Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Colour communicates

Whenever Maoist supremo Prachanda faces media or attends any public gathering, he wears a grey shining shirt. So does Baburam Bhattarai. The colour grey has been synonymous with the Maoist emblem since the Maoists signed the peace accord in November 2006.

During Civil Society gatherings the man in yellow shirt – Krishna Pahadi, is obvious among the mass. Such is the impact of colour – it distinguishes you from the rest.

Prachanda or Krishna Pahadi didn’t go to Ivy League management schools where they teach the basics of branding giving the learner an edge over others attending similar courses in similar management schools around the world. However, they have the knowledge of power branding.

Colour is the lowest rung in the ladder of branding. Even a painter has a fair idea that the colour of the walls in a hospital should be green and the colour blue depicts peace, calm, cool and serenity.

What should be your logo’s colours
The choice of colour determines the Brand Personality. If you want to get noticed in the crowd of brands then a distinct colour and distinct personality is a must.

Should your logo be red or white? Should you follow the theme colour everywhere – in all modes of communication? Or should you let the creativity run like a stallion?

It obviously building brand when you follow the same colour everywhere. It does bring multiplier effect. You can imagine the same colour displayed everywhere – be it your business card, newsletter, envelope, annual report, letterhead, and if possible the look of your office, advertisement displayed on the billboards, and if possible all in your organization wear the same dress.

That’s too much I guess. You need use of corporate colours to a certain level but not to the level when the colours block your vision and creativity. So, it all depends upon the Corporate Communications guy in your organization to build and cope with the branding matters.

What the colours say (collected from internet)
Black is the color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion and people like to ride black cars and black bikes. In the meantime protesters tie black arm bands and show black flags to raise their voice.

Brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility. Widows are advised to wear white outfits and the person mourning the death of a near one wears white.

Red is the colour of love, the colour of passion and anger. A red light in the street irritates us meanwhile a red car allures us. Red is often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.

While the girls and children love to wear the pink, sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy.

Peaceful, tranquil blue brings calmness, so it is often used in bedrooms. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms and studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms. While blue is one of the most popular colors it is one of the least appetizing. Blue food is rare in nature. When food dyed blue is served to study subjects, they lose appetite.

The most popular decorating color, green symbolizes nature. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Green is the colour of life and abundance - leaves, grass, plants – it’s all about growing, expanding, and living. So why don’t we give ferns instead of roses on Valentine’s Day?

While yellow is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more.

Light brown implies genuineness. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors.

So, have you decided your logo’s colours now?

Coming to choosing the right colours – actually there are no wrong colours. You just need to choose the right combination of Primary and Secondary colours. If possible you can choose a palette of colours that drive your organization’s brand personality. And then you can play with the magic wand.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Art of Achieving God

It’s the fifth day of the ten day long festival of Hindus – Dashami. Fifteen young men clad in plain vests and towels wrapped around their waists are standing in a line, with closed eyes, bowed heads and hands clasped together to form ‘Namaste’ – greeting God and the spirits wandering in the air. Water droplets trickle down from their wet hair to their eyelids then to their lips. However, their concentration and devotion holds them from moving.

Five old men (gurus) are seated in front of these men performing ‘Puja’ – worship. A clay water pot filled with water is held on a mound of sand with freshly grown barley sprouts on it. The barley saplings will be picked on the tenth day to perform the concluding worship. The clay pot has a mango branch with freshly sprouted leaves. On top of the mango leaves is a husked coconut splashed with red vermillion. At the side of the clay pot is a piece of burning dung cake with pieces of pine wood on it and an array of oil lamps burning at their brightest. The room is filled with aroma, smoke, incense and chant of mantras.

Starting at a Young Age
The disciples are aged between 18 to 22 years of age. The learning starts at an early age, when the mind is fearless, innocent and empty for intake of vast ocean of knowledge. They are provided a set of mantras by the gurus. Then they keep on chanting the same set of mantras throughout the morning till spirits enter the young men’s bodies. They are the inviting mantras – to call different gods and goddesses to possess the person. Till the spirits enter the young men’s bodies, they keep on standing chanting the mantras.

Power of Possession
After much persuasion and chanting, the spirits enter their bodies. They start mumbling and jumping here and there with all their efforts as soon as the spirits enter their bodies. Then gurus on the front row ask them to take the tulsi (a medicinal plant) leaves and tell their names. After much cajoling and a show of might and prowess, the spirits reveal their names. In the meantime a huge mass of people gather to watch the sight and worship the gods and goddesses.

