Thursday, December 27, 2012

On sporting ties

Each time the Board that Controls Cricket Cash in India talks of resuming sports ties with Pakistan and someone (used to be Bal Thackeray) says it is a bad idea, a chorus of noise emanates on how it is important to not mix sports with politics. A similar yardstick is mouthed by the 'ignorants' when it comes to music, cinema or some other such peacenik engagement.

Let us travel back in time to when South Africa was banned, not in one sport, but across sports - not by one country, but by the entire world for Apartheid. The wiki link on the same is very instructive.  And while at it, a related link on sports diplomacy is an entertaining read in itself. (see below)

Not only was the country banned, but sportspersons from other countries who maintained sporting contacts with SA were also banned - sometimes for life, by sporting associations across countries.

Before we move ahead - terrorist attacks are not about politics - they are about something more. Terror attacks are motivated by people who in turn are motivated by hatred - in this case of a country and its population and religion. They strive to kill in order to achieve their so called objective. Therefore, those who talk about mixing sports and politics are quite wrong. A better word to use would be to mix sports and terrorism.

But I digress. Pakistan has had a role in fomenting terrorism in India for over the last 60 years. Most of the bigger terrorist attacks in India have had a footprint originating in Pakistan. The last one and perhaps the most dastardly one yet, the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai had live instructions from Pakistan. The attack resulted in the death of more than a 183 innocent people including brave policemen and army officers. And Pakistan has been dragging its feet on it for over 3 years now while we send dossiers. And chasing this in Pakistan courts will be about as fruitful as locating Martians on Venus.

And for all those who say that cricketing ties are a great idea - please take a look at Imran Khan. Once a cricketer, he recently declared that he could declare jihad to wrest Kashmir. Imran, ironically is a product of Pakistans more liberal times which seem as real as the Yeti today. And all those peaceful, sporting encounters did not make Imran share any good words for India. Of course you may argue that many other cricketers are silent - but that is precisely my point. Why are his contemporaries not asking this ex-sportsman to shut up? Playing cricket with a nation that sponsors terrorism is useless. That Pakistan is in no hurry to take a liberal turn any time soon is all too evident from the events in that country. Is there any merit in engaging with an extremist nation?

And do not forget they also harbour, among other worthies, a certain Dawood Ibrahim - who is on a designated global terrorist and on a Red Corner notice from Interpol.

And by the way we are also issuing visas to 5000 odd visitors from that country. Guess which neighbouring spy agency will make the most of this event - as they have done many times before. Atleast 2000 of them are overstaying in Nagpur itself from previous visits - spreading peace in this country no doubt.

In balance, not only should India not have sporting ties with Pakistan - India also should influence the world to renounce their sporting and other artistic ties with a country that has its fingers in most terror attacks across the globe.

And by the way, various 'peaceful and just' Muslim countries that are extremely equitable and democratic refuse to have sporting ties with Israel. That list of countries includes the country that we are planning to play with cricket with. How is that for mixing sports with politics? Ever heard our liberals condemn that?

Related reads: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid_in_South_Africa
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_diplomacy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporting_boycott_of_South_Africa_during_the_Apartheid_era
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_and_state_sponsored_terrorism
http://news.oneindia.in/2012/08/21/over-2000-visiting-pak-nationals-overstaying-in-nagpur-1057070.html
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-07/india/34972041_1_interpol-notice-terror-attacks-rcns
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boycotts_of_Israel_in_sports
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel%E2%80%93Pakistan_relations#Sporting_ties

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thank you Gujaratis

So, all those intelligent Gujaratis actually went ahead and voted the same guy who was ruling them for 10 years back into power? No change wanted at all? And all those shouted anti-incumbency are hiding right now. (I think we need an anti-incumbency vote against news channels, btw).

You mean, Gujaratis actually dissed the dynasty that has the Right to Rule over India? I mean, they forgot that they could buy potatoes at 3 rupees a kilo (if not anything, that was a promise, no?). You mean, they actually ignored Sonia despite few' 'big' rallies where prepared scripts were read out? You mean they ignored the flights of fancy and voted for facts? They ignored the 'fake' promise of free houses?No wonder the seculars are hopping mad.

You mean, they actually voted for a party with a leader (that leader has developed Gujarat better than any other Indian state) over a party which had no leader? And that they voted for a chief minister who has delivered for 10 years works over a prince who has promised for 10 years?

They actually voted for 24 hour electricity and not for a bulb in every dalits house (yes, baba said this in UP, so I presume they will repeat this elsewhere)?

They actually voted for development for another 5 years? Arent they fed up of good roads? And electricity? And water? And all those industries in Gujarat that are providing employment? And those bus transit systems? And those clean riverfronts? And solar energy? And Muslims and Patels alike turned out to be wanting development? Not appeasement? Not secularism - the fake one, of course? Even Gujarats Muslims rejected the black hand? And those Patels? Caste groupings? Where did that go?

Why do Gujjus demand to be in the front all the time?

The rest of India is sinking and the time was actually ripe for a Garibi Hatao slogan to be built in time for 2014, complete with chasing monkey employment schemes, money for liquor cash transfer schemes, free food and free gadgets that wont work (because we forgot the electricity) and special targeted schemes for Congress voters.

And those smart ass journos and analysts thought that all those surging crowds at the polling booths were for driving out a performing government and getting in a non performing corrupt government? And what happened to all those people who Rahul waved to? All those hand waves did not translate into a wave?Or were they saying, bye?

Now what will all those policy think tankards write about? There were some who told us that corruption was in India (and presumably Italy’s) genes. And some who told us that India cannot ever develop. But these Gujarat voters are hell bent on proving them wrong.

Oh, well, they might claim Gujaratis descended from somewhere else and therefore it is only in the rest of Indias genes. Maybe, Gujarat split during a continental drift from America and joined us here.

Ok. Let us wait for another 5 years for mindless analysis about how Gujarat is just as bad as any Congress state…

(This is a follow up post to this one: Dear Gujaratis)
(Cross posted at FBJP too, I suppose)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A note to Gujaratis

On the eve of elections in Gujarat, I write this brief note to Gujaratis.

Dear Gujaratis,

Gujarat has been ruled by one man for over 10 years now. I mean, this is too much. Other states have had multiple CM's, some have had multiple Dy  CM's - Gujarat has lost out on all of this. Think of all the swearing and swearing in and swearing out and other parties and fun and bus rides and kidnapping MLA's and what not, you have missed.

And what did Gujarat get? A day of fasting in each district? And this in the land of unlimited Gujarati thalis? Outrageous, I say.

Gujarat has very few electricity outages or load shedding - dont you miss out on all the fun? In most other states, there is some electricity between load shedding. You cannot see stars when there is so much electricity - all those inspirations are missed. There is an entire crop of students growing up in Gujarat without a life story to tell about studying under the streetlight. Also, electricity kills. Shocking is it not? In the interest of the state, rampant use of electricity ought to be curbed. They actually expect you to pay for electricity. First they supply you twenty four hours electricity - and then they expect you to pay for it. It is a scheme to bankrupt you, I say. And those generator and inverter companies - how will they make money if you have so much electricity that you sell it to other states? It kills entrepreneurs who were waiting to make inverters.

No free laptops, no free electricity, no election sops like grinders and TV's -   And the ruling party expects you to work and buy all of this? Why? Whyever? A large part of India is getting these just by flipping the remote on free TV's, digging and filling ditches and running after monkeys. Infact, many of them will get free cash for their votes. Imagine that. Ah, well, what will you do with free cash when there is prohibition anyway. Learn from them, Gujaratis. Why work, when laziness can get you so much?


Gujarat has been having rather high growth rates over the past few years. That will cause vertigo - this dizzying rate of growth. Whats the big idea? To get off and join China? And besides, it is not good for health at all. And with unlimited Gujarati thalis, vertigo is a bad combination. Get off that speeding rocket, Gujaratis, get into the rest of Indias slow train to Garibi Badhao.

There is no corruption in Gujarat. No speed money, no wink and nudge for projects, no bribes. How pathetic. None of Gujarats ministers have reported multifold increase in assets. Look at the rest of the country. A former PM has a petrol bunk in my city. Cousins and little ones of politicians are making millions selling shares of shell companies. Some of their children own television channels and cosy monopolies for government supplies. What are you getting? Nothing. Why will your children enter politics? And imagine, you cannot create a dynastic party at all. And if you cannot create free careers for dynasties that are no good, what is the whole point of entering politics?

