Archive for June, 2012

Hypnotic but unattractive?

Saturday, June 30th, 2012 June 30th, 2012 Aabhas Sharma

There has been a sense of disappointment among many football fans watching Spain reach the final of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. A team which can – if it wins the final on Sunday – lay a genuine claim to the title of greatest football team of all time leaving fans disappointed. Something doesn’t seem right about it. The biggest grouse with Spain it seems is that they are “boring” to watch. Or perhaps calling them boring is a bit harsh but most of the fans find them a bit unexciting to watch. It’s like watching a cat attack a mouse. Hypnotic but unattractive.

It’s not entertaining enough like the way Germany have entertained in Poland and Ukraine or Brazil are known to entrance people with their flamboyant football . The fact that Spain have suddenly stopped playing with a traditional striker adds weight to that argument. Fans love strikers or players who can entertain and score goals. Marco Van Basten, Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Thierry Henry are the ones whose posters adorn the walls not the Xavis or the Cannavaros. And with majority of Spanish players coming from Real Madrid and Barcelona, two teams known to play with flair, people expect Spain to replicate that. But Barcelona have Lionel Messi and Real Madrid have Cristiano Ronaldo. Two players who have the ability to do the extraordinary at any moment in a football match. Spain don’t, in fact, no other team in the world have that luxury.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Spain – even though I can see where the boring tag comes from. They pass the ball beautifully, control the game and make the opposition sweat. They are in love with the football and aren’t afraid of it like the English players seemed to be. They are patient enough to choke teams with their passing and then in a split second, just like a cobra, they attack with venom. Just watching Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta dictate the terms, make the ball obey every command of theirs is enough for me to not get bored.

Opposition teams are more often than not are afraid to attack them and put ten men behind the ball. When you play against Spain, you know that you won’t be seeing much of the ball and teams are content to sit back and invite them to attack. Great teams not only know how to keep possession of the ball but also master the art of passing it perfectly and Spain do both of these things to perfection. They keep moving the ball and will keep at it until they find an opening It’s not pleasing to the eye at times and certainly won’t fascinate part-time football fans but no can deny it’s extremely effective.

Most neutral or part-time fans love watching end-to-end football and that happens when both teams end up making mistakes. The way Spain control a game means that majority of the game happens in the opposition’s half, so the chances of end-to-end stuff football are zilch. They might lack the swagger of champion teams but they have the skill, craft and the ability to make the simplest thing in football look beautiful – passing the ball.

Gift shares, not a bike

Saturday, June 30th, 2012 June 30th, 2012 Ram Prasad SahuRam Prasad Sahu

So the country’s largest bike maker pulled off another month of record sales even while Bajaj Auto and TVS Motors struggle. The reason for the superlative performance ostensibly is the wedding season in North India, a stronghold of the Delhi-based company. But why is the bike doing so well during the wedding season? The answer could lie in the Indian tradition of showering gifts on the newly weds most of which is borne by the family of the bride. And talking of gifts, what better than to give the beloved Jamai a spanking new Splendor? A bike that will help him expand his business, ferry their daughter back and forth from her sasural and occupy the pride of place among other items of dowry. The bike maker that is searching for a Hero in each one of us has but the current month to sell its bikes to prospective buyers following which starts the Chaturmas  period till October considered inauspicious for weddings.

Given the sales pick up in the season, Hero MotoCorp (HMC) could do well to organize mass marriage ceremonies. This will help it increase its social networth and push it higher on the CSR stakes but also act as an excellent branding platform. Outside the mass pandal, rubbing shoulders with engines of the rural economy—bulls, cows, horses and bullock carts—will be parked the entire range in the HMC armoury right from the entry level CD Dawn to the Karizma ZMR.

Prospective targets (fathers-in-law) don’t have to head to the nearest HMC showroom but instead choose the bike of their liking right from the mandap. Having the bikes at the wedding location means that the son-in-law can pick the model and the colour avoiding the confusion over choice. If this advice is followed, HMC can at least in the marriage season outsmart its rivals and report higher volumes.

While consumer goods are a preferred option, there is a better idea. Why can’t well wishers and, especially in-laws, gift shares of the company? While a bike will have a lifespan of a decade (a stretch), shares of the company could last for generations. While one gift expends money, given the cost of petrol, the other keeps growing and over a period of time turns into a more than sizeable corpus. Consider HMC, the new avatar of Hero Honda Motors. While an investment of Rs 20,000 in  bike would become worthless after a few years to be sold per kilo to the village raddiwala, shares of the company purchased let us say 10 years ago in 2002 would have grown 7.5 times or to a hefty Rs 1,50,000. Extend the period by another 10 years and including dividends it would grow to a whopping Rs 47 lakh, about 234 times over that period. That’s a lot of money. This kind of returns not only take care of inflation and expenditure but also retirement needs, especially in rural India.

