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Showing posts from 2006

I Finally Made It To IIM Ahmedabad (A)

I finally made it to IIM Ahmedabad. Obviously I mean a short visit to the campus. What did you think ? Anyway I always thought the campus was tucked away in some quiet corner, away from the city. I guess it must have been at one time. Now, the town of Ahmedabad has pretty much wrapped itself around the institution, honking cars, dusty roads et al. Similar to IIT Bombay.

The Louis Kahn brick structure has stature and exudes the quiet grandeur, despite the scores of cracks in the walls and arches that look like they are going to give way any moment. Looking at the arches, I am reminded this is a Government institution. I understand the IIM Calcutta buildings are in worse shape so..

I realize there are actually two campuses, the old brick one whose photographs we see all the time and a new one built in `exposed concrete’ whose photographs we do not see. Not surprisingly because the exposed concrete (the result of thought out architectural strategy and not an accident) will take some time …

Five Tips For Surviving India's Budget Airlines

For the last few days I have been flying a mixture of high and low cost carriers (though the opposite of low is not high by any stretch) and I feel confident enough to put down a small survival guide. I welcome you to add/subtract to this list. Hopefully we will have a useful Indian budget air travel guide at the end of it !!!

Choose the right Low Cost Carrier (LCC)

I am a great admirer of Capt G R Gopinath but his airline is a no-no as far as I am concerned. I like time-bound arrivals and departures even on holidays and personal visits and Air Deccan has not delivered on this count. I speak from personal and collective experience here.

Actually, Air Deccan (they do fly sectors others do not) is okay if it’s the first flight out in the morning. These are usually on time. But first flights are usually at 5 am or thereabouts. For people like me, that’s last night. Spice Jet and GoAir seem to be doing pretty okay on schedules, from my own experience.

Always ask friends and colleagues about t…

What's The Difference Between A Mumbai Taxi Driver & India's Leading Hotel Chains ?

Well, nothing ! I remember every time the local train system conked for some reason the taxi drivers used to drive up their fares. The meter was forgotten. So a Churchgate to Bandra ride which was, lets say, Rs 300 by the meter, suddenly became Rs 600. Stranded passengers wanting to reach home obviously had little choice.

I think of the Mumbai black and yellow taxi cabs when I check into hotels these days, particularly the leading hotel chains in India. As I am right now in Delhi at a `prominent' address. The hotel is nice, as it always has been. Except that the tariffs have been jacked up beyond comprehension. Worse, they are mostly quoted in dollars. Its like the rupee had gone out of fashion. Or the dollar figures make the tariff seem smaller. Incidentally, I recommend you carry smelling salts in case you feel dizzy at the check-in counter. And while checking out.

I have no specific problem with the hoteliers. Since they are in this business to make profit. Except that they switf…

What's Wrong With Bengalooru ?

Nothing at all. I have no objection to name changes. After all, individuals do it all the time..particularly in Bombay (oops Mumbai) where I stay..remember all those who added alphabets to their name because it was felt to be numerologically beneficial. So, you had Shobhaa and Kiraan and so on. Some of the revised names are downright hilarious. But then who cares, its their choice.

So, do I not have a problem with Bengalooru or is Bengaluru ? Of course I do. And two principal ones. And they are to do with the motivation and cost behind the name change, rather than the name change itself. The first is debated extensively but the second, rarely. Lets talk about motivation first. I would think that regardless of all the political sermonising that accompanies such moves, the motive is very simple - which is to create some connect with a vote bank that is potentially about to drift or already has drifted.

I always have one question when our smart politicians embark on such moves - why now ? …

India And India Inc: Tata And Tata-Corus

The day champagne bottles were popped to mark the success of the $7.6 billion Tata Steel bid for British steel maker Corus, the newspapers also noted, somewhere inside, that the district of Vidarbha in Maharashtra had seen another four farmer suicides. This brought the total to almost 1,000 suicides in about a year's time. In just one region.

Tata-Corus was the largest Indian takeover of a foreign company and will make Tata the fifth largest steel player. We must also be the one of the few countries in the world where poverty, deprivation and debt have conspired to kill people at a rate that would match any war zone. Except that there are no suicide bombers here, there are just suicides.

