Monday, December 26, 2005

Pretty Tied Up.

Sometimes I get very complacent on the job and I think I know a lot more than I actually do. I am working on something about an industry which I thought I knew fairly well, however I was told (and I had already made up my mind) to go into the job without any preconceptions about this industry. Surprisingly, despite five years of tracking this particular industry and having a fairly decent rappot with some of the more senior figures in the industry, I was rather surprised at how easily I managed to do a Ctrl-Alt-Del. Wiped the slate clean and began afresh, somewhat. And it has been a fairly interesting story of discovery so far. Things I thought I knew well, I don't. Some things I thought were done one way are actually not done 'that way' and some concepts are wrong. I'm rather surprised at how things have gone, and they aren't even finished as yet. Until they do get over I shall lapse back into blog hibernation mode. Maybe the snakeman can regale us with tales of who is going to be suing him for electronic stalking - by the way Snakey - I'm still iffy about your channel. CNN-IBN is nice, even decent perhaps, but it misses that certain something. So Undie TV it still is.
On another note, read this post of mine I made several months ago on the maths of low-cost flying. Not all the numbers may hold true just now, but it will give you an indication on how tight margins are in the low-cost business. Therefore thrteatening to bash employees up will get you nowhere. And I wonder why Captain Gopinath has switched his mobile phone off? However, no matter what, the airlines have no excuse for not training their pilots for Category III-B landings, which allow landings at visibility levels as low as 250m. The situation could have been much better if our grossly over-paid pilots knew how to at least take advantage of technology. By the way, if you're wondering why Delhi doesn't have a Category III-C landing system as yet (zero-visibility landings), blame the Indian Airlines terminal and the proximity of the highway.
This is an interesting PC World article on the top 50 gadgets of all time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

the Daily Irrelevant » Blog Archive » Letterman Restrained by Tormented Fan

Hmmm ...

From here:

David Letterman has been temporarily restrained by a woman who believes that he torments her over the airwaves using a secret code.

New Mexico resident Colleen Nestler filed court documents late last week, alleging that Letterman has been using code words, gestures and “eye expressions” for more than 10 years to convey his desire to marry her and train her as his cohost.

As a result of Letterman’s alleged methods of torture, Nestler claims she has suffered from “mental cruelty” and “sleep deprivation,” and has been forced into bankruptcy.

She was granted a temporary restraining order by Santa Fe District Judge Daniel Sanchez, who signed off on her application and set a Jan. 12 court date to determine whether to make the order permanent.

In her six-page letter to the court, Nestler requested that Letterman stay at least three yards away from her and that he not “think of me, and release me from his mental harassment and hammering.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The curious case of the corrupt manager.

While I have a huge votary of tabbed browsing thanks to Firefox, toggling between ten open tabs (almost all work related, but at least one with some eye candy), waiting for one to load or not load whatever is the case and making phone calls trying to discovery the intracacies of why consumers love or hate alloy wheels among other things, I haven't been able to blog much of late. OK, so lets get down to it. One issue people have been talking about of late has been the Vivek Prakash fraud at Samsung.
The crux of the case is that this man supposedly embezzled Rs 18 crores from Samsung. Now, Prakash did his PGDM from IIM-B and the discovery of this case has led to several IIM-ites mourning the loss of innocence of their institutions. Whaaaaa?
Recently, I was at a dinner where I was talking top two senior editors and one mentioned a very pertinent fact - the IIM's produced the private sector equivalent of the IAS - they produced the bureaucracy for the private sector. Now, by this I don't mean to use 'bureaucracy' as a dirty word - but that was essentially their function. Now, the government bureaucracy has become riddled with corruption, so much so that now mythical tales of the levels of corruption in India are flooding discussion-boards across the internet. The point is that Vivek Prakash being corrupt is not something to be mourned but studied a bit more. Corruption is endemic in India, to the point it is part of our value-system.
Corruption happens at several levels. Techies and Managers were aghast when Intel rid itself of 500 people because they fudged Travel Reports. Again discussion boards were full of comments criticising the American company, similar sorts of boards that bitch about corruption of the police and MPs. But isdn't fudging reports for personal gain (of any sort) 'corruption'? We laugh when gullible tribal Members of Parliament are conned by Rs 10000, but when you over-charge your company for Rs 20000 during a one-month trip its good? I would reckon that many of these 550 people were fairly well educated and very middle class.
The probelm with Indians, and sorry to stereotype everybody and tar them all with the same brush - but sadly life kind of highlights stereotypes - is that we'ld do anything for a fast buck. The amount of times people try to scam their way to success isn't funny.
We'll con as much as the opportunity allows us, so if we are a High Court Judge in Delhi granting stay orders to demolitions on a particular street, we would do it for a 'sexy massage'. Bureaucrats would do it for more, lets not even start with City Planners. Politicians do the same - but here is another point I would wish to make - a Member of Parliament faces a lot of costs - every MP has to put up thousands of guests at his official Delhi residence every month, who come to Delhi for reasons ranging from Medical Care to Travel. This costs money, and for this, politicians are not paid by the Union of India. Plus, if you are unfortunate to be a MP for the BSP, you will have to make money hand over foot to pay your leader (to whom you would have anyway paid a seven or eight figure sum to get elected). Sadly, this means that money has to come into the system from somewhere - even dotcoms would do. And to some well-intentioned friends out there who are screaming 'Ban Lobbyists' I would suggest they take a one-way flight to Pyongyang.
But then again, we all know that politicians, bureaucrats, the judiciary (at least the lower levels) and government officials of all colours, shapes and sizes are on the whole rather corrupt. Our only saving grace is that we're not Bangladesh.
Anyway, back to the point of the post, Vivek Prakash was a lot of things - I've met him and my most overwhelming memory - the guy was a megalomaniac in the Rajeev Karwal mode. But Prakash also knew that journalists were corrupt and took full advantage of that - Samsung not only took journalists of junkets to South Korea but also lavished all sorts of gifts (big white/grey boxes) on them. But he is not an aberration - he might have overdone things a bit - but he is just the tip of the iceberg. Because the private sector is as bad as the public sector. Promoters skivvying funds from the company books to pay for their daughters wedding or executives living lives way beyond their means are not new stories. Heck, two of India's most 'respected' businessmen have ethics problems - one dabbles in the markets ion a scrip he holds an overwhelming majority in (but then again, insider trading is endemic in India) another withdrew his groups adverts from a large publication house because they dared to write the truth about his involvement in a financial scam. And we aren't even talking about Reliance Industries over here.
Vivek Prakash got caught! But we continue to celebrate the rest. In case, he didn't get caught, some of us media people would be celebrating the IIM-B alum today. Oh, and to point out that this in no way has changed my stand on shadier MBA institutes - the IAS is still the most sought after job after a liberal arts education and IIM's will continue to be the most sought after job after a technical education. Going to the other schools (save a few, but including the Indian blogosphere's favourite non-accredited school) would mean that you'll end up as a doorman or something.
Just a couple of links again - I knew the Japanese are a strange race, but whoa!
AdAge has posted the top-10 adverts of 2005 that the US (and India) will never see. Raaaaaceee!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Sankeman commenth

The last post is by the Snakeman, after months it is nice to see the resident insider from Rajdeep TV blogging here. I got a glimpse of Rajdeep TV today afternoon and guess what I see, the wife, CNN-IBN is such a bad name - Rajdeep TV wopuld have rolled off the tongue so much easier and it also would signify the channels core philosophy - Rajdeep 'Bleeding Heart Congresi Liberal' TV. I saw a couple of broadcasts, not bad but somehow, Undie TV is still where I'll turn for my news.
That said, I've beginning to like Headlines Today quite a lot, its a bit too bright at times, but watchable. However, sorry Snake, I'm still fida over Undie TV and its not because I know a lot of the people working there. But I'm curious about the part where you mentioned that a lot of insiders at Raghav Behl and Company blog. I know of a couple - yourself and the Codey. I bought a TV today and I just made sure that Travel and Living comes on the prime band. Actually, along with the History Channel, that is the only channel I care about. That channel in itself is worth the Rs 350 a month I'll be paying the cable guy. More importantly I also got the spare DVD player from Delhi and I will visit Movie Empire on Carter Road more frequently for movies. Life just got a better.
And now, I have to go for the Buddy Guy concert at NCPA. If you haven't heard of Buddy Guy, check out this classic DVD sometime. You know LG's corny ad tag-line "Life's Good", well, I feel like that right now. The only thing that would make it perfect would be, heck I can't say that here. And if you have some time, check this webcomic presenting a dramatically alternative view of the Bible. Oh, and please do check out this post on the other blog, a rather nice 'meaty' piece of writing if I say so myself. Also, I reccomend that you buy a copy of this weeks special 30th Anniversary India Today, not for S.Prassanarajan's piece on Laloo but for everything else. It is the best issue of India Today I have read in years, full value for 20 bucks. And Snakeman please continue to tell us of all insider happening at the Rajdeep HQ.