The only other asset given to newly weds which has held its own in recent years is gold. Over the last ten years, the yellow metal has returned 465 per cent.

Chuck the durables, gift shares or gold. In-laws will have a kind word to say about your foresight for a long, long time.

Cooking fresh mutton biryani for Mr Jundal?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 June 26th, 2012 Vishwas

Yes, it’s time to rush to your kitchen and think of ways to cook delicious dishes for yet another special guest of our country. His Highness Zabihuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal. Mr Jundal, an Indian Mujahideen terrorist arrested on June 25 for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, is hungry and would like us to serve him hot and fresh food. Preferably mutton biryani.

Although we do not know much about his preferences yet as far as cuisine is concerned, we should play safe and offer him biryani because his buddy, Ajmal Kasab, likes the Mughlai dish. In fact, Kasab is so fond of mutton biryani that in August 2009 he refused to eat food in jail unless he got it in his plate. An opportunity indeed for us to serve them. You won’t want to miss it, will you?

I believe we should feel lucky and privileged that the taxes we pay on our hard-earned money are being utilised for such noble purposes. I do. And so should you. Because you have no choice. It’s extremely satisfying to know that at least one tender mutton piece condescendingly consumed by Mr Kasab or Mr Jundal will be bought with my money. Ok, your money as well.

For the past many years, we have been serving the likes of Mr Kasab and Mr Afzal Guru. And now, Mr Abu Jundal has joined the VVIP club. The more the merrier, I guess. At least that is what the government and our President like to think. That explains why the club never loses any member.

Back to biryani. If you are a first-time tax payer and wondering how to cook biryani, here is the recipe: 2 cups basmati rice, 3/4 kg mutton pieces, 1/2 cup milk, 1 cup yogurt…

Hang on… why am I telling you the recipe? You can just Google it. I am getting back to work so that I get salary at the end of the month and pay tax. That’s the only way I can serve Mr Jundal and hope that the next mutton piece in his plate will be bought with my money.

Hey Ry

Monday, June 25th, 2012 June 25th, 2012 Praveen Bose

Ry? Yes, that’s a name, that’s a truncated form of Roy. Ry was not Roy always. He was a plain genteel, normal person till he was in college with a much longer and a very Hindu Indian name. And then came the great revolution. Yep, the IT Revolution, rather the call centre (or is it center in this case?!) revolution.

The call centre was easiest means of getting a job if you could speak English. After some training and his eventual absorption into company, it opened up a whole new world for him.

Call centres went overboard to keep their clients in good humour, giving their executives accents and mannerisms, and even false names. That’s when the boy decided enough was enough, and indeed changed his name officially to ensure he had no double life.

Now came  another dilemma. He was mostly interacting with people who were mostly Christians. After having to go through a few calls of clients who even inquired about his religion, he just decided to convert.

And, lo and behold, he altogether gave up his birth name. And, Roy it was. But, he was not so satisfied. And, a numerologist suggested he give up the ‘o’ in his name to enhance his luck. There, he went from Roy to Ry.

During this process, Ry’s ‘brilliant’ parents gave him all the support. They have been going along with him. They speak English and have also converted. Now their mother tongue is looked down upon even as they go about denying their past.

What’s the future? Perhaps staying in India and pledging their allegiance to the Constitution penned by Thomas Jefferson! All the while not having stepped out of India.

I want to forget Narendra Modi

Thursday, June 21st, 2012 June 21st, 2012 Jyoti MukulJyoti Mukul

Not so long ago, when we were students, colourful ethnic prints and lehengas were a rage among young Delhi girls. Saying bought from Gujri or got from Gujarat, could make one feel special among friends who relied on Regar Pura, a historic locality next to Delhi’s Karol Bagh, said to have been set up during Muslim rule, and made famous in the late 1980s by cheap ethnic fabric sellers. The charm of Gujarat and its rich culture has been replaced by Narendra Modi. Somehow, the very mention of Gujarat brings to mind his face and the post-Godhra riots. The man is certainly bigger than Gujarat for me, now. Bigger than even the State, that oversees citizens and provides for them.

