World of India!: December 2006 e

World of India!

Fire at will.
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Make a begining

Sunday, December 31, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites




"And to make an end is to make a beginning." — T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"



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Fortune favours the brave

Saturday, December 30, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
While the Narayan Murthy's (founder of Infosys) and Sanjeev Bhikchandani's (founder of Naukri.com) of the world get all the press, there are plenty of small entrepreneurs who are doing extra-ordinary things in their own right. Their ideas, grit and ingenuity is no less laudable...indeed it often exceeds that of these luminaries in many ways, even if they haven't quite managed to make it that big, in terms of the moolah.

Take the case of Shirish Manjrekar , who is in the business of data management and data mining - of voters lists in Mumbai! Dainik Lokmat's Mumbai edition reports that Shirish has created different types of voters list reports which provide important electoral information to candidates. These reports are electoral information filtered on Surname (voter list based on common surnames), House (voters list filtered basis one dwelling), Building (voters list filtered basis one building), Age, Duplicate voters list (to prevent bogus voting) and Religion. These reports are invaluable to an election candidate to target his canvassing efforts and its no wonder that Manjrekar's reports are much in demand, for the last 9 years. Manjrekar says that he got the idea when he used to work as a volunteer for one of the political parties.

And then there is 17 yr. old Anita from Bihar, who saved Rs. 2500/- bought a box of bees and now earns a steady income of Rs.1,00,000/- off it. She has built her own house and also bought her brother a motorbike! This teenage girl from Bihar has been chosen the mascot for UNICEF, no less !

And what about the awesome story of Aziza Mohammand from Afganistan, about whom famous Venture Capitalist, Guy Kawasaki wrote recently? Guy wrote-" What’s the most inspiring story of entrepreneurship that you’ve heard in 2006? My answer does not involve two guys in a garage who sell their company to Google for $1.6 billion. No way...my answer is a woman who runs a soccer-ball factory in Kabul, Afghanistan."Read the Aziza Mohammand interview here.

These small entreprenuers need all the help and guidance they can get, but sadly most of our major Mngt. education institutes have largely neglected them, except IIM (B),which has recently announced that it would make special efforts, through its Nadathur S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, to help small entrepreneurs who run businesses even in the non-tech area.

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Britain pays back last installments of WW II debts to USA and Canada

Friday, December 29, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Did you know that Britain has been re-paying World War II debts to U.S and Canada, to this date? Yes, you heard it right. The last installments will be paid this year, before Dec. 31st'06, more than 50 years after the end of WW-II, according to this B.B.C report.

The amount repayed over 50 years has been more then double of what has been loaned, but considering inflation rates over the years, it's clear that Britain got a very good deal.

But that still doesn't take anything away from the fact that Britain did not excuse itself from the repayment, under the pretext that they saved the world from Hitler and Nazism.How many of us can put our hands on our heart and swear that India would have behaved as impeccably, and tried not to wriggle out, had we been in a similar position?

And now that Britain is free of this burden, how about asking them to behave as impeccably and give back our Kohinoor, which the Queen proudly sports on her crown, to this day? : )

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Microsoft and Mallya try their hand at 'entertaining' to curry favour...and fail

Thursday, December 28, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Microsoft heavy duty Windows Vista OS will debut soon and the company's dirty tricks dept. is fully geared up to meet the challenge. 'Wired' magazines blog has reported that Microsoft has presented selected bloggers with heavy duty Acer laptops loaded with Vista as 'gifts'. Apparently, Microsoft thought that the bloggers would 'take it, shut it and promote it'. But the lid is off and the shit is hitting the fan, across the web and blogosphere, with a few bloggers disclosing Microsoft's largesse. I am yet to read that they have returned the machines, though, after writing about it. Smart : )

Microsoft had also invited a few selected 'A' list loggers to meet Gates, a few weeks ago. Celebrated blogger and geek, Robert Scoble, posted an article on why these bloggers failed to ask Bill a single hard hitting question, during their meeting.

Scoble says- "Truth is that getting access to tech industry leaders is so rare that most people, if they do get access, turn into softies. Why?
Well, let’s assume I paid your round-trip airfare, hotel, bought you nice meals, and gave you some nice swag. Wouldn’t you be feeling just a little more generous toward me? But, now, let’s say I set it up so that every year I’d do the same thing but I’d put little hints out there that you wouldn’t get to come to next year’s shindig if you made any trouble.Or, even better, let’s say I just don’t invite any trouble makers at all."


Shame on you Bill. Looks like Warren Buffets company and friendship has not rubbed off any of his famous integrity on you, yet.

Closer home, U.B group chairman Vijay Mallya, was also in a 'extra-generous mood' recently, to the members of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC). I said 'extra-generous', because Mallya is well known for giving people rides in his private aircraft, hosting lavish parties, for the benefit of people whose 'co-operation' he needs, routinely.The King of Good times, was contesting for the post of the Chairman of this prestigious racing club and pulled all stops to ensure that the voting members had a jolly good time, what with wine (doesn't cost Mallya much, anyway), women and song (Sophia Choudhary 'sang', or at least tried to,while displaying her thoroughbred figure).

