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.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


I am no marketing guru or profess to be anything of the like, but when a brand which I admire and one I actually have a pleasant user experience with dramatically changes its brand image, it seems to affect me. So when my telecom operator decides to drastically change its colour scheme, I do feel that something has changed. But when my telecom operator (or as is the case in Bombay, my to-be telecom operator) decides to brand itself Pink, I am a bit flabbergasted. I know that ToI had done a story on the future colours of Hutch two days ago, but the story still gave me some hope - they said Pink and Blue.
But Hutch has gone Pink! All Pink! Of colours in the world, they had to choose Pink! OK, so its a Dark Pink, but its freaking Pink none the less. And the citizens of India are soon going to be inundated with a pink campaign.
And by the way, in case you didn't know - the Orange brand's days are numbered in Bombay, because Hutch will return the rights to the brand to France Telecom in a couple of months. So from Orange, Bombay will go Pink. In even better news, because Essar bought over BPL Mobile and Essar are important stakeholders in Hutch and I assume Hutch would like to consolidate all its companies under one roof before they go for an IPO, plus I don't think Essar would like to pay the BPL money to use their brand, expect BPL Mobile also to go Pink soon.
Hutch might well roll out this new branding and colour across the world, with India just being the tip of the iceberg. After all, India is going to become Hutchison Telecom's largest market - if it isn't already with over 10 million Hutch (and Orange Mumbai) users. Vodafone is Ferrari Red, Orange is well, Orange and now Hutch is Pink. But ah, here we have a problem, because Duetsche Telecom is also Pink! But these are different pinks and the branding is also wildly different.
Anyway, I am rather sure that Hutch and O&M will come out with a killer advertising campaign soon and sell me the idea of Pink (Have you seen the brilliant Irfan Khan adverts for Hutch ka Chhota Recharge?). Well, their website hasn't changed as yet, but I guess by tomorrow morning, we'll be singing a different (Pink?) tune.
PS : One quick automobile brochure type disclaimer : The colour of the logo as seen on your screen may be nothing like the colour that Hutch actually uses, but let me assure you its pink all right!
EDIT : Why has Hutch gone Pink? and other similar questions are the most popular keywords for this blog, so as a service to everyone, I'll explain things a bit more. In 1995, Max Industries controlled by Analjit Singh acquired one of the two cellular licenses for the Bombay circle. Actually, Max Industries had acquired the license for Delhi but they swapped licenses with Bharti - which is an interesting bit of cellular telephony history in India. Now, when Hutchison Max was established they had acquired the rights to the 'Orange' brand for the period of ten years (if I'm correct) from Mannesmann, the German publisher which operated 'Orange' in Europe. However, Mannesmann, being a publisher obviously saw the telecom business as a non-core business and wanted to get out of it (plus the fact that they lost a lot of money). They tried to sell to Vodaphone in 1999, and Vodaphone AirTouch acquired the company but wanted out.
In 2000, the complication began. Orange got sold to France Telecom for a whopping $37 billion. This was the era of highly overpriced telecom acquisitions, and this wildly optimistic acquisition loaded France Telecoms books with a lot of debt. Now ironically, France Telecom at that point of time held 26% in BPL Mobile, but because of the deal that Orange had struck, the brand had been licensed for a certain period of time (10 years would be a good guess) and since HutchisonMax had spent a bomb promoting the brand they weren't keen to kill it. So you ended up with the strange situation that the brand of one of the partners in one of Mumbai's cellular networks was being used by the other network. Make sense of that if you will. On top of that, as both Hutchison and Orange have 3G operations in competing countries, this co-opetition thing was rather weird. So much so that Hutch executives who went to global Orange brand summits were locked out of certain meetings.
France Telecom exited BPL Mobile a long time ago, and today BPL Mobile is owned by Hutchison's main partner in India - the Essar Group. Some people (including me) feel that the BPL Mobile brand will be killed in favour of Hutch sometime around the IPO. After 10 years, France Telecom obviously decided not to renew their license agreement with Hutch and the Orange brand had to be killed. According to some stories I'm hearing, Orange didn't want the colour Orange to be used in the Hutch logo. Hutch had to be different - Red was out since Red is Airtel, Blue was BPL Mobile and Yellow was Idea. Hutch needed a high impact colour and sadly Pink seemed to be the only one available it now seems or what Hutch's brand managers thought that Pink was the only colour available.
Which is still unacceptable - even Green would have been better - maybe Lilac. The Hutch store's all over the place look godawful.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Between a rock and a hard place.

Since I finally started taking a newspaper at home because I finally ran out of Archie Comics to read on the pot, I am getting news seconds after I wake up. And since I am deprived of the joys of 50 channels of news on TV (Because I haven't bought a TV, yet) this early morning contact with news feels good. And, I did eventually subscribe to the Times of India, because for four bucks you get one hell of a lot of newspaper - it might even be thicker than a regular edition of the New York Times, and the NYT does sell for ten times price (Here, one should refrain from making the quip that the NYT is a hundred times better than the ToI, so actually the ToI should cost only 40p). Anyway, back to the point. While I like DNA and even once in a while read HT, I do find Mumbai Mirror to be the best new newspaper to have been launched. Why? Because its is so completely vapid and it makes no bones about it. And heck, I love the Subhash K Jha columns on Mondays, yesterday's one had something about how Aishwariya Rai was singing Happy Birthday to him from Slovakia. But, today, the Mirror carried something really interesting. An interview with Shashi Tharoor (this link won't work beyond a day because of the awful way the Mirror archives its site, go to the archives of 8th November 2005 and search for the piece). Now Mr Tharoor is an UN Under-Secretary General and has attempted to write several novels (I say attempts because, they are exactly that). Now Tharoor, unlike many of his other influential batchmates from the St Stephen's Class of 1975 is a Congress apologist and he has hardly vieled his intention to join that den of corruption (of course, that depends if his ambition to become Secretary General get squashed). So when his potential future employer and his current employer have a spat over a man who believes the Berlin Wall was a good thing, it makes for interesting reading.
By the way, I finally worked out why the Lefties supported Natwar. Its because that man also had Dinosaur-era opinions of global politics. And talking about our commies, the ToI had an interesting piece today about how the party leaders had a tough time controlling the crowd protesting at the Indo-US air exercises in Bengal. Because the crowd seemed to be more interested in watching the F-16's and the E-3 AWACS rather than listening to doddery old Bengali men. And Indiatimes in all their glory doesn't have a link to the story as yet.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Don't people learn?

