Thursday, April 29, 2010

From the Steel City – Best years at the alma mater

I am sure, most of the engineers; especially the ones from NIT Rourkela would agree with me that most happening and most unforgettable time at our alma mater was the first year and the final year.

First year was mostly dedicated to the ragging time, ragging fundae, third button, seniors and just going to the college and coming back. Some of the unforgettable memories! The friends that you made during the ragging period are some of your best friends for life! And why not, you spend time together learning and practicing the ragging fundae, being together facing the ‘monster’ called senior. Also, there would be time, where you would see some of the fortunate ones who have been able to understand it, making an honest effort to teach you ‘Power Series’. I still remember, Ashish used to teach us during our first semester, when certain topics would bewilder us, as if they were from a different world! There would be some other times, when a certain friend of yours had spent the whole night taking care of you and teaching you, even when, he knows that there is an exam the next morning and even he needs time to learn some and brush up some!! All thanks to NIT Rourkela that we have been fortunate to get such fellas and friends.

Getting ragging free by the second year seniors was a scene in itself. Can there be something as “official ragging free” when by law ragging was banned in India? But, we were!! J Seniors would ask us “when is your official ragging free??” and would advice, “you can wear jeans after official ragging free, but don’t wear very tight jeans, etc” J Wow!! How can we all forget this? I know, we all remember this well. The official ragging evening was in itself something, no less than a grand culmination to some big event. As if, the Organizing Committee chairman would declare the Olympics closed!! Second year seniors would come and Cultural Secretaries would come with their cohorts and shout “Aaj se tum log ragging free ho”!!

Final Year was another story altogether. Last year’s good campus placement was a good reason to be optimistic of our good fortunes with the placements. And with the economy scorching ahead at a brisk pace after that bust of 2000-01, we left the shores of third year and moved ahead towards final year at NIT Rourkela with a huge sense of optimism. The urgency shown by large companies which came calling even before we officially started our college after the summer vacations of 2004, it seemed everything was rosy for us! And it started with a bang (though we all expected a lot more J), with Infosys placing 47 from the batch and rang the campus placements bell for our batch. With others lined up and gulping fast before one would get space to breathe, it was festival mood everywhere in the campus!

I close my eyes, and the scene, when Arun Rai shouted from the first floor gallery of Placement Deptt. “Gandhi tera ho gaya hai” and came running down with Nishant is still vivid.  And both shouting “bumps do”, “maaro Gandhi ko”, “mote tera bhi ho gaya hai”, “bumps do dono ko”. I swear, no one can ever forget such moments the whole of his life. Till then, we were only bystanders to such scenes, but suddenly, we were a part of such celebrations, and in fact we were the protagonists. Imagine, you studied the whole of your life till then, and suddenly you have moved into a different space, where you don’t have to study (like we used toJ) and what more, you are being paid for your efforts or no efforts, sometimesJ). I remember, I and Vijayendra got through Infosys from the whole gang and rest were all shouting party, party! And what other place to go to party for a Rengolian, than the Radhika Hotel and we quickly rushed.

Many more such parties followed over the next few months and no one was left! No wonder, with a job in hand, there were parties all day and night during the final year. No wonder Final year is one of the best times at NIT Rourkela!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

IPL controversy snowballs

Whatever happens to the current IPL related chants, we have to accept the fact that it indeed has taken cricket to a whole new world and given it a platform it deserved!

My two cents on the current IPL controversy

It all started with Modi spilling the beans on Kochi IPL stakeowners and especially One Sunanda Pushkar, whom former Minister, Shashi Tharoor is expected to marry soon (though this can take a back seat in the light of this controversy). I am not interested in knowing what is the role of Ms Pushkar in the franchise or what is her role vis-a-vis Mr Former Minister. Neither I am interested to know if Tharoor ever requested Modi not to disclose the owners and their stakes. What I am interested to know is what role actually the former minister enacted in the IPL franchise and was he truthful thus far? From the looks of it, it seems, he did have a role, may be some financial stake as well. If there had not been any role, why would the govtt. ask him to step down and cut a sorry figure in the eyes of the common man. As it is, the govtt, is already running short in respect to the rising prices, Women's bill, Telangana controversy (Thank God! it is not buring right now), Nucler liability bill, etc. If he was not at fault, why shuould the immensely popular and internationally acclaimed minister step down? I agree, since becoming minister last year, he has become controversy's favourite child, but still, I don't buy the argument that he was not at fault and still resigned for moral reasons or whatever.