I'm live

CNN-IBN just launched ... and my anal friend from features (MAFFF) has taken on the blogging community .. and for once, I think he's got it right ... check this link out: ... a couple of weeks ago, MAFFF sent out an email to sus(h)ubh asking him to participate in a story ... sus(h)ubh decided not to in a very vocal manner ... so MAFFF responded in an equally vocal manner .. and now they've got a bit of a war going on!

Getting back to the news of the day ... CNN-IBN is happening in your city right now .. check with your cable operator ... we went live last night and it came as a bit of a shock for everyone in here ...

BTW there's a community of subversive bloggers hanging around here ... expect more information soon about the dirty underwear of this news channel ...

And check out ... the people in there are doing a great job under inhuman conditions ... more about the conditions later ...

Friday, December 16, 2005

We damn Ganguly and praise Karthikeyan?

In Indian sports even moderate success by international standards welcomes a media frenzy. One Silver Medal at Athens and the next day the press has gone mad, the five thousand and one news channels are outside the medal winners house and start interviewing his bemused neighbours for lack of anyone else. Plus, Narin Karthikeyan is praised to high heaven for his insipid first season in F1. I'm not saying that Karthikeyan is a bad driver, I'm sure he is far better driver than me, but all that he has done is promote some rather unsafe driving through his adverts for 'Speed'. But, in F1 NK (as the ten auto magazine editors who love him call him and that I will use for the rest of this post because I'm not going to type Narain Karthikeyan thirty times) has been a bit of a damp squib.
My respect for NK tumbled after he tried to justify racing in Indianapolis. However, in today's Ganguly dominated Sports pages, I noticed the news-item that NK finished higher than Montoya in a test. My question is, so bloody what? This was an F1 test and tests needn't be done to check the absolute speed of the car. Kind of reminded my of the headline that both ToI and HT used when NK qualified ahead of the Schum-ster in a race, they highlighted that fact and ignoring the small itsy-bitsy detail that MS had spun out on qualifying until the third para. Brilliant! Accurate reporting, no way! I'm happy that an Indian raced in F1 and didn't make as big an idiot of himself as the first Malaysian in F1 - Alex Yoong but I am very sure that the $6 million that NK paid his team for the drive and the $5 million extra that he spent on logistics was money badly spent.
Now we come to the Bengali, our deraly departed (from the cricket team) captain, Sourav Ganguly. I don't think I can put into words my contempt for the Indian selectors better than Greatbong. While I agree that Ganguly is past his prime and deserved to have been removed from the captaincy sometime ago so that the next generation can take over (which is why I now believe that Yuvraj Singh should be made Team India captain sooner rather than later) and that he might have warranted being left out of the playing 11 sometime back, what did he do wrong in Kotla? Sharad Pawar has not only finished his honeymoon at the BCCI, but he has actually politicised the BCCI even more, something that Jagmohan Dalmiya prevented. And now those evil Bong communists are revolting (but for once I support them) and while they haven't yet threatened to bring down the government, I believe they should. Yet, certain parts of the media hate Ganguly with a vengeance - they detest him. The current winning streak (against a team that is looking decidedly weak and is on the decline) is being hailed, but have we played some semi-decent opposition lately (Well, the South Africans were, but there were some dubious pitches in that series). Ganguly should be given a fitting farewell, a farewell fit for the man who took India to its best WC performance since the fluke of 1983, this is the man who led India to its best modern-day tour down under, who ruined Steve Waugh's farewell. If modern Indian cricket is where it is, it is because of Sourav Ganguly. Yes, I believe that Ganguly should not have played the 'Bengali' card so much. But this is not about Bengal and Bengali's, its about Indian cricket. And this episode is doing Indian Cricket no good. I was one who believed Ganguly should go, but no-body deserves to go like this. Only Ramnath Goenka treated Arun Shourie worse.
I've got a bad feeling about the England tour (and even scarier our visit to Pakistan) - sure we have a mad wicket-keeper batsman and a devastating fast bowler (x1) but just watching Pakistan yesterday was scary. Very scary. We'll get whipped over there, Bob Woolmer has done miracles to that team (other than remove Mohammed Yousef's tinge of selfishness). And then we'll see this entire new disposition fall down like a pack of cards, because I'm not seeing miracles in the Indian team. And after watching the Australians and the Pakistani's, 2007 doesn't look good at all.
Let Ganguly go the way Steve Waugh went, don't make him a pawn in Machiavellian politics. And yeah, sponsors, don't stump up millions for a another season of NK.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Out of focus.

I forgot my glasses at home the other day. I've been wearing glasses for over a decade and I've had the most godawful luck with them. I've lost glasses in rivers and deserts, stepped on them by mistake had them broken by stupid goons in school but Monday was the first time I left them at home. And even though I realised this within seconds of stepping onto an autorickshaw, I was already too late to rush home and get them. My power isn't so high that I can't do jack, so office was OK, though people in the distance appeared blurry, but the walk back to Churchgate was weird. I walked down Marine Drive because of the nice breeze and my entire world seemed to overwhelmed by amber. It was like a out-of-focus camera, I mean not too out-of-focus but everything seemed surreal. And then I treated myself to a Baskin Robbin's ice-cream.
That said, life of late has been a bit on the hectic side, fewer posts to complain about the state of the media. But, let me, just for a few lines look at the 'Questions-for-cash' scandal. While I believe that such abuses of democracy need to be brought out into public, this was clear case of entrapment, which is illegal in certain countries. Of course, had the politicians even had half-a-brain to look at the questions that they would ask before they took the money, or even after that, they would have realised the stupidity of it all. All that this will do, is that it will force the average politician to maintain to far more intricate bribe-taking system. Like certain ministers in the government employ their children to be their go-betweens, more people will start doing the same. The power of lobbying has been known for years, if you have ever seen the stacks of parliamentary questions, and I mean stacks, half of them seem to have been written by certain lobby groups.
Lobby groups for years have paid politicians with cash, wine and women, not just in India but across the world. I have always had this slightly weird opinion of 'Sting' operations. Now, in the case of the corrupt Delhi Police cop who asked a family for money to release a body, the money was asked for first - Undie TV then did a great job exposing the person. But India TV's silly expose of the casting couch was derided and rightly so because it was a TRP gimmick. Star News' 'discovery' that film-actresses sell their bodies (ratherB-grade actresses who pay their way into music videoes) for money was also an open secret. Putting it on TV serves little purpose.
What really baffled me was the piddly sums of money involved. Piddly. A question for Rs 5000? Man, I'm embarassed. And another question, obviously these 11 weren't the only ones targeted, I'm sure several others were on the hit-list too, but might have been a bit smarter than to take cash on camera. Again, the problem with such a story is what you don't see on camera. Who were the honest ones who NISMA to screw-off? Who the hell facilitated the deal? Unless you know the pimp, you don't know the story. Too many unanswered questions. And more questions are being posed everyday.
Many on the Indian blogosphere feel kicked because their names were used on one question, and because of that no-one has been questioning critical issues. However, no-one's been asking the questions that only the mainstream media seems to have been asking? Of course, this will die down in a few days, these politicians will be suspended for a couple of weeks and we'll be back to hunky-dory. Sigh! As I said, the only lasting impact of this sting operation will be a dramatic change in the bribe taking infrastructure of this country.
Dubner and Levitt of Freakonomics fame have written a brilliant article for the NYT!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Arbit Shite!

