Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Idea: Bag Vouchers

[Acknowledgment:  I got this idea while reading Suman's post - She Said No!]

There is no dearth of awareness, especially among the upwardly mobile youngsters, about the ill effect of plastics. One major use of plastic is in the form of plastic-bags also known as 'chimki', 'cover' or 'polythene bags'. Searching the Internet reveals mind numbing evidences concerning the hazards of plastics. Most urban people know it. However, they are helpless. There is no 'feasible' solution to the problem. Yes, there are a lot of alternatives to using plastic bags - like using cloth/jute bag and paper bag. But they have their own problems. Let's take a look at the reasons which make these eco-friendly bags 'unpopular' and then I'll try to find a solution addressing those problems.

Problem: The most favorable factor for the use of plastic bags is that it is cheap. So, any shopkeeper can give you a complementary plastic bag to carry the purchased item - be it Benarasi Paan or Benarasi Saaree. However, the cost of cloth/jute bag is prohibitively large huge compared to the actual price of the goods bought in case the goods cost less than Rs 100. Unless all the shopkeepers start to stop using plastic bags,  it is not possible for a few eco-conscious  shopkeepers to give cloth/jute bag. Paper bag, on the other hand, is moderately priced but it can bear only very light weight. Also, most of the shopping is done unplanned - so we don't necessarily  carry a cloth bag with us.

Solution: One easy solution to the problem is use of bag vouchers. These vouchers are basically a 'token' for the actual bag. It is similar to sodexho coupons in essence. Just as sodexho coupons can be redeemed for food, the bag vouchers can be redeemed for cloth/jute bags. So, if you go to buy vegetables, you can give the shop owner a bag voucher in exchange of the cloth bag he gives you to keep the vegetables in. The shop keeper can then redeem the coupon for more bags. In this way, the bags can change hands depending on who needs it.

Implementation: There could be many ways of implementing this idea. I would start with a completely private solution. An organization, I'll give it a fictitious name - Wriddhi, wants to implement this idea. It first gets "non-duplicable" vouchers printed. It then distributes cloth bags to different shops. Consumers can buy the vouchers from the Wriddhi office. Now, when they go out and do unplanned shopping, they can redeem the bag voucher, which they bought from Wriddhi and kept in their wallets along with credit card and sodexho coupon, for a cloth bag. If there is too much accumulation of cloth bags, they can exchange it for vouchers at the Wriddhi office. The shop keeper, on the other hand, can exchange the vouchers with bags at the Wriddhi office.

Details and Refinements: Instead of keeping a stock of bags at one place (Wriddhi office), Wriddhi can partner with several NGOs to use them as distribution points. The shopkeeper (and consumers - basically, anyone having a bag-voucher) can redeem the coupon for a bag or exchange bag for coupon or buy new/fresh coupons at these points. The bags could be of many types (or one type based on the implementation) - It could have corporate ads. It could be made from old but strong clothes - this would appeal to people with 'social' bent of mind. Or, it could be just a simple bag. Again, the coupon price could differ based on the size, strength and nature of the material used to make the bags. A designer bag could be more expensive than a jeans bag. Moreover, a bag could be claimed to have reached 'end of life' based on some predefined criteria. Also, the coupon/bag can also 'age' which would reduce its value/voucher. Say, a bag which is of value X can 'age' to a value of X/2 after 6 months' use. The criteria of aging could also be the condition of the bag. Also, Wriddhi could be an NGO, a private company, a govt body or a combination of them.

Challenges: There a lot of challenges in implementing this. The most important challenge is to get a buy-in of the junta. Why should they pay for something they are used to getting free? Why should they take the trouble of buying coupon? Why should the shopkeepers bother to stock the bags? Since the shopkeeper doesn't have to buy the plastic bags, it would reduce the costs - the benefit of which can be passed on, partly, to the customer and partly in maintaining the bags inventory. Since, the customer may get the benefit of reduced cost and get the impression of being "cool" by being eco-conscious, they would not mind to add a few vouchers to their monthly grocery items.

This is just one solution to the problem. There, of course, are huge challenges in implementing this idea.

PS: This is not a business plan. It's just an idea. Do pour in your inputs on it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Looking at the gizmos, airplane, high rise buildings, light and fire, i am overwhelmed to imagine how the mankind has developed from nomads to civilized. From praying to moon (which women do even today - more so after Yash Raj made it glamorous) to making an abode on moon - the development is phenomenal.This evolution is fueled by ideas more than anything else. It was an idea to have something what we now call 'currency'. It was an idea to stay in houses. It was an idea to have institution of marriage. I was an idea to have  countries. It was an idea to wear clothes. And these ideas were, mostly, responses to problems.

