Archive for September, 2011

Chaos Theory in Practice

Friday, September 30th, 2011 September 30th, 2011 Praveen Bose

It’s Chaos Theory in practice. The demand for Telangana, not so small an event though, has ensured that I lose sleep at night as there’s no power to run the fan and lull me to sleep with its slow irritating whirr. The irritating noise that is now like a lullaby is probably due to the worn-out bearings.

An expert in Chaos Theory will definitely smirk. But, I see it working so beautifully in my case. It’s the demand for Telangana (which is no more than an idea) that taken on such monstrous proportions that all transport and to and from the Telangana region has remained hit

Then how’s my sleep affected? One, I could not be with my brother-in-law when he had to undergo a surgery. Two, the thermal power station at Raichur in Karnataka is not getting a proper supply of coal as the trains with coal has to come through Telangana from the colleries.
Now, some of my friends in Hyderabad with their own business or those working there are very unsure about their future. Alas, not one of them traces their ancestry to Telangana. They are all from other parts of the state. Now, they are all wondering if they should cut down their exposure to business from the region or not.

Whether Telangana region gets the status that the protesters are demanding or not, I am hoping against hope that it will be resolved soon so that I can go to sleep well on time or that my body to get used to a quieter and warmer room!

I probably am considering myself as an all important being. But, give it a thought. When you are very sleepy, is anything in the world more important than your sleep?

Tele-marketing calls, I miss you

Friday, September 30th, 2011 September 30th, 2011 Nivedita MookerjiNivedita Mookerji

This was one day many of us have been waiting for. Yet, when the day passed by, my cellphone looked so under-used that it was unbelievable. As old habits are tough to change, I kept checking my handset every minute to see whether a gym had sent me a message to shed weight, or if a real estate firm was asking me to buy some fancy flat. But each time I was disappointed to see the blank screen. The pesky messages, the ones we hated with all our heart for disturbing and distracting us, were actually out of our lives now.

I was surprised that I was actually missing those SMSes. Suddenly I wanted quick information on travel, health, insurance, property, deals and discounts, and much more. The vacuum was unsettling and I clearly had withdrawal symptoms. Well, I was not alone, many of my friends told me they too felt the same way. The unexpected peace was tough to handle.

This is despite our sustained effort to banish these marketing calls and messages from our lives. More than two years ago, I had signed up for the do-not-call registry service, and had persuaded all my family members too to get enrolled for it.  But it didn’t work. I lodged many complaints with the authorities, but the pesky calls and messages continued to pour in. We made comparisons with America, on how the system had worked there, and carried on….

So a typical day began with an invite to buy a house in Noida or Greater Noida and ended with a ‘hurry up’  alert for a bungalow in Gurgaon or Faridabad. In between, there were dime a dozen messages on online discount stores, fitness schools, and  even on courses to hone communication skills, all through the day.

Without lines like “are you scared of speaking in public”, or “lose 5 kg in 15 days” or “book a flat in 3 days to avail a discount of 15 per cent”, the day appeared dull and incomplete. Till somebody reminded me that it may be just a short spell of silence, as marketing companies were already working out ways to side step the rules and invade the private space of you and me once again. And, the telecom companies are sure to help the marketing firms as these unsolicited calls and messages mean  big money to them. If an important  minister is disturbed again, like Pranab Mukherjee was last year by a  pesky caller, another round of regulatory action may follow.

Overshadowed

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 September 27th, 2011 Rrishi Raote

Looking at downtown Mumbai on Wikimapia.org one can identify many of the tall buildings by their shadows. In the middle of a sea of lower, old-fashioned chawl-style dwellings and narrow streets, they loom unpleasantly, putting their homelier neighbours in the shade. They are not long shadows, this being a city in the subtropics, and the buildings not quite as tall nor as closely spaced as those in places like Chicago and New York. So one has to look carefully.