Alas! Members of the club had all the fun at Mallya's expense and then voted for Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla to be elected Chairman. Dr. Poonawalla had been smart enough to give presentations on his achievements and future plans, and not just host fancy parties with dumb belles jiggin' wit it.

How the mighty have fallen : )

Update:

Here's a list of 14 bloggers who have received the hardware and what they intend to do with the Microsoft Christmas gift.

Mauricio Freitas - Decides to keep it.

Scott Beale - Will probably give it away.

Ed Bott - Decides to keep it.

Mitch Denny - Gives it to her wife.

Darren Rowse - Will donate to charity after reviewing.

Barb Bowman - Decides to keep it.

Long Zheng - Will probably keep it.

Brandon LeBlanc - May offer it to blog readers or send it back to Microsoft.

Michael Arrington - May give to someone at CrunchGear.

Joey deVilla - Decides to keep it.

Marshall Kirkpatrick - Will probably return it to Microsoft.

Zen Heavengames - Decide to keep it.

Robert McLaws - Decides to keep it.







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Chidambaram kicks the Times of India's butt over unauthorized pictures

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The Times of India (TOI) has managed to ruffle the Finance minister P.Chidambaram, no less. It so happened that Mr.Chidambaram decided to have a quiet family evening in a restaurant in Bangalore, when the TOI photographer repeatedly asked for permission to click pictures, which were denied. So when the family was coming out of the restaurant, after their meal, the obstreperous Times of India photojournalist, waiting on the sidelines to capture a picture, started clicking away, regardless. The F.M was upset at this intrusion and in an effort to avoid the photographer, tried to duck/turn right, on the steps of the restaurant. This led to a minor fall and a fracture to the F.M's right toe.

What followed was comic. After the furious F.M dialled some TOI head honchos, the resident editor and the photographer rushed to the hospital and destroyed the pictures before the F.M's very eyes!

Well well, rank hath its privileges. Would the TOI have even considered asking for permission to any other celebrity or have shown such alacrity in destroying the pictures, after the celebrity complained?

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A global economic and stock market recession? Watch this space...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
The industrial manufacturing numbers, for the month of October'06 in India, came as a shock to many, who had taken growth almost for granted. It struck the lowly 6 odd % mark, for people who were used to the number hitting 13% routinely. The next day the stock market tumbled in a heap.

Many analysts predict this will be only a blip and the numbers will hit the usual range, from Nov'06 onwards.
Hmmm...who knows? Investors are jittery and the markets are bound to be volatile, with people betting on both sides of the growth debate.

While we debate this topic in India, its useful to remember that the U.S.A is going through its own growth pangs. Except, the question being posed is not
whethereconomic growth would surpass over what it was last year- but how far down the line, the U.S economy would recede. The much criticized, over leveraged housing market has finally collapsed in the U.S. A few friends I know who had cancelled their house buying plans, due to prices reaching stratospheric levels in California, where, reportedly, most of the excess occurred, are again contemplating whether they should make the purchase. This might mean two things: The housing market may not totally collapse and therefore the recession won't be that steep. Or, it might just be that we haven't hit the bottom of the U.S housing bust and there is more pain ahead, at the end of the barrel.

This has profound impact on the performance of Indian economy and therefore the Indian stock market, of course. For Indian investors invested moderately to heavily in the market, it would pay well to keep an eye on U.S economy numbers on a periodic basis and pull out at the first signs of trouble there. After all, if the U.S economy sneezes, it wont be long before India and China catch the cold and God forbid, a flu.

As of now opinion amongst analysts is divided. From Mark Faber to George
Soros, every ones sitting on the fence and watching the horizon carefully. Its a bit like sitting in a boat, before deciding to venture in the ocean or pull out of the voyage, watching for the first signs of an impending disastrous storm. Except that, in this case, almost everyone is doing the same and there are very few who are brave enough to have left the shores. Hope this article, published in the Wall Street Journal helps you make up your mind, which way the winds are blowing. It paints a very mixed picture though, and I am not sure it will give you any definitive answers.

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Superman Dean Karnazes

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There is man and then there is Super man. Dean Karnazes seems to fit into the latter category. I am speechless after reading this.

And I was happy with my recent record of a 30 minute brisk walk, 3 times a week...

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Dec 26 Tsunami - waves of destruction

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Picture this-Exactly two years ago, a highly successful top notch regional executive, universally liked, based in Mumbai and working for a major multinational company, decides to go on vacation to East Africa. His immediate sub-ordinate from Dubai, suggests that their families head for a vacation to Galle, in SriLanka, instead. He agrees. After vacationing in a sea side Galle resort for a few days, they decide to leave the resort to move to another inland holiday spot. Just an hour before their scheduled departure from the resort when they are having their breakfast, giant waves from the sea strike the resort with full force.

When the madness is over, it is established that everyone from the two families is washed away never to be found, except one child from the Mumbai based exec's family, who is found and bundled back home, traumatised. What was once a vibrant, loving family had been reduced to a minor statistic.

Did anyone of the couple of hundred thousands, including this exec. and his family, who were counted as dead, ever think that they would fall for 10-15 metre tall waves, coming from the sea, whose origin would be somewhere near Indonesia? Life is stranger than fiction.



