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Showing posts from 2007

Ex-President's Rule

Over a dinner conversation with friends the other day, I said, "I am sure the office of the President of India could play a role in judicial correction..." "For instance," I laboured on in gyan mode, "If you take the current president..umm." I forgot the the president's name. I looked at my companions for rescue. No luck, they forgot too. We scratched our heads for a few minutes, trying to correlate some activity that the President had undertaken hoping that would trigger the memory receptacle that contained the name. No luck.

Former president A P J Abdul Kalam arrived in California (from New York) around the 27 of September, a week or so after I passed through the East Coast myself. I didn't know he was there nor, I am sure, would I have been able to gate crash - Scanning the reports, I learnt that he spoke to several groups of people including at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. While not everyone appeared to agree with his th…

The Ganpati Trance & Team India Dance

Its an interesting time of the year to touch down in Mumbai. Particularly if you are coming in from America, a nation gripped by paranoia, fear and mild depression. For reasons ranging from Al Qaeeda to various financial excesses of the recent past. Yes, I was there on 9/11, my third anniversary trip, though I didn’t make it to Ground Zero on that day.

And you land in Mumbai where life seems to be one constant party. The annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival is on in full swing. Brightly decorated pandals (mostly jutting right onto the already choked streets) blare loud music as devotees line up for their darshans. There are several `immersion' days in the 10-day festival, each with a crippling effect on the city's logistics.

And there is the big one, the day most people stay at home anyway. More ear pounding music and street dances accompany this massive exercise that commences late afternoon and goes onto the early hours of next day. The time-band is not driven by astrological reas…

What Is The Hit Rate Here ?

I am following, as the world at large around is, actor Sanjay Dutt’s journey to gaol. Not that I have a choice, theree seems to be little else that is being talked about, at least for the last two days.

Unsurprisingly, Dutt’s friends, of which there are many, have attacked the special court in Mumbai for pronouncing a `harsh’ and undeserved sentence. After all the crime is 14 years old and he has been held guilty for possession of arms, which, lets face it, is something that would have got him a commendation for bravery or held up as an inspiring act of self-defence in some countries. I am sure I don’t need to name them.

The point is not whether Dutt is guilty or not. He obviously is. Nor is this about whether he should have got six years or two years or should have got two years with the possibility of immediate probation and so on. My sense is that while he must have expected to spend some time in jail, he surely did not anticipate being carted off from the courts to jail immediately…

Pasricha To Patil: India's Ultimate Public-Private Partnerships

A few years ago, while looking for an apartment for rent in central Mumbai, I chanced upon a flat in a building that `belonged' entirely to bureaucrats working for the state government (Maharashtra).

I met the owner of the flat, who worked with a state-run industrial agency and discussed the terms, which, not surprisingly, were quite outlandish. What was more outlandish, as I thought more about it, was how the gentleman in question had acquired the property, on prime land, worth crores of rupees or close to half a million dollars when his annual salary could not have been more than Rs 500,000 or $12,000.

The plot, so to speak, was simple. Mr K, along with his peers, had cornered a government-owned piece of land in the heart of the city and got it `dereserved'. Next step, get together, form a society and put up the building. At prices that anywhere between a tenth and twentieth of the real cost. It also dawned on me that Mr K had not only ripped me off as a taxpayer by usurping p…

Singapore Sling - II (The Perfectionist)

Each time I visit Singapore, I am fascinated by the green grass and the beautiful trees, flowers, even shrubs. You may ask why, considering that there is so much more to see or do – like a visit to Clarke or Sentosa Island ! Well yes, but let explain. In the 1960s, when premier Lee Kuan Yew decided he wanted Singapore to become a garden city, he personally got interested in the subject of soil and vegetation, trees and drainage, climate and fertilizers.

He apparently became so involved in the subject that he even found out how in France, the broad tree lined boulevards were possible because a drainage system had been built below the pavements.