Increasingly, when I am asked by people about what’s happening in India, I say there are two India’s, India and India Inc. There were always two Indias or maybe more but the other India earlier was just educated, aware and ranged in income levels from the middle class to the affluent. Everyone knew …

The Veil Debate: The Immigrant View

The veils debate has come to India, as I write. And it continues to rock Britain, ever since former home secretary Jack Straw set it off two weeks ago (read previous post). Polls in Britain, including one initiated by The Guardian newspaper say that "53% of voters think Mr Straw was right to suggest that the full veil creates a barrier between Muslim women and other people, with only 36% believing he is wrong on the issue."

I started out by saying its somewhat of a non-issue in India, like in many other countries. For the simple reason that unlike Britain, there is no immigrant issue here. Incidentally, the TOI today quotes Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali saying "Quran doesn't ask Muslim women to use a veil. It wants them to dress modestly and behave in a dignfied manner." The veil has, Ali says, become a symbol of dignified dressing and its not a form of opression.

Like before, let me focus on the nation-state issue that I raised earlier. Which is really what…

Should (Muslim) Women Wear Veils ?

Its quite amazing when you think of it..walking or driving around East London, where I am staying currently, I see far more veiled women than I see in Mumbai or Delhi or any Indian city. Which is not to say they are not there. Its just that in my travels in India, I do encounter burkha clad women but rarely veiled women and that too fully veiled ones at that.

Former British home secretary Jack Straw has kicked up a blazing debate in Britain by saying Muslim women should consider dropping their veils in order to communicate better and foster community relations. He expressed this in an article in a local newspaper The Lancashire Telegraph where he said he felt uncomfortable speaking to veiled visitors to his constituency in Blackburn.

A day later (two days ago) he did something unusual for politicians (at least considering where I come from) reacting to a backlash – he stood by his statements. Then, he went on to say he would prefer it if Muslim women never covered up. When asked if he…

A Challenge To BMW !

After two extremely trying encounters with the British Airports Authority, which saw me compete for The Great Healthrow Terminal Marathon and British Airways who told me on arrival at Munich that my only checked-in baggage with all its toiletries and clothes had been misplaced, I stepped out into the concourse into the bright sunshine.

My troubles seemed to melt away as my eyes fell upon the BMW 7 series, extended, waiting to ferry, lo and behold, me to the Bavarian countryside. I strapped myself into the front passenger’s seat and began admiring the console. Having sat in aircraft cockpits, the experience was not wholly new. The young driver, a half Greek, half-German student studying medicine in Munich, was my guide and host for the next hour and a half.

The BMW 7 series is no ordinary car, but you possibly know that. I learnt quickly that I could hit the rotary dial located where the gear shift usually is, call up the menu on the screen placed on the dashboard and, among other thing…

To Fight Terror, First Stop Getting Terrorised

By his own admission, UBL got some 2,500 innocent citizens killed in the bombings of 9/11, including of the World Trade Centre twin towers. America knew he was coming for them, but did not know how, where and precisely when. We seem to have a better understanding of all of that today, except maybe when. And yet, our lives have not got simpler, just more painfully difficult. Let me narrate an incident that's still fresh in my mind.

Between last night and this morning, I spent approximately two hours at security lines between Mumbai (Bombay) international airport and London Heathrow airport. If you think security in India is tight, you’ve got to see this and what it can do. It took me two hours to transfer from one terminal to another and I made it to my connecting flight to Munich with five minutes to spare. The only reason I was accepted is my luggage was on board.

Fifteen other passengers were not so lucky. Their baggage was offloaded as we sat in the aircraft. Like me, they all …

India's Feudal Politicians - II

In July 2000, a boy was discovered by Scotland Yard in a `drunk and incapable├é’ state at Leicester Square, the heart of London's West End. If you've been to Leicester Square as I have, particularly on Friday night, the most likely state you will find anyone is drunk and incapable ! That's one good way to put your worries behind and have a jolly good time, I would think.

Anyway, this boy seemed in bad shape, "lying on the ground, clearly ill," and he had been vomiting. An ambulance was called and medics determined that he did not need hospitalization. He was then hauled off to Charing Cross police station, not too far off. When questioned, Euan John, as he called himself, gave an old address and a date of birth which made him appear over 18 years of age.

Here is another London story. William Straw, all of 17, was caught by the police after he tried to sell $17 worth of cannabis to a lady reporter who was apparently following up on a tip she had received concerning t…

Our Incredibly Arrogant And Feudal Politicians

You haven't heard of Leeladhar Borikar, nor had I until two days ago. He is a Superintending Engineer at the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MSEDCL) in Nagpur. He is in the news because he dared snip off the power connection to Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's official residence in Nagpur. Why ? Because the CM's department forgot to pay up some Rs 1.5 lakh worth of dues.

