Archive for September, 2012

Curd Rice on Swiss Alps

Friday, September 28th, 2012 September 28th, 2012 Praveen Bose

Many do like to show off what they have and where they have been to. The next door neighbour loves to show off everytime he returns from a holiday abroad.

Ir’s not the Prada or Gucci that he shows off. Nor is it the pictures of the places he has visited you get to see. Instead, it’s what he got to eat though he was away from home that he always seems proud of. “The tour organiser is excellent,” he exclaims.
Given that he is a convert to vegetarianism, anybody would have thought it would have been difficult for him. He believes he will be able to gain more respect from others if “one is a vegetarian, and very religious”.
No matter where he goes, he loves to wear his spiritual beliefs on his sleeves. He took his family to Thailand last year. He brought back tales of how wonderful the temples there are. Also of how he didn’t have to interact with the less civilised who eat everything.
And people thought one becomes more broad-minded when he goes on foreign tours. This neighbour of mine has made a travesty of that belief.

This year, he decided to go beyond Asia. He decided to go West… to a European country.

When on his visit to Thailand, he was fascinated by the curd rice served by the tour operator. Wonder what it would be this time around, I wondered.

He had been to Switzerland. He didn’t have to violate any of his believes even this time around. He didn’t have to interact with the “beef eaters”. He remained true to his beliefs, and the tour operator ensured that. “The curd rice tastes a little different there. But, it was very tasty. Also, I got a nice idol of Ganesha.”

Deals are done by bargaining

Monday, September 24th, 2012 September 24th, 2012 Sundaresha Subramanian

I always wondered how big deals are done. While there are reams and reams of deal stories, none of them gave the real picture. Even the ones that claimed to give the “inside picture” often gave the inside picture that people wanted you to know. No more.

My wait for the real inside story of deal making ended anti-climactically in a movie theatre. In Abritrage running in theatres here, Richard Gere plays a hedge fund honcho Robert Miller desperate to sell his fund called Miller Capital (with a $ 400 million hole ) to a conservative bank called Standard Bank & Trust.

James Mayfield, who is the boss of Standard Bank, runs around buying time before signing on the dotted line.

Eventually, one day Miller catches Mayfield at a restaurant. Hiding his desperation well, Miller bullies Mayfield threatening to issue a “press release” saying the Bank has called off the deal. He says it was Mayfield’s bank that needed a niche trading operation as that of Miller’s and that Miller did not need him as his firm was “thriving.”

Miller audaciously begins to walk out saying he wouldn’t sell his fund off for anything less than $650 million. Mayfield blinks and quotes $450 million as his price. “525 take it or leave it,” says Miller. Within moments, they settle for $525 million.

Bingo! Deal over.

Miller then picks the hotel’s menu card and starts scribbling. A bewildered Mayfield asks what was he doing. “I am writing a deal,” Miller quips.   Miller also manages to extract job offers for his son and daughter with lucrative packages for the next five years.

He then asks Mayfield what his final price would have been. Mayfield says $600 million as Miller cringes. When Mayfield throws the same question at him, Miller says his last price would have been $475 m. Mayfield is convinced that it was a fair deal.

We know what follows. The deal is announced. Miller promptly gives credit to all his employees, he gives credit and a cut in the deal for his CEO. Miller happy, employees happy, family happy and buyers happy, too. Standard Bank discovers the $400 million hole a few days later. They are already at a point of no-return. Miller is already receiving awards for deal making. Mayfield and company no option but to keep shut.

I am now more than convinced that is how multi-million and billion dollar deals are done in real world too.

Nobody can now fool me saying that Ab & co were the investment bankers for the deal. They crunched the numbers, burnt midnight tube-lights and stitched up deals. Nobody can fool me saying X&Y legal advisers drafted the necessary papers, created structures, did due diligence based on which the deal was concluded. Because, I finally know how deals are done. Deals are done by bargaining like I often do with Delhi autorickshaw drivers.

Why Indian institutions do not bother about foreign ratings

Friday, September 21st, 2012 September 21st, 2012 M Saraswathy

The latest QS Rankings saw a dismal performance by most educational institutions in India. Apart from the IITs which also stood well below the Top 200 institutes in the world, other institutions including the Delhi University stood below Top 400 institutes.

