Savaari – Addressing the Aggregator Problem Through a Customer-Centric Value Offering

Disclaimer: This article was first published here

In the wake of strong dissent expressed by Indian Taxi drivers, it is worth asking whether the aggregator model is one which can keep both the customer as well as the supplier (the taxi driver, in this case) happy? As we speak, numerous taxi unions are on an indefinite strike in major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi with an overarching complaint- India’s two most popular on-demand cab companies are not helping drivers earn enough; in fact the daily earn for some cab drivers has plummeted by 80% over the last 6 months.

The Customer vs. Supplier Conundrum

With the intense competition in the on-demand taxi aggregation space, the two key actors in the eco-system viz. the driver as well as the customer are often left dissatisfied due to diverging demands – one party is simply not earning enough while the other party is asked to pay an exorbitant amount for a ride. Given that on-demand ride hailing has become a habit, customers are forced to accept the fares displayed on their screens under the guise of the ‘going-rate’ or the ‘price that you pay for comfort’. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever- demand drives prices. Why would a company not want to charge a customer, a certain something, a premium, if there’s a demand for that service?

The problem becomes a little more complicated when it comes to the drivers. In the early days, aggregator companies invested significant capital into acquiring and retaining driver partners by incentivizing them with lucrative payouts, even if they were losing significant money on every ride. With the focus increasingly turning towards profitability, the companies are forced to cut costs. And the drivers are suffering in the process because of the sudden decline in their incomes.

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Love Per Square Foot

When I login to Netflix each day, a troupe of amazing ‘Netflix Original’ films await for me, but none from India. I kept wondering why Netflix wouldn’t invest in a few interesting films that are still made in the country. I still wonder why it took a few years and a Valentine’s Day to release an Indian film on Netflix worldwide before it came out commercially. There are controversies around this as well since critics claim that Love Per Square Foot is not a Netflix ‘Original’ as it wasn’t commissioned by Netflix (just acquired from the producer), but it should be labelled as the first Indian film to be released on the platform. Unless, of course, you consider ‘Brahman Naman’ by Q last year, which was carefully sided as an Indie film and not a commercial one. Setting aside these intricacies, Love Per Square Foot is officially the first Indian film to be released worldwide on Netflix. And that, I hope, would start an era of good, relevant, and necessary films on this virtual platform.

I watched Love Per Square Foot on a cold, depressing evening, probably wishing for some warmth from my comfort zone where it is set – Bombay. I can’t say it wrapped me in an incredible duvet of emotions but it did replace some of the chill with a warm, fuzzy feeling that is so indigenous of seaside Bombay.

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Zika Virus Prevention in India : Are You Aware Of It?

In the past few years, India has been plagued with diseases that involve unique and less known viruses from around the world. We’ve always been wary of mosquitoes that are part and parcel of our sub-tropical climate. They are the carriers of most viruses and have been wreaking havoc since decades, mostly without being detected. Dengue, kala-azar, yellow fever, Malaria and the likes have taken away several lives when treatment was sparse in the early 20th century. Growing up in West Bengal, we have been using a mosquito net since forever and while it is irksome to manage, it has probably prevented quite a few diseases. But the usage is getting rare these days as it is an inconvenient and confined measure to prevent the mosquitoes and more families are opting for other convenient methods.

Zika virus : The rise and spread

I wasn’t aware of the Zika virus until a few years ago but now I know that it was discovered long ago in Africa, though it also has an Asian strain. It was limited to Africa until 2007 and began spreading in Asia post that. Zika virus is transmitted through the mosquito species Aedes aegypti that also carries deadly viruses of Dengue, Malaria and Chikun guniya. The mosquitoes bite an infected human and then a non-infected one to transmit the virus. While it has always been prevalent in Africa, only a few cases have been recorded in India yet. But don’t let that fact deter you from gathering prevention from Zika virus as there is no vaccine invented yet.

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Best Reads of 2017

The year has been tumultuous in terms of reading and writing. The first half of the year still presented itself wrapped in books as gifts, impulsive buys and planned purchases with the purpose of imminent reading. Then, a major movement happened, tectonic plates of our tiny family shifted and we moved up northwest to Belgium. Reading habits changed from cradling a book on bed to juggling the heavy e-reader with the blanket. And before I could acclimatise in a propah way, we’re left with two bloody cold days in the year! I’d agree that the weather is more conducive to cuddling a book but there’s more mundane chores cocooned in the warmth of the house that seems to gnaw at my reading. I could only complete half of my Goodreads reading challenge this year which is a total shame compared to what I’ve read in the last few years. And yet, e-reading is coming handy on the phone at the bus stops, metro rides and long queues in supermarkets with a bit of thanks to the locals here who seem so engrossed in reading even while walking on streets! It is both liberating and motivating. I will read more for sure in 2018 without any resolution to follow it up with. And here are what I loved this year, a mixed bag.