Ram Kumar has been possessed by Goddess Kali, an incarnation of Goddess Durga – the Goddess of power. He takes out his tongue in between his show of might and glory. Similarly, one of the disciples has been possessed by Hanuman – the monkey god who is loyal guard of Lord Ram. He jumps here and there and acts like a monkey, hangs here and there and shows the power of the monkey god. Kamal has been possessed by Aghouri – one who eats everything. He spits and then eats. He takes the tulsi leaves from the gurus, chews it and spits it in front of the gurus. He slurps the chewed leaves spit by him. And all the people gathered there are surprised when he spits back the whole tulsi leaf! Such is the power of possession.

I had a chance to interview some of them when they were resting after their morning worship which lasted till the noon. “I don’t feel any pain at all when I am possessed by the spirits,” says Ram Kumar. “Only after the spirit leaves my body I feel the pain caused by the might of the magical show that I put after the possession.”

“I don’t even eat meat and egg when I am not possessed by the spirit, but I eat everything as soon as the Aghouri gets inside me,” says Kamal. “I am myself surprised when people say that I can spit back the whole tulsi leaf that had been chewed to pieces by me.”

Search of a Kingfisher
Every morning and evening the same sight of chants of mantras and possession by spirits take place till the tenth day. During the ten days’ span, the disciples learn different mantras to cure different illnesses and techniques to deal with the evil spirits.

On the tenth day, the whole coterie starts early in the morning with the beating of mridanga – a drum and cymbals. They start from the place of worship and get to a nearby pond. The disciples possessed by spirits start splashing in the cool waters and the gurus perform the concluding puja.

Then the group sets of in search of a kingfisher which is regarded as the incarnation of Lord Shiva, the god who drank all the poison that erupted from the milking of ocean by gods and demons. Due to the poison his neck turned blue, so he got the name, Nilkantha – one with a blue neck. So has been the kingfisher named after its dark blue neck. Sighting a kingfisher on the tenth day of the festival is taken as an auspicious sign for the whole year. The young men and gurus enjoy and revel to their hearts after a glimpse of a kingfisher.

Making of Godmen
After the ten days’ learning, the young men will be in constant vigil of the gurus and they will be taken as assistants in the early errands to drive the evil spirits and curing illnesses. In the process they will learn the traditional medicinal knowledge. The gurus will reveal the secrets of herbs from the forests nearby. They will learn the drug administration as well. In the coming days they will learn more mantras to cure more illnesses. And they will devote more time in dedicating their lives for the betterment of the society. They will be respected everywhere they will go. They will have to sacrifice their personal lives and be ready to visit any ill person in the community even at the middle of the night. The process of being a godman is not so easy...

Monday, 1 October 2007

Bioscope, Bakal and Scattered Saffron

As the evening draws towards night, the sight in the western skies always haunts me. The big red ball of sun sinking slowly down the skyline turning the sky, clouds and ambience red brings back the vivid memories of my childhood. When I was a little kid, every item in the neigbourhood was a mystery for me and I searched reasons behind its existence.

Every morning, the bamboo twigs were my tooth brush and I used to gulp down the juices from chewing the twig. The height of bamboos always was a wonder to me and I used to think how the bamboos became so tall.

The daytime was bliss to me. With the hawkers coming in the village to sell the hard boiled red sweets and ice cream sticks. As I heard the tinkling of the small bells that they had, I used to run with a handful of rice from the barn and savor the taste of success – eating the sweets stealthily. I always imagined of installing a machine to manufacture those goodies at my backyard!

Another big crowdpuller was the bioscope man. At the time when there were no cinema halls and theatres, they were the entertainers in the villages. A two minutes trip with the bioscope man would take you around Delhi, Mumbai, Kathmandu, and London. To watch the magnificence of the cities through the binocular vision with the background singing of the bioscope man was the much coveted yearning I had in those days. I would wait weeks for the bioscope man with crumpled two rupee note hidden between the pages of my shabby notebook. I wondered how the bioscope man was able to get such big cities inside a little tinderbox!

As I returned from the village school and had my lunch, I used to wait for the man I adored – a man from Bakal – a village in the far north eastern reaches of the district. I thought Bakal was in another part of the world and this poor man took so many days to walk down to our village. His feet were torn to shreds with the walking. He usually brought the needles, sewing strings, ayurvedic medicines, rock salts and saffron. At the end of his deal with my grandmother, he always used to give me a lump of rock salt. That piece of rock used to be my special possession for the weeks to come – exchanging a pinch of it with other goodies from my friends used to be a real exchange for me.

As a little kid, sitting on my grandmother’s lap, I used to listen to the fairy tales and the stories of kings, gods and witches. The world of kings, gods and witches seemed real to me and the characters in the stories came live every night in my dreams.