Its been one of those weekends. Copious amounts of alcohol, including a Single-Malt tasting session, the assorted pretty girl in a strange backless dress, the waking up in someone else's house thing, wanting to jump off a high-rise thing, meeting people after five years thing and generally stupid stoned/drunk conversation. I mean, things got so silly that one of my friends, whom we shall call 'Famous Film Critic' got a bit too drunk and me who is currently fida over the Nokia N70 I'm trying out (I'm spoiled for choice right now, I have an LG M4410 and a Motorola RAZR L6 in my drawer - its just that the Nokia is sooooooo much better) decided to make a short film. The film is hilarious, and I'm actually contemplating submitting it for one of those new fangled digital film festivals where they like short two minute movies made on cellular phones.
Talking about movies made on cellular phones, I am flabbergasted at the sheer amount of mobile pornography available on the internet. What amazes me is that these are regular people just shooting the women they're having sex with. What is even weirder is that in many cases these 'women' happen to be 'escorts' (massage girls in Indian classified parlance). However, what really surprises me is the amount of people who around searching for pornographic clips of celebrities. For example, there are a lot of visitors to this site who land up here searching for a 'pornogrphic' video of a rising Tennis sensation. Sigh! And if you talk about sexuality in this country the so-called 'moral majority' gets all hyper.
On Saturday, there was a huge rail-roko on the Western line, thousands of commuters who were led by an 'apolitical' NGO (which was headed by the former BJP MP for Mumbai North Ram Naik - 'apolitical' yeah right!) blocked trains on the Virar-Borivali stretch. Tens of thousands of commuters were stranded, but in a weird sort of way I actually supported these folks, and I've never actually supported such protests. Why? Simple, though I've never travelled beyond Goregaon on the Western line, I saw the fact that there is no quadruple line between Virar and Borivali, which means all the long distance trains on the Western Railway which arrive in the morning or depart in the evening occupy the tracks and daily commuters suffer. There has been talk of quadrupuling the lines for over a decade but nothing has happened, while the number of people staying beyond Borivali has shot up three or four times.
What is even more ironic, is that according to official statistics over four people die every day on the Western Line alone. And those are official stats. In my four months here I've been on trains that have run over people twice and I've spoken to friends and colleagues who talk about seeing sliced bodies and god knows what else. The most ironic story I've heard was of a few people who were catching a train to Karjat to go a rave (and at raves you do what ravers do - LSD) and they saw a train run over a guy whose severed head rolled onto the platform. They didn't particularly have a very good party.
However, in the hoopla of Sachin's 35th all news of the protest got buried. While I continue to believe that the Bombay Suburban Rail System is one of the world's greatest enduring engineering marvels - carrying over 6 million (at least) people everyday and trains moving every three minutes, it could desperately do with a massive refurbishment job. For gods sake, the stations and in some cases the rails date back to the British-era. Of course, since our Railway Minister is currently sulking over the trashing voters gave him, I doubt anything will happen soon. There is always too much talk and no action in this country - but incidents like Saturday will continue to happen unless something is done. And soon.
I would also write a short para on the Cobrapost expose of Parliamentarians takling money to ask questions in Parliament. While, I'm not terribly surprised at politicians lining their pockets doing this, lobbyists for years have feted politicians with wine/women and foreign trips, the brazen-ness of the act is quite shocking. Shivam of Mall Road worked on this expose (or sting-op whatever you want to call it), and he is rather pleased with himself. Rightly so. Now, I must add, I am waiting for an expose of India's throughly useless lower judicial system.
EDIT : It seems that Prema Sagar of Genesis PR has sold out to Burson-Marsteller. This means that Genesis PR enters the WPP realm. Whoops. On the other hand if all WPP clients gradually shifted to this new entity, private, niche PR firms might be in a spot of bother. Not that I'm cribbing, given that I want to kill a PR person a day. Where are the hot PR chicks in my life? Where?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Trustworthy reporting.

I remember meeting Craig Mundie, Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft a few months ago and he kept on harpring about trust, and how important it is to make computer users trust what they were using. All of this was contrasted against a rash of 'identity thefts' in the US. In fact, according to some numbers I read recently in The Economist, 'identy theft' was a $50 billion business in the US alone. However, this is not about computers and computing and e-commerce. Its about the news media in India.
For example, for a newspaper whose business section used to harp about how overvalued certain scrips were at their listing, a notorious case being the rash of stories they carried on the Maruti Udyog IPO (overvalued, hah!), when their own IPO had a ridculously massive price-band, the stories were all singing praise of the market. HT Media's IPO was priced at a massive Rs 550, some quadrillion-times future earnings (OK, so I'm exaggerating by a factor of, say 100), the stories dried up. Despite the number of IPO's in the market which are desperately optimistic, I've not exactly seen that newspaper do a single story on the state of the primary market. Maybe, because they are the worst example of an inherently overpriced IPO. Please note, when I last checked (as I write this) HT Media was priced at Rs 486, above the Rs 350 levels it was trading at a month or so ago, but still below the offer price by a substantial margin in a market that is, well, lets just skip the superlatives here shall we?
But, HT is only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is dominated by a company we all know and love - Bennett and Coleman Company Limited. At a recent press meet, I met up with a few Venture Capitalists and one of them accompanied me back to Nariman Point, and he suddenly asked me, "What do you think of the way Bennett and Coleman has been investing in certain companies?" Hmmmm.... Well, I said I don't like it, and let me elucidate why.
I don't know which blog I read about this, I read too many blogs for my own good, but I will harp on this a bit more. I don't like it. Even though, as an avowed believer in the principles of capitalism I do believe a person should invest wherever he sees a good return - media houses, by their very nature should be a bit more circumspect.
Now, look at it this way - can I, a reader, trust any story about companies like Kinetic Engineering, Pantaloon Retail or Paramount Airways if they appear in any Bennett publication (or proposed TV Channel like Times Never). Nope, Nyet, Nein, Nahin. OK, so I'm a reader who knows that the company has invested in these companies. But, a casual reader, who doesn't know that very important fact maybe fooled into believeing the fluff they read in ET's CFM page. And then s/he might invest in those companies. It is almost as bad as the the people on a prominent business channel who talk about companies they have (either direct or benami) investments in. Whoops, I shouldn't have said that - but a glass of wine in the afternoon has strange effects.
Now, I'm not, and will never be a person who believes that the media should be reined in. India has a free and vibrant media, though a lot of it is marred by vested interests. Hey, just look at the way both The Hindu and The Hindustan Times defended oily Natwar - they both owe their alligience to a particular party (rather a particular lady) that dominates the national ruling coalition (the former is also driven by its pure hatred of a certain lady who rules a southern state - the two ladies hate each other y'see). But, I'm not saying that the front/edit pages of both papers should carry disclaimers saying that higher-ups in both organisations are gunning for Rajya Sabha seats.
However, with money things are a tad different. I really admire the way that the hardest hitting stories on the Time-Warner group are done by Fortune magazine, which is incidentally owned by Time-Warner, but at the start of every article they make abundantly clear of this ownership. Similarly, if the Times of India puts a little line in font size 0.5 at the end of every article done during a junket, a practice I'm surprised The Economic Times hasn't followed, I believe that they should put a small disclaimer at the end of every single article that mentions any of the companies that their promoters are investors of. This doesn't only apply to Bennett, I believe that DNA should put a similar disclosure whenever they do stories of Subhash Chandra group companies and so on and so forth.
And I also believe that all journalists or promoters of media companies (OK, maybe only those in top-level publications which can shape business decisions), business, political, features or sports should make disclosures about their investments (or lack of, thereof which would be my case - I barely save enough to pay off my car loan) every year and like the Election Commission keeps databases of each candidates holdings, a electronic online database should be kept on all journalists holdings, ideally by SEBI.
Am I being too um, what do you say, cynical or panicky. Nope, I think I'm rational and pragmatic. The media, for better or for worse, performs a public function
and the public has a right to know where vested interests lie. Until they do, the name of this blog can never change!
I hope this clears up what I think on the issue.
PS : Bonatellis points me to this absolutely hilarious blog - I mean only if you're Bong that is.
EDIT : A little birdie (or rather senior little birdie) tells me that BusinessWeek magazine is winding down their Asian operations. Which is very surprising. But, if true, this means that BusinessWeek Indian Edition bullcrap we've been hearing for some time (which would have been a monthly or fortnightly depending on which of the three-year old rumors you believed) might finally die down.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Back in the glorious days when I was young and wasn't well, overweight I studied in a school. It happened to be a boys school, therefore most us had dirty thoughts of assorted Maths/Science/Elocution teachers. But, as most young boys had to do, we had to study from textbooks - maybe the Moral Science Textbook for Class VII was a bit too 'steamy' (heck any description of sex, no matter how dry was 'steamy' for a 13-year old) and then there was glorious amounts of 'dubious' information. Like the Civics textbook, which painted the entire bureaucracy and judiciary is glowing colours, the history textbook which mourned the defeat that assorted rajahs suffered in 1857 and spoke of the Soviet Union as a shining example of recent history. Somehow, I don't remember any history textbook that talks about recent international events - other than the Non-Aligned Movement (Natwar-era dinosaur). And then there were the English textbooks, with their silly, silly stories. I hated the CBSE English course in both Class X and XII because it was so freaking boring. Ugh! Some of the short-stories in the Class XII textbook were somewhat interesting - The Snake, Icarus (if I remember correctly, it was quite some time ago), but nothing beats what Pakistani students had to study, I don't believe they cleared this. (As is a denial of 1971 wasn't bad enough - almost makes you think that the Gujarati textbooks are not so bad after all)

The leader

Patient and steady with all he must bear,

Ready to accept every challenge with care,

Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,

Strong in his faith, refreshingly real,

Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,

Doesn't conform to the usual mold,

Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight wont do

Never back down when he sees what is true

Tells it all straight, and means it all too

Going forward and knowing he's right

Even when doubted for why he would fight.

Over and over he makes his case clear

Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear

Growing in strength, he won't be unnerved

Ever assuring he'll stand by his word

Wanting the world to join his firm stand.

Bracing for war, but praying for peace

Using his power so evil will cease:

So much a leader and worthy of trust,

Here stands a man who will do what he must

I really want to shake the hand of the person who wrote this masterpiece. This is freaking brilliant!

Painting the town red!