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The 'God knows how they came up with it?' pricing model

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When I studied marketing during my MBA, we were taught the funda of psychological pricing. We have all seen it in our daily lives. Goods or services priced below what the seller determines is the psychological price line of resistance, beyond which the customer would not buy or would think twice, before buying a product/service. So if that price line is deemed to be Rs. 100, the seller will price it at (say) Rs. 99, and so on.

BATA shoes pricing strategy is based almost exclusively on this concept and is almost legend in marketing circles to the extent they take it- shoes priced at (say) Rs. 499.99/-, for example. So much so, that Bata's pricing has become the butt of many a joke.

But now I have found a tough competitor for Bata, and this entity not only believes and practices psychological pricing, it also follows 'the god knows how they come up with that' pricing model. You guessed it right. Whenever anything can be described as 'God knows how...'- it has to be the Indian Government !

Some examples of inane pricing I recently encountered :

- Scene : Mumbai-Pune expressway; Status : A serpentine queue of vehicles at the toll booth; Price of one way coupon: Rs. 118/-. Nice and round isn't it? Not Rs. 100/-, not Rs110/-, not even Rs. 115/-..
.arre, 120 hi le lo yaar...! The result is the inevitable time taken to give correct change or collect return change.

- Scene : Govt. glidinng school, Hadapsar, Pune; Status: a 1 hour mandatory wait to take a joyride on Sunday; Pricing: Rs. 188/- per 10 minute ride; Question to the administrator: Why Rs.188/-, why not Rs. 190 or even Rs.200? Answer : A blank stare. The implication:
Abe Ch***** , that's why we are a Govt. agency.

- Scene: Pune-Satara expressway; Status:A serpentine queue of vehicles at the toll booth; Pricing : Rs.11/-

And I can go on and on...but you get the point.

My theory is that some Sarkaari Babu must have spent quite some time doing complex calculations based on a pre-determined time when they would have to break even. Then based on the expected volume loads & costs, the price required to be charged must have been calculated. So if that price came to Rs. 118/-, that is what needs to be charged and not a penny more or a penny less. If he does, who knows, what sort of inquiry commission might be set up to investigate this 'irregularity'?

But then we must take solace in John F. Kennedy's observation- "
My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial and beautifully coordinated, there is not much going on”. If that truly be the case, I would happily pay the exact change for Rs. 118/-, every time, for the rest of my life!

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Insane opposition to Helmets in India

Monday, December 25, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
If some one was trying to save your life, would you protest against that person, for doing it without your permission? Would you go so far as to file a case against her/him in a court of law?

You think that someone doing so, would be crazy?

Well, would you call able minded, educated people like students of a well known law college, local members of the legislative assembly, an eminent sports medicine doctor and the Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat crazy? Yet, these are the very people, who have opposed tooth and nail, the imposition of the rule sought to be implemented by the local authorities, to make wearing of helmets by two wheeler riders compulsory.

The evidence for helmets saving lives due to prevention of head injuries is irrefutable. According to research reports quoted by The Hindu,"in a mishap, this protective headgear is estimated to lower the likelihood of death by a significant 40 per cent and risk and severity of injury by as much as 70 per cent. When Thailand passed laws making helmets compulsory,the same newspaper reports that the country recorded a 40 per cent drop in head injuries and 24 per cent fewer deaths in motorcycle accidents." Helmets are compulsory in almost all developed and many developing countries. When Taiwan and Italy, where the number of two wheelers is significant, like us, made helmets compulsory, they could achieve a remarkable reduction in deaths and serious injury from accidents.

But in India, opposition to the imposition of helmets remains fierce, among some.The problem is that these silly sods have successfully derailed the imposition of helmets in Pune and now they are trying to do the same in Gulbarga.They object that this rule shouldn't be imposed on people. They want people to have a choice as to whether or not they would like to wear a helmet. But experience with people being given the choice, in this regard,has shown that people invariably end up not wearing helmets, despite being aware of their benefits. One only has to walk about any major Indian city where helmets are not compulsory to know that hardly 1-5% of the people choose to wear them, by choice.

The other objection that protesters came with, in Pune, was more serious. They claimed that helmets did not improve the chances of preventing mortality, as was being claimed by researchers all over the world. They paraded the opinion of a leading sports medicine doctor in Pune, who agreed with them. One does not know what ground breaking research this doctor came up with to come up with these fantastic conclusions, but he might be interested to know that even an apex organisation like the W.H.O, has endorsed the positive benefits of helmets and is trying to persuade countries to adopt this rule.

But when politicos, petty self-interests or plain stupidity takes over, can some one help you? Forget W.H.O, not even the Government of India, can help people when they won't allow themselves and others to be helped. And then these same people turn around and accuse the Govt.of doing nothing to improve road safety!

The opposition to the helmet rule in Pune and some other Indian cities serves as an excellent example of the self defeatist and crab mentality that some Indians possess, and would even be comic, had it not been so tragic and even, murderous. Like when yesterday afternoon, I saw a scooter driver dead near the RCF building in Chembur, Mumbai, with severe injuries to his head. Had he been wearing an helmet, he could have survived.

Vinashkaale Viparit Buddhi!