When he saw beautiful rolling meadows in New Zealand, he asked for the services of two experts from there under the Colombo Plan technical assistance scheme. Lee was told that Singapore did not have a grassland climate in which rain fell gently from the skies. Instead, being part of the equatorial region, it experienced torrential rainfall that wo…

A Singapore Sling - I

Somewhere on the fringe of Singapore's Chinatown, Ronald and his family run a highly specialised `hobby supplies' shop. I've been in touch with Ronald over the last few months, on phone and on mail so it was a pleasure to catch up with him last week, on, I might add, a particularly balmy Singapore afternoon.

Like most Singaporeans, Ronald did a compulsory stint with the army. He also happens to be a mechanical engineer by training, allowing him to ply his trade with considerable precision and understanding. Particularly when it comes to explaining stuff to a novice like me. And Ronald, who is evidently much younger than me, can be very patient.

As we got talking, I asked Ronald what his present customer profile was like. "Oh," he said, "from all over." I said you mean Singapore and Malaysia. "No, all over," he said. I knew he had many Indian clients like me. So, India as well I gathered. "Phillipines, Indonesia, Thailand as well," he …

The Gatecrashers Of New Delhi Airport

Am traveling again, this time I pass through the hallowed gates of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport. If you want to showcase how Incredible India is, this is the classic one. And it makes me wonder whether the ownership really transferred into private hands. Anyway, the experience kicks off nice and early as I drive up the incline. A long traffic jam has developed. My driver alternately jams the accelerator and brakes to stay in one place. And its raining heavily.

The airport is packed with people, even more than Mumbai and Hyderabad airports, whose vast collections of crowds usually amaze me. Like all other airports in India, roughly 95% of the folks who visit the airport ain’t going anywhere. They are here to see off the other 5%, or is it 2% in New Delhi. Most of them travel very long distances.

Passengers like me are a hopeless minority. In every way possible. For a moment I thought I would give up and return, so challenging did the task of entering the terminal appear. T…

Our Honourable Human Traffickers

Diplomatic Status For MPs

Actually, till one (or more) of our honourable members of parliament (MPs) were found running immigration rackets, I did not even know that they carried diplomatic passports.

I reckoned they could breeze through security, customs and what have you (with and without guns depending on the time and ocassion) and generally make everyone's life miserable. No, I don't mean all of them are like that. Obviously there are some very good eggs.

But good or bad, why diplomatic passports ? Specifically, this is how I am affected. I know MPs do not have to get a emigration check not required (ECNR) stamp on their passports. I know I have been running around for some three years to get it done. The lack of which makes me run around even more when I have to visit countries like China, Korea or Dubai. And guess what, a trafficker of humans can sail through where I can't. I am asked for every damn certificate since I was born and nothing seems to work, at least till n…

Will Indian property markets tank ?

Read an interesting interview with Robert Shiller (Irrational Exuberance guy) who is now predicting some sort of bottoming out in the US real estate market. Interestingly, he added a section to his book last year saying the property market there was likely to head south.

The US real estate market to quote an investment banking friend of mine, is detonating all over the place. Actually he told me this four days ago. And a few nights ago, the Dow Jones tanked followed dutifully by Japan, Asia and of course good ol India.

Shiller says he has been reading up articles and stories on what triggered the previous fall in the US. Interestingly, I embarked on a similar academic exercise, trying to understand what brought the real estate market to its bottom after 1994. I am not quite there as yet, but Shiller says one signal is when people start talking about how they were `had’ in a certain transaction.

Stories of stupidity

This is what he said in a Business Week article last week. "I've …

The All Important Inclusion

Inclusive. Remember this word, you will be hearing it many times in coming months. From all sorts of folks, politicians to business leaders. Because suddenly realisation is drawing that the last couple of years of runaway growth and prosperity has not resulted in inclusive growth. Rather only in a few getting wealthier.

Even China gets worried about such things so presumably we should be too. That we not only do not have inclusive growth but we have runaway inflation from rising prices of goods and services. I now understand that finance minister P Chidambaram and his team have been furiously reworking their Union Budget 2007 proposals so as to ensure that there are more specific steps to fight inflation.

