November 25, 2009

Indo-US relationship

I am sure many of us watched our PM, Mr. Singh read out from some prepared text, with the US Prez looking over, in my opinion, with amusement. I was ashamed of the way in which he read out the text in an emotionless, with a dead pan, in a monotonous tone, with absolute no voice modulation whatsoever nor any animation of facial expression. What's with him? Can he get more unimpressive?

I think one of the most important qualities of a leader is to be able to articulate and talk extempore and be natural with the camera. And Mr. Singh has been on this job for so many years now, he should be able to carry himself with more aplomb. I could not but wonder at the contrast we had, the US Prez who is such a brilliant orator and our PM who sounded like a mouse with the microphone. I was more shocked because he is an intellectual and a well read person and for him to be so pathetic, is very funny.

I really look forward to the day when we will have a leader who can carry and present himself and showcase our country to the world. From the current lot, I can only see Rahul Gandhi donning the mantle, the sooner the better it will be for India.

Yeh Dil Hai Hindustani

I was having a very interesting conversation at home couple of weeks ago... The context was when Nandan Nilekani was asked if people can choose the 16 digit unique number and have fancy numbers, like they do for their cars and phones:-). Some wanted a preference as they didn't want unlucky numbers and some wanted fancy numbers to flash around... Whatever the reason, this really fascinates me and also disturbs me, if you can understand what I mean:-). We, Indians are a peculiar lot, we always want to get around things and have our way and beat the system. However, Mr. Nilekani put a brave face and refused and said it would be computer generated and nobody will the option of choosing their numbers... It would be interesting to see if he is really able to implement that:-)

As Indians, we always have had a culture of inequality, be it in the bygone era of untouchability and brahminism to the feudal system of Kings and their opulent Palaces to a later mindset of colonial rule, where Indians played second fiddle to the British, to the present day scenario where the political class and rich businessmen are treated differently from the rest. And very surprisingly, and unconsciously, there seems to be an almost acceptance to this fate!

This might strike a foreigner as very odd as I don't think in any country there can be such prevalence of discrimination and VIP culture as there is, here. Be it at the airport, roads, courts, cricket, jobs, admissions to schools /colleges, anything and everything, the influential can always have their way and the rest, >90% have reconciled to this truth or destiny?

Its no surprise that often foreigners are able to notice this within their first week of stay in India. It must be a shock for Greg Chappell to coach Team India where we have players who are so big that they will not show up for training with the rest of the 'boys'. Our Indian psyche is indeed very different and will probably make a good study for psychologists:-). Any takers?

November 23, 2009

Erin Brockovich

This was one movie I wanted to see but never did till few days ago. Finally, managed to see the movie. My first impression was, no big deal. What was the hype about anyway, types. Besides, I must say I was put off by Julia's extreme foul language and loud clothes, by more than a mile:-)

But almost as an afterthought, I changed my mind completely, about the movie. I realised that this is one of those movies that lingers and stays in your mind. Yes, Julia's is a spirited role and movies based on true lives of people always tend to be powerful. But nonetheless, the expletives were a definite put off. Oh, I am not a prude, and I occasionally do use expletives, but after watching the movie, I probably don't want to use them anymore:-).

Its a movie that's worth a watch but I definitely think its over-rated and suffers from the hype. As one critic points out wryly, this movie was released in 2000 at a time when there were no good movies showing and this came as a breath of fresh air. Besides, today, we are more aware of our environment but, back in 2000, people were just beginning to get serious about taking polluting companies to task. So, I guess, the movie was more appealing at the time of its release but not as much in today's context.

Another Twist in the Tale - Climate Change, my foot, say some!

The papers and the internet is full of talk about Climate Change and Global Warming and Copenhagen Summit... everybody claims to be in the know... this has ceased to be a topic of discussion with the highbrow intellectuals and is now part of kitty parties, page 3 people to college kids to office and college canteens.

Given this overdose on the subject, I read a very interesting article that rubbishes most climate change theories. A group of Scientists from University of Bristol, UK, have a very different story to tell, based on their findings from measurements and statistical data, including historical records extracted from Antarctic ice, and does not rely on computations with complex climate models. Their data shows that the balance between airborne and absorbed Carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of CO2 having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now. This data suggests that terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans have a much greater capacity to absorb CO2 than had been previously expected. They have published these findings in Geophysical Research Letters this month.

Given these new findings, it will be interesting to see how the discussions turn out in Copenhagen, as carbon sink is one of the key points of discussion at the Summit.