Though international experts and critics of the Indian educational system may term it as a failure on the institution’s part to match up to the world standards, the question to be asked is whether these institutes actually aspire for a world ranking.

Among the 50,000 plus colleges in India, only a small percentage choose to be a part of the world rankings in the first place. Experts might argue that lack of necessary infrastructure and other facilities may prohibit such institutes from applying; even those who do have the requisite facilities do not wish to apply.

“The concern is not about not being able to compete with their international standards; it is about what would be the next logical step after the rankings are awarded,” says the associate dean from an engineering college in West Bengal. He might be right in his view, as his institute features prominently in Indian magazine rankings. And to add to it, a third or fourth position in these magazine rankings would look more glamorous on the institute’s website rather than a 400th position in QS rankings.

There are even others, like a technical institute in Tamil Nadu, who feel that they don’t stand a chance compared to the US institutes. “Who should we bother to apply, when we know that we wouldn’t be able to overthrow a US or a UK college?” wonders the principal of the institute. What they somehow do not understand is that if they could improve their existing facilities, they would definitely be able to match up the standards.

While research and internationalisation have been identified as key issues in India by the ranking authorities at QS, institutes are far from realising the lacuna in their system. Instead of trying to improve their academic infrastructure and research focus, the institutes seem to be content with their existing clout among Indian students. It is exactly here that India and its educational institutes are losing out.

Mamata and Mulayam: The only way to govern

Thursday, September 20th, 2012 September 20th, 2012 Tarun Chaturvedi

In the good old days when the country was ruled by the Rajas and the Maharajas, one of the prerequisites of a good ruler was to govern with a lot of love and affection and to deal with the subjects in a soft and tender manner. The possession of wealth was of course desired but could not be pronounced in an open court. So two of the most important virtues a good ruler was supposed to possess were – LOVE & AFFECTION (Mamata) and SOFTNESS (Mulayam) and of course WEALTH (Maya) was meant to be secretly pursued.

Ha ha there we are.

Even today it seems no government in India can govern successfully without Mamata and Mulayam. The tumultuous turn of events over the last few days have convinced that the possession of Mamata and Mulayam by the ruling UPA-II is a must if they are to govern successfully and it seems that this conclusion is not going to change in the near future.

In fact, this conclusion is going to be strengthened in the coming few years. Let us see how.

With Mamata virtually out of UPA-II, the ruling coalition has been reduced to a minority and will now be looking at (the second quality) Mulayam. Whether Mulayam obliges or not depends upon what bargain he gets in return. If he has a short memory he may decide to repeat his earlier mistake. But in all probability he will have some sane thought and will definitely not allow him to be used as a stop gap arrangement. Even last time the UPA-I had used him as filler and dumped him at the time of the general elections. And of course the bitter fight between the Congress Scion Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav is too recent to be swept under the carpet. But again as we have learnt, politics is strange and so are the ways of people who practice it. In the likely event of Mulayam declining to come to the rescue of the ruling UPA-II, the last option will be to fall back on Mayawati.

As in the olden days, even today the ruling party would like to pursue this secretly and off course this combination without Mulayam or Mamata may not survive long. With the support of Maya alone a ruler can not rule for long – so said the ancient rulers – how true!!

Let us now analyse the possible scenario in the event of a mid term polls. Even here we will realise that Mamata and Mulayam continue to remain the support pillars of the next government irrespective of which party emerges as the single largest and stakes it claim on 7 Race Course Road. According to the Opinion Poll / Survey conducted by a leading TV Channel a few days back, the Samajwadi party and the Trinamool Congress are likely to increase their Lok Sabha tally in the event of a mid term. Even if we assume that surveys may not turn out to be true we should not forget that both these parties are ruling the states which together constitute around 20% of the strength of the Lok Sabha and surely can not be taken lightly.

So we are again back to where we started. No ruling party in India can ignore to have Mamata and Mulayam on its side if it wants to govern successfully.  Oh what about Maya – well UPA-II has taught us that maya can be pursued without Mayawati.

