March 30, 2011

Indians can do with some maturity

Often, we get to hear about the greatness of Indian culture and that we are one of the oldest civilizations and have had such history and so on... How come we lost most of our virtues that are displayed by much younger countries and civilzations, today?

I have always wondered about this and today's headline on banning a book on Gandhi has me hopping mad. What will we achieve by banning a book except give it free, unwanted publicity? People who had not heard of it will now want to know more:-). Indian government therefore successfully will have achieved the opposite result by banning the book. This book written by a westerner, that too a Pulitzer winning author is hardly something to be bothered about. Honestly, how many of us read such authors? Had we ignored it, I could have counted the number of people reading this book with my fingers.

We have done this many times, be it movies, books, parties, etc. etc. Banning anything is always counter-productive (ofcourse I am not referring to doing drugs and other illegal activities). I wonder why India always does this knee-jerk reaction. This is actually a ploy used by many today, to market their books / movies etc., generate a negative publicity and ensure its success. But our government doesn't seem to learn from the past. I am sure we have intelligent people running this country and one need not be a brainer to understand psychology. So, why then do we ban books, movies?? Are we, as a society highly intolerant to different viewpoints? But ours is supposedly a "pluralistic, inclusive society". Or do our Babus feel compelled to take action? Never mind if its stupid and may boomerang?

March 28, 2011

Oracle of Omaha and India

I have great regard for Mr. Warren Buffett and his awesome record as an investor. He is considered as half- God by some at home, and that's how much I know about his work. He visited India amidst great fanfare last week and there were some good interviews too. I think there is much for people to learn from him and he does come out as an intensely sharp and intelligent man. Having said that I do think we must talk about things where our competencies lie. While his philanthropy is commendable and extremely generous, I don't think he has any idea about the deep rooted culture of India.

Philanthropy in India is not done by the millionaires and billionnaires, its done by everybody, the rich and poor alike. Its part of our nature. Its also a culture in our country to not talk much about our generosity. The 'nature of giving' has been ingrained into us mainly because we have always been a populous country with huge disparities. Such a society will naturally take to 'giving' and sharing one's wealth. While I have no qualification to comment on US culture, I guess, a country where social welfare is strong and robust, and is part of the "developed world', philanthropy is probably not a built-in mechanism, and is only practiced by a handful.

India, with its 1 billion plus population, with ~40% of the population living below the poverty line, less than a dollar a day, its the philanthropy by many Indians that is keeping this population alive. Not only are we just alive, we are doing fairly good, else we won't have the likes of Bill Gates / Warren Buffet landing up and talking to India Inc. My suggestion is for them to stick to sharing their business ideas and world trends and not lecture us on philanthropy.

Go to any state in India and see the amount of charitable Trusts that dot the landscape and they are spread across sectors of food security, education and health.

Muhammad Yunus and Nobel Peace Prize - decoded

Lot of us have been reading about Muhammad Yunus being recently overthrown from Grameen Bank that he founded, and even won a Nobel Peace Prize for it. I never got to know further details and was curious on the real reasons behind his ouster. There was a column in the Times of India yesterday by an Economist from Columbia University who seems to know a lot more than many of us on this subject.

While I have no first hand knowledge on the issue between the two leaders, I like the article for giving some details to readers. A revelation was the huge grant from Norway to the Grameen Bank and apparently the losses were covered up with the huge sums of money he received from abroad. The second revelation, although, not surprisingly, the interference of US in the internal affairs of Bangaldesh. Apparently, the US Secretary of State, Ms. Hillary Clinton has taken the side of Mr. Yunus and is behaving completely in contradiction to the stated US policy of "non interference to friendly, democratic countries"

This is a rather disturbing trend. One, the fact that Nobel Peace Prizes are won, not by merit or worthiness, but by intense lobbying and international policy dictated by powerful countries, mainly the USA. Secondly, the increasing interference of the US in almost every country! The India cables' Wikileaks have further revealed what was always suspected to be US policy. Isn't it shocking that the Cabinet Ministers of the world's largest democracy is decided in Washington DC? Please don't get me worng, I ain't no Communist and don't belive in them at all, infact, I abhor them and their ways.