But first, the papers reliably inform me that Amitabh Bachchan recently consulted a numerologist which was the reason he changed his monkey cap from red to blue. I frankly thought the red one did a good job of hiding his baldness. Of course, one has to comment on the sneaky, shady underhanded tactics employed by Aaj Tak to get into the Big B's room. Not a bad job, but the man is ill for gods sake, and honestly it shouldn't be done. I believe the reporter involved has been seriously reprimanded and if PC had to go apologise to the Big B, then it shows that the man didn't take to this invasion of his privacy too well. However, India Today, at the other end of the spectrum of the same group goes and fires a fusilade at the Congress, which I'm glad at least one mainstream publication is. God knows what made Aniel Mehtrani talk (fear of being made a scapegoat perhaps - which has a strange tendency to open people's mouths) but talk he did and Natwar Singh, despite using every crutch available - including the fact that he is a Jat - to survive finds it seemingly impossible to do so. Now, we just have to get rid of that clown Abhimani Ramdoss from the Health Ministry before India ends up dealing with a gigantic AIDS crisis (no pre-marital sex please we're Tamil????)
Anyway, the point of this post is wondering why Indians chew pans and then spit out the supari along with the colouring agent to festoon pavements, roads, buildings, trains, and god knows what else. Some buildings have even resorted to using images of gods on the corners to prevent people from spitting. Throughout the Bombay suburban rail system, the tracks facing the platforms seem to have been painted by a million mouths. Its rather disgusting! But then again, I'm a smoker and I believe a nonsensical (Union Health Ministry style) crackdown won't help - but maybe the installation of some spittoons will. Whenever I ask someone why he spat onto a wall, he'll retort, where else? And I will have admit that the person is right. I assume an investment of a few thousands on some spittoons might have a few lakhs in painting costs.
Either that, or we should go ahead and decide to paint India in an universal shade of Paan-Red.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Now or Never!

So insult to the people who work there but this Times Now business is getting quite weird. At every presser they send reporters to interview the relevant corporate honcho and I figure that the Corp Commpeople are getting quite pissed that nothing comes out of it. At some recent pressers I believe some Corp Comm people (of all people) have put their foot down to Times Never (as a senior editor at ToI called it while I spoke to him the other day). Anyway, people have given up speculating when the channel shall be launched, some advertising blokes are now of the belief that they'll wait for hell to freeze over. The other new network - Rajdeep TV (aka CNN-IBN) is going on air on the second of January. Yipee-yay-yay, yet another channel to skip. The funny thing is that I believe that the co-axial cable that carries your cable signal into your house cannot deal with more than 70-odd channels without signal degradation. I'll be really pissed if any of these channels degrade the signal of Discovery Travel and Living which is currently the only channel I'll watch which doesn't show sports.
On another note, my autodriver today morning gave me the lowdown on the traffic problems that the Big B's ailment has been causing around Lilavati Hospital. Thousands of fans are pouring in to pray for the Amitabh. So how is the man? I was talking to a friend last night who is one of India's top film critics (no, not the plagarists who work in certain newspapers), he was telling me the story behind the monkey-cap. It appears that the man wears a wig because he has a bald patch almost as bad as Vir Sanghvi's. Ouch! But that is incidental information.
Now, what is known is that if a 64-year old man works 17-18 hours a day, his body will eventually give up and maybe old injuries will act up (as they have done, the old 1982 Coolie injury has acted up). I agree with most writers that the man should take a break and let other people do advertisements on TV (OK, people other than SRK that is).
Interestingly, this friend of mine gave me another bit of interesting news - which you'll never read in a newspaper. It appears that all those celebs going to meet the man - well none of them actually met him. They were greeted by Junior and his sis and shooed off. The only people allowed to meet him - Amar Singh, Subroto Roy, Anil Ambani and only one person with a Bollywood connection - Gauri Khan (Mrs SRK to others). Well, Yash Chopra would have been allowed to meet him, but he was sleeping around that time.
Interesting things you can get out of people when a couple of beers get passed around!
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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Used Lemons.

I have been figuring out the the Indian Used Car market recently, not because I'm looking to buy a car (Bombay, Car - you gotta be joking) but more out of curiousity. I had recently gotten around to going through a summary of George Akerlof's paper on Used Cars and lemons and after simple Googling revealed that Used Car buyers in developed countries have all sorts of protections from buying lemons. Heck, many of my friends in the States have no issues buying Used Cars, their main problem is trying to find 'Stick Shifts' (Interesting factoid, my cousin who stays in New Jersey told me that insurance rates on 'Stick Shifts' are a significant amount lower than cars with auto tranny's because the thieves don't know how to drive them!).
I remember during my first job with the auto section of an internet portal I had met up with the folks at AutomartIndia. Their business plan was simple - sell cars over the internet - this was 2000 after all and we were scaling the peaks of Dot-Com manna. Of course, selling a product such as a car online (especially in a country with an internet penetration of under one percent, back then) kinda fizzled out - however these guys adapted to this and today run a network of over 75 outlets where they certify and sell used cars. I believe they sold nearly 15,000 of them last year.
But the real success story has been Maruti. Two years ago, Maruti set up Maruti True Value as a way to sell off the cars that people got into exchange for a new car. I believe last year they sold nearly 35,000 cars. These 'certified' cars from these two guys and now even other auto companies have gotten into the act are checked for damage and all time-limited parts are changed. Brilliant.
Yet, they account for under 10 per cent of the total market for used cars in India. Two-thirds of the market is still dominated by sales of cars through 'known acquaintances'. Which means the person most likely to sell you a lemon might be a relative or a colleague. Isn't that a bummer, and given that the legal system in India is slower than molasses you're pretty much screwed if the 2003 Zen you bought from a friend has a misfiring cylinder - thats Rs 30,000 down the drain.
So if you are looking at buying a used car, and don't want to have been used to make Nimbupaani back in the day, I would suggest that you buy a car from these outlets. Heck, if you want to buy a trustworthy used Merc, buy it from a 'certified' guy. In fact, Hyundai, Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler are gettingh into the act. And if you do buy a Used Car from the friendly guy who sits three cubicles down or your third cousin twice removed read these tips.
Talking about cars, if you are in Bombay - Autocar India and Castrol are organising a Supercar Mela at the Nehru Centre. The show is being kicked off by the one and only Indian to have bought his way into F1 and will feature a lot of very expensive metal. Not the Bugatti Veyron, but a lot of expensive metal. And yes, back back or not, there I times I wish I was Jeremy Clarkson.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Searching for MMS

Two of my friends recently returned from a jaunt in the Rajasthani Desert where they had gone to attend a friends marriage. Now that in itself does not warrant a post, but something strange they told me does. These guys were catching a train to Jodhpur from Bandra Terminus, and while they were trying to get into the place - it is incredibly difficult getting to large train stations at Bombay, which has a phlethora of large train stations - they were stopped by cops. Fair enough, in this country we are rather used to in your face security and don't question violations of our rights - now even though I was surprised to find out that it was the Mumbai Police not the RPF doing the checking over here - are they allowed to? But the second thing was rather peculiar, they asked one of my friends to show them his phone - he has a fancy new Nokia 6681 (the other friend has an ancient piece which the cops were not interested in) and they started searching his phone for porn. Now, there was no porn on this guys phone, and obviously nothing happened, but when I found out about this I asked my friend if the cops can do this? To the best of my knowledge without a warrant attested by a judge, the police can't search my personal belongings - unless of course, I'm travelling by air or even by train. But beyond the cursory check that my cell phone isn't going to blow a hole in the side of an Express Train, can the police go through the contents of my phone without the express permission of a judge? I don't think so. Has anything like this happened to someone else?

"Nel, Nel, Go to Hell"

I'm glad that I go to watch cricket matches every once in a while. It reminds how Cricket is a god-awful spectator sport and how bad (with the sole exception of Mohali) all Indian cricket stadiums are. So, let me describe my experiences at the 5th ODI between India and South Africa, no need to get into the gory details like who won and all that.
First, I genuinely thought that the match was on a Sunday and I was mortified to learn that the 28th was a Monday. This meant that all stock-brokers with slightly bearish sentiments started watching the match and ignored those crazies who are determined to make the Indian bourses the most wildly over-priced stock exchange in the world - it crossed 9000 yesterday and now trades at an average 15 times earnings.
Moot point.
On with the match. Our seats were in the Guest Stand - the Vithal Divecha Pavilion - which is accessed from across the rail track - next to the Mahindra Hockey Stadium and under the light tower. There was no prescribed seating and me and my friend R, decided to get close to ground level. The ground is caged in and watching the match through small 4 inch square jalis is a bit weird but given the psycho nature of the crowd, understandable. If the batsman is batting at the north end, we would be in a mid-wicket sort of position (to a rightie). Not the best seats in the house, but OK.
The cacophony was immense. It was as if someone could go deaf inside the cauldron of Wankhede Stadium. The roar that went up when India won... the toss was amazing. And then after another half an hour of twiddling our thumbs on rows of seats which would make Captain Gopinath of Air Deccan feel proud because of their tremendous small pitch the action began. Graeme Smith was welcomed by jeers and the Indian team was feted by 110-decibel screams and thousand and one women screaming "Irfan". This was going to be fun. (The babe quotient in the field isn't half as great as TV would make you believe - there were a lot of young girls - pretty ones there were very few of, which is surprising given that this IS Mumbai).
I'll tell you this much following a game of cricket devoid of statistics and even a way to find out the score without squinting your eyes (The large electronic scoreboard decided to go on the blink) is rather difficult. Pathan came and bowled his heart out and then Bhajji came and bowled some really cheap overs, before taking that great catch on the side of the fiel opposite us. We watched the catch on the two large screens - which were playing advertisement after advertisement. But until Shaun Pollock got some verve back into the South African innings, it was all rather dull. The six Pollock hit seemed like it was headed for Churchgate.
It between innings, R and I rushed back to my office where we had left our mobile phones, as the Ticket had told us to do. But, as usual, the Mumbai Police didn't give a damn (they let in some 5000 people without tickets the papers said) and we discovered that people were happlily carrying their phones inside. R got some interesting pics on his phone which I will post later.
Getting back into the stadium a tad too late to catch Gambhir going for a duck, we did manage to see Sachin and Sehwag give the crowd a small dose of fireworks before they both got out. When Sachin went, it was as if the crowd had had its lollypop snatched from them.
During the entire match people were more interested in watching (non-existent) fights rather than the match (but things were so boring, I couldn't blame them) and then there was the Mexican Wave business. Every hour or so, a Wave would start either at the North Stand or the Sunil Gavaskar Stand and then carry on, and on, and on, at least for six or seven chakkars until people got bored. The funniest part was that once the wave ended people would start clapping, for themselves. Then there was Andre Nel, the rather jovial chap made the cardinal mistake (in Mumbai no less) of taking Sachin's wicket and then also staring down Indian batsmen if they played and missed at him, sometimes exchanging a few words. So the crowd, the North Stand started this, calling him, "Cheater, Cheater" in a faux-age 10 style. No maybe they were all going through their second childhood. It then went to "Loser, Loser", and by the time Nel was near our side of the boundary it has progressed to "Nel is a bastard" and "Asshole, Asshole" with even the kiddies joining in. The only slightly imganative line - "Nel, Nel, go to Hell." Poor guy, got rather riled up. But no discounting from the fact that he is an awesome bowler.
What I found really ironic was Ravi Shastri calling the pitch a good pitch, it was a dull, boring pitch. Maybe Shastri was buttering up Sharad Pawar. Who has just won the BCCI Election. Maybe Pawar should do something about improving the seats at Wankhede. No wait, this is all about politics not cricket. Sigh!
Will I stop going to cricket matches? Nope, never. India is playing the whiney English guys sometime in March in Wankhede in a Test. And I'll be there. All five days.

