London Eye

After lazing around the whole morning, I went to the London eye this evening. The London eye is this huge giantwheel that’s probably one of the tallest structures in London. When on top, you’re supposed to be able to see all the important places in London. It was arranged by the LBS for the exchange students, but not many had turned up, since it was raining.

So we got on, and despite my fear of heights, it was a nice experience. You do get to see quite a bit. The only problem was that it got over too soon, and since we didn’t have a guide, I didn’t know what most of the buildings were anyway. I did spot St. Paul’s Cathedral, which looks lovely, and another building which I’m told is a famous gay club (of which there are tonnes in London).

The real fun began when we decided to go over to a bar after that. I don’t think it’s my first time in a bar, but it certainly is the first time in a bar where there’s lots of smoke and people are dancing. So as I walk in, I spotted something that I’d been hunting for ever since I got to this city: a belly button piercing. Since it was a rather rare sighting, I decided to follow it and examine it — at a safe distance of course.

As I was occupying myself thus, a man (pretty huge one), walks up to me along with a couple of friends, and started staring at me. I stopped worrying about the piercing and started worrying about the door. The big guy pointed a finger at me (I prayed) and said “Are you a cab driver?”

I’d been expecting a lot of things, but this was one question I didn’t have an answer to. No, I was not a cab driver, but I didn’t think I wanted to tell him that. In fact, I didn’t want to tell him anything. So I walked around him, when all the while he was pointing at me, and asking “Are you a cab driver? Are you a cab driver?”

As I walked past the Big Ben, I told myself that it must have been my black jacket that made him think I was a cab driver, and headed home.


On 18th, I’d mentioned how dependant I’d become on the railway timing. To corroborate a bit about that, let me tell you about another night. There was a train that’s supposed to leave at 10:43PM. I’d set my watch by the railway clock. When I looked at it, my watch showed 10:42PM. I was a fair distance away from the train, so I made a dash for it, and reached with barely a second to spare by my watch. Whew. I sat, waiting for the doors to close. Nothing happens. I look at the watch outside. It reads 10:42PM. It turns out that my watch gains about 10 seconds every day. I’d set my watch against the railway’s clock a week ago, and my watch was 70 seconds ahead. In India, it would have scarcely mattered.

Which is not to say that the British are thrilled. There was a railway crash last week, as a result of which all overground trains had a maximum speed imposed all of a sudden. So EVERY British Rail train was delayed by half-an-hour, on average, and the service became erratic. This morning, I was waiting for a train, when an elderly man next to me said, “You know, this speed limit thing, it’s silly. I mean, the problem is in the tracks. They should have replaced them ages ago. Such a thing could happen only in England…” He nodded at me wisely and said, “Only in England.”

I wanted to tell him about the time I slept in a station, waiting for a train that was delayed by 8 hours, and ended up travelling by a different train. “Only in India,” I would’ve said.

McKinsey PPT

The McKinsey presentation was this evening at Lord’s. Yes, that’s the Lord’s Cricket Ground. So at 7PM, there was this huge crowd of people strolling over to the Nursery Pavillion, wondering why Lord’s had a square cricket pitch. Google and AskJeeves haven’t given me an answer yet.

McKinsey’s presentation had two high points. First, it was mercifully brief. The entire presentation was for 2 or 3 minutes, and all that this partner said was, “Hey, we love LBS. You know about us. So we’re all standing here, here, and here. Come over and talk to us.”

So we went over and talked. I mean, I hate networking, especially if I don’t have any questions to ask. But still, I’ve been instructed to collect visiting cards. So may as well. I walked over to a lady called Sacred, who told me what she was doing at the Business Technology office at London. Sounded like fun. Then I met this partner at the Kuala Lumpur office, called Alex Smith. He was wearing a terribly funny looking shirt, and I figured he just couldn’t be from McKinsey. But he was. So I asked him how he ended up in Kuala Lumpur? I guess it kindof embarassed him, because he started of with how his significant other was there, and that he moved there, and she moved to Paris, and how it was a long story, and let’s not get into it. Fine by me. Anyway, I spent the next half-hour just listening to him. It was a nice experience, and I walked away without bothering with a card.

I haven’t mentioned the other high point, though. Chocolates. The people at Lord’s handed out these HUGE balls of chocolate that was shaped like a cricket ball. I ate mine in a flash. When I was leaving, I found another on the floor. I mean, this is getting to be a habit. But this time, there were no qualms. The wrapper was on, and I hadn’t stepped on it. Sure was a feast that night!

