There are 10% of students who are self-⁠motivated to study

“The challenge is that the video will only explain how to solve for the 1/4 (solve for x), the 100 (solve for y) or the 25 (solve for z). The pattern is consistent across all the assessment questions, even though the sheer number of questions is impressive,” says Somarajan. He detected an undeniable pattern.

From learning fractions to solving quadratic equations, you can graft this type of pattern onto any relatable background.

Analyzing the dimensions

For instance, a simulated cricket match, where the batsman’s mid-off sixer is used to calculate angles. But underneath all the “fun” stuff is Raveendran’s own “crack-the-question” method of teaching.

“It’s the FIITJEE model of training, but in a digitized, interactive format,” adds Somarajan. FIITJEE is the Forum for Indian Institution of Technology Joint Entrance Examination—a coaching center that preps millions of aspiring engineers every year for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance exam.

So is Byju’s just test-prep on steroids?

The Ken asked four education experts, including Somarajan, to vet a few Class 8 math and science modules on Byju’s Learning App. A math curriculum expert, an educationist, a principal and a behavioral psychologist evaluated the conceptual learning journeys using a rubric that analyzed:

  • Content coverage and mapping (how matched is it to current class 8 syllabus taught in schools)
  • Content delivery (how easy is it to learn from the examples shown in videos)
  • Engagement with the platform (ease of navigation, the pace of videos, language, interactivity)
  • And finally, assessment and feedback (how does the user know how well/poorly they’re doing)
  • Three out of the four experts agreed that the videos have clear and effective explanations and that the content is interactive and the assessment questions well-placed.

Observations made by the experts

However, the Mumbai-based maths expert made an extra observation: the app is a useful supplement if you want to learn a procedure—or master a trick—to max an exam. But it reduces the likelihood of remembering why these steps are important. “This kind of teaching comes from 20-30 years ago when we didn’t have the technology to model conceptual learning online,” she adds.

She was also confused by the learning journey structure, which, she says, didn’t lay out clear goals right at the beginning. “If you’re taking me on a journey, it makes sense to tell me where we’re going. The videos jump into explanations, without clearly telling users what they’re going to learn.”

However, where Byju’s platform could be effective is in churning out, algorithmically, question after intelligent question to help students learn through what it calls “unlimited practice”.

“The platform has a method of ongoing assessment with high quality formative and summative questions. The content is engaging and culturally sensitive and the material builds user confidence,” says Hansika Kapoor, the psychologist who was part of the panel.

64 Minutes

Raveendran is pretty happy with the traction that Byju’s has received so far. In fact, he’s set his sights on a new type of competitor.

“When it comes to engagement, who do you compare yourself to?”

“Netflix has more viewers,” says Raveendran, with a wry smile.

In the absence of specific edtech indicators, Byju’s has to rely on conventional ones. Time spent on the app is the closest measure of engagement, which, according to Byju’s, is 64 minutes daily, mostly spread over two half-hour sessions. Byju’s also tracks its Net Promoter Score (NPS), an index that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others, which, as of 2016, was at +16. Byju’s NPS, on a scale from -100 to 100, is average.

But comparing Netflix to an edtech solution is like comparing apples to shampoo. Or is it?

In the business of edutainment, say, experts, you’re directly competing with all the other activities the student might be using the phone or tablet for—especially entertainment content. But Raveendran’s real competition is the time a student spends with a book at home during self-study. Time and attention are the real estates that Byju’s wants to capture. But how much can 64 minutes do?

 

 

What are the advantages if we get it from start?

Kumar remains bullish. He indicates that the cost benefits achieved by having a limited assortment will be passed on to the customer, making it all worthwhile.

A retail consultant The Ken spoke to, however, thinks that this could open up a whole new can of worms. If Grofers’ number of SKUs is really small and if that (2,500) is the number, he says, the company is actually competing with the neighborhood Kirana store, who has a similar number of SKUs. This increased competition, he feels, makes it a risky play.

“And the Kirana guy will always have a competitive advantage. First of all, it’s the experience one is used to. You don’t have to search for products or worry about payments or damaged products.

Given that a lot of smaller stores also respond to changes in the market, it won’t be easy to defeat them,” says an expert, who asked not to be quoted as he works with some of these grocery startups.

Owning the customer

Even if we are to assume that a customer would pick shopping online over their traditional Kirana store/supermarket experience, what makes her pick Grofers over its competitors? Here’s the thing: Grofers is not the platform for slightly more evolved customers, such as those looking for organic products, gourmet items, and fancier brands.

