Archive for August, 2011

MNREGA – Unemployment dole

Sunday, August 28th, 2011 August 28th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

The RBI in its recent report on the state of the economy, while cautioning about the growth rate, has clearly mentioned that inflation needs to be controlled. One of the important reasons for inflation is the rise in base wage rates in the country without a corresponding increase in productivity.

This is a direct attack on MNREGA (obviously without naming the scheme), which happens to be the flagship social sector scheme of the UPA.

The MNREGA may be helping the rural poor in inching above the poverty line but it is surely not helping the nation as a whole. The scheme, as the name suggests, is required to guarantee a certain number of days of employment to every beneficiary. It is true that employment is provided, but unfortunately, the employment is not into any productive avenue. This results in a situation where the beneficiaries are in disguised unemployment. The money provided to such beneficiaries is nothing but an unemployment dole.

The success of MNREGA has resulted in money being pumped into the economy without a corresponding increase in the production. This is an indirect way of monetising the economy and will obviously result in inflation.

In certain industrial clusters, the MNREGA has resulted in a reverse migration of workforce. Menial unskilled labour is now in short supply. The labour force now tends to migrate to its homeland and get itself enrolled into MNREGA rather than sweat it out in the work place. Most of the industrial units in such clusters today have a permanent board outside there factory gates – LABOUR REQUIRED. This has resulted in either stoppage of production or increase in the wage rate above MNREGA – Both results again leading to inflation.

Last but not the least, the continued success of MNREGA over a longer period of time will have a very damaging impact on the social structure of the Indian rural household. The beneficiaries would continue to earn income without any corresponding hard work. Such households would never value money and if they remain beneficiaries under the scheme for a number of years, would end up being a lethargic lump of flesh and bones who would be accustomed to earning income without any effort. A nation looking forward to becoming a manufacturing hub for the entire world would surely not want a labour force of this kind.

In the good old days of the USSR, the Soviet Republic use to boast of full employment. This used to be explained to us by way of a joke in our economics class – In Moscow two people are required to operate an escalator – one sitting at the bottom to switch on the escalator the moment a person steps on it and the other at the top to switch it off the moment the person steps off the escalator. This takes care of two employable hands that are compensated by the state. Glasnost and Perestroika showed us the true colours of this full employment myth.

India cannot afford to follow this path. Immediate corrective steps are required to ensure that the beneficiaries of MNREGA are put to productive use; be it in the development of infrastructure or industries. If such steps are not taken now, what the RBI has hinted obliquely will become a major reason for some of the economic ills the country would face in the future.

A new Apple?

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 August 25th, 2011 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

56-year-old Steve Jobs’ resignation is not shocking. Most of the financial world (even the competition) has been expecting it for years now. Although Apple’s stock is feeling the effects, most analysts aren’t overly concerned.

Reputed analyst like Michael Gartenberg from research firm, Gartner has billed Jobs’ resignation “the end of an era in many ways,” but adds that this won’t shake up the company since Jobs has primed his management team and the board for this transition. “At the end of the day there’s much more to Apple than any one individual,” Gartenberg states. “It’s likely to be business as usual in Cupertino tomorrow.”

I disagree.

Everyone knows how anticipated his keynote speeches were when he would mesmerizingly unveil his latest creation, dressed in turtle neck black tee and blue jeans (iconic). He was also known for being a ruthless manager, always demanding perfection. He reportedly ordered designers at Apple to give customers a magical experience when opening a box – which should explain the simple yet elegant packaging that welcomes Apple owners when they lift the lid off their devices.

Jobs would be missed. While Tim Cook, the ex-COO and now the CEO of Apple is seen as a competent replacement, he doesn’t bring the charisma that Jobs did. But he does bring efficiency to table. Cook is credited with pulling Apple out of manufacturing by closing factories and warehouses around the world. This has helped the company reduce inventory levels and streamline its supply chain, dramatically increasing margins. In fact, it would be obvious to race back to 2009 (when Jobs went away for a medical emergency) and see Apple’s performance with Cook at the helm. The stock had rallied from $80 to $200 a share range without Jobs.

Speaking purely as an Apple fan and an ardent follower of “everything that comes with Steve Jobs tag,” it’s going to be hard to sit through a new Apple device launch without Jobs giving the keynote speech (for which I have logged in to web telecasts at late nights and early mornings, seen a zillion re-runs later and marveled every time Jobs unveiled a new feature). Cook simply doesn’t have the power to hold me glued.

