Scene 1 -
Time & Location - Some day in year 2002, on a Bright Sunny Morning Lecture Hall in one of the Top 10 B-Schools (As per Rigged b-school Ratings 2001)
Actors - A PhD in Supply Chain Professor, who has all the rich experience of learning about the SCM in classrooms and the nearest he has been to the term "Chain" would be his Bike Transmission Chain. Also, starry eyed, 40 odd senior year B-school Grads, who pack the deadliest mix of Arrogance and Ignorance and are ready with their armor of business suits.
Scene 2 -
Time & Location - A bright Sunny and Rainy Sunday afternoon in year 2012, somewhere in Little India, Singapore.
Actors -Yours truly, a horde of folks from Indian subcontinent (Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians) and some dazed tourists
Context - I was standing in an ocean of people, trying to locate the Mustafa Mall, looking in one direction as pointed by someone in the crowd. On observing intently, I noticed the jade colored letters MUSTAFA, mixing well with the dust laden and Cheap Neon signs put up by other businesses in Little India. I quickly swallowed the lump in my throat and wiped off the look of disbelief before starting to walk towards the Sign Board. Somehow, during this short walk, the Snazzy 10 year old mental picture of a spick and span Mall was quickly getting metamorphosed into something of a large Indian store in a foreign land.
Stock Management - How can so much of stock fit inside such a volume, should itself be a Theoretical Physics problem. But, to add spice to this otherwise simple issue, for some strange reason, the staff has decided to replenish the stocks only at the peak business hours. The stocks arrive in huge carts being pushed by staff and after the second verbal warning, they have every right to crush your toes if they are in the way, these carts will be parked in the aisles, practically blocking them and any visual or verbal attempts to get the attention of the staff, that you are trying to get some of the goods stored in the blocked aisle, prove completely futile. Mind you, the wait may be as long as 30 minutes plus as the good old staff has to update his friends by incessantly talking on the mobile phone while leisurely aligning packets of Haldiram Namkeen.
But, this problem is not insurmountable and I have learned through experience that you have to physically push the restocking cart away, just making enough space for you to wriggle in and pick what you need. Also, to point out, the staff that wasn't paying any heed to your requests up till now, will also turn his complete attention to you and now it’s your turn to play deaf and dumb and pay absolutely no heed to his protests or existence.
The customers also get to play their part in maintaining the efficiency of this supply chain by unknowingly picking up some of the stuff beyond or near expiry date or infested with bugs. Well, for Indians quality was always a state of mind, so never mind. But, I was surprised at their eco friendliness, when once I noticed that they allowed the Ants to participate in cleanup for sugar, rice and flour spills. Of course, we all must live in Harmony with Nature, shan't we?
Demographics - You'll always find the people from Indian subcontinent (Regulars) and Caucasians (Tourists trapped by their tour guides) in MUSTAFA. The Regulars are mostly on a Grocery mission and want to accomplish most in the shortest possible time, thereby reducing the pain to maximum possible extent. But the Tourists are the ones, who wear the looks of "Deer in headlights" when their cheerful tour guides tell them MUSTAFA is the Largest Mall in Asia. Having seen some of the Malls in the Western part of the world, I can understand their feeling of amusement. But, they being too polite to say anything openly, generally keep quiet and buy some overpriced souvenirs rather than some ill-fitting poorly finished clothes, which they can get in their home country at half the price.
Exit Plan - There are hundreds of EXIT signs in the whole store, but I can assure you more than half of them are dead ends. Besides, the staff quite strongly adheres to the following Motto "Once you pay the bill, we'll make sure you're out of the store by the nearest EXIT." How you reach the nearest Taxi stand with your 30 KG of Grocery load, is none of their Goddamn business. For the store the simple message as soon as you pay the bill is GET-OUT.
But, survival instincts again come to fore and similar to Migratory birds, the experienced folks, have discovered how to reach the only accessible Taxi stand and they proudly push their Shopping Carts laden with Lauki-Turai, through a section lined expensive delicate glassware followed by women lingerie followed by another land dump of clothes. You may get some stern looks from Staff when you are chartering this intricate course, but battle hardened by the earlier experience, you don't even pay any attention to them by now.
As you emerge from the store, a victorious smile crosses your lips as the worst is behind you. Now, you just have to wait in the taxi line and watch half of the taxis with Green Lights, not even stop at the MUSTAFA taxi stand. But, trust me it’s a minor annoyance as compared to the holistic experience. Overall, a visit to Mustafa is something like a Vipashna; it rids you of any false arrogance that you might have cultivated by presiding over meetings. You realize that for some of the basic necessities like food, you still have to struggle the primitive way.
Epilogue - Some Moral Commanders may pounce upon me after reading this piece and ask, "If it is such an unpleasant experience, why do you really go there?" My simple answer to them is "Although fish market stinks, but you still enter it to get the freshest lot?" Go Figure.
Till next time... Cheers n Happy New year