From sea level the towers show up rather better. From the Nariman Point end of the Queen’s Necklace, what used to be a soothing vista of a parade of genteel old apartment blocks has become a scene from a horror movie. Behind the line of old blocks, marching in from the distance — the backwoods of Breach Candy, Girgaon, Kalbadevi, Bhuleshwar, and so on — is coming a horde of ugly, warty monsters.

That is, the towers. There’s not enough of them yet to give them anonymity, so each one still stands out in its total awfulness. The contrast in scale and appearance between the old and the new is so dire that the head spins. And the monsters ruin the view.

Even Malabar Hill, never really a pretty prospect from this side of Back Bay, has grown carbuncled, with ridiculously narrow and tall pigeoncotes of apartment blocks rising far out of its crown, some of them crowding around what used to be the beautiful Banganga Tank.

Now, one can’t be too strongly opposed to tall buildings in a city where land is so valuable. The trouble is that the neighbourhoods where the builders are putting up these monsters are plainly not scaled to handle this kind of pressure. It’s possible that fewer humans live in a tall apartment complex than lived in the chawl that it replaced. Even so, those chawls housed not just homes but also dozens of businesses and services; and it’s likely that more of their residents worked not too far away. In contrast, people living in the new apartment towers almost certainly work, study and play at some distance, and they are more likely to travel by car. Have you seen the streets hereabouts?

Much could be forgiven the builders if they at least made goodlooking buildings. A few of the towers have the minimum dignity of a form that follows function — that is, they are unadorned slabs of stacked flats. Others, like The Imperial in Tardeo, said to be India’s tallest buildings at a quarter-kilometre high, alarmingly combine weak references to the Chrysler Building in New York with the dreadnought profile of a Star Wars space battleship. Such a building looks no nicer in silhouette at dusk than it does in full daylight. And the less said about Planet Godrej, the colossal slab of flats overlooking Jijamata Udyan in Byculla, the better.

Perhaps one should be grateful for one thing. At least the builders are building towers where people live. If they built instead massive commercial blocks like those in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, in old downtown Mumbai, that would be an irreversible gutting. Already parts of core Mumbai are becoming unrecognisable nowhere-places; how much worse would it be if those places were also emptied of humans at nights and two days a week?

(Correction: Tried to put in links to all the relevant views on Wikimapia.org, but for some reason those links are failing. Sorry, had to remove them.)

Why is Islamophobia okay?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 September 23rd, 2011 J Jagannath

Recently, fashion designer John Galliano and film-maker Lars von Trier faced a lot of opprobrium for their anti-Semitic rants. Galliano’s drunken remarks at a Parisian pub got him sacked from Christian Dior and Lars von Trier was banned from the Cannes Film Festival. In this age of social networking and reduced attention spans, is anti-Semitism really that important a stand? In his book The Freedom To Be Racist?, writer Erik Bleich says: “There are people who hold anti-Semitic views, but they generally don’t hold them intensely. They don’t fear that Jews are going to threaten their livelihood or culture or any of the things that people truly worry about.”

Still, anti-Semitism is somehow deemed equal to anti-humanity. That begs a question that why is Islamophobia allowed to thrive? Dutch politician Geert Wilders is furthering his political ambitions not by any brilliant reforms but through his unbridled hatred for Islam. So much so that he called Koran a “fascist book”, which should be banned in the Netherlands, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And Wilders got away with his rant because it didn’t deal with Jews.

Muslims are being oppressed in various ways. In her novel Welcome To Americastan, Jabeen Akhtar mentions how the FBI Terror Watch list contains “names of two-year-old kids. Names of dead people. People complaining about finding their names on the list and not knowing how they got on there”. That constant fear among Muslims is getting more and more visceral. We hear stories about Muslims shaving off their long beards and having cropped hair to assimilate with others and not raise any ‘suspicion’. The Western world is turning into a liberal Taliban if its constant raiding of madrasas and banning of burkhas is any indication. So ruthless is the stereotyping that the first image that strikes of any venerable looking man in long beard and skull cap is that maybe he spends half of his time in the Tora Bora caves. The recent tenth-anniversary of 9/11 was a huge slap on the extremists’ face, thanks to gunning down of Osama. However, the slap could have been tighter if only The Cordoba House project was okayed.