When the man from Bakal didn’t turn up for few months I asked everyone about him. And to my despair, my grandmother turned to the evening sky and asked me why the colour of the sky was red. I was speechless when she said that the man had died on his journey and the saffron in his jute bag had scattered throughout the western skies.

To this day the red sky in the west brings back the memories of the bioscope, the man from Bakal and his scattered saffron in the western skies!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Winds of change

Hearing and talking about poor and marginalised people, and reading the stories of change in their lives fascinates us all. But when you visit the community yourself, you are confronted by the grim reality. On my recent visit to the Sunsari district, I had a chance to meet with a community living in extreme poverty. The village was a kaleidoscope of simple huts with thatched roofs, lining both sides of the dusty road. Although the huts were of mud, the locality was clean. Cattle and goats were tethered in front of the houses. Ducks and hens pecked at the haystacks, and freshly made dung cakes baked in the sun. The smell of fresh harvest wafted through the air.

Nature has poured its beauty out in the village and its surroundings, but it seems that the people living here are made to pay for it. Most of the people in this community are living below the poverty line. Remani, Sita, Bechani Devi, Geeta, Leela and Prabha are members of a women's saving group. All of them have different stories to tell - different but similar - about their miserable lives. They work like automated machines from early in the morning till late night, just to ensure that their children have enough food for that day. Their day starts with cleaning and preparing food for their children. Some go to richer households to do domestic work, like washing clothes and cleaning the house. In return, they get a handful of rice, pulse or leftovers from the previous night's cooking. After feeding their own children, they work in others' fields - digging, sowing, planting, weeding and harvesting. Till five in the evening they labour, and in return get around 80 rupees (around US$1). When they return from the fields, their children are already waiting for their dinner. Their husbands also work for daily wages in the fields, and if they are lucky, they get some menial jobs in factories nearby. Both husband and wife put together their earnings and it's time to visit the local shop. The evening is spent in preparing the food. But regular work is not guaranteed, and those days are hard to survive. Their lives are a patchwork of drudgery - at home, in other's houses, and in the fields.

Among all this gloom, there's a ray of hope. A rare sense of fighting against poverty has emerged, thanks to the women's saving group. Prabha is leading the group of 25 members. She has been making mudhas (local stools) for a year since being trained by UMN's partner, Ramganj Yuva Club (RYC). She makes a reasonable profit of 38 rupees per mudha, and is the source of motivation for other five ladies. They too have started to make mudhas in their spare time. This tiny amount supplements what their husbands earn as daily wages.

Another source of inspiration is Sitaram, a model farmer in the village, who is growing mushrooms, a new cash crop for the people in that area. Watching Sitaram climb out of the grip of poverty, they are keen to start growing vegetables on their own, instead of working in others' fields. A group from RYC has assessed their needs, and is planning with UMN to provide them with the necessary training, seeds, fertilizers and irrigation facilities.

My visit ended, the ladies bid me farewell with gleams of hope in their eyes - hope to do something on their own, hope to send their children to school, hope to raise their standard of living. As I clambered into the jeep to return, I could feel a gust of wind blowing through the window, blowing straight into my face. I knew it was a different kind of wind - yes, it was wind of change!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Jittery journey of jatropha

Jatropha farming and Nepal
Tej Narayan Yadav, a teacher and researcher preaches the benefits of jatropha to the villagers and anyone he meets on the way. He is dedicated to introduce biofuels in Nepal. “Almost three litres of biofuel can be extracted from 10 Kgs of jatropha seeds,” he says. “The by-product can be used as fertilizer or insecticide.”

There is much hullabaloo going around in biofuel sector these days and Nepal is not new to the catching trend. Thanks to the jatropha researchers – petty farmers are gearing up for jatropha cultivation albeit in scattered small plots of land. The local names of jatropha vary with the geography, namely baghandi, sajiwan and ratanjot.

Till date, the biofuel extracted from jatropha has been used in low speed engines like pump-sets and tractors in Nepal. The transesterification of the thick jatropha oil is a costly process and due to the viscosity the fuel is considered not suitable for use in high speed engines. During the transesterification its natural glycerine is replaced by methanol.

The purified fuel has been shown to operate in modern diesel engines without drawbacks and is nearly CO2 neutral, since burning it releases only the CO2 that the jatropha plants had originally extracted from the atmosphere. “It also produces half the hydrocarbon emissions and one-third of the particulate emissions of a typical diesel fuel,” says engineer Suraj Rai, a renewable energy researcher.