Sustainable Development

I was pleasantly surprised to read the latest mantra from the Management Guru, C. K. Prahalad - Sustainable Development! I never thought these words would ever interest Management people. I must confess that, Prahalad is one of the rare Management Gurus who appeal to me. Majority of them are full of jargons and more jargons. But Prahalad is an original, a thinker and definitely interesting. And when he talks about Sustainable Development, I am interested to know what he is aiming at.

Apparently, Sustainable Development is one of the four areas that Prahalad wants to link, other than globalization, role of connectivity, inclusive growth. Very interesting synthesis I must say and that is what makes him stand apart. In an interview in ET recently, he fielded some questions on SD.

To the uninitiated, Prahalad's  revolutionary mantras are Core Competence followed by Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and now Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development, the term, throws a myriad of ideas, strings and means many things to many people. Often, we use it loosely and is probably the most maligned word as also the least understood:-). It will therefore be interesting to see how he gives shape to this idea and convinces Industry to follow the path of SD.

Scientists, policy makers, politicians have so far made little headway in this direction!

November 22, 2009


Its been a long time since I wrote about movies. I was keenly anticipating the release of Kurbaan and I was not disappointed. Its a very well taken movie. Don't get me snooty, but very rarely do I like Hindi movies for their finesse or class, I usually like them for the masala and entertainment for the 3 hours and nothing more. If they do make the grade, then its often classified in 'art film' category and does not come under mainstream cinema. This movie, in my opinion, actually dissolves this artificial barrier created in Bollywood between commercial and art cinema. This movie is 'commercial' cinema in Bollywood vocabulary but has all the elements of 'art' movie, right from performances to direction and storyline. The web is full of reviews about the movie, I will stick to my personal observations.

I see Karan Johar in a new light after this film, I thought he was only capable of making mushy mushy romantic stuff. For once, this movie gives some 'food for thought', to use a cliche. And the film deals with a topic so relevant in today's times - global terrorism. I particularly like the way the movie stays neutral and presents both sides of the coin. I must add that everyone in the cast has done their bit to make this movie stand apart. Kudos to the entire team and I look forward to many many more of such Hindi movies!

November 8, 2009

Origin of Species

The year 2009 marks 200 years of Darwin's birth and 150 years since his seminal book called Origin of Species. All of us, irrespective of our backgrounds have heard of Charles Darwin and his theories of survival of the fittest and evolution. The British Council is doing exhibitions to mark the event across the world and in the UK, the HMS Beagle in which Darwin set out in his voyage to Galapagos Islands is being refurbished. The area around Down House is going to be declared a World Heritage Site etc.. to commemorate the occasion.
Yes, there are some gaps in his theory on evolution but nonetheless, its more than accepted as the most plausible of theories of the Origin of Species, to date. There are critics who mainly are from religious backgrounds who oppose his view that our ancestors were primates:-). Yes, its possible that God created all creatures simultaneously. But, what is important is to back your theories with observations. And Darwin did just that. He had amazing depth of observations and more importantly, the art of making inferences from the observations. Most people fail in making the inferences. Thomas Huxley's famous quote on Charles Darwin's theory was, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that." Now, Huxley was not stupid, just that Charles Darwin explained the theory with his observations so convincingly, that led Huxley to exclaim in this fashion (much like Watson would say after Sherlock Holmes would explain his deductions:-)).
Recently, I was at a talk on "Darwin Now" and it was indeed interesting when the speaker pointed out that the Hindu religion is perhaps more scientific in that we have Hindu Gods appearing in the form of tortoise, fish etc (Dasavatharam). Quite insighful, it had never occurred to me. Nonetheless, the mark of a true scientist is to realise that there can be no Last Word on this subject of Creation.
I was also wondering if Man today is influencing evolution, in the sense that 'natural selection' is hampered due to man made selection and interventions; Man has become so dominant of the species on the planet. Also, I wonder if Modern Biology is going against the theory of Natural Selection. It would be interesting to synthesize Darwin's, Mendel's and Watson & Crick's works, together, and see how we are doing.
I leave you all with two of my favourite quotes from Sir Charles Darwin. These quotes are relevant today as well, in every sphere, meant for everyone. It borders on philosophy and is also used very often by motivational speakers and Management Gurus.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

Bon Apetit!