Last year, when a 13-floor Islamic center was proposed to be built three blocks away from Ground Zero, the 9/11 venue, there was an unprecedented hue and cry. In his piece for Financial Times, Basharat Peer wrote, “The Cordoba House project will be a venue for reconciliation between Islam and the west, delivering a powerful rebuttal to the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked the trade towers; opponents call it an offence to the memory of those who died in 2001.” Finally, the project was scrapped.

Don’t think I’m being insensitive towards the Jews. It pains me to no end when someone compares a crowded Mumbai local train ride to a concentration camp. The sheer facetiousness makes me cringe. But then if you go to the same Parisian pub where Galliano was indicted and add any number of expletives preceding the word Muslim, you’ll still be fine. After all, those one per cent of Muslims who are mindless enough to blow themselves up subsume the other 99 per cent.

Buffettology: More to investing than returns

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 September 21st, 2011 Jitendra kumar Gupta

Most of us want our investments to offer returns similar to the ones generated by the legendary Warren Buffett. To that end we try to learn from his investment style to get superior returns. But the question is, does one have to look at parameters beyond just returns to become wealthy?

Even if one generates returns comparable to Buffet, there is a possibility of one remaining poor or not being able to build enough wealth.

The magic formula

Consider some facts about the Oracle of Omaha. While Buffett was little over 11 year of age, he bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred for himself and while in high school  invested in his father’s business. Buffett filed his tax return at the age of 14. From his early days he tended to save. According to one estimate by the time he finished college, Buffett had accumulated more than $90,000 in savings measured in 2009 dollars.

Nine women or nine months

Buffett has always emphasised on giving time to your investments to grow. Even if one buys the right stock at the right price, the fortunes are made in time.

As Buffett explains in his 1985 annual letter to shareholders,  “No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

These words explain the power of compounding and the time that it takes before it starts to kick in. Compounding is simple and I know most of us understand the concept very well. However, we need to implement it in its true essence. Hope some these examples should be worth noting.

At 16 per cent annual returns, it takes five years for Rs 100 to become Rs 200. But if one holds the same Rs 200 for another five years it becomes Rs 440.

Differentiating factor

Like early investing, how much one invest is equally important. A Rs 100,000 compounded over the next 10 years with the annual returns of 20 percent would just total little over Rs 6 lakh. However a Rs 10 lakh invested today compounded with the same rate and over longer periods say 30 years would be worth about Rs 24 crore. This is a huge difference. The point I am trying to make is even if we exhibit the best stock picking quality, returns alone may not lead you to the pot of gold.

The widening gap between poor and rich

Here’s another example. Say investor A invests Rs 10 lakh and investor B invests Rs 1 lakh. Today the difference between both investors in absolute terms is Rs 9 lakh. If both of them remain invested and their money grows at a rate of 20 per cent per annum by the end of 30 years, the wealth of A would be Rs 23.7 crore compared to that of B at Rs 2.37 crore. This is a difference of over Rs 21.3 crore as against the current difference of Rs 9 Lakh between investors A and B.

Policy response to economic slowdown

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 September 15th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Logic dictates, one cannot deny what has already happened. Unfortunately Indian policy makers are doing just that. The economic slowdown has arrived in India and there is no point in denying. Early acceptability of this fact will only help us arrive at early solutions.

Over the past nine months, as the government was busy responding to allegations of corruption, very little has been done to prepare the country for the impending economic crisis. In fact it now appears that the government was not even aware that the country is going to face a crisis on the economic front.

Inflation is nearing double-digit levels despite repeated assurances from policy makers that it will be tamed, the Indian currency is at a two-year low, the IIP numbers are not encouraging at all, and to sum all these up, international agencies like ADB etc. have now revised the country’s growth projections downward for the current year.

