Thursday, December 30, 2010

2000 to 2010 : An awesome decade indeed!

A whole decade has come to pass, and this has by and far been a super eventful time indeed. (I follow the natural number system and not whole numbers and so I start my newdecade from 2011). Anyone can google up the events of the past decade, and wikipedia those events that interest them. But for me, the above line alone is indicative of the times between 2000 and 2010 that has just come to pass. And some things, that have lingered in my memory make an appearance here, unaided by Google!

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

Driving me crazy - II

Couldn’t quite help it. I resisted the urge. Turned my thoughts away as my fingers tingled. But try as I might, I just could not resist putting up my thoughts on the perils of driving in Mumbai. And I know I might sound like the eternal cribber, given that, and I guess I must be lucky to not know this first hand, Mumbai traffic on any day is much better organized than maybe the rest of India! But, cribbing and complaining are second nature to women and so, here goes – driving me crazy – Part II. Part I is right here.

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

A land of the Wannabes!!

The other day, I finally watched the episode of Koffee with Karan that had the so-called awesome ladies - Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor in konversation with Karan Johar. Yes, I was jobless on a Sunday afternoon and I really wanted to see what the yap was all about. As it turned out, it was really much ado about nothing! The women were dressed in identical looking evening gowns. One in brown and another in red. The one in red was so clearly uncomfortable in the outfit, that you really wonder who forced them to dress up that way! Plus, I could decipher precious little through the whole konversation, primarily because Karan and the two women were too busy giggling like little girls throughout the show! It beats me how anyone could have understood anything from the entire show to create a fuss about anything at all!

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

Etiquette or Eti-Quetty???!!

Mumbai has been seeing some really unseasonal rains, these past few weeks. November rain used to be synonymous only with Guns n Roses. But these unseasonal rains brought along not just a Londonesque climate but also all those multicolored umbrellas back outside. Although right now, Londonesque would be a weather of snow, snow and more snow. Nevertheless, the rains brought out poetic weather, umbrellas, chilly winds and everything nice. In fact, these rains weren't that bad, since the muck and drenching rains were missing.

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


18 years ago, a mosque was felled. Several hundred years before that, apparently a temple was felled to make way for the said mosque. And the debate on who wronged who is what is being fought out in courts. And the verdict apparently is to come out today. Honestly, after all these years, no one really bothers about what comes up there, since whether it is a temple or a mosque, neither of these structures is going to assist in developing Ayodhya! The whole case seems like a piece of mockery. Why? We're actually debating who that piece of land belongs to - Babar or Lord Ram!

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 Corruption Wrought Games

India is more often than not associated with happy endings. From candy floss movies, where strife in a family ends with everyone giving everyone else a big hug to the inevitable cricket match where somehow, India manages to turn a corner and win. But somewhere, this obsession with happy endings has perhaps led us into becoming delusional!

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

My two-wheeler diaries - Week 4 - No science, high science and everything in between

Now, before I begin, this one week has not just been on two-wheelers. 50% of the travels this week have been in the close confines of a car. And thank God for that! And this week covered, like the title says - high science with us having to talk to oncologists about therapies and on the other side, we had to talk no science with people in animal health. Yes animal health.

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

My two-wheeler diaries - Week 3 - a broad spectrum indeed

Time for the two wheeler diaries this week. Well, this week went from life savers to everyday medicines all the way to pooch care! And while the nuts-and-bolts level of learning was interesting, what I saw in terms of psychology and reality was even more interesting!

So, life savers. Let me be frank here. But observing the need for life savers at public hospitals or public-private places is heart rending. Those people, who throng the hospital in drones need the help. And without the concept of Government health care or Medical insurance, the financial implications are terrible! And this isn't an issue just here in India. The US has this issue of deep-reaching health care too. While the afforders can avail themselves of medical help, the poorer ones end up being on the wrong side of the life expectancy statistic! And earlier this week, when there were furious debates on the whole NDM -1 gene, although the debate was on a topic as frivolous as its nomenclature, one aspect that did come out was the unfettered use of antibiotics. And this is a reality, in the Indian context, given that there is no law to control OTC drug sales. I myself saw a chemist self medicating, and asking for certain prescription drugs and it was up to us to tell him to first see a doctor. But so many people, he said, walked up and bought drugs that had been prescribed earlier by a doctor for certain symptoms, that recurred! Scary? Yes indeed. Mutant strains of malaria are on the rise, which are resistant to antibiotics, and an unbridled use of super strong drugs can have terrible implications for the Indian race in itself!

Everyday drugs. Now, a scary trend here is that of people not completing prescriptions. The ailments can be simple. And if a dosage has been prescribed, more often than not, people stop the medicines once they find an ounce of relief! And they perhaps don't quite get the perils of such behavior at all! And knowledge of medicines amongst the rural illiterate population is a matter of worry. Since, one, they don't know anything about the science of medicines. And second, the supply through uncontrolled chemist shops stokes their ignorant behavior to a point of unabashed misuse!

And finally animal health. But more on animal health after I am done with all of it this week.

Meantime, a moment to talk about traveling. Some time back, there was a hue and cry on Shashi Tharoor calling the economy class on flights cattle class. Well, now I realize why they raised hue and cry. Because they felt that Dr. Tharoor was being very pro-upper echelons of society by disregarding the real cattle class. And I mean that the real sorry state of affairs exists in the common man's mode of road transport - the bus. Especially the inter-city ones. These buses are old, they rattle even on a super smooth expressway. They toss you high into the air on the other arterial roads that are not as good as the expressway. But God bless the Expressway, for keeping distances down and speeds up. As if the rattling were insufficient, these buses run packed. People undertake 2 hour long journeys standing up in the aisles. And there are some other fun aspects too. Like if the bus happens to stop at a large depot at a town on the way, where some people typically get down, expectant faces peep in through the window and throw bags, handkerchiefs and what not on the imminently emptying seats! Not just one bag, but a whole handful is sometimes tossed in! But squeezed into such a rumbling, rolling vehicle, you realize that one one hand, you have the Ferraris and Jaguars zooming into India, while a greater majority still travels as a foursome on a scooter.