Threat of monoculture and deforestation
Jatropha grows in all climates including arid, semi-arid, and tropical. “Jatropha grows well in wastelands and requires very little water,” says Tej Narayan Shah, an engineer turned importer of machineries and equipment.

Its ability to grow in all conditions has given it another name, ‘saruwa’, meaning ‘able to grow and take roots’. The word has spread among the community forest users and they are willing to plant jatropha saplings and branches (the cuttings take roots easily) in the community forests.

The community forests which are the living examples of community conserving forests and reaping benefits have been the alternative source of income for the users. Now if the users start planting jatropha everywhere in these forests, the chances of creating a monoculture are high.

In Malaysia, palm oil and rubber plantations have replaced the forests. This might happen in Nepal too if the greedy businessmen set their eyes in the forests. It will wipe out the existing biodiversity in name of jatropha cultivation and biofuel production.

Even the farmers will be lured to cultivate the better paying and much easily grown jatropha which is not eaten by even cattle and goats. And can you imagine huge landscapes bearing just jatropha? The obnoxious smell will waft around instead of sweet aroma of rice and wheat. All insects and birds that form the ecosystem will face a jolt with the seismic shift in cultivation. By the time the scientists come up with biofuels extracted from grass, straw or wood, the damage will have been done.

The controversy and the future
Around the globe biofuels have created a stir. The prices of maize and wheat have increased at an alarming rate as they are being used to extract ethanol, the alcohol used for motor fuel. The cars are guzzling away the food that we eat, making us more vulnerable to hunger. The richer are able to purchase the ethanol but the poor are facing the high rise in their prices.

Jatropha cultivation has provided a solution to this war for food between cars and people. Seeing the overall benefits of jatropha, the two major emerging economies India and China have resorted to jatropha cultivation to meet the demands of the hungry economies. By 2010, China plans to plant an area the size of England, or 13 million hectares, with trees from which biofuel can be extracted as a source of clean energy, jatropha being considered as the main ingredient in the production of biodiesel. DaimlerChrysler has joined with experts from Germany and India in a five-year project to explore whether the jatropha plant is suitable for cultivation and if its oils could be used as a resource for biodiesel production.

“As a child, I used to pluck the baghandi leafstalk and blow bubbles out of it,” says Chandra Kishore Kalyan, a social activist. “Now I preach the benefits of baghandi and biofuel.”

The newly planted branch cuttings of jatropha have taken roots in Siyaram Nursery at Thimi and the proud owner says, “Promoting biofuel will be my main concern in the coming days.” He says he is ready to shift to biofuel production from his business of machinery imports.

As he wakes up early in the morning, Tej Narayan Yadav is quite happy to see his jatropha saplings growing every day. He goes round the nursery inspecting each plant with eagerness. At his office in Gopal Charity Trust, he has displayed a line of mineral water bottles filled with yellow liquid and black cakes packed in plastic packets. He proudly explains the varying colour of jatropha oil in the bottles – the refined ones are paler than the ones directly milled in the local mills. The glycerine in small bottles and the black cakes are the by-products. The black cakes can be used as a fertilizer or insecticide. Tej Narayan is optimistic in his mission and he is ready to support any newcomer who wants to cultivate jatropha.

Kalyan advises the farmers to plant jatropha in the wastelands and the field ridges.

The jittery journey of jatropha has just begun…

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Let’s erase the boundaries

Do boundaries really exist? Or are they just imaginary peripheries created by us to stay close to our so-called community, well-wishers and friends?

I am miffed by the term "boundary" and I hate it from my heart. The recent people's movement in Nepal that took lives of more than 13,000 people in the last 10 years has not just gifted a new-found democracy to Nepali people but it has brought with it the many groups and sub-groups. Once we used to walk together hand in hand irrespective of our castes and groups, but now we are adamant in getting our own autonomous regions. Limbuwan, Khumbuwan, Tharuwan, Magarant, Madhesh (similarly Newars, Dalits, and all others are demanding their own lands) and the list goes on - the fraction of the limited land on the basis of castes and ethnicity will only narrow our vision to build a new Nepal.

I agree that autonomy to the regions will strengthen the caste and ethnicity issues, give them chance to raise their voices at the national level and hand them their long awaited rights. However, if we peek through another hole, the national unity can be at stake. The recent events that sprout up in the terai region as a result of the grudges of splinter groups Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) led by Jai Krishna Goit and Jwala Singh, have shown us what might happen in the coming future, not to mention the misdeeds of Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF). And now the Chure Bhawar Pradesh Ekta Samaj has jumped in to create havoc on the highways. Seeing all the rising voices from each and every ethnic group it seems that the country's identity is being led towards jeopardy. If the problem persists and the issue is not solved, then disintegration is on the near horizon. And at the end only Nepal and the Nepalis will be the losers.