No elephant statues, no Rajiv Gandhi schemes, no strikes, no fiscal deficit - I mean, what do you watch on TV's each day? All you got was masks last year - and this year? Just Modi in 3D? It is all Maya, I say.


 And industries are coming to Gujarat. Hello? Does that mean you wont get a chance to search for jobs across the country? Why? There are so many opportunities in other parts of India. And the world. You should get everything at home eh? There are so many stories of people who left their homes and found wealth, prosperity and happiness elsewhere. You are missing out on all that, I tell you.

Sigh. The rest of the country is having much fun seeing the corrupt rule the country and states. We get to debate figures on corruption - on whether it is a few crores or a few hundred crores. There are entire TV channels defending the corrupt. There are riots happening in many states, but all that is not news, because of secularism, you see. There are allies of the government who are held at gun point. The country is now a place where with each stone you unturn, there is a new scam. We are debating when that reluctant no good prince will rule us. The rest of the country is surely having a very exciting life.

Yes, you have roads. You have electricity. You have peace of mind. You have girls going to school. You have industries flocking to your state. You have jobs. You have an ambulance service that actually works. Hell, you have an entire government and bureaucracy that actually works for you.

And yet the media is busy pulling wool over our eyes that it is your government that is not doing anything and that we are ruled by an honest head of government under whose watch runs perhaps the most corrupt government ever...

Sigh...

India, England a story on strategy

So, India lost a test series at home to England. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is a perfect story of how companies lose marketshare.

India thinks it is the big daddy of spin. It invites teams to play on its flat, breaking tracks and gets its spinners to do the job. And generally that works. It also helped that it had an amazing spinner in its ranks until recently. The new spinners are good, but they will take time and persistence for them to become great. But that is not the strategic part. The strategic part is that in the meantime, the other countries have figured out spin while India has not necessarily figured out pace. Or built other spinners are the same pace that they have been planning for the retirement of the veterans.

Cricketers and commentators and analysts have been crying for years that we need grassy fast tracks and grassy outfields where junior prospective bowlers and fielders learn the ropes so that many years later when they are in the big league, India has learnt a few tricks of its own to play pace. But that has not happened - and hence our bowlers and fielders are not getting to the levels that other countries are getting to. Nor are we investing in talent that allows us to seamlessly replace 'A' players.

So, slowly, India lost its advantage, perhaps due to complacency or blind spots or a combination of all of them. And the IPL which is a great way to blood new players has slowly steeped into mediocrity. Nothing is lost yet - something can always be done. But right now, this is where we are.

Very similar to companies. While working on one thing, they are so sure that they want to keep doing something that are good at, that they miss that either the market is changing or the consumer preferences are changing. And they miss the bus and slowly slip into oblivion. And begin to believe in their own greatness and lose to an upstart who does something totally different.

Markets change. Conditions change. That is a reality. The question is, how are you readying for it? Reactively (5 year plan for getting to somewhere 5 years later, which is where the market is now) or Proactively (actively experimenting with new approaches and trying to 'setup' the future)...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Mumbai missed the bus on public transport

Karthiks tweet made me finally write this thought out. 

Each time I visit Mumbai – I realize that the public transport scene has not changed in the last 12 odd years. By much. Mumbai incidentally was the first to introduce Air Conditioned buses – as early as the late 90s. But over the years, they have somehow not been able to crack the market for taking public transport upmarket. Unless you count Cool cabs. The trains have been a pain – each passing day it becomes more and more difficult to squeeze in. The buses – once the pride of India – are no longer as good - and thats a pity. I mean, BEST is a good service but it has not kept pace with the times.

This, despite the fact that the Mumbai mentality is a very public transport friendly one. Unless you are some super elite – you would have used public transport at many points in your life. I would think about 99% of Mumbai was used to public transport. Public transport (and I include autos, taxis here) was cheap, reliable and plentiful.Why I say this is because of the city we are comparing with.

Cut to Bangalore. 12 years ago, I was stranded at some place (the center of the city) looking at a bus to go to some other place (less than 10 kms away) at the unearthly hour of 730 pm. No buses. And BMTC well, was a lumbering sleeply bus company. As it is, those blue dabbas were generally slow, overcrowded and unpredictable. The people of Bangalore avoided getting into these buses unless they had a choice. Autos were (and continue to be) bad and unfriendly. There was no cab service worth its name.

And then R Ashoka happened. As did a few other things.That changed the face of both BMTC and KSRTC.

If you visited Mumbai in 2000 and 2012 – you will see a huge increase in vehicles on roads – a lot of those who used to use public transport shifted to using their own vehicles. The overall road scenario has improved, but public transport has not kept pace with demand. But someone who comes to Bangalore after 12 years will not recognize the city. At peak hours, BMTC floods the roads with its beautiful big red bus – the pride of its roads - the Volvos. And there is a bus every few minutes on the E-city, ITPL and Ring Road corridors - the big traffic corridors. And almost every bus is full. These buses are airconditioned and charge a premium for their ride (overall, public transport is more expensive than Mumbai). But they are fast, comfortable and plentiful. The last two points are usually the big reason people don’t want to dump their vehicles - you crack it and you get people off their high horses. The number of Volvos in Bangalore is perhaps higher than any city in the country. 

And I believe this is where Mumbai – missed the bus. AC services are few and far in between. And waiting for them just isn’t worth it. With the creaky train infrastructure which will remain that way until the Metro comes up – the BEST had a golden opportunity of going upmarket with AC buses and the like. Bangalore has successfully transitioned many users from bikes and cars to buses – simply by making its service more reliable, comfortable and plentiful.

Mumbai can still do it - the traffic jams in the city are just too unbearble and the city can pay as much, if not more than Bangalore. A bus corridor is perhaps all it takes. But thats for the city planners to decide.

Bangalore had quite a few things against it. A general public transport unfriendly populace. Bad roads. And a circular city. But BMTC has managed to convert each of these – and some of the recent road widening exercises have come in handy – into a winner for its bus service.

Apart from these – the cab scene in Bangalore is pretty good. Rickshaws are painful (though as compared to Delhi or Chennai they rock – as compared to Mumbai they suck). And the airport buses, well, they are a breeze...

(More on public transport here)
(Cross posted on Centre Right India)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shiv Sena, Thackeray and some memories

As I turn on the TV every now and then today - the only thing I see is the 25 lakh odd people who have thronged to see Balasaheb Thackeray on his last journey. I see it on mute - since most of the commentary is unbearable. On my twitter timeline there is a certain section which is vocal in their admiration of the Shiv Sena - and another section which is vocal in their opposition to the Shiv Sena.

As a long time Mumbaikar I still retain a special place for Mumbai in my heart. After all that remains where I have spent the majority of my life. And the Shiv Sena was a large part of Mumbai. Shiv Sena was Mumbai - behind the so called spirit of Mumbai - a large hearted spirit that would stand by the city during any tragedy (and this has happened so many times - from floods to terrorist bombs to power failures) and a part of many a celebration from Ganesh Chathurthi to Govinda. And their vada pav stalls had the best vada pavs on offer.

The Shiv Sena incidentally had South Indians in their crosshairs during their formative years - yet - not once did we (and a considerable number of 'Madrasis' around us in our predominantly South Indian locality then) find ourselves in trouble. And this is the funny part. A lot of South Indians today are vocal supporters of the Shiv Sena. Why is this? The elite of Mumbai (and other parts of India) believe that the Shiv Sena is nothing but a lumpen force in Mumbai focusing on ghatis. But many in Mumbai believe that the Shiv Sena is among the good things that make Mumbai what it is.

Yes, the Shiv Sena has often indulged in violence - like ransacking offices of media or tearing a painting or two or banning a movie or book or digging up the Wankhede pitch (which I think was a service considering we intended to play against our terrorist friendly neighbour). A bandh that was not supported by the SS meant a normal day, but an SS supported bandh was an opportunity to play street cricket all day long. No other party could enforce a bandh as successfully as the SS - and people were pretty much scared to venture out - over the years, all it needed was a call for bandh and the rest would happen. .  

The Shiv Sena changed itself over the years. What started off as an anti-communist party with its roots in Marathi identity - Balasaheb was quick to spot the theme of resurgent Hinduism that broadened its appeal beyond Marathi identity politics. And this where most people believe the Shiv Sena played its part very well. I remember the 92-93 riots - after all we stayed indoors for a long time in those days watching the city from our terrace. Shiv Sena boards at shakas and other places were a source of information. And a lot of people believe that the Shiv Sena 'saved our asses' in those riots. And this where their pan-Hindu appeal widened.