Kumar says this is just a matter of customer differentiation. “A DMart (a value retail chain) customer is not the same as Nature’s Basket (premium grocery chain) customer”. The evolved customers would go to a platform like Bigbasket, which offers more in terms of variety. In fact, Grofers says, it doesn’t even consider Bigbasket a competitor since it targets a different set of customers altogether. But while that may sound grand on paper, the truth is less binary.

“There is no such thing as an evolved or unevolved customer,” says a Bengaluru-based retail consultant. He asked not to be named as he has a business relationship with various retail and grocery startups. While Grofers may claim otherwise, he says, all it’s doing is creating an opening for customers to leave its platform. “if you don’t own your customer, you are going to lose demand,” he concludes.

What are the customer’s needs?

What he essentially means is that since Grofers only services a part of the customer’s needs, she may move to another platform where she gets everything. Bigbasket’s recent foray into micro-deliveries and Amazon’s two-format approach—Prime Now, meant for express delivery, and Pantry, for monthly stocking up—is precisely for this reason.

For Grofers, this ownership happens largely on account of pricing. Either through its monthly subscription program—pay Rs 49 ($0.70) a month to save 2% on every order—or through special offer periods. While about 70% of its GMV (gross merchandise value) comes from its subscription program members, the special offer periods also help drive customer acquisition. Sources say that during Grofers’ January sale, the company acquired 250,000 customers. It also tries to lock customers in for multiple purchase cycles by offering incentives for large spends.

Another retail consultant, who has advised several brick-and-mortar grocery chains, disagrees with this approach. “You can drive GMVs on it, but one can’t build a solid business on pricing,” he says. He takes Paytm Mall* as an example of this. According to reports, sales of groceries on the platform plummeted by 90% after cashbacks were withdrawn. He asked not to be named as he is looking to do business with an e-grocery startup.

Harminder Sahni, the founder of retail consultancy firm Wazir Advisors, concurs. “Value customers are not the most loyal customers. Today they will buy, but tomorrow if they get a good bargain somewhere else, they will jump. There are examples galore in e-commerce—from Snapdeal to ShopClues. Moreover, unlike offline, there is no habit formation,” he says.

 

Swapping out the right things at the right time

“There are a few technological or operational barriers to swapping,” says Akhil Aryan, co-founder of ION Energy. ION delivers battery management systems (BMS) to battery makers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). “The biggest issue with the growth of battery-swapping is the powerplay behind establishing a common battery standard,” he adds.

Fuel-Powered Vehicle

If the IC engine is the beating heart of a fuel-powered vehicle, the BMS is an EV’s brain. Accounting for at least 50% of the cost of an EV, the battery is what causes some EVs to cover the greater range, go faster and be more efficient. Owning the battery standard, according to Aryan, is a strategic advantage that OEMs are loath to forego.

But SUN has a referendum, if not a mandate. Maini’s reputation, as the creator of the Reva, India’s first electric car, precedes him. SUN has also planned to raise investments from large institutional investors worth Rs 1,670 crore ($241.4 million) over 3-5 years to build out its swapping infrastructure across India. Though in its nascency, SUN is in talks with 9 OEMs to create a common battery standard.

SUN may have Android-like aspirations for the EV charging space—to bring all OEMs and battery manufacturers onto a common, interoperable battery standard. But, as Aryan notes, so will large OEMs and other battery-swapping players. Especially as the price of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries drops further. Who will remain standing at the end of this industry tug-of-war?

If charging an electric two-wheeler takes eight hours, swapping takes less than eight minutes. In fact, as Maini claims, the downtime for a vehicle is closer to 3 minutes. The quick turnaround time is a boon, especially for EVs used in delivery fleets and public transport.

How much does it cost?

While the government has delicensed setting up charging stations for private players, thus making them easier to set up, the high land and power costs remain a deterrent. According to a representative at ABB, a Swiss-Swedish energy company operating one of India’s few fast-charging stations in Delhi (on the premises of government think tank NITI Aayog), it costs anywhere between Rs 30,000 to Rs 3,00,000 ($433-4,340) to set up 3-pin charging ports for 200-300 small vehicles, exclusive of the cost of land and power. These stations would also need to be large enough to park hundreds of scooters or rickshaws.

In contrast, swapping stations are thrifty in terms of both space and power.