So the learning was immense and the expectations are still higher for the week to come.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My two-wheeler diaries - week 2 : Health care and inclusive development a thought on 15th August

For my Two-Wheeler diaries - second week, it seems quite opportune that the Sunday for the post falls on Independence Day!

We've been away from the days of the Raj for all of 63 years now. A long time indeed. We do have a lot to feel proud of. from groveling in poverty, without enough to feed our own burgeoning population, we've become a food grain exporter. We've managed to curb population explosion without draconian laws like a one child policy and so on. We've managed to build our expertise in the service industry, such that the term IT Services is now synonymous with India. We've held on to our core competence of having a large English speaking population and with bills like the Right to Education coming through, we seem to be on the right track when it comes to legislation and policies.

But what I've seen over this past one week, and as promised, here are true blue insights - that in the real world, the story is not so rosy. On the macro level, we are extremely powerful. We're doing the right things, saying the right things at the global forums. But like we say, the India story is unprecedented. We cannot be judged only at the macro level. India is all about micro and grass roots. So, take the example of health care provision. The least that is needed is to ensure that all our people have access to good health care. And the key word is ALL. Granted, India is the hub of a multi million dollar medical tourism industry. We treat and give a new lease of life to struggling patients from Afghanistan, Scandinavian countries, and even provide affordable super specialty treatments to people from the West. I myself saw several African patients at the kidney research hospital, that goes on to prove my point!

But what about our own people? Why does treating malaria become so tough? Why do so many people still die of Malaria in India? Come monsoons, the water logging, and the resulting stagnant water becomes a malarial parasite breeding ground. And let's face it. Quality health care in India is not affordable to everyone. Over the past week, I have been appalled at sights of poor families crowding around the bed sides of patients, having to eat their meager meals, right next to the patient hooked on to a tube of IV fluid. Post surgical patients have to languish in the tropical heat with just a swiveling fan overhead, and that too shared by 2 beds! The floors are unclean and the walls are cracked. Civil hospitals are a worse sight. The cleanliness of the building premises is appalling. Granted, these hospitals have all possible departments - from a general ward to oncology and even kidney and liver transplantation. This clearly shows that the medical proficiency is very good, perhaps excellent. But the upkeep is downright terrible! Even this is minor, given that the pathogens are in check in these hospitals and the patients are in extremely proficient medical hands. But what about post-op treatment? Or ongoing treatment for chronic cases?
Take drug availability. In the absence of IPR protection, several large international firms were reluctant to set up a base in India. And now, with a strong patent regime in place, these research based firms are warming up to the idea of helping India heal. But then again, they have large inherent costs in drug discovery which makes their life saving drugs not easily accessible to all. But that does not preclude the socialist government from neglecting those who can't afford good health care drugs. Like the government is a lender of last resort, in a socialist setting, it is the government's responsibility to protect her people. It would be anti-socialist to let the poorer people fall by the wayside, just because they cannot afford the treatment that they need. A capitalist hospital can perhaps adopt methods of differential pricing to its patients, by segregating the payers from the poor, and it can also adopt cost cutting measures and procure the cheapest alternatives. But the government, which perhaps has the deepest pockets thanks to taxation is responsible for helping out those who can't help themselves! Restricting the high figure of life expectancy to only the affording class is a mockery of a country's population and a failure of the state at some level.
Clearly, all inclusive growth is missing. Clearly, we seem to be in a state where we want to follow the winning stories, for they look rosier and we want to wish away the morbid poverty that is unfortunately the truth for a greater part of the Indian populace. And if we don't act fast enough, the years would keep rolling by, the 63 can become 630 and yet we will have a divided billion Indians.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My two-wheeler diaries - week 1

Long years ago Che Guevarra embarked upon a journey to rediscover himself. And also to learn more about his own land - Latin America. From this year long journey sprang the Motorcycle Diaries'. I am sure most of us are acquainted with the book or the movie. But for the uninitiated, it is a chronicle of Earnesto Guevarra's travails through Latin America on a motorbike which first began as an exercise to practise medicine and ended up instilling a sense of revulsion towards the way life was for those in LatAm. So much so that he ended up becoming the world famous revolutionary, feted by communists and youngsters all over the world to date.

Now my chronicles are not so heroic. I cannot practise medicine (thankfully, did I hear you say?). But the likeness between Che's travels and mine, kinda hit me. Let's face it. If I began the post with 'On a hot sunny afternoon, we visited...' I'd have lost a reader! Rather, here, by opening with Che, I can be assured that you'll read this! Besides, Che went to practise medicine, and I am on a journey to rediscover healthcare in India. Che rode a motorbike. I rode on one!

So, my two-wheeler diaries are a thoroughbred CITYzen's look at an India on the roads. And I must say, Mumbai is definitely not India. And Ahmedabad definitely is not India. But for all practical purposes, Mumbai is an exception to the rule. Again, just like a very wise individual a year ago remarked to me that he used to ensure he got out of ISB every once in a while, just to get in touch with reality, since ISB was not Hyderabad, and certainly not reality, for me, a stint outside Mumbai opens up an all new India! Ahmedabad has an ethos about itself and a life of its own. A tier II city, nonetheless, but for me, any place not containing the hustle and bustle of Maximum City warrants an awestruck look!