1. River of Smoke By Amitav Ghosh 

This one’s my favourite in 2017. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Ghosh’s books (loved The Glass Palace, hated Calcutta Chromosome) and picked up the middle one of the Ibis trilogy after I’d read the first book two years ago. Took me a while to resume the story from where it had been paused in the earlier book and then I fell in love with this one. The plot, the history, the backdrop, the ship named Anahita, the characters, the relationships – everything was resplendent. No wonder it took him a decade to write this trilogy, it is as vast as it seems to be. One can just sum it up as the story of Indian immigrant slaves in the opium trade to South East Asia, and yet, it expands to nooks of islands we haven’t even heard of. I think parts of Ghosh’s research would make a book in itself on ‘how to write novels with historical backdrop.’ An absolute favourite, I would recommend this entire trilogy to everyone who loves reading epics.

2. The Conspiracy at Meru By Shatrujeet Nath

Featured twice here in three years, let me clarify that Shatrujeet hasn’t paid me a dime (yet). It is his writing and content that has inched its way here over the year. The Conspirary at Meru is the second of the Vikramaditya Veergatha trilogy and I have already reviewed it.

I didn’t get boggled by the fact that I’m dealing with King Vikramaditya and the devas, asuras and super powers. Instead, I tried to ingest the story as a racy over the edge action-packed thriller. And it is safe to infer that the book met all the expectations.

There you go. If, like me, you too are not-so-interested in Indian mythology, give this one a try. It is a great thriller in itself with a good blend of mythology and loads of anecdotes. The third book is due to release soon.

3. The Cuckoo’s Calling By Robert Galbraith

First of a trilogy, for a change. I felt a bit FOMO not having read a single JKR book including Harry Potter. But this murder trilogy with an interesting and offbeat detective Cormoran Strike seemed more than worth a try. And the trilogy was more than rewarding in its own way. I loved JKR’s way of dealing social issues so pertinently and with ample wry humour. Honestly, I hadn’t known what to expect from her pen having written the magnanimous Harry Potter books. I’d safely say now that she’s one of my favourite contemporary crime writers and I’m truly hoping she would write 10 Cormoran Strike novels as she has promised recently.

4. Origin By Dan Brown

Ah, the most popular and controversial star of world literature! Dan Brown is like the Shahrukh Khan of thrillers – snubbed by critics, loved by thrill-junkies, and liked by millions of people (including me) who have read each book of his without being too judgmental. I don’t read him for the literary value of his books (as there is none claimed by International critics). I read him for the nuggets of knowledge on art and his backdrops of beautiful Europe. In Origin, it’s Spain with rich art and the usual chase sequences that are getting more suave with private helicopters and inside a cathedral designed by artists like Gaudi. Origin has a blend of science and art with religion the primary clash factor. I loved the plot with scientific experiments and those few chapters can be the main reason you should read the book. Dan Brown has raised a question that is lurking just around the horizon of our lives now – Where are we going? 

5. Home Fire By Kamila Shamsie

This has been my last read of the year, perhaps for its nomination in the Man Booker longlist. I love the writers from my neighbouring country and this is the first book by Kamila Shamsie that I chanced upon. I didn’t have an idea that it is an adaptation of a Greek tragedy Antigone until I read it. The fact that Home Fire stands out on its own is where it matters. I’d say the first half deals aptly with ‘Home’ and the second is truly ‘Fire’. Since Shamsie was raised in Pakistan, studied in the US and now lives in England, she has picked up bits of culture, society and life from each continent and created a bowl of steaming story related to her roots. Her writing made me smile, laugh (with the acquired British sarcasm), stiffen and finally shudder at the climax. I’m so glad I read this book at a point when I want to write about immigration and everything in its spectrum. What a way to end the year!

Have you read any of these in 2017? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2018! 