A shiny, compartmentalized box, the SUN Quick Interchange Station (QIS) looks a bit like two mid-sized washing machines welded together. One QIS station houses about 20 swappable batteries and can serve 150-200 two and three-wheelers a day. Fifty such stations can cater to around 5,000-7,000 vehicles, accounting for battery downtime. “Imagine finding parking for that many scooters and rickshaws. All the QIS needs are power and the internet. It’s like installing an appliance,” goes Maini’s pitch.

A considerable time spent

SUN’s ramp-up strategy is compelling. Especially when Maini talks about the smart Li-ion batteries, kitted out with three different computing systems. SUN imports lithium cells from China but assembles everything else domestically. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the electronics,” he explains, adding, “One computer is the BMS, one controls the power and safety mechanism, and one is a GSM SIM card, which communicates with the vehicle and the network.” At the back-end, an IOT tech platform knows exactly where the batteries are deployed and how much charge they have.

“With removable batteries, even the upfront cost of buying an EV comes down by about 50%. For the price of one electric three-wheeler, you could now buy two,” claims Maini. The running costs of an EV are almost a quarter that of an IC engine vehicle. Over time, this could rationalize the slightly higher upfront cost.

 

 

The Freshworks journey from zero to $100 million

June 2011.

I first saw Girish Mathrubootham* in June 2011 at a pitch competition in Bengaluru.

A master storyteller though

But Mathrubootham himself was remarkable—a master storyteller.

Mathrubootham started his presentation by saying how he left his well-paying corporate job at Zoho and plunged into entrepreneurship despite having a family with two small kids to support. He spoke about how a casual comment on HackerNews had sparked off an urge to do something of his own. He didn’t speak about any “grand vision” to change the world and simply narrated a compelling personal story.

There were two facets of his story that I still remember fondly.

He quoted a famous punchline from Superstar Rajinikanth that had both the audience and the judges in splits and nodding in appreciation.

He also spoke about how he had to sell his family sedan and trade it in for a small hatchback as he moved from a cushy corporate job to a grueling startup stint. The image of this hulk of a man driving a Maruti 800, with his wife and two children in tow, threw up an incongruous but evocative visual.

The judges of that contest named him the winner of the $40,000 prize.

June 2019.

Mathrubootham no longer drives a Maruti.

He is the owner of a fleet of luxury cars. The crowning glory, a top-end Maybach. One of those formidable beasts that you can’t resist unabashedly gawking at as it passes you by.

Even so, two things haven’t changed.

License Plate 

One, the Maybach’s license plate bears the number 8055—a numeric representation for the word BOSS—a moniker for Rajinikanth used by his fans.

And two, Mathrubootham still continues to be a master storyteller. A skill that he has leveraged to take his company on a transformational journey that mirrors his own from a Maruti to a Maybach.

Freshdesk is now called Freshworks, expanding from a single help-desk product to a full suite of enterprise solutions. From six customers in 2011, the company now services a clientele of over 150,000 businesses across more than 120 countries. From a team strength of four, Freshworks now has over two thousand employees. With total funding of $250 million and a valuation of $1.5 billion, Freshworks became India’s first SaaS unicorn in August 2018.

Impressively, Freshworks has grown from $1 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue) to $100 Million ARR in just five years and two months. As the graph below demonstrates, this is a rate of growth that matches those of the best SaaS startups globally.

Ken caught up with Girish Mathrubootham to understand the drivers behind this impressive growth.

From blue oceans to red oceans
So what did Freshworks do differently/better to cross the $100m ARR and $1 billion valuation milestones?

Conventional startup lore would prescribe that the route to being a successful startup is to find a solution to an unsolved problem, a blue ocean.

Mathrubootham, instead, chose a “red ocean” market—an existing market crowded with multiple vendors jostling for space and attention.

How does this make sense?

While a blue ocean market opportunity might seem tempting in that there are no competitive threats, it might not be as appealing as it might appear at first glance.

What with customers having diverse needs rather than common pain points. The cost of delivering a solution that solves this problem may not make economic sense.

Most importantly, winning such markets often requires evangelical marketing where the customer base needs to be “educated” about the solution—an expensive and time-consuming proposition at the best of times.

 

Agarwal doesn’t need all bankers. He only needs one

It bears a coupon or interest rate that needs to be serviced. This interest rate is pegged at a level that reflects the “risk” of the loan. Risk is a function of the ability of the borrower to reliably pay back the money (in the case of a company, this would be evidenced by its free cash flow and growth) and the “liquidity” of the asset or collateral (for instance, if shares are being pledged, is there a market for these shares, can it be sold to others should the situation arise and if so, at what value).