Statistically speaking, in the quarter until the end of June, Apple posted a profit of $7.3 billion from revenues of $28.6 billion. That’s a great number. The company even sold 20 million iPhones in the period, as well as 9.25 million iPad –a feat that competition hopes to replicate in its sales books some day. There’s another thing that competition strives to achieve – Apple’s positioning of its devices as a status symbol of social standing. The fact that Apple believes in charging a premium for its well-designed products, only adds to its brand.

While there’s no denying that Apple’s forthcoming product-line has been already well-conceived and approved by Steve Jobs but he would be missed. Meanwhile, I believe we are going to have a period where anything that goes wrong with the company/products will be quickly attributed to the lack of Steve Jobs.

Why NOTW will be missed

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 August 25th, 2011 J Jagannath

Once the paroxysm of anger against News Of The World subsides, the tabloid will be sorely missed. Here’s why. In the age of Internet, when there’s ginormous amount of information to be accessed instantly, it’s a foolhardy thing to assume that people will wait for the next day’s paper to know what’s happening at that moment. Unless newspapers reinvent themselves and start doing original reporting, there’s no real reason why a newspaper should exist at all.

NOTW was doing exactly the same thing. It might be using guerrilla journalistic techniques but it’s giving something new to the reader every morning. Rupert Murdoch, owner of NOTW, is probably the last news baron the world will see. His love for newspapers is amazing. He bought Wall Street Journal when it was bleeding money and couldn’t cope with competition from Internet. And this is exactly the reason why the world needs Murdoch now more than anytime else.

Newspapers make sense of the madness. On Internet anything goes as news as long as it’s taken at the earliest. You can pass canards and get away with it but it’s the newspapers that give the reader an accurate sense of the event. So we need more newspapers now more than anytime else. As it is, newspapers across the world are shutting their presses or resorting to ridiculous cost-cutting measures. This is why we should not take point our knives towards Murdoch, yet.

His championing of the newspapers is legendary. He still believes they have a role to play in the way world shapes up. He started a New York Metro section in WSJ as competition for New York Times. He started a book reviews supplement in WSJ when everywhere else the reviewing space is constantly shrinking. This doesn’t mean that Murdoch may sup with the devil (read phone hacking).

But clearly demarcated lines can do a world of difference. I’m sure journalists must be wondering if committing that act of daily journalism is worth it if this is how things are going to pan out. Right now, we should mourn the shutting of NOTW. I have a feeling this might be the beginning of the end of newspapers.

Public opinion and policy formulation

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 August 23rd, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Indian democracy is facing a crisis of a very unique kind. The Parliament -– the ultimate symbol of Indian democracy and the place where laws are formulated -– is under siege.

The Parliament is also known as the house of peoples’ representatives. The people of India are represented by these handfuls of Parliamentarians, whose main work is to ensure that the voice of the people whom they represent is heard in the Parliament. Through these representatives, the Indian public becomes a part of the law-making process. This is the basis of our democracy.

The current controversy surrounding the Lokpal Bill has shown that there is a total disconnect between the public and its representatives. In fact, going by the growing support for Anna at the Ramlila Maidan, it appears that the peoples’ representative have no clue of what the people whom they represent want. If this is true, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the peoples’ representatives once elected to the Parliament get so overwhelmed by the arrogance of power that they forget about the people and go back to the people only when the time for the next election comes up. This is an extremely dangerous sign for a democracy.  If this condition persists for a little longer, arrogance of power results in the birth of an authoritarian political class which believes that its only object is to beat the people into obedience. And the best way for an authoritarian regime to ensure that it is obeyed is to instil fear into the minds of the people.

The recent turn of events including the government response to them (including Anna, Ramdev, etc.) clearly show that the Indian Parliament has turned into a den of authoritarian politicians who have no respect for the opinion of the very people whom they are supposed to represent.

What is most amazing in this transformation is that how could the politicians think that they would get away? It is sociological law that the more information you give people, the more government policy becomes dependent on public opinion. Perhaps this may be pitching it a bit too far, but this is good generalisation.  With so much of free flow of information in the country, the politicians should have realised that they have to be more and more responsive to public opinion and there actions would be subjected to even greater public scrutiny. Unfortunately the Indian politicians thought that policy formulation can be done without considering public opinion and in total disregard of the sociological law. As a result of this, the people of India have taken it upon themselves to formulate the policy and force their representatives to enact it into law. In a democracy, public opinion has to find place in policy making, either through the peoples’ representatives or directly as is now being done in India.

