Listening to the user

Given this is the longest running topic on the internet, I will keep my  two cents very short. Every time I set up a calendar slot or an alarm on an Apple product, I find it just that bit easier – for the simple reason that Apple offers me only multiples of 5 (for setting minutes) which makes the whole thing much faster. So I can set up an alert for 9.15am or 9.20 am but nor for 9.17 am or 9.21 am. Think about this – how many of us really need to have alarms set up for 9.17 or 9.21?

Having said that, I have also realised how difficult it is to truly listen to users & ignore conventional wisdom – which seems to always be on the side of more bells & whistles.

Dhingana, Bombay Royale and Indira Gandhi

 

As I listened to a medley of popular 70s hindi music over the last couple of weeks on Dhingana, the online music app I have recently discovered, a thought struck me. Seventies hindi music seems to have had a huge amount of western influence. Much more than the hindi film music of now and certainly more than that of the 60s, 50s or before. And a couple of days ago, this thought was reinforced by an interview on BBC. They were doing a special on the Glastonbury music festival and were  interviewing the Aussie band “Bombay Royale”. The Bombay Royale, in case you have not come across them, is a bunch of white aussies and 2 people of Indian origin who have teamed up together, they say, to produce the ‘epic’ sound of 70s bollywood music. And in the interview, one of their leaders – The Skipper – mentioned that he particularly liked the fact that 70s Indian film music had a very international feel to it. 

All of which, on a bit of reflection, starts to sound strange. In the 6 decades of India’s independence, there was no decade more decidedly inward-looking and clearly not international as the 1970s. Remember this was the decade when Indira Gandhi had nationalised everything leading to no need for any foreigner to be in India for business, had proclaimed the emergency which did not leave too many of leaders outside jail for them to go abroad and and had a perversely socialist streak which led to ordinary Indians being allowed a princely sum of $8 dollars for the entire trip for every person going abroad. On the whole most of us sat at home and looked longingly at our lucky cousins who went away to Africa. And to add insult to injury, Richard Nixon (or was it his sidekick Kissinger?) called India, “the largest unimportant country in the world”.

So this was the 70s in which suddenly our film music was all international. How did this happen?

Bicycle Travel

Got this Youtube link from my old colleague, good friend & mega bike-enthusiast Mohit. And since I wholeheartedly approve of the notion of slow travel in its ability to suck out every bit of juice of the world around us, here it is for all you. A reminder that Fast is sometimes the enemy of the Great – especially in travel (actually also in Food, but that is another story).

The population conundrum

Mauritius is a country in the Indian Ocean with a population of 1.2 million people. India (the country from which, incidentally, the Indian Ocean gets its very name) has 1.2 billion people – which is exactly 1000 times the population of Mauritius.

This fact struck me as we were driving across Mauritius last month. As we drove past the softly rolling country, I got to see huge expanse of land on both sides of the road with very little sign of human habitation – totally unlike what one sees in India. Clearly this was a country with a small population.

Till I thought a bit more about it and decided to dig further and examine this whole population issue from the density perspective. Population density of a country is the number of people living in a square kilometre and should normally reflect how congested living conditions are likely to be in that country. Here is what I found:

India has a population density of 382 & Mauritius has a population density of 631. Which means that Mauritius has double the number of people of India living in one square kilometre. So, why is it that India feels so crowded and Mauritius so open?

The answer – India’s overcrowded & over populated cities. India is not as crowded a country as seems to us urban folk. Those of us who have spent time travelling in the rural interiors of India (especially in the North) have encountered large tracts of land with very little signs of human habitation. The problem of crowding seems to a uniquely urban phenomenon. So I looked up some more numbers.

Here is the population density of some of India’s top cities:

Delhi – 9340

Mumbai – 21,261

Bangalore – 4378

The problem, though lesser, continues into some of the smaller cities as well:

Ahmedabad – 890

Kanpur – 1449

Coimbatore – 748

So clearly, we need to quickly figure out how to make Indian cities less congested & so more livable.

Incidentally, the world average for population density is just 45.3 people per square kilometre of land area. A good target to try to get to.

Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, Bangalore, December 2012

Was at Dr L.Subramaniam’s annual fusion music festival last night. He started with a real foot stomper called ‘Indian Express’ (poetic justice indeed, since the festival itself is sponsored by the Times of India) and ended the evening with Don’t Leave Me. In between were pieces by  his wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, their kids and two other musicians. Except for the odd flash I pretty much forgot HolidayIQ for over 2 hours; evidently the music was absorbing.

A small regret – I would have liked the two global musicians to have got a bit more of play time. Froy Aagre from Norway on the Sax & Chris Rhyne from LA on the keyboards.

MOMA/Iwent

Image

Last month while in Manhattan I visited the Museum of Modern Art for a few hours. And was captivated by an initiative they have right at the lobby.

Here is what they do. All visitors to MOMA can pick up a piece of paper and write/doodle/whatever they want to on it, ideally about how their MOMA experience went. Then they can scan it in a easy-to-use scanner and up their masterpiece goes on to the MOMA website inside the ‘iwent’ section (incidentally it also gets projected on to a wall in the lobby). You can go later to the MOMA website and ‘claim’ and share your scan using the unique id that each piece of paper has. Essentially, this is a really creative and cool method of giving user feedback, a whole lot more fun that just writing a Review. Exactly mirrors our thoughts on how HolidayIQ’s hiq! should feel. Loved it.

Read more about this here: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2011/12/07/i-went-to-moma-and-it-s-back/ & here: http://www.moma.org/iwent/

Coke Studio Pakistan

Last weekend I seriously overdosed on Coke Studio Pakistan on Youtube and have not been able to purge it from my system since. Looks like this weekend is set to be a repeat.

As many have pointed out before, Coke Studio Pakistan is better than its Indian avatar. I had never heard of Rohail Hyatt – the producer of CS Pakistan – before ; but the guy shows sheer genius. I have forever been wary of fusion music (as also fusion food) given the difficulty of creating something truly seamless by merging massively disparate cultural contexts. But this man has absolutely done it. Read an excellent interview with him here.

And as another weekend creeps up, I am completely lost between the smoky voice, the aquiline profile and haunting melody of Meesha Shafi crooning Chori Chori..