Evolution is like any other office work. There are an almost infinite things to do. We need to prioritize. So, we first invented fire, then shelter and then Internet. In our day-to-day life we come across several problems, crib about several things. While traveling in trains and buses, while using html tags on Gtalk, while reading that the food grains are rotting in the repository and that India ranks alarmingly poor in hunger index on the same newspaper - while taking every breath we find things imperfect and we think of a solution to address them.

But, we most of those ideas remain ideas which no one knows about. I plan to use this blog to vent out such ideas which i conceive. Take inputs from the readers and make them open source!

To quote George Bernard Shaw:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple.  But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

So, I urge you to email me (given on the right sidebar) your ideas and i can put it up for you. This way you would not only vent your idea out but also it would be saved of disappearing from your mind. Moreover, you never know if you get get buyers/partners! Essentially, i would like to use this blog as a forum for exchange and incubation of ideas.

PS: I am going to continue with my musings on movies, politics, society, tea and refrigerator cover. This is additional area i would like to introduce.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All the World's a Stage

Acting is an art - and a tough one at that. How many really good actors have you seen? Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah. Nop, Salmaan Khan is a star and so is Uday Chopra. But, actors don't just work in films. Try looking a little 'local' - Was Pankaj's acting as a jaundice patient any less than Pallavi Joshi's? Wasn't the teacher and even you (despite knowing that he had gone on a holiday) fooled? Didn't Vishwanath act brilliantly in praising his mother-in-law for the food that she prepared which a cat would prefer to terminate all her nine lives to eating that food. Didn't Amin gave an IIFA winning performance when he pushed the bug under the carpet in front of the senior management? And how can we forget Siddhu's brilliant laughter in the Laughter Challenge?

Looking at all these performances day-in-and-day-out i wonder how these people manage to act so well. Acting, indeed, is a gift is blessed with. And what makes it worse is that acting cannot be easily learnt. I have seen people failing miserably to pretend. But, it's not all that gloomy.

With the advent of technology the way we communicate has changed. Communication has become more real-time and online. Imagine that the girl/guy, whom you loved (or had crush for) but never confessed/proposed to, decides to 'go around' with someone else and shares that news with you. In the larger-than-life world of the past you would not only need to be a good actor, but would also need the help of rain to hide your tears and Manpreet Akhtar singing Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayi. And only then would you been able to act and give fake emotions (refresh your memory by visiting the above embedded youtube link). But if it were now, things would have been difference. Rahul Khanna would have emailed Anjali Sharma:

Hi Anjali,

PFA my proposal letter to Tina. I had been loving her in the back burner. But looks like the time is right to propose her. Please review the love letter and let me know your comments

 Rahul Khanna
~ Rahul Khanna ladkiyon ke peechhe nahi bhaagta

 To which Anjali would reply back

Hi Rahul,

The proposal letter looks good. Please go ahead and mail it to her. I am sure she'll accept! All the best. I am happy for you :)

~ Rahul is a cheater, he is a cheater.

Simple. Isn't it? The social networking and microblogging tools are not there to make your life difficult. It's not only about learning the new tools and jargon, or unlearning the old ones or re-learning the new versions. It's much more than that.

One fine morning on your Facebook you get an update from a friend informing you that your classmate who used to consistently get lower than fifty percent of your score has got a new job and is getting four times your salary. You immediately send him a 'congratulations!' message with dollops of exclamation marks and choicest of emoticons. Had the friend told it to you face-to-face, it would have been difficult to hide your feelings. Isn't it?

One of your friends applied to the same university you applied to. He manages to clear first few rounds while you beat Agarkar in who-gets-more-ducks game. But then, the friend somehow doesn't clear the final round. He tweets it. You reply back with, again, choicest of emoticons to express how sorry you were. Though, in your heart of hearts, you would be feeling very happy. Imagine if he had told this to you in person! How difficult would it have been to your elation! :(

So, the online tools has, essentially, made acting easy for us. They are giving learn-acting-in-20-days and acting-for-dummies books a tough competition - competition analogous to what CDs are giving to gramophone records. Not because they are easily available on the Internet but because no one really needs it. All a person needs to know to 'act' is the use of emoticons and exclamation marks.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the 'if-you-are-happy-and-you-know' song gets a new avatar to suit the next generation. It would 'sound' something like:

If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs
If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs 
If you're happy and you know it,
and you really want to it
If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs 

 I would leave you with something we have grown up with - Gabbar Singh's laughter in Sholay [the laughter starts at 4:26].

How would have Gabbar said this on his social networking online tool? Simple. He would have said:

 Yep. That's it. Check the following video out if you have any doubts.

Indeed, becoming actor was never so easy. You didn't necessarily have to change your father's name to Yash Chopra. With anyone and everyone becoming an actor, the world has, finally become a stage.