Cheapest LLB

Sunday, August 21st, 2011 August 21st, 2011 Praveen Bose

Plain Economics says if supply is more than the demand, then price tends to fall. Fortunately, this law of Economics is catching up with the education system in the country, but at a very slow pace.
With law schools a dime a dozen in some parts of the country, they are facing severe competition in attracting students. It doesn’t seem very different from a vegetable market at times.

Most colleges make no bones of their character. They are not shy of saying how profit-minded they are. A friend, who secured admission to a law college got a first-hand feel of the real world of education when he went to secure admission to a private college.

As he had not taken the admission test conducted by the university, he had to go in for a “paid seat”. On approaching the college and meeting the principal, the treatment he got was that befitting a customer going to a shop. “Customer is king” seems to be the motto of many these colleges.

He was offered a seat by the principal and told: “You don’t worry about anything. We will take care. Now that you are working, you need not worry about attendance. I have to sign on the attendance register. So, don’t worry.”

About the coursework to be done “I will give you a well-written project of one of the students. You can copy it and submit it. And, if you don’t have time to copy that, I will get it done for you.”
While he was leaving, the principal went in for the kill: “We offer the cheapest LLB in the city. Nobody can get you a cheaper one.”

People power

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 August 17th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Who would have thought a few months ago, that Hosni Mubarak, the man who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for 20 long years, would one day stand trial in the very country he ruled? But that is exactly what is happening today. The ailing dictator, who was stripped of his powers following a people’s revolution early this year, has been made to attend the proceedings on a stretcher with life-support machines strapped all around. There was a time his country and Hosni Mubarak were regarded as synonmys. Few could have dreamt of an Egypt without the despot. Somewhere down the line, though, Mubarak took his position for granted and forgot that there is something known as ‘people power’. January 2011 demonstrated what this power is all about. And, from then on, a large part of the globe has been getting a taste of this power.

Failure of governance over a sustained period of time is one of the biggest unifying influences over the people. The mind of a thinking human being protests over the failure of governance and, when his protests are not heard, his mind starts to oscillate between murderous and suicidal tendencies – murder the people in charge of governance or commit suicide since bearing failure is no longer possible. The main reason for these tendencies to find place in the mind are generally the brutal use of law enforcement agencies to curb any form of peaceful protest against governance.

Egypt is a classical example of this mindset. People got together — first in a mood to protest in a peaceful manner. The establishment, oblivious to the concept of people power, responded with a heavy hand. People Power got invigorated and converted the peaceful protests into violent ones. The establishment now had a justified reason to use force and thought it could quell the ‘uprising’. Unfortunately, when the only alternative to murder is suicide, people will always give murder a good try before settling for suicide. Obviously the establishment in Egypt realised this and buckled to people power, but only after a lot of collateral damage to life and property.

India is a little different – it is a democracy where the freedom of the people is supreme. Freedom represents the wide range of responses — from any kind of legal behaviour to the practical freedoms of the press and media. It represents choice –– choice to one form of behaviour or another, for the governance or against. The use of law enforcing agencies to curb freedom of any form is considered totally unacceptable in any democracy.

In the above backdrop, the turn of events in India becomes very scary. The government has taken a tough stand and Team Anna has replied with ‘people power’. In fact, global events show that it is always the latter which emerges victorious, but that has a huge cost. The government should immediately convert its confrontationist attitude into one of consensus through continuous dialogue. People power has little patience and understands no reason. It takes little time for this power to be converted into ‘mob fury’ a conversion which needs to be stalled at all costs.

The elephant in the Sebi board room

Monday, August 15th, 2011 August 15th, 2011 Sundaresha Subramanian

Something strange happened two weeks ago, as we waited for the Sebi chairman to make his customary media address after an important board meeting. Even before UK Sinha descended on the first floor canteen-turned media room at Sebi bhavan, some channels started flashing the key decisions taken at the board meet.

TV scribes gathered there were clueless. “I am not sending anything. Who is flashing?” they wondered.