Prevention against the action

Finally, lenders look at the influence or power wielded by the borrower over the company whose shares are being bought/lent against. What a lender wants to ensure is that the borrower has enough leverage and power to prevent the company from taking any major action that might destabilize it or risk repayments.

For instance, say a lender gives $200 million to a founder to buy back shares, but then the company itself borrows $1 billion for some reason or goes on an acquisition spree. Then that calls into question the value of the $200 million as well. So they want to ensure that borrowers have the adequate influence to prevent such things.

So how do these facets play out specifically for this deal?

Given that Agarwal has no source of wealth outside OYO, it comes as no surprise that he is pledging the very same shares he is buying as collateral.

But what are these shares worth?

One could say that OYO is, in any case, worth billions of dollars. After all, it is one of the highest-valued startups in India. The problem, of course, is that OYO’s valuation has little to do with its value. Valuation is a function of the funding it has attracted. The billions of dollars of funding it has secured endows it with a multi-billion valuation in the same manner like a tail wagging the dog. Value, on the other hand, is measured by more traditional metrics such as free cash flow and profitability. Given that OYO is far from profitable, that wouldn’t work.

Also, according to investment bankers, The Ken spoke to, the standard LTV adopted when lending for the purchase of liquid and listed shares is 50%. For unlisted companies, you typically halve that. So, 25-30%. This means, that to secure a loan of $2 billion, Agarwal would need to pledge shares worth a minimum of $6 billion.

But the entire company’s valuation was less than this in the last round of funding. Even at the rumored $10 billion valuations of the next round, Agarwal’s entire OYO holding (the sum of the 9% stake he currently holds and the ~20% he plans to buy) would be worth only around $3 billion.

So how do you get past this obstacle?

Simple.

Enter kayfabe.

Remember that IPO that OYO is claiming to target in the next two or three years? Did you notice anything strange about the $18 billion valuations that are being bandied about? It is a somewhat strange number; not a clean round figure like, say, $20 billion, not even a simple multiple of the $5.7 billion valuations it secured in its last funding round. $18 billion is a vaguely imprecise number. But, by an amazing coincidence, it is exactly how much it would need to be worth if Agarwal’s one-third share in the company would need to be worth $6 billion!

Are they gullible?

But surely bankers are not as gullible as invertebrate journalists who willingly suspend disbelief to faithfully parrot the pie-in-the-sky valuations that OYO’s PR team dishes out?

Maybe not all bankers.

But Agarwal doesn’t need all bankers. He only needs one. One who is clued into the kayfabe and therefore has an informed view on how things will pan out.

If at all Agarwal is able to pull off such a deal, it certainly won’t involve a banker in India. Both because of the size of the deal and because Indian regulations have riders around lending against shares.

So it might be fair to believe that it will be in a place like Singapore. Someone like, say, JP Morgan, which is not only a structured/situational lender but also has a close prior relationship with OYO (the bank was the merchant banker in OYO’s last fundraise).

 

To be sure, language continues to be an integral part

Why is this more prevalent in south India though, in a country that has over 122 “major languages” and 1,599 lesser ones? Many of which are dialects.

One narrative is that this is due to the increasing number of music composers in the film industry after the advent of A R Rahman. The other, that stands true even for the Ilayaraja and pre-Ilayaraja days, is that while the whole of south India, from the outside, looks like a culturally homogenous blob, there are four dominant, and more importantly, distinctive languages. Within those four, Tamil and Malayalam have quite a few common words. Kannada and Telugu, meanwhile, share a similar script.

Vishu, the Malayali astronomical new year coincides with the Tamil New Year, around 14-15 April every year. The festival of lights, Deepavali, down south is a singular story about the death of Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krishna, unlike the North, where ‘Diwali’ celebrates the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years.