What is most amazing is the policy response (or rather no response) to all of this. Let us take the July IIP numbers which were released recently. The numbers were disappointing and the moment they were released, the comments started pouring in. But if one looks back at the way the macro economic numbers have been coming over the past few months, the IIP number should not surprise. Car sales were slowing on a monthly basis, FMCG numbers have not been too encouraging and obviously the inventory of residential properties was on the rise, so it was known that the slowdown is coming. I don’t know why people were surprised. What amazes me the most is that even top government functionaries (Pranab Mukherjee, Kaushik Basu etc.) expressed surprise at the numbers. Policy makers at such levels should be acting and not reacting. Reactions are for people down the line.

The fact that Indian policy makers had very little clue of what was happening and were obviously a confused lot was clear when Kaushik Basu (Chief Economic Advisor) commented that the policy of the RBI with respect to tight money (high interest rates) needs a relook. The central bank has been hiking interest rates since March, 2010, in its bid to tame inflation, so what was Mr. Kaushik Basu doing all this while? Was he not a party to the policy decision of hiking interest rates?

The time has come when policy makers should take actions based on what is happening and not on what has happened. The best economists are the ones who predict the future and take actions accordingly, the second best are the ones who understand the current happenings and accordingly take policy decisions and of course you have the third lot of economists who wait for some statistical numbers and then react. The current economic woes being faced by India can surely not be cured by the third lot.

Asia wants Anna

Saturday, September 10th, 2011 September 10th, 2011 Devjyot Ghoshal

Undoubtedly, I have jumped on the bandwagon horrifyingly late.

The Ramlila Maidan is now empty, the Centre is back in business trying to solve yet another act of terror and I finally have access to a particular news channel that features India’s most animated (and entertaining, if I may add) news anchor on the 9 p.m. slot.

But no excuse is good enough. After all, even from Straits of Singapore, Anna Hazare must have been unmissable. I must tell you that he indeed was. And how!

It wasn’t just restricted to my Indian friends, the gaggle of plugged-in local scribes that I meet occasionally or the subcontinent-focused academics in this city-state. A wider swathe of Asia, it would seem, was taken in by Hazare.

For all the admiration and disdain that has been lumped on this retired soldier since his movement picked up steam, one thing is certain: India hasn’t been this galvanised over a single issue, with the obvious exception of cricket, in a very long time.

And while India’s cricketing success, no matter how remarkable, has mostly gone ignored by much of Southeast Asia and China, Hazare’s movement has had a markedly different reaction.

It could well be the case of ‘everybody loves a good revolution’ in these heady days of regime change, but it isn’t merely the quality and quantity of coverage that this region’s media lavished on Hazare’s movement that has been surprising.

Rather, as an academic noted in a recent discussion at a local think-tank, Asian bloggers, including the prodigious community of Chinese micro-bloggers, have openly discussed the Hazare-led anti-graft movement.

From China’s Weibo, much like the English-speaking world’s Twitter, which has over 140 million users, conversations about Hazare and the campaign were picked up and reported, including by an Indian newspaper.

There was even a curious piece in a Tibetan news website that claimed the Chinese government had “banned 6,600 sites following growing numbers of netizens in China discussing a possible movement in China against corruption”, as a result of the “Anna effect”.

Conjecture apart, much of Asia suffers from the same ailments that drove millions of Indians on to the streets backing Hazare’s movement, asking for cleaner governmental administration. And this peculiarly-Indian movement has found resonance in parts of this region where people lack the space, both political and social, to vocally complain against the system.

Instead of theorising or judging the Hazare-led movement in India, the academic claimed, some in Asia are simply asking: “Where is our Anna?” After all, institutionalised corruption is a fact of life in this part of the world, whether it is China, Vietnam, Indonesia or in other countries of Southeast Asia.

As Asia’s emerging powers, China and India are relentlessly compared on nearly every parameter, starting from the size of their economies to the reproductive prowess of their population.

Our neighbours, as do many others, have much that we don’t. But “Anna is India, India is Anna”, as the refrain goes.

Nonetheless, this isn’t a comment about the man or the movement. This is about the conditions and systems that spawned them, but also provided them the space in which to protest.

