Thursday, December 30, 2010
2000 - was the year that defined the tech boom, as Y2K was a monster that needed immediate redressal. Around technology and all that jazz, came the dotcoms, faceless millionaires and everything techy, arcane and convoluted. while the world was kicked about moving from the 'nineteen hundreds' to the 'two-thousands', the economy grappled with a nascent crisis post the tech bust. Ironically, we're ending the decade fighting another crisis, only this one bigger, all-encompassing and certainly a lot more painful!
Then came 2001, and hardly anyone remembers it as the first year of the new millennium. It is remembered in notoriety owing to its association with the dreadful events of September 11. For someone living in India, or maybe in the Middle East, having seen the effects of terrorism first hand for years on end, the events perhaps felt like yet another day. But these attacks were perhaps a culmination of years of festering anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. The repercussions thereafter continue to haunt the world, with Iraq and Afghanistan becoming household topics! 'Democracy' came knocking on Afghanistan's door, and an apology of a government remained in power. But some things never really changed - Israel and Palestine continued their hate-hate relationship, with a rather intense fight breaking out in 2008.
As far as India went, in terms of politics and diplomacy, the unending suspicious ties with Pakistan continued, and after years and years of lobbying, we finally celebrated the de-hyphenation from India-Pak. Such ado over this event, why is all I ask, when a larger, more powerful neighbor hell-bent on taking away Arunachal Pradesh is a better entity to compare with in an attempt to improve oneself! Mumbai suffered more terror attacks, one at Gateway, one on Western Railway and the worst at CST, the Taj, Trident and Chabad house. And to add to it, Indian media went ballistic relaying all events on primetime TV!
Terror aside, the Indian economy shone. There was a fair bit of political stability, with one coalition keeping power for eight years. A person of non-Indian origin almost became the PM. While in the US Barack Obama came to power signaling a wave of the 'can do' spirit. Indian stock markets crossed 20,000, fell and toyed with the figure again despite the global recession.
China rose and is still rising. The Yuan, though is still pegged. 2008 saw a spectacular show by China with the summer Olympics announcing to the world that China had indeed arrived. India, in comparison hosted the Commonwealth Games amidst corruption of the highest, ugliest order. While on sport, I'll just say Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - two pillars of tennis history and two pillars, who I hope will face off in the next decade too. Again while on sport, I'll just mention Michael Schumacher, who built his record-breaking, record-making career in this decade, thrilling a million fans like myself. No more on MSC, because I could put in volumes on his scarlet days. So, just an entity that defined my taste in sport over the past 10 years.
This decade also saw Google becoming synonymous with search, so much that I just 'google' up some data! And Apple, the company forgotten ever since the alleged GUI theft event reincarnated as the suave gadget guru of the decade! i-pod, i-phone and now i-pad, Jobs is just one inventive genius indeed! From landlines to smartphones, the hand-held device just became an inseparable part of the common man's life!
Climate change is a reality. Mumbai saw insane flooding in 2005. Australia is seeing it now. China sees such rains and floods every year, killing thousands at the minimum! Drought in the early part of a year, followed by floods, insanely hot summers, unseasonal rains, extremely cold and unforgiving winters - this decade has seen em all! 2 climate change conferences at exotic locations later, we are nowhere near a tangible solution. Yes, we have exquisite concepts like carbon trading, carbon credits and so on. But none of those are making winters less severe.
This decade also lost quite a bit. Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns were lost in their true spirit, taken over, given a makeover changing the face of the Global financial system in toto. Michael Jackson, perhaps, was one of the biggest losses for music fans of Gen Y. People may say several things, but the fact remains that when the sound of 'Heal the World', or 'Give in to me ring out', the young heart still gets thrilled.
A lot more happened. But a post longer than so much would be mighty boring to write. So more, and perhaps the right amount to do justice to this awesome decade, maybe a tad later....
Monday, December 20, 2010
Try driving in a marketplace on a Sunday afternoon. Well, I did. Out of an innate laziness towards walking into the market, although I still claim I drove because the shopping list I had was humongous. Regardless of that, one hot, hungry Sunday afternoon, I set off into a marketplace, windows rolled up, sunglasses on my eyes, music in my ear, et al. I believed that people generally run errands on Saturday and take Sunday easy. So I assumed I’d be able to park, well at least park, if not park easily. As it turned out, the whole road was a parking lot. The road was filled with damsels in distress! Indeed parking lights were supplanted by the distress signal! People would just swoop into the roads and, well, STOP. At one such sample, I let out a louuuuuuuuuud honk, only to be met by nothing in response. Irritated, I wanted to move into an alleyway which I guessed would be less congested, only to find the entrance to the alley shut off by, yes, another parked car!