You might have heard of Yakoob Qureshi, the Uttar Pradesh minister for Haj (imagine, you can have a minister for the Haj when maybe a good travel agent would do) who put a price on the head of the Dutch cartoonist for his drawings of the Prophet. Well, he is in the news again, this time for threatening to kill (yes kill unless there is dire misreporting here) Indian Railway officials for catching him while traveling ticketless on a train to Lucknow. To compund matters, the railway officials made him pay a fine of Rs 14,000.

What's common to both cases ? Both incidents …

A Nation Of Potholes

A few years ago, this was touted as the new dream road, a toast to West Bengal and Kolkata's (Calcutta) future. The New Town/Rajarhat road which leads from Salt Lake to the airport was as smooth as silk. I remember racing towards the airport at a 130 kmph and wondering how Kolkata had changed so much. This road strikes out from the city and heads out into open fields, now earmarked for IT parks and the like.

Construction is on but the road is in shambles, as I discovered last week. After getting thrown around like a doll for some distance, we were mercifully transferred to the other lane. So, most of this once gleaming road has been closed off, for pothole covering work. The ride into the city after clearing Salt Lake was not much better. But than who ever expected Kolkata to have good roads. So on we went, bumping along, negotiating potholes and tram tracks till we reached Alipore.

Last month I drove to Pune. This is an uplilfting experience since there are very few moments you are…

Wanted: More Wiki India Concepts..

Some time ago I had written about how Wikimapia was a huge benefit in a country like India where we had little or no mapping of relevance. Particularly the kind of digital and satellite maps you can zoom in and out of many parts of the world.

I don’t know about everyone else but many friends and colleagues at work have found the concept and its utility fascinating. Considering you can identify and mark your home or area out on the map, wherever in the world. A friend who lives in north Mumbai’s Yari Road area found that his neighbour’s teenage daughter had already imprinted her name on his building. And just six families live there.

A colleague from work told me how the satellite picture of his village near Ratnagiri on the south western coast of India was taken exactly 1 year and 8 months ago (or some thing as precise). How, by looking at some construction activity which had just begun there.

A Wiki Project on Bribes !

The Economist in its latest issue talks about the Wiki principle in …

Behave Yourself, You Are On An Aircraft

A few years ago, I was on a KLM flight from Delhi to Amsterdam's Schipol airport, my destination as well. The plane took off at 6 or 7 am in the morning. It had been a tiring night, leaving the hotel at 3 am or some such hour and then dragging oneself to the Indira Gandhi International.

Not so for many of my co-passengers and country men as I discovered. Barely had we lifted off, some of them began walking up and down and loudly greeting their friends sitting elsewhere, like the take-off had been something to celebrate. Next, the purser was summoned and alchohol was requested for. The purser declined saying service would start a little later.

They waited for a little longer and then dispersed. I found out where a little later when I took a walk to the lavatory in the rear. A group of 10 or so men had collected and were imbibing fine scotch, or so it looked like. "Some whiskey for you ?" one of them asked me in a tone that was more a suggestion than a offer. I declined and …

Air India & The Fine Art of Airline Upgrades

Three days ago a Bollywood actor and her friend had a flaming row with Air India counter staff after the latter allegedly denied the friend an upgrade. Getting upgrades on airlines is an art, though with Air India, it could be argued that its a science as well. I've been lucky on a couple of ocassions on international carriers, where profile and the right VIP associations are not necessary preconditions for upgrades.

What I mean is its been plain luck. Mostly, its been a surprise at the boarding gate, where my stub has been taken, a new seat number written on and handed back. But I've always wondered whether its an easy thing to ask for, leave alone fight for. Am not saying the young ladies in question demanded they be upgraded or else..aviation minister Praful Patel would be summoned to set things right, as some newspapers reported.

Air India's own reasoning for offering the upgrade was apparently that the actor had commercial importance and hence was upgraded. For a change…

India-China, Do We Suffer From The Burden Of The Past ?

Try this for irony. Prime minister Manmohan Singh says Mumbai must emulate Shanghai. At the same time, his defence ministry prepares to bomb the city ! It is perhaps in the nature of defence reporting that coverage of the not so successful Agni III missile launch included casual references to its capability of hitting "high value targets" in China, notably Beijing and Shanghai.

The casual references were unfortunately followed (independently or otherwise) by not so casual actions. Chinese companies - note that it is not all foreign companies – were denied entry into the ports sector. Investment proposals from Chinese companies such as ZTE Telecom (trading arm), Huawei (manufacturing) have been rejected, on `security' considerations, which are not altogether very clear.