Club versus Country

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 September 7th, 2011 Aabhas Sharma

My aunt teaches English in a school in Lucknow and she told me an interesting story about her class IX students. For essay-writing, she had given them the topic “Your dream holiday destination”. Out of the 35-odd students, majority wrote Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester, London, Milan and some even wrote Liverpool. The one thing which is common to these places is – football.

Club football is infinitely more popular than international football. There are more Manchester United or Barcelona fans than say an Argentina or Brazil fans. At least that is the case with the current generation. In their fathers and grandfathers’ era, Brazil and Argentina were bigger than Bayern Munich or AC Milan.

Call it better and smarter marketing or simply the quality of football, today clubs dominate countries. Yet, the governing bodies of football – mainly UEFA and FIFA – are doing more to alienate fans from international football. They don’t realize the irony that as the game goes global, it’s the interest in international teams that is declining except once in four years when the World Cup or the European Championships come around.

The problem for fans is that they see international breaks – World Cup, European qualifiers or friendlies – as something which deprives them from watching their favourite clubs at the weekend. While the qualifiers are still add value, it’s the friendlies which are often looked down upon as pointless events. Now these friendlies give national teams and coaches a chance to know the players better, get their tactics and have an understanding of the team.

Clubs feel infuriated by these breaks mainly because of the scheduling, something which definitely can be improved on. For instance, three days before the English Premier League was about to kick off, there was a round of international friendlies. Or just two weeks after the La Liga began, the European qualifiers came around. The clubs, which pay the players’ wages rightly feel aggrieved if their player gets injured playing a meaningless friendly. Take the example of the much-hyped Argentina vs Venezuela game which was held in Kolkata. If the star of the show Lionel Messi would have been injured, Pep GUardiola and co. in Barcelona would have been justified asking the question: why does Argentina need to play Venezuela in India? There is a lot of money at stake for the countries federations and it’s fair on their behalf to host these friendlies as they do manage to raise a decent amount of cash.

But as I said the authorities need to look around and see that they are doing more damage to international football rather than helping it. They should look to schedule these matches at a time when football fans will look forward to them. They could probably have a window before or after the club season is over where international games could be clubbed together.

The World Cup will always be the pinnacle for most players and fans as an event. But in the larger scheme of things, club football will continue to eat into international football’s popularity and fans will see it as nothing but a distraction from their weekend dose of football.

100 days of Mamata Banerjee

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 September 6th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Mamata Banerjee (a.k.a. didi) has just completed 100 days as Chief Minister. The manner in which she has swept into the portals of power in West Bengal, rising like a phoenix, (leading the 13-year-old Trinamool Congress party) after 34 years of uninterrupted Marxist rule reminds me of Rajiv Gandhi’s euphoric and historic victory in 1984.

There are striking similarities between the two historic wins. Winning 411 seats in the Lok Sabha, Congress created history in the 1984 elections under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. The euphoric victory was not only influenced by the sympathy wave (the tragic assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi), but Rajiv Gandhi also benefited from his appeal to the youth and a general perception of being Mr. Clean, or free of a background in corrupt politics. Rajiv thus revived hopes and enthusiasm for a clean governance amongst the Indian public. There was a huge burden of expectation on his shoulder. Similar is the situation of didi – the expectation index is very high and comprises all sections of the society.

Didi has openly remarked that she is in a hurry and needs to take quick action on pending issues and if the actions go wrong is willing to make amends. She prefers this to the wait and think approach which she feels may lead to no action at all.

Brilliant thinking on the part of a politician of the calibre of didi who is actually a leader of the masses, but this thinking has one big flaw. The masses do not forgive mistakes when they exercise their franchise. And if the expectation index is very high for a party in power, the chances of making mistakes is that much higher. This should always be remembered by didi. Even Rajiv Gandhi had openly acknowledged (addressing the Joint Session of the US Congress and India) that India was impatient. But while he was in power, a string of decisions taken hurriedly and under wrong advice led to a total fall in the popularity charts and by the time it was 1989, (the next elections) we saw the congress reduce its tally to 197. It was decisively voted out of power. Along with this defeat, the period of political domination by the Congress came to an end. The Congress has not been able to regain that domination till date.