Distressed, annoyed, frustrated and with an aching ankle, (imagine driving for 15 minutes in first gear!), I cursed the traffic police under my breath. I complained to myself, lamenting why they were always absent on Sundays. Or any day when you wanted them most. I almost converted to Keynesianism, having sufficiently understood that the upwardly mobile Indian (read Mumbai) population, most definitely needed strict policing, to be held in check. If only there was one cop somewhere, maybe, just maybe things would be calmer. I could perhaps drive on the road, listening to my music, rather than wishing my horn would play a tune I liked! Maybe, I’d have to honk more at oblivious people, rather than at cars parked on the road, in a manner that looked as if the whole place had been hit by a hurricane. Maybe, I might have been able to finish my work and go on home, and stop my poor tummy from growling in anger!
The frustration gave way to a new determination. I decided that when in Rome, I will do as Romans do. Much as I hated it, I decided to park in the middle of everywhere myself and proceed to the shops to get my work done. To hell with road etiquette. To hell with my motto of ‘drive like you would want others in front of you to drive’. And I parked in front of the shop where I had to pick up the most number of things. I felt a weird sense of guilt, but I marched on regardless. I picked up the olives, the pasta, the sauces, the everything, thinking happily about the prospect of some food soon. I bought myself a bar of chocolate to keep my tummy at bay till that time and went on picking things off the aisles. Presently, I finished shopping.
A very large bag in tow, I finally stepped out, to find a large chalk mark at the place where I’d parked, with a message there asking me to come to the nearest police station and pick up my car!
Monday, December 06, 2010
All this is still beside the point. The point was the way one of the women spoke - complete with an accent. She acts in Hindi movies,is an Indian (unlike Ms Kaif, who makes no bones about the fact that she's firang), but still says frraaands, instead of friends. No, I don't wish to pronounce the word in the Pnjabbi way. But you get the drift.
Unfortunately, this is an epidemic sweeping across all of the upwardly mobile Indian population. It's a hilarious bug that's hitching on to almost anyone who has driven past the international airport! Fake accents are the thing of the day. So it's byilding, and not bilding. It's yaaas and not yes. It's fridee and not Friday. At times it's even Karadee, and not Karate, although ages ago, when we were still a developing country, we said karate as in karatay. The actual pronunciation is kara-tay from the Japanese kara- hatay. But since the west says 'the next karadee kid', we switch to karadee too!
If the obsession stopped with the accent, things would have just stayed funny. But the fixation goes beyond just speech to dressing and eating habits! So, formal clothes worn by Jennifer Aniston look good only on her! Indian women (and I don't mean the size zero wannabes) trying to fit into clothes of those dimensions are a pitiful cry for help. Self-proclaimed fashionista Sonam Kapoor herself declared that no one in the Indian film industry has a half decent fashion sense, (except her of course). So, if the glam industry has no sense, the common woman, clearly has no fashion sense. So, what is typically a pregnancy top in the west, becomes a cool, hip top in urban India. Someone wore it somewhere in a SoBo do, and it becomes the next biggest fashion statement! Firang evening gowns look good on well, firangs. But such is our fixation with all things firang, that we'd force fit ourselves into such a gown, and look like a complete, well, fish out of water.
Even dressing sense, is perhaps a thing that maybe just deserves some sympathy. What is most worrisome is the eating trend. Central obesity is a stark reality. Just look around you at the number of rotund people on roads or trains or in cars. The number of cars in Mumbai has blown out of control. People shy away from walking 10 feet. The other day, as part of an altercation over the phone, with a certain shopkeeper, I flatly refused to go and visit his shop for the 7th time for my merchandise and insisted he deliver it at my place. His reaction was, "Madam, aap mat aao. Driver ko bhej do!" So, the general understanding is that everyone, everywhere is spoilt for comfort. Nobody ever walks and the result is that India is turning into a plus sized country! Scary? Yes indeed. The stress levels, the filthy eating habits, the obsession with junk food, all point towards a ticking time bomb!
