Bhutan Telecom was one of our customers and I was Project Manager for all projects to Bhutan Telecom (besides for 7 more customers). We provided all solutions required for running the IT Operations of Bhutan Telecom. During this process, I constantly studied Bhutan Telecom needs and suggested products and/or features they would need acquiring for meeting their business and regulatory and GSMA requirements. Though I was only the Project Manager, Bhutan Telecom relied on my judgement for many aspects of IT and Business. So, the other functions in our organisation, like Marketing and Sales, supported me with our processes as I did the conceptualization and design and selling and then delivered what we sold and then supported what we deployed.
During this process, I studied Bhutan and found that the Bhutanese people needed walking for 3-4 days across the hills to pay their bills for electricity or water or tax. We dug deep and found that Credit Card was not in use in Bhutan and Debit Cards were almost not existent. There were no ATM in most parts of Bhutan. In fact, Banks had presence in only 20% landscape of Bhutan. In comparison, Bhutan Telecom has 65% coverage of Bhutan.
So, we devised a product called Mobile-Money getting the idea from implementation of m-Pesa in Kenya. Through Mobily Money, Bhutanese people could use the Bhutan Telecom network for payment of all the bills for essential services using their mobile phones. They would not have to travel to the nearest town for making such payments. The Minister of Information Technology liked the idea very much as this was aligned to the Gross National Happiness (GNH) measure of Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures its economy by GNH, and not by GDP.
We spoke to the CxOs of Banks, Power Companies, Water Distribution Boards, Civic Authorities and Government Departments and got everyone to agree on a workable working model that included mechanism of revenue and cost sharing. There was something for everyone to gain while serving a national purpose that actually served the people of Bhutan. Ananda and I were put on air by Bhutan Broadcasting Services to explain the same. Later, NDTV Profit also put us on air to explain the concept on a program on Bhutan. So, I was now a TV artist.
Then I met 2 roadblocks.
- Siemens decided to sell its Telecom Unit to NSN. So, I no longer had the platform to develop our products and continue our business.
- The Bhutan Monetary Regulatory Authority put the project on hold to formulate laws that could allow for a non-banking company to deal with this kind of money.
However, there was still hope. I got an offer from Oracle. I was all set to accept the offer. At the last moment, I declined it as I still had hope that we could introduce Mobile-Money in Bhutan. I was made the Business Sub-Segment Head. Many thought I had bargained for the position. However, actually I did not drive any bargain. I waited for another 8 months as we continued to get the Convergence Project for Bhutan Telecom ready for delivery.
I left Siemens on 31May10 and this was one dream that remained unfinished.
The Day of Shooting with NDTV Profit
I was told by someone from our Mumbai office that NDTV Profit would interview me in connection with the Mobile Money Concept for Bhutan. I was very happy. They told me to make a write-up on Mobile Money and send to them. I did that as I was an expert in this affair by now. Very soon they sent a list of questions and asked me to answer them. I sent my answers.
I kept quiet about all this and did not tell anyone about it. I thought that even though they would have had this thought, they could change their mind as I operated from Kolkata. I thought that I would have to go to the Studio and all this was cost and thus change of plans were big possibility. For nearly 3 weeks no one interacted about this any more and I was carrying on with my life developing business ideas and trying to get budget for the same. This was a period of anxiety in our organisation as many people were being given the Golden Handshake. I had a team of 55 people spread across Kolkata, Gurgaon and Bangalore. I had to secure enough budget to be able sustain all these jobs.
One day, I was driving to the office. I received a call when I was close to the Airport (which is about 12 KMs from my house). It was a call from the Mumbai office informing me that I would be interviewed by NDTV Profit that day. The lady asked me what I was wearing. I told her that I was wearing a Shirt and a Trouser and Shoes and Socks. I did not tell her that I also had underwear and vest on. She asked me what was the colour of my Shirt. I told her that it was sky blue and told her that the Trouser was dark blue colour and Shoe was black colour and Socks was black colour. She said that the colour of the Trouser was not important. I was not sure how this was possible as I calculated that the colour of the Shoe and Socks was still important. She asked me if I had a Tie on. I told her I did not have a Tie on that day. She asked me if I could get one. I said I could go back home and get it. She asked me how long that would take. I told her that it meant another 1 hour. She told me to get a Tie from the someone in the office. I said that was okay and I could try.
I reached office and went to my workstation. As I opened my drawer, I found that I had a Tie in it. I had forgotten to take it home the last time I had worn it. So, the problem of the Tie was solved. 15 minutes after I reached the office, the Security Guard called my extension to tell that someone wanted to meet me. I went to the reception and found a man who introduced himself as the cameraman from NDTV Profit. I welcomed him. He had 2 huge boxes with him and a bag containing the camera. He asked for a room where we could conduct the interview. I took him to our small meeting room and he said it was adequate. He told me that he would need 30 minutes to set up all his equipment. I was very excited and was now dreaming that an attractive hostess would arrive after some time when the cameraman was ready.
After about 40 minutes, the cameraman called me. I went to the small meeting room. I found that it was completely dark and there was only one chair remaining in the room. There was no beautiful hostess anywhere. I was more confused as my friends always told me that I was IAS i.e. Invisible After Sunset. And the room was totally dark. He fixed equipment in my ear and then asked me to sit on the chair. I did so. He then adjusted the wires so that they were not visible from the front. He then took out his mobile and called someone. No sooner he had finished his call, I heard a Lady speaking to my ears through the equipment fit in my ear. She introduced herself as some Bhattacharya (I have forgotten the first name).
She told me that she would ask me a question and I would have to answer the question. I said okay. She said we would have a trial run. I agreed. She asked her question and I answered her. As soon as I had completed answering her, the cameraman made a call. I heard him say “Everything is Okay”. The Lady said that we could go ahead with the interview and no more trial was necessary. She asked her question and I answered her. She asked me 4 questions and I answered all the 4 questions without stammering even once. She thanked me and the interview was over. I thanked the cameraman and went back to my workstation.
I was still not sure whether I would actually appear on the TV or not. The only fact playing on my head was that the room was totally dark. I presumed that only my voice could be heard. I said to myself that even that was okay. I called Ananda and told him that I had been interviewed by NDTV Profit. I asked him when would they telecast the program. He gave me the date and time. I came home and told my father that our program would be telecast on so and so date and time. I called my wife in Bangalore and told her the date and time. My father immediately started calling all our relatives and informing them. My wife called after sometime and told me that she had informed all her office colleagues and friends and relatives. As they were all so excited, I did not tell them that the room was totally dark.
On the appointed day, I came home early. The program was scheduled for 10:30PM in the night. At the appointed time, I switched on the channel. The program started after the advertisements. The hostess came on-screen and started by introducing the program. I recognised the voice and put a face to this some Bhattacharya. Soon, I was seeing pictures of Bhutan. Then, I saw Ananda doing his explanation. Then I saw Penjor taking the hostess around some Bhutanese village. I recognised the Bhutan Telecom officials as I interacted with them so often. All this time, my anxiety was growing as I was nowhere in the picture and everyone in room were watching intensely.
Suddenly, I saw myself on the screen. I was so glad that my face and the sky blue Shirt and the Tie were fully visible and my voice could be heard clearly. I appeared 4 times on the screen and in each shot I answered 1 question.