But, can this kind of sham and levels of hypocrisy be worse? Where are we heading? How much longer do we all have to suffer and subjugate ourselves to the US? What are so-called International, supposedly, neutral bodies like the United Nations doing?

Isn't it time all other countries get together and stop this Big brother behavior by the US?

March 25, 2011

Cricket commentary

I hadn't thought of television Commentators as a profession,  but offlate, the TV commentary has degenerated drastically! So, I got thinking... they are really not required, quite a redundant, dispensable breed they are.. Cricket commentary in the 70s were a thrill, one heard them on the radio and we all were full of gratitude to them, for giving us the updates... The 80s saw the beginnings of live telecast and we looked forward to our telecast with some good commentary. Who can forget our 1983 Prudential or World Cup finals and the historic win over the mighty West Indies! Lovely sweet memories!! We still live off it.

But today, we have every retired cricketer hanging his boots and taking on the mike, so to speak! Some are cartoons, they get to do analysis - paralysis and keep the discussions light. Some serious English speaking ones get into the commentary box. Some of them were good, no doubt, but these days, even these good ones come up with such banal comments, some downright ludicrous. Just made me realise that this is one job that has zero accountability. You can praise a batsman / bowler / fielder in one over and in the next over, skin him alive. They do that with no qualms at all!

And yesterday, during the India - Australia match, I heard one of them say the most stupid thing. It was a crucial time in the second innings, when a bowling change was effected, and Michael Clarke was introduced. He said Michael will either stop the runs for India and take a wicket, or the Indians may have a field day, blasting him to different parts of the ground. Wow! what an analysis.. Do we need to pay him to say that?? Aren't these the only two possibilities? Its like an astrologer telling a couple that they will have a girl or boy!! What a prophecy indeed! You do hear of some top notch Dalal Street / Wall Street market analysts telling us very profoundly on TV, "Markets will either go up or down, with this news"... What else happens to the markets, for Pete's sake??

I suggest we do away with this highly decorative profession, if we must have them, they can probably be spared the rod and asked to speak one sentence over 2/3 overs and restrict to some analysis, rather than state the obvious which the viewer can see, anyway:-).

Turning the poor in Tamil Nadu, to beggars

World over, every nation talks about enabling and empowering its citizens to become self reliant and financially independent individuals. But in Tamil Nadu, politicians see merit in promoting "beggar culture" among the poor, and thereby making large populations "dependent", in the State. They call this sops, freebies, during elections... other times, it would be called dole.

Even after natural disasters, there is a conscious move among developmental agencies, governments, NGOs to empower, rather than give relief, in kind. Infact, post tsunami in Tamil Nadu, we saw this phenomenon happening right in front of our eyes... Lot of people rushed in with aid, and this gave immediate relief to the beneficiaries, but in the long term, brought in a culture of laziness and a mindset of "begging bowl culture"... It took many years to erase the harm done by these so called enthusiastic NGOs. One of the main complaints with NREGA today, is that it has made people lazy and labour is hard to come by, in India, since its implementation.

The election manifesto of the main parties reads like a discount store or worse, a store that is folding up and filing for bankruptcy. It is most shocking and disgusting to put it mildly... I deliberately brought this topic with different colleagues of mine and as expected, got different and ingenious answers too!! Some are hilarious and some are quite leftist:-). Here goes a sample of reactions:
  1. These are not to be mistaken as sops, these are required for the under privileged. "Why should only you and me have laptops? They too are hardworking". (oh really indeed? Wonder if they know the meaning of earning their bread)
  2. "Brilliant move!! They can take it a little further and start community kitchens in every street and serve breakfast, lunch & dinner, much like the soup kitchens in the US. All homes can close down their kitchens. Because, giving rice, wheat, gas separately may take up too much time". (makes sense, maybe even pilferage can be brought down, I quipped)
  3. "There are no free lunches in the World, obviously we are paying for all this" said one.
  4. Some said, white goods retailers in State will have no customers, all goods will be available free, at ration shops
  5. "They can give gold coins but not "mangalsutra", as it is very demeaning for women to be bound by such gender stereotyping" (whoa!! a feminist here, amongst us:-))
Welcome to the decadent State of Tamil Nadu politics and elections, which the Times of India calls "Dance of Democracy":-)

March 22, 2011

Indians can do with a Jasmine Revolution

With so much talk of unrest in many countries in West Asia and a brewing discontent in many more countries, Jasmine Revolution seems to have got a lot of civil societies together, in many countries. Most of these countries don't have even have a facade of "democracy", leave alone true democracy. So, one hopes things will settle down and these countries will soon have elected leaders and things will be fair & square. Infact the whole world is applauding this in different ways and feel this is how countries need to be governed, end of day. Hail democracy!