And when the BJP-SS government came up in Maharashtra, they changed the face of Mumbai - with its 55 flyovers (most of which were constructed ahead of schedule), the starting of the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Post this government - all election promises in Mumbai were about development. And the way they went after the underworld in Mumbai - with the police being given a free hand to 'eliminate' gangsters in 'encounters' has remained a story that has been retold in many a movie. It is fair to say that the underworld has not recovered from that yet - though they might with the leftists going after the police officers rather than the gangsters.

They also ensured that a lot of places that the lot of places with 'English' names were named after Shivaji ( Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji museum) and the city itself became 'Mumbai' from 'Bombay'. A lot of flak was faced by the government and the SS over this, but SS stood its ground. (Much later did I realize that the opposition to renaming was as much an opposition to project the legacy of Shivaji as much an opposition to the SS - a longer story to be told for later.)

The so called liberals can rant and rave, but they dont see that the Shiv Sena is a part of Mumbai - that holds the city together. What direction it will take in future, I dont know, but I do hope it maintains its grassroots connections. So, well, as I watch Balasaheb on his last journey on TV - yes, he will remain a part of our minds. And in Mumbai, Indian and Hindu history for ever. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Election Commission to CAG


Once upon a time in India there was a Chief Election Commissioner. The name of the man was a certain, T.N.Seshan. T.N.Seshan was the man who took on politicians - left, right and center. He was a hero. A one man army, who took on the might of the collective politicians and won.

During his tenure, he successfully tackled many electoral malpractices. He was the one with the vision of having a voter id card for every citizen. In particular, he was one person who used the office and the position and tested its constitutional limits successfully.

As you might imagine, the then government did quite take kindly to this activism and sought to curtail his powers by appointing a three member body - two commissioners in addition to the Chief - so that all decisions can be taken by voting.

On the face of it, this is a great idea. However, once the government appoints two lackeys, the power of the Chief Commissioner who wants to implement the rules is curtailed because the two lackeys will always toe the government line.

History is in the process of being repeated. The CAG today, Vinod Rai is the equivalent of T.N.Seshan. He, like Seshan, has been villified by many a politician of the ruling combine - all for doing his duty fairly and criticising the government for doing the wrong things.

Yesterday, someone from the PMO blurted the intention of slowly making the CAG into a toothless tiger by this process.

There is nothing surprising about this. Congress has perfected the art of slowly diluting institutions. Be it appointing seasoned politicians in the office of governors (note Karnataka and Gujarat today), by appointing family retainers in key positions in the election commission - which are some of the more prominent examples, the Congress is slowly, but surely seeking to curtail any criticism of its scam ridden tenure.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Twitter and RSS feeds

So, Twitter, in all its intelligence has stopped support for RSS feeds.

I am probably one of the few affected. I follow a good number of people on twitter. And since one cant live life watching the timeline, I would use Google reader to asynchronously follow the tweets of a few good people on it.

It was nice, very useful to bookmark, to be on top of just one persons timeline and also in a restricted workspace environment I could get to see important tweets.

And now, these intelligent people have stopped RSS feeds on twitter.

Sigh!

Update:RSS feeds are indeed available, just follow this post on how to do it...

Friday, October 12, 2012

The crony capitalism management theory

Reams of paper have been spent writing management theories for companies in growth markets.

I remember in one of my early lectures in management school, I asked the professor, “While we talk of core competence, how is it that groups like Tata, Reliance, Birlas diversify and continue make money in places like India. According to the definition of core competence, they should not be in these markets”. The professor quasi-dismissed my question – and this was a question asked post 1991 reforms (the real ones).

But later on I read that in growth markets Core competence may not be a great strategy to work with as newer markets and opportunities open up. For example, in India when the telecom sector opened up, a bunch of our erstwhile conglomerates stepped in with their mobile phone service offering. And a similar trend happened in the infrastructure sector. And when retail FDI happens, you will see a similar story there as well.

But then again, as the goings on the last couple of years have shown us, any company following any established management theory is sure to come cropper in the face of the newest of all management theories. And it works. Especially in India. Especially with the UPA in power.

It can cock a snook at core competence. Monopolize and capture markets better than any marketing campaign, check. It can dance on the five forces model of Michael Porter. It can get exclusive licenses, first mover advantages and deliver better results than Business Process Re-engineering. It is far more accurate than Lean Six Sigma. It is even more just-in-time than JIT. It can arrange finance at your door step when Accounting Standards tell you that you are not eligible for finance. It can win contracts when you are not even in the industry.

It is, in short, the baap of all management theories. A theory management theorists and consultants has never quite managed to put on paper: The theory of crony capitalism. It works on a simple tenet.

As Ogden Nash said,

Heights by great men reached and kept,
were not attained by exertion,
but they while their companions slept,
were busy contacting the right person.

Indeed, the theory of crony capitalism works on a simple model. The number of influential people, who have your number on their phone is a good indicator. If they are movers and shakers in the government who decide policies, float and award tenders it means you can easily grow to stratospheric heights. If it is a minister who is deciding to give off coal blocks or spectrum on the cheap, you are in the league to become a billionaire. If you cannot fulfill this first step, then sorry – the crony capitalism theory may not work for you. You will have to make it on your own. Tough luck. Don’t forget to pay taxes, though.

Second. Have you heard of the word ethics? If your answer is yes, then please stand aside. If you think ethics is for everybody else, crony capitalism is for you.

Fourth: You need to pull strings. In the olden days of license distribution, some companies always got licenses no matter what. They set up all possible industries and made money. In these new days of liberalization it is not that easy. You may have to find a foreign partner especially when all you do is own land and you know a license to build a metro railway is up for grabs. But foreign partners are not too difficult to find – after all, India was a growth market, before it fell like a ton of brics (pun intended). Or you may be asked to submit a tender in 15 minutes – but this is the information age – it can be done. Sometimes, you have to create a need, like all you do is sell metal, while the tender is for building a hospital. That, has to be arranged. Meaning, if the chap who floats the tender can add the golf course expertise as a pre-requisite to acquire land for a hospital, all you need to do is find a real estate firm which has built a golf course in its prospectus. It also helps to know lobbyists. These days lobbyists can be anybody – they are in disguise after the rather infamous expose of a lobbyist. The best disguise for them is journalists for example. Ministers can also double up as loyalists – like, if a tourism minister can vouch for your howitzers.

Third : You need to have a penchant for shells. Shell companies. Especially in Mauritius. Or Maldives. Or Cayman Islands. Some smart guys have shell companies in India itself. You can even sell shell companies.

So, how do they make money? Oh simple. You get spectrum for cheap, you sell it at a fortune. You get coalblocks for cheap, you sell it for something. You get land on the cheap and then you get some ultra luxury penthouses in return. Return on investment, you see. Some kickback is involved, but usually it is lesser than the taxes you would pay if you are a normal income tax paying geek.

Prerequisites: Some knowledge in creating trusts, NGO’s and a basic course in money laundering and tax planning. A penchant for throwing parties is appreciated. Attendance at big bashes is a must.

As you can see, many (shell) companies in India have made their fortunes this way.

Now, what if you are not an industrialist. You can still use crony capitalism. All you do is write bad things about BJP, Hindus or Gujarat 2002 (though this is fast approaching its sell by date) – and you will get funds. Another great option is to rant about persecution in Kashmir by the Indian authorities and somebody (related to a friendly neighbour's spy agency) will sooner or later invite you for all expenses paid conferences and some free shopping. If you are lucky, the government itself may put you on a plane and give you an all expenses paid holiday to Kashmir while you get to write a report nobody reads. And if you are a leftist, that works too. Sooner or later, you will be invited for a corporate funded junket to spew leftist speeches on an unsuspecting audience.

As for me, I know this column just ended my chances…

(Weblished yesterday on Niticentral, slightly edited)

Monday, October 08, 2012

Just a handful of waste

BBMP has started off what is perhaps one of its greatest initiatives. From sometime last week or so, they have refused to pick up unsegregated garbage from homes and businesses. Houses and Business now have to segregate waste before they hand it over to the BBMP. This is perhaps a fallout of the problem that BBMP has had with landfills et al. But whatever the genesis of the problem, to an environmentalist this is great news. Garbage now has to be segregated along wet waste, dry waste among other things at source.

This is not so difficult to do. Indeed, it is a good things for people to do it rather than expect others to sort our their garbage. This from my own experience has been great.

Over the last couple of years, we have been composting our kitchen waste. The whole process is magical so to say. The kitchen waste, biodegrades into some amazing smelling compost which is great for gardens. We use this product from daily dump which occupies a small space in a balcony. It works beautifully.