If only we'd not be so ashamed of being who we are! Indian English is understandable and it stands out, just like a German accent or a Japanese accent. Indian clothes are an object of awe the world over. The sari is by and far one of the most elegant, yet sensuous outfits of all time. And our food and food habits, well, most of it at least, is heralded as true healthy food. If only we'd really be proud to be Indian...
Thursday, December 02, 2010
But what wasn't missing, was the lack of umbrella etiquette!
So, you're this person of above average height walking on a sidewalk, and there is someone else walking towards you, with an umbrella held aloft her head. Above average height implies umbrellas held aloft others' heads are at eye level for you! So when people do not believe in umbrella etiquette, they walk on, oblivious to your cowering - an earnest attempt to protect your eyes. Then again, there are other ways of not displaying umbrella etiquette. Like putting up a wet umbrella on a train or bus seat, carrying around stinky umbrellas, stealing someone else's good umbrella after leaving behind your own crappy umbrella!
If only lack of etiquette remained restricted to umbrellas. Cell phone penetration in India is one of the highest in the world. Unfortunately, cell phone etiquette is an unknown term! And believe me, it is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of learning people in India need to get! I am not being overly conceited when I say this, but honestly, if you want to listen to 'Munni Badnam Hui', go ahead by all means. WITH EARPHONES!!! Try hopping on to a bus sometime, and I can guarantee you'll come across someone blaring music on their phones while giving everyone around a gloating smile that says, "Oh yeah! I have a phone that plays music!" And then you have the story of the ring tone. Ring tones seem to transcend generations. So you have a real creepy song set on loud as your ring tone. And it rings in a temple, or a doctor's office or just your own office! And unfortunately the tech-unsavvy person who perhaps still struggles with reading the displayed number, let alone answering a call, subjects you to such wonderful music for a good 50 seconds. Believe me, no matter what you went to the temple to pray for, you end up praying that God stop that cell phone from ringing. And He listens!
And the last form of lack of etiquette involves women on phones in the middle of the road! No offense intended to the fairer sex, given that I belong to the said gender myself. But honestly, get behind the wheel and try negotiating a turn while trying to avoid hitting a brightly dressed female who does not respond to a loud, incessant honk. Earlier phones used to be glued to just one ear. The other ear could hear a honk. Now, people have earphones to listen to music and listen to a caller's voice while on the road. And these wonderful devices, shut off both ears! Much to the talker's delight and the driver's chagrin. Why am I specifically mentioning women? Because once you honk loudly and then turn after going through a quasi nervous breakdown, these wonderful women, notice that it's a woman behind the wheel who honked and disturbed their phone conversation and give you such a dirty glare, that you honestly wonder whether you did something wrong! At least the men are more considerate when they notice a woman behind the wheel and move aside without so much as a second look.
Oh well, I must stay away from the perils of driving on Mumbai roads, especially those instances that involve women on roads or women drivers, since those stories make up epics I'll talk about later. As of now, it's a resignation with a sense of exasperation that accompanies cloudy skies and umbrellas or just everyday life in a cell phone infested city!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The history in a nutshell is this - Once upon a time, and archaeological remains apparently substantiate this fact, there existed a temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya (this is a point that the verdict will prove). Then one fine day someone during Babar's regime (whether it was Babar himself or someone else will be proven in the verdict) decided to build a mosque in that exact same place. When the British were ruling India, in 1885, the first suit was filed, when Mahant Raghubar Das wanted to build a raised platform here, and this was dismissed by the Brits saying you can't argue something from so long ago! The we got busy trying to get independence and then in 1949, once the ghosts of the Raj had started vanishing, some people decided to again rake up this old issue, only this time, breaking the seals and installing idols of Ram in the mosque. Then again, we got busy with underdevelopment, protectionism, terrible economic policies, grappling with debt etc etc, till one day in 1992, just after the reforms that opened India to the world, a bunch of Hindu fanatics, who perhaps had no other agenda to get their 2 minutes of fame went ahead and demolished the Babri Mosque. What followed was a period of 6 months every Indian would be better off forgetting, since it just highlighted the level of intolerance an Indian was capable of, all in the name of something as subjective and personal as religion!
So, now, after all these years, while glaring issues like bringing to final justice, the 26/11 accused terrorist Ajmal Kasab and trying to salvage India's pride at the Commonwealth Games continue to exist, we are too busy burdening the courts with this property dispute! And all this years and years after each of these said entities staked their claim on this property. If someone were able to talk to God, and were to ask Lord Ram whether, as the King of the World, (He had performed the Ashwamedh Yagna to mark himself as an emperor, who ruled the world), was seriously interested in those 67.7 acres of land, in all probability, He'd give a resounding NO! Likewise, Babar might not have cared as much for these 67.7 acres. He was one who gave up his life to save his son by arranging a direct barter with God. Do you think he could not have gotten those 67.7 acres free, from God?