So week one - keeping work related discussions aside - I noticed that the number of cows and bulls on the roads of AMD far outnumber the pedestrians! And when you travel pillion with someone, the sight of a bovine crossing is enough to make you freeze in terror. More so, what if the creatures look at you and you realize that you're wearing a red kurta! Furthermore, what if the creature has exquisite horns, much like the bisons of South Africa? Imagine you zooming across on a motor bike behind a big bus. You try to overtake the bus (don't say d-uh. All two-wheeler drivers here overtake buses. I wouldn't dream of overtaking a bus while sitting in the secured confines of a four-wheeler back in Mumbai, but nonetheless), and you shoot through their left or their right (thank God not the top, Chiranjeevi style). And moooooooooooooooo stands a bunch of bovine creatures! Screeeeech the bike goes. Mooooo the animal goes. Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez my head screams. One animal is still ok, but more often than not, happy family get togethers happen on the middle of C G road, or Ashram Road or any and every other arterial road! Whew! Or rather Mhoooo!

Second. When you are a pillion rider, you have a knight in shining armor right with you! Yes, on your head, your protector, gleaming in the sun, glistening in the rains, the visor protects your face in the rain and prevents you from looking like a Chinki, if you were ever photographed riding pillion, squinting in the rain. And each time the bike swerves, the knight calms you, saying hushhhh, it's ok. When a bus makes a precarious turn at a crossing, just as the bike zips ahead, and you almost think that this is it. You feel that the bus will certainly at least knock your knee and you'll be on the ground, and the knight says, 'don't worry, I'll protect your squash even if you come under the bus. Max damage will be restricted to the breakage of 205 bones, since the skull will be left intact.' Thank Knight for small mercies...

So much for week 1. Next time - true blue insights. And my take on what I saw as an India apart from Mumbai.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Of Boilers and Columns

The words pumps, pipes, reactors and filter-dryers are not typically words associated with poetry! But as it turned out, these very bulky pieces of equipment ended up etching a new memory point in my mind!

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

All hell breaking loose on Japan - blame it on their history

At times one wonders what Japan has done to get hit from all quarters. First of all they have been living in a recession since so long. They had a lost decade and now they don't seem to have found any respite. Then the doyens of Japanese industry, Toyota got hit, first with safety concerns of sudden acceleration. This was followed by public outcry over their apathy towards this issue and their lack of a quick response. And now,the patent fight for Prius' technology with Paice, the supposed holder of the patent for the technology that translates electric energy and energy from burning gas into torque. So as per a settlement, they now need to pay $98 per car as royalty. That means, $1.4 mn for June alone, and apparently Paice had spent $20 mn on the technology! Does that royalty figure seem fair? When in reality, it has been proven that the technology being used in the Prius has been developed by Toyota's own research. Just because the technologies are in effect the same, one should not ideally subject the auto major to such a huge royalty payment! So why in effect is Japan suffering this way? Could the answer lie in ancient Japanese history and culture?

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!

Now, trade has been hit, and the Yen seems to be strengthening compared to other surrounding currencies and the Government is being persuaded to do something about the fiscal policy fast. Whether they will take the supreme step of loosening monetary policy is yet to be seen. Years ago, Japanese, not having any avenues to invest within the country started stocking up on American properties. This blew up Japanese real estate into a bubble. And now apparently most Japanese banks are busy buying up stake in American banks. Where is this trend going to lead them? Only time will tell.In the mean time, their industry seems to be suffering - from apathy, lack of innovation, shrinking local demand and more importantly bad luck. The only way out would be get themselves a makeover in attitude!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Goldman Story

The whole Goldman story has been nothing short of a Bollywood potboiler over the past couple of years. And the best part is that there are no good guys and bad guys here. The more the saga unfolds, the more interesting it looks! But it has brought to the fore the very duplicitous nature of business and regulation, both!

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

Inception - Fabulously phenomenal to say the least

Inception. I'll be honest. The first time I saw the name and the tag line - 'Your mind is the scene of the crime', I imagined another Matrix. Zany stunts, psychedelic imagery, and a concept so abstruse that you need to keep Wikipedia open in parallel to understand what's happening. But then, there was this nagging hope that because this movie is directed by Christopher Nolan of 'The Dark Knight' fame, it might be understandable and the directorial pedigree meant that it had to be really good. In stepped IMDB and 9.6/10 with 2000+ reviews bode well and we took the plunge. And I came out calling the movie fabulously phenomenal to say the least.

The concept itself is out of the world - all to do with dreams, psychology and the sub conscious mind. A difficult premise, and decidedly very easy for anyone to lose touch with reality while making a movie on such a delicate yet arcane concept! But having seen Batman Begins, where the movie is all about Bruce Wayne's struggles with his own psychological demons and more recently the Dark Knight which was more a movie looking into the evil psyche of the Joker, one can understand that the Nolan would make a movie that has the potential to explore the intricacies of psychology, all the while keeping a strong plot in place. In a gist, as perhaps the summary itself shows, the movie is about manipulation of the sub conscious mind. It begins with a psychedelic sequence in some oriental place, and you wonder what's going on. Suddenly there are flashes of another place and a few moments later, you can link the two. Every now and then, there is this mystery lady who shows up and you are intrigued about her role in this whole charade. The movie begins in perfect Pulp Fiction style, with a standalone scene that has little semblance to anything. And once it grips you, you're there for the whole two and a half hours, glued to the screen. Part of the reason for this is that the editing is perfectly crisp, enough to make you quickly fill in the conjunctions while you watch the movie itself! Letting out more about the plot, would perhaps kill the fun in the suspense.