Those were the days

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012 September 18th, 2012 Aabhas Sharma

I read this random comment — from who I don’t remember — but it certainly struck a chord. It went like this: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” I often find people reminiscing about the past and saying “those were the days”, more so in the case of their school days. You can take a random dip stick poll and you will find people saying that school days were the best. “Oh man, those were the days.” “Best days of my life” are some comments which you often see on Facebook when someone uploads a random picture of your school or starts talking about school.

Human beings do have this tendency of glossing over the past and view things from rose-tinted glasses. Take the case of music. Anyone in their late 20s or early 30s would go gaga over Guns’n’Roses, Metallica and say that contemporary music is nothing compared to the good old days. The same can be said about movies to a certain extent as well. Though we can safely say that any such notions will never be applicable to the 1980s Bollywood films because a chunk of them were downright atrocious. However, in the case of school days, almost everyone is in agreement that — to use Bryan Adams’ most karaoked line — “those were the best days of my life.”

Perhaps I am an exception because honestly I couldn’t wait to get out of school. No I didn’t have any traumatic experience in school which scarred me for life, neither was I bullied by the big boys who ate my lunch. I had a “normal” school life and for majority of the years I went to an all-boys school which did have its fair share of memorable and fun experiences. Even today when I meet my old school friends we do have a hearty laugh about some of the silly things we did.

But when I look back on those days on the whole, I honestly think that was it actually that good as people claim it to be? Or is it just getting swept in a wave of nostalgia and remember only the good things? Almost every day back then was a literal struggle. There was this getting up early every single morning, the stress of exams, the homework, the PT uniform, the sports day rehearsals, the unit tests, the term exams which made your life – at least it made mine — miserable.

Perhaps people who were exceptionally good at studies enjoyed school more than I ever did.  They didn’t have to deal with the struggle of scoring two extra marks so that in the “aggregate” score they could pass. They perhaps did not shed bucket loads of sweat every time the teacher entered with the dreaded answer sheets to tell you much you scored. Or perhaps their struggles were different. They just had to top the class or it was the end of the world.

Then there was the humiliation which came along of being an average student, students whose parents were made to attend parent-teacher meetings “without fail.” How you were told that if you couldn’t write an essay on “Science: Boon or Bane?” or couldn’t tell a chemical formula, you were a good for nothing fellow. Life was doomed if you didn’t know your Sine, Cosine and Tangent and couldn’t separate sulphur dioxide from sulphuric acid.

I look at my cousin brothers and sisters who are in school and can’t help but feel for them and their daily struggle with the tremendous amount of pressure they face in school. Not that the stress subsides when you get out of school as you have to deal with all other kinds of pressure as you grow up. But at least it is not dripping with nostalgia and doesn’t involve saying “those were the days” when they certainly weren’t. Sometimes nostalgia is like a grammar lesson; you find the present tense but past perfect.

The Flying Dutchman

Monday, September 17th, 2012 September 17th, 2012 Nitin Sreedhar

Ever since Robin Van Persie announced his decision not to sign a new contract with Arsenal in July, various suitors were lurking for the Dutchman’s signature. Manager Arsene Wenger had a daunting task ahead of him. He was on the verge of making a key-decision. What do you do with a player who scored 37 goals in all competitions the previous season? (30 of which came in the league itself).

Wenger had the option of keeping Van Persie for another year at the Emirates, hoping that the Netherlands-international would have a change-of-mind and stay put. But Wenger could see the discontent in the player’s eyes. For someone who has been at the club for more than eight years, an FA Cup winner’s medal and a charity Community shield was far from convincing. No offence, Arsenal is a great club with an illustrious history, which saw the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and many more bring success at Highbury and then the Emirates. But Van Persie had his heart set on moving to a new club, seeking a new challenge.

Reigning Italian champions Juventus, English champions Manchester City backed by their ‘petro-pounds’ and cross-town rivals Manchester United were all gunning for the Gunners’ skipper. Speculation grew over a move to Old Trafford after Sir Alex Ferguson stayed behind in London despite a pre-season game. Astonishingly, United agreed terms with Arsenal for Van Persie’s transfer on our Independence Day. Within a couple of days Van Persie completed a medical, agreed personal terms and signed a four-year contract. The world of football was buzzing with frantic headlines. Football pundits laid out their analysis on whether Sir Alex had played his cards right this time out.

