Category Archives: India

Top five excuses for missing the train

Its a pretty humiliating experience missing a train. Its even more humiliating explaining that to someone. But fear not. Presented below are some excuses that should hopefully endure the rigours of time. While some of them may be perfectly acceptable, the others might border genius.

  • The first excuse for missing the train is that there is no excuse for missing the train.
  • Geet did it. Twice. On the same day. With the same train. I have only missed once.
  • The station has something like 27 platforms. And then, at the last minute, they switched platforms from number 1 to number 42. Can you imagine?
  • I tell you, it was a smart decision. The Maoists would have either blown up the tracks, or the government would have asked the trains to crawl along. I can walk faster than that.
  • I was able to dispatch it. But Balayya never taught me how to call the train back.

A Wednesday

i had fallen in love with her as a kid. Even though i had only heard about her, i knew instantly that she would hold always a special place in my heart. i, enviously, listened on while i heard people singing praises of her magic and the vibrancy she possessed and the very magnetic appeal she held. i was dying to see Bombay [as she was then called] ever since i could remember.

My father recounted stories of his days in Bombay; the hustle and bustle of the crowd, the urgency displayed and conveyed in every artifact that found a place in her arms. It was a keen eyed adolescent who boarded the ship that would take him to finally complete the wait that he was longing for for years. Yes, it was the very same waters that carried him to her. i awoke early the next morning, still dark, dying in anticipation. My first glimpse of her in the greying dawn took my breath away and i died there. i could make out the hazy outlines of the skyscrapers, reaching for the sky. i rubbed my eyes in disbelief and glee. The outlines took shape and so did my admiration. We finally approached the docks and i was greeted by a heady concoction of buzz, odour and slick rainy slush. Ah! my first experience with Bombay.

My early experiences of Bombay were a spilaring mix of awe, wonder and amusement. i remember the ever bulging suburban locals, the yellow and black Premier Padmini taxis, The Times of India and Churchgate. Bandra was a passing memory and so was a drive-in theatre that left me puzzled about how one could drive a vehicle into a movie cinema. Bombay was also a fleeting memory of gullies, Akbarallys and RK Studios. i recollect being told that Bombay was a land of opportunities and “oppucations”; i was fiercely corrected that it was, in fact, a land of opportunities and occupations.

She was raped for the first time in 1993. i experienced unscalable fear for the first time then. i knew nothing about what happened and why; only that Bombay was no longer the Utopia that she was always considered to be. My belief stood shaken. Names of blast locations and suspects whizzed by me but i could only think about how things had changed that day. She withstood the trauma and the violence after that as only someone as resilient as she could. A brief encounter with her as a 20 year old on my way to a college tour left me poorer by a jacket that was vilely stolen from Dadar. My love for her only increased.She remained in a corner of mind for some time, till 2001 when i was to join my first job in Pune. Immediately, my mind conjured up comparisons between Pune and Bombay due to the relative proximity between the two. Of course, Pune was no Bombay; Pune had a charm of its own but it was still Bombay who ruled my heart. i was looking forward to my first solo trip to Bombay and was shifting nervously when it did happen. i stuck out like a sore thumb at Dadar waiting for the central line local to take me to Vikhroli. i carefully climbed the local amidst commotion from fellow passengers, always being vigilant of my wallet and my belongings. i remember the terror at realizing that the platform can be on either side and would never come announced. To this day, that terror strikes me dead whenever i am travelling in the locals.

Following that, i have travelled a number of times to Mumbai. i remember sighing whenever the local rolled into Victoria Terminus. i remember watching in awe when Marine Lines and the Mahalaxmi race course rolled by. i recollect the massive scale of Dharavi. i recollect being duped into losing my cell phone in a local at Dadar [again]. i recollect the impressive layouts at Breach Candy and Peddar Road. i recollect walking by the very expensive suburbs of Bandra and their very Goan influences. i recollect the lazy afternoon lunches at Cafe Leopold with me sipping my fresh lime soda and being ridiculed by the friends. i remember the lunches at Cafe Mondegar with its Mario Miranda caricatures, again sipping fresh lime soda and again being ridiculed. i remember the sumptuous treat of kebabs at Bade Miya at Colaba and the very expensive coffee and dessert at the Taj Heritage. i remember being cheered on as i ran the Mumbai Marathon amongst the quaint buildings of South Bombay and the sea face at Marine Drive.

