Saturday, December 31, 2011

The emperors new clothes

Got the idea of the title via a @doubtinggaurav tweet. Could be a meandering post, so, be warned!

The year 2011 in politics will go down in history as a great year of David versus Goliaths. The first David (with an organization propping him up) of course was Anna Hazare who took on the might of the Congress and the first family. And the second David of course is Subramaniam Swamy who has taken on the might of the Congress and various ministers single handedly and has proved that the Indian Legal System can be worked through. More power to both of them, though I dont necessarily agree that a Lokpal will solve the incessant corruption in the country. A government that can appoint puppets can appoint a puppet anywhere and destabilise any institution. Thank you Anna Hazare and Subramaniam Swamy for fighting. In the year of "ooth" and so called "oothful leaders oozing charm" not living up to the mark, thank you septuagenarians for fighting. And thank you Rahul Dravid too (as @saliltripathi pointed out).

2011 will also go down as a year in which the spectre of corruption has seen to be visibly corroding the country from inside and outside. We are probably being ruled by the "most corrupt government ever" and perhaps even by the most "incompetent leaders ever". Given this background, I have my own doubts that much of the bull run in the recent past in the market was fuelled by all this dirty money. So, while the small investor is now nursing his injuries the ultra rich enjoy their stay in tax havens.The middle class is well and truly screwed. Well, thank you for the LPG subsidy atleast. In any case you exist only to pay taxes.

The current ruckus around the Food Security Bill points in the same direction as NREGA to fuel our future towards a subsidy fuelled population that believes in being entitled. My recent visits to Kerala, TN and some interior parts of Karnataka only supplements this. In both places, labour for agriculture is not available since people to work in the REGA and take home free food grains. In Kerala, migrant labour is coming in from other states. Soon, even Maharashtra will need "UPites/Biharis". The only question is how long will "UPites/Biharis" need to find work given that soon food and work will come in free in any case.Thank you for democraticising corruption through nicely named schemes. Atleast somebody is making money. And some farmers in some other countries will soon make money in the name of FSB.

But the sad part of last year has been the blatant one sided reporting from the media. Look around yourself, on your television screens, print media and you will find very few reports castigating the government for its conduct. On the one hand, the media went hammer and tongs against BJP CMs but remains quiet against Congress CMs and ministers. And we are at this unique point in history when the opposition is blamed for all the crap that the government is spreading. Amazing no. I thought the whole point of life was to take responsibility, but it looks like spreading conspiracy theories and ascribing blame to someone else is what our so called leaders taught us over the past couple of years. Oh, well, thank you for the description of those non-existent robes of integrity and whatever else, media.

The more I see it the more the country is headed in the direction of the North Koreas. As an old joke used to go about USSR. "The newspaper is full of truths, half truths and lies.The sports news are the truth. The weather forecasts are half truths and the rest all are lies." Thank Evan Williams for Twitter. And thank you, Sibble for not blocking it. Yet.

A reading of the novel Animal Farm is highly recommended. Sort of the reflects the state of India at this point.  So, is it all gloom, boom and doom? Hopefully not. I hope that our democracy (whatever that means) wakes up and elects the right leader and government and stops this rollercoaster ride to disaster. Till then, we have the time to do what it takes to ensure that it happens. How? Tweet more and create more awareness to begin with! Thank you, all those on my timeline to keep me sane...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Google Chrome advert on Tanjore paintings

This particular advertisement (for Google Chrome) using the Tanjore paintings as an example is simply mindblowing. It made me sit up and take notice for one. It also made me curious enough to go to the particular website to see what is all about. I suspect this video will generate more hits the site than anything else. Also, very very inspiring. Indeed, the web is what you make of it. And why web, life as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Honda Brio

I spotted the Honda Brio yesterday and me and the little one were stunned by the looks of the car.

The overall size, the punchy small look and the back. And the back of the car, oh the back of the car – is awesome. Not sure what makes it so, is it the large glass area or just the shape,whatever it is.

I think this is the best looking small car in the Indian auto world. I thought the Beat was good, but the Brio beats all the others by a mile. So, as far as my auto predictions go (despite my lack of enthusiasm for oil burners), this one seems to be a hit!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The app world

It is a long and old debate on why there is no Google or Facebook originating out of India. The debate has never really been settled and I have usually lingered on the side of the fact that it is no big deal. And that the IT, ITES itself is an industry.

But look at the world of mobile apps. And ask that question to yourself. Why dont we see creative, breakthrough ideas originating from India? What we get to see is usually Hanuman Chalisa and apps for the normal media (like newspapers, TV channels) or B2C stuff (like ICICI on mobile). Sure, there are a few on bus schedules and a few on railways schedules as well, but none that stand out.

I asked the same question to @vishalgondal (CEO of Indiagames) on twitter and he named a few - including Prison Mayhem (produced by 99games online), Bruce Lee, Genesis (by indiagames), Quarrel (UTV Ignition) and others. I have tried a couple of them and some of them were nice - but nothing out of the ordinary.

When I say out of the ordinary, let me qualify. I mean, look at the 2011 best apps (one of the zillions lists available on the net) or the best games of 2011 on the App Store and there is nothing that stands out of India.

Again, you might ask why is this a big deal or why should this be a big deal. I think that there is much more creativity waiting to be unleashed there than the current sets of apps coming out of India. Why? Because there is so much that India has - that can be derived out of its rich culture and heritage and there is much potential for some of them to be turned into apps! Are the game developers listening?

On Retail

Swaminathan S Aiyar often has this knack of generating "Eureka" moments for readers. Well, I will speak for myself here. I used to a regular reader of his columns in the olden days of print only, but these days, I prefer to use twitter to pick and choose my readings - and I was pleasantly surprised to see another one in this column.

He argues that online shopping is the real threat to small shopkeepers, not necessarily big hypermarkets and he actually argues that nobody can actually stop it.

I am not sure about it in entirety, but then who can be "sure" about anything (usually 100% surety is surely wrong). But anyway, the Eureka moment was how he calls big box hypermarkers as 20th century and he uses the Thanksgiving data in the US to drive home his point.

And that part surely rings true. I am a big fan of online shopping. For one it allows me to shop in remote and get someone to deliver for one. It also gives one access to all ranges and sizes - which may or may not be available in that specific shop that you happen to reach. It also allows one to reach retailers and products you might otherwise find it difficult to reach.  It saves time - so if or someone is on a short trip, all I need to order my stuff and await delivery. I have tried all of these and I totally love it. But most of that is in the US context.

In India, I am a big fan of Flipkart - and it is worth checking if all bookstores are reporting the kind of numbers they do. Also, Amar Chitra Katha which is not always available in all shops (for god knows what reason). We are still some distance away from getting to big online shopping like the US - though much of KSRTC and Indian Railways and other travel stuff is best done online.

But whatever it is, he is right on the fact that indeed online shopping is the future (rather present). Also, why should a retail chain invest in costly land and people when it can all be done with a smooth online experience.  And why should we have to drive down someplace, search for parking, wait for billing - retail experience sucks in most places. So, more power to this idea and as long as the Maomatas of the world keep opposing FDI in retail and ignore online shopping, great for customers!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dhara hila, gagan gunja

An inspiring poem recited by the Big B. I like the poem and the way it is recited as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Aa Bail...

Will the big politicians currently in lock up get bail? They ask us - with pictures that paint colours of misery and words that would make you think that they were arrested for no fault of theirs except that they somehow, unknowingly ended swindling the exchequers by a few hundred crores wilfully. Will they get bail, the media asks us?

The banks will get bailed out, because they have far too much money. As I read recently, some of the banks are "too big to fail." Whether that bail out will save my deposit is a different point altogether. If you are a smaller bank, tough luck, sc*** you. If there are no banks, who will give the sops to all the sectors that the politicians want them to be given?

Blue collar industries will get bailed out, because they provide jobs. And if they go belly up, the funding to the politicians will stop. And if there is no industry, where will they give quotas to?

Airline industry jobs got saved because some politician went and threatened them which resulted in a conscience attack. They even got a credit deferral for fuel.

Agriculture will get bailed out, even for rich, super rich farmers.

Politicians, criminals will all get bail.

I have not seen anybody root for the IT industry. Deve Gowda? Farmers have champions, will P Sainath bat for the IT industry when the IT industry commits suicide?

In the midst of all this bail out bail out brouhaha, I am left wondering, will anybody bail people like me - the common man out?

Nobody bailed us out when oil touched 120$ and then some - even as petrol costs go through the roof.

Nobody bailed us out when vegetable and food prices shot through the roof.

Nobody offered us a loan, soft or otherwise...

Previously on the woes of the salaried class...