The Dark Knight won a lot more because of the evil portrayal of the Joker assayed by Heath Ledger. Here, though we have Leonardo di Caprio, fresh out of yet another psychological thriller Shutter Island, one can't say that the movie is awesome just because of one leading man. The whole story is very neatly woven with threads of the plot, the concept and an additional track covering a side story involving Leo's own life. Not once in the movie do you find a disconnect between any of these threads or a redundant scene. And this is what makes the movie even more interesting. If you are even a slight bit inclined towards the arcane nature of the human psyche, you will not only enjoy the two and a half hours but also the numerous hours you might spend post the movie, thinking deeper about the concept and trying to piece all the ramifications of the taut storyline. And the music - Hans Zimmer works his magic all over again. The haunting dream signal tune stays with you forever and the background score is an integral part of the story line.

All in all, a must watch. Don't let this one go. After watching this, you'll perhaps lose track of which is reality and which one's is a vivid dream.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Football and the European Crisis

Once upon a time, there was a colony of ants that was slogging it out on a hot sunny afternoon collecting and stocking up on food. While the ants were toiling thus, a grasshopper who was making merry and singing away to glory. The grasshopper ridiculed the ants and their toils in the hot boiling sun, while the ants just kept about their job. In a few months, winter set in. The ants were happy eating the stocked food, in the warmth of their ant hills. Suddenly there was a knock on their door, and the grasshopper was outside, asking for some food. The ants replied, "You sang all summer and didn't show foresight. You made fun of our work, so now spend winter dancing."

A fiercely capitalist ideology would perhaps hold on to this notion of pure meritocracy. Indeed the whole concept of 'too big to fail', that has been dealt with at length in several news articles over the past couple of years and also mentioned several times right here on the lilac avenue is criticized by economists. They are of the view that this whole backing of large corporations by the government or bailing them out of bankruptcy is in a way condoning their faults and gross mismanagement. And that gives a signal to industry that once you bloat up in size, it's your way or the highway.

So when Greece teetered on the brink of collapse, and several Eurozone nations looked rather precarious, (they were called the PIGS - Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), people started worrying about the Euro. They looked towards Germany that has been steamrolling its way towards becoming a strong force to reckon with. Their laws are robust. Their industry is solid. Other statistics are strong as well. Indeed, having paid reparations through 2 World Wars, battling hyperinflation and having almost a generation of people wiped out thanks to the wars, taught them the fine art of fiscal balance and thrift. So they didn't go about borrowing and spending their way to progress. They were the ants in this story!

The PIGS were the grasshopper. Greece is rumored to have debts = 150% of their GDP. Thrift or spendthrift? And so, when all hell began to break loose, and people started looking at the country, they realized that this bubble needed to burst. Having burnt their fingers once through the sub-prime balloon that looked bright and yellow for a while, before a ghastly blast, people realized that the kind of social security measures, the benefits, the lax labor laws, all were pointing towards economies that were living way beyond their means. So they dropped Greece as if their hands were smeared with grease! And pretty soon, IGS followed.

The world worried whether Germany, whose progress looked like it was in a way not being allowed to reach it's full potential thanks to being bogged down by the Euro, might want to break away and restart with the Deutsche Mark. It looked like a very tantalizing proposition. Indeed there were discussions happening to that effect! But then, here being fiercely capitalist and meritocratic may not really be the right option. A corporation is one model and a country is yet another. A corporation can fail, and cause temporary pain to some people, maybe even an industry, resulting in long term gains achieved through improved legislation and measures. But if a country like Greece failed, or rather was allowed to fail by Germany, Germany would have faced dire consequences. Germany's growth is to a large extent dependent on exports, especially to other European countries. So, if one of those countries failed, Germany would lose a large chunk of her GDP! So in a way, condoning the past follies of these countries and propping them up, seems like the best option for the greater good of European humanity.

That said, in a way Spain winning the FIFA World Cup is good news. No doubt Casillas and Co are a happy lot, having won Spain's maiden World Cup. The mood in Spain is upbeat too. Rafa won the French Open and Wimbledon after a one year hiatus. And now Spain has the World Cup. So people would be happy. Happy people perhaps would spend, and boost confidence in their economies and that might just be the point where the European economy turned the corner towards the good! Weird thought, but worth the cogitation, right?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

9th July 2010 - Another unique birthday memory

Oh yeah! It's that time of the year again. Once you cross a certain age, every added year looks like a millennium. All of a sudden, ankles, knees and everything begin to act up. And you realize - it's your birthday. But then, you have the life you've built around yourself over past years that ends up making your day go beyond just those creaking joints. It's all about being remembered by different people, who've had or who have some stake in your life, who in many cases, have perhaps not been in assiduous touch with you, but still remember and make the day special for you.

As usual, it was my favorite cousin who started it off. Her agenda was not to just wish me, but rather to ensure that she disrupted my sleep and that I was awake thanks to her! And then it was the ever dependable friend of mine from the Eastern part of the world, who had the privilege to wake up a few hours ahead of us Indians. But unlike me, who woke him up in the middle of the night at 3 am, just because it was still his birthday in my part of the world, this guy decided to just message me and prevent getting expletives from a sleepy me!

