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Showing posts from 2005

Don't Over-react To IISc..

Indian Institute Of Science, Bangalore. Now A Terror Target.


Visiting America, you experience first-hand how paranoid this country is about terrorist attacks. Justifiably perhaps. My fear is that India could get there. Unjustifiably. When terrorists attack something as unassuming as the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, you really wonder where this is coming from. And how ?

I’ve passed the Indian Institute of Science dozens of times on my way to Raj Mahal Vilas. That’s where my family lives in Bangalore. The IISc is out of the way, its not even in the heart of Bangalore or the happening part of it. For terrorists (or whoever planned this) to cart themselves and their AK-47s there in order to spray bullets into an unsuspecting group of professors or students calls for some motivation. Or some confusion in purpose.

As others must be wondering too. Why IISc ? Does it represent the best India has to offer in scientific pursuit ? In many ways yes. To the extent that an educational in…

I Broke The Law And Its Google's Fault..!

Exhibit A: State of New Jersey vs GE

Looking back, I think I saw the state trooper’s car in what you could call the general eye-horizon. I saw it parked on a bridge as I sped beneath on the 16-lane New Jersey Turnpike. I was heading towards Washington DC and was hoping to make it to Baltimore by sunset. Then I saw it, moving off the bridge, speeding down the ramp and joining my side of the Turnpike.

The rest is not a blur. In seconds, the blue-red lights strobes were right behind me, the cop car tailgating dangerously but purposefully. I had cut back on the speed instinctively. But it was too late. In the rear view mirror, I could see the policeman shaking his face like he was saying, “Don’t buddy, don’t make it worse for yourself.” I looked again in the rear view to ensure I was the chap he was after and began slowing down.

Our cars pulled over. I rolled down the windows and allowed the freezing air into the car. He didn’t get off his car right away. First pulled out a microphone and …

Should General Motors Invest In Gujarat..

Harvard Square, Boston

The food is hot, as in spicy hot and the weather outside is cold, as in freezing cold. My two dining companions are Harvard Business school students, class of 2006. Both are Indian, one is a former entrepreneur and the other, to be one.

Tamarind Bay, the restaurant we are seated in, is located bang in Harvard Square, Cambridge, a ten minute walk from most Harvard campuses in Boston, in Massachussets. There are two good Indian restaurants in Harvard Square, almost cheek by jowl. The other is Bombay Club. Despite being a chilly weekday night with most sidewalks covered with snow, this one is packed to the gills. Indian food is almost an incentive to fight the biting cold, it would seem.

Between roti, chana dal and succulent mutton roganjosh, I am trying to understand why Rohit Jain sold off his stake in a software business he co-founded to come and study at Harvard. As I am trying to figure, among other things, why Ganesh Rengaswamy would give up his job to come stu…

Can We Get The Weather Right, At Least ?

Central Park, New York: We Knew This Was Gonna Happen

It was roughly -7 degrees C (low) in New York yesterday. Today, its likely to be closer to -1 C. It snowed and rained, in that order, last evening. The snow flurries began coming down roughly 5 pm or so, at least where I was driving across the Hudson river near New Jersey.

Today's been bright and sunny all day and temperatures went upto 7 degrees C. Actually its the first such day in weeks, after it snowed heavily on the morning of the 9th of December. The temperatures, dates and times have been noted down from weather reports which you can access anywhere in the world, including for hours on local television stations. The only difference is that each of these weather events were predicted and forecasted, down to the minute almost, anywhere between a day to a week before it happened. Its a degree of accuracy that's almost scary.

So the taxi driver out of JFK (I landed on an internal flight) told me not to venture out the next …

Terror In The Classroom

The stately dining and meeting rooms of the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School seem a somewhat unlikely place to talk about understanding the problems in the middle east in general and fundamentalist Islam in specific.

Particularly when subjects like: should Cisco Systems sell internet routers to China, are being hotly debated in the classrooms right now. And while Cisco is seen as an important ethics case study (the routers help in cracking down on internet dissent), some of the larger concerns amongst some HBS faculty are to do with how to incorporate such subjects into their curriculum and teaching.

“Its not about Islam itself. Nor is about terrorism per se but every CEO with a global footprint has to think about it, understand it and factor it into his calculations of doing business,” a senior HBS professor told this writer over a ham and cheese sandwich lunch. “And we have no choice but to look at more closely,” he added, almost in a whisper.