Beyond these inherent factors, there are many others that may be accentuating this multiculturalism of south India. Of those, one of the biggest in the cinema. Allow me to illustrate with some examples:

  • Tamil superstar Rajinikanth doesn’t make any overt attempts to hide his Marathi roots or his Bengaluru background.
  • Most Tamilians are aware of MG Ramachandran’s Kerala roots and Vijayakanth’s Telugu roots.
  • Mani Ratnam’s debut was a Kannada film, Pallavi Anu Pallavi, starring Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, at that.
  • Kannada actors Mohan, Murali, and Arjun found their success and mooring in Tamil films, after briefly trying their luck in Kannada cinema.
  • Now retired, Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi often played a villain in his early days and that included playing the antagonist to Rajinikanth in Tamil films like Ranuva Veeran. His films, dubbed in Tamil, always had a market too.
  • Allu Arjun has a thriving market in Kerala thanks to his Telugu films dubbed in Malayalam gaining huge popularity.
  • Tamil kuthu songs made a mark in Kerala long before they started producing their own ‘adipoli’ (translation: excellent) songs. Some songs have transcended borders and became popular across the South. Like the Malayalam song Lajjavathiye, or last year’s Jimikki Kammal.
  • Kannada star Ravichandran hit gold with his Paruva Ragam (Premaloka in Kannada), a bilingual film. Although his next trilingual film, Shanti Kranti (Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu) bombed.
  • Veteran Tamil director K Balachander, after his split with Ilayaraja, roped in the Telugu music composer M M Keeravani (composing with the pseudonym Marakathamani in Tamil and M M Kreem in Hindi) for his 1991 film Azhagan. Keeravani debuted in Telugu just the year before, in 1990.
  • Tamil star Ajith Kumar debuted across two different languages in 1993—the Tamil film Amaravathi and the Telugu film Prema Pusthakam.
  • Suriya and Vijay’s Tamil movies get dubbed in Telugu these days as against the films’ plots getting sold for remakes starring a Telugu actor.
  • Sundeep Kishan, the nephew of cinematographers Chota K Naidu and Shyam K Naidu, has parallel careers running in both Telugu and Tamil, as a male lead.
  • Aadhi, who goes by just his first name in Tamil and goes by his full name, Aadhi Pinisetty, in Telugu is starting on a similar journey after a tentative start in Tamil.
  • Vishal, too, is on a similar trajectory. After a successful stint in Tamil, he is actively investing in bilinguals, and goes by his full name, Vishal Reddy, in Telugu.

Beyond music and playlists though, there are some other significant factors at play for this multicultural assimilation. Subtitled films, for instance.

Chennai, as the film industry capital of South India, has always had select theatres releasing movies in Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, catering only to people who know the language. It was a smaller audience in Hyderabad, for non-Telugu (and non-Hindi) films, and even smaller audiences for non-Kannada films in Bengaluru. But things have changed rapidly

 

Ever since beef became such a contentious issue

Since moving into his own apartment, with a compact but well-stocked kitchen that opens into a breezy balcony with potted plants, home-cooked meals are often far more indulgent than anything he orders in. “And ever since beef became such a contentious issue, I try to cook it at least once a week. Because who knows when it will stop being available in Bengaluru.”

Placed outside the kitchen

Joshua’s 290-liter white refrigerator sits outside his kitchen, adjacent to the dining table and water dispenser. It is stocked with dairy, a mind-boggling array of pickles—we counted nine varieties—organic honey, juice by Paper Boat and a bloody Mary mix. A whole range of sauces and pastes are on standby for meat curries, and his vegetable crisper is packed with fresh greens.

Interestingly, his freezer also contains kajal and tissue specimens of gecko—the latter of which is evidence of his biologist flatmate’s on-site collections.

There are no processed foods of any kind, barring a few strips of bacon, a bag of Goan sausages and some cheese. His pantry is bare of any ready-to-eats. “We don’t snack. Teatime usually features a mug of black coffee, but otherwise, we eat only at mealtimes, and almost all meals are freshly cooked.” Leftovers stretch to two extra meals at the most, usually spruced up with a different pickle.

Joshua didn’t always eat this way. His 20s were filled with two-minute noodles, pizzas, and pasta. Economy and convenience were the order of the day and a rebellion against his childhood of savoring precious wedges of imported cheese sent by NRI relatives and generally slowing down to enjoy a meal.

Back then, his fridge only had condiments like pasta sauces and sundried tomatoes. “But now, in my 30s, I find that I’m eating as I did at my grandparents. Fresh ingredients, and home-cooked nutritious meals,” he says.

Cooking ultra regional

According to Joshua, part of the reason that we are now reverting to older ways of cooking and eating can be attributed to the cool quotient that is attached to buying hyper-local and cooking ultra regional. “We’re seeking out Suma Coffee Works and Cothas Coffee over Blue Tokai! We’re shopping at HopComs over Namdharis and Nature’s Basket, and buying amaranth instead of kale. And being hyper-aware of using plastic, of reducing wastage, of cooking consciously, etc.”

