Category Archives: My $0.02

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.

Movie secrets unravelled

Water cooler discussions often rich sources of keen insights one can gain into the workings of this mad mad world. It was a motley group of Mallus who gathered one such instance and the topics generally discussed revolved around the pained expressions perfected by Prem Nazir, the impeccable English spoken by Jayan and the societal divide very subtlely captured between Sheela and Jayan.

That done, we veered towards the more intriguing aspects of Indian cinema. The collaborative discussion helped shed light on some very interesting nuances that were usually laughed upon by the so called ‘thinking’ public, but which in fact, had very deep connotations into the state of cinema as a face of society.

One intriguing question we attempted to solve was the issue of the vile henchman. We know [from Animal Farm and other sources] that all men are created equal. But why is it that the life of a henchman is depicted lesser valued as compared to that of the protagonist or the antagonist? How many times have we seen the protagonist laying to waste all the henchmen of the antagonist but not being deemed a criminal in the eyes of the law? The question has foxed me over the years and i had almost begun to believe the smart critics when they said that the movies are plain stupid.

However, deep analysis into the lives of the protagonist and the antagonist explained the situation to us with utmost clarity. As movies mirror the utopian society, we are led to believe that both the antagonist and the protagonist are elements of the repressed society and the choices exercised by them led each of them down the path of crime and justice respectively. The key point to remember here is that the antagonist is a product of the repressed society; he has been forced to choose the path of evil by fate. While the vile henchman, alas. He is true evil. The henchman chooses a path of evil inspite of the society. He chooses to join the antagonist even when the protagonist shows that living a just life is possible. The extreme lack of apathy exhibited by the henchman shows that he is, in fact, the most evil natured among the plot elements and thus, deserves death at the hands of the just protagonist. The law understands the nature of the justice thus dished out and hence chooses to forgive the protagonist.

The realization of this film making fact drew nirvana upon me. i have now decided to play closer attention to the henchmen; look at their pained expressions while they are beaten to pulp by the protagonist and continue to cheer the beating up till the evil henchman meets his end.

Another keen insight: why does the protagonist in Ghajini develop such an immense muscular structure after he develops anterograde amnesia? Since his memory lasts in quanta of 15 minutes, he does not recollect when was the last time he worked out; he also forgets the pain associated with each workout. Thus, he works out every waking minute and hence, builds up his biological structure. i tell you, these subtle nuances are so abstract.

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.

Ayn Rand vs Che Guevara

The past weekend, i completed a relatively unique double of reading through two distinct texts with strong communist influences; The Motorcycle Diaries and Animal Farm. The former recounts the journey carried out by Ernesto Che Guevara accompanied by his friend, Alberto Granada aboard ‘la Poderosa’ while the latter describes the Orwellian tale of an uprising staged by animals of various “classes” in a farm in England in hope of better living conditions.

While “The Motorcycle Diaries” chronicles the formative years of Che’s eventual revolutionary life, these very influences are presented in a very subtle manner wherein Che encounters deep class, societal, cultural and economic divides in his travels across Latin America while he himself battles tough medical and economic conditions. What essentially starts of as a humourous series of thoughts and situational anectodes penned down by Che towards the start of the journey eventually transcends into a soulful recording of the punishing conditions the native Latin Americans are subject to in their own lands. All this, while Che manages to keep the humourous thread running and at the same time, provide a poetic narrative of the mystic and enchanting lands that he visits as a part of his expedition. That the text might be called ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ while ‘la Poderosa’ gave up less that halfway through might appear strange. That is an academic anomaly in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable book that does not give much of a scope for one to crib through.

In addition to these texts carrying deep socialist undercurrents, i have also had the privilege of reading throught the thoughts of one of the faces of capitalist societies: Ayn Rand. And the distinctions between the two are pretty easy to see. Reading through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged had left a lasting impact on my thoughts at that time and it was very difficult for me to think in any other terms other than those propounded by those in Ayn Rand’s utopian world. And in hindsight, i must admit that they tend to be quite damaging, especially given today’s glocalization and mass movement of economies world wide to a democratic setup. Ayn Rand’s societies consisted of few men [and women, yes ok!] of strong virtues pitted against a mass society that tended to be parasitic in nature. And this corruption of character manifested itself not solely in individuals in trade but also those who practiced and created art. And her argument against the corruption of such societies was to revolt against them through non-cooperation. And in this manner, it had a very Gandhian edge to the revolt. But while the Gandhian way of life talked about reformation of the instigator, Ayn Rand preferred to profess destruction of the corrupt society in the absence of the ‘prime movers’ of the world.