To respond to all the rising voices I would like to quote the famous quote by Sunita Williams when she reached the International Space Station (ISS). When she saw the earth from the ISS she said, "I see no boundaries from here."

Can’t we think like her? Or do we need to travel to ISS to get that cosmopolitan feeling? I wonder how many of us will be able to get on board of a chartered rocket like Charles Simonyi. Can’t we think alike and live together like we did in the past?

Let’s make a commitment this year – let’s erase the boundaries between us!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Rising for rights

It was a bizarre incident. I was shocked to see, hear and feel the voice of the villagers for their rights. I was in Lahan recently to assess the situation and interview few locales when I happened to witness this fight for right.

A small group of children belonging to the so-called well to do castes were playing football in a nearby field - all of them belonging to Madhesi community. They were aged between five to 12 years and were quite engrossed in their play. Then suddenly, a group of Musahar children aged around 15 years entered the venue. They too wanted to be the part of the team and play with them but none of the children wanted to include them in their team. They had only one concern - their ball was small and if the older boys will play with them, the ball would burst due to harsh and rough handling. They stopped the play and there was a heated discussion between the two groups. Eventually, the older boys sat down on the field and didn't allow the smaller boys to play, so they left the ground with huge grudges on their faces.

I was a mere spectator, I tried to solve their differences but the older boys acted like hooligans and I had to opt out. It was not a case of simple fight for right - it was the awareness that has risen in the last few years. Had the seeds of awareness not been sown by the leaders, those Musahar children would have never dared to step forward and asked for their place in the football squad.

In a way, I was happy to witness the rising voices for inclusion. However, gloom slipped down my throat as I thought of their way of demanding the inclusion. I now compare that situation to our country's problem. Everybody is adamant in getting included in the mainstream, but instead of raising the voices peacefully, they are indulging into violence and vociferous mob mentality.

The leaders should be aware of what is happening in the villages. We can imagine, if 15 year old children can be so nasty for inclusion, what is cooking in the minds of people who have been oppressed for so many years.

The Lahan incident was not only a Maoist misdeed but it was a huge dent in the democracy. It was a hole through which the differences between the communities started percolating. The same hole is widening day by day but nothing substantial has been done till date to block its ever widening trait. The eight party leaders who are enjoying their new found status should be aware of the bubble which is going to burst. All voices raised should be heard and addressed accordingly. It is the only way to save the country from a disastrous debacle.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Running after the West

More than a year ago, I had written this piece and as I was rummaging through my old documents, I found it today. It's still interesting!

I was panicking, whether I'll be able to grab a copy of the much awaited, Dan Brown's, "The Da Vinci Code", or not. The book had already sold in millions when I enquired its availability at the valley's leading bookstores. I was curious to get hold of the book and finish it in one go. I had placed the order with one of the leading book stores, "Pilgrims", and was waiting for them to make a call at my residence as they are in the possession of the book. And the moment came; I got a call from one sweet voiced lady asking me to visit the bookstore the same day. A hint of admonition pervaded in her message conveying, compelling me to visit the shop at the earliest.

So, I was in a hurry, after my office hour. It was raining and I didn't even have a raincoat or an umbrella to save me from the abrupt downpourings. I was drenched and had no convenience of my own to reach the shop at Thamel. Also the taxis were zooming past me and I wasn't able to stop even a single one. Finally, I got to the shop and my eyes started wandering on the shelves as I stepped in – on the lookout for the book. And hurried by the desire, I asked the shopkeeper for it and told him about my booking. He was happy to see an eager customer, and brought a copy from the shelves. And it was the last copy! They had outsold the whole lot in a single day! I was amazed to know that there are so many avid readers. At last, I got hold of my long-awaited proud possession.

While making the payment, I noticed a foreigner, in a pure khadi outfit, at the counter. He had long braids of hair, and appeared like a Hindu sadhu. Then, I noticed a set of books with white covers in his hand. He was a gentle, soft spoken, middle aged American (which I guessed from his mode of payment). He took out six 10-dollar bills and made the payment. I stayed back and storked out my neck to peek at the book's title. It was a set of "Vedas". As I watched the man leave the shop after collecting the changes, I was in deep thought. I hated myself for hurrying so much in search of the book which was totally fictional. Here, in front of me were the real facts of life, and as a wandering soul I was running behind a totally fictitious plot.

I had stepped inside the shop with much eagerness and anticipation, but was leaving the shop with a dejected heart, sunk in the realities of my thoughts and opinions inclined towards West.