And then for the second time in a row, here I was bringing in my birthday at a new place of work, where no one knew that today was the day I graced the earth so many years ago. I kinda liked the incognito method of operation, because I feel that there are perhaps some things better left to zero publicity. And leaving some things out of Facebook perhaps holds on to some of the fun of anticipation! So, my oldest friend all the way from school, my closest friends from my first work place, some from undergrad, some others from various other walks of life all added that zing to my day. And the best part was being remembered and wished by my very first boss at work, and my very first super-boss as well, who've consistently remembered through all these years. And even better was the fact that my dear ex super boss promised me an i-pad. (Yup, now the promise is set in stone hehehehhe..:D :D)

So two rounds of cell phone charging later, I thought that my one year hiatus from Mumbai had not in any way diminished the spirit of kinship between me and my pals and felt very good about it all, as the day drew to a close. The weekend dawned and I decided to go visit my very first friends in the corporate world, at a place that still gladdens my heart with each visit. Little did I know what was awaiting me. All said and done, it has been 2 years since I stopped working in that place, but my closest friends there, my ex-boss included, decided to throw me a surprise fare, with my favorite black forest cake, and all my friends incidentally showing up at the pre-decided cubicle! And the cake cutting was in a typical ceremonial fashion, just like old times, and all my protests against having white cream smeared on my face fell on deaf ears. It just didn't end there, but rather a date with Tom Cruise followed.

Knight and Day - well - a cross between Mission Impossible and Jerry Maguire. But, ever since Top Gun, TC is a treat on any day, especially after sooooo long. The wrinkles have begun to show, but the smile still is as infectious as ever! The story was feeble, and like Teeps said, the movie should rather have been called 'battery', although when the titles began to roll, RB wondered whatever happened to the central character - the battery! But then again, a mindless movie starring a couple of lookers is the perfect definition of a weekend, especially this weekend!

The titles have rolled, the taste of black forest cake still lingers in my mouth. Yet again, a bunch of my friends have added another new memory to the event called my birthday. Thanks a lot guys, I really feel special!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The real reason why Germany lost yesterday...

I first saw them coming on to the field dressed in their conventional garb of white on black. And maybe I should have gotten the hint.

The contenders were the same as those of the Euro 2008 final. Germany vs Spain. Back in 2008, Spain was a strong team. Now, a fraction of that genius team remains supported on the able shoulders of Casillas. But then somehow, after the showing against Argentina, the German side looked infallible! Fine, so you trounced England 4-1. But in comparison, England was a weak side. And then you beat the side that was expected to win the World Cup 4-0. And that was when the dream got ignited. I rooted for Germany even before the Euro final, and spent a day after Germany's loss feeling very sad. I flew the German flag on a car, spent hard earned money buying a German jersey. I believed in the team. And then came Paul!

Now, Paul the traitor German octopus, who perhaps has a bigger audience than the German team itself, had been correct in all its predictions thus far. But if you looked at precedents, he had predicted a German victory in the Euro final and he had been wrong. So when newspapers screamed of Paul predicting a German loss, I felt that maybe he was half German and half Spanish, and so, his psychic powers were going skewed when it came to choosing between Germany and Spain. I felt that he was wrong in 2008 and maybe he would end up being wrong this year. My flag and the use of my jersey sooooo depended on his being wrong.

And then they turned up not in their black on black garb, but rather in their conventional white on black outfit. Red flags and panic signals went off there and then. I wondered why. If the black on black clothes hadn't been washed, big deal at least the stench might have kept the Spanish defenders away! And then it appeared as if the German team wanted to prove Paul right. It looked as if they had a duty towards ensuring Paul was right. As if Paul had pleaded to the team saying, "Please let my projection be correct, or my owner will sell me off to the sea food restaurant." And I must applaud the compassion of the German team. Man, had Maneka Gandhi or PETA seen their resolve towards protecting Paul the octopus, they may have received the Magsaysay award for social good! And they managed to keep Paul alive, by losing pathetically to a Spanish team that in a crunch match played like a team possessed. Although thus far, their game had been strictly mediocre, suddenly yesterday, they stepped up their game to the 'Germany-Argentina' level. And complacence or compassion ensured that Germany played football with only foot and no ball!

At the end of the day, my jersey is still tucked in, as good as new, with no occasion to wear it. I don't want to walk around wearing it with people saying, "Oh they lost soooo badly to Spain!!!" I've had enough of derision and sympathy on Facebook to want any more in the real world. The flags, however are still flying on the car, not because of any reason, except that no one can find any more Spanish or Holland flags at any store anywhere! And Germany still cowers with pain at the mention of the word Spain.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Muy Bien Rafa! Way to go!!!

I should perhaps get bored of writing about Rafa and his victories. But somehow, each tourney is special. And surprisingly different.

So this time it was Wimbledon. And 2008 was wonderful, since at the peak of his form, Nadal won the championship by defeating his arch nemesis, in Fedex's own favorite turf. And that was some match indeed, a gruelling 5 setter interspersed with rain, and a nail biting finish. After all, the pretender was keen and the emperor was ready to go flat out!

But this year, there was no such drama. Rafa sat out all of last year, and as aptly described to the interviewer, it was the most difficult task to watch Federer win last year, as he sat helplessly nursing busted knees and fighting to get his psychological stamina back. And many, I included, post Roland Garros, wished to see a Rafa - Fedex battle again. The kinds that we had in 2008. 2008 saw Federer fight it out with Rafa on the clay courts only to let the king of clay prevail. 2008 also saw Federer fight to hold on to his stranglehold on the grass courts, only to let the pretender snatch that privilege rather harshly from him! So, I would have been happier, post Nadal's regaining his form, to have seen a duel much like the one we haven't seen since the Australian Open 2009. But that wasn't to be. In a surprise defeat, Fedex was knocked out, and it looked as if once Nadal surpassed his French Open 2010 rival Robin Soderling, he almost had the gilded trophy in his hands.