What can we say about Mr Lalit Modi. From his resume, it seems, he has a penchant for the wrong! But, everytime he has come back strong and better equipped! I bilieve, this time would be no different either! He gave cricket and India something different and something to chear about! An internationally acclaimed brand worth billions within 3 years is something which not even top business houses could ever imagine. No investment, no business would have ever grown so popular in such a short timeframe. His marketing and selling acumen is there for all to see. But I bilieve, the immense popularity of IPL and that everyone wanted their share of the pie and to top it all the fact that he became the most saught after business man, celebrity created all the problems. Did success caught up with him? Did he started taking things for granted and treated everyone else with contempt? Did he manouvered around the law and regulations to help his business causes and his kith and kin? It seems answer to these questions may be a big Yes. His high handedness proved to be his unbecoming. We can't say anything for sure, but answer to many such questions would be interesting to know. I am sure, millions like me want to know these facts.

Another thing that bothers me is that why did our tax authorities, govtt and other agencies react to such happeneings? Why can't they be proactive? Why do they have to wait for some whistleblower to lift the lid? This time again, they joined late! Everyone knows these franchises, BCCI, IPL are all private bodies and hence they don't have to declare any financial or business information. Hence, they can easily play around. With millions at stake and numerous theories flying across about the financial status of the franchises over the internet and other media, it should have been reason d'etre for all such investigations. Nevertheless, better late than never!

Having said all this, I would be as interested to know the facts and outcome of the investigations as you and would be following the drama all over! I sincerely hope, none of the witnesses turn hostile and this one doesnt run into years as many have over the past :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

IPL takes the everyone by storm

I know the title above sounds like a cliché :) Not that I couldn't find something which would sound better and attractive to the audience, but I wanted to put this to bring a point into perspective. T20 cricket was conceptualized just a few years ago by someone who has long been forgotten and never knew that it would generate the moolah like it is now, otherwise he would have put a royalty fee to his idea :) He just tried it out to bring some loyal supporters back to the English county cricket and make it enjoyable for the teams as well as the audience.

Look at it now, it indeed has taken the world by storm, just look around and we see everything which is suited to this shortest version of the game. We have T20 leagues all around the world. Cricket boards have risen to the fact that to keep themselves going and maintaining the spectator interest they have to adopt this newest child and pamper it to the hilt. Even corporates and celebrities have put in some huge amounts and we can see them all having fun at the grounds – showing their famous dimples, smiles, dance moves, and then the latest one – tweeting to “connect with their fans”. The players are also having some good time – get to earn astronomical amounts of money which was never heard of in cricket, learn, compete with the best in the business and if they are lucky, as some of them have been, get hugs and kisses from their famous and beautiful owners :)
Before we lay threadbare some of the other interesting facts about IPL, lets understand the business model that this competition adopts and see its merits and demerits. All in all, the major inflow of money to the league comes from the following
> Media Rights
> Central Pool – includes title sponsorship and licensed merchandise
> Money raised by the franchises – in stadia advertisement, licensing products, merchandising, advertisements 
   on tickets, and gate receipts
> Franchise bid money
Out of this money that comes into the IPL, all but franchise bid money is shared across the BCCI and franchises and if franchises wish, between the players as well.