Prophetic Words

His words turn…

Argue Him To The Ground, If You Can

“Welcome him and argue him to the ground,” challenges Bombay boy Homi Bhabha, the bearded, greying professor who runs the Humanities Centre at Harvard University. The subject obviously is Sen's latest book, The Argumentative Indian.

Dr Amartya Sen, seated demurely to his right on a small table looked on. They were both on a small stage at the Arthur M Sackler Musuem auditorium in Boston two nights ago. “I think its going to be a remarkable evening,” says the scholarly Bhabha. To which Sen responds, “Well that depends, remarks can be of many kinds.”

Sen has a classic, dry sense of humour. On this cold night, as he faces a packed hall overflowing into the aisles, he is in full form. “I am too contaminated by my book to discuss it. What made me do it ?” He goes on to explain, finding occasion to take a potshot at India’s education system. Actually I’ve always been fascinated by the culture of the sub-continent. I wanted to study Sanksrit and Maths. But the schools determined that yo…

The Argumentative Indian in Boston

Its fascinating how the concept of The Argumentative Indian can be projected as a concept to other cultures and communities to adopt and embrace rather than for just Indians to read about. Try telling the Chinese !

Coming up, more on how Nobel prize winner Dr Amartya Sen did precisely that and kept a packed audience enthralled during a talk hosted by Harvard's Humanities Centre at the Sackler Musuem auditorium in Boston last night - the biting cold obviously not deterring his fans, including this writer.

Here is one Sen gem from his speech. What did social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1883) say on the real terror of death. "Just think," he said, "When you die, others can go on speaking but try as you may, you cannot argue back."

Amartya Sen incidentally is no longer Master, Trinity College, London. Like most other people, presumably he found the calling at another organisation greater. Actually, he returned to his previous job, as Lamont University profess…

The Great Indian Foreign Exchange Trap

Walking through Shanghai’s spanking new Pudong International Airport on my way out of the country last month and having found that I still had some Yuan left with me, I stopped at the foreign exchange kiosk to return the currency. “Can I have the ATM receipt or the original receipt for the currency ?” asked the lady behind the counter. I did not and I said so. “Sorry, we can’t take the currency,” she said. That was it, no further discussion.

I walked on and entered one of the rows of gleaming duty free shops and bought a CD by a famous Chinese pop singer. I asked the counter girl for her recommendation, she pointed with a smile. No questions asked obviously about the source of the currency. It struck me, as I walked on to the departure gates that if there was one area where China has not evolved, it’s the financial system. More on that at some other point but if there is one area that China is seemingly lagging behind the rest of the world, its this. But then I have repeatedly discover…

China May Beat India In IT, With Help From Guess Who ?

Last fortnight, I ended by saying that the only possible feel-good in China for the serious Indian visitor is the reception that local IT companies give you. The story ended at Beijing’s own Silicon valley, the Zhongguancun Software Park, as we were listening to a presentation being made by the CEO of Beyondsoft, a Chinese IT services company.

But there is more to this story and its about the somewhat unpredictable future. Can China beat India in IT ? Does it matter whether they will ? The answer to the second question may not be very relevant but the foundation for the first is very much in place in Zhongguancun or Z Park as it is called on the north west end of the city.

Z Park is not and does not claim to be all that China has to offer for IT services. But its an important showcase, like Bangalore is one. The pace at it which it is growing is noteworthy and is all controlled, unlike Bangalore. The official taking us around explained that the park was a total of 1.4 square km of …

Emigration Clearance Required For China, You Must be Joking !

A few months ago, while checking in for a flight to Dubai, I was told by the counter girl that she would not check me in. The reason was that my passport did not have a ECNR stamp (supposed to be given to any genuine 12th standard student or graduate from an Indian university).

The matter escalated to the immigration manager who hemmed, hawed, expressed much disappointment in educated people not being aware of the law and after much haranguing, gave me a temporary clearance. This, after I, brandished copies of my IT returns (I was forewarned about the hurdle at immigration since the ticket was bought just a day before), pointed out that I was not likely to work as a driver with a sheikh or a menial worker whose passport might get confiscated and my work was only for two days (do see my tickets). So, he or the Government of India did not have to worry about `protecting’ me from being sold for cheap in the middle eastern job market.