People expressed awe last year when Federer won French Open. A few Nadal enthusiasts, me included pointed out that it was one thing to beat a king in his own territory and a completely different story to usurp a kingdom when the king is incapacitated or away! In that respect, Rafa's Wimbledon 2008 was a well-earned victory, where he beat Federer in his own turf fair and square and earned the title. Likewise, even Wimbledon 2010, where he beat Federer's assailant and proved himself to be a grass champion as well. In my view, using that logic, Federer winning French Open 2009, was not so momentous, since the usual suspect or the expected victor, was pretty much missing in action! No matter what the case may be, 2010 is a year of good sport action. Rafa is back, his mental acuity, and on-court agility are as high as they have ever been. He has been able to match every player stroke for stroke and emerge victorious.

And then again, we have the football world cup in Africa. But I won't dwell too much on how ethereally beautiful the men in black were on the field, since I've all of spent a whole post on that. But I saw this rather interesting article in the Globe and Mail near the start of the world cup, (look here) and I must say, that for the greater good of humanity and to be able to stave off a double dip recession, please God let Germany win the World Cup!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Black beat Blue, black and blue

Black beat Blue, black and blue! Argentina was touted to lift the World Cup and get the golden trophy back to Latin America. Maradona declared that he'd go dancing naked on the streets! YIKESSSS! I guess the cosmos wanted to spare humanity that horror and made Argentina meet the Men in Black for the quarter finals.
(Pic courtesy The Globe and Mail).

Anyone who had seen Germany had perhaps discerned that the team had a certain spark about themselves. But all along, no one spoke about them. Then they said Argentina was a sure shot. Lionel Messi was Magical Messi. The Maradona - Messi combination was supposed to be the next best thing since penicillin! Each time I'd tell anyone I know that I rooted for Germany, they'd say 'Boo... Argentina is the team to watch out for.' They even said England were favorites! But I admired the German team. One of the youngest squad of the lot, with Mueller being just 20! The oldest player in the squad is perhaps 26! Before being tackled by Ghana's Boateng in the FA cup, Ballack was supposed to be playing. And then when he was ruled out with a busted ankle, I was devastated. According to me, Ballack is one of the best captains the sport has seen and I must say, Lahm has lived up pretty well too. And then Germany lost to Serbia and people started telling me 'Podolski kicked a penalty shot into the goalie's arms! And you fly a German flag on your car????' But I stood my ground and then the match against England happened.

4-1, and the German team suddenly came alive. And today, they beat the best football team in the world, a team that was supposed to be unparalleled, a team coached by the legend Maradona. And that too, 4-0! The German defence was made of concrete! Even Magic Messi couldn't get close to getting anyone to score! Maybe the German goal in barely 3 minutes by Mueller rattled the guys in blue. But technically World Cup winning hopefuls shouldn't let their nerves get to em, right? And as for the goals? Well, Klose was missing in the game against Serbia, which was my reason as to why they lost. And true to thought, Klose scored 2 goals today and that too with inch perfect precision! It was a treat watching them indeed. This match was perfect testimony to the power of team work. Not one person looked to score for himself, unlike in case of Argentina, where passing for scoring was not seen as often as in the case of Germany. Mueller, Klose, Klose and Friedrich, all scored as if adding a cherry to an already perfect icing!

So the German octopus Paul was right. Again. (Look here). Wonder what it's prediction will be going forward. But this Indian says - 'It's been Deutschland this far. And the journey has been nothing short of dramatic.' Go Dramatic Deutschland!!

Bambai ki Baarish

This one is for the rains of Mumbai. The other day I happened to talk to a friend who recently moved to Mumbai. I told her that she has come at the perfect time to Mumbai, since Mumbai rains are nothing short of poetic. She in turn told me that she hated the rains and that she preferred hot weather! But I felt that she was missing out on something in life, by not really savoring the icing on the cake called Mumbai.

For me, the rains are synonymous with cloudy, dark skies, pouring rain, a calm, chilled weather outside, rainwater trickling down the long clear glass window panes, a mug of piping hot coffee in my hand, a good book in the other and perhaps Enigma, Enya or Yanni playing in the background. And then living in a city by the sea, rains mean huge tidal waves that lash against the wavebreakers off Mumbai's sea coast. Rains bring on those huge waves that send in misty sprays all over Marine Drive and Worli Sea Face. A picture of a rainy day would perhaps be incomplete without the swaying coconut trees and mellow, non-bright afternoons.

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!

Some of my friends complain that I love Mumbai to the extent of almost condoning everything that is not so good about her. And so, in an honest effort to be unbiased, my favorite rains do bring along a flip side. Heavy rains, though lovely, remain so as long as they are being enjoyed in the cosy confines of a house or an office building. The very thought of commuting in such weather is enough to bring out the groan from every Mumbaikar, even the kattarpanthi enthusiasts like me. Water-logging in places is a reality, although I'd like to believe that the volume of water logging has come down in the recent years. Trains get delayed and sometimes, water logged tracks in the heart of the city cripple train transport. Water-logged roads cause vehicular traffic to literally grind to a halt and the already dreadful traffic becomes unbearable. Walking in potholes and puddles is annoying for adults, although these are the highlights for kids!