Kusum Sahani, 76, lives with her sister Meena Malhotra, 73, in Gurgaon—a couple of thousand kilometers north of Cooke Town and Bengaluru—along with two live-in domestic workers and four dogs.

Their fridge—a grey 190-liter model, easily the smallest of the six—is meticulously kept, and given a thorough sort-through every other day. The fridge does not store cooked food as a general rule because the sisters insist on eating freshly cooked meals every day. Instead, it holds the cheese, butter, milk, soy sauce, ketchup, chili sauce, rose syrup, fizzy drinks, yogurt and cans or packs of juices. There is always, without exception, ice cream in the freezer.

Picking up the fresh eatables

Every day, Meena picks up fresh vegetables and fruits from a wholesale market nearby to prepare their staple meal of rice and dal, with two seasonal vegetables (something you might see on any North Indian table). The sisters also run a farm a few kilometers away, where they grow spinach, cauliflower and onions.

The vegetable section of the fridge has a steady supply of green chilies, coriander leaves, peas, and tomatoes—the bedrock ingredients for the dishes that make up the majority of their meals. Vegetable sandwiches make a frequent appearance on the menu when they are in the mood for a lighter option. Thrice a week, however, the order in or step out for a meal.

Kusum, who spent the early decades of her life in the tea estates of Assam, near Tinsukia, says, “We used to eat chicken every day, but now we eat it just twice-thrice a week. Food is more simple these days. Once you lose your husband you don’t want to cook so much. We don’t eat red meat these days, but we do eat fish regularly either baked or fried.”

For the canine members of the household, there is chicken soup in the fridge at all times. Meena makes sure of this by buying 10 kilograms of chicken at the start of every week and freezing it. The soup and all the other contents of the fridge are stored in steel containers that fit neatly into the shelves like pieces in a Tetris game.

 

Role of the social media today

He’s likely not exaggerating—many popular Facebook pages traffic in content similar to the kind that is posted on r/indianpeoplefacebook. The major difference, however, is that most of these pages cater to a South Asian audience that speaks at least English and at least one Indian language, expanding the linguistic ambit of the screenshotted content. Reddit, meanwhile, has mostly a Western audience (though it’s not possible to say what percentage of subscribers to r/indianpeoplefacebook specifically are South Asian).

Impact of social media

Facebook pages such as Humans of Jharsa, which has around 80,000 followers, and ShitIndiansSay, which has almost a million, seem to have almost entirely South Asian followings. Both pages, like r/indianpeoplefacebook, often share pictures of social media posts by South Asians that are deemed ripe for mockery.

They generally post r/indianpeoplefacebook-style screenshots alongside other types of off-color in-jokes—what has recently been termed “dank memes”, used so often that they become a staple or even a cliché. The memes on such pages—and to a larger degree, those on some private groups on social media—often play on highly inflammatory topics, such as religion, caste, and sexual violence, according to a recent Vice article.

But while many “dank meme” pages and groups have come under criticism or been banned for posting sexual or politically controversial content, the “cringe” humor based on screenshots of people’s social media seems to have, for the most part, escaped public scrutiny or censure.

Was there any caution taken?

More caution seems warranted. Forums in which social-media screenshots are shared without the original poster’s knowledge or permission can subject the original poster to many risks, including “doxxing” (the non-consensual sharing of one’s personal details), cyberbullying and harassment.

The first rule of r/indianpeoplefacebook states that all social-media screenshots in which the poster has not redacted the subject’s personal information—things like full names, locations and Twitter handles—will be deleted. This does not, however, specify that people’s faces must be blurred out or masked in any way; doing so is not common practice on the subreddit at all. These precautions then do nothing to prevent those who already know the subjects of the posts in real life from recognizing that they are being mocked online.

The dark side of such memes became clear in India last year, soon after the story of a young man named “Sanjay Kapoor” went viral. An Instagram account under that name posted photographs of a young man (“Sanjay”) and an older man (“Durgesh”), along with commentary that told an outrageous story about how Durgesh had repeatedly catfished—or tricked into a relationship—Sanjay.

The story, it soon came to light, was completely false, fabricated by someone who knew the men and sought to hurt them. The older man in the photos, it turns out, was the younger man’s disabled father. According to New York Magazine, the younger man fell into “deep despair” at the revelation that his father’s photo had been used in such away.

