Saturday, February 28, 2009

If this is hope

From yesterdays newspaper. If this is hope, I am hopeless, as is much of Indias population.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Todays paper

Todays newspaper has a series of advertisements by the government. The National Rural Health Mission, Ministry of Rural development have full page ads. Then there is a half page from the Ministry of Social Justice and a smaller one from the Ministry of textiles. So, that you, the middle class which reads newspapers goes out and votes (for them)...

The Gujarat government also has a full page ad as does BSNL, LG...Whatever else is happening amidst the slowdown, the media is not complaining. They are raking in the moolah of the polls. Any guesses as to whose money is being spent here?

Trickle up theory

The trickle up theory...The story of Onmobile and ICICI is worth reading in this piece, apart from the innovation happening in other countries. Africa for instance is at the forefront of mcommerce...

You may or may not believe this, but this forms a significant part of the reason why Indian IT has succeeded in the past few years.

Also read the story of ngpay which came up today.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

29000 crores for votes

Take this 29000 crores and buy those appliances and soaps and LCD TVs, but give us the vote...

Pranab Mukherjee may have left consumers disappointed with his interim budget last week, but he made up in style on Tuesday, announcing cuts of 2% in service tax and in excise duties on most goods that should help ease the household budget. In all, sops announced during the stand-in FM's reply to the discussion on the interim budget are estimated to cost the government over Rs 29,000 crore.

While the government was at pains to portray the exercise as a third stimulus package for the economy , pressure on Mukherjee from his own partymen and allies to deliver some sops before the elections is likely to have played at least as large a role in inducing him to loosen the purse strings..[TOI]

In a second piece...Urban Indias sullen mood, TOI puts it even better

Concern over a sullen mood gripping urban India in the wake of a slowing economy and rising job losses and a clamour for a dose of populism from within the ruling coalition seem to have nudged stand-in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to abandon ``propriety'' and announce duty and service tax cuts. [TOI]

Lekin, bhooliyega nahi, aap ka keemti vote, sirf hame hi deejiyega...Milte hain, election ke baad.

Would have been a lot more convincing had those roads been built, armed forces modernised, made some significant diplomatic inroads against Pkstn, kept the neutrality of certain institutions intact etc. etc., but lets not talk about that.

Aw, cmon, you stupid blogger, surely you want to buy cheap soap and LCD TV? And pay less service tax. So what are you cribbing about...Get back in the queue...

Too little, too late [IE]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hey Muscular

Hope you can it goes in the popular song...

BJP to follow muscular foreign policy. It is easy to say this. In the past as in the present our foreign policy has been weak kneed and even knock kneed. So, while, we can announce a muscular policy, I really, really hope they can walk the talk or dance the dance when it comes to it (and surely there will be a zillion opportunities).

What we have now, is the calm before the storm...

Monday, February 23, 2009

I believe in the dynasty

I believe in dynasty. In fact I believe mostly in one family name. Yes, they may appear to be inseparable, but appearances may not be deceptive, seat warmers notwithstanding.

I believe that it is only one family and one surname (or two) that can do something for this country. I fully believe (this is my opinion, so I cannot be sued, right?) in the party and the family members over generations who won us freedom (do you doubt? Dont.). Now they do not want us to be free from them - after all they won us freedom did they not? When we could not do it ourselves, us nincompoops and our ancestors, who saved us? Therefore who has the continuous right to rule over us? And that means, I can only believe in them.

How can I, ignoramus, believe in anything else? I mean, all of us, the people of India of voting age, exist only to prop up the grand destiny of the dynasty, dont we? Havent we done so for many years when we were ruled by kings and their kids? Thats it, our 10 seconds of voter chaap and I are in the world only to fulfil this grand conspiracy of the universe...

Of course, you chose to ignore the fact that since then they held the country ransom to their style of politics, they also took over the English prerequisite of divide and rule and divided our country into a variety of self interested groups across religion, caste, creed, lakes and mountains. You chose to ignore the fact that we were subjected to a slowmo style of growth for a long long time and will continue to be thanks to rank fiscal profligacy. You also love the fact that we squandered our advantage at a time of boom in the world economy and now we are staring down the barrel (more or less).

And as far as this government goes, you believe they had the best interests of the country in mind when they decided to take the slow train for defence upgradations, when they took the slow route for terrorist investigations, when they put the highway program on a self decay, when a few thousand crores were lost as a result of some scam etc etc. (More on this in a few days) Well, whats a few peccadilloes for winning freedom sixty odd years ago?