A Step by Step Food Guide To Bengalis’ Durga Pujo

Durga pujo is such an event in a Bengali’s life, including mine, that makes us keep gushing and never wishing to pause. It’s that time of the year when the autumn skies are bluest, fluffy white clouds are cotton candiest and most Bengalis are happiest. Every neighbourhood is lit up like it’s Diwali, people wear bright new clothes like it’s Christmas and gorge on great food like it’s Eid. The best of all festivals in India, eh? Setting aside folie de grandeur, let us concentrate on my favourite part – the food. Aided by recent controversies in India, it has probably reached even the unaware that Bengalis live to eat. Even during festivals. Some preached that we should fast. Oh, but then you don’t coach people on what they shoudn’t eat while they’re waiting to cook up a storm in their kitchens during pujo. Bengalis (pardon the generalisation), have an entire menu chalked down from Shoshthi to Dashami and then some post-pujo gluttony too. It is irrelevant digging for the origin of these urban traditions from the past century; we have already embraced them since they induce a happy food-coma and give us a reason to eat well. While you’re gearing up for the next pujo, keep these in consideration and have a balanced yet decadent menu each day.

Shoshthi 

The day pujo officially begins. It is a custom for mothers in West Bengal to observe Shoshthi for the betterment of their children. While some women fast and take only two meals a day excluding rice, others treat themselves to vegetarian delicacies like Luchi-Parota-Chholar Daal-Aloor Dom-Phulkopir Dalna-Payesh-Mishti. I used to wait for Shoshthi as my mother would make piping hot phulko Luchi along with Kumro’r Chhokka and Chholar Daal. The advent of store-bought Paneer in the late ’90s had marred the charm of Shoshthi though. As Paneer began slicing its way through the tedious Chhanar Dalna, I moved towards just the Luchi and let mother enjoy the farce called Paneer torkari.

Luchi – Begun bhaja is all we had this year on Shoshthi

Shoshthi is prevalent mostly in West Bengal and the other Bengalis from the East have their own delectable spread on this occasion. I miss Kumro’r Chhokka as it had been quite frequent while I grew up; have been trying to replicate the one mother used to make but it still lacks something. You can give it a try though.

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A Tribute to Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy

Today is Mahalaya, culmination of Pitripaksha and beginning of Devipaksha. It is customary to pay tribute to one’s forefathers by churning some mantras and offering food at the bank of a river. After I’ve been hearing stories all my life about a certain gentleman, it’s about time I pay a little tribute to him in my own way, letting the world know who he was and what he did.

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My great grandfather Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy was born in 1877 in Katunia, located in the Satkhira subdivision of Khulna District in Bangladesh. It was a Saturday night, dark and calm with no moon to shine on the newborn. The ominous darkness of the night and his birth on an Amavasya had impelled the zamindar family to believe that he might turn up to be a bandit. Such a disaster didn’t happen though. Jatindra Mohan is the eleventh generation of Raja Basanta Roy, whose nephew Raja Pratapaditya was in the Baro Bhnuiya (Twelve Kings) group that fought against the Mughal invasion in Bangladesh.

Image from family archives

Jatindra Mohan grew up and graduated from Scottish Church College, Calcutta not only once, but twice – in English and History. He wrote a book on the history of Raja Pratapaditya and his legacy in three parts. He was mighty influenced by the Indian independence movement, particularly the work and ideals of Bipin Chandra Pal, a famous freedom fighter. He went back to Khulna to look after his zamindari and participated actively in the Swadeshi movement as an assistant to Bipin Pal, managing the Sunderban area. Jatindra Mohan was a staunch believer of Swadeshi and dreamed that the British would be ousted. He married and fathered two sons, the younger of them was my grandfather, Nepal Chandra Roy. When grandfather grew up to be a teenager, Jatindra Mohan began training him on horse riding, sword fighting and Lathi Khela – a traditional stick fighting. A few years later, he transferred reigns of the zamindari to my grandfather Nepal Chandra and concentrated further on Swadeshi movement.

Image Courtesy: Abhyuday Roy

Japan had already begun working on various kinds of nuclear bombs in the initial decades of the 20th century and the news had spread till India. Bipin Pal had planned to acquire the formulae from his Japanese allies and try making a few to counter the British. He sent Jatindra Mohan to Japan on a journey via the sea, who copied the formulae on his body, hid himself and headed back. (This is a lore that my father had heard from grandfather, the incident is not documented in any text though). Jatindra Mohan arranged for boats and small ships to carry arms and weapons for the freedom fighters through the waters of Sunderbans. But somehow the British officials were aware of this plan and sabotaged it.

Jatindra Mohan had an untimely and ill fated death in 1939 when his boat was caught in a whirlpool and he drowned. My father has never seen his grandfather but he heard all about this gentleman zamindar who cared more about his people and country than his wealth and possessions. The books he had written have been lost in the black hole of India-Bangladesh partition and couldn’t be recovered by our family.

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All information source: Prabir Kumar Roy (my father)

Ziddi – by Ismat Chughtai

I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.

Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.

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