When both the supposedly wronged entities don't bother, I wonder why the descendants of each of these religions bother so much. Why did someone, in the intoxication of supremacy raze a temple and why some others intoxicated by fanaticism raze this mosque? Again, when Muslims weave the garlands that are made for Ram's idol in that temple, why do others who don't stay anywhere close to Ayodhya decide to take to arms and weapons and hold a whole country to ransom? At the end of the day, when the going gets tough, every available God's help is most opportune. Then why the distinction? People have chosen to stay off the roads, traffic is thin, men in khaki swarm the streets. And everyone trembles at the mention of the terms Ayodhya and Babri Masjid. They are scared of repercussions akin to those that plagued a whole year after the demolition! In fact the riots of 1992, the serial bomb blasts of 1993, why, even Godhra as late as 2002, are said to be after effects of the demolition.
But in some ways, one needs a closure to this issue. On one hand, a Hindu can argue asking why he cannot have the right to have a temple at the birthplace of his beloved God. But then, one can ask, why that exact spot? Is the spot decidedly THE place where Lord Ram was born? He can argue again, asking why high-handed Muslims had to demolish a temple in the first place and say that he wants to be compensated for this. A Muslim can argue that in present days, when every Indian is allowed to have his place of worship, how could his place of worship be desecrated? And that he wants it to be reinstated. If a mosque were to come up again, Hindus, who have always maintained that they are the only majority that has never ever had its way will feel wronged again. They would feel that an age-old wrong has still not been righted. If a temple were to come up, then just like it happened in Shah Bano case, people would read the verdict with eyes tinted in a shade of 'vote-bank democracy'. Then again, no one really wants such a religious structure there. Let us have a simple empty prayer hall, where Hindus and Muslims pray together. Or let us have a unique structure with Ram's idols and a Tabut in them and have both religions pray to both symbols! At the place that has been the birthplace of communal tension, let us sow the seeds of communal harmony!
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The Commonwealth games form the perfect example. Somehow the organizers took the meaning of the word Commonwealth literally. Too literally! The Telegraph had this interesting timeline - »Nov 2003 New Delhi beats Hamilton, Canada, for right to stage the 2010 Games, after promising to give each country $100,000.
»Oct 2007 It emerges that work on the athletes’ village is yet to begin, while the new stadium cannot be built yet as the old one is still standing.
»Nov 2008 The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) insists the Games will go ahead despite the Mumbai terror attacks, in which at least 175 people are killed.
»Sept 2009 The Indian government reveals that two-thirds of venues are running late.
»Oct 2009 Michael Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), gives Delhi a final warning over the delays and sets up a review panel to monitor progress.
»Dec 2009 Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, visits Delhi and is said to have voiced “serious concerns” over the security arrangements.
»Feb 2010 Al-Qaeda’s Pakistani arm directly threaten the Games, warning that athletes and spectators who attend will face “consequences”.
»April 2010 Indian officials ban teams from bringing their own armed security staff with them, although security advisors will be permitted.
»May 2010 Officials warn that the Nehru Stadium and aquatics centre may not be finished in time, after the CGF identify 38 ’critical issues’.
»July 2010 The first venue is completed, over 14 months behind schedule.
»Sept 2010 Organisers play allay fears about a dengue fever outbreak in the city. Meanwhile, two Taiwanese tourists are injured when gunmen fire at a bus in Delhi. Hours later a car bomb explodes nearby. Police blame the attacks on “disgruntled youths”.
We had bid for the event 7 years ago. 7 years is enough to transform any place. Bangalore is a classic case in point - from a retirees paradise it has been transformed into a bustling IT hub within a decade. So achieving the target of rising to the fore on the surge of the games seemed possible.Not just for the romantic mind that believed in the power of belief, but even for the practical minded ones, who wanted proof of feasibility.