Monday, November 28, 2005


I don't understand the fuss about one finger. If Chappell told a particularly idiotic fan to shove it, big deal. Sometimes I don't understand the industry I call my own.
Anyway, I'm going to watch the game at Wankhede right now, I have two passes to the Pavilion. Will post once the match is done!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Online Avatars

OK, since my current issue has been on the stands for over a week, I can safely write about an assignment I went for some time back. After I returned from Diwali/Gambling break to Delhi I generally found myself unemployed and I was just crusing through my offensively large Outlook Inbox and found my mail that caught my eye - it was PR spiel but still I figured that there was something in this. It spoke about a company called Level Up Games, which is a Games Publisher based out of Lokhandwalla. Nothing terribly unique in that, there have a been a million and one stories about gaming in India, even though all but one or two are nowhere close to the plot. However, Level Up seemed interesting because it publishes a game called Ragnarok. Now, Ragnarok is a MMORPG - which is short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game - a game where you play in a virtual world full of other socially challenged (or real-world challenged?) souls. Now, I am what you would call a 'reformed' gamer - there was a point in my life when I spent 16 hours a day gaming - today I hardly play any games - mainly because I'm holding out for a Playstation 3 and I would rather watch a movie.
Back to the point, recently I read quite a few news articles about a couple of deaths among players of MMORPG's in China, heck they even had an online funeral for a girl who died. The game involved, World of Warcraft by Blizzard Games (WoW for short) is undoubtedly the biggest games release of the past 12 months - for gods sake there are 3.5 million players of the game, in China alone, according to one story I read. People pay a few dollars every month for the privilege of playing the game, and to be honest, while going through the game (admittedly I did not play it) I have no idea why millions of people spend hours every day of their lives in the WoW world. So, Level-Up and their boss Venkat Mallik (who calls himself 'Soothsayer ' on his card incidentally) believe that there is a mssive market opportunity for MMORPG's in India, so they've launched Ragnarok India - with Indian servers and believe you me, having servers within the country helps tremendously with connectivity.
These guys have also tied up with Reliance Infocomm and Sify, so that their game is pre-installed on most computers in cybercafes run by these guys. For the time being the game is free to play and if you want to play it at home you can get a CD for a 100 clams from their website. However, don't even try playing this game with a dial-up.
Now, my publication didn't want a straight-up clean story, they wanted me to play the game and then go meet some other players. So I spent two entire days at work (first figuring out why the heck the game wouldn't install, then playing) playing in the world of Rune Midgard - the mystical world of Ragnarok. Ragnarok, as my Exec Ed pointed out is as term widely used in Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics and the term itself comes from Norse myth and could mean either the day of reckoning or the end of the world, depending on the way you look at it. Maybe a better understanding would be the Hindu Kalyug.
The game itself is hardly as doomy and gloomy as the Hellboy comics, has almost no sexual content, unless you want to flirt-chat with a female character (and even then the Game Managers seem to be inspired by recent events in Tamil Nadu and are always on the prowl) and almost no violence. There are specific windows in the game where you can attack and kill each other (only to be reborn, albeit with a less power). You can also trade stuff online, you have a fictional currency called Zeny with which you can buy stuff, though unlike my favourite Grand Theft Auto series of games, you can't buy sex sadly! Honestly, for someone like me used to shoot 'em up games like Halo, Unreal Tournament or one-on-one fighting titles such as Soul Calibur and the entire NFS racing series (as well as anything else by EA), I got rather bored.
The Level Up guys told me that they had two servers - each server can support upto 15000 players at once - going by average log-in times and numbers that flashed on my screen, I would say that Ragnarok would have around 15-20,000 registered players in India. Which though nowhere near WoW's numbers isn't bad for a game that has hardly publicised itself.
But, the biggest surprise was still to come.
As I said earlier there are specific windows where you can attack each other - rather attack another team or guild as it is called in the game. These 'guilds' hold on to castles located at different parts of the map and every Wednesday and Saturday between 1800-2000 they can be breached if you attack. So I was told to go to the Reliance Web World on Linking Road and see the action. And I was taken aback. I always knew gaming was big among India's upper middle class pre-teens and teens. I have roughly estimated, through talking to dealers in Palika Bazaar that there are over 25,000 fourth-generation (PS2, XBox) consoles in India (if not more) and that the first XBox 360's will arrive at places like Palika and Heera Panna for around Rs 25k a pop around the middle of December. And PC gaming is huge in the country - the Microsoft organised Halo competition in India in 2004 had over 10,000 entries in 12 cities.
At this WebWorld I saw 15 kids playing Ragnarok and they were screaming and shouting. I couldn't exactly imagine myselg doing the down and dirty, a large unshaven individual screaming and shouting would raise quite a few eyebrows. But I did ask these kids some questions. These 15 kids provide that Webworld with at least 30,000 bucks worth of surfing business every month. They play like maniacs, skipping school and college. One attendant over there told me that they hardly leave. These people were nuts - and I suddenly realised that even though Ragnarok only has 25,000 odd players, India is going to become the next big MMORPG market.
Footnote : Weirdly enough, when Level-Up showed me footage of people who said how the game had changed their lives, almost all of them pointed out how much their social skills had improved. Heck, I discovered that they are launching a 'Marriage' patch on the game soon. I wouldn't make genralistic statements such as these people looked 'dorky' or 'geeky' but they certainly did need a tool to help their real-life social skills. Its surprising how many products are marketed in India claiming to make you more 'confident', I think Ragnarok can work. The only problem is that it can also suck you in.
If you want to try a MMORPG for free you can also check out this new game which I believe is a huge hit in the US. Its less of a game more of a mix between 'The Sims' meets 'WoW' - SecondLife.
EDIT : Virtual lives are one thing, but now I'm hearing of online virtual sex. I discovered this via Fleshbot. It is a rather interesting site - MMOrgy.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Days....