You believe in the party all of whose youth leaders are people with the same family name of some of their senior members. You like that they give youth a chance, especially if they are from some families. So, what if other youth are not given a chance. Big deal. Go do your call center job macha so that you contribute to the growth of the country.

Because, you can. Because you believe. Because you are led to believe that change means only a different first name.

Because I am jealous.

Jealous that none of my forefathers, did anything to build a dynasty so that I could be a prime minister or some such equivalent and get an unfair advantage in life. Which is why I am not a fan of any political dynasty who gets things on a platter. After all, I did not get anything for free...

Sorry, the headline is completely misleading...and sorry for wasting your time. Get back in line into the matrix.

Jai Ho

Jai Ho - Though I thought AR Rehman deserved the worlds highest musical accolade (Oscars or otherwise) much earlier. I loved his tunes in Roja, was floored by Thiruda Thiruda, surrendered to the saxophone in Duet, loved the lilting music of May Maadham, Bombay. Went to like quite a few of his other scores in Yodha (the only Malayalam film he has scored), Iruvar (Narumugaye), Sangamam, En Swaasa Kaatre, Muthu and many others…

In Hindi, I loved Taal, as I did a few songs in Pukar, Thakshak. I loved his rendition of Vande Mataram. Indeed, I think his score for Delhi 6 is better than the score for Slumdog.

On Rehmans music, I could go on and on - I love it so much...A deserving accolade to a deserving man! Go Rehman...and of course Gulzaarsaab, who has perhaps penned the finest lyrics for Hindi songs for a long long time (Aaj Kal Paaon, Gulmohar gar to name but two of his great songs). I dont know so much about Resul, but congrats are in order to him too...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friedman on alternative energy in India

Heres Tom Friedman on some alternative energy progress in India. Read the whole thing...(link via)

Like I said before, many a time some people in the foreign media cover India better than our own media which is frankly, obsessed with their own pet stories which they want us to be "indoctrinated" into.

Heres another story from Wired on trucks running on Methane...Now this is where sacred cows can really generate energy :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

India to improve quality of education worldwide

India has decided to make a major contribution to universities, colleges and other scientific and technical establishments worldwide. How? Quota would have no exemption: Govt [TOI]

Given that many Indian students make their way to the US and become professors, this is an indicator that the trend will continue. In any case, being a prof in India is hardly lucrative. So, in one stroke, India will improve the quality of education worldwide. Brilliant. You think our politicians are small minded or vote minded, but in reality this is for the greater good. In any case quality of education in India except at a few places is not that great. Add to this the fact that "education reforms" are an oxymoron here. What better service to do for the world than use the infrastructure of other countries and create professors and great academic institutions for them. Countries of the world, roll out your carpets...

Now, actually, even private companies should have a quota across all levels- why should they be left out?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tourism in the 80s

The "unspoilt destination" tourism thought sent me on a trip down memory lane.

In the 80s, we as a family ended up touring quite a few places. Places as far apart as Calcutta, Delhi, Trivandrum and quite a few places in between. Most of these journeys were low economy journeys. (Flight, what was that?) If at all, one way used to be by AC, but even that was a luxury. We simply chose a time when the weather was bearable. In the train journeys we had enough food to account for a potential delay (which was quite common on many routes) - outside food was a luxury if at all. Poor mom did much of the kitchen work and dad did much of the coolie work of carrying luggage. All internal transport within a city was by bus and a few by rickshaw. (We went to great extent to avoid night time bus travel - my dad believed it was not safe since drivers could drive under the influence of alcohol.)

But beyond all this, now that I think of it, we never worried about food or accommodation. The common factor? Home stays. No, not in the way it is known now - we used to stay at relatives houses. So, our tourism destinations simply moved to wherever our relatives went, so hotels were out of question. We could always cook our own food at a relatives place and since everybody pitched in, it was made easy for the relatives as well. Likewise, our home in Bombay had a constant stream of visitors who wanted to see the city. They stayed with us, in our flat that was, quite small, but (and Naresh would be proud to hear this) we had a big heart (as did the others) and so it went. Some relatives doubled up as guides (and I have guided many a relative across Bombay), some took it as an opportunity to see their own city. Each of the places I listed above (and quite a few I did not list) was a stay at a relatives place. Indeed, we visited Munnar in the 80s which was a completely unknown destination courtesy a distant relative who worked in Tata Tea - and got permission to go inside the tea factory as well. So, within those limited budgets, we managed very well. Travel and hotels typically are the biggest expense and if you can avoid that you get more bang for the buck. The overall footprint of our tours was quite small because we relied on existing infrastructure. As families became nuclear, houses became smaller (and potentially hearts too) it became infra dig to ask a relative if we could stay over for a couple of nights.

