Alaham Anil Kumar
 Sep 1st 2011


Friday, 9 October 2009

Glad I didn't become a Pilot

While in primary school, I remember my class was asked a common question by one of our teachers. The question was: “What would you want to become when you grow up”?

Each one, one by one, had to stand up and answer. Most of my classmates including yours truly said “I want to become a Pilot” with some sane mates of mine opting to become Scientists, Doctors and Engineers. The word “Pilot” was probably very attractive and may be appeared glamorous to us then. Although most of us didn’t know the actual job functions, we simply went for it.

I don’t know about my classmates but I am glad I didn’t become one. I have my reasons for it today. In the last one year, the Pilots of different Airlines in India who have gone on strike causing immeasurable problems to passengers are countless. Passengers wanting to reach destinations for holidays, on urgent work related matters and some for emergency reasons were severely affected for no fault of theirs. The news and sight of passengers stranded at Airports for hours and sometime for an entire day doesn’t surprise us anymore because of Pilots going on strike for reasons that is hard to explain.

Largely, nowadays, an air traveler’s life often relies on these Pilots. Be it on ground before takeoff or after takeoff. On ground because, you never know when they go on strike spoiling the plans of the passengers and in mid-air because, you never know when they leave their cockpit empty and start fighting with their colleagues in the galley, leaving us completely unsafe.

The news of the Air India flight Pilots’ nuisance early this week where the Pilots left the cockpit empty to fight with their cabin crew colleagues in the galley at 30000ft altitude casts the doubts in the minds of the air traveler. Despite the plane’s operating systems and maintenance of the aircraft being in good conditions, how safe is an air traveler in these erratic and negligent Pilot’s hands?

Is it worth putting our lives in danger and in the hands of such irresponsible people?

The very thought of Pilots and their Cabin Crew colleagues behavior on that Air India IC 884 plane from Sharjah to Delhi sends shivers up the spine of the frequent air traveler. Their act merited immediate sacking with no questions asked as they played with lives of 160 passengers on board that flight.

There are many factors that contribute to the safety of an airline passenger including, but not limited to, maintenance and operational procedures, types of training programs, age of fleet and specific routes flown etc.

As per the Airline industry statistics, aviation accidents are extremely rare, with the probability of a passenger being killed on a single flight at approximately eight million-to-one. Which means, if a passenger boarded a flight at random, once a day, every day, it would statistically be over 21,000 years before he or she would be killed.

But with such Pilots and cabin crew on job today, does the above statistics hold good? It certainly doesn’t but what is certain in my mind is the beautiful feeling that I didn’t become a Pilot.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Farmers on the net: 49M and counting!

My wife has become a farmer and so are my many friends. Every time off late we all meet up, my wife and our common friends speak about how their farms have come up and exchange ideas on farming. I was initially happy about their conversation but when I got to know that their new found activity is not in the real world but on the “world wide web”, it became my story idea. They all have become addicts to this game called FarmVille on Facebook-the social networking site.

These are the new age farmers who are into farming on the net. They speak the language I don’t understand and when they speak about that lone black sheep that they found in their farm, they become sad. The consequences of finding that black sheep, again I don’t understand.

This game, I learnt is fast catching up. People arrive on Facebook to meet and make new friends as well as find those lost ones and in the process, they all are becoming farmers as this new “Agricultural Facebook Application” has managed to attract 49 million users since it was started in June last.

FarmVille, I believe, is a simple social game in which players create and manage virtual farms. Paying attention to crops, growing them (which actually takes real-time hours and days), harvesting and selling them. Sales earns users money and experience points. Then, a player can buy more crops, animals, farm equipment and outbuildings.

A player can also invite friends to come and farm in the plot next to theirs, and help them out by watering or harvesting their crops for them. If a player is a really generous farmer, he or she can even buy them a cow as a gift.

It's addictive. So addictive, in fact, that the makers of this game cunningly tempt the player to pay for extra “farm coins” via credit card — if a player is too impatient to wait for his or her crops to grow (well, the makers had to be making money somehow).

What’s funny is that in a recent party that we hosted, these farmer friends of mine got so restless when I asked them to stay back for a little more time. They said they have to get back home to get on to their screens to take care of their virtual farms. That was unbelievable.

So, if you are still not on Facebook yet, my advice to you is to get your farming lessons before you open an account. Else, you won’t be worthwhile knowing as a farmer friend.

Next time I invite my friends again to meet up; I have to make sure their farms can survive without their owners for an evening.


Driving his life to meet ends

This man drives a TAXI for his living!

So what’s wrong with it?And why are you making a big issue out of it, you may ask.