“It’s coming from Delhi. Someone in North Block apparently briefed Delhi reporters already,” a TV friend later discovered. “Things have become so blatant,” he lamented.
Forget intangibles like integrity of the market regulator and autonomy of Sebi et al, Mumbai’s market reporters are more worried about bigger things.

They fear they have lost their bread and butter Sebi beat to their bitter rival New Delhi, for next three year at least. The fears are not without reason.

This week itself there were three big Sebi stories on papers, two on the fight among Sebi top brass and another major announcement on Foreigners investing in mutual funds.
The leaks are happening in Delhi, the announcements are made in Delhi and even on announcements made in Mumbai, Delhi gets briefed before Mumbai.

“Building thoda bada bana diya. (it’s a little too big) varna Sebi bhavan ko bhi utha ke Delhi mein rakh deta abhi tak (or they would have even shifted Sebi bhavan to Delhi),” my TV friend says.

At this rate, it will not too late before someone officially declares something a la “India is Indira. Indira is India.” in relation to the North Block and Sebi Bhavan, another aggrieved Mumbai reporter extrapolated his knowledge of history. Even before that happens Mumbai reporters will soon have to fight barbs from bosses of being not as active and passionate as their Delhi counterparts, if they haven’t got it already.
Thus, Sebi’s new found Delhi affinity has clearly become an embarrassment and cause for concern for Mumbai’s fraternity of market reporters, but what does it mean for other less important brotherhoods like investors, intermediaries and offenders?

North Block influence on Sebi Bhavan is as old as Sebi itself. It made GV Ramakrishna, the first Sebi chairman to comment that the brokers should realise that the road from Dalal Street to Mittal court (then seat of Sebi at Nariman point) does not run through North Block.
With a nominee member in the board of Sebi and power to appoint chairman and members,finmin, no doubt holds considerable influence over the market regulator.
But successive chairmen have tried to maintain an arm’s length distance ( not sure if its the same length PMO wanted to maintain with telecom ministry) and managed to create an aura of autonomy around Sebi. Even the ministry had played along and did not do much to upset this aura. But all seem to have changed in the last couple of years. Things have gone from bad to worse.

When CB Bhave was chairman, one of the main issues that created the friction was the attempt by Sebi to rein in the insurance companies. Though clearly an attempt to overreach its jurisdiction, Sebi won many investor hearts with its spirit. But, the finance Ministry shot it down with an ordinance. Even Bhave’s strong stand against MCX SX seems to have irked the ministry. Bhave is said to have lost the chance of an extension after these episodes. Approaching the end of his tenure, Bhave managed to put the Ramakrishna back in Mumbai media memory but he spilled little else.

Enter Sinha, shocking allegations and counter allegations have surfaced in abovesaid Delhi-based news reports on how Omita Paul, the woman who runs North Block on behalf of the finance minister tried to help high profile offenders under trial at Bandra Kurla complex by pressurising Sinha.

The allegations are made by board member KM Abraham. While Sinha’s defence sadly tries to raise questions on the medical fitness of the whistleblower, the ministry seems to defend itself putting forth file notings that show that they supported Sebi’s stand.

But reporters in Delhi would tell you if you want to do something out of the way, file notings won’t be among the first hundred preferred options. For once, Mumbai reporters would readily agree even as they grudgingly digest a Delhi short story on finmin meeting the stock exchange officials in which a “Sebi representative was also present.”

Who will unfurl the National Flag?

Friday, August 12th, 2011 August 12th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Independence Day is just round the corner and the million-dollar question doing the rounds is: who will unfurl the national flag this Independence Day. The media has joined the speculation too. A strong message is to be conveyed to the general masses about the future leadership of the largest political party in the country. Oh, I have forgotten to mention that the entire concern is regarding the Independence Day celebrations at the Congress party headquarters in Delhi, and not at the Red Fort. The Red Fort function as usual will be dull and drab event (without any message to the masses) to be presided by the Prime Minister. Again it seems I have jumped the gun. The reason why this problem has erupted this year is because the Congress president is unwell and is out of circulation, as she is recuperating from a recent surgery which was successfully performed on her in a hospital in the United States of America.

Well, let me come back to the burning issue -– who will unfurl the national flag. According to media reports, the heir apparent Rahul is supposed to return by the D-Day and perform the rituals at the party headquarters. And it is being speculated that this would be the signal of the changeover in the party where in the party reins will be handed over to Rahul Gandhi.