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Only in India

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Boost your lazy colleagues productivity - by working harder yourself!

Saturday, December 23, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Have you ever chaffed at how your colleagues are slow and inefficient compared to yourself? Of course? Well, now there is a way to improve those slackers !

Click here to read all about it.

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IIT and IIM graduates follow Goebbels!

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If you scan through the media in India, you will be lucky to escape lascvisous praise for the IIT's and IIM's. These twin institutions take in a minuscule percentage from the lakhs of people that apply to be admitted. They are almost fully funded by the government of India and the student fees are heavily subsidized, despite the majority of students being from the middle class to upper middle class who can afford the fees, and despite them being assured of landing jobs with astronomical salaries.

Pre-liberalization,a majority of IIT'ians never stayed in India to take up a job here, in the public or private sector. They went abroad and lived there, after they completed their post graduate education there. It is only now that India is a growth story, that IIT'ians have suddenly discovered India and are returning in droves.

Who drove Indian indsutry in all these years? Graduates from Regional engineering colleges, private colleges and some notable IIT'ians like Narayan Murthy who came back during this difficult period to work in India or some who never went abroad (like my father in law, who chose to work with poor rickshaw wallahs in remote Maharashtra, after finishing his IIT and IIM education).

But the number of square inches devoted to the praise of these twin institutions would make you believe that they have single handedly made India to what it is today. One IIT alumni was quoted as saying there was no "alternative" to IIT in India!Perhaps he needs to be explained that the lakhs of software engineers in India today are not IIT products but alumni from Regional and Private Engineering colleges. They are the engine of India's software growth story- not IIT's and IIM graduates!

Don't get me wrong. I have the respect they deserve for IIT, IIM's and the contribution of some of their alumni. But the fact is that the majority of these have chosen to lead selfish lives, despite getting subsidized education from the Indian taxpayers. The fact that they are NOW coming to give back (like for the pan-IIT conference in Mumbai, where IIT'ians are debating nothing less than bringing a revolution of development in India and doing that using their "
superb organizational skills") is a case of too little and too late.

IIT, IIM alumnus's Goebbels like propaganda, spreading falsehoods about the extent of their contribution to India's growth story needs to be urgently corrected. Someone needs to ask them a question- where were you when India truly needed you?

Update: Today morning, I was surprised to read the following news article in the Sunday Times of India which quotes President APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, titled " IIT value addition low- Kalam" and echoes the exact sentiments I have expressed above . In a dressing down to IIT'ians the President said "Almost 20 million children are born in India every year and 1% are admitted to IIT.They are the best in India; value addition by IIT is very low. IIT takes the best and delivers the best. However, direct benefits for the nation in terms of knowledge products and intellectual property is low (emphasis mine)" he said, addressing 4000 IIT'ians from 20 countries.

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Who is the best copycat of them all? Bloggers or mainstream media?

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Bloggers are often accused to blaisely lifting material from 'primary' media like magazines, newspapers, T.V and radio and are therefore merely 'derivative'- as described by Malcolm Gladwell, who himself is a blogger but also writes for The New Yorker. Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson quoted Malcolm Gladwell as having said, "Blogs, which are mostly written by amateurs, couldn't possibly do what We Do. Instead, they mostly just comment on what we do, supplying low-value-add chatter about our stories that must not be confused with Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals."

I have to say I agree with Gladwell. And like Gladwell says, I don't even think there is something especially bad about being a derivative. As long as I have something independent to say on that 'primary' story and have cited the original reference, I would in fact welcome some one doing all the legwork for me.

But, even Gladwell won't accuse majority of the blogging community, especially not the established ones, for committing plagiarism. Most would almost always link back to the original reference. Alas, the same cannot be said of mainstream 'primary' media. In India for instance, T.V channels routinely fail to name the channel who first broke the story. They will usually maintain a studied silence on the entire story, if they can help it. If the news item has to be mentioned, they will rather die than give credit to their competitor for discovering it. Bloggers on the other hand, almost instinctively, link back to the original source.

And this is not just an Indian disease. Take the example of a recent story NEWSWEEK broke on the health benefits of Resveratrol, in terms of arresting ageing (Issue dtd- Dec11th'06). The story was in fact written by one of the Harvard researchers, who had worked on the project, for NEWSWEEK. CNN (Not CNN-IBN) did a story on the same topic and telecast it in Asia, today. Did they 'link back' to NEWSWEEK, at least in passing? Are you kidding? CNN is part of the TIME Warner group which also has TIME, NEWSWEEK'S arch rival, in its bouquet. They telecast the story as if they had unearthed it.

If international marquee' names like CNN engage in this kind of behavior, why blame the poor little blogger surviving on Google Adsense dole?

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Al-Jazeera's Ahmed Sheikh does some plain speaking

Friday, December 22, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Today, when the global world view of the educated elite is almost completely being shaped by the western media, which are more often than not biased and self serving, the advent of Al-Jazeera, which has very rapidly become the no.1 news channel in the middle -east and is rapidly expanding in other regions of the world, is a very important event. Al Jazeera claims at least 40-million viewers in the Arab world. In India, Al-Jazeeera news is telecast by India T.V.

Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Sheikh was recently interviewed by WorldPoliticsWatch. Read it here. It gives an interesting peek into the editorial policies of Al-Jazeera and the man behind the news.

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Right to Information? Yes, but....

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Express India reports that the Home Ministry has refused to part with documents pertaining to Netaji Subashchandra Bose's disappearance, under the Right to Information act, because "The matter happened more than 20 years from the date of request..."

Attempts by the Government to muzzle the power of the RTI are nothing new. Its rather disappointing that a usually sensible and progressive P.M, like Manmohan Singh, has become a willing participant in this attempt. One way in which the Government tried to do this was to suppress the publication of the notings made by bureaucrats,ministers and other officials on files. The notings often are crucial to understand the nub of the problem and therefore suppressing the publication of this information is akin to rendering the entire act a toothless tiger. It was under relentless pressure from social activists and NGO's that the Government has had to finally buckle down.

And now this! If anything, the Home Ministry needs to publish the documents concerning Netaji immediately because they are so old! In many countries round the world there is a deadline, after which all confidential documents automatically become available to the public at large. The U.S.A for instance has this limit set at 25 yrs. On Dec 31st 2006, for instance, millions of pages of documents including those belonging to the FBI will be declassified. This requirement to automatically declassify documents after 25 yrs was created by Clinton but has been implemented by Bush, much to the surprise of many watchers. The New York Times writes "Gearing up to review aging records to meet the deadline, agencies have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet agents in the American government.Gearing up to revieyw aging records to meet the deadline, agencies have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet agents in the American government."

Ms. Nelson , a historian at American University is quoted in this report as saying- " “Americans need to know this history, and the history is in those document.”

Our sarkari babus obviously don't believe that we Indians need to know of our history. After all, who knows what skeletons might come tumbling out of the closet!

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The code of the Pathan

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The Pathans are an enigma. They are known to be fierce fighters living in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and are known to be fiercely independent. This part of the world is truly a world onto its own, with seemingly archaic laws and social mores and yet the Pathans are also known to be some of the most generous and hospitable people.

The Economist has done a
wonderful feature in which they try to decipher the code of the Pushtunwali. Sample this:

Pushtunwali's principles have not changed in centuries—certainly not since they were recorded by Victorian ethnographers, middle-class soldiers and civil servants: players of the Great Game. Most lionised the fierce tribesmen, who periodically murdered them. Some even swallowed a delicious Pushtun claim to be descended from a lost tribe of Israel. But not all Westerners fell for the Pushtun. As a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, attached to the Malakand Field Force, Winston Churchill wrote: “Their system of ethics, which regards treachery and violence as virtues rather than vices, has produced a code of honour so strange and inconsistent that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind.”

Must read.

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Mittal 2- TATA 0?

Thursday, December 21, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
L.N.Mittal is continuing from where he left. The steel king has now taken over a Mexican steel company called Sicartsa for $1.4 billion. Here's a comparitive analysis of the bid for Corus by the TATA's vs Mittal's latest offer to Sicartsa:





CorusSicartsa
Capacity (million tonnes)18.22.7
Revenues (million dollars)9200('06)956 ('04)
EBITDA (million dollars)520('06)248('04)
Price offered/installed capacity ($)527.47518.51

It doesn't take much to figure out that the TATA's are paying a high price for Corus. Although they are paying only a marginally higher $527 per installed tonne vs $518 which the Mittals are paying for Sicartsa,we must remember that Sicartsa seems to be a highly profitable operation by all accounts, especially when compared with CORUS. I won't be surprised if it is the pension costs that are pulling down profitability of CORUS considering the size of its work force and the demographic profile of its workers. That fits in with why CORUS has made pension compensation guarantees such a major point in its sale discussions with TATA.Unfortunately, EV/EBITDA value in the Sicartsa deal is not readily available to compare it with the CORUS 6.2 times offer.

And TATA's have not even clinched the deal yet! By all accounts they would have to bid at least $10 billion to ward of another bidder viz.,CSN. That makes the bid even more expensive. No wonder the TATA Steel share price (listed in India) has tanked since the announcement of the bid for Corus.

The Mittal Arcelor deal was a share swap offer, ensuring Mittal steel did not have to bleed cash. TATA's, on the other hand are being asked to put ALL the cash on the table before being handed over the keys!

Most importantly there is a clear case for the Sicartsa acquisition with its plant and Mittal's own plant operating almost side by side. TATA's are , however, struggling to make a case for the strategic fit in buying CORUS, given that the Indian Govt. has restrictive controls on exporting Iron Ore out of India to be used in CORUS's mills in Europe and the fact that TATA's have committed that they won't lay off workers en masse' and keep production going like it is now, at least for a few more years.

All in all, it seems that after the Arcelor deal, this is the second deal where Mittal has shown his smarts. Mittal 2- TATA 0 ?

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Will prayers save Sanjay Dutt?

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Sanju Baba has suddenly discovered the joys of social service, performed in full view of T.V crews. The other day he visited kids suffering from cancer.He has also turned fultu religious and is on to a 'havan -a -day ' schedule. Perhaps he believes that a pooja a day will keep the jail warden away! I found it hilarious that television anchors were trying to interpret Dutt's looking down with eyes shut, while performing the havan, as a sign of vulnerability and contrition. I might be a cynic, but having attended a few havans myself, I can tell you that in all probability, Sanju Baba was merely trying to shield his eyes from the smoke.