#PlaneBae and a worrying trend

Internet “fame” can be a bitter pill even when measures are taken to protect a subject’s anonymity. This July, a woman named Rosey Blair live-tweeted a long thread in which she relayed a story about people sitting near her in a plane—a man and a woman who had just met and who, in her view, had an instant connection worthy of a juicy romantic comedy.

Blair posted photos of the pair, but none that showed their faces; she did not post their names. The thread went viral, and the man from the plane—a professional football player—cheekily outed himself as “#PlaneBae” online. The woman did not speak publicly at all, but internet commenters managed to find her anyway, and, according to a statement she released through a lawyer, she has since been “doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed,” and chose to deactivate her social media accounts in the wake of it.

For now, though, such cautionary tales do not seem to have dampened the internet’s enthusiasm for social media screenshots.

 

 

India has no official protocol regulating the security of our cultural heritage

The trust he’s referring to is the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavilion Trust, owned by the Nizam’s younger grandson Mufakkam Jah. The tussle between Mufakkam and his brother Mukarram Jah, who owns the Purani Haveli building, is fodder for Hyderabad gossip and may be one factor that impedes any security upgrades. But locals like Anuradha Reddy also point to the role of illegal structures.

“I’ve done guided tours in Purani Haveli for years, and the encroachment is ridiculous. A neighboring building has three walls of its own. The fourth is a wall it shares with the haveli,” says Reddy, convenor of the Hyderabad chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. “What was the municipal corporation thinking? No wonder the museum was an easy target.”

What were the items though?

Former curator D. Bhaskar Rao had stored the most precious items—including the gold tiffin—in the museum’s most secure section. “But for whatever reason,” says a heritage activist, requesting anonymity, “some people reorganized the galleries. The tiffin and other objects were moved to a room completely devoid of security.”

Don’t be fooled by popular culture’s romanticization of heists. Basic planning matters more than cutting-edge technology. This applies to security too. Take the single entry-single exit rule of thumb followed by museums abroad. Or that most heritage structures, with their numerous corridors, old fenestrations and lack of climate control weren’t designed to be museums. Interventions here involve walking a tightrope between heritage committees and security upgrades.

“The most important thing is the artifact, not the space around it. When the artifact becomes your focus, security automatically gets tethered to what you’re doing,” says Abhishek Ray, principal architect with Matrika Design Collaborative. Many things concern him about security infrastructure here: outdated CCTV recording and metadata formats, staff shortages, lackadaisical attitudes to live monitoring and inconsistent use of shatterproof glass and sensors. But the worst?

Schemes providing great financial assistance

“The tendering process,” says Ray, who’s worked with the National Museum in Delhi and Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). The Ministry of Culture’s Museum Grant Scheme provides financial assistance to both public and autonomous institutions, but at what cost?

“We have to share blueprints with contractors even before someone is finalized,’ he explains. “This means sensitive information, even about strongrooms, can be misused if it falls in the wrong hands. Many of us have raised the issue, but the government doesn’t get it.”

What bureaucrats also don’t get is the importance of museum records. Let’s walk through the ramifications.

The better your audits, the more difficult it is for a stolen artifact to get buyers. This can be seen in the recent Nizam Museum heist, where buyers were wary of the gold tiffin because it had a recorded antiquity value. That it was associated with a highly publicized collection of a highly publicized ruler also helped. It’s the unprovenanced stuff that has easy buyers.

Missing items

Cataloging makes it incumbent on museums to report stolen or missing items. And museums don’t always go public about these things, says S Vijay Kumar, founder of the India Pride Project (a network dedicated to identifying and repatriating stolen artifacts).

“The Government Museum in Egmore, Chennai, had six-seven break-ins in the last 15 years, but the only reported missing object is one coin,” he claims. “Then there were paintings from Sri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar, which is known to have outdated records. These were reported missing during the Kashmir floods. But they recently surfaced in the US for a value of $300,000.”

Let’s take the disconcertion a notch higher. Kumar says the total value of stolen Indian antiquities since 1950 is upwards of Rs 20,000 crore ($2.77 billion). “But this is a conservative estimate,” he adds. So if this is the official estimate, how much is unaccounted for?

One last tidbit. The Ministry of Culture has not made it mandatory for missing antiquities to be recorded with Interpol or the international Art Loss Register.

Remember, these are the gatekeepers of national culture and heritage.