But, the next time you are planning on a trip, this could be an option - recycled from the past...Also it is probably a great time to travel - prices are dropping, crowds are less.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

School thoughts...

This superb post set me thinking on what I learnt in school (from an Indian perspective, not US) and what I wish I was told. 10 points from my side, though I could go on and on...

* This is not the end of your schooling, though it is the end of school.
* Funny as it may sound today, many of your achievements till date will be overshadowed by many an achievement you will have outside of school.
* All those who think you are the coolest and the best, will find many competitors lurking in the outside world, probably far better than you. Keep working on yourself if you want to continue to be the best. All those who think that you haven't done much in school, don't despair. There are endless opportunities outside.
* Be kind to geeks. Be kind to everybody who schooled with you. Many years later, some of them would have started companies and achieved a lot in life. Why geeks, just about anybody here could be anybody in future from astronaut to businessman to scientist. What we have taught here are the basic skills in life. The real movie starts a little later, where sadly very little of what we taught here will be useful...
* Believe in yourself, first and foremost, forever. There is nothing greater than self belief that can propel you to where you want to be...
* Ensure that through all these little competitions that you had with your co students, you did not miss making friends of some of them. (I learnt this the hard way)
* We could have taught a little more of teamwork, but we failed miserably making each of you too individual focused.
* Don't limit yourself by any framework offered to you, though we did limit ourself to the syllabus because that was the easy thing to do.
* Throughout life many opportunities will re-present itself, but some opportunities are best taken when they knock your door, often in disguise.
* Don't fear trying anything. Singing, sports or dancing just because you thought you were bad at it in school...

India, Innovation, Creativity

It was a free wheeling discussion between friends somewhat late in the night. As has happened before, it was extremely invigorating. This time we spoke about innovation, creative ideas and coming up with creative ideas to make a living etc etc. And inevitably, since pretty much each one of us has some sort of international experience, the discussion veered about US. And how the US will come out of this recession, stronger and better than the rest of the world.

And it is true. They will. Not because they will do the right things now. That they will in any case. But also because they have done the right things in the past many years, while we squandered it. As I wondered on how best I could articulate it, I found this post by Atanu.

This is not to say that Indians not innovative; far from it, but a lot of our innovation is at a much lower level. The population that Atanu says is capable is also quite innovative, but in terms of a comparison to the US, we are far behind, primarily because of numbers and secondarily because of a few other reasons.

Coincidentally, I found this 50 Innovative companies list from Fast Company. And guess who is there from India. Think...


Gave up? It is not your usual name at all..

Aravind Eye Care Systems is company which features in the top 50 list - about which not too much has been written about in India.

Also take a look at the accompanying map in the article and you will see some more companies. Apart from the usual Tata, Airtel, Infosys, DRL, UB group, Wipro you will find Merittrac, Narayana Hrudayalya, Comat Systems from Bangalore.

I know a little bit about the other two, but Comat was new to me. Not seen anything in the Indian press about them. More power to great ideas...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Undiscovered tourist spot

Having come back from a "off the beaten track tourist spot", I was able to elaborate my thoughts in line on why the "undiscovered tourist spot" is but a myth.

Once a tourist spot is discovered, it becomes like Lonavla or Shimla or Ooty. "A city on top of a hill" with all the conveniences as dictated by "Touristus Indicus" (Bhargo, we need to expound on this) means the tourist spot is lost for ever. Bhelpuri outlets, Udupi hotels, Crashing cars, giant wheels and amusement parks are the rage than the main attraction there. Add all the other routine things that you need for a spot to be a "tourist attraction" including horse and camel rides and bad food and you would forget that you came to see a cave or a temple or a lake in the first place.

Now, for the tourist spot to be undiscovered with all these above "facilities" is impossible. The conveniences simply cannot exist for the 3 or 4 people who will turn up. So, as a tourist spot gets "discovered", it loses its "charm". In the space of a few seasons, the local food and delicacies are all but buried in the menu and usually "not available because there is no movement".