Apart from everything that is money in IPL, what are the other benefits that have risen out of IPL. For the players, it is a world level platform, where they are earning much more during this 40-50 day period than they would otherwise for the rest of the year (For some, I might sound over optimistic here :)). They get to share dressing rooms with the best in the world and get to feel how it is playing at the international arena under the glare of the lenses and where every smart catch and pathetic running between the wickets is being watched and liked and ridiculed globally. Imagine how it would feel for someone like Saurabh Tiwary to play alongside Sachin Tendulkar and learn some tricks of the trade. Would someone like Yusuf Pathan had ever dreamt of playing and being coached by Shane Warne and being pampered by him, like he is? And see the transformation, over the last few years, since IPL1, Yusuf has become a regular member of the Indian T20 and ODI squad and bowlers world over dread him for his batting histrionics. Since then, every captain, wants to see the back of Yusuf as soon as he comes out to bat. Experts say that since IPL1, he has improved a lot in his batting and bowling both. Some of the players, like Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan should thank IPL very much that this gave them a platform to showcase their talent and earn an Indian blue jersey.

Earlier, the Indian domestic teams for the Ranji trophy and the likes except the zonal teams only had players from their respective states, with only a few exceptions here and there. This somehow, seemed like a regional bias. But with the advent of IPL, we see players from North Indian states playing for the team from the land of “Marathi Manoos”. Thanks to the clout that the BCCI enjoys, that those regular chants from the “manoos” have been allowed. Who knows, may be some mouthpiece would condemn the Ambanis to employ the services of a North Indian Harbhajan Singh for the team from Mumbai.

The corporates and celebrities who have invested some huge amounts of money into buying their respective franchises also seem to give thumbs up to this carnival of cricket. Mind you, these are some of the best business minds of the country and some of the best known faces in the Indian social circuit that they wouldn't have missed a point before investing millions into them. According to some estimates, over the 3 years of its inception, IPL has grown to be a brand worth more than $4 billion and continues to grow and bring more into its ambit. Critics, say millions invested into buying the franchises and then buying cricketers is not a sane business idea and may take years for them to come out of the red. But, I ask them a simple question, unless, a sound business idea was shown to the prospective bidders for the franchises, why would some sane person or a large business house put in such monies for which they might be accountable to the public too. Also, the business model discussed above seems pretty okay for most of the franchises to turn profitable in a year or two of their inception. Having said that, understand all from how things stand now, after 3 years into the IPL mania. 2 new franchises were bought together for an amount more than what was spent for 8 of the old ones 3 years back. 10 second advertisement spots for the IPL3 league matches were sold for Rs 4.5 lakh, which is 200% more than the price for similar ad spot during IPL1 in 2008 and this rose to Rs. 5.25 lakh as the league progressed. For the semi finals and final, these rates are expected to shoot to more than Rs. 6.5 lakh per 10 second spot. For all this, Sony Max is expected to rein in Rs 700 crore during IPL3 this year. All product launches, special cricket based advertisements and events have all aligned themselves to the IPL window. All this is generating money and much moolah as expected.

When the players and the business houses are enjoying their association with IPL, how can the most important stakeholder – the quintessential cricket fan be left behind? And people – we are right up there, sharing the stands with the likes to those celebrities and enjoying to the core. Most of the venues running to packed houses is a testimony in itself that we are all involved and sharing our moments in the sun. The concept was new to us – city teams, clubs and the format – all enchanted us and with the fact that it was cricket – the national pastime and passion, we all got into the thick of the things quickly and with vigour. It has given us enough to spend our after-office hours with our friends and loved ones together and enjoy a few hours, being treated to that barrage of fours and sixes, scoops and free hits.

The BCCI, the parent body and owners of the IPL are the ones who are smiling the most. And why wouldn't they not, they are earning the most of the money that is being generated from the league. They keep a share from everything that is money from the league, be it media rights, gate receipts, merchandise deals and sponsorships.  IPL has led BCCI to get another point to wrestle themselves with the other cash stripped cricket boards of the world and the ICC. Even though, it is not wise to have such a clout rest with just one board, but as they say, who cares, until it doesn’t affect anyone? And whoah!! As I write this has started to affect a few people and everyone is now terming IPL as a saga of Power, Mystery and Deceit!

PS: We shall discuss a few more aspects in the following articles.