It was half an hour to go and the aircraft doors were …

The China Miracle: It's Still Work In Progress

A Pucca Hut Amidst Residential Complexes Outside Beijing (Pix By Author)


It was probably on one of Shenzhen’s landscaped sea facing promenades, driving back into city from the factories of one of China’s largest computer hardware makers that it dawned on me that we are never going to be like China, not in my generation for sure.

First, to use an analogy, comparing ourselves with China is really akin to running a 100 metre race against Jamaican Asafa Powell (9.77 seconds world record) when the last time you ran competitively was in school or something close to that. It’s a complete waste of time because you will perhaps cover ten metres when Powell will be hitting the finish line.

Going on to speculate whether Mr Powell injected steroids to ensure is win is a further waste of time. Instead, India should look for a different track and field event, like a relay race or even shooting, where we have a ghost of a chance. And yes, we should stop trying to speak about their warts in the same b…

Do IT Clusters Foster Inequality ?

A few months ago, walking out of the Infosys Technologies Bangalore HQ from its main road exit and towards the car parked off the bustling Hosur road, one couldn’t help but notice the little `bazaars’ doing brisk business on the side lanes, mostly with locals. The vendors range from robust young men hawking pots and pans to frail old women haunched over small heaps of leafy vegetables, eking out a surely less than modest living.

The contrast between the dollar riches generated behind the fortified walls of Infosys just metres away or for that matter the scores of other high technology campuses and the living and working standards (it may not be poverty) of the people bordering them has existed for a while, but has rarely been seen as a contradiction, not to us folks living here at least.

The reasons are well known. IT companies have created thousands of high paying jobs, given a terrific leg-up in India brand equity and, collaterally, become a beacon for doing business the right way, i…

BMW Foundation Series I !

The closest I got to owning one..


A serious clerical error resulted in this writer being nominated and invited to the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt Indo-German Young Leaders Forum. The outcome was five fascinating days of learning, meeting and networking with some very interesting people, all of whom were obviously there on merit.

This happened amidst sun, sand and spray (as they say) at Temple Bay, a cracker of a seaside resort in Mahabalipuram, an hour and a half from Chennai. The participants ranged from professional managers and young industrialists to politicians and first generation entrepreneurs. The experience was unforgettable for many reasons, not least the (strategically induced) interplay between the argumentative Indians and the perfectionist Germans. In coming days, the writer will post a series of short dispatches from the Forum.

Trees, Songs & Dances

Germany has a keen interest in Indian history and has, in its universities, apparently over 50 chairs dedicated for t…

Honey, We Got A Job For You

Esquire magazine Editor-At-Large AJ Jacobs thinks Honey K Balani looks a bit like an Indian version of Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives star) as he proceeds to record her "full lips, long hair and skin the color of her first name". All this based on a photograph, sent over the internet. Going by Jacobs' generous observations, one could perhaps conclude that this writer was privileged not just to meet with Honey but also speak to her at some length.

Earlier, we (driver & I) were bumping along the the dusty approach road to Whitefield in Bangalore. This is the other end of the city, you turn right as you exit the airport driveway and keep rolling, largely unhindered, as the road narrows and broadens in the inexplicably Indian way, throwing up scattered groups of vegetable vendors on one bend and an impressive congregation of shops specialising in `seconds' of well known brands on another. And then 6 km or so, you turn left into Whitefield.

Honey …

On A Wing And No Hope

Some Day, Maybe..

A few months ago, I got into an extended argument with Mumbai airport director and Airport Authority of India (AAI) man Sudhir Kumar. Why, I asked him, did passengers transiting from domestic to international and the other way round have to exit the domestic airport at Santacruz, battle through pollution, monstrous traffic jams and terrible roads before arriving at the International terminal at Sahar, around 6 km away.

Note that this was the state of affairs for decades, until someone got a bright idea last year that lo and behold, transiting passengers could actually be given a special coach to move from one terminal to the other, inside the airport premises. The coaches are there finally, but predictably, there are too few. Arriving late night in Mumbai, its not uncommon to see weary passengers standing in long, sequestered lines with mounds of luggage in tow, waiting for that coach.

Kumar, the dutiful officer that he is, put up a brave defence of the Airport Author…