Monday, November 07, 2011

On Honesty

Here is a question I ask of people. If you led a team (either as part of your own enterprise or as part of your job), would you let you someone who reports to you steal? Cheat? Swindle your customers? Con your

The answer I have always got is a clear no. The logic is that they are honest and they expect people who work with them to be equally honest. The honest people that they are, they cannot stand dishonest people who want to take a a cut out of every thing that their firm does.

And then I gently veer the conversation to our current leadership in the government and I ask. So, tell me, what sort of an honest leader would allow their "reportees" to loot hundreds and thousands of crores under known and unknown scams? Not only are they let go scotfree, they are often resurrected in fancy posts.

Clearly, if you are an honest person, you would not allow the dishonest to thrive under you - as your own personal example shows. Therefore, there is only one option left - that the leaders are dishonest?

Wait, there is another option, they say. "Perhaps they were not aware."

Maybe there is a possibility that leaders are not aware of what goes on under them. But then I ask, "Would you be aware of any such things in your organization? And if you gave the same excuse, would your organization buy it?" No way - I would be fired, they say. That seems to answer that question.

And second, if someone brought it to your notice what would you do? I would fire them they say and ensure that they are given a bad report so that no other organization would hire them. Exactly I say, unlike what
is happening today where the corrupt are resurrected in free for all posts.

Think about your own example, the next time you think about honesty in public posts...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Legend of Shikandi

The only form of leadership that man has recognized and appreciated is the leadership of fighting from the front and leading from the front. Leading from the back or backseat driving has never had too much appeal throughout history. The legend of Shikandi is a case in point. According to this legend, Arjuna hid behind Shikandi to kill Bheeshma. In order to defeat the Kaurvas, defeating Bheeshma was essential and he being invincible - the only way to do it was deceit. Shikandi came in handy - he was the face while all the action happened behind.

It is no wonder then that there is no legend of Shikandi - being a "Shikandi" is generally seen as distasteful, cowardly and then some (garnish with your choice of adjectives).

For the very same reason, the people whose leadership we appreciate - Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela - for example, are all people who have led from the front. These are real leaders - leader who have never shied away from leading and making a public appearance and not leading from their hideouts.

In todays day and age, we have our own share of Shikandi and legends. While what they gain out of being in such a of Shikandi is not known - the original Shikandi had personal vendetta. Thus, atleast in the original Shikandis case, it was evident why he wanted to be what he was.

Well, today we firmly believe that Shikandi was a great leader...and who knows, in a future day and age, we may very well anoint him with more decorations...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Building castles with the sky

No, that is not a typo - while others build castles in the sky, we are now building castles with the sky. This is about Aakash - the tablet aptly named after the blue sky - which will go down as a dud.

The problem with offering tablet PC's and laptops to a population already underserviced in terms of education opportunity or power is the utility.

Many years back, a newspaper in Mumbai had a 100 page issue as part of some anniversary celebration or something. Needless to say, vendors thought it was smarter to sell it directly as used paper rather than go through the trouble of having to sell it. Why? Because the cost and effort of carting it around was not worth the trouble of the commission it would offer them.

Ditto with laptops and tablets. The immediate utility of something like that is not that high as much as the immediate utility of the cash that the beneficiaries might get by selling them.

Imagine that you live in a slum. Now with the pathetic electricity supply you have, you have to manage a laptop or a tablet. And as it is in a slum,the risk of something being stolen is quite high - either by a drunkard relative or someone else. If the risk for stealing is low, then surely there are demands for money from everybody concerned - in which case, it is smarter to sell the damn thing for some immediate cash. And then to top it, you perhaps go to a school where the teachers is more absent than present. And while you do so, you have to lug around a laptop or tablet on your back. Overall, if you ask me, a losing proposition. Unless I plan to use the battery to power the monitor to light up the house during a load shedding in the evening hours!

You get the point. My smallish brain tells me that it is a waste of time and taxpayers money. The only people happy with this are the manufacturers and the supply chain who will probably laugh all the way to the bank. And then again, some of those who manage to get a good price on the damn thing may also be happy with it.

On the other hand - giving bicycles to schoolchildren might have a totally different effect...

Fly by Yourself

First we took the cat out of the bag - actually it was a assembly set for a wind up plane - the kind you get in a Hobby ideas store. I have always been sceptical of something that claims it can fly - but then this time, I gave into curiosity and picked it up.

And here were on a holiday morning trying to assemble it. Two curious pairs of eyes were looking as we opened the box, laid out the components and spread out the instruction sheet. One was pounding me with ideas and giving me suggestions even as I was trying to get it right. "Will it do this", "Will it do that" he asked. "Hey, the pack says, it can do a hover and come back to your hand" And here I was trying to get the plane
assembled right, without breaking any of the rather flimsy looking parts.

Finally, the assembly happened. The first trial flight was a miserable one with the plane not even taking off. A few more winds (about 200 of them) and tried - no change - the damn thing would not take off. Disappointment on the little faces around was perceptible. And then, one more shot of winding it and throwing it the air (who knows, it may not take off, but glide through the air on its own power) - and it flew very
well. The tiny, flimsy aeroplane that will go down in history as our first flying model flew.

And then he said, "I want to do it myself". "But how will I count to two hundred and keep winding? I seem to lose count"

"Keep winding till it looks like noodles and then it will all knot up"

And then I get a call in the afternoon, "Appa, I managed to fly all by myself..."

Yup, someday you will fly all by yourself...

(Postscript: The story is about a year old. The damn model broke after a few tries and the customer service experience after that from Pidilite/Hobby Ideas has been extremely pathetic - despite multiple conversations and visits to stores. I finally gave up on it after a few months. So, my advice to anybody reading this post is - dont buy those models - they are too fragile and are a waste of your money. You will spend more time consoling your child after the model is broken and irrecoverable than the momentary enjoyment of the flight!)

Kerala thoughts

I visited Kerala recently - my association with Kerala goes a few decades back and it happens to be my native place too.

I recall my dad saying sometime in the 80s, that the single lane road to the village road was exactly the same in the 50s, when he went to school. And this is the second decade of the 21st century - that road is exactly the same. And that road is no exception, the situation is the same in most parts of Kerala - the roads are as bad they have always been.

Over the past 30 years, like much of India, traffic and prosperity of this money order economy have increased steadily. As the rupee fell and the population going outside for work rose, money has come in at a steady tick. And Kerala has steadily lapped up all the new car models and smothered itself in ever more copious quantities of gold and other precious metals. The real estate boom which the country saw has had its effect in Kerala too - once agricultural land has given way to gated communities and posh sea and lake and river facing apartments. Land value has gone up multiple times. A small amount of IT companies have finally found an opening in the IT park in Trivandrum, but that really is about the only industry that has opened in the state in recent times. There are other jobs that the literate locals do not want to do and that gap is being hungrily fed by immigration from other parts of India. So, while Kerala exports manual labour (or plumbers, fitters etc. among others) to Gelf countries, it imports manual labour from other states of India - read Hindi speaking states. (For the first ever time in my life, I saw a bus board in Hindi in Kerala.) What tensions (communal and otherwise) this will cause remains to be seen.

A generation ago, my relatives worked in banks and other state owned enterprises and a few of them worked in colleges and found jobs in the handful of private enterprises. Their next generation has precious little chance of getting any job in Kerala - since our state owned enterprises are in no great shape and there are hardly other jobs available unless one counts attendants in gold souks and mobile phone stores. Software jobs are happening, but are really, too few to count as compared to any of the other 4 Southern states.

The point that I am trying to make, is that one on the one hand, because of the money order economy, the states people have made themselves prosperous while the state itself has had little or no role to play in it and that the state remains in as pitiable a condition as ever. The swanky houses hide the bad power and infrastructure situation. They have their gensets and inverters. The cool cars hide the bad roads.

Infrastructure is poor. The single lane roads are killers - especially with the new vehicles on it. Why could the state not acquire land to build better roads and railways? While land has been acquired by private entities to build swanky apartments, the government has not found itself able to acquire land for enterprises. Private entrepreneurship has found sources of labour from outside the state. But the government has not been able to reduce the grip of unions - in this state which has a strike every couple of weeks. So, the service industry which could naturally fit in this semi urbanized state with its high education levels is still struggling to find its feet.

KSRTC still runs old broken down buses and is unable to churn a profit, while the KSRTC of neighbouring Karnataka has taken great strides forward. The irony is not lost on the fact that Kerala with its transport services has not been able to tap into the thousands of tourists that pour into the state while neighbouring states have. Infact private operators in Kerala are doing very well. Tourism will suffer on account of bad infrastructure. As it is, it is horrendously expensive for most people to set foot in Kerala (Singapore and SriLanka compare favourably). Given the lack of facilities and the zooming cost associated with it, Gods own country could very well remain a slogan.