I'm feeling relatively pleased with myself right now. Not because I've written some 500,000 words of utter trash in the last 11 months on this blog, thus proving that I have totally lost the plot. A colleague was just asking me, "Why K, why do you do this?" I honestly, have no clue, or rather I don't have a non-nebulous answer.
But I like blogging!
Where else could I gloat about Lalu Yadav's humiliating Bihar defeat with such glee. I am so happy that Laloo lost, I'm so happy for Bihar (even though it meant that we were subjected to an endless stream of Lalu Lantern gets Extinguished puns) or discuss the rights and wrongs of Dada's inclusion in the Test Team (He is a great player, but I have a lingering doubt that he might just be made waterboy to give him the ultimate coup de grace). Incidentally, I don't know how the Cal one-dayer is going to pan out, I'm sure the Calcutta crowd is quite capable of doing something stupid (yet again) because a mob of mad Bongs is quite capable of doing stupid things (1996 Word Cup Semifinal, 1999 Indo-Pak Test Match anyone?)
I've been taking it a bit easy on blogging of late as I have decided that my money-earning schemes (ie: my job) come first. I haven't yet fulfilled my ambition of becoming a rich house-husband or a Member of Parliament. However, I have been observing with interest the dramatic changes in the way we consume and dissemenate information. In India, any discussion on Blogs will get bogged down with the slight success of the IIPM brouhaha, but the case against Sony-BMG and the tech blogs in the US proves that blogs are increasingly becoming a medium to be reckoned with.
Not so in India, my saying the the Common Minimum Programme is a Communist plot to increase the taxes of poor middle-class tax-paying folk (and line their pockets) will not change the unfortunate political dynamics that India is blessed with today. But, I do believe things will change - and the internet will be that medium of change. Maybe not today, but maybe the day that 1mbps speeds over the airwaves become standard - and I have seen the technology that makes such speeds possible - its sooner than you think.
Of course, pornography will be the driver of progress. I remember when my father got one of those VSNL Rs 15000 for 500 hour internet connection thingies back in 1995-6 (the bad old days of 14.4 kbps modems) he was amazed when he found two megabytes of downloaded porno on one directory which I had forgot to hide. His exact words to me that night were, "You lucky bastard." Of late I've been reading some very interesting blogs on sex - I mean the writing bit - this one for example.
But of course, once a person is fulfilled - pornographically fulfilled (some might argue that stage never comes) - but I believe you reach a stage when porn doesn't excite you anymore - you discover new and brilliant usages to the internet. Like accessing news - all sorts of news, unfiltered by editors or read out by dumb bimbettes. My Bloglines feeds today cross some 70 in less than six months since I started out using the service with ten feeds. News that breaks online before the 'Mainstream Media' that is more obsessed by the jiggling of Mallika Sherawat's tits, even notices it. The surprising thing is that if most people were really fascinated by Mallika Sherawat's jiggles they would see the better pics online. The pics are always better online. It won't stop me from buying the occasional Playboy or Penthouse, but I've become a complete and total internet junkie.
I'm living on (and maybe off) the internet. And I'm happy doing that.
And this post makes no sense at all. Maybe I'm just writing it because I wanted to my fingers go 'clickety-clack'.
By the way, this post by Scott Adams is plain brillianto!
EDIT : Are things looking better now?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Losing my religion.

In the last couple of weeks I have been hearing stories from my friends who happen to be Muslims about the amount of difficulty they have faced when trying to find a house in suburban Bombay. One of them, lets call him Q, is a recent migrant to the city, who has joined as a photographer in a large national publication, he has been told quite clearly that "Muslim party ko ghar nahi dega." Q, who is from Delhi is a bit zapped at just how difficult it is, "Its like they want to force you into little regional ghettos." The concept of a urbane, upper-middle class Muslim is beyond the concept of reality for many closed minded idiots in this city - after all the city did spawn the Shiv Sena.
The problem is that this crisis is particularly bad in the suburbs, something my friend A told me. According to him, not only do they often not give homes to Muslims, even if you were Muslim but happened to be from the wrong sect, finding a house is impossible. A, who is a fairly rich guy, was actually looking to buy a house, in fact, he even said that his parents were prepared to buy and his wife a house, cash down (this is Bombay, after all!) - but when they saw this really nice apartment in an upmarket Bandra Reclamation Society the property agent (who was none the wiser) supposedly told A's mother that the area did not allow 'Pets or Muslims' - I doubt that the agent could have possibly been that tactless - but it is not impossible.
I really don't know how bad this problem is in other cities, but after calling up some friends in Delhi, I was told that the problem exists even in the capital - but it is not so 'in your face'. Up north, Punjabi's from both communities made a concerted effort to rid the planet of Punjabi's almost 60 years ago by killing each other. In Bengal too, bhadralok mentality took a backseat as the division of Bengal first done in 1911 had its tragic endgame begin in 1947 (Of course, closure was only achieved in 1971). However, the Western parts of India were relatively peaceful then, but have tended to flare up disasterously ever since. The worst riots in the recent past (other than in Bihar) have been in supposedly urbane areas in Western India - Bombay (post-Ayodhya, Bomb Blasts etc) and Gujarat (post Godhra) and of course, there were the Congress-party backed disaster in Delhi in 1984.
While, I would tend to agree that Delhi is also a communal time-bomb, the government has done well to ensure that potential flash-points are kept in check. Just look at the old city, one second you are in a virtually 100% Muslim area (complete with rabid imam and all), you cross the road and find yourself in Hindu Heartland (complete with Praveen Togadia wannabes). However, the greatest achievement of successive governments has been to prevent the relatively newer environs of South Delhi get classified as 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' areas. The problem with Bombay I find is that this bent of communalism is practiced in high-class building Societies in Bandra and Andheri - A even told me an interesting story of how they refused a prominent Muslim Bollywood type a house because of his religion.
Strange isn't it, the best bowler in the country is a Muslim, some of the entertainment industry's most feted names are Muslim, but when it comes accepting Muslims as a part of general society, the majority tries to act like the Whites do with African Americans in Yankeeland. Of course, then some governments (inevitably Congress governments) try to screw things up even further by proming religion based reservations. If we are to become an 'inclusive' society, why on earth do we practice the politics of 'exclusion'?
On another note.
I would classify myself as having a Centre-Right disposition. I detest the current administration at the centre, and generally find myself agreeing with Swami Aiyar's views yesterday (wherein he attacks his brother's shortsighted energy policies) that India tying up with generally unreliable countries which have no regard for property rights (and he gives the example of what happened to India in Iran after the nuclear-obsessed types came to power) is not the smartest thing to do. Given that the pinkest paper's correspondents have played the Oil Ministry's
unpaid cheerleaders (ugh!), I'm surprised that the Times carried the article - but this was Swami Aiyar - who has consistently been one of this administrations strangest economic critics, fraternal ties notwithstanding (and for this I immensely respect him).
Of course, the stupid commies are now seeing the light on Iran (but only after documents linking AQ Khan to Iran were printed), the problem is that the commies main organ, The Hindu, (the irony has befuddled me for years) hasn't seen the light yet. There are FDI issues that need to be resolved, but Karat who obviously looks upon North Korea and Cuba as shining examples of economic development has other ideas. Someone should really take Karat into villages and show him the aspiration levels of Indians. Yes, I agree there is a real risk that unless we do not ensure more egalatarian development that the disconnect between rich and poor India might become even more pronounced than it is today - and we must learn lessons from China's slightly botched schemes to promote egalitarianism here. But, the lack of labour reform will not promote egalitariamism, rather the unshackling of labour reforms will create thousands of jobs - they may not be the best paying jobs in the world, but at least they will be jobs.

Blip, Blap, Blup!

I have alternate Saturday's off, but despite this anomaly, I usually bring my butt into office on Saturdays like the one that just passed. Lack of activity at home being a reason. That generally was the plan this Saturday until a rather unplanned series of events on Friday night created a void in the space-time continuum, due to which I didn't realise it was Saturday until I woke up (at a friend's house) just to watch Irfan Pathan bowl the brilliant spell.
After that, I kinda whiled the day away watching cricket and eating food and meeting an actor-friend who stays inside the Juhu airfield - which means that he has an unreal amount of space surrounding his house (which is inside an hangar). Incidentally, he also lives with an unreal amount of mosquitoes. I did a lot of things over the weekend, some strange, some unplanned and some just plain stupid but in between the alcohol and the 'other assorted substances' I didn't access a computer.
Oh well, this narrative was my explanation for the lack of change of a template. I've found some nice ones which I will try out on the blog the moment I get some time. Apologies for the same!

Friday, November 18, 2005

The old lady fights back!