All this is not as innocuous as it seems, though. These well publicized social service missions, appeals from well known personalities to have mercy and poojas, I suspect, are all carefully orchestrated moves to influence the judgement and portray Sanju Baba as the good guy at heart who just happened to be at the wrong time at the wrong place. After all the judge cannot be approached directly, but then he sure must watch the tube in the evening!

So far it seems to have worked. Sanju Baba was not found guilty under TADA, while his less privileged co-accused were convicted under TADA, for exactly the same charges. Lately, Sanju Baba was given an extended bail, which even he, had not expected.

So don't be surprised if the final sentence is a lenient one. I for one, am rooting that Dutt gets what he deserves- which is to be treated like any other common citizen.

Update: News channels have just reported that Sanjay Dutt's bail has indeed been extended until Jan 18th 2007 ! Long live Justice!

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EditorsEdit: How Karunanidhi will gift Sun T.V more viewers by pricing movie tickets @ Rs. 50

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
From the long list of crazy decisions taken by the septuagenarian (and senile?) C.M of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, here is one more- Movie tickets will cost only Rs.50 and not a penny more. This after the state govt. issued a directive to this effect to cinema hall owners, per NDTV. Earlier, Karunanidhi has come up with several 'enlightened ' economic decisions like distributing television sets free to ALL poor and assuring rice @ Rs.2 per kg., so as to fulfill his poll promises.

It doesn't take too much to imagine the economic immpact of this decision. No multiplex owner in his right mind would make any investment in Tamil Nadu, going ahead, for starters. Besides robbing the Tamil Nadu cinema fan (and god knows there are too many in this tribe) of a quality movie experience, this will result in a loss of employment . Don't underestimate the amount of employment a multiplex generates. The ones I know employ anywhere from 100-500 (direct and indirect employment) per multiplex, dependinng on the size. And which section of the society are getting employed as shop hands, cleaners, security and parking attendants, cooks and waiters? If we estimate that a further 25 multiplexes would not be opened in all of Tamil Nadu's cities, about 12,500 would loose permanent employment and considering a family size of 4 per employed, close to 50,000 people could be affected, by conservative estimates . Don't even start counting the loss of temporary employment (like the number of people employed to build these multiplexes for instance).


Who will benefit? The poor and lower middle class were watching their movies in small theatre halls, where tickets are priced cheap anyway, much below the Rs. 100 odd per coupon in swanky multiplexes. So even if they benefit their savings would be marginal. And what do you think they would have chosen, had Karunanidhi given them a choice as to whether they desired to watch movies for cheap, or get a job paying them Rs. 5000 and above, per month. But why would the Tamil Nadu C.M ask the poor of their choice? He knows what they want.


The people who would laugh all the way to the movie hall are the middle class and the rich movie goers. I saw a couple of well to do kids,expressing their happiness in their fake American accents on NDTV.


The poor on the other hand, won't know what hit them. But Karunanidhi has taken care of that too, father figure that he is to Tamil Nadu's poor. After all they can always watch Karunanidhi's family channel Sun T.V, using the free T.V sets the C.M will distribute, if they have to stay at home, for lack of a job.

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EtcEtc: Only in India

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The Desi version...

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CurrentAffairs: AIADMK's Jayalalitha is a part time nuclear weapons expert

Sunday, December 17, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Jayalalitha is not just another (overweight) politician, if you had that silly notion. Ammmaaa is also a part time nuclear weapons expert, whenever she gets time from being a Puratchi Thalaivar(Tamil: Revolutionary leader).

Puratchi Thalaivar has cast her attention from the more mundane matters like corruption (2389 diamonds, 18 emeralds and 9 rubies were found in her house by investigating agencies) and supremely arrogant and autocratic behavior, to more weightier ones like nuclear weapons treaty between India and the U.S.

Using her patented language she has termed the treaty as a
"slave charter" (India being the slave country naturally). PTI reports her saying "Indian scientists were doing advanced research on generating power from thorium and were also engaged in plasma research for setting up atomic power plants.In this highly favourable situation, with our scientists engaged in research with patriotic fervour, why is the government going all the way to support efforts of those trying to prevent India from becoming a super power"

Ammaaa- you are soo great , I sayyy. You are ever seeing, ever present. You know all about plasma research and gold, jewellery- all in one go. Your own personal wealth alone is enough to makee India a super poweraaa, I sayy. Ayyo,why do we need nuclear power in any case?

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EtcEtc: Want a girl friend? Join a gym!

Saturday, December 16, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Way before (italics deliberate) I got married, some one had asked me what was the best way to get a girl friend fast. Not that I was an expert, but common sense and some quick thinking enabled me to advice him that he should join a gym. My thesis was that gym would be a conducive atmosphere to formulate friendships because of many reasons:

- its a intensely physical environment and therefore people drop their usual 'intellectual' posturings and other asssorted defences.

- people in the gym share common goals (like reducing weight for example)

- common goals and a shared effort lead to open communication and encouragement for each other to achieve these goals, leading to lasting friendships.