There are few restaurants that I enjoy dining at - the food and the ambiance play a big role in my selection. Some of the best places in Chennai are Annalakshmi, Cream Centre, Sanjeevini, Copper Point and Copper Chimney. You guessed it, most of them are exclusive vegetarian joints. Annalakshmi is very different in that the profits go for charity and the people who serve you are volunteers! A very novel concept and the food is delightful, very elaborate, yet mildly spiced and cooked to perfection! Cream Centre is a nice place for Bombay style food. I love it and its down my road, so convenient:-). Copper Point and Copper Chimney have dishes that taste yum and served in right portions. For the best desserts, I would head out to Mocha

In Delhi, my favourites are Neivedyam and Bukhara. Its more than a decade since I lived there, so there maybe nicer places now. Neivedyam had the best South Indian dishes in town and Bukhara serves the best Makhni Dal in country, so much so that its called Dal Bukhara all over India:-). In Kolkata, I used to like Zaranj and Maple, both serve excellent food.

November 5, 2009

Indian Heroes

Very often we use these words frivolous, feather-brained, scatter-brained, isn't it? Today, I saw a living, walking, talking person who personifies these words:-). Her name is not important, she is participating in some world beauty pageant. And very proudly she lists the names of people from India who are global icons, according to her, and how proud she is to be an Indian, bla bla.

Curious to know the names on her list? Well, she puts down A.R.Rahman, Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan!!!!! I have no problems with these celebrities, I admire them for what they have accomplished in their spheres. But, are they global icons? A. R. Rahman's music is great and he won two Oscars this year, but how many people will know him if he walks down a road in any country? Lets be frank, only people in music industry will recognize him. Sachin Tendulkar is a great icon in India and at best in ten cricket playing nations. Lets face it, he is no Roger Federer or Ronaldinho. The less said the better of the Bachchans.

This got me thinking. Who are our heroes? And why don't we talk about our heroes? Or do we have too many? Here are some of my heroes / icons I am proud of and who are truly known, world over. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Aryabhatta, perhaps.

Ask any kid in USA, Abraham Lincoln will figure in his/her list; likewise a kid in UK will have Winston Churchill in their list.

Who are the heroes of India who will figure in every citizen's list?

November 4, 2009

Life is Risky!

Offlate I have been contemplating on probabilities for various everyday day events in our lives and I thought it will be an interesting exercise. The reason is the recent Bt brinjal controversy that is making headlines. The Wiki says "Probability is a way of expressing knowledge or belief that an event will occur or has occurred. In mathematics the concept has been given an exact meaning in probability theory, that is used extensively in such areas of study as mathematics, statistics, finance, gambling, science, and philosophy to draw conclusions about the likelihood of potential events and the underlying mechanics of complex systems."
Now,  probability of being involved in an airplane accident: 1 in 11 million;
Probability of dying in a car crash: 1 in 5000

But do these statistics stop us from using them for transport? Infact, people find it glamorous to use these modes of transport:-). I was talking to a medico and he was saying that a simple penicillin shot or a pain killer can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Do we stop taking these shots? There is so much talk about the ills of using mobile phones, can we do away with them? We all know the harm non vegetarian food / alcohol does to our human body, have we all given up non vegetarian food /alcohol?

Then why this hue and cry and 'holy cow' attitude towards Biotechnology in Agriculture? Some people are against genetic modifcation as it means 'going against nature". I would like to ask these people if they take medicines / vaccines when they fall ill? Most drugs today, are produced through genetic modification. I am shocked that medical doctors are expressing concerns over gene manipulation. Such ignorance:-)

A point all of us need to ponder is "How safe is living in this planet?" Our lifestyle from waking up with coffee /tea, to using mobiles, to driving cars, flying in jets /trains, walking in Indian roads, using PCs, eating junk food, popping pills when sick, are all extremely risky things we do, as part of our routine. We need to realize that life is all about taking risks, its a gamble

November 1, 2009

Youth Power

I went for a wonderfully staged play called "Death" by the Chinmaya Youth wing. I was told it was very well done and not to be missed. So, my expectations ran high and I must say I was not disappointed, a wee bit. They brought out the essence of Katho-upanishad  the way it would appeal to todays' generation. I really enjoyed my evening and those I brought along, thanked me too!

I must give the youth full marks for managing it all by themselves, right from the car parking arrangements to ushering in guests and seeing them off. Speaks a lot about the commitment and responsibility they have taken. We were told how working for a play gave them the opportunity to learn many important skills like working in teams, taking leadership roles, developing organisation skills, apart from the values and wisdom gained through the research in making the play. Apparently, a topic is given to them and the youth are asked to do their own direction, screenplay, casting etc. with help from the Seniors of course. So they research the texts (they learn and read books that they would not otherwise:-)), and decide who is best doing which role (learn skills like team building, talent hunt).

Its an excellent way of channeling youth energy and enthusiasm. They learn values and also develop skills required to work in today's environment. True Youth Empowerment!