Shakespeare must have done well in futures stock!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sex Morality and Censorship: After-thoughts

Last weekend i caught up with a play, Sex Morality and Censorship (SM&C), at Ranga Shankara. The play, as the name suggests, raises questions on censorship - what and how much should be censored, if at all. This play is analogous to 'documentary movies' albeit much more interesting and gripping. SM&C is about Vijay Tendulkar's controversial play, Sakharam Binder. Sakharam Binder was banned in 1972 by the censor board. This play, SM&C, digs into the series of events that took place in censoring the play and show them in the light of the actual play, Sakharam Binder.

Vijay Tendulkar's Sakharam Binder, is the story of a very ordinary book binder, Sakharam and so is his portrayal - very ordinary. He, like any other 'ordinary' person staying in the slums, uses 'khadi boli'. The story starts with his bringing in a woman (Lakshmi) into his house whose work is to do the household chores and 'all' other responsibilities of a wife in return for daily bread and two sarees a year. However, due to some problem he 'discards' her and brings in a new woman - Champa. Champa is all what Lakhmi wasn't (except for their bitter past) outspoken (and that to in 'khadi boli') and boozes. Lakshmi enters again. She coaxes Champa by saying that she would do all the household chores. Once (and he had done often before) Sakharam comes in drunk and demands Champa to let him vent his carnal frustration out. Champa's refusal started a fight in which she boozed and hit Sakharam. Lakshmi's character takes a 180 degree turn. She tell Sakharam that Champa has been hanky-pankying with his friend. Sakharam in his uncontrollable anger kills Champa. [You can find the detailed story on the Internet].

Such was the story of Sakharam Binder. Obviously, his right portrayal didn't fit into the family-drama plays category which was in vogue then and perhaps even now. Also, in the early 70s Emran Hashmi wasn't even born. So, people were not used to portrayal of unholy relationships - however aesthetic. Showing Champa boozing and hitting Sakharam, the implicit portrayal of their relationship (how else do one show this - bringing together of two flowers? It was not an expression of love - it was an expression of hatred and frustration), the 'explicit' language - allegedly led the censor board to ban the play.

SM&C showed three different sequences. First, was the play itself. The story of SM&C is very simple. A Delhi based student of Culture comes to a local Marathi Tamasha group to do a study on history of survival of the art over the years. He then along with the Shaahir (narrator) takes the other member of the group, a Lavani dancer, through the history of censorship of Sakharam Binder. Another sequences is the play - Sakharam Binder. The explanation of the Shaahir is complemented by the original play. The third sequence is the portrayal of the series of censorship events which happened - the court case, the moral policing vandalism, the cultural convention and the threats. Sakharam Binder play and the censorship hullabaloo was enacted in parallel to Shaahir's narration.

Kudos to Sunil Shanbag for the amazing direction and seamless transition from one sequence to the second to the third.  Nagesh Bhosle played the role of Shaahir and Sakharam Bhosle very well - the characters were so very different but Bhosle managed to portray both the characters without re-takes in one go. The music also added to the over-all experience.

The play raises some very pertinent questions on censorship. Why is it required. What is to be censored? Who decides what to show and what not? How is it decided? What about the freedom of expression?

Censorship is a different topic of discussion altogether as these questions don't have a straight forward mono-syllabic answer.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? After-thoughts

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? alleviated my fears which were seeded in me by My Name Is Khan. My Name is Khan was more than just a movie. It restored the belief that India is still a secular democracy where, by and large, people have freedom of expression. It could not cowed down by the extremist groups. My Name Is Khan also marked the beginning of a change in the content of Bollywood movies - or so i thought. I thought that if mainstream masala movie directors like KJo have started making movies touching serious issues like disabilities, human rights, discrimination on the bases of race/religion, then who would make the all important tree-hugging, loud-farting, eye-dripping, hand-pump-pulling and short-term-selective-memory-loss movies? I was silently prepared for extinction of this great art. I even planned to start save-our-movies campaign on the lines of save-our-1411-tigers.

But, then, I watched Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge. And my doubts about the extinction of 'Bollywood' were nullified.

The trailer, or even the poster, is so apt that it tells you the story in such details that after watching the movie you will not find anything which you didn't predict. However, i was deceived by the star cast. With formidable Paresh Rawal, Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma in the movie, i was hoping against my intuition that the movie would be 'different'. But the movie was not.