It has always perplexed me as to why the young scion of the Gandhi family is so shy of taking the responsibility of leading the nation from the front. His penchant for playing the Jumping Jack type of leadership -– springing up in different parts of the country raising pertinent issues and then vanishing is very very frustrating. Be it the issue of tribal welfare in Orissa or the forcible acquisition of land in Noida -– he has always managed to raise the most pertinent issues. Every time an issue is raised, the nation looks forward to a more active and frontline role from Rahul Gandhi. But, alas, the nation always ends up being disappointed.

Rahul Gandhi’s allergy in taking up a formal responsibility in nation-building defeats a rational mind. At the age at which he is now, his illustritious ancestors had taken up leadership positions either in the Party or in the council of ministers.

Maybe this independence day the function at the Congress party headquarters may send a far more important message to the masses than compared to the function at the Red Fort. It may signal the transformation of a boy scout into a full fledged soldier who will take up leadership position and lead from the front in the hour of crisis.

Let’s wait for the answer.

Superhero not quite zero, but getting there

Thursday, August 11th, 2011 August 11th, 2011 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

Wildly popular Telugu actor but a spent political force, Chiranjeevi will merge his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with the Congress on 14 August. Blessing this union will be Rahul Gandhi.

In the absence of his mother who is recuperating from illness, this will Rahul Gandhi’s first ‘merger and acquisition’, never mind that he did very little work towards it. But more to the point, why is Chiranjeevi so important to the Congress? after all, wasn’t his electoral performance deeply disappointing ?

The answer lies in caste politics.

The problem with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh has always been a rapid turnover of Chief Ministers, but even the two most distinguished ones: PV Narasimha Rao and N Sanjeeva Reddy, who went on to become Prime Minister and President of India, were Brahmin and Reddy respectively. The Congress has never offered the people of Andhra Pradesh a Chief Minister from the  Backward Classes (BC).

The most prominent BCs are the Kapus: some sub-castes are considered backward while others are counted among the forward castes (in itself a conspiracy to divide them, but that’s another issue). Chiranjeevi is a Munnuru Kapu – from the forward among the backward. United, Kapus and other backward sub-castes can represent a politically electrifying force in Andhra Pradesh politics.

BC disempowerment has lain dormant but festering. Successive Congress governments tried to balance the politically dominant and economically prosperous Kamma and Reddy castes with a judicious combination of BCs but this left everyone dissatisfied.

Caste consolidation as a means of politics was first achieved by the Reddy community that dominated the politics of the south India. It is the wealthiest, most powerful caste and highly educated, although, the sixth President of India, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and some of the chief ministers of the State of Andhra Pradesh and many notable Reddy personalities come from middle class and very poor families.

Dr. Bejawada Gopalareddy served as chief minister of Andhra State from March 1955 to October 1956. Ten of the twenty elected Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh including Kiran Kumar Reddy, the present incumbent and son of the late Dr. Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy, are from the Reddy community. Though in Andhra Pradesh the population of Reddys is 11 per cent, the community  occupies 40 per cent  of the state legislative assembly seats. The community is very divided along sub case and even religious lines. For example, YS Rajasekhar Reddy was Christian, Chenna reddy belonged to the Kapu community and Anjaiah belonged to the Gone sub-caste. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy belonged to the Pakanati sub-caste.

Reddy dominance was challenged by the Kamma community, also rich and politically powerful, from the coastal Andhra districts who joined up behind NT Rama Rao in the early 1980s. The rallying cry was Telugu atma gouravam (pride) but the Telugu Desam Party actually represented Kamma empowerment.

Things got so bad for other castes that in 1988, Vangaveeti Ranga – a politician who was from the Backward Castes (BC) - sat on a hunger strike citing a threat to his life from the TDP and was actually murdered. But even this did not really result in BC consolidation for want of leadership.

When Chiranjeevi arrived on the scene, everyone thought a new force had been born. But caste or no caste, some traits don’t change. In the highly feudal politics of AP, Chiranjeevi let his family and subcaste followers establish a stranglehold over him. The result  was a a huge electoral disappointment. The party won just 18 out of 294 assembly seats in the 2009 elections.