So, what would happen in an undiscovered tourist spot when Chunnu, Munnu, Pappa and Mamma turn up? There would be no running hot water, no paneer butter masala or Masala Dosa. There would be "no rickshaws" or "tongas" to take them to sunset point. And no chana vendors or raw mango vendors at sunset point either. And inevitably comes the feedback, "Oh the trip was a disaster."

Now, of course, this is great news for the intrepid tourist who is very happy (and rightly so) with local food, unspoilt locations and local hospitality. The intrepid tourist also doesnt mind putting in a bit of effort by perhaps walking or biking it down to the undiscovered fort or befriending a few locals.

So, if you are seeking an undiscovered tourist spot, like we discovered one thanks to Karthik a few days back, relax and let the place grow on you. An ideal undiscovered spot has but a few home stays, a few food places proud to serve their local cuisine, a couple of tea shops on the way, local guides who are very happy to have tourists and locals who look upon you as a guest in the true sense.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What is the similarity?

Between LK Advanis campaign and the SA tourism departments campaign to get tourists?
"It's possible"

See pic of The South Africa tourism billboard with the caption, "It's possible"

As does Mr. LK Advani's internet campaign :) (will post the pic once I get it)

Another railway budget

And the same sop story again...

The railways is sinking into a ever deeper morass of lower fares (and despite such low fares there are many who dont buy tickets) and lower safety and comforts. Each time you travel it hits you hard that the railways have barely improved on speed, comfort in the last 30 odd years.

From that article,

Railways have not increased passenger fares in the past four years despite an increase in operating costs — including spike in global crude oil prices, resulting in much higher diesel prices. The country’s largest transporter has replaced the old diesel engines with more fuel efficient and powerful locomotives, and is also focusing more on electric locomotives.

They may have upgraded to better locos to run at the same old speed, but the loos still open onto the tracks, food is as bad as usual, maintenance of rolling stock is still no great shakes and there are no concrete plans to speed up the railways. Intercity trains are used as local trains...the Udyan express is a local train in the major part of the day with people cramming into nook and corner. Problems like this where a group of students was eve teased and then assaulted are unlikely to go away. Anyway today is the vote on account, and we will see if anything substantial comes up beyond the sop story.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

At the crossroads

This blog has been a diligent follower of Indias boom (even if rather late in the day). We have crowed about the coming retail revolution, the infrastructure boom, the IT industry, trickle down theory, capitalism, market and a lot of other things on the way.

But, like the world (and thats no excuse), we too were (too?) optimistic. And, when the recession happened, we were caught unawares, though atleast one of us is a proponent of the gloom and doom theory. Then the terror attacks which seem to happen every now and then and we seem to have no decent strategy to respond except run to other bullies bawling, "he hit me". Quo Vadis?

So, as the Chinese saying (curse?) goes, We live in interesting times.

For us as Indians, a generation back (when we grew up) it was all about scrimping, saving. This generation, it seemed would be one of abundance, but just as it was all going to build up, we are back in a hole the depth of which nobody knows. So, khaya piya kuchch nahi, glass toda bara ana, is how we can sum up the bust that is fast taking place of the boom.

But make no mistake. This is a good thing that has happened at the right time. All around there are whispers of pessimism, doomsday predictions and a clear uncertainity about the future. But here is where we need to go back to our original resourcefulness and get right back in the groove. The world, and India, is filled with opportunities and this slowdown is a great opportunity to hit some of the nagging issues that the world faces.

What would they be? One, very clearly is to live in a more sustainable fashion - reuse, recycle, repair. Second, is to get rid of our oil addiction - this itself has the potential to eliminate terror, reduce climate change issues, create newer industries and jobs and hell, if you ask me, this is the one thing we all need to pledge ourselves to do - otherwise, our entire way of living and life itself is under a threat, the seriousness of which is perhaps the most undermined yet. Keep your eyes and ears open people.

We will continue to track the story, as always, from the street level...

Subhiksha,end game?

Subhiksha, about whom we have written at length, almost charting their beginning, their progress and calling out how they need to improve to survive is clearly at the crossroads. Subhiksha - warehouses looted.

That is a pity because they had a model, strategy - even the goodwill in place but they seem to have lost it...

Our set of posts on them, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

There could be more in the pipeline - this is all about mindless expansion - which really was the order of the day for every player out there. There is news about high rentals being unsustainable, too many stores for not just Subhiksha, but others as well. Have they lost the plot asks Business Standard? (This actually has a piece by the founder of Subhiksha - read it.)