Bain PPT

I had to attend the Bain presentation today at 10AM, so I tried getting to LBS early. I started at 8:45AM. But for some reason, the train crawled on. The engineer couldn’t figure out why himself. Anyway, as a result, the train was nearly half-an-hour late. Now, if the Bangalore Mail came in half-an-hour late, I’d be thankful. But here, it’s gotten to the point where one makes appointments relying on the efficiency of the British Rail. Well, it’s a lesson, I guess.

But the lesson was not without its benefits. While I was sitting in this train, with nothing better to do, I decided to see what people were wearing. I was wearing a suit and a jacket, carrying an umbrella with a book in my hand. I looked at they guy in front. He was wearing a suit and a jacket, carrying an umbrella with a book in his hand. I looked around. The description seemed to fit quite a few of the people on the train. I guess it’s their uniform or something.

The Bain presentation was fine. Since I came in late, I couldn’t follow much, so I whiled my time looking at the people in the presentation. The hall was packed (over 150 people), and yet I couldn’t find a single soul (apart from myself) with a moustache. The reason I was looking was that the guy on the train had a moustache, and it was a fairly rare sight. I figured I may as well prove that he’s a statistical anamoly.

Speaking of statistics, I had some time to kill at Baker Street. So I sat down and surveyed the crowd. I noted the racial characteristics of the first 100 people whom I saw. Here’s the breakdown:

African 8
Chinese 9
Indian 5
Caucasian 78
Total 100

Certainly can’t find this kind of a mix in most cities, I’m fairly sure. London is cosmopolitan.

We spent the afternoon with Pierce Brosnan. Awfully nice chap. He even posed with us for a snap.

Anand, Pierce Brosnan, Malti

Phantom of the Opera

There’s a stall that sells theatre tickets for half price at Leicester Square, so I went there in the morning. It opened only at 12 noon, so rather than waiting, I just bought tickets for the balcony. 15.50 pounds didn’t seem to much. The musical was “The Phantom of the Opera”, running at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

There were 6 of us, and we went to the show. That was when I realized why the tickets were so cheap. They were on the second row of the third floor. Which meant that we had to crane our necks to see anything. What made it worse was that the lady in front of me refused to sit still. But after a while, I got used to it.

Well, one can see why it’s been running house full for the last 10-15 years. The visual effects are amazing. The play begins with an auction of a chandelier which fell during a performance at an opera in France. It is rumoured that the chandelier was caused to fall by the ‘Phantom of the Opera’. We go back in time (special effects). There’s this girl who’s been learning music from the Phantom, and he loves her, but she loves Raoul, who loves her. So the Phantom is angry, and does bad things, but finally gets a bout of conscience and unites them. That’s the plot.

But you wouldn’t think it when watching the show. The music is spell-binding, and performed real-time. When the Phantom takes Catherine to his den, they row over a lake made of smoke. Near Catherine’s father’s grave, there’s a lovely effect of water puddles. At this point, the Phantom appears and there’s some great fireworks also. What’s even more impressive is the coordination of the staff to get all these HUGE sets in place from scene to scene. The largest was a huge staircase, which must have weighed several tonnes. Sure, they must have had wheels. But still, it’s a feat to marvel at. Put all this in with the music, and you get an experience that’s more gripping than any movie that I’ve seen. The 3 hours flew by like the blink of an eyelid.

Well, not quite. Although I felt myself in the 17th century right through, there was one small interruption. Towards the end, when Christine was softly sobbing to Raoul, the atmosphere was broken by the ring of a mobile. That moment was almost like snapping back from a vision to reality.

Now, how can I stop myself from seeing “The Lion King”?

Not an Indian

Yes, I haven’t been updating for a while. Problem is, I’ve been doing too much and writing too little. Let’s see if I can fix some of that now.

First of all, people can’t seem to tell where I’m from. This is despite the fact that I’m the only one with a moustache in the whole batch, and am therefore the one person whose name no one forgets. I mean, I lost my name card after the very first class. Yet all the Professors talk to me like long-lost friends. Anyway…

One of my first such experiences at London was when I got out of the station and was looking for a cab. A man came over and said “Salam aleikum”.

I said “Huh?”

He thought I hadn’t heard him. “Salam aleikum,” a little louder.

Even normally, I’m not very sharp. This was at 11PM UK time, and that’s 3:30AM India Standard Time. So I said, quite eloquently, “Huh?”

“Salam aleikum”

“Huh? What?”