But, if we sit down and think how democracy has been fair and square to Indians, I wonder if such revolutions, giving way to democracy will anyway be different to the anarchy / dictatorship that they overthrew. I guess all these boil down to individual psyche and culture. Indians have had a feudal system long before it got invaded by the Moghuls, English, French or Portuguese. So, this culture seems to still lie within our psyche somewhere and we have displayed it time & again. 

So, no amount of reforms, civilised society that we call ourselves, has changed anything, much:-). We all continue in the same way, we can call it British Raj, Democracy, License Raj, whatever, but the average Indian continues to be very feudal, at heart. As a consequence, we have become a very very apathetic society and nothing seems to stir us out of this subjugation and slumber. Maybe, that explains the case of dynasty politics that is so rampant in every state and every party. 

Its time, we wake up to this decadence in our country and show some anger and resistance to the goings-on around us. What say?

Azim Premji has all the makings of today's JRD Tata

While the Tata group is searching for an able successor to Ratan Tata, Azim Premji is the most suitable successor to JRD Tata - not as Tata Group Chairman, but as a Corporate who does "nation building" as a passion. JRD, in my opinion did more for nation building than all political leaders worth his salt, put together, today. He started Tata Airlines which became Air India, set up world class premier institutions like Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR), Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), & the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), to name a few. Azim Premji is the closest who qualifies, as I see it.

While continuing to lead one of India's best known IT companies, he has set up a foundation years ago, the Azim Premji Foundation, which focuses on education. This foundation has transformed the lives of many rural school children and teachers in rural Karnataka. They have dramatically improved the pass percentage of the schools in which they work and have inspired children to continue their education. Education is one the key sectors which need transformation in our country today and Education is the key to getting millions of Indians out of the poverty trap, their families face.

This current academic year, his foundation has set up a University that will offer PG courses in education, social work etc. This in my opinion, will be one of a kind of University, where Education is the main focus and not commercial interests, unlike many other Universities that dot the Indian skies, today.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Azim Premji keeps to himself and rarely speaks out on National issues. But, when he does speak, the Nation listens. His article on the Commonwealth Games in the Times of India and Economic Times front pages in August 2010, is one such example. He does not brag about his foundation work and instead lets the transformation do the talking. I really salute this simple man who has achieved and contributed to nation building like no other in his generation.

March 21, 2011

Peepli Live - a class apart in Bollywood

Managed to see Peepli Live only yesterday, a good eight months after its release.. I am so glad I finally could watch it at home. Its about farmers' plight is most Indian villages and captures the ways of Indian politicians, and the Indian media in continuing and exploiting the situation. Such a serious subject but handled in a very light hearted manner and yet leaving the viewer with thought provoking questions.. 

Only Aamir Khan can come up with such fine productions. He has brought glory to Indian Cinema through this film and hats off to him. He has shown that Indian viewers do appreciate good films and they need not be pure art films nor the usual commercial crap that is dished out to the masses. 

The movie captures how the media houses are polarised across political parties, how they fight to do exclusive stories without having any sensitivity of the very people on whom the stories are done.. It captures how callous and insensitive the politicians are in passing the buck to another department or the state or central government.

The movie is about a story of how a farmer contemplates taking his life to avail the compensation his family would get if he commits suicide. Yet, the politicians are not concerned about the agrarian crises in the country and the plight of farmers, all they focus is on their survival and upcoming elections. And the media look at it as a story to roll out for the next week and jostle about for exclusives stories and leads. The media houses fight over this story to boost their TRPs and therefore please their bosses and sponsors.