The Sabarimala pilgrimage contributes crores to Keralas economy - yet the temple surroundings, roads and facilities around it remain in pitiable condition. These pilgrims of course, are another type of tourists who contribute to fill Keralas coffers, but their condition remains despicable, as this years tragedy (now lost in public memory) shows.

Thirdly, Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly gaining ground in many parts of Kerala. And the political parties are cosying up in bed with them.

Theres a lot more that can be covered, but all in all, in my view it is not a very rosy future for Kerala - the state once famous for 100% literacy and then as gods own country - might well become a basket case very soon. I may be more pessimistic than sanguine, but I would love to be proved wrong!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2 free schools a district

The Azim Premji foundation is about to start an initiative that aims to start 2 free schools per district of India by 2025. Thats 1300 schools by 2025. This is the year 2011. In 15 odd years, each district of the country will be covered. This is a laudable initiative. Think about it. While the government is launching cheap tablets - the crying need is not tablets, but schools. In the 21st century.

Imagine that this is the year 1947 or even 1950. In 15 odd years - by 1965, all our districts would have been covered by a network of quality schools. And it is ironical that all these years of socialist talk have not managed to get us a basic school system that works.

So, somewhere in the 21st century, a many who runs a company in a much derided industry (the much reviled IT which has given affluence and dreams to many Indians) operating in many parts of the world opens his pockets to build schools for the nation. The same thing that our much highly held in esteem leaders could have ensured 50 years ago.

But pray how the man made his money? By the very forces our future prime minister opposes. Globalization. Yes. It is globalization that enabled Azim Premji to make money to spend for Indias future. Not socialism. Not selling soaps and oils in socialist India (which was what his company did before getting into IT.)

There is no greater force in nature than mans entrepreneurial nature. And let us not curb it. Let us make it easier for people to build companies, sell ideas and open up the country by de-licensing and less rules.

Let a thousand Wipros and a thousand more Premji foundations rule. They do much better than foundations launched in the name of politicians, dynastic or otherwise.Thank you Premji Sahab!

(Before we close - spend a moment on the linked report. A sentence in it pissed me off. "If the idea succeeds, it could shame India's dysfunctional public education system - and perhaps inspire other wealthy tycoons to look beyond their personal status-building." Sigh. Surely, many tycoons and politicians will be ready to open their pockets on reading it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Diwali memories

Diwali is by far my favourite festival. And we celebrate it early in the morning (the majority of people celebrate it at night). So, today is our Diwali.

On this day, we wake up early in the morning (before sunrise), have an oil bath and burst crackers. The person who broke crackers first was the one who "heralded" Diwali and in the place where we lived, there were many claimants and sub claimants. Usually, the first cracker went off at about 4 am. Whenever that first cracker went off, it meant that Diwali had arrived. It also served the purpose of waking up those who thought they had overslept. One of the few days where there was an advantage of being a morning person.

And then the others would turn up - the kids brigade. Candles to light up sparklers for the crackers, agarbattis to light up the noise making crackers and spare candles and so on. After the kids brigade, the adults would turn up with their bombs and Taj Mahal crackers. All in all, a good couple of hours of bursting crackers.
And then we spent some more time searching for unbroken crackers and trying to extract some more light and sound out of it. This phase had experiments - like putting crackers in a dabba or a hole and hearing its echo or joining a bunch of crackers and watching them burst. This was followed by a visit to the temple, dressed in our best. And somewhere in between was a breakfast of idli and chutney (I asked my mother why this was always idli and chutney and she said, it is the easiest thing to do on a festival day and besides all other things we eat on that are rich). And then the exchange of sweets and savouries.

The preparations would start much earlier though. A few weeks earlier we would start preparations for the savouries. Each year, we would, depending on the mood, make pakodams or coconut barfis or Mysore paks or murukkus or mixture.

And the crackers. Dad would buy crackers from Essabhai in Md Ali road usually - and about a month before, so we would beat the Diwali rush. And we would spent the next few weeks lovingly drying the crackers in the sun. This hard work paid off since our crackers would burst better than those who did not go through this drying process - or so we felt - as we watched cracker after cracker of ours burst nicely.

And Diwalis in Mumbai had a vacation as well at school, so we spent quite a while playing chor-police with cap guns...

Such it was the festival which heralds the triumph of good over evil. May this festival literally symbolize the same in each of our lives. And of course, build newer meanings through it as well - as Seth Godin does today - Diwali and Digital lights!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The speech that wasn't

Talking and writing on socialism while accepting payments in capitalist dollars, sustains many a socialist writer’s/anti globalisation activist’s capitalist lifestyle. Most of these writers hold fancy positions, usually in the US or Europe, and travel business class to make their anti-globalization ranks. Take any activist and writer and you will find this to be true.

Into this abyss falls Mr Rahul Gandhi. Half-Indian, half-Italian by parentage, he has studied abroad and lives in India. He travels frequently abroad to exotic destinations of the world and has arguably benefitted out of globalisation. He could very well be a poster child for globalisation — and you can read that in any way you like. And after benefiting out of all the things that globalisation has to offer, he now warns us that this comes with its own dangers. Ironically, all the problems that he mentioned India had could all have been solved by the rulers, by and large from his family, with, without or in spite of globalisation.

What are the dangers, is what we would like to know. His great-grandfather and grandmother ruled us with a socialist tune — a tune for that over 50 years has failed to ring — for most of us. And we have all seen the dangers of this so-called socialism. Rampant corruption, low rate of growth, poverty, lawlessness and lack of opportunity everywhere, all through those socialist decades.

Throughout the 50’s and the 60’s when other countries (our peers, who were decolonised at about the same time) climbed up the prosperity ladder, we were stuck with a Nehruvian rate of growth that saw us go nowhere. And this story continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s as well. As government after ‘socialist’ Government tried to throttle industry — corruption boomed and those with licenses operated licentiously. People thronged the employment exchanges waiting for jobs that were never theirs — except if you paid a bribe.

And many others opted to go out of India — the famous brain drain of the 80’s. The net result was that people went to either the US or Europe (if they were lucky) or to the Middle East. The former lived a good life and the latter, well, swallowed many an insult so that they saved enough money to come back home at some point and live prosperously. If life under socialism was so good, why were people running away to foreign shores for jobs and to make a decent living? For some reason, all this was supposed to be good for us. While we swung from queue to queue to shortage to shortage — we heard slogans of Garibi hatao on black and white televisions over the Government regulated channel. Sometimes vegetables were in short supply, sometimes it was LPG used for cooking. At other times it was scooters, or phones. Almost all the time, jobs were in short supply, as was opportunity and electricity. If this was socialism, then, well, I am willing to see what dangers capitalism brings.

And, we have tried that too — in small doses since the late 90’s. This has resulted in a good amount of growth — many people have climbed out of poverty in the past 20 odd years than in the previous 40 years. There are many data points that argue on a few decimal points here and there, but the directional indicators are very clear. People have moved out of poverty since the 90’s. Growth is the only thing that will bring people out of poverty — not aid, not doles, not compassionate words, not bromide, not anti-globalisation speeches in air-conditioned auditoriums. To growth, one might add equality of opportunity which socialism promises but rarely gives (read The Animal Farm) while true capitalism really does.

Ironically, for the past 60 years it is Mr Rahul Gandhi’s family that has ruled the country for the most part. It tried the bitter medicine of socialism on us and the result of it is there for everybody to see. When Narasimha Rao opened the doors of the world to India, metaphorically, many a door opened for Indians as a whole. Now, Mr Rahul Gandhi seeks to close the door once again. For starters, he could have invited a local anti-globalisation activist who travelled to deliver his speech via sleeper class having secured his tickets while standing in line three months in advance.

And to his point, having seen a bit of socialism and a bit of capitalism, I think we are ready to face the dangers of capitalism. Surely, North Korea as one of the last vestiges of socialism, is doing well — as well as East Germany did before the capitalist West merged it into itself, but we would rather try the growth route of capitalism to success in India.

And yes, people who live in capitalist homes and whose kin make good money out of globalisation are best advised to keep their socialist speeches to themselves.

(Published as an oped today in The Pioneer)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dollar earning Socialists

There is a popular saying in Hindi which goes on the lines of "Sau choohe khaakar billi Haj ko chali" which basically implies that after sinning a hundred times, people go on a pilgrimage - but loosely translated means that sinners suddenly take to god and then we are supposed to believe that is all is well.

Talking and writing socialism while pocketing capitalist dollars is a great way to make a living these days. Many a writer (alright, stringer) from India makes a living this way. The puncture Misras of the world, so many Senguptas and of course, the best known writer of small terrible prose Roys are among the poster children of those who make a living this way. They make their living raking in heady dollars of the greenest and capitalist kind, while lecturing the readers of their magazine articles (ironically, capitalists themselves - since socialists cannot afford those mags) on the virtues of socialism.