Gujarat is, of course, a province with great potential which most coastal states are naturally endowed with, and over the years its enterprising people have wonderfully exploited this potential. Its culture has been preserved very well too, so naturally, I want to forget Modi.

Many perceive him as the best chief minister and Gujarat as the best administered state. Maybe. For me, Modi has replaced everything that I liked Gujarat for, as a student and now as a professional who tracks infrastructure building. And, I am not liking this.

For me, he is akin to dinosaurs and that is a great achievement–a leader bigger than a federal state or a country that have become extinct. Even Indira Gandhi could not achieve this. Despite India is Indira slogan, the former Prime Minister could not live to be bigger than the State. She comes to my mind for the Emergency and a violent death. But if Nitish Kumar’s conditions for NDA prime ministerial candidate do not work out and the UPA, with its unpopularity, facilitates NDA’s return to power, Modi may replace Manmohan–a change from a Prime Minister, who prefers to remain silent most times, to one who speaks out a language of hate directly in public forum. Some may argue, Modi is a popular leader and one of the most powerful in the biggest Opposition party so has all the right to grow out of Gujarat but I do not want to remember him—for Gujarat and for India.

Waiting for you, Mr President

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 June 20th, 2012 Namrata Acharya

If Pranab Mukherjee becomes the 13th  President of India, there are more than 13 reasons to celebrate, for me personally, as well as a for  fraternity of journalists.

The trauma dates back to a sunny afternoon in June 2009, when monsoon rains were yet to hit the parched fields in the Bengal.

I, along with a group of journalists, were off to Jangipur, the winning constituency of Mukherjee, now a mall of financial services. Six hours of ride through rough roads, spotted with potholes, and adorned with posters of Mukherjee, marked the sojourn to Jangipur.

The next day, Mukherjee was to inaugurate branch of  a public sector bank. For those, who have never been to a bank branch inauguration ceremony, don’t be misled. It is a spectacle to see what it takes to inaugurate a bank branch.

At 45 degree Celsius temperature, the crowd that had gathered at a football ground to have a glimpse of Mukherjee, competed with the one I recently saw outside Eden Garden on the day of Kolkata vs Pune match, last IPL season.

The public sector bank had made elaborate arrangements for making the show a success.  A radio jockey  was invited  for  hosting the afternoon’s event. There were food packets stacked in one corner of the ground, but only to be distributed after the programme was over. Seats below sparingly placed fans, hanging precariously on the roof made of yellow and red stitched cloth, were all occupied.

As we were  seated on the front rows, two men were giving minute-to-minute update of FM’s en route to the site. A word to word translation meant this : “In ten minutes, the symbol of development, our most respected, most beloved, Pranab da, finance minister of India will be here. Yes here, right here.”

Mukherjee’s arrival was delayed for more than half hour now. As the crowd was getting a little impatient in the heat, the RJ took over the stage.

“So how will you greet the FM? Will you all whistle and cheer when he comes?,” she asked.

Immediately, the euphoria was back, as if people were imbibed with a high dose of glucose.

Finally, the moment came. Everyone looked up, as the sight of a helicopter was more than a delight for many.
Alas, along with the executive director and chairman of the bank, Pranab da was here. Some on the stage were in black suits and tie, as I wondered about their heat-endurance level. Later, I came to know, the stage was air-conditioned.

FM came, praised the bank and left.

As the FM left, I could see an almost riot like situation in one corner of the stage.  An angry mob was  ready to take on the Police, as they had not got food packets.

By then, FM and the two bankers were comfortably seated in the helicopter, as they left a smoke of dust in the air.

Some stray lines in FM s speech on how Indian banks had endured since the era of Indira Gandhi made the story. Next was the hunt for Internet. Finally, the sent button clicked, and it was over. Sigh!

A horribly tiring day has come to an end.

Back home at a 1 AM, I took a pledge to never go Jangipur again.

The optimism was short lived. By next week, another PSU had sent an invitation for a bank branch inauguration at Jangipur.

Ever since then, several times, I have been to Jangipur.

Hopefully, I never will not go Jangipur again.

Why even 9% growth won’t make India incredible

Monday, June 18th, 2012 June 18th, 2012 Nivedita MookerjiNivedita Mookerji

The Economist wrote last week, `Farewell to Incredible India’, referring of course to the country’s latest GDP growth numbers. Although 5.3 per cent is quite a fall from the over 8 per cent range not so long ago, these numbers may not completely reflect the India story.