But one small point that had been forgotten, was the fact that Bangalore grew on the basis of free economic forces and that free markets ensured that demand met supply and caused a point of developmental equilibrium. In case of CWG, Classical Economics was left to the wind and the Government had stepped in! So by all definitions, things were bound to go haywire. That any form of intervention causes serious chaos is true and instances of the same can be seen on Mumbai roads as well - signals manned by cops are almost always in a state of chaos. But this story got all the more murky, just because everyone has been too busy with kickbacks and corruption over the past 7 years. And suddenly when the event was 7 months away, people felt that they had to somehow pull it off! And our belief in Karan Joharesqe stories made us believe we might just be ready with the whole village and infrastructure by the D-Day at a fraction of the cost, since most of the money had already been spent filling pockets!
And now, we're at a point of no return. It is going to be an embarrassment no matter what! If the event fails, India will never be a strong contender for any event of world consequence, except of course the Cricket World Cup, which has the blessings of the BCCI and having already greased the necessary palms, it will go on without any hitches. If we pull off the CWG, the victory will forever be tainted by the intense story of corruption, broken bridges, potholes, dengue, and athletes concerned about their own safety. If anything good is to come out of this mess, let's just hope that the world realizes the corrupt society we live in in India, with black money propping up the vibrant Indian economy. And let's hope India manages to salvage it's pride by refraining from any future attempts at showcasing itself in the global arena, since the showcase primarily has skeletons!
P.S. It really disgusts me to portray such a picture of my own country, which, save for such terrible ethics is a wonderful place to be in!
Sunday, August 29, 2010
So I'll begin with animals. If last week dealt with companion animals, or pets in other words, this week dealt with man's first best friends - cattle. And while we went to meet several of the healers, that did not preclude our meeting several of the patient species either! So on the roads, in the sheds and some even in the doctors' houses. Tied to posts outside their houses obviously. And what we realized was that of these doctors, several were not, well, doctors. Their treatment credentials were, doctored! But then like one of them told me, in chaste rural Gujarati, how does degree matter when you're able to produce results? Touche Mr vet, is all I could say! And while waiting at one vet's house (well let's continue calling him that), one guy came looking really distraught, saying that his buffalo was ill. The vet asked him, how long the animal had been ill and the guy's response was 6 months. 6 MONTHS???!!!??? Later my colleague told me that typically people feel that the animals are after all, well, animals. Robust, strong as a bull, the expression wouldn't have come up had it not been true, right? So give em anything or nothing at all and the poor things would heal themselves!
Now moving to high science. Oncology is a dicey topic. But the more you see the masked patients in wards, the true impact of mortality hits you hard. Like one person mentioned to me, sometimes one wonders what the whole point is. In some really rare and terrible forms of cancer, mortality is a reality, when is the question. Also the answer to when is even more painful, since long term itself is hardly 2 years. But looking at the way the disease is and how we struggle to find a complete cure, one can clearly see what life would have been like before the discovery of penicillin, when even a flu would perhaps have been as infectious and deadly! Also, people refer to hypertension and diabetes as diseases of the rich, since they typically come about because of the degeneration of lifestyles. But in reality, looking at the financial impact of any form of cancer on a person's life, quality treatment, rather any treatment, honestly cannot be afforded by all! And more often than not, people just give up.
In many ways, a cancer patient's condition is similar to that of the animals I'd seen before. The animals have no clue about what is being stuck into them - antibiotics, placebos or plain water. Likewise, those suffering from cancer know that they are being stuck with something unpleasant, since effects like neutropenia, where a patient's natural defenses are brought to 0, thus increasing susceptibility to all possible infections perhaps leaves the patient feeling completely and totally violated! The animal feels uneasy, but cannot communicate what it feels. The person knows about the suffering but can do little about it. The similarities were stark, and appalling. On the long drive from Baroda back to Ahmedabad, I had enough time to really wonder why the disease even exists. What could possibly have been God's plan in creating such a disorder and more so, what could He possibly have had in mind while inflicting this torture on young children. And I drew a blank.
As far as traveling was concerned, 4 wheels was a dream. Especially since I had an opportunity to cover the National Expressway 1 twice this week. Once between Ahmedabad and Anand and again to Baroda. However, on the day I went to Anand, the expressway was the only smooth part of the trip, since the rest was literally on a dirt track! The real meaning would perhaps come through when I perhaps put up some pictures, but dirt track indeed. And my driver was the kind who honked on the expressway. So you can imagine the condition of my poor spine by the time I got back to terra firma. But bumpy roads, preceded by bullock carts, at times preceded by bulls and buffaloes, and sometimes simply stuck behind a cattle crossing. All these escapades in pictures shall follow soon. But till then a starkly contrasted and deeply introspective week 4.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Long long ago, the benzene ring had caught my fancy and several years ago, this fascination led me through the doors of chemical engineering. Years passed. Life meandered through different curves and routes and then suddenly I saw myself looking at the face of a reactor! I saw a filter-dryer assembly. I saw the brightly colored, color coded maze of pipes all the while inhaling the queer smell that is characteristic of the CHEMICAL PLANT.