If they lived in North Korea and drove an imported East German Trabant I could believe them, but no these guys live a great life sipping the best capitalist champagne, while living on 24 hour electricity (capitalist) and using the most capitalist iPads and Mac Airs with bank accounts in the most capitalist of banks. And then they have the temerity to lecture us on the virtues of socialism.

Please, madames and gentlemen, keep this "benefits of socialism" lectures to yourselves. We dont need no education. And oh, please stop using those twitter accounts to write to us about the virtues of socialism. Twitter and Internet are decidedly capitalist tools - as well.

Let me know when you migrate to North Korea and live there for a few years before you lecture me on socialism...and yes, since I am capitalist, those dollars can be passed on to me!

The Internet Hindu Bogeyman

Nowadays, one of the prime past times on Twitter is to denounce the so called Internet Hindu -an oxymoron as it were. In the absence of anything else, so called intellectuals (anonymous and otherwise) construct straw-men out of bogeymen and demolish them with a finesse that has to be seen to be believed.

If the Internet Hindus (term coined by secular journo) are a lunatic and fringe group, why bother engaging with them - like they do with most other fringe groups (actually are there any other fringe groups in their lingo)? And there in lies the answer. The whole problem with intellectuals is that these articulate set of writers, tweeters and bloggers are turning the debate on its head. In the good old days of socialism nobody had access to any media except the "intellectuals". The "intellectuals" wrote all the "right" things, people read them and slept, while, deep beneath, the Congress went hammer and tongs after secularism in its true sense. And replaced it with a malicious form of divide and rule - and called it secularism. And our so called "intellectuals" want us to believe the charade that goes on in the name of secularism.

Contrary to beliefs in intellectually popular circles, the whole idea of pluralism is inherent in Hindu society. You will find that inter caste and language marriages are common in Hindu society. And if you go back further in history, even kings have come from different castes. And India, unlike any other country has always welcomed different religions into its fold quite seamlessly. And the whole basis is not tolerance, but something far better - mutual respect. Sure, there have been exceptions, but they have been exceptions, not the rule. Hindus are a pluralistic society - and there is no debate on that front.

What the "Internet Hindus" do is take apart the carefully constructed facade of the Congress on secularism. The Congress brand of secularism is an oxymoron - it is all about divide and rule. By pandering to the worst of all radicals, the Congress wants the majority to believe that is the torchbearer of secularism. When was the last time the Congress spoke about any fundamentalism other than Hindu? Even at the recent UN speech, the Prime Minster made a passing mention of terrorism which would have passed off as bad punctuation. These chaps are influencers - and thanks to the internet are using it to ask questions - tough questions which our junket enjoying, politician lobbying media will not mention, much less ask. And, ask yourself what makes these people - unaffiliated with any media - do it? What is in it for them? And ask any of these chaps - they will argue for more reform, not less. They will argue about lesser government interference, not more. And they will ask for minimum government, maximum governance.

So, is there an alternative? There is. And this is what the "intellectuals" do not want us to see - which has been proved in Gujarat to a large extent. The alternative is a development led model. A model that does not distinguish between religions and their stupidities. A model that gives electricity to you regardless of whether you live in a minority dominated area (an oxymoron as it were) or otherwise. A model that provides you access to good schools and clean water regardless of whether you wear a hat upside down or shave your head. A model that works on providing equality of opportunity, not outcome. Needless to say, the champion of this alternative model is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

And that model exists - as proved in Gujarat. But of course, I forget that for these "intellectuals", time stopped in Gujarat, somewhere in 2002.

(X Posted in FBJP)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Variety versus Standard

I was in the US some weeks back on a jetlagged trip and I visited two artists fairs in the Boston area. One of those fairs had a couple of farms, food products being sold and stuff like that.

What i liked about the fair was that it gave me an insight into a different sort of US.

The US I am used to is the "uniform across cities" US - malls which look the same, streets that are indistinguishable from each other. Even in restaurants which look the same across cities are servers who incredibly alike and serve uninspiring food which tastes the same.

These fairs showed me the hidden side of US - I mean, I saw stuff I had never seen in my life - husk cherries for example, purple potatoes, varieties of apple and tomatoes, desert honey and other types of local honey, different types of vegetables. The amount of people doing their own thing was inspiring. There was person who was showcasing "stone clocks" - yes clocks made of stone. There was another person who was pursuing his hobby of glass blowing - and the range of creativity I saw was inspiring. There were ranges of gourmet sauces - and none of them were the kind of "manufactured" food that we are used to.

And as I see it around me we see variety reducing all around in India - it gives me a thought. We need to figure out a way to keep those varieties preserved - in those sari weavers, in those temples, those instruments, those dances, artisans, paintings and other art and craft forms before it gets lost for ever.

And even the exhibitions I have seen in India - the Chitrakala Parishat variety - all cater to a rather narrow dimension. And I know there is scope to do more here...

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Steve Jobs effect

There is nothing that out there that is not already written about the man and his products.

The transcript of the same, here...

Here is my few thoughts on the man. I feel he inspired people the most. What he contributed the most to the vast majority of us - was an incredible amount of self belief.

Many people would like to be the Steve Jobs of their field - be it the kitchen or work or garage or art. And there in lies his biggest inspiration. More than the products that obviously inspired people and companies. More than his genius - which undoubtedly was. More than his various comebacks. More than his sheer vision. More than his confidence.

Thank you Steve, for making us believe in ourselves! We all would want to put a ding in the universe!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Ripple Effect

In the process of reading a rather awesome book on one of my favourite topics other than terrorism - water. The Ripple Effect is a nicely written book on the history and the state of water in the US. It makes for some intriguing reading - on how water supply works in the US.

I have only reached till about half way through the book, but the state of affairs in the US - makes me think about India in general and Bangalore in particular. The impunity with which the lakes in Bangalore are being destroyed (for a while now), both by pouring untreated sewage and by filling up dried lakes with real estate is appalling.

The book makes for some scary reading. The next wars could very well on water - watch China as it moves to dry up the Brahmaputra (Link from Chinas national newspaper and hence written with a footnote to India assuaging that the dam will not cause any problems to India). And when you read the book, you will realize that damming dries up supplies downstream - so India will be screwed up sooner or later - the question is not if but when...

A longer review when I finish reading the book, but for now, suffice it to say that a big part of our own eco friendly efforts has to be on water - reducing consumption, trying to use greywater and recycling wherever possible!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Came across this rather curious piece in the Economic Times. Modi-fiction seems to be the rage. A rather perfectly written opinion piece in the style and standard that is the staple these days - should make the Congress warm in the cockles of their heart. Savour this sentence. “of security for the minorities as patronage conditional on good behaviour rather than the fundamental political right the Constitution promises”.

I suspect this is true for everybody or does it mean that we offer security to gangsters and rowdy elements and terrorists just because they are minority? Or rich? Or whatever. AFAI remember – bad behavior will invite punishment – simple – regardless of my name - the law is supposedly equal to all.

Think about this:

1: Nobody denies that under NaMo Guj is making progress. 
2: And that the progress is being delivered without resorting to caste division or quotas.
3: If the situation is so bad as claimed – that minorities live in fear - why is there not a migration out of Gujarat? Do note that something that is rarely spoken about in the TVs in the drawing rooms of secular India -  In Kashmir, the situation was/is bad for Pandits – there was an exodus from Kashmir in the 90s to the extent that the Pandit population went down from 15% then to 0.1% now.  And for all these years, they have not been able to return to their homes - because of fear. So, do see what fear does.

All 3 of the above cannot true can it? Or is Modi doing something (or many things) right that is the antithesis of what our Central government is doing?

Given all these, don’t you think that something is burning somewhere?Or as part of Modi-fiction, this is their poetic licence?

Vayu Vajra

Lovely article this one in Moneylife - analyzing the need for an airport shuttle service in Mumbai.
The Bangalore airport is a good one – in general. Except for the part that is located a good 30-70 kms from various parts of Bangalore city – depending on where you start from. The airport is spacious, taxis are available, good food options, lots of counters – no fleecing and all that – which you pretty much expect – given that is a spanking new airport. But the BMTC has gone ahead and provided a great shuttle service – almost round the clock – from airport to various parts of the city. The shuttle service has put out of business many smaller cab based similar services. And except for the corporate types who book a cab or for those whom public transport is only a traffic obstruction for their cars – many people use it  - and I have seen it run full at some really odd hours.

The bus service has a superb dedicated parking bay – neatly demarcated and the conductors and drivers are really helpful – so the newbie in Bangalore has to just take the bus and by and large you get a drop that is very close to the last mile of your destination.