She underwent further trauma in July 2005 with floods and rains and July 2006 with serial blasts in the lifeline of the city. Yet every next time i visited her, there she was in all her finery and splendour. The very metaphor that this beauty and abuse suggested left me devastated and sad. i was to travel to Mumbai day after tomorrow; an opportunity for me to pay my homage and respects to her undying spirit and the love she showered on her citizens. But a wednesday before that, those bastards defiled her yet again. They came by the very waters that had brought me to her the first time. They wreaked havoc at the magical environs of Cafe Leopold and Colaba. They turned hell loose at that Oh so Majestic Taj. They raped her again. And i was watching this sitting in despair and quiet rage.

Five days later, i am still enraged. Mumbai does not deserve this; she always stood for perseverance, respect, virtue and love. She spread hope to millions of Indians in darkened cinema halls with eager eyes devouring the grandeur. She showered prosperity upon the multitude of citizens who basked in her glory and added to it. Perhaps, i have no right to love her so much since i never resided there. But this i ask, what of all of you who do? How could you let her be abused as such?

i remember Naseeruddin Shah drawing out a horoscope of Mumbai on a rain-dampened window in Maqbool, prediciting disaster and catastrophe. i wonder whether he foresaw his part in A Wednesday, i wonder whether he foresaw the wednesday….

Fuel subsidies in India

Cost of sending an indigenous unmanned mission to the moon: Rs. 400 crores.
Cost of putting that unclean fuel into that gas guzzling tank of yours: Rs. 1,00,000 crore.

Use your math knowledge to figure out which is higher and by how much. Use your sense to figure out which is an asset building measure and which is slow poison. Shut up and think about these numbers the next time you want to crib about how the government is raising fuel prices.

You may argue that its the taxpayers’ money that is being used to foot the fuel subsidies and that you honestly pay your taxes; as such, you are entitled to such a favourable situation. Well, i too am a taxpayer and i do not want my money being used to help you fill your tank at such a steeply discounted prices. So, the next time you are stuck in a fuel line with umpteen others like you, grumbling about how things will never be right, be a human for once and think rationally.

Hungry kya?

George Dubya Bush has often been credited with having made political statements that have lacked either intellectual depth or logical sense or, as in most cases, both. Hence, it came as no surprise that when he, in the recent past, made a political statement, and this time concerning India, he was again criticized from all corners and this time, including India.

While Dubya was primarily defending his decision to use food grains like maize for the production of bio-fuels like ethanol, the additional point he was trying to put across was that rising per-capita income levels in emerging markets like India and China had given rise to additional demand to quality food grains from that segment of the population. And while he should be kicked in the rear for converting edible foodgrains in fuels, he is quite right when he says that India and China are contributing in a large way to the global food crisis.

Closer home, its not just rising demand from the burgeoning middle class that is sole contributor to rising food costs; studies have shown that per capita food production has fallen to the 1970s levels. That is, indeed, an alarming statistic and what is even more incredulous is the fact that the downtrend is not an overnight turn of events; the stagnation in the agricultural sector has been prevalent for the better part of the decade. That is a sorry tale to say of a country that still boasts to be agrarian and whose populace is largely deemed to be dependent on the farming sector. So what caused this dramatic turn around?

Since the very nature of the issue forms a vicious circle, it is impossible to point out just a couple of factors. The primary reason for the fall is the lack of irrigation water supplies at grassroots level available to farmers and the ill use to technology to aid in crop yields. As a result, farmers have to depend on erratic monsoons and age old techniques to boost crop yields. Bonanza schemes like loan waivers end up being zilch down the road since the basic problem still exists; the only effect of such schemes is to worsen the fiscal deficit.