At this point, that fellow lost his patience and said “Aap Pakistani hein?” (Are you from Pakistan?) After having learnt that I’m from India, he said he’d mistaken me for a Pakistani, and if I wanted to call somebody or something, I could use his mobile and all that. Very nice.

Today, a red Ferrari (I think) was zooming down the road as I was walking to the station. All of a sudden, it braked near me, and stopped quite close. The window rolls down, and a moustached man sticks his head out and asks, “Yoo speek eetahliyen?”

“Huh?”

“doo yoo speek eetahliyen?”

“No, I’m afraid not, sorry.”

“Oh-kay.” And drives off.

That afternoon, I mean this girl from Western Ontario, who’s also on an exchange programme at the LBS. We talk for a while. Then, she asks, “So, are you American?”

“No I’m Indian.” (She could’ve thought me an American Indian, so I clarified) “From India.”

“Oh. But you accent is so American.”

Make your own conclusions.


The more I think about it, the more I feel IIM’s obsessed with grades. That includes me, of course. Today we got back our first assignment: Koito Manufacturing, from the Mergers & MBOs class. We got a 10/10. Britta and Atsushi, my team-mates, were thrilled. But then I had to ask: “What did the others get?”

Britta’s instant response was: “Who cares?”

Good point. You see, at LBS, everybody knows their own grades, but not the others’. The don’t get to know their ranks either. They are forbidden from mentioning grades in their resumes, and LBS certainly doesn’t tell any of the recruiters their students’ grades. Naturally, the competition is quite low. In fact, I think the only reason people are studying is the fact that they’re paying 20,000 pounds or something to study here. Sounds like a good system, if you ask me. But for a hard-core IIM-B product like me, it’s all too easy to drift into an easy life. In fact, I think I already have!

In case I hear any murmers of dissent, here’s proof. I’m going to “The Phantom of the Opera” tonight. Madame Tussaud’s tomorrow. The Lord’s Cricket Ground and a party (the Sundowners) day-after. ‘The London Eye’ on Friday. Oxford and Cambridge on Saturday. Westminster Abbey and the Big Ben on Sunday. On to Europe next week. See?

Speakers Corner

OK, it’s not in chronological order. So what?

Some of us decided to go to The House of Mirth. Figured it might be worth watching a movie at London. May as well see what the theatres are like. Besides, Gillian Andersen would probably be worth it. (Incidentally, I learnt that it’s pronounced ‘jillian’, not ‘gillian’ with a hard ‘g’. While we’re on the subject of pronounciations, I may as well admit that I learnt ‘buffet’ rhymes with ‘ooph-hey’, ‘genre’ is pronounced ‘jaan-ra’, ‘Renoir’ is ‘Ren-wa’, ‘deluxe’ is ‘deloo’, ‘Nice’ is ‘niece’, ‘rendezvous’ is ‘rondevoo’, and so on. England does teach one how to pronounce French 🙂

The theatres look pretty much like the small theatres in India. A student ticket is 3 pounds(almost Rs. 200), which by now, I actually consider cheap. Only thing is, people don’t like others talking to each other in theatres. We tried to chit-chat, but were shooed down — even before the movie began. The movie was OK. Worth watching once.

Incidentally, when the movie got over, I stood up, to find a bar of chocolate under my foot. At this point, a dilemma presented itself to me. Do I eat it, like I usually do, despite having stepped on it? I mean, it still had it’s cover on… or do I do in London as Londoners do? It was a nice chocolate, and all that. After pondering deeply for about 2 seconds, I took a small bite. It didn’t seem poisoned. I took a larger bite. Seemed tasty too. Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Then we went over to this place called the ‘Speaker’s Corner’ or something. It’s a corner of Hyde Park where anyone can come over, get on a stool, and start talking. The first guy we met, poor fellow, was just standing on a stool waiting for people to come over to him and talk. We figured he wouldn’t have much to say, so we moved on to a more colourful character.

The colourful character stood on a tall stool which said

Tony Alien
Advocate Heckler
Anarchist Parasite
Mixed-ability Shaman
http://www.newagenda.co.uk

First, of course, we took a photo of this guy, and then listened to him. He was expressing his strong opinions about drugs, and how one can’t live on 60 pounds a week. He was also calling the policemen around some names. In fact, just as he was doing that, the police were dragging off an African-American who kept shouting “This place is against the Muslims, man! You’re all against Muslims!” I later learned that he was not a speaker — just a member of the crowd who started beating up a speaker or something.