But when you go to a Mumbai you realize how this is sorely lacking – especially if you live relatively far from the airport – the only way to get there is a taxi or by rickshaws The bus is not even a real option there. So yes, this is one more point where Bangalore really scores over Mumbai.

And at the rate at which BMTC is offering services – there are many lessons in it for BEST to learn. In its handling of the working IT class crowd, the running of Volvo buses and their ability to convert a part of the population from own vehicles to buses, and to some extent their use of technology!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Book Review: My Friend, The Fanatic

My Friend, the Fanatic is a book I have wanted to read for long. And finally, I was able to lay my hands on it - and it did not disappoint. Before you guess why, if you are looking for a book that bares fangs for Islamic fundamentalism or fanaticism and its status in Indonesia - well, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you think that Sadanand Dhume, a reputed columnist for many journals and magazines - handles them with the naive sort of pink glassed optimism that often passes off as writing, you are wrong there too.

And that, in my view is what makes this book so good to read. It is really a travelogue across Indonesia - over a couple of years or thereabouts - that attempts to take a look at how the country is faring in the face of steady Islamization and projects how it could look at 10 or 20 years down the line. It starts off at the point of the Bali bombings in 2002.

As one of the most populous Muslim countries and a democracy to boot - the country has a Hindu-Buddhist past that it was not shy about (unlike India, if I may add). A country where Ganesha adorns currency notes and the national airline is (still) known as Garuda is actually the worlds most populous Muslim nation. As he notes in the Prologue (a beautiful one), “this was the only place in the world where you might call yourself Muslim yet name your children Vishnu and Sita”.

The book takes a realistic look at the society and its transformation - is not afraid to call a spade a spade or point out the hypocrisies that exist. As he travels through almost the length and breadth of Indonesia, including villages that have adopted Sharia law in parts, the observations add to the appeal of the book. The exchanges with a professor, the food on the way, street level notes make it feel like a travelogue across the country. But make no mistake - the book is quite serious in its treatment of the main topic. And except for a couple of places - the mandatory comparison with India is missing.

Sadanands book takes you across the country and its provinces - as he and his companion, Herry - an editor of a fundamentalist mag (tempted to say rag) - Sabili - and hence the title - meet many Muslims and non Muslims across the country. They also meet many of the influential Islamic voices in the country - preachers, teachers, principals, schools - and a few non Islamic influential voices - dancing stars, publishers, mystics et al. They hear the conspiracy theories (surprisngly similar), the frustrations, optimisms and the dualities of many voices. Which way the country will tip is hard to say - and the epilogue does well to give a muted warning of the future.

The book starts off with a quick reading on Indonesian history (which to me was foreign) and a walk down the various stratas of society (mostly political and religious strata - which by and large maps to the economic strata) while going to Islamic schools, meeting preachers, evangelists and beaches alike to explore the confusion that the country faces.

Yet, in the systematic transformation (or indoctrination) of the nation by virtue of politics and schools and petrodollars is a lesson. And it makes interesting reading - especially from an Indian context. One can almost feel the anguish the author (and some others who he meets) feel as many in the country want to disregard their past. They are those who want to desperately believe that Indonesian Muslims have an Arab past life, if you will and live in a state of denial of its rich ancient Hindu-Buddhist history.

Overall, a great read for anybody who wants to read about democracy and Islam. I wish a similar book came out on India. Anybody game to take it up?

(Posted in Centerright India, yday)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fluffy, Crisp or Stuffed?

I am of course, talking about the Dosai which can be eaten Fluffy (as in an Uttappam or Set Dosai), Crispy (as in a sada or masala dosai) or Stuffed (onions for the simple minded - and then you can explore your imagination).

I for one, can eat dosai 24/7 and I dont think there is a better meal than a dosai atleast for breakfast and a snack.

The dosai kall as we call it is usually made of iron - but going by the name, perhaps at some point, it was probably made of stone. Non stick griddles are for amateurs - and are no fun IMO. Dosai mixes dont even count. If you want the real thing go for iron griddles and iron or steel ladles (or whatever they are called) and ground batter (not cut in a mixer). Hoping you get the basics right, lets go right into the actual mechanics of the three types.

The fluffy dosai is simpler to make - if you get your tava and batter right. Get the stone hot, spread a bit of oil and sprinkle a little water - hear it the sizzle and spread the oil water mixture gently or with some violence (and a broom if you want to replicate the hotel dosa chef). How to spread the dosai?  Use a ladle (chattuvam) or for added effect, use a small kinnam (Tamil) or wati (Maharashtrian) or bowl. And spread the batter, not so thin, but to medium thickness (5mm?). The flame should not be too hot or it will singe and not cook - if too low, it will not cook soon enough. This is more of intuition and may take a couple of tries. Pour a bit of oil around and over the dosai, turn it over after a minute or two and cook again for a minute or two. Your fluffy dosai is ready.

The crisp one is tough to crack. Spread the batter as thin as you can over a medium flame. Pour a bit of oil (or if you were a Bangalore hotel chef, douse it in so much oil that it almost deep fries itself) and wait patiently till the brown of the dosai shows up on the other side (the side facing you). The dosai has to be thin so that it needs to be cooked only on one side - and the flame just right or the dosai will be a black carbon mess very soon. And you will know when it is done. A gentle push under the dosai and the dosai pretty much lifts itself up and when you fold, it wil be as crisp as a fresh newspaper. Some places roll it up like a newspaper - some places make a cone - some as a semi circle - some triple folded with the masala hidden inside - and some cut it into longitudinal pieces after making it a semi circle or a triple fold.

The stuffed one - well, it is thinner than the fluffy but thicker than the crispy-and it can be stuffed with anything in your imagination. Onion, coconut or tomato (or a combination of the three with chillies). Spread some chutney over it while cooking itself. Put cheese inside. Well, you get it, you can stuff with your imagination (not literally). Or if you dont want to stuff it - try it with anything. Cholle, Masala, Rajma, Morkootan and Rasam, any spicy vegetable - kurma, or pav bhaji (my favourite). The Dosai is one of the most versatile things to eat! Go ahead, bite into one!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chotta Bheem

When I grew up, there was one TV channel and one phone company. There were many cooking gas suppliers and many banks, each of which was indistinguishable from the other. Similarly, there were foreign cartoons (like He-man, Spiderman, Disney) that played for half an hour or so each week on DD and there were a few Indian cartoons (Ek Chidiya types) that did not really qualify as cartoons.

And so it was. Even the animation that we have seen recently in movies made in India was anything but pathbreaking - nothing that is of super high quality or high recall. And while a few of them made ripples in childrens mind like Hanuman - none of them has captured the kids imagination like Chotta Bheem.

Chotta Bheem (like the Mahrabharatas Bhima he is super strong, but the similarity ends there) is the improbable story of a little boy who lives in the fictitious village of Dholakpur. Each episode he fights the bad guys - that ranges from evil circus owners to not so evil scientists to aliens playing cricket - and saves Dholakpur from imminent ruin. The children are mad about him and if they catch him on TV - then our world comes to a standstill. Though, Chotta Bheem has helped many a mealtime go into fast forward mode.

It is encouraging to see the series become popular and it looks like the company has spun off its success into books and other merchandise as well.

What makes him so lovable is the simple plot lines, catchy music, some high recall ideas (he eats laddoos for strength). There are a bunch of sidekicks too - each with their own minor role. Adults might not find them very interesting - the plots are not entirely predictable - except for the part of Bheem winning - they are a super hit with children.

Whatever it is, it is nice to see the animation character give the phoren cartoons a run for their money.

Is this the tipping point for tolerating corruption?

Anna Hazares cause has found a voice in many ordinary Indians - mostly urban. Very much like Baba Ramdevs agitation resonated in the minds of middle India. Between the two of them, they have galvanized the imagination of India like never before. Corruption has always been big in India - it is almost taken for granted at many levels. It is accepted that people in power will misuse it and each time a corruption allegation has been raised against a politician - the politician has taken refuge in conspiracy theories. It would have been the same this time too - with Raja and Kalmadi accused in the 2G and CWG scam respectively (among other people who are getting pulled in) - resorting to time tested and brazen defence of backward class, dementia and what not. Except that this time, the citizenry is frustrated.

On the one hand, rising inflation and an inability to control food prices - by an economist prime minister at the helm whose marked skill seems to be inability to do anything. On the other hand, terror attacks, Maoism seem almost taken for granted. Sedition seems to be a rewarding occupation. On top of this comes corruption - while India struggles for progress, the ministers seem to be busy making retirement nests for themselves and for others. What an irony that both the corrupt and the agitators against corruption were jailed in the same prison - even if for a few days.