Now that the 'unbiasing' is out of the way, I'll get back to the beauty of the rains. Imagine sitting inside a car watching the raindrops trickle down beautifully down the windscreen. Or imagine seeing the occasional raindrop clinging on to the tip of a clean, green leaf or the petal of a flower. Or sit by the window and look at the drenched crow trying to shake itself dry! And while seeing all this, just smell the scent of mud freshly soaked in rainwater. And then decide whether rains aren't a thing of beauty to be enjoyed and savored as much as you can!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Montreal 2010 - An earnest call for the real Schumi to return

The five lights illuminated, and the cars began to zoom past. Previously, Michael Schumacher who had vowed the world till 2006, ended up qualifying a dismal 13th! I felt first that the whole race would be a writeoff from Schumi's perspective. But them within the first ten laps, suddenly out of nowhere, the leaderboard said MSC 3rd! For a second, my heart skipped a beat. Could we be seeing a repeat of MSC at Montreal 2004 where he came charging up from 6th to win the race? After a powerful performance at Istanbul a couple of weeks back, where Michael came fourth, I was cautiously hopeful. (Pic cortesy The Age).

And then he pitted. I wondered why. Why spoil something that was going fine? But given that Ross Brawn and Michael have had many a winning partnerships till 2006, I said, let's watch. And the the guy who'd made it to 3rd from 13th, began slipping back. And back he slipped, so bad, that he was actually stuck behind any and every available back marker! Well, never mind, he who can climb 10 places in 10 laps can do it again, right? But then came the tiff with Robert Kubica. Over the grass, on the track, wheel to wheel, as close as it can be. The result, a place alright, but at the cost of a punctured front tire. Bad luck indeed. And so, off to the pits again, and after that, while everyone perhaps pitted twice, MSC pitted thrice, and so consistently lost track position. Till the end.

Post the race, people commented left, right and center. People said that maybe returning from retirement was not such a good idea. That maybe staying put as 7 time world champion was good. Even Flavio Briatore, wrote him off, saying that he had been away too long to be able to get back into the groove. But if you think about it, that cannot be the case. It takes tremendous drive to charge from 13th to 3rd. It takes even greater motivation to fight for a position like he did with Kubica. It takes tremendous courage to fight it out on track with kids 20 years younger. And it takes a champion to put one's body through that g force, through that heat, and constant stress to be out on a race track. A punctured tire is bad luck. And at Montreal, where everything depended on how best one nurtured his tires, the day just went bad. Besides, who will you blame for machinery, that could not provide sufficient straight line speed to hold on to a position and protect it from a Torro Rosso or a Force India??? It's a Mercedes at the end of the day!!! And it is totally unlike MSC to give up a position, without being totally helpless!

Well, whatever the case may be, psychologically, it is definitely very very difficult for a champion of Michael's stature to go through demeaning losses like Montreal. I can somehow see a repeat of the Michael days of 1998 and 1999 with Ferrari. Anyone can almost sense the angst that he might have felt, where being close to the championship, Michael broke his leg at Silverstone in 1999. But a 3 year contract is a long time. And a killer instinct doesn't disappear in 3 years! So even if he doesn't win the championship, I am sure that the learning he can provide to the Merc team is worth millions. He turned around Ferrari by 2000, and I, just like the million other Schumi fans across the world, who still wave that scarlet flag with Michael's face on it believe that one year of teething troubles later, 2011 will be a year to watch out for!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The scales of justice are lopsided

What I saw Wednesday
It's funny how so many things come together and make you ponder about an allied topic that perhaps ties them all together. This may sound all twisted and weird, but here's the deal. If we were to watch the news today, there is tremendous hue and cry on how there has been a total miscarriage of justice (a very trendy word, it appears for the media, who have been using the term from Jessica Lall, through Ruchika and now to the Bhopal Gas disaster). Anyway, the issue being talked about is our legal system and the way in which, people cringe at the mention of the word 'sue'. Not defendants, but rather complainants themselves who many-a-time choose not to opt for the legal route because of the slow churning wheels of the law and the high associated costs!

People died in the hundreds that night, when India was still a fledgling democracy. It's wrong to view a 1984 case through the lenses of today! Union Carbide has been taken over by Dow. The CEO is 90 years old! What punishment can you give a 90 year old man??? 20 years in jail?
Some points they mention in the case are rather sad though. That Union Carbide compensated the Government back then on the basis of the number of casualties they reported back then. But that was Bhopal, a small town in pre-liberalized India! An India that 6 years later would teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. How can you expect such a Government to provide veracious data? Statistics and data were not strong. Obviously they wouldn't be, since 1984 was still an age of Doordarshan and no computers, let alone spreadsheets and internet. And what about the millions suffering birth defects today? But then again, what happened to those who brought about the disaster at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? War time crimes do not classify as comparable cases, you say? Well, a human life is a human life, and prolonged, chronic, perpetual harm as an underlying thread is decidedly comparable!

Along similar lines of negligence, but on a smaller scale is the loss of life through negligent driving. Over the past 2 weeks, I've seen news of some top notch politician's kid ramming a suave car into a cab, an auto rickshaw, people, snatching away the ballast of a family in one rude jolt. A young mother of 3 kids, the eldest of which is 4? The sole earning member of a family of 5 young girls? And the perpetrators walk off on bail. And you truly wonder whether India is a country of numbers alone. A rather sad fact. Whether the anchor of a family dies as a result of a chemical leakage, or as a result of a road accident caused by rash driving by a rich kid, a family is devastated. A tragedy occurred in 1984, and almost 26 years later an apology of justice is being meted out. Several tragedies occur on Indian roads today, and 26 years later, I doubt whether anyone would even remember the incident!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

6-4, 6-2, 6-4 - Poetic justice at Roland Garros 2010

So Nadal won the French Open. Again. Big deal some say. Yes Big Deal indeed! And anyone who saw the match would perhaps agree that it was one of Nadal's great matches. Yet personally, I would still rate Nadal's Wimbledon 2008victory over Fedex, his 2009 Australian Open semifinals match against Verdasco, and his final against Fedex, all gruelling five setters as perhaps his best performances to date. In fact, in comparison to today's match, Nadal's semi final against compatriot Almagro, was more evenly matched, with Rafa having to sweat out every point! (Pic courtesy The Hindu)