And the memories came back.
The visit to a sulfuric acid plant many many years ago. I remembered how the plant had its own captive power generation unit. I remembered the caustic soda plant where we realized that Solvay was a guy and not some suave process name that said that soda was made the 'solvent way!' The Linear Alkyl Benzene plant that was our project for a whole year. The early morning trips to the last stop on Mumbai's Harbor Line railway. The running out of the station to catch that company bus that would ferry us to Patalganga! Missing that bus once, and having to go through a route via Mopada in a vehicle called a Vikram! The wild cow in a rain puddle full of muck one day. The Patalganga river which we later found out was in effect a nallah for carrying effluents. The drongo, the snake, the striped tiger and the crazy guy who tied these entities into a story.
If that was not enough, then just looking at the equipment, gave me a thrill. Not because they were actually beautiful, but because all these pieces of equipment did not look arcane to me. I'd spent a year drawing them complete with nuts, bolts and flanges in some remote part of my life. I knew how thick the walls must be for a certain temperature and pressure. I knew the secret behind the color coding of the pipe mazes. I knew what happened in a milling machine. I knew what a jaw crusher was - and I knew that it wasn't a tool used by the mafia to aid them in their nefarious acts! I loved seeing the process chemistry and analytical chemistry labs, since HPLC meant High Performance Liquid Chromatography to me and not Himachal Pradesh Liqor Corporation or some such random term! I knew. I understood. I identified.
The Chemical Engineer felt alive again...
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Japanese peoples over the years have been a sheltered and protected community. They're not overly aggressive. In the early part of Japanese civilization, they were subservient to the Chinese. The very first mention of Japan is in China's Book of the Later Han, around AD 57, where Japanese are referred to as the people of Wa, comprised of close to around 100 tribes who used to come regularly and pay tribute to the Chinese. The Japanese king Suisho was also known to have presented Japanese slaves to the King An of Han in China'.
And then as the years progressed, in the Edo period, Japan began to notice effects of Western influences on its people. They got afraid of being subjugated by the 'West' and imposed a seclusion that lasted more than 2 centuries, only to be broken on gunpoint, almost! But in the subsequent Meiji period, Japan woke up. The need to prove themselves better than the Western Powers that made them open up to trade at gunpoint became all too important. A strong wave of nationalism swept through the nation.
Another undercurrent was the overall mild mannered nature of everything Japanese. In ancient times, the IRAA which was supposed to safeguard democracy and the Meiji constitution ended up being titular. Again, they were dragged into the first Sino - Japanese war. They seldom ever showed aggression, and Chinese and Russians routinely flirted with Japanese borders in the olden days. Again, while the world has been ravaged by religious wars - the crusades, wars between Islam and Christianity and the ever-present dissent between the Shias and Sunnis amongst Muslims themselves, Japan is an example of how 2 religions - Shintoism (the native Japanese religion that worships forces of nature, people, kings and so on) and Buddhism that originated in India and spread through China to Japan have co-existed.
And in a way all these cultural aspects have come to the fore in modern day Japan. Corporate culture is known to be mild, in fact too mild, such that people are wary about calling a spade a spade! They are in love with the status quo. In fact, I learnt from some Japanese that they revere Mt. Fuji because of its symmetric nature, that denotes stability! In the wake of a recession, therefore, sweeping reforms, like the kind that were needed a decade ago were totally missing - they privatized the post office as a way to get out of a recession! Anti - public sentiment measures are impossible. And now, as the world has been reeling under the Great Recession, Japan is staring in the face of yet another lost decade. Besides, one can see the after effects of the seclusion, in that they still keep themselves away from the glare of spotlights, and keep to themselves when it comes to their research or technologies or even plans and emotions!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
When the whole sub-prime season was on, Goldman beat the Street, so to say. And suddenly people were looking to Goldman to lead the way and show the world how business is done despite a slump in the sector, and a slump in the economy. The CEO was lauded, the world looked in awe as Citigroup was brought down to its knees and almost nationalized and Merill was rescued by the Government and BofA, while in the midst of this carnage, Goldman kept looking extremely strong.