According to a colleague who has read some internal audit reports of the newly launched Bombay papers, the remarkable thing is how the Times, despite the amount many bloggers profess to hate it, has managed to hold on to its readership numbers. The Times still has a net-paid up subscriber number in excess of 400,000 copies in the Greater Mumbai area. In contrast, and the term that we will use here is net paid-up subscriber numbers (which will not count the tens of thousands of free copies that are given to prominent personalities, ad agencies et al) of both the newly launched Bombay broadsheets is under 100,000 and here DNA shades HT by some ten-odd thousand copies. Both papers reach a substantial amount of homes thanks to free copies, but still Times, which many expected to curl-up and die has instead held on to readership and advertising.
I must admit, during la affaire Salem, the coverage of the Times has been 'blanketing' and the depth of their cricket coverage surprises me. And of course, there is the Mumbai Mirror. Now, I would be the first to admit that the Mirror is a vapid newspaper, but there are two aspects to the paper which are interesting. It is the first mainstream daily which actually has a regular 'blogs' area, which though small is regular - The irony of the situation where a Timesgroup newspaper treats blogs as a mode of information distribution seriously is a bit astounding - but still.
The other reason I love the Mirror is that it makes for perfect potty-reading. Don't get me wrong here - potty reading doesn't mean the paper is like the stuff you output on the pot. Rather, as Aristotle said good art (theatre) has to purge emotions from the observer or viewer, I would extend that to imply that the newspaper/book/magazine that one reads during their daily bout of bodily purging is an important paper. The other reason the Mirror is convinent on the pot is that its format is so nice. And unlike the Mid-Day it doesn't have a bad habit of falling apart with a myriad of sections. And then there are those mind-blowingly honest Subhash K Jha columns. How the man manages to produce such brilliant Bollywood columns sitting in Patna, day after day and continues to be a person who the entire film fraternity from the Big Bad B to Dainty Miss Ash (who even sings Happy Birthday to him) takes so bloody seriously is amazing!
Now, in addition I still feel that the Business coverage in the Times is brilliant - better than the other two papers (better than HT's by eons, DNA's coverage is complete though mind-numbingly dull) and the Enetrtainment coverage is still solid (DNA does have good Entertainment coverage though, HT's coverage is very mediocre, but then the Mirror plus Times beats the competition hollow).
All those amazing salaries that we heard about when HT and DNA entered the market. Well, it seems that only the Times has managed to make its big-money salaries pay off. And for that you have to take your hat off to Jojo. Of course, I do tip my hat to HT for pulling off the most ludicrously overpriced IPO in an era of ludicrously overpriced IPO's. HT Media which listed at Rs 550 currently trades at Rs 350 or thereabouts. You gotta love them for that! Of course, I'm also led to believe that DNA is suffering a plagarism problem that is matched only the Pinkest Paper.
Do I still think that the Times is a vapid and sometimes amazingly stupid paper? Yes, I do. But you see, I'm not your average reader. The average reader does not subscribe to one hundred feeds on Bloglines or some other Feedburner, maybe your average reader never even surfs the internet daily. The average reader of a Bombay newspaper stays in either Ghatkopar or Borivali, and he doesn't write long, rambling posts on the state of society everyday. And somehow, I guess the average reader still thinks that the Times is great value for money, and it seems that it might even become better value for money because there are rumours abounding that the old lady might be chopping her rates down even further.
It is still early days, and I won't go out on a limb and predict the doom or demise of any paper, but the pundits (many of them on the blogosphere) who predicted the doom of ToI have been proved wrong. Somehow, that really doesn't surprise me!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cinemadom, Cars et al.

Given that I usually follow no given order to my posts and after a post where I indulge in a bit of Lalu-bashing and questioning the non-existant ethics and moralities of the Indian Communist movement, I've decided to talk of generally stupid stuff today.
But first, I have for the last week been reading the funniest blog that I have come across in a long time - it is Scott Adam's blog called (and this is the only unimaginative thing about the blog) The Dilbert Blog. I've always loved Adam's work (and his appreciation for India through Asok, the underpaid Indian intern from IIT - I think Adam's IIT strips are hilarious) and his blog just demonstrates the way information and content distribution are being altered by the internet. I would expect many other mainstream cartoonists and columnists to start maintaining blogs soon. But, for the time being this is my favourite blog!
Yesterday, I had what can be described as a hectic day. I got into town at 8.30 in the morning (something which involved a 6.30 wake-up) because office was organising a breakfast round-table. The round-table was an extremely interesting one, but I don't blog about work here, and I'm not starting now. In the afternoon, Ford was announcing their new brand ambassador for India - I had been informed that the man was Bachchan Jr, but I went along to the presser anyway. Now, when I arrived I was informed by the PR reps outside the event (taking place in a big shamiana at the Land's End) that I could meet the man after the presser, not that I was terribly keen, but my photographer answered in the positive for me anyway.
So, I met Abhishek Bachchan. In my four and a half years as a journalist, I have never met an A-Grade (Yaar, he is A-Grade by now!) Bollywood star for a formal one-on-one interview. I've met a lot of people, MD's of large PSU's, Ministers, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, but never a Bollywood Star - well I did meet Subhash Ghai once, and I have met characters at three of Subrata Roy's 'events' (Don't ask). And I had a pretty decent interview I must add - we spoke of his 'cars' (not his women) and endorsements (like the flopped Versa deal) and movies. I was surprised at how pleasant the interview considering that I do have a photographer colleague (not the one who came with me) whose claim to fame was a fisticuffs sessions with Bachchan Junior at a Delhi club.
The Ford Fiesta has been very well priced, and while I slagged off the car in a previous post, I was expecting it to be priced a lot higher than Ford did actually price it and this car is more Honda City competition than Honda Civic cometition. The base model 1.4 Petrol Fiesta EXi costs Rs 5.8 lakhs ex-showroom in Mumbai, and the Diesel 1.4 ZXi costs Rs 7.3 lakhs in Mumbai ex-showroom. The 1.6 Petrol comes in two versions the ZXi and the sporty SXi and are priced in towards the higher end of the six-lakh bracket. The Diesel car seems like a surprisingly smart buy, which is why Arvind Matthew, the MD of Ford India told me that he expects the sales spread to 50:50 between Diesel and Petrol. The car is also a lot bigger than the Ikon, this car looks (and is) a lot larger than the Honda City (but has similar interior space because of the City's revolutionary space saving design). And its nowhere near the fitment level of the European Fiesta, but given the Indian automotive tax structure, I think it is very well priced. I wonder how much money Ford will make on the car - but I wouldn't put 2000-3000 units a month of the Fiesta in the near future beyond them. However, Matthew did add that this was an 'introductory' price, kinda like what Maruti did with the Swift, however, even a 10-20k rise in the prices of the Swift didn't slow down demand, so Ford thinks they can pull off a 20-30k price hike on this car (so if you want one book your Fiesta now!) And this car coulf finally mark the end of the Accent, Baleno and higher-end models of the Ikon.
EDIT : People think this template is a bit harsh on the eyes. I'll try and revert to a dark-on-light template rather than the white-on-black I'm using here, however I'm open to suggestions on what template I should use - not the standard Blogger templates, so please do suggest. I got this template from the Blogger Templates blog, I've seen other ones here, but I'll keep looking until Saturday, which is a good day to change over. Suggestions please!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bihar and the Railways.

The denegeneration of Bihar into utter chaos under Lalu's rule is remarkable and the incidents at Jehanabad are quite horrifying. However, the media of late has been on Lalu appeasement mode - Rajdeep Sardesai loves Lalu because they share a common hatred of the BJP - evident on Rajdeep's programming on CNBC. Plus, the ToI and India Today have both spoken glowingly of how the Indian Railways under Lalu have started to make money - nobody quite looked into the fact that the man has hardly been inside his chamber for the last twelve months. Then again, I must compliment Lalu Yadav for not screwing up the Railway system even more by announcing yet another Rail sub-Division. From an original six (I think) - NR, WR, CR, ER, SER, SR, today I've lost count of the thousands of different permutations of geographical directions that the Indian Railways has tried - there is ECR, SCR, SWR, NFR, NWR and the Konkan Railway today, each of them requiring a different head-office and legion of clerks just to deal with the paperwork. And honestly, so what if the railways made some money, I don't think the Bombay suburban system saw any of it back - nope - Lalu actually reduced fares - I'm pretty sure the citizenry of the city would have been happier if the tens of crores he spent by reducing fees was used for an improved suburban rail system.
The point I'm coming to is that under Lalu, Bihar has completed degenerated and the shocking incidents at Jehanabad where the city came under attack by thousands of Naxals/Maoists was quite scary. The UPA government is determined not to take the growing power of Naxals seriously, the idiotic commies they have sitting next to them will not let them do that. So, the Prime Minister gets shouted down by a bunch of unhygenic middle-class commie wannabes at JNU. Instead of helping out Nepal deal with its Naxalite and Maoist crisis we try and tell the Nepalese King to bring back democracy. Democracy is fine and dandy and I quite like living in it, however, as anybody who has played Sid Maeir's Civilization and Alpha Centauri series of games would know Democracy cannot survive alongside Anarchy. I think the US is beginning to come about to that viewpoint as well.
There is an urgent need for reform in the way that the government deals with such deranged characters, and I do not think that our current government has either the initiative or the the wherewithal to do that. We cannot be aspiring towards being a world-class IT superpower while fostering a large ultra-left wing movement. So I'm desperately hoping that Lalu loses in Bihar and hoping that this will start an unstoppable chain of events that leads to the UPA Government collapsing.
Of course, I'm also hoping that somebody someday ensures that Bombay suburban commuters also stop getting a raw deal. So maybe instead of creating new divisions, they could do something about creating some new trains out here? Anyway, Soumyadip has an interesting post on on the Railways too, if only most journeys for me were on long distance trains instead of trying to play dodgeball with signal posts.