But coming back to why i felt this outlook could now present damaging consequences, the basic fault lies in the very utopian society created by Ayn Rand herself. The only parameter against which an individual was judged was by his/her virtues to individualism while leaving out a number of very pertinent factors [which are prevalent today] like culture, historical class bias and education. And these are the very factors [or biases] that caused Che to eventually don the revolutionary streak.

History has been witness to the vast social injustice inflicted upon various races by colonialism ranging from suppression to mass extermination of races. These consequences of colonialism are most apparent in some of the most troubled of states today like African states of Zimbabwe and South Africa, contensted territory like Kashmir and vast colonization of Australia by European colonists after mass extermination of native populace.

This note is not meant to serve as a treatise against colonialism; what i am trying to convey is that Ayn Rand’s vision of the world was extremely lopsided and could not account for a number of factors that would eventually present themselves to the global polity and economy in the times to come. And with the divides across the world today brought down to their knees by equalizers like the Internet, free trade and consumerist culture, Ayn Rand’s vision of individualism reeks of a defeatist attitude that would not do the world any good.

The world economy today needs new consumers and new markets. The success of an individual today depends upon another individual halfway across the world; the failure of one also brings down another equally antipodal. So the essential need to is general upliftment of peoples across the world, making them contributors to the world rather than subjects of charity and building a local market thus perpetrating general good. And in this, Che’s vision of upliftment of the suppressed classes makes more sense that Ayn Rand’s vision of their destruction.

Of revenge and purposes

Let us accept it. Revenge is a basic human emotion; if not, it most definitely is an extension of one. Civility and the good books teach us to forgive and forget lest one bad act begets another. Yet, humans express the entire range of emotions, from apathy to murderous rage, when faced with unpleasant situations.

But then, let me start with an illustration. i usually consider myself a peace loving citizen of the world and inhabit this world in the hope that it keeps getting to be a better place to live in. Most insults directed at me are usually met with a passive indifference or a smirk [subject to the gravity of the situation]. However, its highly unlikely of me to fly off the handle and abuse the person and/or enter into non-speaking terms with an individual over an incident.

But i just lose it when someone cuts in front of me while in traffic. Whatever be the size of the intruding vehicle, i make it my sole purpose in my short term existence to teach the offender a lesson. Even if that means having to cut other fellow motorists and pedestrians to achieve my aim. i recollect distinctly, at the peak of my vengeful existence, having gone out of my way [literally] to exact revenge even though the motorist was headed to a destination that was obviously not on my route. It never fails to amaze me what it is that makes me react in such a manner. This behaviour also realizes itself when i notice a fellow motorist being very kind in testing his/her horn and subjecting us to the test.

As almost every action performed by a human, even the cause of revenge, is driven by a purpose. Now comes the key part of my argument. The good books, the media and history have always preached that the purpose for revenge is the result of a senseless urge arising from the individual to exact an even more grievous punishment upon the offender as a method of “teaching a lesson”. While i am not debating the virtue of forgiveness here [in fact, i praise the nobility of the act and hope to fully embrace it soon], it is very often unfair upon the subject exacting revenge to suggest that the vengeful act is a result of a senseless urge. And my issue is with the “senseless” part of it.

Getting back to my reactions while on the road, terming my actions as senseless would be missing the entire essence of the act. Here are my explanations. For one, it is quite a smart move since both me and my would-be-victim are strangers and our lives would intertwine only for that instance when i would be paying the dude back in kind for cutting ahead of me.  The chances of us meeting again are extremely slim and as a result and very importantly, the act would NOT influence my life in any negative way. In addition, i am also teaching the offender some civility while in traffic. Hence, for one, i am being smart and not senseless.