And while all this has been happening, comes news that the CDOs that Goldman had been marketing had underlying instruments that had been chosen by Paulson & Co. a hedge fund that had intentions of shorting these same securities. The implication? Imagine sailing on the high seas in a boat knowing that the boat had a hole in the hull! And now, after the SEC has sued them and there has been sufficient hue and cry over the lack of governance laws, there has been an out of court settlement of sorts. The heads won't roll, the penalty will be at $550 million, and the core issue has now been reduced to a lack of completeness of marketing materials. All this, after Goldman initially denied any of these allegations. How then suddenly did they acquiesce to a settlement at all?
And then comes the insider aspect. Stephen Friedman, former Goldman Chairman and then audit committee chairman was accused of picking up Goldman shares when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve. All this while the Government was busy bailing out AIG and paying people caught in AIG's tentacles. So while the Fed clearly perhaps knew that such a bailout was imminent, they perhaps also knew that Goldman would be a key benefactor! How then could Friedman pick up shares that resulted in him netting a cool $3 mn in paper profits? The case is feeble, since they are looking at a possible exception. But reasoning begs that one understand how a legal exception can preclude common sense! Even if the law allows it because of a loophole, wouldn't a Fed Chief who knows about an imminent windfall not be making use of this inside information when he nets a cool profit through this benefactor? Another lapse in judgment came when another former director let slip news of Berkshire Hathway's $5 bn investment in Goldman. At least he didn't stand for re-election to the board!
While all this has been happening, people have wondered about the law. On one hand, one can see glaring errors of judgment. But they can also see massive loopholes in the law that allow one to simply commit the transgression and still skip away free. So who is the bad guy here? The transgressors themselves, for not having a conscience? Or the lawmakers for leaving laws so lax? We can argue both ways. One can say that transgressors will always exist. And it is up to the regulators to ensure that they don't run riot. But then, what happened to the Classical theory of Economics, that needs the least Governmental intervention? Can that theory effectively be put to rest having fallen prey to the machinations of the human mind?
The debate will forever go on. But till then, the media will have a circus to pry on. Had Merill not gone under, someone would have covered John Thain's multi million dollar loo as a Wall Street Heirloom, rather than glossing over the 'John Fiddled while Wall Street burned' image of Thain. But I guess this is indeed the flip side of capitalism - amazingly good as long as the going is great, but at the ebb of gloom when things go a bit awry.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
Saturday, July 03, 2010
This does not mean that the rainy season is a period of vacation for everyone in Mumbai. But rains bring out the quick-dry synthetic outfits, the all-season footwear, the psychedelic umbrellas, kids in bright colored rain coats, squeaky clean looking cars (thanks to a free car wash), and everything left looking as fresh and clean as new. The leaves of trees that had been covered in soot all along would suddenly look clean and green! And of course, rains bring out the coal-powered segris and with them, the ever-enjoyable corn, called Bhutta in Mumbai. The corn is roasted on the coal stoves, and then garnished with lemon, salt and chilly powder and a bite of something as delicious with the salty monsoon winds billowing against one's hair is nothing short of beautiful. And topping it off with a sip of 'tapri chaai' or the piping hot roadside tea while standing under the canopy of the chaiwallah's electric blue plastic sheet - ETHEREAL!
Monday, June 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
And it's not just tennis. Try thinking of Michael Schumacher! Seven times World Champion, not so in 1999, when all hopes were on him to get Ferrari out of 20-years-without-a-championship-victory and when he was so close to winning the championship, he broke his leg at Silverstone! And now, when he has come back, the world thinks he has lost his spark! Flavio Briatore said to the press that things have changed so much that Schumi may not be able to get back! Knowing the kind of person Michael is, always doing everything possible to win, one can only imagine how all this would hurt the guy psychologically! Always a winner, dominating the sport, to a place where he no longer gets covered in the papers post a race! Sport can be quite unforgiving!
I guess sport is as much a psychological game as it is physical. When Federer gave up his Wimbledon crown in 2008 to Nadal, the game stoked my imagination leading to this. That old post is a bit long, since I've added a couple of articles I'd read on Nadal just then. But anyways. The point is that the mind games or the games people assume are being played in the players' minds are interesting to imagine. Players putting their hands up in the air, shaking their heads at missed points or simply losing their nerve, exulting - all make for some really good imagination and introspection.