We moved on to another African American. His argument was simple. “We all know that Jesus is the son of God. But when we tell this to the Muslims, they say ‘No’. Why? Because we have no proof. Well, today, we have proof!” At this point, a few Jews and Muslims around him started fighting with each other. At least half of them were drunk. Then there was the ‘Brotherhood of the Cross & Stars’. An African-American in a white frock.

But the hit of the show was Stewart. Stewart was this guy wearing blue glasses and bunny ears, standing on top of a bottle crate. He looked funny, so we went over, to hear him say “… and Jesus Christ is here to save our ass. And if he’s here to save our ass, then by Holy Ass, it’s saved!” Clearly, he was making a mockery of the whole show, but just as clearly, he was the funniest of the lot. So we stuck on.

He had lunch that day with someone (he wouldn’t tell us who, because who she was was none of our business, and none of his either, for that matter) at an up-scale restaurant at Notting Hill. He had pizza, dessert, bananas, and all kinds of stuff, and as he was drinking apple juice, he just couldn’t stop himself, so he threw up. He didn’t throw up the pizza and dessert — just the bananas and apple juice, which were kind-of on top. Now, this up-scale restaurant was terribly upset that someone threw up their food, so they decided to waive the fee. Stewart and his friend (whose identity is none of our business, and none of his either, as he reminded us), felt that was great, and walked out. Then they remembered that they hadn’t tipped him. Stewart, by then, was on his way to Speaker’s Corner, and had put on his bunny ears. As a matter of policy, he doesn’t remove his bunny ears until he’s finished what he has to say. So he goes over to the restaurant to tip the waiter, in bunny ears, even though he hadn’t paid them in the first place, and had puked in the second.

At about this point, a gentleman with a deep growling voice comes over and says aloud, “You are talking utter nonsense. Those people talking over there, they have something to say. You have NOTHING!” Stewart claims that’s precisely the point. He’s saying nothing. You’re hearing nothing. There IS nothing. Growling voice goes on about how those who’re listening to him are wasting their time, when Stewart begins to go “Grrr, Arf Arf Arf.” It’s incredible how close he sounded to the heckler.

A slightly demented looking guy in the audience came forward, and said, “I have a question.”

Stewart: “Sure, go ahead and ask!”

Demented guy: “It’s for him,” pointing to the growling man.

Stewart: “Sure, go ahead.”

Demented guy to growling man: “Grrr, arf arf arf?”

The whole crowd burst out laughing, and Stewart turns to the demented guy and says, “You’re good. You’re real good, and you know it!”

The highlight of the evening was that we got to see Shahnaz Hussain. I even took a snap of her. She does look a little overdressed, though.


Incidentally, when the Palestinian trouble broke out (on 12th October), there was a march by Muslims in the UK to protest against the British stance on the issue. It was a sight to watch. I was walking along with Jean-Francois (a French exchange student from Kellog) from the Thornton computer lab to the main LBS building. The road was blocked. There were about 100-150 muslims walking on the road, shouting something. What impressed Jean-Francois and me was that they were surrounded by 100-150 policemen, and that about 10 police vans were following the crowd. Neither of us had seen such a high police-protestor ratio. Guess there isn’t much chance of violence, given such an entourage.

Harrods

I had the courage to walk into Harrod’s today. Rather silly of me, really, since I had about 250 pounds in my pocket, and was wearing an IIM-B jacket with my backpack.

As soon as I walked in, a guard came up to me and said, “I’m afraid you’ll have to carry your backpack in your hand in this store, sir.” Struck me as slightly crazy. What, is it a measure against shoplifting? Or is it like you’re supposed to wear suits in some shops? Or did he just want me to feel uncomfortable? If so, he succeeded extremely well. It’s painful to carry a backpack in your hand, even if it’s got next to nothing.

The entrance led to the perfumes section with lots of French names. I sensibly walked out, and into the men’s accessories section. The only thing in my budget was a teddy bear on display for 19.95 pounds, and I’ve promised myself not to buy any more teddy bears. Went on to the frosted foods section. Looked really nice. For the first time, I walked past meat without a revolted look on my face. I mean, pork was actually packed like a pig, but it looked so elegant. Then to the coffee and tea section. There were some coffee jugs that looked like they needed buying. But not now…

Uptil now, I had consciously avoided looking at the prices. I was window shopping, after all. But the designer jewellery section forced me. There were, of course, tiny diamond rings for 1,000 pounds. I looked around, for the first time, at the people around — who could probably afford these rings. Sure, all of them were wearing suits. The ladies were wearing some kind of sophisticated casual dress (can’t describe it — too sophisticated for me), while there I was, in Allen Solly trousers (luckily), unbranded T-shirt, IIM-B sweatshirt, torn backpack, and IIM-B hip-pack. Unshaven. It speaks volumes of my courage that I decided to explore the section rather than run away.