Why bring in a 29-year old striker who has had most parts of his career blighted with injuries? And on top of that a player who might have been available for a free-transfer come next year.

Ferguson has bought in Van Persie not as an investment for the future. He has been brought in to be prolific. To wrestle back the Premier League title United lost to City on mere goal-difference. And Van Persie has a proven track record.

With a gifted-left foot, he is one of the most deadly finishers in the game. He possesses a magnificent volley, is versatile and also a set-piece specialist.

To be honest, Van Persie has already justified his £24 million price-tag. He has already banged in 4 goals in 3 appearances, including a hattrick in a 3-2 comeback win against the Saints. One has to say that Ferguson has finally landed the ‘big-name signing’ United lacked ever since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2009. Also, it was a pleasant yet defiant move to hand ‘the Flying Dutchman’ the #20 jersey, that was made famous by a certain  ‘baby-faced assassin’ — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Van Persie is one of Ferguson’s marquee signings in a long, long time.

Lakshman Rekha: the real definition

Monday, September 17th, 2012 September 17th, 2012 Tarun Chaturvedi

Mamata Banerjees’ recent warning to the Congress party not to cross the Lakshman Rekha prompted me to do some research on the imaginary line so often used in our vocabulary. A summary of my research findings is given below.

Lakshman Rekha is a line drawn by Lakshmana around the dwelling he shares with his brother Rama and Rama’s wife Sita at Panchavati in the forest of Dandakaranya while he is away searching for Rama. Anybody other than Rama, Sita and himself attempting to cross the line would be singed by flames erupting from the line. Once Lakshmana leaves in search of Rama, king Ravana comes in the form of a mendicant and asks Sita for alms. Not expecting a trick, she unsuspectingly crosses the Lakshman Rekha to provide alms to him and Ravana kidnaps her. Thereafter starts the real macho story of Rama and his heroic deeds which culminate in the destruction of evil (read Ravana) and also signal the victory of truth and morality. Ram becomes the hero and the ideal man who is the saviour of all.

After going through the above, I felt that Ram must have thanked Sita (of course secretly) for breaching the Lakshman Rekha and allowing him the opportunity to show off his valor and qualities of leadership.

Cut Ramayan and come to 2012 India.

Any similarities? Hardly!!

And even if we assume there are some similarities and the Congress party is crossing the Lakshman Rekha by taking unilateral decisions on the economic issues, what are the consequences Mamata Banerjee is talking off. Off course the only one thing she can do is to withdraw support which may force mid term elections. The UPA – II government is bloody corrupt and the number of scams under its reign are unprecedented. Going by some of the scam reports (may read CAG) the exchequer has lost Lakhs of crores of Rupees and the public is being fed regularly with trailers of what is more to come. The last few years have been marked by absolute corruption and total lack of governance. All these are being reflected in the day to day miseries of the common man. Infact so much is the despondency of the common man that the current PM – once a hero of the common man is fast emerging as a national shame.

In these tragic circumstances, it is quite clear that the UPA – II under the leadership of the Congress Party has already breached the Lakshman Rekha of good governance and financial propriety long time back.

By ignoring the earlier actions (corruption / scams etc.) and terming the current actions (economic reforms) as a breach of the Lakshman Rekha, the political parties (especially the TMC) are allowing the (now struggling) Congress party a fresh lease of life. The allies who wish to bring down the UPA – II on this breach of the imaginary line should not forget the fate of the Left Front (which had withdrawn support on the Nuke deal) during the 2009 elections.

The Left Front had mistakenly thought that by signing the nuke deal with USA, the UPA – I had crossed the Lakshman Rekha, and deserved to be pulled down. The public thought otherwise and the 2009 election results reflected that in clear and unambiguous times. Similarly this time too, a large section of the Indian public may feel that the current decisions are in the national interest and may deal similarly with the allies who wish to force early elections.

But nobody will ever forgive the UPA – II (specially the Congress) for the corruption scandals wherein the people feel that the real Lakshman Reka has been crossed and the ruling coalition deserves to be singed in the flames which erupt thereafter.
Let the people decide what the real Lakshman Rekha is and who is breaching it and what should be the consequences.

Do not use faulty definitions and allow the Congress party to deflect the mind of the people from the breach of the actual Lakshman Rekha.