This man is no ordinary man. He is a PHD holder from Stanford University and has a solid 16 years of proven track record of scientific accomplishments.Now, Am I drawing you closer to your screen?

Well. I am not surprised. For, this situation somehow resembles our bollywood storyline, quite like that of Rajesh Khanna classics in which Mr. Khanna walks office to office, factory to factory under that intolerable sun accompanied by his pet mongrel and manages to get into that “Owners cabin” ignoring “No Vacancy” board written in chalk all over that black piece of iron plate hung right at the entrance gate and still manages to show his super envious gold medal certificates and a fantastic track record to seek “that dream Job” that invariably stood between him and his love and sometimes his ailing mother.

No. Don’t go so far and strain your brain. This is not inspired from any of Mr. Khanna’s antics; this is not even in India or the late 80s. I assure I am not talking movie stuff here. It is for real. It is today’s stuff and is set in vibrant, multicultural Singapore where this man truly struggled to meet his ends. He is one of the millions who got affected by recession.

Shocked? Read on…

Meet Mr. CAI Mingjie, who blogs and wrote in his blog introduction “I have been forced out of my research job at the height of my scientific career, and unable to find another one, for reasons I can only describe as something ‘uniquely Singapore’. As a result, I am driving taxi to make a living and writing these real life stories just to make the dull job a little more interesting. I hope that these stories are interesting to you too.”

Mingjie started blogging from 6th April 2009, early this year. In his first blog entry, he wrote about his employment at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) at ASTAR, Singapore, where he had put in 16 years as Principal Investigator. He mentions that he was a victim to influx of foreign talents that he got retrenched from his job. Although he was informed of the retrenchment in 2007, he was unable to secure another job even till his termination in May 2008. By November 2008, he decided to become a taxi driver.

His writing makes an interesting read and reads like a collection of short stories, about a scientist-turned-taxi-driver, diligently documenting quirky observations he makes while driving on the road – the passengers that he meets, the various changes that is happening to society etc.
One can only feel for his plight though. Don’t you think it is a waste of human capital when skill sets and academic qualification do not match with the job a person is holding? Definitely not a healthy trend if we see more and more such highly qualified individuals in such a predicament – be it in “Uniquely Singapore” or “Incredible India” or anywhere else.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Have I become a "Screenager"?

Like everyone else, I grew up passing a stage where I was addressed a “teenager”. As a kid and as a teen growing up, I played outdoor games outdoors; played chess on a chess board and indoor games indoors. I loved watching movies on a celluloid screen in a cinema, loved reading books, comics and novels on a print version and the smell of the print every time I picked them up from a bookstore gave me joy.

I had different applications for different purposes. I had music cassettes to listen to my music on a tape recorder and player and I had cricket bat and a ball to play cricket in a play ground. And with the technological advances; I accepted the change and started listening to music on CD’s on my walkman and now I have moved my music collection onto something called an Iphone which came as a gift to me.

I use this gadget primarily as a telephone and to listen to my music although I have learnt that there are many things that can be done on this palm sized machine which basically acts as one-stop-shop-for-all purposes with an application for different purpose. I wouldn’t go so far to use them all as I find most things that are not to my taste. For instance, I will never use this piece to read books, watch movies or play games. Why would you want to do that? Aren’t reading books or novels or even for that matter, newspapers fun when you read them on traditional print format?

I fail to understand today’s kids. They should be called “Screenagers” for their entire life depends on these tiny screens. One kid even had the cheek to ask while playing with my Iphone. “You don’t know how to use this?” referring to an application called e-book. I replied, kid it’s for no-brainers. Like the traditionalists, I barked back with couple of questions. What's wrong with the printed word on paper that's worked fine for centuries? And why would you want to read a book on a telephone anyway? He gave me a look which I think meant “you are obsolete” and went on to say that his generation plays Cricket, Tennis and Football on screen, read books, novels and comics on screen, watch movies and TV episodes on screen and communicate and keeps in touch with friends on screen.

Then I wondered. If they do everything on screen, what do they do outside? Does “outdoor games” ever exist in their e-dictionary?

The latest reports indicate that, especially throughout the summer months when kids are out of school, teenagers spend an average of nearly ten hours (nine hours and 54 minutes is the exact average) on some sort of screen - computer, gaming console or TV. That is about 4 solid months a year.

But then, we too are on the computer screen most times. I am writing this story with the help of my computer screen; you are reading this story on your computer screen. You think we both are becoming screenagers also? You think I should start using those applications on my Iphone like that kid suggested or continue to live my life that of a traditionalist?