Showing posts with label lockdown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lockdown. Show all posts

24 March, 2023

Three years after the first Lockdown!

On this day, 24th March 2020, India experienced its first ever full lockdown for 21 days. The entire country came to a halt; abrupt standstill of commercial and economic activities. The State & Central Governments imposed an extremely strict gag order that citizens were not allowed to even step out of home, save for buying medicines along with a proof of the most recent prescription from a certified Doctor. Each one of us in the country had a different story to narrate – some faced extreme medical challenges while many had other stories, such as loss of livelihood and uncertainty of the next meal, especially for the poor, the marginalised and physically challenged at that.

All forms of transportation came to a halt; flights, trains, buses and local transportation such as taxis and auto rickshaws. The retail segment was among the most impacted. It was a double whammy of sorts – those who worked in all other industries eventually spent their monies on Food, Clothing & Shelter. On the one side, shutting down the shops meant loss of business for the day; on the other hand, those who would spend at retail stores were themselves staring at a bleak present and immediate future, for many employers were not sure / clear how to pay for unproductive employees when there was no business at all. 

From the smallest kirana to large retail companies, it was VUCA in full flow – Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. None of us knew what would happen next. 


Slowly but surely, things started opening up from June onwards only to once again relapse shortly thereafter. This roller-coaster ride continued until May 2021, when a partial and a complete lockdown was brought back in several states. The festive season in 2020 and 2021 were muted, for, the majority of the retail sector and thousands of retailers were staring at several crores of rupees worth of stocks; unable to liquidate them to pay suppliers, in effect unable to buy new and more relevant stocks as required. Hard times, those were.


By October 2021, there was some semblance of orderliness that was back. People started to step out of their homes risking the dreaded spread of the infection. By then, most of the countrymen and women had taken atleast 1 dose of the vaccine and were now armed with the strength to face any eventualities. Whether the vaccine worked to its full or not – many had tested positive despite taking the shot – people had gained the strength to fight it. 



Three years later, as I write this note, I carry immense gratitude to the Almighty, my family, friends, former employers and colleagues, all of whom stood shoulder to shoulder with each other and overcame several obstacles. Though I too, like millions faced setbacks in the workplace, I am glad that it was this bleak period during which I could shine professionally with a few big ticket accolades to my credit. Signing up with Chennai Super Kings as beverage partner for Levista Coffee will be one of my most cherished moments along with placing the brand alongside Kamal Hassan in Big Boss Tamil. Working closely with Ad-film Directors, I co-scripted and oversaw a dozen films for Levista & Specsmakers during this time.



Joining Indian Terrain was a calculated move, but went awry due to various reasons. Some wrong calculations, despite various measures taken before and during my stint; so be it. Life moves on and keeps teaching us every other day! When we succeed, we learn; but when we fail, we learn a lot more. Wisdom is not repeating mistakes and I hope to gain from some of the key learnings I have taken during this three year period. 


Over the past 15 months, the Indian economy has shown much resilience. Retail Industry is back to its charm pre-pandemic, though there are a number of challenges ahead of us; inflation is pinching the middle class; over all cost of household has drastically increased, including fuel, power, road tolls, etc.; loan books by banks are seeing a huge surge, a sign of good times but fraught with higher risks as well. Nevertheless, I believe Indians are more hopeful now than ever before. And that matters.


PS: By the way, I am glad, that this happens to be my 300th blog article. No, it wasn't planned at all... 

03 January, 2021

Thank you 2020. Hello 2021.

More than anything else, I once again learned to unlearn a lot of things in the year that passed by that was 2020. I learned, yet again, that Change is the only constant and over time, we realise that “Change” in any form is good. Honestly, when I look back 365 days behind as the train was chugging in to the Mysore Railway Junction on the morning of 3rd Jan. 2020 around 7.30am, little did I realise that I would come this far. I was on my way to take up the new assignment at Kushal Nagar as Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Levista Coffee, where the parent company SLN Coffee Pvt. Ltd. is head quartered. As always when I take up a new assignment, I went with an open mind, so I can learn as much as I could and decided to take up the new role, one day at a time. Within a few days, I had settled down in the Company’s Guest House in Bangalore and spent a good amount of time trying to understand the various aspects of our business, Industry, colleagues, external & internal stakeholders. 



I would avidly look forward to returning to Chennai where my family lived. And it was quiet emotional for me to leave on a Sunday night often even as the kids would get in to all gloom for not being able to see me in person for 2 weeks or so. Until one day, everything turned topsy-turvy and life took a 180-degree turn. U Turn, if I could say so. From mutually missing each other, at one stage it felt like an over-dose (not really!) that we spent 150 days precisely under one roof, thanks to continued lockdowns. In the first 2 weeks of the first Lockdown, life came to a standstill, literally and figuratively. None of us had much to do other than watch News channels in multiple languages to get different perspectives. By mid-April, there was some action slowly on the work front but still we were all locked up at home with limited chances of stepping out, even to shop necessities. 