The haunting picture of 20-year-old Neelam holding her baby in a Delhi hospital told a story about what was wrong with India, much more than the GDP growth figures. Neelam’s 23-year-old ailing husband died at the hospital earlier this month after waiting eight hours for an ambulance, which would have shifted him to a speciality centre. The ambulance never turned up and Neelam’s family could not afford to hire a private vehicle. Even at 9 and 10 per cent GDP growth, Neelam’s story may have been the same.

The current water crisis in the capital city is yet another India story that never seems to change. Along with hours of power outages, water becomes a rare commodity too in peak summer. Neighbouring states are caught in power play and politics, while the citizens rough it out. There’s no evidence to show that GDP numbers (whether it’s incredible India or not) have any bearing on how water and power is distributed to the people of India.

To make it worse, some of our ministers want to unsettle things that appear to be on the right track. HRD minister Kapil Sibal, who by the way also holds the telecom portfolio where much needs to be done, has decided to turn things topsy-turvy for the IITs. He’s prescribing a different entrance exam pattern for the IITs because he and some other like-minded ‘intellectuals’ think that is the best for the country. Others are watching this India story, perhaps with greater interest than the GDP numbers!

More importantly, had India felt that the fall in GDP growth number was actually so alarming, the ruling party alliance (UPA) may not have nominated its finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the Presidential candidate. And if it did and if the economy was that bad, the government would have certainly found a solid replacement for Mukherjee by now. But so far the top name doing the rounds for the FM, if Mukherjee were to move to Rashtrapati Bhavan, is that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. At least for the time being.

Does that mean that the ruling government has come to realise that it needs to focus on the quality of life of its people, rather than be ruffled by GDP numbers, to make it an ‘incredible India’?

Does Sebi protect investors?

Friday, June 15th, 2012 June 15th, 2012 Sundaresha Subramanian

“Investor protection framework. I want to understand what this is,” Fali S Nariman, senior lawyer, thundered in the Supreme Court last week. “Who does Sebi protect? It is protecting those gentlemen who make all those commissions. What do you call them?… Yes, merchant bankers. It protects the merchant bankers, not ordinary investors,” he continued while arguing against a Sebi order which it claimed to have made in the interest of investors.

Nariman’s comments may seem extreme especially when considering the context where he was attempting to take the fight to the opposition in a specific case.  But, I feel he has a larger point. While Sebi has made rules, regulations and guidelines with the noble intention of protecting the interests of investors, these rules themselves are used by so-called intermediaries and market participants to shield themselves from complaints against any deficiency in service and even outright fraud.

At least two public interest litigations (PIL) are now pending in the Delhi High Court, which have challenged the regulatory framework for suspending companies. The PILs say these rules, originally meant to protect the investor have been twisted by the promoters in their favour seek repealment.

May be its an universal truth — Willful offenders, howsoever less educated or academically qualified they may be, are often more well-versed with the law, than their better qualified but unsuspecting clients. My recent experiences have reinforced this belief.

At least two rich well-to-do highly qualified people have been hoodwinked by a much less qualified but a quick-witted con. The lure of returns throws a shawl over even the sharpest of minds. Once you are in the trap, your life goes from bad to worse. But Sebi should ideally come to your rescue. That is why it was formed. Like Arvind Datar, another senior lawyer, who was arguing against Nariman said, Investors are by nature gullible, that is why we need an investor protection framework.

But does this framework work the way it was intended to? Unfortunately, the answer is a big emphatic No.

Even if an investor is able to establish clearly that he had been defrauded by the intermediary or his representative there is no immediate remedy available for him. On the other hand, the perpetrators know clearly well which crevice of law they can hide in.

Often the victim is thrown rudderless into a sea of regulations and rules. On top of losing his hard-earned money, the individual is left fighting first to understand the implication of these rules.

Then he has to figure out and bring the event that has happened to him into four corners of law and implicate the culprit. If he is not patient enough to figure out, he has to go to a lawyer, who will charge a bomb. A classic case of throwing good money after bad – because there is no guarantee that the lawyer will win you your case against a battery your adversary a big firm with a full-fledged legal department will be able to line up.

For example, it has taken Sebi, with all its might and clout, nearly three years, a best of the breed lawyer and some dedicated personnel to build up a credible case that will stand judicial scrutiny.  Even in what appeared to be an open and shut cases, there are no clear indication of a success after years of litigating.