Down the road, further problems arise due to the sales from the yields. The Govt. of India is the largest buyer of the food grains from these farmers and the price is, of course, dictated by the Govt. Termed MSP [Minimum Support Price], these prices are usually lower than global market prices [though, they are revised every year]. The differential between MSP and the global prices deny the farmers the true market worth for their grains. Their problems are also compounded by the restriction on exports of essential food grains like rice and pulses. In such a situation, most farmers reserve vast tracts of their land for the production of cash crops like rubber, sugar cane etc., the prices of which are entirely market driven and have no export restrictions.

It only needs to put two and two together to understand this does not foster a positive enviroment for a farmer; however, incredibly the problems do not end there. The food grains procured by the Govt. is distributed by an archaic channel called PDS [Public Distribution System]. While PDS incredibly suffers from manpower concerns [due to migration of unskilled labourers to cities aided by opportunities in real estate sector] for acts as simple as loading and unloading of foodgrains, the actual problems start once these foodgrains are collected into the distribution warehouses. After the foodgrains pass through various levels of rampant corruption, the supplies lying around in the warehouses are subjected to waste by the single largest consumer of foodgrains: rodents!

With limited supply from farmers and a pathetic system to distribute whatever little does get filtered through, its no wonder that inflation is climbing to double digits. Artificial counter measures like tightening exports and banning futures trading on commodities serve no purpose than to artificially set prices to hold down inflation. These, in turn, causes an imbalance in the global markets since supply from India is minimal; most countries have used this approach to contain inflation as a result of which globally prices have increased.

Hence, you would now assume that the fault does not lie at the doorstep of the United States. Of course it does. The most important factor in all this is the suddenness in the rise of prices globally; that cannot be the fault of India’s archaic PDS. That is due to the weakness of the dollar against all other currencies.

The dollar is weak because the US Federal Reserve has been relaxing interest rates over the last few months; this makes investing in other countries with higher interest rates more attractive. Which in turn infuses a larger supply of the greenbacks versus the local currency, hence devaluing the dollar.

And why is the Federal Reserve reducing interest rates? Try searching for sub prime.

Karamyudh begins

A new enterprise was formed yesterday. Like most of the speculation-based industries mushrooming in India wherein valuations reach sky-high limits even before the first brick of the enterprise is laid, this behemoth too claimed mouth watering revenue figures before its inception. Which, as i said, was yesterday.

i am, of course, referring to the Indian Premier League [acronymed IPL], which is now, deemed as the showcase for cricketing talents around the world. Either you are a part of it or you are no good. Period. IPL, but naturally, plays on the raw cricketing nerve that runs through any true blue Indian, of which, as odds favour, there are many. But what makes this enterprise different from most other sporting gimmicks we have been subjected to in the past is that IPL is backed up by a sound revenue model. And by that, i don’t just mean your run-of-the-mill game shows with advertising revenues grabbing for eyeballs. This, for once, truly sounds sound.

When unveiled, IPL was primarily seen as an altervative for the ‘rebel’ cricketing league, appropriately called Indian Cricket League [acronymed ICL] launched in a haste to make way for some head room. But when announcements kept trickling in and finally assumed the full blown shape that it took yesterday, one cannot but agree that this was no mean achievement. Ever since i read about the revenue structure of the IPL, i have been blown away by the sensibilities of the deal and the potential that it promises. The details of the deal are many, but i’ll particularly elicit my 2 cents on the most potent of the initiatives.

As any enterprise will agree, the three important [and often only] constituents of a successful venture are the employees, customers and the shareholders. The most profitable and promising venture keeps all the three constituents happy and promises each with growth potential as time goes by. IPL has managed to rein in all the three constituents almost perfectly, thus ensuring for themselves, at least on paper, a happy and a coffers-filled future.

Customers are a given. Cricket will always invite audiences and eyeballs. Give it a dash of the best players and you have managed to grab your customer. By inviting franchises per city, IPL had managed to drag in more shareholders to the venture. More shareholders means more capital and hence, grander scale for the venture which will drag in even more customers. Each of the franchise owners own the team representing the city and it is upto the franchise owners to monetize on the city crowd by creating brand loyalty and awareness. The first leg of the league will lay the foundation of the franchisees to eventually create the brand and the passion that supports it.