A chance visit to a local retail store and my Father seemed to have picked up the dreaded Coronavirus which eventually moved on to my Mother. Little did he realise and when he visited our home one fine morning to deliver vegetables, we panicked and rushed my parents for tests which proved positive. Meanwhile, my daughter picked the infection from him, her sister from her and my wife from them. I tested “Negative” being O+ve (or for some strange reason) and was blessed to take care of the family for the next four weeks until things settled down albeit very slowly. However, it was in May ’20 that Levista achieved a historic highest monthly sale followed by another historic Sales milestone in June. And I was here, in my bed as I write this article, seven months ago when all members of the family were fighting an unknown infection. 




The fact that we as humans were so vulnerable and life is too short was a shot in the arm for me from those days and I vowed to be ever so grateful and thankful to the Creator and Mother Nature for bestowing whatever we have today. From sighing that I had lost crores of rupees on my StartUps over 5 years since 2014, to being happy that my Parents came back home in flesh and blood from the hospital after treatment and that my wife recovered though slower than anticipated was the last nail in my box of worries. From that day onwards, I have been the happiest if all members of my family woke up the next morning and lived a basic, normal life. 



My second XUV500 AT was 2 years old when I joined Levista. This was my sixth vehicle in 15 years after self-driving over 2,75,000 kms all by myself across India on work & leisure, I was contemplating an upgrade to a more posh German beast in the coming months. That’s when I had to call a mechanic to jump start the engine of my beloved XUV whose battery went dead due to no usage for weeks together! How things change… From planning to buy a new car, I decided to sell the XUV so I can save on the EMI since I had almost NIL travel during those 6 months. I ventured out from home on the 151st Day on 10 Aug. 2020 to Bangalore well equipped with E-Pass for an Up and down Travel and have driven 13,600 kms till date on my beast ever since. The entire discussions of Levista’s partnership on Bigg Boss Tamil Season 4 feat. Padmashree Kamal Hassan was decided and finalised during one of those long drives between Bangalore & Chennai. Every 40-50 mins, I would stop at a Toll Booth and make calls, internal and external to seek views. What a drive this has been – I mean the ones to Bangalore / Chennai as well as life overall. And many such discussions while the Office driver was behind the wheel including Zoom Calls with my iPad perched behind the seat. 




In the middle of Nov. ’20, our team completed the total Turnover of FY 19-20 and that was a moment to celebrate with fellow soldiers even as they ventured out carefully everyday those 8 months fighting an unknown enemy that Covid-19 is. A big round of applause and hearty thanks to their family members for allowing their beloved to go out and conquer the world. As is the case of MS Dhoni, I realised that all the noise in the stadium (read: my surroundings who kept cheering and booing me!) was insignificant as long as I don’t take it too much to my heart. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, don’t get very upset when something unfortunate happens and don’t get too ecstatic when something very cheerful happens. Easy to say for you, Dear Lord as you are the Creator and we are mere mortals. 



Listening 15 mins daily about the epic Mahabharatha narrated by a noted and eminent scholar Velukkudi Shri. Krishnan helped me immensely for the past 225 days. In his daily bulletin, he would move the story as written by Guru Shri Veda Vyasa and narrated by Sage Vaishampayana to King Janamejaya. It was so timely that there would be gems every few days which had a direct impact on my daily life, personal and professional, that it was surreal to hear those advices.



Even as I ended the Calendar Year professionally with a first ever Virtual Media Launch on 28th Dec. ’20, with our new flavours of coffee and the much awaited mass market variant - Levista Supreme Instant coffee, it seemed to be a memorable, meaningful and a successful year that I completed, much to the chagrin of my detractors, happiness and joy of my well-wishers and with the constant love and encouragement of my immediate family and a few close friends. Without the unstinted support of my Management and my colleagues at work, this journey wouldn’t have been this smooth – even if I wish to call it so. It certainly has been the fastest, toughest and perhaps the most fulfilling professional journey I have had in the past 24 years in Consumer Retail. 



I started the year (lockdown) with virtual classes for MBA students whom I was teaching offline until Mar. ’20. Over time, this virtual address became a way of life with me having spoken at over a dozen Webinars as well as my 4th consecutive year at BIL Trichy teaching the Retailing Elective for the second year students. While I didn’t miss my walk through during the lectures – my laptop screen would be off and I'd keep walking in my room as I gave the lectures using my bluetooth earphones, I really missed my campus stay at the guest houses, the morning walks within the sprawling BHEL dwelling in Trichy, the food feasts and of course the much awaited train travel. And yesterday, I addressed over 100+ MBA students of XLRI Jamshedpur, a session which I must have presented at the campus in the third week of Mar. ’20 to the previous batch.