And yet I wonder why we did not see it coming. We all got caught in the great India Shining mirage three years ago and vowed that we would always watch out for such signals. And yet we've had a near encore. Forget wheat prices and onion prices. Real estate prices have doubled in ma…

Amartya Sen & The Tunnel Effect Of Indian IT

How often do you get stuck in a traffic jam ? Almost everyday right. Now, here is a car on the lane next to you. Both of you are headed in the same direction and have been immobile for a while. So you and the driver of that car get talking. You discuss various things, mostly it will be to do with the state of traffic itself.

Soon, the other line starts moving and the driver in the other car waves his goodbyes and gets going. You wave your goodbye and smile at him. You are actually happy for him. Because you know that soon you will be going too. Time passes and you get impatient. Actually you are not moving. On the contrary there is no change in your position at all. Looks like your neighbour's line was the only line to benefit. Your happiness turns to anger. You are upset. You now curse the other guy.

This, as Nobel Prize laureate Dr Amartya Sen described it this evening in Mumbai, is the tunnel effect. I hope I got his example right - if not, I shall modify. The ocassion was a smal…

How Multicultural Are We ?

My friend who heads marketing for a large US IT hardware multinational told me the other day his firm was swamped with applications for a mid level position they had advertised on the web.

While scanning the applications he found, unusually, that the applicants included two Americans, one Australian and one New Zealander. He asked HR to get back to them saying the job profile spanned Asia Pacific but was very much grounded in Bangalore. All four (none were of Indian origin) got back saying they were game.

Last week, I was speaking with a partner at a Big Four consulting firm. Remarkably, he said, more and more partners from around the world wanted to come and work in India. More so in the last six months, he said. "Once upon a time, people were `seconded’ to India, now they want to come here. Else, it was only Indians going overseas," he told me.

India Is Hot

That more and more foreigners want to work in India is not new. So why is it an issue today ? Because multi-cultural wor…

Oops, I Forgot I Am Carrying A Gun On This Flight

Two months ago, I had an interesting encounter with Mumbai airport security. I was flying from Mumbai to London and carrying, among other, non-violent items, a small tube of pain relieving gel for my back. The brand is well-known and you can find it in any medical store in the nation.

I walked through the frisking counter to discover my haversack had been ominously laid on the table. The guy came over and asked me to open it up. He looked at the man facing the screen with the X-Ray images. “There is a tube in it,” the scanner said. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer asked me to open my bag and take it out. I didn’t argue or anything, just said it was a pain relieving gel for my back. And it was a small tube, I demonstrated.

“No,” he said. “I need it,” I said. “Do you have a prescription then ?” he asked. "No," I said. And that was it, the tube went into the dustbin hopefully to be picked up and used by some baggage handler with a sprained back or shoulder, or…

Indians' fuzzy outlook on citizenship

During World War II, in 1942 to be precise, US President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an executive order forcing some 116,000 Japanese Americans (of which over 60 per cent were US citizens) to relocate or move from the west coast to `war relocation centers’ in the country’s interior.

The reason was this. Post Pearl Harbor, many Americans believed Japan was about to launch another full scale attack, this time on the west coast. To quote an American Lieutenant General who administered the `internment’ program, "There is no way to determine their loyalty...It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty..."

It took four decades to right the slight. In 1988, President Reagan signed an apologetic legislation which said the government actions then were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."

Help Us Stay Home, In Britain !

The Japanese Ameri…

Setting Expectations For 2007

Living in Mumbai, I am somehow bound to the “Will Mumbai become Shanghai?” phrase and all its connotations and interpretations. Before I come to my submission on our state of great expectations, a few words on the Shanghai syndrome.

First, Mumbai should look for a new phrase. That’s because, to my mind, Delhi has already become “Shanghai”. Sure, Delhi is not a port city or the commercial capital. But using the usual extrapolation of Shanghai to mean high-quality infrastructure, visible administrative determination (for whatever reasons) to clean up a mess and so on, Delhi scores.

Delhi is the only city in India where there are visible infrastructure improvements in short periods. Sure, Gurgaon residents are howling about the extra hour they spend on the approach to Delhi, but if you ask me, I see the men and machines working day and night to find some solutions. Unlike Mumbai, a city that took three decades to decide to build one bridge across a creek.

Just A 50% Chance..

Now to narra…