So, if we compost the kitchen waste (presumably the biggest source of waste) and separate the dry waste - which is mostly packaging material of various things we buy, what we are left with is a handful of waste each day. And much of the dry waste is recyclable - paper, plastic, glass, thermocole etc.

That is just great when you think of it. Otherwise, there would be people who would have to rummage through the waste to collect recyclable things and all that. And it is almost inhuman when you think of it - that we expect people to rummage through waste and recycle while we callously toss stuff into the waste basket. It is great the BBMP has enforced this across the city and will also collect fines (or refuse to pick up) from those those who still do not segregate garbage.

If each household or apartment complex or locality did its own composting, we would have greener gardens all around, much less waste and pests and even manage to give off compost to the villages where our farmers can use them (for free) a lot better than chemical fertilizer.

Tread lightly on the earth - we can all do our bit and teach our children to do so...

Saturday, October 06, 2012

BRTS Thoughts

The idea behind BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit Corridors) is a nice one. The whole idea is to provide dedicated lanes for buses so that their progress is not delayed due to the other traffic. This results in better average speeds. Atleast in principle. Bangalore is on the cusp of experimenting with a BRTS system on the Outer Ring Road – according to the reports I have read http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Bangalore/article1087368.ece. There is however a slight disconnect in the way it has been planned right now.

Disclaimer: I don’t know how it will pan out when the entire planning for the project is done, but this is a general observation of how it works in its state today. Though unless something miraculous has been planned, the state wont change.

The entire outer ring road will have a signal free corridor for about 21 kilometers. The BRTS is planned on this road. How this works is that there are flyovers over all the signal points, but the BRTS lanes are not on the flyover. They are under the flyover and hence, BRTS and bus passengers have to suffer all the intersections. Agreed, that with much of the traffic going over, the times at the signals will be less, but Bangalores intersections are mad (yes, there is no better word for it). If the signal free corridor makes it ‘easier’ for people to drive, why would people take buses? And if cars have a signal free corridor, why cant buses use it as well?  I am sure the powers that be have an answer for it, but take a look at the Agara intersection today.

Case in point: The Agara intersection has lifted two directions of traffic while the buses take the path below the flyover. Unfortunately, this intersection is a busy intersection with atleast 3 more directions of traffic – resulting in a bottleneck for – you guessed it – only the buses – especially the ones coming in from the Silk Board side. Ideally, one of more of those intersecting traffic lines should not be allowed to cross over and provided some sort of an alternate path. If this is a future BRTS system, buses will be slowed down and cars will go over, enjoying the signal free intersections. This defeats the idea of the BRTS – the buses should also get the benefit of signal free intersections – which the present system doesn’t.

Now this is not a isolated example – at the HSR BDA junction the next one after Agara, right now, buses go over the flyover since the roads below are not yet opened for the buses. When the roads below do open, it is no secret that this is another busy intersection. No point explaining, those who use the road know how or why it is so. And the buses inevitably, will wait for the traffic to clear. And this will be the story at all other intersections, give or take a few. But in totality, it will add more time to a bus journey than it should if the corridor were signal free for the buses as well. One can very well argue that the overall time will go down and all that, but think why would a car owner prefer to take a bus when it stops at every single intersection and bus stop while the cars zoom over?

On the other hand, there are systems built in other parts of the world which take this exact idea of giving the signal free benefit to commuters in buses. (Must read piece, From @aadisht). If and when Bangalore BRTS comes to fruition, this must be considered for it to be successful...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

India and China

While India sinks slowly into morass - the India Shining story having been replaced by India Whining and finally India sinking, if anybody still thinks we are competing in China - here is a reality check.

From the moment you enter Tibet (now a part of China for all practical purposes), the roads are smooth at all places. Yes. Read that right. There is no pothole in Tibet. There are beautiful roads- sufficiently wide, with shoulders if required at heights that go almost upto 4000 metres in hilly mountainous terrain - the kind of terrain which we would rate as 'navigable by mules'. And these have been built in fairly quick time.

On the contrary, our marquee cities (barring Delhi which since our senior politicians cannot take bad roads) have as much potholes as the moon has craters. And in our cities,  where mostly we dont have an altitude of 4000 metres nor are we hampered by mountainous terrain, our roads suck. Bigtime. And we take about a year to build a flyover - there are some which have taken 3 or 5. Yes, in our cities. And I am not talking about Arunachal Pradesh.

Exhibit II. In China, the mobile network is crystal clear - everywhere highways, mountains, deserts, lakes - you can call up your family from Mount Kailas and get them to talk to Shiva as well (in case you found him). The network is that clear.

And in our cities (forget highways, villages and other parts), we still have people dangling off buildings to 'catch' the signal. Near my place, I experience enough 'Bermuda triangles' where the network just dies.

If we are a superpower, it is in scams. Nothing else.

What social media can you ban?

Our ruling Under Performance Alliance alliance has a plan up their sleeves. Of banning Social Media. Because they think, social media is the root cause of a lot of rumours. What is unsaid is that it comes in the way of covering up scandals, turning up heat on the media (bowled over by the Congress) and prevents the glorification of the dynasty (raison d’etre of existence of some media outlets).

Claiming social media as the reason for the recent political disturbances and riots, many worthies would like social media to be clamped. Like banning it in certain states for certain durations (read election time) or during communally sensitive times (the rest of the time when we have no elections).

It is also an amazing coincidence that the leading opposition party and a certain Mr. Modi and his supporters are big on social media.

Think about it. If we ban Facebook and Twitter to begin with, will that be an end to rumours? Perhaps not. There are many other social media sites – like Orkut, Myspace and then some. That will have to be banned too. And then there are independent websites which often fake pictures. And then don’t forget that the internet carries this whole message, right? But what about newspapers that may print those pictures? Don’t they deserve to be banned too? And people, real human beings, circulate these very pictures.

And by the way many newspapers commit mistakes (mostly unintentionally, but who knows especially when it comes to politics) while printing. And the next day, they carry an apology of an apology on a forgotten corner of a page – which nobody reads.

Where am I heading? The point being, social media is a small part of rumours. Rumours have been around possibly since the time humans reached a sizeable number and had an evolved mechanism of communication like language. During the NE ‘exodus’ from Bangalore, the security guards at my apartment left not because they received SMS’es or they were on FB/Twitter, but because there were physical threats. And when we spoke to them – they said, we are afraid for our lives, therefore we will leave. The whole debate about social media and SMS ignores  the fact that physical threats were also a big part of the shameful return of NE people from various parts of India.

Will banning SMS’es and social media sites let us live in a rumour free society? Unlikely. A few years ago, there was a run on ICICI Bank – once in 2008 and once before. These rumours did not happen due to social media. Word of mouth rumours spread regardless of whether social media exists or it doesn’t. Infact, the opposite is true – that many a mass rumour can be quelled using social media. The KP exodus out of Kashmir happened without any ‘social media’. Many an organized protest and rumour mongering and riot has happened in India way before social media existed in its present form.

Take this great example of the American revolution of Paul Revere – covered by Malcolm Gladwel in his book Tipping Point: On the night of April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere was instructed to ride from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British Army was marching towards Boston.   He set out near midnight for Revere’s now famous 2-hour, 13 mile journey.  Along the way to Lexington Revere stopped at numerous small villages to warn the townspeople of the impending threat.  In every town he knocked on doors and explained the situation to local villagers.  The result was that news of the British troop movements spread like wildfire.  Church bells rang.  Drums were beat.  Revere’s actions are believed to have triggered as many as 40 additional riders were believed to have traveled throughout the surrounding areas on horseback to spread the news.  The viral nature of Revere’s message resulted in a well-organized and fierce resistance for the British when they arrived in Lexington. [Link]

What is viral marketing for one, is rumour for another.

Throughout human existence, viral messages have been spreading. Community gatherings are hotspots for rumours. The old chaupal were people gathered under a tree in villages are very effective to spread rumours. Leaflets have been used in the past. Also, you will find black boards in many intersections across the country – with the latest news. Again, great way to spread rumours. And of course, mass media like TV and newspapers have also played their parts in spreading rumours. Telephones incidentally help spread rumours.

Then, the logical way to quell rumours to to ban all media? Social or otherwise? And then considering that human beings are social animals, any interaction is also bound to potentially cause a rumour? In which case, we should all be gagged? Is that the direction we are heading towards?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Leftist Corporate

It would be funny if it were not an irony to see people who make their living off comfortable jobs hold leftist views. How does one explain that many of our corporate warriors who earn capitalist salaries hold leftist views? This also includes trusts and NGOs and businesses which are floated with capitalist earnings yet whose owners evangelize a leftist vision.