As if these impediments were not enough, recently CBI has caught a black sheep even within Sebi ranks, who asked for bribes. Assuming this is not an isolated case, where does that leave an ordinary investor who is seeking protection from the “wolves out there”, as one lawyer put it?

A friend who has been dealing with such cases says: “Unfortunately, we are advising people to prepare a proper dossier describing the chain of events, build up a case. Then you take it to your company or the broker and threaten to sue. In most cases, he would agree for a sum. Take it and close the matter.”

A very practical solution. But is it the right one?

Careful, big boss is watching

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 June 12th, 2012 M Saraswathy

Anita Goel, a 35-year-old BFSI sector employee used to put up all her weekend party pictures on her Facebook and Google+ profile on a regular basis. Most of the pictures were the ‘fun’ kind and were taken when she was down a peg or two. However, she stopped all the uploading once she found out that bosses from office were checking her FB profile. She is more careful since, and puts up very selective pictures.

This is not because her boss is on her friends’ list, but because her company has begun checking social networking profiles of employees regularly for the past few months. Goel is furious with her company for the intrusion, but there is little she can do. She is happy with her organisation and her work, so she doesn’t create a fuss about this clause enforced by her company.

Hers is not the only company doing it. There are several others who have started taking the social networking activities of their employees seriously. In fact, some have even been keeping it in their records for possible future use. The HR head of a top wealth management firm in India explains that the employees’ social media updates and photos are constantly monitored to keep a tab on their post office activities. “The company image is at stake. Even though we do it discreetly, most employees are aware about the process. So I don’t think that should be problem,” he says.

Companies justify this step by explaining that it is better to be safe than sorry. They use the information available on these sites to expose particular employee behaviour, especially issues like substance abuse and other delinquent cases. Appropriate action is taken against these employees at the right time. Being a popular concept in the west, this is finding wide acceptance among Indian companies. And specific agencies dealing with employee background verification are the ones helping companies in their efforts.

Does this sound the alarm bell for employees? Not yet, claim HR experts. They say that companies only look out for exceptionally delinquent behaviour. Harmless office jokes and bad-mouthing the boss behind his/her back on social networking sites is often not taken seriously, though it is a bad idea to expose him/her to this information, say consultants. Even if one doesn’t add the boss to his friends’ list, there are always those few boss’s pets who are mostly added to one’s network and pass on this information on a regular basis.

At this juncture, the safest option would be to play it safe on the internet. You may want to share your drunken picture with the world, but not at the cost of your job. Because here, the Big Boss is carefully watching your move.

Why IIT-Kanpur is wrong

Monday, June 11th, 2012 June 11th, 2012 Kalpana PathakKalpana Pathak

I fail to understand the problem IIT alumni associations and IIT faculty have, over the ‘one-nation-one-test’ proposal of the MHRD.

How on earth will changes in IIT-JEE dilute the quality of IITs?

In my opinion, this is one of the most sensible decisions taken by the MHRD in the past decade.

The whole idea of the test is to facilitate better school education, ease the pressure of writing multiple tests for students and also to some extent, discourage the coaching culture among students.

But clearly the alumni association and faculty federation have not understood this. Besides, if the directors of IITs have agreed, I see no reason why the faculty federation should be opposing it.

And the latest move by IIT-Kanpur to hold its own examination is nothing but an attempt to creating an elite society!

What is the point in coming up with the idea of a single national test when every institute wants to hold its own test?

I think the new proposal to conduct two exams JEE mains and JEE advanced is a good way to assess students. Besides, students will be able to concentrate on their school education also considering weightage will be given to marks gained in school.

IIT coaching centres however, have already begun incorporating the school syllabus in their curriculum.

Not only that, the syllabus which schools finish in one year, these coaching institutes will be finishing in flat three months!

So it’s anyone’s guess how much will these students actually absorb.

It is appalling to see how these associations are not facilitating a change that will be good for students. Not every student has the finances to buy forms for 10 different tests. Not everyone can seek coaching from institutes to crack the test.

At this point I can’t help but remember the comment made by Infosys Technologies founder, N R Narayana Murthy last year.

“Thanks to coaching classes, the quality of students entering IITs has gone lower and lower. Save the top 20 per cent who crack the tough IIT entrance exam and can stand among the best anywhere in the world, the quality of the remaining 80 per cent of students leaves much to be desired,” Murthy had said.

Are IITs really looking at improving the quality of students they want to have?

If the IITs have their way, coaching institutes may now begin promoting classes in the name of specific IITs. And probably have some faculty members from these IITs on board to add weight to their claims.