Category Archives: Books

Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust

Yayati-V-S-Khandekar

Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust by V.S. Khandekar interprets the mythological tale of Yayati, Devayani, Sharmistha, and Kacha, in an interesting manner, told from the points of view of Yayati, Devayani, and Sharmistha.

The story of Yayati presented in Mahabharatha and puranas, is popular for two themes. 1) A father asking his son to transfer youth to him, to avoid his curse of old age. 2) Indulgence in pleasures that keeps one away from the spiritual path…rather, how indulgence in pleasures is mistaken for happiness.

Sahitya Academy award winner V.S.Khandekar, weaves a meaningful tale through the voices of the key characters as he explores the purpose behind ones’ lives. Especially through characters of Devayani and Yayati, he brings forth the ‘ego’ play in various dimensions and how base emotions can create havoc in internal and external being of the key characters. While all that is bad is portrayed through the two characters Yayati and Devayani, he uses Kacha and Puru for presenting the good or rather the ideal state of human being. Sharmistha and Yati are the two in-between characters who eventually go all the way in the end.

The book is full of interesting observations and quotes on the moral dilemmas of human beings. How many pleasures and how much of them…and how long? Is happiness all about youth? Is youth overrated? Is youth so sought after, as it precedes old age and death? If death is staring at all of our faces and if our present is all we have,  should we squander it away without enjoying it? Or should we let it go, to reflect on the bigger meaning of life?  Can one enjoy and still be pure? These questions are answered without any judgment through the eyes of the characters. For instance, Yayati ponders on controlling his desire through grihastha ashram (life of a householder), while wondering at the equanimity of Kacha, ascetic. In contrast, Kacha, the ascetic, makes worldly choices for the greater good of the community.  This narrative in itself can be considered as a masterstroke. We readers are allowed to make up our mind based on what is presented, thus making an interesting read.

In one of the versions of Yayati story, it is said that he lived a life of  1000 years of pleasure after exchanging his cursed old age with his son Puru and only then he realizes the folly of it to give back his youth. However, in this book, it is compressed to a few minutes but the author uses it to present a great transformation in the key characters. This is nothing short of a coup de grace and uplifts the author’s purpose.

Overall, a great book not just to sample a unique story from Hindu mythology but also open the windows of inquiry into the meaning of life…or to plain simply wonder about the differences between pleasures and happiness. Is a pleasure nothing but a manifestation of ego, while happiness is the dissolution of it? Pleasures are transient but happiness is ongoing? May these questions linger around long after you put down this book.

Tailpiece:

  • The character of Mandar is a very interesting one (dealt briefly) and it has a resemblance to the controversial sex gurus.

  • The plot points so to speak, that cause a change in the character arcs, happen because of Devayani’s action. While Kacha cursed by Devayani, continues to go higher on his ascetic path, Yayati on the other hand when spurned by Devayani, slides down into the abyss of indulgences. The course which one embraces at life’s cross roads, is purely a individual choice, and this is beautifully portrayed in the book. Life is not all fate, perhaps.

McDonald’s Behind the Arches

IMG_20180420_064602927_2

I read this book sometime back before I sampled McDonald’s in India. Just finished reading it again and found it to be delicious as ever. A terrific book by John F.Love about the growth of the company and the journey of a multibillion-dollar global corporation. The book ends in the year 1994 and things might have changed for the company since then.  But it is still a great read for anyone who is interested in fast-food industry and generally the growth of any business around a new concept. Though setting up fast food chains wasn’t new at the time when Ray Kroc took over, it still had to be done in a very different manner as the book reveals. John F.Love does a very good job of capturing both the entrepreneurial spririt and the operational excellence of the key people behind the corporation like Ray Kroc, Fred Turner, Harry Sonneborn etc.

McDCoupons

The book has 17 chapters+Prologue (The Unknown McDonald’s) and Epilogue.