Putting aside the sectoral sensitivities, broadly, the polity is divided in two camps. Hawks who see China as a permanent threat and others who see it as an economic ally or better, an example to emulate. I…

Do Innocent Lives Matter ?

Over 54 people including 37 children (United Nation figures) died early this morning when Israeli air strikes leveled a building in Qana, in southern Lebanon. The Middle East has been in flames ever since the Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and the Israelis retaliated, 19 days ago. Since then, both have been raining rockets on each other. The Israelis say the Hezbollah is launching rockets from civilian areas, like Qana. It now accepts this morning's strike was a mistake.

From all appearances, the Hezbollah, an `extra-constitutional' authority in Lebanon is guilty of drawing first blood. But the point here is not the genesis of the conflict or where its headed. Nor is it about how this morning's air strike and the casualties thereof has caused the Lebanese to go ballistic. Not just in Lebanon but all over the world. Mind you, its not just the Lebanese, there is support in the rest of the Arab world as well.

And its not about the support either. Its just about how th…

26/7: A Memorial For The Mumbai Citizen We Never Mourn

On a low wall between the recently spruced up area where tickets are sold and platform No 1 at Mumbai’s Mahim railway station is an embedded granite plaque, visible to those walking in through the main entrance.

Written in the Devnagiri script and gold letterings are the words “Shradhanjali”, meaning In Memoriam. Just below in equal prominence is inscribed the name of President APJ Abdul Kalam. The plaque notes the bomb blasts that ripped through seven Mumbai local trains on July 11, and records the President’s homage to the victims on behalf of the nation.

In India, loss of public life is rarely mourned in a manner that represents an organised attempt at grief and remembrance. Not that we are a stoic society. Politicians and perhaps others who have commanded public memory are paid generous homage. While for ordinary citizens, remembrance is mostly a private affair, in homes and sometimes institutions.

Human Lives Are Precious

To be fair, there have been memorials erected after natura…

Blocking Of Blogs..What Are We Protesting !

People are up in arms over the Indian government's decision to block `objectionable' sites and blogs. And rightfully so. However in doing so, I think many of us are missing the point by miles. To address the issue, you've got to define it. My sense is that many have failed to do so. Let me try !

The 20 Sites/Blogs Or Something Else ?

What are we protesting ? Are we saying there is a freedom of speech/expression issue because 20 sites have been blocked ? In which case, we should protest when Da Vinci Code gets banned in some states, books like Satanic Verses get banned or for that matter Shivaji's biography. Or MF Hussain's painting. Of course there are many more books, paintings and movies which have been banned and not just because they are harmful to minors.

My point is you can't keep quiet for one form of content and get all roiled just because it gets delivered digitally. A digital delivery (if you ask me) does not make it any less `bannable', at least in …

Resilience, Immunity and Kindness in Mumbai

Some bloggers asked why I am not angry at the administration's failure over the city's serial train blasts. Why not take the Government on, first, for not seeing this coming and second, for not being in a position to help its citizens who were in dire need of medical and other assitance ?

I agree I should express my anger. I intend to do that and put my thoughts down on two other points on as well. Sure, the authorities (police, fire) should have resopnded and in large or larger numbers. But as I have argued in the past, we are a shining example of utter mismanagement of governance. Does it make sense attacking it again ? Maybe. But the sources of mismanagement must be addressed first.

The second and the larger issue is that we don't have enough hands devoted to protecting us. That is a fundamental problem. There are not enough cops, whether within the railway system or out of it. There are not enough traffic cops and there are not enough ambulances or people to man all of…

Terror In Mumbai: Life Must Go On

Two people I know were on trains which were the target of powerful bomb blasts which ripped through seven crowded commuter trains between 6 pm and 6.30 pm on Wednesday evening. The toll as of now is 163 dead and over 400 injured.

Both were headed to their homes in north Mumbai and only by pure providence did not get into the northern first class compartment which they well might have. For those who came in late, Mumbai’s trains have either nine or 12 coaches and two or three first class sections within those coaches. Women travellers have a dedicated section as well.

The bomb exploded as the train had just begun leaving Jogeshwari, a north Mumbai train station. And came to a halt immediately. My friend says commuters standing on the crowded platform were hit as well, by the force of the blast as well as by flying iron sharpnel. The second friend was on the train which halted between Bandra and Khar stations (a little north). He says the blasts were so powerful his ears were ringing eve…