But today's match is in no way a wishwash. One, because Rafa was coming back to his favorite tournament after a disgraceful loss last year. Second, it was a rematch of last year, where Soderling literally decimated Rafa and the world thought that a clay court pretender had finally arrived. After a blinding 2008, which had the Olympic Gold for Nadal as an icing on the cake, and a blistering start to the 2009 season, all of 2009 was a bad year for Rafa, both professionally and personally. Tendinitis and his parents' divorce managed to hurt the muscled man from Majorca enough to turn his game on a downward spiral! A man who perhaps never gets ruffled by anything on court. Or else how could one explain his victory from the 'baselines' at Wimbledon 2008? And here he was, fighting all those ghosts of the past year, to put to rest thoughts about whether the pretender had arrived!

I can only imagine the emotions that gripped Nadal, while entering Philippe Chartrier. Time to avenge last year's loss? Time to reclaim what had been his for over four years? Time to get back to the world? To date, the French Open perhaps was the last place he ever had to prove a point, although not this year. The records and stats in his favor may not be staggering yet, at least not as much as those of Fedex, but an imminent No. 1 ranking, 5 victories on clay, just one short of all time great Bjorn Borg. And he just turned 24! I am sure if he were to capture his emotions on canvas, the outcome would be psychedelic to say the least. And the setting was magical. The sky was overcast, in a typical theatrical Hindi Movie style; with perhaps just lightning and thunder missing! And the symmetrical 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory was pure poetic justice.

No matter what happens at Wimbledon a few weeks from now, the King of the Clay Court is back and he is on top, ranked World Number 1, despite a whole year off with an injury last year. He has a rather unassailable lead going further, and as for his game, I guess it is safe to say that his legendary killer instinct is back...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The game - More in the mind and less on the court!

Thoughts on Thursday
In the match between Fedex and man-on-fire Soderling, I remember seeing that green advertisement board in the court that had Adidas and Fedex side by side. At first sight I misread it as Adios Fedex. Unfortunately, that was what happened. Beyond a point, Fed just gave up. And his body language betrayed that! Try imagining what went on in his mind - 'I won here last year, and here I am losing it even before the semis. That too, not to my arch nemesis, but to this kid Soderling! What will everyone say? That I won last year because Rafa wasn't here?' Looking at Rafael Nadal literally slip, slide, run, smash and work for every point, evoked a ton of thoughts. Think of what might have been playing on Nadal's mind when he played Almagro - 'This guy, from my country who I beat 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 last time, has pulled me on to 2 tie breaks!' Or take Almagro's musings - ' Man. I fight out every ball in every game and this chap is God in tie breaks and so he wins!! Where is justice in this world?" In fact, tie-breaks are perhaps more trying, since each point, each service game, or even each break point is evenly fought for. At such times, like say in the match between Rafa and Almagro, one's heart perhaps goes out to the underdog, who fought so hard and yet lost!

At key times, the nerves take over. Take Sam Stosur. When she was serving for the match in the second set, she committed a double fault! Her first serves never went through! The nerves were visible in out-of-form Sharapova's match against Justine Henin. Or even in case of Djokovic against Melzer! All of last year, since Nadal's loss at Roland Garros thanks to tendinitis, there were talks, including an interview in which he said that his parents' imminent divorce had taken a psychological toll on him, because of which he couldn't give the game his best! At such times, one wonders whether a psychologist is as essential as say a physical trainer!

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.

An awesome day for the racqueteer

Two racquets, a net, tennis balls and a clay court - all it takes for some breath taking action. And that is what the French Open has been over these last 11 days. There have been the highs, with some brilliant matches and there have been the not so great ones too. But which days stay on in your mind? I guess those that have evenly matched opponents and a real fight. That's how it works for me, at least!!

Like people said that the match between Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet in the first round, where Murray won was a brilliant match. But I saw that and there really were hardly any sparks in that match. It looked like two men playing with bowling balls! There was no strokeplay, no taming of the ball, no brilliant shots, nothing that caught my eye and certainly nothing that caught my imagination and wonder! Or take the match between Samantha Stosur and Serena Williams. Serena did win at Roland Garros in 2002, and more recently, she won the Aussie Open a few months ago! So clearly, she isn't a novice on clay, but the game she played against Stosur was plain BAD! Imagine, Stosur couldn't get through on first serve EVER! At times I wondered whether those sunglasses prevented her from seeing the bright yellow ball or the net! And yet Serena lost to her!!

But take the match between say Andy Roddick and little known Gabashvili the other day. The strokes were brilliant, there was pace and there was something worthwhile to see in that match. The way Roddick ran for every point, the switch between baseline play and volleys or even the ever beautiful drop shots, was nothing short of poetry. Or even take the match between Rafael Nadal and Nicholas Almagro today. 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. Now that is something someone would spend 2 hours watching. Clay God being made to literally run for every point! The energy in every shot, the choice of shots made for some really interesting watching! Even the match between Melzer and Djokovic, a ton of a five-setter was worth looking at just for the evenly matched opponents and their game. So today, with the match between Nadal and Almagro, Djokovic and Melzer, Stosur and Serena was perhaps the best day for the racquet fan, or the racqueteer as I'd call her!

Not most of the draws that happened over the past two weeks would perhaps be repeated at Wimbledon, or for that matter, anywhere again! But for all practical purposes, it has been Game, Set, Match - TENNIS. Can hardly wait for the weekend...