Which finally gets us to the players and probably, the most contentious issue of the entire initiative. The auction process, which allowed franchise owners to bid for players they wished would play in their team, has been criticized for more that one reason. Part of the criticism lies, of course, in the morals of the process. After all, no one would like to go under the hammer and be labelled as being “sold to this franchisee owner”. After all, players are no commodities. An even bigger issue with it all is that the price paid for a player does not reflect his capabilities as a player, rather it only reflects the marketability of that player and the potential for monetization that player would bring to the franchisee owner. Which explains a sum of $1.35m for Andrew Symonds and a comparably paltry $400,00 for Ricky Ponting

On a different perspective, quality and merits cannot be measured, especially in dollar terms. If so needed, the best way to get that answer is by throwing that question to other people who also have opinions on merit and quality and let them collectively come up with intelligent answers for quality on dollar value. Since there was no available yardstick to measure by, the first leg of the league used the market hype or pull metric and rewarded those with a larger pull on the Indian [this being the key] consumer. And as a result, i think that the valuations as a result are a good mix of hype [good for the franchise owners] and quality [good for the consumer]. With time, market forces will exert their pull and normalize the values of the players as well. And in more cases than less, the normalization would be on the lines of cricketing abilities.

All that jargonry aside, this venture could be a success only if the basics are satisfied; i.e. the consumer is left happy. And while all this was twirling in my mind while i sat in the galleries in Chinnaswamy stadium yesterday watching IPL unveiling itself, i could not help but realize that this would be the first truly Indian export that relies hopelessly on the Indian mass and frenzy that would show the world where the muscle of the new-age cricket sporting lies.

The model, by itself, is no genius; after all, it is followed by many sporting leagues [read English Premier League, etc.] around the world. The beauty, here, lies entirely in the complex marriage arranged by an archaic organization of an equally archaic sport, with the glitz and glamour of media and the passionate fervour afforded by a burgeoning mass of people who cheer every boundary and shake a leg to every Shah Rukh Khan’s number. A mass of people who, hopefully for the stakeholders of IPL, will shape the brand that they wish to be recognized with.

Of twisted tongues and scripts

It was a special Sunday morning when i was flipping through the multitude of channels and i paused my browsing when i got tuned into the Doordarshan frequency. Its not everyday that anyone gives a second glance at Doordarshan nowdays, so that’s what made it all the more special.

The morning transmission was on and Rangoli (literally meaning a floral decor), that had survived over fifteen years of viewership and broadcast was being telecast. For the uninitiated, Rangoli is a Hindi music programme aired every Sunday telecasting popular Hindi movie songs ranging from the old classics to the newer hits.

Normally, i would not have given a second glance to the broadcast, but this time something was different from what i had seen fifteen years back. The songs being played also had karaoke style lyrics scrolling across the bottom half of the screen. That pretty much kept me hooked for the next half hour, while i sang along with songs that i had heard years back but had never managed to get the wordings of. It seemed like a smart idea at the time, but i never ended up tuning back to it ever again.

That memory was buried somewhere deep inside till i recently chanced upon an article about the concept called “Same Language Subtitling” [SLS]. Championing the cause is Dr. Brij Kothari, an associate professor at IIM Ahmedabad who hit upon the ground-breaking idea of spreading literacy by marrying together the entertainment and the visual media together. In his own words

It struck me that early literates — those who cannot read a newspaper or a letter, cannot write or even read a bus board — in India could benefit if Bollywood songs had subtitles in Hindi. Hence, the concept of Same Language Subtitling (SLS)

The project is now supported by the Google Foundation but it continues to battle the policies and bureaucracies rampant in the broadcasting ministry who do not see the apparent benefits of the idea. The programme saw enough success to see Dr. Brij Kothari introduce SLS during Chitrahaar, another popular programme that occupies prime time slots in Doordarshan. The added benefits of wide reach coupled with low-initiation costs make this idea extremely promising and heartening. That social measures coupled with mainstream entertainment can help solve a deep-rooted problem is, indeed, a refreshing principle to wake up to.

A corollary also helps someone learn foreign languages phonetically as i learnt when i watched the Academy award winning Lives of Others a couple of days back at a cinema. i learnt enough of German that day to wish everyone ‘Guten Tag’.