All parties have recognized the importance of theBackward Castes. Before the 2009 assmebly elections, Congress Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy announced that 33 per cent of the
seats would be given to BCs. TDP bettered this: it said it will give 40 per cent seats to BCs. This is clearly in anticipation of the Chiranjeevi factor.

But the consolidation of the Munnuru Kapus and BCs  turned out to be a dream. Chiranjeevi’s
Praja Rajyam was not the runaway hit it was expected to be. Now, he is joining the Congress.
How will this impact that party? First, it will act as an electoral bulwark against the onslaught of Jagan Mohan Reddy, YSR’s son. It will stabilise the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh.

Second, it might defuse at least part of the demand for Telangana. PRP was strongly for Telangana and said so at the all party meeting held in december last year. Now when he is joining the Congress, the actor will have to tweak his demand somewhat.

Any way, Chiranjeevi’s entry into the Congress will liven up things a bit. Watch out for him.

Cooking up some stress

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 August 10th, 2011 Reetesh Anand

Stress and stress-busters can sometimes be like identical twins. It becomes very difficult to tell one from the other.

A few days ago, a friend said: “Work can be so much stress sometimes. I need a break. I plan to stay home this weekend and chill out. I will do nothing… Will watch TV and listen to music. That will rejuvenate me.” I replied with a mute and amused nod.

Perhaps it wasn’t anything amusing, but I had heard the same sequence of words spoken with the same expression by the same person so many times before, that I jolly well knew each word of what I was going to hear after the weekend. And, as it turned out on Monday, I was absolutely right. As I had guessed, the post-weekend narration of the chill-out experience was summed up in these words: “My goodness! TV shows these days are no good. And I don’t even want to talk about the stuff they play on music channels and FM radios these days. Pathetic! They give you headache. It was a terrible idea. I feel more stressed now. Next time, I am not going to ruin my holiday like that. I will do something really good.”

As before, my reply was a mute nod and a silly-looking smile.

I laugh it off every time this friend of mine repeats her stress-busting exercise and, disappointed, plans to do something better the next time. But I secretly empathise with her.

Not that I too do nothing better than sitting before the idiot box or listening to ear-piercing songs on radio weekend after weekend, but that exercise is not completely off my itinerary either. Besides these, I have tried my hands at other things too, perhaps everything that some or the other friend, at some or the other time, referred to as stress-buster.

Once a buddy said cooking was a good stress-buster so I should try it someday. I am not endowed with any culinary prowess. In fact, I am a horrible cook, to put it plainly. But I lent more than my ear to this advice and the next thing I knew, I was in a crowded bookstore, browsing through all sorts of colourful and flashy cookbooks, with recipes for delicacies from all corners of the world. If nothing, the excitement and the half hour spent in zeroing in on a good-looking cookbook of mughlai foods was certainly a stress-buster. So pumped was I that I even invited two of my close friends to dinner at my place. But what followed was quite an ordeal. Mounted on a motorbike with a backpack and in it, the cookbook, I was out in the market, shopping for such vegetables and spices and other ingredients that I had never even heard about.

Halting at each sabziwallah’s stall, bringing out my book, reading from it and asking for the stuff, only to get back amused stares, made me look rather stupid. But who cared… As long as I was doing something ‘interesting’? I somehow, after a marathon recce of the market, managed to get all the ingredients. And there I was, all set for my first real cooking experience.

From washing the vegetables to finely chopping them and pressure cooking or frying them, I went by the rule book, literally, word by word. I even used a stopwatch to ensure my food was not over- or under- cooked.

After a backbreaking 4 hours in the kitchen that also saw half the fluid content of my underweight body lost in sweat, my food was finally ready and it was time to enjoy the fruit of my day’s labour with my buddies.

With bated breath I saw my friends eat their first bites. At least one of the two managed to squeeze out a smile. The other, known to be vocally critical of everything less than perfect by her own standards, did not say anything. That, I assumed, was a stamp on the success of my maiden endeavour as the king of my kitchen.

But the joy came down from its peak the very next moment, as I could not resist the temptation and chose to eat some myself. I sprang at least half a foot above the ground and ran frantically for water.

It would take a lifetime of research & development to find out what went wrong and how I managed to fare so terribly in the kitchen. But when I was starting my work in office the next day my expressions and sentiments were not much different from those of my friend who spends her weekends watching TV and listening to music. I felt stressed.