I never joined a gym myself, except to maybe to visit friends exercising, a few times. So I could never test this theory myself. So imagine my joy when I read
this piece in The Guardian today, which backs up my theory.

Which leads me to another interesting question.What is the accuracy with which a layman can give reasonably correct answers to questions which can be conclusively answered only by the rigor of research? In other words, how far should you trust your instinct and theories and act on them, without going to the trouble of research. The answer of course has enormous implications, particularly in the area of entreprenuership, where the entreprenuer often does not have the benefit of undertaking (due to many constraints)/ is not inclined to take the effort to undertake a systematic market research, on many a question,but needs to take a decision, nevertheless.
Malcolm Gladwell should know the answer to that one.

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BizNpersonalfinance: Two math teachers erect a property empire with some nifty math

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Amit had asked a question in the Indian Economy Blog whether the readers thought that Indian property market was a a bubble and I replied in comments, thus:

"sure there is. how do i know?

- when some one who has graduated a year ago from a silly small time commerce college and now a BPO employee is discussing about how he bought a Rs.20 lakh appt. and how it has appreciated by 50% in a year already.
- When you start hearing above repeatedly from different people, every time you are in the loo.
- When housewives start becoming real estate agents in droves to earn an extra buck.
- when you tell a real estate agent that you budget is NOT a crore for a small bungalow, and he then barely gives you any attention.
- when those 1 crore bungalows appreciate by 25-30% in the next year.
- when god forsaken out of town locations are touted by builders as ‘annexes’ to well known areas and marked up for being ‘annexes’. When the floating population buys these in droves and calls it the next hot and happening area and jacks prices to crazy levels. "

But speculation it seems is not happening just in developing economies like ours. The Guardian has done a
fascinating piece on 2 math teachers in Kent, who have built a multi-million dollar empire by buying houses and renting them. And to think that at some point in their lives they had to sleep in a park....

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EtcEtc: Ipswich prostitutes being paid to avoid being murdered!

Friday, December 15, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
The Ipswich horror story where unsuspecting prostitutes are being murdered by a serial killer continues its interesting twists and turns.

The Guardian reports a statement by parent of one particular victim Annette Nichols as saying- "Tania was a lovely daughter - she was a caring loving, sensitive girl who would never hurt anyone. Unfortunately drugs took her away into her own secret world - a world that neither of us were aware of."

And Detective Chief Inspector Stewart Gull
said- "We are looking at a number of interesting (italics mine) people, pursuing a number of interesting lines of inquiry," he said.

I wish the Inspector would be careful with his choice of words. Sherlock Holmes
would definitely not have approved, Lestrade.

And now comes the report that Police and charity workers have actually started paying prostitutes so that they lay off seeking clients for at least the time that the murderer is loose. I did not know that the Police could get involved in this sort of a scheme anywhere in the world. I mean, think about it. If this logic were to be extended, all potential victims of crime would potentially have to be paid. And who knows- considering that there are indeed some twisted people in this world of ours (the Ipswich murderer being just one of them), there might be people who would actually DEMAND to be paid, following the Ipswich precedent.

Crime pays. But this scheme is murder.

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CurrentAffairs : Income Tax notice on Adobe CEO Naresh Gupta for paying up to kidnappers!

Thursday, December 14, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Remember Adobe CEO Naresh Gupta and his son Ananth's kidnapping, which caught the national headlines a few months ago? Well, Mr. Gupta got his son back but is now facing the music for paying up Rs.50-60 lakhs to his sons kidnappers (the money was used as bait to trap the kidnappers and was later recovered by Police). The Income Tax Dept. has slapped a notice on Mr. Gupta to determine whether this money was hidden from his declared income or not.

The irony of the situation! The State can't protect ordinary citizens from getting kidnapped, so much so that U.P and Bihar almost have a flourishing cottage industry in the trade. And when some one pays up to free his loved ones, with Police concurrence, the same State uses that to find out whether this was out of undisclosed income or not! Nothing wrong, technically speaking. But surely, the authorities should have understood that the CEO of Adobe, a highly respected MNC, pays its CEO well enough for him to rustle up 50 lakhs in a jiffy?

Death and taxes is one thing...but death, taxes and insensitive harassment?

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EditorsEdit: Do you know of Madarsas run by RSS?

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Muslim Madarsas have received a lot of publicity recently. And although the Sachar panel report blew many myths surrounding the true state of social and economic well being (or rather the opposite) of Muslims, it is a moot point how far it will seep into the conscience of the majority of the populace, given that the government is not doing too much to communicate the conclusions to the people at large. What good is a truth finding report if the results don't reach the people? So the Hindus would continue to see Muslims as bearing dozens of children, marrying multitude of women, all of them getting educated in madarsas, whereas the truth somewhat more prosaic.

If the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh- an extreme right organisation in India) and its tentacle organisations are to be believed, all madarsas are hotbeds of sedition (Sonia Faleiro has written an excellent post on theMadarsas in Mumbai). But nobody focuses on a similar set up in the RSS, which goes all out to indoctrinate the young Hindu minds into their own philosophy of hate. It is no secret that the RSS runs shakhas where children, younger than 10 years old, are systematically brought in the RSS fold.