Too early to say it, but each one has spotted the rot and the need to consolidate.

Moser Baer - Media player

A launch of a media player to be celebrated? Well, not exactly, but the company that put India on the CD/DVD map of the world and took on the pirates with its low cost DVDs (of which I am a great fan) launched its own media players...The company has a range of products including Digital picture frames et al.

Now, obviously the launch of a media player is no big deal or so it may seem. But there is a market out there waiting to be tapped. It is interesting if they can capitalise this with some preloaded music from our huge Hindi and regional film industry (not to forget Carnatic and Hindustani) and take on the pirates in the music world this time around.

Remember that the bottom end of the music market in India is mostly dominated by pirated CDs and not too many people buy music players - they buy DVD players - why, simply value for money - why hear music when you can see the video as well. This, clearly is a market waiting to be exploited...

(Disclosure: I own a piddly number of shares in the company)

UK discovers new tactic to fight terror

They are grovelling and how...Dont attack us, says new UK ad on Pak TV

Now I can put the visit of Milli-banned in perspective.

I am sure Churchill would be proud.

Aside: Now, how many of you think maybe, just maybe, we should do the same on Pak TV? If not, what are we doing now? If else, what should we do? Fold our hands and await our turn?

Update: Just in case you thought we were any different, heres our "Hindu" leaders asking for a fatwa for not attacking Hindus...(via Atanu on mail)

A group of Hindu leaders on Wednesday appealed to Islamic religious institutions and scholars to come forward with an appropriate ‘fatwa’ (edict) to declare that Hindus were not ‘kaafirs’ (non-believers) and that there need not be a “jihad” (war) against them in India.

“The fatwa should say that India is not ‘Dar-ul-Harab’, which means it is not a land against which Islamists have to wage a war,” convener of the All India Acharya Sect Dayanand Maharaj told journalists in Mumbai on Wednesday.

As Amit and Atanu say : “Appease the monster so that it will eat you last.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On standards

Found this in a train last week. The "standards" that railway caterers should follow. This is probably the basis on which the tender gets awarded. You can also see this on the boards of any shop which sells on railway property.

The standards are amazingly well defined. Vadas should be x grams. Omelet should be served with a "chiplet" of butter of x grams. Idlis, x nos, y grams and so forth. Coffee, x ml etc.

Inspite of all these standards, railway food is insipid at best. And if you measure most of the items, they will measure up to these standards.

Trouble being, obviously, taste does not have a standard...Undercooking does not have a standard, nor does salt.

If these chaps tried a little harder, they would find that many of the repeat travellers will buy so much more from them (instead of carrying from home etc.), but most of them are very happy with insipid food and the money they make out of it.

Anyway a related ramble some other time...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

And the sun too

Another component towards a sustainable and renewable energy future, solar energy. Heres a report from Outlook Business

Even as the Centre is taking measured steps by way of the IEP and a national solar mission that is being tweaked at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the man in a hurry, has pre-empted the latter. On January 6, he announced a radical solar power policy for Gujarat, setting a target of 500 MW of solar power generation. Even the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)’s recent generation-based incentives for solar power, with a country cap of 50 MW, pales before the Gujarat initiative.

In one stroke, Modi has put his state in the same league as Spain, which passed a new solar energy law in September 2008, with a 500 MW cap. Spain saw frenetic growth of 300% in new installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity [Link via]

Read it all...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The breeze will help fight terror

Of course, by now you know what I am aiming at. The quest for an oil free future. Here is piece by The Economist on wind power which is one of the pieces of the puzzle. 

The US is the world leader in wind power. India is not too bad either, but we could do really better than this considering one of the biggest wind power companies in the world is an Indian company...Suzlon.

(Graphic via Economist)

Sabotaging a democracy

How does one sabotage a place that is being guarded? Very simple. Wherever there are independent watchdogs, put your own dogs to watch. It has proved effective even for terrorists -the best way to infiltrate is via security. 

In a democracy (our style of democracy), there are various independent institutions that are supposed to watch over the functioning of the democracy. Infer the rest as you will.

The latest attempt is to get a pliant CEC in place in place of rather upright CEC who is scheduled to leave office. But as Sandeep says, the media is not telling you that. It is keeping it all deliciously ambiguous...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Who can be king?

Full marks if you answered, Only a Gandhi can be king...

And if you believe that the "anointed one" is "the one" that should lead your country, you know where your valuable vote should go...