Do I hear you say, what is wrong with that? Practically everything.

Any corporate job is based on a simple premise. Merit. There is nothing other than merit that gets you there. In a way it reflects the market they serve in. The products and services they sell are not sold or bought for any other reason than the fact that they serve their target market in terms of price or service.

Yes, you will be tempted to jump in saying that companies and product markets are hotbeds of caste and religion and discrimination. Find out how many purchased their last car or washing power or mobile phone or software based on caste or religion. Also find out how many people are retained in companies only due their last names. Quite a few, you may say. Unfortunately, any company that prefers this mode will find itself out distanced by the competitor who follows merit because the marketplace is unforgiving.

Case in point, government enterprises, where political patronage triumphs merit are inevitably behind their private peers. Sure, some exceptions remain but they are mostly in monopolistic areas.

In a nutshell, this is what drives capitalism. Capitalism is all about people and markets. Socialism (and leftism) on the other hand is an enforced order where the government (an all-knowing god) decides what the minions deserve and proceed to serve this fare to them over 5 year plans that inevitably fail.

In an utopia, this will work, but in any society it wont. Because the natural scheme of any society is progress and evolution. Even in religions where equality is claimed, discrimination is rampant. You might as well be open about it and let people progress. And even in socialist countries, there is a vast difference in the quality of life of leaders, important cats paws and the common folks. Ask yourself who is working on making life better? And who should? People or planners? Or both?

And this where it all falls in place. When you lead a life of capitalism - which is all about you having a job or running your own business in a market - it is fairly impossible for you to substantiate leftism - while you quaff mineral water and eat at fancy (or ordinary) restaurants. When you head a trust that makes its money off corporate donations - please do not go out and diss the corporates for the work they do especially at capitalistic cocktail parties and capitalist conferences (airfare paid by capitalists, please note).

Look closely and you will find that the corporate organization is far better organized and set up than your average political party or NGO or trust. The corporates shun nepotism unlike your dynastic political parties. Also, note that the corporate is structured as an 'going concern' whereas the others usually decline or die once their leaders decline.

So, if you are still a leftist, please give up your corporate job, shun corporate and business donations and wear unbranded clothes, go to government hospitals and eat dal chawal (bought from PDS stores, preferably). Beyond that your argument is about as valid as a certain activist who lives in a house built on encroached land while arguing for tribal rights!

(Cross posted at Friends of BJP)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

While you slept

The kind of treatment the Assam riots have received in the media should be a wake up call for every single one of us. The media has ceaselessly painted a one sided picture of the same - and if it were not for the internet (and a few notable exceptions), the true picture would never be known.

The same media which prides on coverage of Gujarat 2002, even 10 years down the line has forgotten the peaceful protests of 11th August in Mumbai. Those protests resulted in the self combusting of a few OB vans and about 40 odd policemen tripping over themselves (kudos to this slideshow by Mid-day) and falling on stones and injuring themselves. The Amar Jawan Smarak in CST, Mumbai was desecrated (incredibly, see the low number of msm reports on this one) as well and there was not much outrage on it. The media has not yet taken the organizers to task. This was followed up yet another peaceful protest in Lucknow which resulted in the desecration of a Mahaveer statue in the full view of cameras. The Times of India had a despicably apologetic report written on it.

And in both places police barely lifted their lathis. Two communal secular activists wrote in praise of police inaction - (Madhu Trehan wrote a scathing rejoinder) and the police commissioner who was caught on camera reprimanding his junior for catching a rioter. (Yes, you heard that right). There were a few who raised their voice. At last count, Kanchan Gupta has been rewarded by his twitter profile being blocked for doing so.

Predictably, none of this has resulted in the media running their marquee shows asking if these groups ought to be banned or taken to task. The same media which ran in a loop footage of a dargah demolished in Gujarat few years back is scared to run the Mahaveer statue video or the speeches delivered in Azad Maidan on 11th August. Ask yourself why.

And the government has responded by blocking various twitter handle, websites etc. While you slept, this is the story of the government that rules you and the media that seeks to inform you. While seeking to block groups that supposedly incite hate, the government has also gone ahead and blocked respected journalists who were telling the truth. While seeking to block internet sites that did carry hate propaganda, the government has calmly turned a blind eye to physical, real threats that resulted in quite a few people from NE India to return home from many parts of the country (Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore).

As someone pointed out on twitter, this government has given us Chinas Freedom and Indias infrastructure. Jai Ho!

More updates on this with links etc., when I get some time...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

BMTC Volvo and Corona


The phenomenal success of the BMTCs airconditioned bus service have not made it smug. It continues to innovate and push boundaries. However, one of its recent experiments, I am afraid is not great. Not for the user atleast.

BMTC currently has two tiers of airconditioned service – which is an amazing feat come to think of it. Most cities barely survive with one, here BMTC plays around with two. One, the premium Volvo services (not counting the Airport ones) and two the Marco Polo service. The differencebetween the two is obvious. The Marco Polo are underpowered buses, really and the AC works, but not really as much as a Volvo and on any given road the Volvo will beat the Marco Polo by a mile.You can see the Marco Polos struggling up a flyover while the Volvos cruise over them.

Now what BMTC has done is introduce yet another bus – the Corona into this. However, they have missed a trick when they priced the Corona in the same bracket as the Volvo. There is no comparison. 

The Coronas are marginally better than the Marco Polos, but are still beaten to pulp by the Volvos. One may not realize it in the city roads, but on the ring roads where the buses race past each other, the Volvo is a clear winner. And after my first few experiences losing precious time after boarding a Corona, I refuse to take it – since the Volvo following it, almost certainly overtakes it. it is not just speed – in my many travels, the airconditioning of the Corona has always been substandard as compared to the Volvo. Sorry BMTC, at this price, the Corona gets a thumbs down - and I use your service practically 7 days a week.

I am no motoring geek, but the Volvo carries labels of B7R (the old one) and 8400 (the newer ones). Simple googling tells me that the buses are powered by engines that deliver about 290HP. The Corona engine on the other hand delivers about160HP. Go figure which works better for passengers comfort.

So, BMTC, can you please reduce the fares on the Corona?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Travelogue: Kailas Mansarovar

A few years back, my father undertook the Kailas Mansarovar Yatra. From then on, I had it in my mind to make it to the Yatra. And due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, I found myself in a position to take up this trip last month.

Details: I took the private route – which takes about 15 days to and fro. The trip I took was a road trip where one drives down from Nepal to Tibet. There are helicopter services available too that greatly shorten the trip duration (while reducing the total landscape you see). The total cost of the trip will come to little over a lakh or so – depending on how much you need to “buy” stuff like shoes, sleeping bags, clothing et al. The agents by themselves will charge anywhere in the range of 70-80k depending on when you book and what is included etc.

Is it worth it? In a nutshell, this is a one in a lifetime kind of opportunity - with very few making it to Tibet more than once in a lifetime. This makes the trip all the more daunting or enjoyable, depending on how you see it. Also, since there is a rare chance of a repeat customer experience, that leaves some gaps in what one sees as customer service. But, if you can keep it aside and focus on the positives (and there will be many of them) and focus inward, the trip is worth it.

How does it work? There are essentially two ways. There is an Indian Government Yatra for which nominations are invited every year. But this is by draw of lots and leaves very little scope of flexibility (take it or leave it kind of thing) - and requires a good 30 odd days to complete. The other route is what is called a private route (which is the one I took) via Nepal - which is shorter and I would think physically less taxing as well. The yatra route incidentally was re-opened thanks to the efforts of one Dr. Subramanian Swamy (yes, the same one)

How to go about it? Assuming you take the private route (which is what this piece will be all about), there are two ways to go about it. I will come to that in a moment. This trip is arranged by 3 separate "agents". First there are service providers across India - indeed, almost all tour operators provide customised tours (Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil etc) with food choices etc.

These Indian agents aggregate their customers and then hook up with Nepali agents who in turn hook up with Chinese-Tibetan guides et al and arrange the whole trip. It is possible to cut out the first set of agents and contact the Nepali agents directly. Possible, but not desirable as we discovered. It is better to go with the Indian agent -since the agent does facilitate a lot of things (like money, passports, visa arrangement).