Of all things, I learned to appreciate life as it is; from what we have to seeing what others didn’t have and to compare ourselves to be blessed than them. We cannot change the system, the nature and destiny. But we, as humans are blessed with the knack of converting adversities in to opportunities. That’s a choice we all wake up with. For Ex., I sensed an opportunity that the Out of Home Coffee Consumption and Workplace Coffee consumption could be coupled with incremental household consumption, add to it the WFH woes and the initial days of adjusting to the new normal. After 8-9 months, it sounds boring to hear or to utter the phrase “The New Normal”. It is, rather “normal” and it shall be so all along now. 

While I didn’t have time, rather didn’t make time to learn a professional course or start gaming on one of my i-devices, "i-learnt-cooking" was perhaps the proudest moment for my me and more for my Mom rather, who still is unable to come to terms that I could take so much interest in this “art” which she has been an expert at that I have shown no interest for the past 30 years! Other than exploring life from different perspectives, it’s been a yet another adventurous year for me. So, thank you 2020. I am clear about my destination by 2030. But until then, I shall enjoy the journey every day. As I always say, the Journey is as important as the Destination. #Miles2Go 



31 May, 2020

The Power of Scheduling

It was the second week of April 2020. Three weeks into Lockdown 1.0, a broken supply chain, employees and team members dispersed all across and most retail stores closed, it was one of the toughest moments in my professional life. That I had a roof and secure four walls, three meals to eat, a lot of snacks to munch and salaried job – the real luxuries of the Corona-crisis made me feel a lot luckier than the millions who were displaced world over. And that I was staying with my wife and kids – I had come on a work trip to Chennai on 13th March and remained here ever after through the lockdown – was the happiest thing I could enjoy in life. Honestly, we have never spent such a long time together within a single precinct all our lives!


Yet, I was beginning to crack under pressure – workwise as well as managing household chores including mopping the floor intermittently, washing vessels, drying and folding clothes among other things all day. To get a peaceful uninterrupted 7-hour sleep was becoming a challenge. I am usually a reasonably disciplined guy. I cannot fathom that my bed is not done within a few mins of waking up; a small slush on my white car and I get it cleaned as soon as I could; from rotating my shoes, watches and dresses on FIFO basis to booking darshan at Tirupati 4 months in advance, it’s been a usual rigor. After all, when you are the son of a Factory Worker whose salary gets deducted for late attendance and a schoolteacher mother who must arrive before the students come to school every day, this is just a way of life. 


Even as I was struggling to manage things better, was when I recalled I should speak to one of my professional mentors, a former boss of mine whom I’ve admired for his multi-tasking Leadership abilities. Working with a popular Promoter Entrepreneur, managing a team of a dozen high-flying direct reports and handling a Retail business spanning the length & breadth of the country, I couldn’t think of anyone better than him to seek advice and assistance in my Leadership role at Levista Coffee which I began in January this year. I too have a similar professional assignment at the moment although the complexities are quite different and a lot lesser, so a comparison may be inappropriate. 



A scheduled 60-minute call with him helped me sort out my stuff quite easily. 

To begin with, I created scheduled buckets of my time for all my key tasks – regular VCs with direct reports, allocating time for emails, for clearances & providing approvals, Meetings with external stakeholders, Interviews with Candidates & Media interaction and so much so, that I also included “Lunch” on my Calendar. Keeping my EA involved in all my day-today business activities helped immensely so he could follow up on important tasks from others and revert to me as per schedule. And most importantly, absolutely no out of turn calls or VCs unless it’s tearing urgent. All my day's activities get captured in the iWatch which my beloved wife gifted me 5 years back and the device keeps reminding me of my schedules  as well as measures my sleep patterns (through the Sleep++ App) and my daily fitness goal - how many steps I walk inside home. This is such a blessing. 


I also included slots to, don’t exclaim, Read Newspaper & Articles as well as for my Daily dose of Yoga at 6am! In exactly one month’s time, my entire day has been well sorted out and results are showing up. My Blood Sugar is well under control, I sleep and wake up on time with my 5am routine, spend enough time to read 4 Newspapers and a couple of Articles early in the morning and of course, write and share my thoughts regularly on social and other public media. I ended up doing Four Webinars each weekend too. 


And on the work front, not only have I been more efficient, my team has also done a spending job in the month of May and we have set new business standards for ourselves. I cannot thank my former Boss enough for that timely intervention and take this opportunity here to acknowledge the same. I hope this schedule gets better, so I get more efficient in June and beyond. 

How does your time management go about? What's your kind of Scheduling of Tasks? 