In all this come Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev with their clarion call to root out corruption. While one is not sure of their prescription of a super clean body that will sit to cleanse the ills of Indian society - their diagnosis is correct. Corruption as an evil has to be rooted out of Indian society - and one way for that is to ensure that the corrupt are punished. A government like the UPA which has laid bare its penchant and desire to subvert the many independent bodies the constitution provides - like the CVC and others - can very well subvert the Lok Pal with a pal of its own. In a land of puppet Prime Ministers, finding a few pals who want to hold a high office with little spine is not very difficult.

Be that as it may - there are signs of change. Today across the country, there are states which run clean administrations - Gujarat, Bihar and perhaps MP to a certain extent. The recently corrupt government of TN was booted out ignominiously and the incumbent seems well on track to provide a clean administration. The transformation of Bihar from corrupt hellhole to a clean administration makes one believe that the same happen across the country as well.

The question to be asked of these agitators and supporters is - who will they vote for in the next elections? Will they reward Congress with a third term? If they do, this entire agitation is a waste of time. Because there is no incentive for good behaviour - after looting thousands of crores, if a party comes to power again - there is no incentive for it to change. That is the logical conclusion of this endeavour - of voting and booting the corrupt out.

Therefore, perhaps this is a tipping point in the history of India. There have been many tipping points at State levels. Bihar, Gujarat have both gone through tipping points before becoming clean administrations. This agitation could very well us to a path where the corrupt are not tolerated - both by the voting populace and the party in power. Is this that tipping point?

Note to myself: This piece I thought was pretty well written and was quite pleased with it. But two editors thought it to nowhere near worth publishing! So much for my writing skills or getting to the core of the idea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Outsourcing the fight for azadi

Once upon a time not too long ago, there was a freedom struggle between the colonized Indian natives and the ruling British. In the end the good guys won and the bad guys lost. But it was not that simple. The story saw innumerable twists and turns – the British often fired on the freedom fighters, killed quite a few common citizens and frequently arrested or caned the leaders as well. The more unfortunate leaders were sent to Andamans to a prison colloquially known as Kaala Paani. We have read about it in our history books – and then, if we were so inclined, in the many books that are available on the subject. Freedom struggle was not an easy thing to be a part of. After all you could not own fancy clothes nor buy British - among other things – if you really believed in it.

Those were the days. These days freedom fighting is an industry. And some part of it is outsourced to India - to fight India. It helps that we have elected a government that is suspiciously soft on seditious tendencies. Over the past 64 odd years (which is almost since a day after Independence), Pakistan nurses the fond hope that its unfinished task will be completed. Kashmir will return to Pakistan. And in this arduous task, they have enlisted useful idiots from the Indian society, who like most useful idiots are available for a price and they think they are fighting for a cause.

For some of these things, we have to hand it over to the ISI. While India has no covert operations active in Pakistan at all, except for some fake dossier printers – its spy agency has got its finger in every imaginable pie in India. It hosts Indian gangsters, prints fake Indian notes and even bankrolls Indian “intellectuals” for foreign trips. Clearly, it is more active in India than many other Indian agencies. While the world has outsourced work to India, the ISI has outsourced its useful idiots to India. Atleast one of the I's in ISI probably refers to India. But I digress.

These so called intellectuals who, for the price of a business class ticket and free stay at star hotels in US and Europe, fight freedom – against their own government. By doing so, they play right into the hands of the spy agency by giving legitimacy to the fake conferences that the spy agency has funded.

Unlike the earlier leaders who faced bullets, these useful idiots go and give seditious speeches in air conditioned halls while sipping champagne – all funded – by, hold your breath, the neighbours spy agency. Now, that would make you wonder if the government would arrest them like the British or send them to Kaala Pani or lathi charge them. But no, the government, actually appoints some of them as “interlocutors” and gives them an official voice. If that is not a successful Trojan horse strategy, I don’t know what is.

The list of useful idiots includes former editors of once respected newspapers, eminent personalities in the bureaucracy and people who have fairly high level of leverage with the current government. Luckily, for us, the US indicted a couple of such worthies on charges of receiving funding from ISI, and some of our intellectuals are now gasping for breath in the maelstrom.

Not that they are giving up without fighting. After all, what is at stake is free foreign trips, a bit of shopping and good accommodation. Aren't these causes worth fighting for?

(Was published in The Pioneer as an Op Ed yesterday)

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Q: What is the similarity between Gokulashtami and Communism?
A: Karl Marx

If you did not "get" this joke, you are best advised to not proceed reading this post steeped as it is in Tam-Mumbai sub culture.

Today is Gokulashtami 2011. And helmets have just been introduced into the kitchen after some cheedais decided to self explode in oil. And that took me back in time.

Gokulashtami to us, as youngsters, living in Tamland transplanted in Mumbai was a simple festival. Like most festivals, it meant good things to eat and sometimes wear.

Except that in Gokulashtami, the entire household would get its share of cheedai batter which they needed to convert into smallish round balls - the size of a marble (goti). Lets roll, amma would say and then thats it, we spent a good part of the afternoon rolling cheedais and often, sizing and resizing them till amma thought we got it right. It was worth it, in the end - the cheedais were a once in a year preparation - and they were an amazing snack. The salt cheedais were mostly harmless though there have been instances in our family tree when the cheedais decided to burst while they were being fried - at which point, we took evasive action and mothers used helmets to get the cheedais and themselves out of trouble.

The jaggery cheedais were more troublesome. They would split or dissolve in oil and what not. Every maami worth her salt jaggery had her own tweaks to get it right. Some advised adding banana, some reducing the jaggery and what not. But it was a sense of achievement amma had when she cracked the cheedais to her satisfaction.

No more cheedais until the next Gokulashtami. Post that all the maamis we knew exchanged their cheedais with each other - so each year we got to eat cheedais of a variety of quality levels.

Around evening, was when we got around to making footmarks of little Krishna who it is said makes his way into homes to have his share of butter, cheedai and neyappam. This was the second most exciting part - after the eating.

And since it was Mumbai, we also got to witness Dahi-Handi (it usually fell the next day) on the streets. And then for the next few days, we would take cheedais in our dabbas to school and eat it during snack time as well.

How to make: Salt Cheedai and Jaggery Cheedai

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Business ideas for Bangalore Traffic

Going by the past trends, this is becoming an almost exclusive blog on Bangalore traffic. That being said, I promise that this is not the case and that I am working on other posts too (promise).

The last couple of weeks have seen an almost exponential increase in Bangalore traffic and a subsequent exponential difficulty in reaching home after work. There are areas where a kilometer takes a good hour on a bad day - the same roads which a few years back there were people out watching aeroplanes take off. Or roads that were used for drag racing at nights are choc-a-bloc with traffic.

But despair not, there are many ideas in this traffic that are waiting to be implemented. First to my mind are the fast food restaurants. They could very well get volunteers to stand where the jam begins, take orders from cars and deliver them towards the middle of the jam so that people can have their dinner/lunch/breakfast and proceed onwards. And I mean, the good stuff like McDonalds and Pizza Hut and so on.

A concept of traffic valets can be implemented. Shops can offer valet drivers who will sit in your vehicle and drive it along slowly while you shop to your hearts content. There is no hassle of parking at all - the valet drives your car for the one odd kilometer for the 30 minutes that it will take you to shop using the same concept as the fast food idea above. If not shops, perhaps traffic valets can also be used like river pilots -they help you navigate through bad traffic and give you your car back when the signal is cleared. Indeed, if there are car travelators at signals cars will self drive through traffic and give control back to the driver at the end of the jam!

I know they are all stupid ideas, but today was an especially bad day - or someone put it on twitter - it was traffucked! But I am sure there are more such ideas out there...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where the mind is with fear

Rabindranath Tagore penned those beautiful lines - Where the mind is without fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. 

Today 64 odd years later, I feel a little pessimistic this I-day for the day we get independence from corrupt rulers is when we will truly be independent.

The mind lives in fear - we may even have a thought police soon. Heads may be held high - but only of those who have looted mercilessly.
Knowledge is not free - it may be censored- our world has indeed been broken up into fragments, by narrow domestic walls - raised to heights each year by our friends, our rulers
Words are construed to give many hues  - any hues other than the truth
Tireless striving seems to happen to garner as many entitlements as possible
The clear stream of reason seems to be funded by the friendly neighbours spy agency
And the mind is led forward by billions earning mediapersons...

Anyway there is hope...and we are all part of that hope. Happy I-day. Not a day to be despondent, but a day to be hopeful. After all, if the English could be thrown out, so can the corrupt?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The rains in Bangalore

There are three certainties to what happens to Bangalore when it rains. One, electricity will be shut down. Second, the weather will become noticeably cooler. Third, traffic goes for a toss.

There are multiple uncertainties as well - such as falling trees, stopping of traffic signals and sometimes the disappearance of traffic police as well...