Also, the Indian agent typically accompanies the group so you can hold him accountable for everything - which is required considering the vagaries of the trip. You are best left not worrying about these peripheral things which the agent will take care of. And these guys are experienced - so it is better to go along with them. If you go by yourself to the Nepalis, they will tag you along with one such group - and since you are not from the "agents" group, you will be treated as the tail of the dog. Also the whole part of making payment to Nepal, while simple enough, requires some amount of patience. Having an agent takes care of all of these.

The obvious downside of going with a homogenous group is that it will take away any space you need as part of the trip and you could find yourself sucked into a reality show kind of environment. So, choose carefully!

In any case, it is not possible to go on this trip as an individual (from India atleast ) since the Tibet Group Visa is issued only to groups and only to authorised travel agents.

Highlights In my view, there are two highlights to the trip. A dip in the Manasarovar lake and a 3 day 40 km parikrama (kora) around Mt. Kailas (Kang Rinpoche). There are other sidelights - like an Ashtapad or a Pashupatinath/Swayambhunath or shopping or something else in a Kathmandu half day tour, but they pale in comparison with the main ones.

How to prepare for the trip? Be prepared for reasonably harsh and varied weather conditions. And be prepared for all seasons. Sunlight, Rain, Snow, Wind are all equally possible. And for all terrain - a bit of snow, lots of gravel, mud, rocks, water. So, invest in the right footwear and clothes - especially if you intend to walk the parikrama. Buy good hiking shoes and break them in. Walk around a few kilometers each day for a few weeks atleast. If you can do more and get physically and mentally fit, go ahead do it. It is worth it.

Carry a good medical kit. Have a smallish day pack for carrying snacks - even though much of it will be provided by your tour agent. You surely need strong sunscreen. Two layers of head protection. Thermals are a must. Gloves are a must. Carry a lot of pairs of clothes - which can be layered. Forget washing clothes or having a bath each day -when you are back, all these luxuries can be appreciated better. Carry a bottle or thermos to carry water and a small tiffin box – both are again appreciated while on the trek. A trekking pole is useful - a stick works as well.

Notes of caution: This is not a walk in the park. This is a trek at upwards of 4000 m altitude where there is just enough oxygen for grass to grow. At the highest point - Dolma La pass - even grass doesnt grow. So, there is a serious shortage of oxygen - it is like being breathless every minute. After all the preparation, how your body reacts in high altitude wont be known until you reach there - and believe me, in this there is no one size fits all. Your body may see it through without any issues or it may behave in weird unpredictable ways - regardless of your levels of fitness. There is one way to figure out - which is to get there and see.(And there are medications available - google Diamox)

During the trek, do keep yourself hydrated – with Electral water if required. Have dry fruits to snack on while walking. Have good sun protection (70SPF types), cap, gloves, anti-UV glasses, good hiking shoes (like the Forclaz 500), multiple pairs of socks (woolen+cotton combo) etc.

In Nepal: Nepal is a lovely place. Foodwise, weatherwise, you will find yourself at home in Nepal. Best masala tea in the world ever. The easiest leg of the tour in my view. In Nepal IC(Indian Currency) is 1.6 times NC (Nepal Currency). While 1000 and 500 rupee notes are illegal – we found that it is possible to exchange them in many (if not most) places. Better to carry stacks of 100 rupee notes.

In Tibet: Great scenery. Amazing landscape. Breathtaking drives. Panoramic vistas. Nothing unlike anything you have ever seen in your life. Reminds you of your own insignificance in the world. If you have a good camera, you wont regret, but more than that, enjoy your moment there – there isn’t anything like this on earth. And by the way, Indian credit cards don’t work here (for some reason), so you are dependent on local yuan changers – some bargaining is possible here as well, if you can manage the language.

What facilities are available? Roads are good. Networks and calling facilities are there everywhere to remind you of the civilization you left back home. Toilet facilities are not great. Bathing facilities are expensive - but good and worth it. Electricity is available everywhere as well – though I had initially heard this would be a problem – it did not seem to be a problem during our trip. A word of caution here: The facilities we got were basic – dormitories, shared toilets (or too filthy to use), one lamp per room. Overall facilities are clean, but don’t expect anything great once you cross Nepal.

The Sherpa team that accompanies you will be your best friend for these days and they do put out their best given the conditions – ours was fantastic and could save the day multiple times. Most likely, yours will be as well. What to carry? I wont dwell on this since each travel operator/agents has their list and it is presumably updated by them so it is best to depend on them.

Tips: I saw many of the yatris carry bindis, bangles and the like to give away to Tibetans. They are surely a better option than junk food and yes, the Tibetans love them. There were others who carried small childrens school bags, pencil boxes and school related things to give them away. Pity we had none of these things, but yes, they love them and in any case it is better than handing out cash or junk food.

And if you have more questions, I will attempt to answer them…

(Cross posted in CRI)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Meadow

The Meadow is the title of a book by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark that is basically an investigation into "The Kashmir Kidnapping that changed the face of modern terrorism". I had written on this before, but that was before reading the book.

But a few points that I came across on reading the book.

This book follows the typical template of journalism while writing about Kashmir.There is a little RSS bashing, a lot of Indian army bashing. It has one or two obligatory sentences on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits - camouflaged with military precision. To its credit the book does call out the terrorism in Kashmir in a few places as well.

I did find the obsession with skin colour intriguing at a couple of places in the book.

Page 29: Aquiline noses, cat-green eyes, skin so fair that many seemed more Aryan than Don or Jane - some Kashmiris would have passed as Europeans.

Barrelling into town, their taxi passed yet more bunkers and pickets, out of which dark-skinned Indian soldiers peered, their guns aimed at Kashmiri men and women who walked solemnly along the broken pavements, heads cast downwards.

Page 58: It might have convinced the increasing number of Indian tourists coming from the cow belt that all was peaceful here, the dark skinned holidaymakers from the south who were all keen to do their bit to reinforce the government's writ in Kashmir.
 
Really? And how does skin colour matter here, authors?

In any case, Chapter 2 of this book is a rip roaring read that shows the real Masood Azhar a pusillanimous mouse - that terrorist who Indians shamefully giftwrapped and swapped for a planeful of hostages in the IC814 hijack drama.

And the book does make an interesting read on the whole story.

Then as now, I have no contest on the claims that the authors make. Perhaps they are right, perhaps they are not.

My opinion after reading the book hasnt changed much and I maintain that fighting terror is never easy and sometimes, it is essential to use dirty tactics against those who aim to kill/decimate/destroy you by all means - fair and foul. I only wish India had a uniform no-negotiation with terrorists policy...

No war against terror anywhere in the world has been won by peaceniks - it takes soldiers to win wars and no war has been won by giving up.

Of Corporates and Individual Businesses

David Brooks wrote this eye opening article a few weeks back. It is a must read.

Most people around us, in India, in cities hear this untiring trash that the social sector is a better place to work than the corporate world. Whether people say this because they think it is cool to say it or because they genuinely believe it I have no way of knowing. Whether they say it because it is nice to earn a fat salary and talk about becoming a volunteer without having intention to do so is equally unknown to me. But over the years, even NGO's and other self righteous champions have started mouthing the same - that corporates are bad and other things (like themselves) are good. A diluted version of this argument is that IT in general is bad while other businesses are good.

For all of you who want to counter things like this, that David Brooks article should be a welcome read. Here is the one killer sentence, though the entire article is worth a long read and a much longer thought time.

It’s worth noting that you can devote your life to community service and be a total schmuck. You can spend your life on Wall Street and be a hero.  [David Brooks - The Service Patch]

So, all you corporate warriors out there, please remember this the next time that self righteous, contemptous of corporate person attempts a takedown on your job with a statement that the social sector is better than the corporate sector.

There is another bigger reason for this as well. Look around you and see how corporate and individual businesses differ in their ways of operation.

Look at a corporate set up and look at an individual set up. The former is set up in the manner of an "ongoing concern" where the show will go on regardless of who is in what position - by and large. The latter, on the contrary, will be a one person show, where everything and anything is as per the whim and fancy of the one person in charge. The immediate focus of the individual business is to make money flow into the pocket of the founder one way or other - and not skill building of some employee way down the food chain. This does not include start ups which are in the formative stage that cannot afford to hire too many people etc. I am talking about well set up, established businesses.

There are exceptions on both sides, but look around you and make your own guess.

The doctor, the chartered accountant, the lawyer (and there are many many more) - each of which is typically run by the individual - their succession plan stops at their own progeny and nose. It rarely extends beyond that. Think why this is the case? And your answer is clear. Because their interest is them and them alone.