01 May, 2020

Lockdown Blues!

It’s day 39 of an Official Nationwide lockdown ever since we shut ourselves at home on Tuesday 24 March on Ugadi Day!

The best thing that has happened to most of us is that we spent the last month and a half entirely at our own homes, with our immediate loved ones although many were away from their families.

There’s no bigger joy and happiness that I have had in my entire life that I could spend so many days continuously with my kids and wife. These golden days will be cherished all my life.

I haven’t seen my Sister and Mother for all these days which makes me very sad. Not the longest, since I’ve lived away from them for over 25 years. But this one is rare coz she lives two streets away and I haven’t walked that far.

Though many of us perform household work regularly at home, the lockdown meant No Maids, so we did additional work. Whenever I washed vessels, I felt bad for my elderly maid who washes vessels without a grin. Always. And the mopstick is oh-so bad to handle.


Friends - missed their company the most for I haven’t seen a few for long. Makes me realise how much more important they’re to me. Thanks for being there for me over phone calls!

I ran out of 2 months’ stock of After Shave Lotions so ended up using Savlon. They both do the same job, similar chemicals. But our minds are conditioned to use branded ones than generic ones. Sigh.

We lost choice of many other day today utilities. We used / use what we get. We’ll get used to this.


No outside food. No shopping, visitation to Malls and Cinemas. No hospital / Doc visits. Our body consumed only home cooked food. Bizarre that we could actually survive this.

My Credit Card Bill (mostly official, a bit of household) was the lowest in about 14 years - only FOUR figure bill. Unbelievable. ICICI must be in a state of shock. Also, lost out majorly on my Payback Points.

No new movie releases for 6 weeks, no FDFS. Life moves on. Awaiting OTT releases and FDFS in May 2020.

I never imagined all my life that sales professionals like me can ever work from home. This has been a reckoning of sorts on how we are conditioned to think, act and behave repeatedly on the professional front.


Missed human interactions all along, ironically. Shows why humans are social animals and need socialising. Am quite sure that this too shall also pass and we will come to terms to the new world order, soon.

Indian PM and Tamil Nadu CM have led the Country and the State impeccably all along. Not fair to compare how other countries fared, especially the usual suspects of USA, China, Japan, France & Germany. But our men in Kurta and Veshti have rocked.

We clapped hands on a balcony, lit lamps in the night in solidarity without expecting any miracle. They said, We did. Some didn’t. Many mocked the idea. So be it.


Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor passed away. Many felt bad for them personally. So much of noise on social media for the departed souls. Rishi’s daughter saw the cremation on a Video call. Like how Indian migrant labourers working in Middle East, Africa and South East Asia see the last rites of their departed ones. Just that mostly they don’t have a choice to fly back.

But the same ones who mourned Irrfan and Rishi didn’t condemn on their FB Walls when Dr. Simon’s last rites were disallowed in his preferred Cemetery at Kilpauk, Chennai. The vehicle was vandalised and destroyed with the corpse in it by members of the same community whom he loving served all along. Two men dug the grave for a Doc who saved so many lives all his life.

Priorities. Ignorance. Impatience. Human race, I say.

As always, Bollywood (and Hollywood) comes first. Our own local heroes - Nope.


Of the two drivers who took a corpse to Mizoram in an ambulance from Chennai driving for three straight days, one has tested positive yesterday. Mizo Minister rewarded him ₹2,000 for the trip. No, we will not celebrate this Driver as he was not the original Romantic Hero or a Really emotive actor. Just another labour fellow and driving an Ambulance is his job, after all. Not sure, if he was singing “Hum tum, ek kamre mein bandh ho” along with his co-driver. Very very sad.

Economic Stimulus - Instead of catchups at Cafes and benches at Tea Shops, social media is abuzz on this. From Raghuram Rajan to Raghu Thatha, everyone is advising, Xi, Trump, Modi and Merkel. Nice to see the world has 5 billion Economists. Wow. I should have taken my Class XI and XII Economics Lectures more seriously.

Some people want to urgently open shops, malls, cinemas and salons. But I wonder if Customers are willing to walk outside.

E-Commerce is here to stay. Dot. As I always say, E-Commerce is not a new business, rather it’s just a new channel of distribution.

Lastly, Hyperlocal ECommerce is the way forward. My startup Oyethere did this 5 years back. Potential Investors scoffed and mocked at me then. Today, they are cribbing that Dunzo doesn’t deliver at their Pin code at Bangalore, Bombay or Delhi. The Chennai Investor Mamas still believe it’s best to walk up to the neighbor hood shops than invest on Hyperlocal StartUps. Sigh.


Lastly, I haven’t been to a Temple Precint - longest ever in my life. Missing this aspect the most.

Do share this article if you feel this perspective interests you.

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