The entire movie is filmed with class, much like any other foreign movie, and has a good run time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. So, it brings the awareness on the burning issue of the Indian farmer and yet entertains. A must watch for any movie buff. 

March 16, 2011

Economics is not a Mechanical Machine

I was shown this article written by Bill Bonner that captures the way the Economy works in any country and for every individual, much unlike any other mechanical machine... Its one of the best articles that captures the subject and so philosophical... I felt the author was echoing the Hindu way of life..
I am copying the part of the article in this post...

"An economy is not really like a machine at all. It is not a mechanical system. It is a moral system.
Yes, dear reader, it is a system that punishes sin and rewards virtue. It gives no one what he expects…and ALMOST everyone what he deserves. The “almost” is an important qualifier, to which we will return…

What do we mean when we say it “rewards virtue”? Well, that’s what it does. It rewards saving, thrift, hard work, innovation, honesty, thinking about others, self-discipline, creativity and all the other qualities you normally associate with decent people and financial progress.

As for sin, it punishes the obvious ones – greed, vanity, short-sightedness, extravagance, envy, laziness, lying, cheating, stealing, stupidity, self-indulgence…and so forth.

When the Fed creates money out of thin air, for example, it is a lie. It is a sort of fraud. It is trying to get something for nothing. It is distorting the facts and encouraging mistakes. It surely will be punished. When? How? We can take a guess, but it’s not for us to say….

Likewise, take a fellow who works hard and saves his money… Will he be wealthy? Again, we don’t know. All we know is that he OUGHT to do well…

So, we should return to our qualifier…it USUALLY works that way.

Some greedy bastards do get rich. Some lazy fools win the lottery. We never know for sure who will make money and who won’t.

Why not? First, because we’re not God. He sees things we don’t see…and He has his own plans that he doesn’t share with us.

Second, because there is sin and virtue IN THE SYSTEM itself…to which we are all subject. When the Roman Empire fell apart, and Rome was sacked by barbarians, even the most virtuous Roman probably suffered a decline in his standard of living. Not much he could do about it.

Why would a system that rewards virtue and punishes sin be so frustratingly unreliable?

Well, that’s just the way it is. It’s a moral system, remember. And moral systems do not make it easy for you. If all you had to do to get rich were to respect the moral rules it would not be a moral system. It would be a simpleton’s system. Everyone would follow the rules. Moral systems are more demanding. They require you to follow the rules without being sure what it will do for you.

As every theological thinker from St. Augustine to Billy Sunday has noticed, you can’t get to heaven just by following the rules. That would be too easy. Instead, you follow the rules…and HOPE to get heaven by the grace of God. Similarly, you have to follow the rules of an economy…knowing you might not get rich after all.

There’s no gaming the system. There’s no pretending. There are no quick fixes…no shortcuts…and no guarantees. And even if this isn’t true, you’re better off believing it anyway.

You have to love virtue for its own sake. And hate sin.

And keep your fingers crossed."

Brilliant read, isn't it?? Readers can read the full article here.

Paradox: The Misinformed are more Articulate!!

People who know the subject rarely speak out and media rarely takes the trouble to speak to the real experts!! Often, we get to hear from only the half baked, and misinformed "so-called experts". Lets take the nuclear reactors in Japan as the first case... Apparently, they are not nuclear accidents, or radiation leaks, rather planned and scheduled standard procedures, when a nuclear reactor is shut down under emergencies!! Since there is excess heat within, caused due to the fission experiments that have suddenly been stopped, these are planned releases to cool these reactors. How many of us are aware of this fact?? Without understanding the Chemistry and Physics of it, we rush to conclusions and cause panic and fear amongst the public.

Most of us are fed with overdoses of panic and rumours of nuclear radiation and disasters with far fetched stories of  radiation travelling to Phillipines and  then to India!! How much more hilarious and stupid can we get? Its these same morons who want a better quality of life and conveniences and want India to become a well developed country. Conveniences mean more energy requirements, plain and simple. All of us want a good life and good comforts but little to we realise that such growth and conveniences have energy requirements. These past few days have many up in arms over India's nuclear energy plans and will no doubt stall and slow down the plans for increased nuclear capabilities.