The weather part is easy to guess. The electricity shutdown part is partly done from a safety perspective because Bangalore unlike Mumbai has very little underground electric lines - most lines are overhead which become a hazard with water and winds and falling trees. The third part is what I dont have an answer to.

When it rains - and this is at time of the day or any day of the week - traffic increases at a furious pace. The rate at which roads get clogged is exponentially proportional to the rains. And I have really never been able to figure out why that is the case.

Initially I used to think that the bikers who take shelter under any covered place available on the road caused it - but they are far too few in number to make traffic disrupt to such a large extent. Then my theory was that people who would normally walk or take the bus - decide to take rickshaws and taxis. (To some extent that is true - since it is my own experience that taxis are difficult to get when it rains.) But when with this as a combination, it is not enough to throw traffic out of gear so instantaneously. Especially considering that Bangalore rains, unlike Mumbai rains are nice and polite and stay like a well behaved guest in the city. Showers generally do not last beyond half an hour whereas in Mumbai the rain can last a week or more. Bangalore also experiences wild pouring rain not more than 15 minutes at a time - after which it becomes more like a nice tamed dog that you can take for a walk while singing romantic rain songs and enjoy chilli bhajji and tea somewhere.

One crazy hypothesis is that as soon it begins to rain, people, in a lemming like mentality take their cars and begin to drive  in all possible directions and clog up all the roads.

But this is an amazing thing about rain - and I am writing this at the fag end of a weekend shower that lasted for exactly 15 minutes - and has predictably thrown traffic out of gear, the weather has grown noticeably more pleasant and the electricity has gone off to take a short break at work.The traffic as I see it is a mess - almost a standstill and it will be like this for a couple of hours. How a 15 minute rain can stop the city and electricity and traffic each time, every time intrigues me. I dont have an answer. Do you?

(The post will finally be up when either the power supply or backup kicks in...)

The price of fruits

This is more of my own self discovery - my own personal, minor Eureka moment, if you will. It is just that I did not realize it myself.

A packet of biscuits - costs about 10 Rs for 100 grams (give or take a few). That translates into about 100 rupees a kilo. Premium biscuits cost even more- so you can do the math yourself.

But fruits - at Bangalore prices - fruits start from anywhere at 20 rupees a kilo (Robusta Bananas) to about 100 rupees a kilo (Apples, Pomegranates) for the most part. There are super premium fruits which cost more like Washington Apples and exotic fruits like Kiwi and whatchamicallit - which are more expensive.

But think about it, this is the level of "value add" that food processing brings. Whether it is beneficial or not etc is a bigger question.

But what it means in general is that, one is better off buying fruits, even if they are more expensive rather than buying other "processed" "artificial" items. It may or may not apply to you, but it does to me - since I believe that eating natural is better than eating artificial. Separate story that at this point, it does seem impossible to go to a completely natural diet - but if I achieve it, you can be sure it will be part of a blog post!

Why fruits and biscuits - because I tend to buy both as part our groceries - and I have been trying to cut down on the latter and  buy more of the former.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MICE - proposal for a new ministry

A new ministry will be formed shortly when the future prime minister of India takes office. This ministry will have the largest manpower under it. Obviously, since this ministry will presumably do most of the work in the new future cabinet of the future prime minister.

The future prime minister of India will have no time for thinking or thinking through. Therefore, this ministry will take care of everything thats left behind in the trail of verbal destruction that could potentially accompany the FPM. As soon as any impromptu press conference or off the cuff remark is found, it will be traced, erased and rebuilt to the correct specifications of the day. This ministy, apart from impromptu press conferences (which will be rarer than white crows) and remarks will also work on soundbytes taken from here and there. It will also, if necessary, edit historical material which has been references in such quotes.

The motto of the ministry will be to "prevent distortions just because FPM said something."

Thus the ministry's large staff will be dedicated to telling us, the unwashed masses, something on the lines of "what FPM said was this, what he was meant was this, but he used the wrong words for saying so "

For every such conferene, expect newer books to be published around the lines of the new meaning of words and the new twist in the and some such. For now, the private sector is doing the job.

You obviously guessed what MICE is, did you not? Ministry of Instant Correction and Edits.

Manmohan Singham

Link via Ramesh Srivats

Superb video Singham spoofed with the man thinks he is charge, but she who is in charge shall go unnamed. Watch it, if you havent already.

While it is obviously satire, it is a sad state that we live in today - governance deficit, leadership deficit and all that. But dont let that spoil your day. Do watch it...

The situation today is precisely like the well known scene of  "The Emperors new clothes". We all know how the emperor is clothed, but the media is not telling us - so we have to depend on little children, alternative media to tell us as it is...Chalo, koi to hai

Friday, July 15, 2011

On spiriting the spirit

I really do salute your spirit - and no I am not referring to the Mumbaikars spirit. I am referring to the terrorists spirit and resilience. If we are glorifying the city which has been attacked multiple times we really must glorify the spirit of those terrorists also no?

Those who despite being threat of being killed in encounters (add fake if you like), despite the governments eyes and ears on them watching their every move still continue to plot hate and slaughter innocents -surely they have spirit too? Awesome spirit no?

Sarcastic? In bad taste? Offended? Thats exactly how I feel when all these stupid people write about Mumbais spirit and use it as a cover for poor policing, poor intelligence and general incompetence year on year for each year since 1993.

All of you idiots who wrote about Mumbais undying spirit, remember that it is not spirit - it is helplessness (as I have argued more than once before). People helping fellow people happens in all types of tragedies - check tsunami, earthquake or any other. Let us not glorify the spirit of the people behind it at the cost of their lives. Spirit my foot. When I am dead, what use is my f*king spirit? I would rather have a spirited fight with those terrorists - their trainers, their funders, those who harbour them and those who feed them - and win. Thats spirit. Losing and losing my and my loved ones lives aint no spirit for me. Sorry folks. You can shove those candles into you know where and light them up for good measure.

Frankly the Mumbai spirit is no losing spirit. It is the spirit that gives back in good measure what it gets. If the Mumbaikar gets slaughtered, you can be sure that he will get his revenge in the end. True Mumbaikars are no losers - those who talk about the cities spirit please remember - it is a winning spirit. The same sportsmanlike spirit we see in Tendulkar, but behind that sportsman spirit is the winning spirit. The Mumbaikar spirit is a winning spirit. Tell me about the Mumbaikar spirit when we bust those bastard terror modules in Mumbai and wanting to attack Mumbai. 

Please get the encounter specialists back. In my books, they kill far less innocents (if at all they do) than these blasts and terrorists.

Intelligence or what?

Could the Mumbai terror attack have been averted? Surely yes, if you ask me, if the government wanted it to be halted. (I assume here that our intelligence is clued into the nefarious activities going on - I could be wrong).

When I say, if the government wanted to halt it, I dont mean that the government sanctions the wanton slaughter of its citizens, even though on the face of it thats how it seems. But step into the shoes of an "intelligence officer" and think from his perspective. If you were in a job like his, like all human beings, you will act on the incentives that are given to you.

The last time the police had actionable intelligence which resulted in the death of an officer and a couple of terrorists - the entire set of people responsible for it have been hauled over the coals for it. (Remember it or forgot it already - in any case there is a wikipedia page for it) Clearly, proactiveness in intelligence is a CLM.

So, as an intelligence officer what would you do supposing you hear chatter about an upcoming terror attack - in general you would do nothing. Because if you did, the media and the civil society would come down on you with all their might and nobody wants to be on the receiving side of their wrath no, given that the government is on their side?

Therefore, in the current situation, no intelligence officer unless he is well provided for, will make the mistake of putting his family at stake - clearly the government is not incentivising the collection of intelligence and stopping an attack. On the other hand, if a bomb blast does happen, there is no loss of career nor any danger to anbody.

So, unless there is some form of incentive to stop terror attacks, these are likely to continue notwithstanding the pronouncements of the articulate and the savvy. On the other hand, your future prime minister has already said that terrorist attacks cannot be prevented. As a career savvy officer, this would be music to my ears and sounds like the direction of the incentive I mentioned...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Selling the family silver

In the 1930s, in what is now known as the ‘Great American Streetcar Scandal’, newly established automobile companies started gobbling up electric streetcar companies with a view to replacing the electric streetcars across cities with oil powered buses. Systematically, they went about destroying the streetcar companies in city after city till about the 1970s by which time their mission was accomplished.

By then the American transportation landscape became what is today — almost no public transport in most cities other than the very big ones and heavy dependency on cars. In order to benefit their core business, they systematically went about buying and then deliberately destroying their competitors.

The UPA Government today is involved in multifarious scams. The scams range from an assortment of selling telecom licences cheaply to overspending on sports extravaganzas. Apart from these, there are other scams under the guise of poverty alleviation schemes. All of these are direct scams where the exchequer is getting looted one way or the other.