The people of West Bengal have voted for didi with a lot of hope that her rule will mark the beginning of a new dawn in the history of the state. Already within the first 100days the beginnings of a new dawn are visible but we understand that it is very difficult to have a bright new start when the night has been so long and dark. In the quest to usher in a bright new morning, didi has to make sure she does not do a-la Rajiv and ends up without power in 2016 when the people of the state evaluate her first term as chief minister.

Everyone wants a Mr. Miyagi

Monday, September 5th, 2011 September 5th, 2011 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

September 5th is a day when memories of childhood come back and make most of us smile. There are reminders all around that today is a day we pay our own personal tributes to people, who, only second to parents shape us as individuals and help us become who we are. It’s Teachers’ Day.

I grew up in a boarding school, and from lessons on literature and social studies, remedial classes on math and physics, to building courage to face the grimy realities of life, my school teachers were instrumental in making me capable of getting out into the world and meeting every challenge head-on. And not to forget, they taught me how to enjoy the finer things in life - music, arts, films, sports. My learning experiences were very similar in post-graduate school, which again became my haven for I was again lucky to have met people there who helped broaden my understanding of the world around me.

I have had teachers who became my friends and continue to guide me through my ups and downs in life with a strange combination of affection and objectivity. I have friends who are as good as teachers when I so often manage to goof up. That is the wonderful thing about teaching. One doesn’t have to be a teacher by profession to make an impact on another. I have had mentors outside classrooms - among relatives and friends, mentors at the workplace and even people I have met on online networking platforms and taken a liking to.

Then comes the life everyone wants and dreads at the same time - getting a job and having to prove your worth to your organisation and superiors every day… day in and day out. But not all bosses and superiors are unreasonable as popular belief makes it sound. Some seniors at work turn out to be teachers, or mentors - the kind who make you want to outdo yourself every time and face any kind of adversity with assertiveness and confidence. These veterans of the workplace and in most cases, of the industry, always have tidbits to share that make you more adept at tackling abnormal situations that life is so good at throwing at you, life being the biggest teacher of us all.

A newbie anywhere learns the tricks of the trade best under the wing of a master, be it in the arts or in business. Numerous studies in organisations across the globe have reiterated that those who have had mentors earn more money at a younger age and are happier with their career progress. There have been mentors and proteges throughout history, in the field of philosophy, arts, military and even in sports. These relationships balancing on the thin line of personal-professional rapports have helped create legends, who credited their success to a strong mind and a never-say-die attitude to a bond based on mutual respect, pushing the limits, and unshakeable faith. You don’t need a mentor to achieve only materially. Mentors, have more often than not, proved to be excellent guides on everything about life - in not providing answers, but in giving their followers a line of thought that helps them figure out the solution and look at the problem eye to eye.

Look at Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. An unlikely old man, who not only teaches Karate to Daniel, but also become a surrogate father and gives him lessons that give a direction to young fatherless Daniel’s life. He is a teacher and a mentor. Similarly, at the workplace too, a mentor understands your drive and gently urges you to compete with yourself, to surpass your previous achievements and create newer goals.

There are a humongous number of movies that portray the beauty of a mentor-protege relationship, Here’s a list I drew up (with help) of some of the more unconventional and unusual ones to watch and feel good about having a great mentor or being a protege who learns with an open mind - Chowringhee (Bengali) by Pinaki Mukherjee, Manin Densha (Japanese) by Kon Ichikawa, 9-5 (American) by Colin Higgins and Kyojin to Gangu (Japanese) by Yasuzo Masumura, among many more.

And of course, there are the uncountable stories on screen and in yellowed pages of books that talk of this fantastic, mostly psychologically stimulating and symbiotic relationship between people. It all makes us want to be as impactful in the way we conduct ourselves every day. It makes us look forward to learning more every day. It makes us want a Mr. Miyagi to teach us how to beat up the baddies.