Extend this to NGO's who are purportedly in the business of servicing people. Show me an any NGO that has a great succession plan and you will see an NGO that has clarity of purpose and is genuinely working towards a goal. The moment you see an NGO driven by a "founder" and a bunch of lackeys, you can see "personal interest".

Am I saying now that corporates are better than NGO's and such individual firms? No. All I say is that the moment you see opaqueness (and niggardliness - in reporting, succession plans, developing talent), you will see personal interest. The moment you see transparency (and openness), you will see genuineness in purpose. That applies to NGO's and Corporates alike.


(This is a developing thought, but let me see, hopefully, I will be able to stitch the thoughts together better over time.)

Illy

At Bangalore airport, I have spotted the sign, Illy - which is the name of a restaurant there. I always thought it was a smart idea. Illy, in Kannada, means, here and in my mind, it sounded like the perfect name for an airport restaurant in Bangalore that sounds cool, contemporary and also has a superb meaning in Kannada.

I was in awe of the creative mind which would have come up with a name that is so simple, yet so memorable and so evocative!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Illy had nothing to do with Kannada or Bangalore at all. In Nepal, I found the same brand in a hotel and I was shocked to discover that Illy is an, hold your breath, Italian brand.

Whatever it is, it is also cool that an Italian brand name can have a meaning in Kannada...

Illy indeed!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Safa EV


As one walks along the roads of Kathmandu, every now then you will see a whitish autorickshaw that carries a good 6-8 passengers. This seems to be the lifeline of Kathmandu public transport - it stops anywhere and everywhere to pick up and drop people. When they stop, the vehicles behind have to do the same as well and they do that without complaining. The first thought that came to my mind was the dirty, venom spewing, black and yellow "6 seaters" of Pune.


And thats when you realize that these things are different. When they go past you, there is no thud of the engine, but a smooth whine - that sounds so much like an electric motor. It actually sounds like the EMU's in Mumbai - the smooth whine of the electric motors as they accelerate. I focussed on this a a few times and finally managed to read whats written on the side of these cuties - Safa EV. These people movers are electric.

So I managed to do a little bit more reading about them and here is something I found. Kathmandu has perhaps the highest number of EV's than any other urban center in the world. And they are in operation since nearly 1994.

The naysayers of EV's would do well to read this. The terrain is hilly - ups and down. It carries many passengers. It is operated, not by geeks and scientists, but normal ordinary people. And it does a fantastic job of moving people. Way to go Kathmandu!

PS: Blogger keeps rotating the image for some reason. Gave up in frustration...

Of Indian bikes and Chinese cars

As I stood at a traffic intersection in Kathmandu observing the cars and bikes that drove past me, I could not but help observe that the majority of the cars are Chinese and most of the bikes are Indian. So, while there are the Maruti 800s, Altos, Wagon Rs, Sumos there is a fair smattering of Kia, Chery alongwith the usual big guns like Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota. But look at the bikes and most of the bikes are our very own Bajaj Pulsars, Hero Honda Splendors and a few Yamaha Fazers and the like.

Why that is so I did not exactly know. So I asked a Sherpa friend of mine who himself owns a well used Hero Honda Splendor. He said that while the Chinese bikes were cheaper, they gave too much trouble from a maintenance perspective and the Indian ones were way better. Of course, he could not tell me why it was not the same story in cars. Neither did I. He said it was a clash of Chinese and Indian businesses and on that count, he was right.

But looking at Nepal - it is is a place where India should have paid so much more attention - and I think that this is a golden opportunity that has been missed. Culturally, Nepal is so much closer to India and this is one aspect that India could have used to build much better bridges. I am not exactly sure what India should have done, but somehow when I see around, I sense a big missed opportunity there. Perhaps there is that window of opportunity yet -before the Chinese gobble up this one as well. Perhaps we need some smart leadership in India which recognizes Nepals potential and helps it get there...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nepal Thoughts 1

I visited Nepal for the first time recently and would highly recommend it as a place to visit for Indians. Nepal is a small, hilly country and the first thing that strikes you as you enter Nepal from the Tribhuvan International airport, Kathmandu is that it looks like any hill station in India. Small roads, hills, quite crowded, disorganized traffic and nice weather.

And then you take a closer look at the vehicles. It looks like old cars from around the world come here to serve our their pensioner life as taxis. There are very few buses in Kathmandu - if at all, they are mostly for tourists. The locals use some sort of mini-buses for commuting within the city. And then there are the Safa EVs (a separate post on this later).

The culture of Nepal is a lovely amalgamation of Hindu and Buddhist culture. They give you anything as an offering - money, change, goods. I found this to be a very endearing tradition. There are roadside temples everywhere you can see. Interestingly Nepal has a half day on Friday and has its weekly off on Saturday - another Hindu tradition.

The going currency rate for IC (Indian Currency) is 1.6 NC (Nepal Currency). Kathmandu is a nice place to shop as well - especially Thamel. The good thing about Thamel is that it it is still not swamped by the mall culture and only sells traditional Nepalese and Tibetan items and not imported plastic toys from around the world. And yes, dont forget to buy yourself the Khukhri- the Nepalese traditional war knife/sword.

Food is nice - and Nepal perhaps makes the best masala tea in the world. Nepali fusion music is pretty cool to hear as well.

And Nepal is a great destination for treks, adventure sports, pilgrimage, spirituality or just chilling out...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Business within business

The internet is a funny place. Traditional businesses get broken up at times, while at other times, there are business centered around seemingly disparate entities, but creating what can be pretty close to a "traditional" channel. The restaurant business seems to be one such.

Like asset stripping, it looks like the restaurant business is slowly being stripped off into many components.
 
Earlier, you would select a restaurant, go through the menu, order food, pay for it and depending on how you like it or your range of choices, would return. If it was close to your place, you would go keep its card safe, call them and they would deliver food.
 
Now, depending on what you choose, there are many others who help you in this process. First of all, you can go to a burrp.com and get a review of any restaurant before you visit. Earlier, it was just friends (it still remains so), but there is another option at burrp.
 
Then to book a seat, you go online and bookurtable.com. Yes, it is as simple as that and it does work - it worked quite neatly the one time I tried it.
 
Want to see the menu online? There is zomato for one. Or sites like justeat.in where you can get almost all of those services.
 
I also spotted a service called delyver which just delivers food (flowers, cakes whatnot)  - from those restaurants (and other businesses) they have tied up with.     
 
Interesting no? Who would have thought that there are so many separate parts to running a restaurant business - though it is obvious on the face of it…
 
Will these services make revenue enough to see them through? And whether these are "temporary" as opposed to "permanent" businesses? And whether the customer fickle minded as he or she is, see enough value in these services enough to return to them?
 
Wondering how many such businesses can be stripped? Shirts for one, can surely be. Order fabric online, a chap comes home and measures you, and then the shirt is stitched and finally delivered at your place. thestiffcollar also does the part of shirt design/size selection and delivery minus the fabric and measurements.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To review or not

I recently picked up a book from my library. The title aroused my suspicion. As it is life isn't too short for reading books one doesnt like, I decided to spend a couple of hours skimming through this book.

The book in question is supposedly fiction, but you wont be able to distinguish it from newspaper or media reports on many issues and touches upon one of the reasonably burning issues of the day. No it is not about the country which is burning anyway. But this topic is a hot favourite.

The book is a great read, for those who have a perfectly convoluted view of the world and it is sad that these Antartic types find a book like this worth publishing. But the book hits all the sweet spots on writing for a story like this.

  • India is no country for a particular religion
  • Progressive educated type fellow of that religion is insulted
  • Falls in love with someone from another community (no prizes for guessing)
  • Gives her an earful of how "they" hate "him" (no mention of the other side, but well...)
  • Ailing progressive father and subdued family 
  • More "insults"
  • Meets handler who operates an NGO, but no ethical dilemma here
  • Takes to terrorism since there is no other recourse
  • Meets other like minded people
  • Goes off to neighbouring country and returns to fight in Kashmir
  • Lots of noises about Indian atrocities in Kashmir (yes, yes, those ones which are not about the ones who were driven out) and some baddies in the Indian army
  • Mentions a specific riot, a disputed religious site and a famous politician barely veiled
  • Rants and raves about all the injustice in the world, well not all, but some specific injustice
  • In the end realizes that he was a pawn in someone elses game
  • Gets killed in the end, honorably etc.
No surprises here - I kind of knew what I was getting into, but no, I wont name the book nor the author not anything else and give them any oxygen of publicity - even on this blog that has few visitors.

A new kind of victimhood has appeared and it will keep appearing in places like this since our liberal friends think this is the kind of tripe people want to read.