  1. Prologue (The Unknown McDonald’s) : “…it is the story of the company that changed the eating habit of Americans, that revolutionized the food service and processing industries of United State, and that legitimized the now widespread practice of franchising. It is the story of the unknown McDonald’s, America’s first modern entrepreneurial success–a system that bridges the gap between entrepreneurs and corporations” Unquote
  2. Yes, There is a McDonald:  This chapter is about the real McDonald brothers who opened and ran the first McDonald’s stores and how they dabbled with the concept of franchising before Ray Kroc said hello with his (milkshake) multimixers
  3. The Salesman: “This was now 1954, and at age fifty-two Ray Kroc was still looking for the magic–something that would allow him to capitalize on his three decades of sales opportunity he had trained for. He also knew it was the type of opportunity that would never come his way again”
  4. The Franchising Derby:  An interesting chapter on the current players back then in the franchising world and how the franchisers treated franchises as a way of making quick money just by lending their name or providing supplies. And how Ray Kroc desperately wanted it to be different in his system, through the success of franchises and creating a better environment through purchasing power. His straightforward sales approach with prospective franchisees and no-nonsense attitude towards suppliers.
  5. The Owner/Operator: Kroc’s franchising plan–selling low-cost franchises for one store at a time–and how it was suited for hands-on operators cum owners. He would give them the freedom to crate and contribute ideas that he believed benefited the system, but he would not tolerate deviation from the norm when he thought it hurt the system.
  6. Melting Pot: A nice chapter on the various managers who joined the firm from diverse backgrounds and how it all added the corporate dynamics. “Kroc had mastered the art of managing creative individuals by maintaining the delicate balance between their need for freedom and their need for guidance.”  “He brought out the very best in people,” Turner says” He was the  best boss you could ever have”
  7. Making Hamburgers:  All about the process, across various products of McDonald’s…and treating making burgers as important as rocket science. Ex.Ralph Weimer French fry scoop “The real secret to McDonald’s successful operating system is not found its regimen but in the way it enforces uniform procedures without stifling the entrepreneurship of franchisees. As such, McDonald’s is something of an American response to Japan’s management by consensus. Without the freedom of franchisees to and suppliers to exercise their entrepreneurial insticts, to test their own ideas on new products and procedures, and even to challenge the corporation head-on, McDonald’s might still have attained its celebrated uniformity, but a terrible price.”
  8. Making Money:  Real estate angle by Harry Sonneborn, new field team, aggressive sales tactics, flying in a corporate plane, new accounting principles, getting institutional loans etc.
  9. The Buyout: Ray Kroc’s big gamble in the buyout of McDonald brothers stake.
  10. Partners: PR, Advertising, and New product-Fish Sandwich.”…as his chain began expanding its horizons with new products and promotions, he (Kroc) was discovering the creativity of  his company’s independent franchisees and suppliers. They were bcoming full fledged partners in the business.”
  11. Going Public: “In 1985, McDonald’s would achieve the ultimate respectability by becoming the first service company to be added to the prestigious list of the Dow Jones 30 Industrials, but the the process of getting to that pinnacle began on the day the company was listed on the NYSE.” Super bowl success, Cooperative advertising (OPNAD) and the rise of Harry Sonneborn.
  12. McDonald’s East and McDonald’s West: Culture change in the east and west, the conflict between Krock and Sonneborn, and Fred Turner becomes the CEO.
  13. High Gear: Breakneck pace of expansion
  14. Media Magic: Becoming a top advertiser
  15. ‘McDonaldizing’ the Suppliers: From paper cups to french fries to distribution and inventory.
  16. The Public Challenge: Worm factor, minority protests, Manhattan mystery and how the company built a proper structure to protect from being an easy target owing to its size and visibilty
  17. Checks and Balances: Franchisee revolt that led to soul searching and better practices.
  18. Exporting America: International operations and lessons learnt. Weathering out the storm and committing for longhaul.
  19. Epilogue: Looking beyond 1994.

Here’s a great paragraph that sums up any customer centric company.

mcdonalds customer service

The Checklist Manifesto

checklist

‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right’ is an excellent book by a practicing surgeon about his quest to get things right. The book outlines his painstaking efforts to pick up the best practices from various industries and champion the cause of checklists. He presents several interesting examples from aerospace, financial and other sectors where experience and expertise are complemented by procedures and checklists.

He also makes a solid case for heroism out of discipline instead of autocratic individual actions, as we tend to glorify the word. How can we learn from failures and how can we repeat success…these two questions form the main theme of the book, while making a case for individual talent and expertise, getting benefited by checklists.

The book also presents quite a few pointers on how simple and effective a checklist should be, around pause points. Must read for all those who believe in the words of process, procedures and checklists…and need a quick refresher on their importance.

While the book itself itself is not a step by step guide in creating checklists and implementing them, it provides several pointers in this direction.  It also showcases the true intent behind the checklists, which is improving communication across the teams and make the individual voice count.

Excerpts

“They trust instead in one set of checklists to make sure that simple steps are not missed or skipped and in another set to make sure that everyone talks through and resolves all the hard and unexpected problems”

“The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. That is what works.”

“Thinking of these essential requirements (of checklists)–simple, measurable, transmissible…”

“When you’re making a checklist, Boorman explained, you have a number of key decisions. You must define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used (unless the moment is obvious, like when a warning light goes on or an engine fails). You must decide whether you want a DO-CONFIRM checklist or a READ-DO checklist.”

“It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us–those we aspire to be–handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists…. May be our idea of heroism needs updating.”

“Just ticking boxes is not the ultimate goal here. Embracing a culture of teamwork and discipline is.”

“Discipline is hard–harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”

Related links

Pictorial depiction of the book