While this is happening, there is another category of scams that is not getting the attention it should. This is the type of scams perpetuated like the ‘Great American Streetcar Scandal’ — where there is no misappropriation of money — hence ‘Type B’ scams. These scams are the deliberate and systematic destruction of value across Public Sector Units so that their competitors in the private sector benefit.

Two immediate examples come to mind — BSNL and Air India. Not too long ago BSNL was Number 2 in mobile subscribers’ market share; since then it has seen a steady decline to Number 4 today. It has not been allowed to buy equipment nor enhance capacity. A tender floated in 2007 to procure equipment was cancelled by the then Telecom Minister (a certain A Raja).

As a result, BSNL lost crucial time until it was finally allowed to buy equipment for about half the number of lines it wanted. After that one more equipment tender was cancelled with the result that BSNL has been steadily losing subscribers while the others have merrily added capacity. What could have been a great PSU is now reduced to an ‘also ran’ and will soon be a dead unit, unless someone with foresight revives it.

Air India is of course hit by a double whammy. On the one hand it has invested in brand new planes (68 of them) and on the other it is not allowed to bid for newer routes so that it can fly those planes and recover the money. Net result? A debt burden of about `40,000 crore and losses of about `7,000 crore. And guess who is flying on many of the newer routes?

No prizes for guessing who benefits in both these cases. The private sector, in both airlines and telecom, has gone from strength to strength in the same timeframe. Coincidentally, both BSNL and Air India are not listed — which prevents their close scrutiny.

Whether the beneficiary companies in this regard channel the benefits in cash or kind to those in power who enable this is a separate investigation. And in those murky cross-holdings and money paid to consultants and stakes given to various people may lie a story. But regardless of whether that has happened, this is a new type of scam — where the Government deliberately kills its own enterprises so that private companies can benefit.

(Published in The Pioneer Today as an Op Ed)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Convenience Fees

Login to the Indian Railways site and book a ticket. Pay a "convenience fee" of 20 rupees per ticket. Ditto for almost any other site. Whether it is online movie ticket booking or online e- transfers, online users in India are being ripped and milked.

In any other country web users get a discount - for taking a load off the physical infrastructure required to run either a bank or a ticketing booth. Not in India. In India online users pay a "convenience fee" over and above the actual transaction. There is no real reason except that those who book are the "upper crust" mostly taxpaying and used to being looted by all and sundry including the government. The companies use these users to subsidize their other non-productive assets.

Take the case of the railways. When was the last time you saw an army of ticket bookers for Jet Airways or any other airline? Why is that the railways need a humungous infrastructure to book tickets staffed by their own when airlines have depended on agents and suchlike for almost a similar timeframe? And while the railways and road transport services have their own e-infrastructure for ticket booking that supports both agents and individual customers, the answer atleast for the railways lies in politcs. The railway minister(s) job is to create jobs for their constituency. And thus it happens that we recruit ever more people into an already bloated railways - and many of them end up looking forward to a career in ticket booking. And you, the ignoramus who wants to travel by train, instead of standing in the long queue to worship the deity who will hand over your ticket chooses to book online. Shit. That means the more people book online or at agents, the less the job creation engine of the Indian railways will run. Therefore, you idiot, you will be penalized - with what shall we call it - convenience fee each time you book a ticket sitting in your home. All this for travelling toilet class. (More on IR here.)

The story of banks is exactly the same. When there is an army of clerks waiting to do slowly and inefficiently, the same thing that can be done flawlessly and at lightning speed - those who want to use it will be charged - otherwise their inefficiencies will be exposed and they will have to let go off people. So, you, the smart internet banking user are subsidizing them.

Ditto for the RTCs. APSRTC and Karnatakas RTC are light years ahead in the game - thought I suspect it was the former which was the lead thanks to Chandrababu Naidu. APSRTC had counters all over Bangalore for its Tirupati trips while KSRTC counters were hard to find in the capital city of its state. Now KSRTC has caught up and has a great network of both good buses and ticket counters. Needless to say it is making money as well. There are a few RTCs still do not have an e-ticketing infrastructure because I suspect their ticketing employees could be unemployed. Keralas run down RTC is one such example. While every private bus operator in Kerala and to Kerala is making money Keralas RTC somehow survives with old buses and striking employees. Whatever. Well, nobody is dying to buy Kerala RTC tickets - they book online with KSRTC and APSRTC and pay the convenience fees too.

The reason is similar for most others - except the answer is not in politics, the answer is in milking the class which is willing to pay.

So, thats for you the smart consumer. Who says you need to give charity? Each time you pay convenience fees, you are donating to the health of yet another unhealthy organizations. The government deems that is their right to milk you - one who is contributing to their efficiency.

You are staring at an industry dammit

Yet another day, yet again we have to hear "Why cannot India produce a Google or an Apple or a Facebook". There is a very simple reason for that.

The next time somebody asks you this question, ask them back. "Why has Europe or America not produced a Nano?" Get the connection?

Yes, the answer is very simple. In any country what you will build or make or sell depends on whether there is a market available for the same.

In India there is no real market for Microsoft. If Windows is prevalent in India it is because of piracy. Google happens to be in India because it makes money in the US. Ditto Apple. The few thousands who buy Apple products in India are not enough for a company to sustain itself - with newer products, RnD and so on.

In India there is a market for the Nano. If the Nano does well in India, Tata will sell the Nano in other parts of the world. Like Bajaj sells its bikes in the Far East.

That is as far as the market is concerned.

The second is the practicality. Can you sitting in India start a company that will offer Americans an amazing internet shopping experience? Or ticket booking experience? Unlikely. Firstly, you will realize (as I did) that starting a company is not a joke and many give up (I gave up even before I started). Unlike in Silicon valley, where you can walk into one office and walk out in the space of a day with your company registration certificate, here it is an obstacle race. And thats when you just begin. After that running it is an altogether different story. Importing stuff is not easy - considering you dont have hi-tech computers and servers being manufactured here - it swallows tremendous amounts of money. All in all, a lot of things need to fall in place for a company to start.

Infosys is an exception - started by first time entrepreneurs. Wipro and TCS come from reasonably established business houses. And having said that - even then - they are all exceptions and thankfully we have a system that lets such new businesses survive - even if there are a few chokepoints prior to that.

And all said and done, the ITES industry is an industry - an entire industry. An industry the likes of which do not exist anywhere in the world. Yes, anywhere in the world. Yes, neither Philipines nor China nor any other country have any ITES company worth its name - despite the so called prevalence of such industries there. That gives you the second question to ask, "Does Infosys have any competitors from Philipines or China?"

If that doesn't silence your ignoramus questioner, let me know...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Of washing machines, socialism, environmentalism and Bangalore

Do see this video, by the incomparable Hans Rosling - where he talks about the magic washing machine. Yes, I personally love the washing machine - saves a ton of time and as he says, helps us read and do many other things - hopefully productive.

But what he brings out really, is the common thing across washing machines, socialism, environmentalism and Bangalore - hypocrisy. Let me explain.

Many people - who work in highly paid jobs or have made their money working in highly paid jobs or businesses - all decidedly capitalist - suddenly adopt a socialist approach. Take any "successful" politician who talks socialism and you will find that the actions taken by the politician in his or her own personal life is decidedly not socialist. They talk socialist and ensure that they loot the money of the socialist people. They float socialist schemes (NREGA) and their own cadre loot the money in between. They fly in on the chartered planes of capitalist entrepreneurs and leave you with vacuous words of socialism.

Many of us who work in the corporate world have similar idiotic notions. Anybody who talks of socialism while taking a capitalist salary is a hypocrite at best and an ignoramus at worst. All it means as Hans puts it is that you want the "other" to be deprived of what you got.

Many years back, in the verdant landscape of Munnar - there was talk of a power project being built. And I, all of some 10 odd years old argued with a local resident - another 10 year old - on the proposed dam that would submerge many acres of forest land. He replied without batting an eyelid - that the dam would give them electricity and I was shellshocked. Many years later, I realized that I, living in the city had access to 24 hour electricity while they barely had electricity for 8 and the realization hit home - as Hans says that the whole idea is that people like us - try to live more sustainable lives - is more environmentalism than about opposing dams or power plants.

Which brings me to the final point. Bangaloreans love trees on roads and each time a tree is cut, some publication somewhere will write a couple of stories about the same - ironically on cut trees. But do check out Bangalore from the air - no trees at homes or in apartment complexes - the trees are either on roads or on public property. Here too, if you care about the city, please let charity begin at home - your own. Build rainwater harvesting systems, conserve water, use public transport, use solar water heaters (if at all), grow trees (or vegetables) wherever you can.

Either way Hans Rosling makes you think. Do watch the video. And btw, do check if A Roy has a washing machine in her jungle retreat...