Monday, November 14, 2005

So what next for Abu Salem

In 1993, I was in Class Seven in Delhi and the Bombay Bomb Blasts seemed half an universe away. There was no satellite TV, let alone 50 channels of live streaming information(?) piped into my house through an overtaxed coaxial cable. Stories that my school friends told me about Bombay made the city sound like one where shootouts happened all the time. And anyway we were still living in a glorious socialist dream imposed on us by the Congress, so any news of the matter came only in little bits and pieces.
After I joined this organisation I was talking to my Editor about life in Bombay and he narrated the incidents of March 12, 1993 a bit more. The ed was then based at Nariman Point (close to my current office) and he told me that when a nice large hole was put on the side of Air India building, no-body really had any clue what was going on. Another colleague told me that they felt that some building had collapsed, but later on when everybody realised what was going on there was a sense of chaos.
However, some people neglect another side-effect of the blasts. Until the blasts occured, the underworld, the political world and the filmi-world operated as a cosy coterie. The crackdown on the underworld actually began after the blasts. Sure, people like Salem got away extorting money from people for years on end and even getting his not-so-pretty mistress (later wife) Monica Bedi into the movies. There was the occasional murder here or there in the process.
Moving on to November 2005, Abu Salem should have been more scared of the media jamboree that seems to follow him rather then getting beaten up in a jail. But, I really wonder how much Abu Salem will sing, or will Abu Salem get bumped off?
While I think Abu Salem must be brought to justice, I really wonder if some politicians (all from the ruling party - how terribly unsurprising), former cricketers and movie-stars with a lot to lose don't somehow manage to get Abu Salem somehow bumped-off in jail. And while I think it might be strange to advocate giving a person like Salem Z-category security, Salem must talk, and he must expose those who supported him. And this number should include those in the media, because there are a lot of people, especially people who have been in this profession for some time now (like an old pan-chewing colleague of mine in the Birla paper) who have talked of their underworld contacts with pride and in certain cases even hidden criminals in their homes.
Kudos to the CBI for getting Salem back to India. Just like the Bombay Blasts provided the impetus for getting the underworld off Bombay streets, the capture of its mastermind should provide the impetus for getting the underworld out of our everyday lives.

Lest we forget!

Earlier there were quarter-page adverts, now our friends at IIPM are hoping that the entire controversy has died down have taken out a full page advert in the Times of India, Mumbai today. I don't want to get into the details of the advert, and I will conceded that the institute is at least attempting to be more truthful in their 'careful wording' - however the line that all students must read is still an extremely low contrast. The line reads thus -
"IIPM conducts its own programmes in Planning and Entreprenuership (a non professional course) and does not teach any foreign institutes courses. International Management Institute, Europe awards its globally renowned MBA/BBA degrees in recognition of excellence of IIPM's programme and does not come under the purview of AICTE, UGC or other state acts."
So kiddo's if you apply to IIPM remember that their course is not recognised by anybody in India and run by a man who claims to be a lot of things - noted economist (without an economics doctorate) and a management guru (huh?).
Anyway, its not for me to comment on the issue, please read a summary of events at Desipundit.
Plus, this article by JAM Magazine, run by Rashmi Bansal was the genesis of the entire IIPM brouhaha. Swati's blog made some interesting observations into IIPM and their association with IMI, Brussels. Later, she made some interesting observations about IIPM's founder.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New look, new feel.

I've been writing on this blog for over 10 months now and it has gone through quite a few iterations since it started out. However, many of the templates I have used have not been very reader-friendly. They've been a bit sparse or too complicated or very low-contrast.
Today, I had a little bit of time to play around, and not being completely tech-illiterate like many of my peers, I decided to check out some new templates to do up the blog. I didn't want to use another Blogger template, so I went scouting online for something new, fresh and different. I found some nice templates here and decided to implement one. Anyway, because these things seem to have a habit of inspiring me, I changed the look and feel of the other blog as well.
There are still a couple of bugs, like resizing the image which I will need to do and the font size might be a slight problem. Anyway, please let me know how the blog looks now.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Are us Brownies racist pigs?

But first, tom-ta-tom-ta-tom many thanks to Mister Saket Vaidya, but where is the trophy?
Yet, I must say that there are a lot of very good blogs by Indians out there and I do make an attempt to read as many as possible. Anyway, I doubt I am hardly mysterious anymore, yet I kinda like 'K' so I'll stick with my rather unimaginative nom de plume for the time being. Anyway, Saket you got yourself a beer. And I still want a trophy.
Anyway, now that my long, rambling and pointless first para has been dispensed with, lets get to the crux of the matter shall we (I should really try and be more concise). I was reading an article in the ToI which made me think. (Note : This does not mean that I am an intellectually challenged person who starts thinking when he reads the Times, but rather means that in the morass that is the ToI there is occasionally a good article alongside the idiotic 'sting' operations they mount on bloggers - the reaction to which I think has been needlessly over the top - but for a more balanced counter-argument read this by Saket)
The article in the Times was Rashmee Roshan Lall, their UK correspondent and points out a question facing the South Asian community after the recent Birmingham riots - Is the Brown Man a racist?
I met noted UK advocate and 'eminent' (so to speak) UK-Indian Sarosh Zaiwalla earlier today and during the course of my interview with him (The Bachchan libel case, the corruption allegations surrounding him and Keith Vaz, blah, blah, blah) I asked him this question. And he told me something rather pertinent, "Haven't we been racist for ages?"
As anyone who has met me would testify, I'm not Mister Fair-Boy. In fact, I'm rather dark, OK so people might say a lot of that is because of the fact that I haven't had a bath in three years (I'm really not THAT unhygenic), I really don't give a flying eff about my skin colour. I will never use any Fairness cream, and find the concept rather funny - though I must appauld the person (from a totally capitalistic point of view) who dreamt up the idea of marketing fairness creams in India. In fact, the recent launch of a fairness cream for men my Emami is just taking advantage of the demographic skew in the usage of 'Fair and Lovely' (more men use it than women).
However, it is true that Indians treat darker skinned people with a degree of contempt. I know for a fact that my certain family members of mine are extremely happy that Friendgirl is extremely fair, and I wouldn't hesitate to label my family (despite its occasional escapades in the realm of dysfunctionality) as 'progressive'.
Of course, jokes about skin colour are rather common in North Indian schools, less now than before though - I never got picked on for being dark, oh no siree, I was worse - I was a Bengali (but that is another story altogether). And while fairer Indians might diss out their darker brethren for nothing apart from the fact of being 'fair', there is still a rather weird bonding between Aryan and Dravidian stock desis.
But this is not about the way Indians treat Indians, or to be more precise the way Aryan/Dravidian Indians treat Indians, it is about the way we treat other communities. For example, while the average fat-horny-old-desi man would want to bed a Mongoloid girl from the North-East, there is an extremely high chance that he would consider that person beneath his community. Just ask yourself, how many North-Easterners do you see in managerial jobs or senior positions? Even though there has been a relative improvement lately, Indians are treating other Indians as second-class citizens for no fault other than their ethnicity. Little wonder that half those states want to secede.
Indians would treat East Asian people equally badly too, if it weren't for the fact that those chaps are equally racist too. A very senior Indian manager working in a large East Asian company firm once told me that all three Chinese, Japanese and Korean managers are equally racist, "They come here to screw the women and talk down the men. They treat workers like shit. The ones that do well are the ones who barely manage to look Indians in the eye. The ones that fail can't even do that." I was once told a very interesting story by a Delhi-based adman which went on the lines of the fact that some these companies have a formal 'whoring allowance' for their managers. Tip to people from the North-eas+t : Start acting like East-Asians and give people back the same shit they give you!
But we aren't talking about the East Asians here, but the way we act with the White Man and Black Man. Are we racist with White people? Damn, we are. We insult them at every oppurtunity, have secret desires of bedding them and think of them as big bags of money. But the way most Indians act around Black people sometimes startles me. By most Indians I mean average middle-class Indians. Take a Black person to a middle class neighbourhood and not only will the kids make fun of him, inside the daughter will be hidden and people will not look him in the face. Most people will think that either he is a criminal, rapist or a drug dealer (something that is not helped by the fact that almost every single cocaine runner in Bombay does happen to be from West Africa). I don't think I am over-generalising things here, because (and I must clarify this again and again and again) us bloggers are not a regular demographic, we would fit into what statisticians would call SEC A++ or SEC A+++. Even many Indians who have moved to the West (UK and the US in particular) have more misgiving about the Black community than most White people (save Neo-Nazi outfits) - this may not be the guy working at an i-Bank in Manhattan or London or the coder in Palo Alto, but the Middle-Class Indian drives a cab or runs a store.
I am writing from observations that I have made. I might be totally off the mark, I would like it if some of you wrote in with your own observations on the issue.
EDIT : Trying out a new look and feel, please let me know how it looks.

A Fatwa on you.....

While I respect the right of a community to have a law of their own, which they are more than welcome to practice in a country dominated by their community, I find some of the recent pronouncements of fatwa's by some illiterate and obnoxious celrics in India to be downright strange. My reaction on reading some of them vacillate between anger (Imrana) and laughter (Sania). Of course, I continue to believe that India should quickly adopt an Uniform Civil Code (a fact on which I will always support the BJP) but with Mrs G Redux in power and the crazy commies (Prakash Karat's latest is saying the Volker probe is a bunch of lies - inspired by what N.Ram wrote no doubt) this will never happen in the near future (Until in a highly optimistic scenario, Lalu loses in Bihar and this leads to a total breakdown at the Centre, snap polls are called and the NDA comes back to power, until then we'll have to wait till 2007). But, if you think some of the ones propounded in India are bad, I came across this article in The Guardian which reproduces a fatwa issued by some cleric in Saudi Arabia.
It is a fatwa on football/soccerr, and some of the suggestions made me go 'Whaddafaaak?'
Do not call "foul" and stop the game if someone falls and sprains a hand or foot or the ball touches his hand, and do not give a yellow or red card to whoever was responsible for the injury or tackle. Instead, it should be adjudicated according to Sharia rulings concerning broken bones and injuries.