I began hunting for the most expensive item. Thought it would put life in perspective. I found a necklace for 45,000 pounds. That’s over Rs. 30 lakhs. Being courageous, I didn’t faint. A few rows down, there was a ring (had to be gold) with something big and red in the middle. 135,000 pounds(over Rs. 91 lakhs). Should do well as a wedding gift, I guess. But the pick of the lot was a watch. The tag said 189,000 pounds (almost Rs. 1.3 crores). It was a diamond watch. Let me explain what that means. Watches usually have a strap, right? Sometimes they’re made of steel, right? This one had one that was made of diamonds — with steel between the diamonds. You could barely see the steel. Watches also have a dial, right? That was made of diamond too. I could see it because it was cut. The hands were probably studded with diamonds too, but I couldn’t see clearly. That’s because the glass cover on the watch wasn’t glass, but diamond.

Feeling decidedly sophisticated at this point, I walked up to the Food & Wine section. Again, with the objective of determining the costliest item around. It wasn’t an exhaustive search, mine, but I figure there aren’t many wines that sell at 45 pounds for 0.375l. That was Schilfwein Halves, Wills Optiz 1994. (Don’t ask.) Of the Champagnes, Brut 1985, Savlon, Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesmil was 115 pounds for 0.75l. But the costliest piece on the floor was Montranchet Grand Cru, at 435 pounds for 0.75l. No, I have no idea what kind of beverage it was.

And this is just one floor of Harrod’s. I decided to come back to explore the other floors when I had a suit on, and did not have a backpack. So I walked down to Hyde Park, where hundreds of birds insisted that I feed them my lunch, failing which they would take it by themselves. After having escaped with a few cake crumbs, I made my way back to LBS.

A tiring day

A rather tiring day.

  • 09:00 am: Wake up, and still feel sleepy.
  • 10:00 am: Leave for LBS
  • 11:00 am: Reach LBS. Check mails. These days, it takes a couple of hours.
  • 12:30 pm: Attend India Club meeting for Diwali celebrations. Very well organized.
  • 01:15 pm: Presentation by Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Pretty good. Manage to stay awake.
  • 02:15 pm: Eat lunch. Stupidly eat prawns without seeing the labels. Almost vomit.
  • 03:00 pm: Group meeting. Discuss Dell.
  • 04:15 pm: Fall asleep in AT Kearney’s presentation.
  • 05:15 pm: Stay away from anything that looks non-veg during tea.
  • 06:00 pm: World economy class. Excellent professor. Terribly funny. Everything makes sense.
  • 07:00 pm: Guest lecturer. Fall asleep.
  • 08:00 pm: Back to Prof. Scott. Wake up and listen.
  • 09:00 pm: Answer more mails.
  • 10:00 pm: Chucked out of computer center. Go home.
  • 11:15 pm: Have dinner.
  • midnight: Crash.

British and animals

I had my first case interview today. Four of us (3 exchange students and one LBS MBA grad) sat together and tried giving each other cases. It’s an excellent learning experience. Had I gone in for a case interview without this preparation, I’d have flunked.

Our class on Financial Analysis was good fun — and an exposure to yet another illustration of internationalism. Prof. Higson (in his perfect British accent) mentioned that he was part of a programme on TV for some society of animals. (Not as a caged animal that looked sorry, he assured us. He was talking about stocks — no idea why.) We were discussing the ‘Body Shop’ company (the one that sells natural cosmetics), and apparantly this company was blacklisted by the programme, for failing to be ‘animal-friendly’. Prof. Higson was mentioning that one of the reasons for Body Shop’s success was the British obsession with being kind to animals. He suggested that, therefore, Body Shop may not have been as successful elsewhere.

That was a leading question, naturally, and someone disagreed. So Prof. Higson quietly murmurs, “Perhaps there’s someone from France in this class?”

Prompt comes the response from the back row. “Yeah. And we don’t give a f*** about animals.”

Scanned Target magazine

I’ve scanned a couple of more pages of Target that have the job profile of the LBS graduating class of 2000 and the summer of MBA 2001. Incidentally, this magazine also publishes a complete list of who’s joined which company. Really neat idea, great for contacts.