My wife tells me of incidences in her childhood, where RSS trainers would move from house to house to ask parents to send their children to the RSS shakha. The parents are told that the shakha teaches the children about our glorious heritage, sanskrit shlokas and such like, besides the usual fun and games. Once the parent agrees to this noble objective (chances multiply if the parent is a conservative/right winger), the indoctrination of the child begins.

Everyday, during the course of my evening jog, I see the place where these children are 'trained', since its right next to the park where I jog. By that evening time, you will see a few children standing neatly in a row, giving the typical RSS salute and singing the RSS anthem (whatever that is). Whenever I see the spectacle, I shudder at the guile with which young minds are being brainwashed for life. Sudhanva Despande has written a fine review on the movie made by Lalit Vachani, which exposes these classrooms of hate and the dastardly methods they employ.

At least the majority of Muslims are forced to send their children to madarsas out of sheer helplessness for lack of proper educational facilities. But how can you defend these RSS madarsas, where middle to lower middle class young Hindu children's perceptions about life, society, heritage are being changed forever? These impressionable children don't stand a chance and will become 'volunteers' in the cadre for the rest of their life.
And every once in a while, they will create people of the category of 'X', who was my classmate in engineering. A member of RSS since childhood, he is a model member of the tribe- supremely enthusiastic & non-questioning about the 'cause'. Once I grilled him on RSS philosophy and tried to show him ' the other side'. But as he started to feel that some thing of what I was trying to tell him was reasonable, he became too disturbed, refused to listen more and threw a big tantrum warning me to lay off him because RSS was "in his blood".

Not a big surprise. One could almost see him as a young child being fed the messages he was taught not to question and was just reverting to that child state.

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EtcEtc: Only in India

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CurrentAffairs : Elections, sweet elections in Pune !

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Some time early next year Pune will be having elections to its local government council. I am ecstatic. No, not just because I am a die hard fan of democracy the Indian way, but mainly because councillors have now suddenly sprung to action, and there is a mad race on to show voters what they have achieved.

Take for instance the piteous condition of roads in Pune everywhere. Suddenly most of them have been covered and tarred. Commuters who used to get a good feel of lunar surfaces are now able to zip along nicely, at least in the main areas of town. The roads near my residential colony were the epitome of how roads should NOT be. But in two days flat the council has managed to make that road look like a block in New York.

So citizens whose anger had come to a point where they were all but ready to burn down the council building and beat the hell out of their elected reps., seem to have been nicely assuaged-just in time. I dont expect voters to be mad till the elections either. They are more likely to make their peace by asking themselves a valid question- what difference would it make if the current ruling party is sent back home and another is brought in? People are all too aware that the politics of self interest is the same across all parties and things won't be any different under some one else.

By the time the elections are over in Feb/March, the first whiff of the monsoon would come in. Come June-July and the hurriedly patched roads would start giving way and fall back to their old lunar appearances. Our Cuncillors would revert back to type and start following that famous Zen saying : Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Ah electionss! I wish it came and grew like grass, every spring.

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EtcEtc: Litvinenko, Ipswich murders and Sherlock Holmes

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
The Russian connection is deepening in le' affair Litvinenko, an ex-KGB spy who was murdered by administering Polonium 200, which destroys and genetically modifies the cells in your bodies. Scotland Yard is making energetic enquiries, as far as Germany and Moscow.

And now hot on heels comes the news, that there is a serial killer on the move in the dark alleys of Ipswich, prowling on its prostitutes and killing them in the most grisly manner. Yesterday the BBC telecast news that 3 more bodies have been found in Ipswich.

Ah, the romance of dark and dangerous crime! Time to dig out your Sherlock Holmes.

One can't but help wonder, how the great master would have dealt with these crimes. He was never in love with sensational crime. He was more upto the challenge of crime that was "singular" and "mentally stimulating".More than once Holmes had lamented the demise of the intelligent criminal, when he was forced to lie low, and take to cocaine to keep himself stimulated. He would probably have been far more interested in 'The Strange affair at Ipswich', more than the comparatively straightforward case of ' The Adventure of poisoned spy', which the Lestrades of Scotland Yard, are more than qualified to solve using their routine police techniques.

No Ipswich it would have been for sure, unless of course, the request to attend to the affair had come from "the highest levels of Government". Watson would then have been summoned with a "meet me at Paddington at half past 8, tomorrow morning, Watson"!

I have been such a huge fan of Holmes that in the good old (or rather bad old) days of Doordarshan, I used to stay up very late in the night, to watch the Sherlock Holmes series being telecast at an unearthly hour. Doordarshan also telecast the well known Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. I loved this Holmes far more.

The last time I was in London on a business trip, I made it a point to visit Baker street and the famed Sherlock Holmes Museum. Every Holmes fan should visit this at least once. The attention to detail is truly exemplary and one can almost feeel the presence of Holmes, lurking in the corners. After checking out Holmes and Watson's bedroom, I went to their joint living room and stood near the window and imagined how London must have looked then.

I could almost hear the sound of horse carriages in the street below and the melancholy tune of Holmes violin in the background...

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