Today, another story that caught my eye was about a NGO sending a veggies cum fruit hamper to our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Nothing wrong with that, except, that the reason for sending it is all wrong. Apparently, our PM mentioned how genetically modified Golden Rice can help reduce Vitamin A deficiencies, in India. Immediately, our so-called "informed experts" cry foul and a NGO thinks they are the only educated Indians who care for their fellow citizens and the environment. The Scientists who develop the technology are made out to be villains who don't care for human health, leave alone environment! Scientists, today, according to the ill-informed activists, particularly in India, are the new age Monsters and Asuras who are out to destroy nature and have "evil intentions". One expert quoted in the article today, apparently heads the Department of Biotechnology in his College and speaks against Biotechnology!! What an irony?? His students have my full sympathy. He is quoted as saying that one needs to consume 9 kg of rice per day to meet the Vitamin A requirements. What a joke!! He needs to first go and get updated on the technology before educating his students and the public. Being in this area I know he is talking about an older version but the current golden rice requires a human being to consume only 144 gms of rice to meet the daily requirements of Vitamin A, but imagine the average person on the street, is going to believe this trash.

And the media also laps it up and publishes such crap. This always has me worried and concerned. How is it that the half baked experts are louder than the fully baked? How come the activists are more articulate and get quoted in the media, than the scientists? Why are scientists not publishing articles refuting the rubbish that is dished out in popular media? These questions are very discomforting and I wonder if there is hope at all.

March 11, 2011

Dalai Lama & Jasmine Revolution

Calling all specialists to quickly come up with a term that can be an antonym to the Jasmine revolution... In my opinion, Dalai Lama announcing his retirement from politics is just that.. While, every other leader, be it elected, self appointed ruler / owner of countries these days, clamour for more power, and stoop at nothing to hold on, here is our Dalai Lama who says he is retiring!! Its such a welcome relief to see such people in today's world. To digress a bit, I read in today's paper that a very powerful, local leader in Tamil Nadu plans to contest in a 'safe constituency'... if the leader is so shaky and insecure, what can be the fate of the rest, in the party?? We, in India, lack leaders who are strong and visionary and that is definitely one of the major factors for the decadence we see in our country.

Getting back to Dalai Lama, personally, there are very few spiritual faces in the world who I greatly admire & adore, and Dalai Lama is one of them (the only other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar). There is something about him that makes me smile when I just read about him or hear his name mentioned; I love his talks and lectures, heard a few on TV and one Live. He is so cute and so simple. I watched him with interest in an interview, years ago, that his hobby was to set wristwatches right!! What a quaint thing for a Spiritual and Political leader of Tibet!

Everything about him is so humble and he epitomises Peace, to me. It is such a paradox that a person who exudes so much happiness and peace to everyone around him does not have the Chinese feel the same way, as the rest of the World.

The recent announcement by Dalai Lama has further strengthened his arguments for a free and elected leader for Tibet. I do wish there are other leaders who take the cue from him and learn to be inspiring mentors to the young, rather than clinging on to power for dear life!

March 10, 2011

My blog is turning 3!!

I just realised that my blog is turning three! Seems like I have just begun to get a hang of blogging! I had a quick look at the number of posts and I am well past 200.. I seem to have rambled along quite frequently:-), without a clue:-)

Very surprisingly (for me), majority of my posts are on current affairs! I didn't know my interests in current affairs till I started to blog:-) And the pleasant surprise has been how enjoyable it is - to blog; I mean, its freedom of expression in the best possible way. Ah yes, there is recent murmur to regulate the content of blogs in India, much like they do in many other restrictive countries:-(. But lets keep our fingers crossed. Blogging, in my opinion is here to stay, Fb and twitter can't be substitutes, as many others seem to think. There is so much of individuality here, creativity and everybody can get to be as close to being a journo as possible. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against FB and twitter, they have their place and usefulness, just that they can't be compared to a blog.

Nett, nett, blogging has become a part of my life, little did I imagine that it would be the case. And the hidden talent of my writing skills has taken me by surprise, in some posts. I am not being very modest, am I...