And I suppose the only thing to do about such things is publish better stuff yourself...and ignore stuff like this. Thank god for libraries or we would be wasting money on stuff like this.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Swamimalai, an offbeat destination

If you are looking for a place to visit - an offbeat destination - consider Swamimalai. The Indeco resort here is a really cool one. The resort has an olden day feel to it - created as it is from an abandoned village. The houses are painted in the old colour scheme (indeed, you can see similar schemes outside it), there are many old equipments and furniture for the resort visitors to browse through. The swimming pool looks like a temple tank and overall, it is a nice place to relax. Food is great too. All of this makes for a quaint resort - very different from the cement and concrete monstrosities that pass off as resorts.

And around Kumbakonam - which is perhaps the epicenter of temple country in India - there are a million temples to see - each grander than the other. Each of these temples has its own quaint story and it is amazing to see how these temples bind one part of India to another by these stories.

Plus Swamimalai also happens to the epicentre of the bronze statue making art and there are numerous workshops that sell these statues. Beautiful, hand crafted and exceptionally detail oriented, they are a collectors dream come true. All in all, quite an offbeat destination, but if heritage is your thing, this is one of those must visit places.

And if you need a cab while you are there,do ask for Sriram of Gopalan travels...

Retailers, be very afraid

In the second wave of online shopping in India there are many new entrants. They are breaking into hitherto untapped spaces (or spaces that were not viable in the earlier run) like toys, baby stuff, groceries etc.

Personally, I have never tried buying groceries (and I am just a step away from trying them) or baby stuff or toys online, but there is no reason for me to believe that they wont be good - since the leader in this space, Flipkart has set a stellar example of on time delivery and customer satisfaction.

I am also very close to shirt shopping from The Stiff Collar - which is capturing a need for bespoke shirts. I wish they had some way of fabric shopping as well.

A few days back a retailer announced a huge discount sale on electronic items. When I visited the place, it seemed exciting enough. But when we compared it online, we found that the price differential was not very high and they also had the item we needed in stock - which was not the case with the retailer. And that brings me closer to ordering electronic stuff online - another first.

If am not mistaken, in the developed world the behaviour is similar - people window shop offline and then order it online.

As a retailer, I would be very very afraid of this kind of behaviour. Online shopping is the biggest threat and opportunity to malls and other shops. Personally for me, beyond a point, shopping is a pain. Driving, parking, shopping, selection, billing, driving back - I would much rather do it online!

Also, as oil prices go up, it is also becoming cost ineffective to go around burning oil to buy groceries. I would much rather burn bandwidth!

Mobile phones are the new transistor radios

When I was growing up, transistor radios were a big rage. The huge radios had just given way to the smaller, portable ones. And that meant that, getting cricket scores was now easy. The small radio did the trick. Barbers had one, vegetable vendors had one, every little shop had a small radio that played songs. Students had one too - the luckier ones atleast. Over time perhaps it became a nuisance and on BEST buses, there was this quaint notice that said "Use of Radios and Transistors prohibited". But the use of little radios never stopped, especially during cricket matches, not until mobile phones arrived actually.

But its been a short lived respite. Now, all around you, one can see people leaving the cellphone turned on with songs (mostly) and leaving it in their pockets as they go about doing their day to day work. And it is not the radio it is songs of all shapes and sizes with decibels being the only common factor.

And it is a nuisance, just as the transistors were in the olden days! The more technologies change, the more behaviour remains the same...

Friday, May 25, 2012

An ISI wish list

Dear God, Here is a list of wishes that we, as ISI, have for our neighbouring country -India. If there is someway you can help fulfil some (all would be great) of these, that will be really nice for us. 

  • The Indian Army should have a shortage of ammunition
  • The Indian Government and the Indian Army should fight, publicly, thereby bringing down the status of the Indian army in the eyes of the people.
  • Sell defective or substandard or old equipment to the Indian army
  • Somehow get an foothold on that blistering cold Siachen place and then screw Indias happiness.
  • Gain an ear into the Indian telecom sector through some dubious entity so they can conveniently eavesdrop into the conversations of India.
  • Get some foothold into selling dubious telecom equipment to India while we are at it.
  • Get a few useful idiots to mouth our wishes on Kashmir by getting them on free foreign trips and some good accommodation.
  • Somehow, get these few useful idiots to advise the government on Kashmir in an official capacity.
  • Somehow, a nice public report advising the government to effectively give up Kashmir should find its way into the public domain with the active blessings of the government. And use that as a starting point in future negotiations.
  • Somehow get India to build an asset in our territory, so Indias neck can be choked without having to move an inch out of our own country. Preferably, like a gas/oil pipeline that can wreck Indias energy security would be nice, eh?
  • As part of death by a thousand cuts, have some other terror movement that is not directly connected to the religiously motivated one that we support. Preferably this terror movement should have its origins in backward areas so that useful idiots will write blaming the gross inequality in India for such movements.
  • Have a few media outlets talk about making peace with us, under the cover of arts, literature and some such shit. And then use this to get some railway locos, oil, electricity and other freebies. While we are at it, a liberal visa regime would be nice too.
  • Get fantastic media coverage each time our puppet visits India on a personal visit and makes some vapourware loose change as donation.
  • Outsource the religious terror movement completely to an Indian entity that then goes about doing its own thing - like the proverbial cats paw.
  • Get someone (as good as Teesta) to advise the HRD ministry on education so that the new generation grows up admiring us, rather than ignoring us.
As you can see, our government has fulfilled most of these wishes...What else could be on this wish list?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dont demonise the Indian army in Kashmir

Much outrage is being expressed over a new book, The Meadow, authored by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark which puts the blame on a high profile kidnapping and killing of 5 foreign tourists in Kashmir in the late 90s on the Indian Army and security agencies. The first assumption of course, is that this is indeed true, since as an eminent journalist pointed out in his piece, this has never been spoken about at all - which is a rarity in a world that is notoriously known for "open secrets".

Let us leave that assumption aside and look at the realities.

The fact that Kashmir has been in the throes of a covert and many a time overt war funded and sponsored by Islamic interests abroad (notably our neighbour) is indisputable. This is a reality since the first attempt in 1947 and the last attempt at Kargil in 1999. (Read, India Pakistan and the Secret Jihad by Praveen Swami.) The nature of this overt war has kept pace with the realities of the world. It was open terror in the late 80s and early 90s which resulted in the brutal forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits – a sordid episode unprecedented in independent India. Over time thanks to the patience and persistence of Indian authorities, the relative decline of the neighbour into the abyss of a terrorist state and its occupation with its other border, the worldwide recognition of the terror threat have contributed to the decline of the violent movement. The movement has sought to sustain itself on the basis of other means of outrage as seen in the stone throwing episodes couple of years back, which were proved to have been funded by interests inimical to India. A significant part of this is how with the Fai episode, we have seen how the ISI has cultivated the high and mighty in Indian society for the throwaway price of a few junkets and sought to keep the so called freedom movement alive in the media by saying the right things.

What is clear is this. That the part of the entire J&K state afflicted by this Islamic insurgency is a very small one and is largely reflective of an Islamic movement than a movement based on real democratic freedom (where all religions thrive  and all people are equal etc. - which is my definition of freedom). The driving out of the Pandits has made this clear to everybody. This movement seeks to destroy (whatever little is left of it)  Kashmiriyat and replace it with some version of "Islamiyat". The fact that is one is conflated for the other is a failure of our discourse. The fact is also that there is a significant part of the erstwhile state that is under Pakistan and Chinas control where civil liberties practically do not exist.

There is a long story to be told on this, which many other notable people have pointed out better, but the fact of the matter is this. Counter terrorism is not pretty. Wars have to be fought. As we have seen from Indias own experience – in Punjab or in the Naxal movement earlier – we have had to use all tactics in order to win this war. (After all, the terrorists and their funders do much worse and it is in the governments interest to protect its citizens by whatever means.)

And the Narasimha Rao Government in a way did many things that irreversibly changed the direction of India. And this is perhaps one of them. I don’t know – books typically sensationalize stories a lot for a variety of reasons. But, here is the point, if it were true, it is a feather in the cap of Indian authorities to have carried it out with such precision.

However let us not use the book as an excuse to flog Indian agencies for the atrocities in Kashmir. Or believe that everything that happens there happens at the behest of Indian agencies. The truth is otherwise.

Do remember that until terrorism began, there were no soldiers in the state or the valley. And it would be just another of the many states in India that happen to have an international border.


(Published as an oped in The Pioneer Today with some edits)