The movie, as you can make out from the poster, is about the 'adjustments' the Mumbaikars, Puneet (Ajay Devgan) and Munmun (Konkona Sen Sharma) and the villager Chachaji (Paresh Rawal) make when he comes to Mumbai to stay with them. As expected, the initial resentment by the city-dwellers is converted to affection by the 'idiosyncrasies' of chachaji. The clash between the city life and the village life which we are all very well aware of was the theme of the movie. Chachaji's reciting of bhajans instead of playing recorded beats, bringing anyone and everyone to house for snacks, demanding 4 course meals and interfering too much in the matters of family members brought out the features of villagers. However, his pure-at-heart and helping attitude win heart of everyone.

The movie is decently paced. The comedy, though predictable, would make one laugh out loud. Like characters in typical Bollywood movies, Chachaji had some 'trademarks'. Chachaji gurgles out loud in the morning (by village standards - which is equivalent to mid night for most city dwellers and time to go to bed for some call center executives). Chachaji doesn't believe in 'sursuri praan ghatak'; he patronages 'uttamam dhadhdhadhaat paadam' [If you didn't get this, you may want to revise the 3 Idiots shloka]. This leads Munmum to run around in the house with room freshener.

The music is decent - neither outstanding nor torturous. The acting by all the actors was apt and is the best part of the movie. The innocent and light-hearted comedy is good - in case you like such comedies and not the sarcastic, situational comedy.

Overall, it's a very average, very predictable, shallow-laugh-eliciting Bollywood movie. And am happy for it.

Bollywood is still alive!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Time Travel

Blacki is the most enchanting person of our times. Don't get misguided by his name. Though he justifies his name, that's just too small a feat for him. He has an eye for the next big thing. And so, he opened a travel agency - with a difference. He conducted travels not only in space but also in time.

He charges hefty amount from his travelers.And the popularity of his travel has made him one of the richest men of our times. His USP is backward time travel. It's not theoretically impossible to travel backward in time. But traveling backward has its own challenges. What if the person traveling backward in time kills his grandfather before the birth of his father? Different theories are plugged in to explain such paradoxes. But Blacki is beyond theories. He actually makes time travel possible.

He, however, is racist. Despite being an Indian, he doesn't allow Indians into his time travel. His service is only for the 'Westerners'. So, all I know about the time travel is through the experiences of the few travelers. Description of one such traveler in his own words is given below:

I was taken into a jet airplane shaped time machine. The time machine was dark inside with just a spot light on Blacki. The time machine then started. Our first destination was year 2035. I landed on the terrace of a building. Blacki, then, escorted me to a place resembling army training center where there was a battalion of people all of whom looked exactly alike. They all did the exact same stunt and shot with the same precision. Blacki, then, informed me that this is an army of robots which can be used for detecting landmines, shooting, etc. I was stunned looking at the future in front of my eye. Army of robots!

Blacki now takes me to early 20th century. This time i am at a jungle. I see a burnt body of a girl tied to a tree. I was shocked looking at such primitive act. I asked Blacki about it. He informed me that the women was burnt alive and tied to the tree by her husband and her in-laws on the pretext of dowry. He added that it was in 1961 that dowry was made illegal.

Our next destination was early 16th century. Blacki took me to what appeared like a village. There I saw women doing manual scavenging. Blacki told me that John Harington invented the water closet in 1596. The villagers use dry toilets and do not use the kind of toilets we use in the 21st century. It was obvious that at a time when flush toilets were not invented, people had to manually 'clean' the toilets.

We then went to around 1200 AD. Coming out of the time machine a walking a few steps, we came across a funeral.A couple of people were setting up the pyre for the final right. The pyre was then set on fire. But, then, I couldn't believe what i saw. I saw a lady jumping into the blazing pyre. And in a matter of minutes both of them were ashes. Blacki told me that this is 'sati' system where the wife immolates herself on her husbands pyre.

I was, kind of, depressed by looking at the practices of the past. I asked Blacki to take me to a time where there is festivity and merriment. Blacki took me to a 9th century wedding. I was elated to attend the wedding and savoring the gourmet platter amidst mellifluous music. I asked Blacki if i could meet the bride and the groom. He gave a weird smile and said that as per the travel itinerary we cannot meet anyone in the time-travel. I obliged. After enjoying the wedding as spectators we walked towards the time-machine. On the way, i had a glimpse of the bride and the groom who were surrounded by their relatives. I am not sure what I saw. I saw that the couple looked very young - like children. But then, i couldn't see them properly and pushed the doubt in the darkest corner of my mind. I didn't want the taste of the food to go away.

Finally, the time machine brought me back to 2010. It was an amazing trip, as you can see. Seeing different centuries was an experience in itself. I would strongly recommend the time-travel!

PS: To travel in time, one doesn't need a time machine. One can travel in different parts of India and see different centuries co-exist. Nevertheless, people like Blacki makes money out of cleverly bluffing others.

PPS: Sources of embedded pictures in the order in which they appear are: this, this, this and this respectively.

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