March 7, 2011

Magnetic North Pole Shifts & Indians

For some strange reason I am extremely fascinated by articles on the magnetic north/south poles and their movements and their possible implications on our lives. Many a times, these news stories read like science fiction which probably is the reason why it interests me so greatly, but increasingly, I am more and more convinced that some dramatic changes may happen in 2012/13. There seem to be far too many pointers from many reports including from NASA on various shifts, re alignments, etc. Infact, a couple of months ago,I did a post on the Mayan calendar. More than anything, I want something dramatic to happen as it will be far too interesting to be there when they happen, than read about something that's likely a million / thousand years later:-).

Today, my eyes caught on to the report that the magnetic north pole which is somewhere in the wilderness in Canada is moving towards Siberia at a faster rate than ever before, at the rate of 65 km/year!! Apparently, this will have huge implications on our lives and maybe even "flip", causing compasses to invert! Wow!! You can read the full story here

While NASA and many scientists say there will be little or no impact of such flips:(, it makes for a good story and doomsayers will have a field day.

I would like to wonder how Indians will take these changes. Maybe some /all  of the following scenarios may happen:
  1. The orthodox may consult astrologers and probably change the direction in which their Puja room lamp is lit
  2. Some superstitious Indians may want to change the direction in which they sleep
  3. The Vaasthu freaks will have to reinvent the wheel and do a fresh round of renovations / constructions to have their homes /offices vaasthu compliant. Vaasthu experts will love this!
  4. Some may want their horscopes redrawn. Astrologers will love this!
  5. Some Indians will quote Nostradamus and say that this shift will bring more crude to India, as he had predicted:-)
  6. Doomsayers will say that Kaliyug will come to an end and look northwards for a man on a white horse to save them!

March 6, 2011

A case of Misplaced Activism??

Off-late, I have been having serious discussions on democracy and governance with my family and I am surprised at how different our viewpoints are... I see absolutely no point having democracy for the sake of "democracy", if it does not translate to good governance. I guess, having such luxuries (of democracies), and not necessarily "good governance" can be considered in highly developed and rich countries, if at all, not in a country like India, where we need to optimise on all our resources. 

Adding to that discussion was my utter revelation on how USA is run by the large Corporations and how wonderful democracy is, through the eyes of Michael Moore's documentary!!

And today, I read Gurucharan Das's point of view in a very well written article. He has brought out very elegantly, the need for India and China to maintain their current growth rates, although the western world will like it otherwise, and even put us through a guilt-trip of causing ecological harm, due to this high growth rate. And how our so-called activists jump the gun and start demonstrations and attempt stalling projects, all at the cost of huge losses, without understanding the real issues and dynamics!! I really liked the point GD makes about continuing the current growth rates, if only to feed our respective poor, and get them out of penury and abject poverty conditions that they are subjected to.

All this points to having good governance as the need of the hour, rather than democracy, in India! Would love comments from readers

March 4, 2011

Capitalism: A Love Story

I hadn't heard about this movie, just chanced into watching it at home... Its extremely well taken and has Michael Moore excelling himself, in making documentaries. This one, by far, is far more appealing and extremely poignant. The amazing real life stories of people who have have been affected by the recent collapse of the banking industry and various other stories of families that he brings together, is a revelation!! 

Apart from raising the issues of the extent to which Capitalism has taken roots in the social fabric of US, he has raised some very valid points of the human greed and the decadence that Corporations have reduced themselves to, all in the name of shareholder wealth, profits, etc. Such heinous unethical stories from a "so-called developed" country is far too much. 

Michael Moore has very neatly captured the context of US economy booming, post WW II, and how wrongly it was presumed that Capitalism was responsible for the boom, whilst it was the lack of competition from Japan and Germany that actually tilted in US' favour and the fab story couldn't continue after these two countries were on the rebound.

I am most amazed at how the US Prez can now stand up and point fingers at any other country for human rights violations, terrorism, unlawful practices, unethical laws etc etc. Michael Moore has brought out the plight of middle class America, that the outside world seldom get to see. We either get overdoses of the big cats at New York financial markets, or the absolute poor who are on social security. 

Anybody who wants to learn how America is run, must watch this movie.