But an even more interesting aspect to the situation is the central issue we are focusing on: the purpose. That the act by the offender has now given me a purpose [aside from just reaching my destination]. And as long as the newly purposed purpose does not deter me from my longer term purpose [in this case of reaching my destination safely], i might as well fulfill it with some extra elements of fun thrown in. In conclusion, i have proved it beyond doubt that revenge is most surely not a senseless act; rather, it is an act that essentially presents the purposes/choices to the subject, who in turn, executes the vengeance in full cognizance of the consequences.

That is the reason why i have been terribly aggrieved by the portrayal of revenge afforded over the years by various art and media forms upon us. The act of revenge makes sense for the subject because that is, in fact, the sole purpose left for him/her to remain in existence. So be it Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, The Bride in Kill Bill, Lenny in Memento or the characters in Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, life has rendered their existence useless and in this orphaned existence, they sought out a purpose to live. And this purpose, for more bad than good, turned out to be exacting revenge upon subjects who rendered an otherwise trouble-free life to harm. And this lends a karmic angle to the whole equation.

So while an eye for an eye would make the whole world go blind, God only helps those who help themselves.

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.

Subprime or Sub-subprime

In view of the turbulent subprime mortgage crisis that has swept financial institutions the world over, its extemely pertinent to throw a glance at microfinance institutions like Grameen Bank who, in the face of it, are doing much better for themselves. The important case in point here being the traditional customers for a Grameen Bank do not have any credit history at all and can avail of loans without any collateral at all. This, by definition, would make such sort of borrowing sub-subprime, if you can call it that.

Mr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel prize winner, echoes just that in his interview with Wall Street Journal where he takes positions against the profit-driven measures taken by traditional institutes against the “social business” measures advocated by Grameen Bank. His views of liberating the critical mass at the bottom of the pyramid by way of a business model turning these sub-subprime borrowers into entrepreneurs in their own respect are commendable and thought-provoking at the same time.

Of course, the comparison between a Citibank and a Grameen Bank is unfair due to the sheer differences in the volumes involved. But one aspect, in the face of the crisis, that certainly cannot be escaped is the nature of the borrowers. Grameen Bank trusts the borrower to repay the credit and the way it manages this is via a strong social construct formed among the borrowers. Besides the peer pressures from your social support group to repay the loan non-withstanding, regular repayment raises the social standing of a borrower enriching the credit history and strengthens their self-respect.

It certainly makes you wonder which one makes for a better business model: cut-throat economics with distrust thrown all over the place or a social initiative which leverages the long tail of finance and liberates the masses there for a general good, both economically and morally.

Governments- the business model

Upon close scrutiny, the most successful business model that has stood the test of time is employed by the government. Once you get past the humourous undertones to the statement and analyze the fundamentals of it, you’d realize that is essentially sound and workable.

Its got an exponentially growing customer base, assured revenues through taxes and no known competitors. The services that are provided [like security, infrastructure and accesses to resources like power at low enough costs] will always be termed essential.

The cost of “choosing” another government over the current is exponential or extremely high where it is possible. The large cost can be attributed to various factors like

  • low mix of cultures between peoples represented by their governments, lending to lower volumes in the business
  • low income levels among a huge percentage of the peoples thus denying any sort of accesses, be it via Internet or any other media

Considering a hypothetical situation wherein these costs are lowered to reasonable levels and other border control restrictions relaxed, multiple governments around the world could face large-scale exodus by their peoples into other friendlier governments promoting competitiveness among governments. Some may also choose to set up franchised operations so that geographical boundaries do not stop a people from choosing their free will.

Of course till such a time comes around, i do believe that governments have a utmost sound business model and its a shame that most of us cannot achieve such a parallel.

Hello World

As all bad things in life, this blog too had to start at some point of time, and so it did.

At an epochal period of time in the history of the world, amidst turbulent winds of change and desperate chants wanting to be heard, i thus begin with a seemingly innocuous note.

i hope that this collection of memoirs would soon transcend into something more memorable than some random collection of bits lying somewhere on some server in some remote corner of the stratum.