You have to hand it to Ponytail. Today hoping that the blog fires have died down he reverted back to his old advertising. Just check out Page 3 of today's HT in Mumbai. Same old promises, same old shit, amybe taking advantage of the fact that many people are 'blogged out', maybe even the fact that some people took advantage of the situation and tried to make matyrs of themselves over the entire issue. Sigh!
Anyway, the man is also a plagarist - the latest issue of his magazine has listed data and information from another publication and passed it off as their own. Many of the articles printed by his magazine are talks or seminars delivered by the people whose pictures are used, but anyway. I happened to read Ponytail's letter in his magazine, and it contains some brilliant gems of hilarity.
Ah, well, at least Ponytail isn't a two-faced hipocritical bastard like the leaders of the Indian Communist movement. In their desperation to save Iran from international reprimand they want our (discredited) Foreign Minister to tell the US to bugger off. They also want the government to tear up the (fairly decent) Nuclear deal that we have signed with the Yanks (judging by the way the Chinese have reacted to it, it must be a good deal). They also don't want our Air Force to practice against F-16 fighters and of course, then there is retail, let alone how their steadfast refusal to change labour laws has probably kept more people unemployed than it has saved. IT and Services might be outperforming the economy, but no country has made the big-league without manufacturing led growth and no labour reform and no FDI in retail will keep India back. Something that suits the Communists and Lalu, because they feed off the poor and illiterate. Don't blame Capitalism, blame the Commies.
Anyway, back to the point. Ponytail is back to his old tricks - "Dare to Think Beyond the IIM's" - Yeah, right. I wonder if the advert is carrying a modified disclaimer?

Friday, November 04, 2005


I just read this very interesting article in The Guardian.
It essentially argues that because Generics companies are always threatening to break patents, Big Pharmaceutical companies haven't bothered to develop new drugs. It uses a quote from one of those bastions of intellectual property protection, Bill Gates.
"When you think about developing world health, the price of drugs is not the key issue. It's the drugs that aren't being invented, and part of the reason they aren't being invented is that [if] the pharmaceutical companies work in these areas, then they're expected to give the drugs away. So they never go into the area, and so what we have to do is create the right incentives for the pharmaceutical companies so there is willingness to do differential pricing. Where government money, philanthropic money comes in and takes some of the risk, then we get the breakthroughs."
The truth is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is possibly the best thing that has happened to third-world countries in a long time, because there is almost no development in the drugs that are killing people. Instead, pharmaceutical companies find themselves developing drugs that satisfy the sexual urges of old white men. Almost two-thirds of the global drugs market is in North America, in terms of value. Imagine that, 300 million people, five percent of the world population consumes two-thirds of the global volume in non-generic drugs (some $50-odd billion a year), add in Western Europe and Japan and the number crosses nearly 85-90%. Some 750-800 million people that is.
This is not software where five hundred geeky college students can work together to create a tremendous new piece of 'free' software. This is something that requires specialists with years of training working in specialised facilities developing new molecules. Now then these drugs have be tested for years, one in three drugs fails in testing, and after the Vioxx fiasco, there are those who believe that testing norms are too lax. Yet, almost no drugs are created to combat Malaria or for that matter, there has been little work on AIDS of late, because I'm sure Western companies are scared that a Cipla or Sun would want to break their patent in a jiffy, supposedly for the poor of South-Asia and Africa.That is what is happing with Roche and Tamiflu, the problem is that Tamiflu requires the 'Star Anise' flower, and that is rather expensive and rare, so the chest-beating might be just that, because Roche has been buying up almost the entire supply of the product (much to the chargin of Chinese chefs) to ensure that they can make enough of the drug in case of an outbreak.
But, its only one or two Indian generics companies (notably Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy's) that are doing any work with development, and strangely enough, many of the drugs they are developing are for Diabetics and Heart Diseases, two diseases that plague this country. As time moves forward I am sure that companies in India will grow to value the importance of intellectual property protection. Yet, Western pharmaceutical companies have to realise that stupid 'patent-extender' policies that they indulge in is not the way to go forward. I am sure that only when more drugs get developed will prices overall for patented drugs actually go down. Instead of threatening to break patents, governments should help in creating more bio-specialists who can develop more medicines. India produces thousands of Doctors but very few people capable of developing medicines - most of them like my cousin sis, run off to good ol' Amreeka because, heck, they do have better facilities. But, India can become a global leader in bio-development, if only our Government were to do a little bit - like setting up a nodal body or institute.
Anyway, I know this sounds very improper in sphere surrounded by socialists or rather anti-capitalists, who believe that everything is for the common good, but the Soviets never developed anything impressive drug-wise did they? Sadly enough, intellectual property protection is what will save the worlds poor not a lack of it!


The other day someone wrote that see what happens when the Indian cricket team starts losing, everybody will forget them and we'll look at Sania and Narain. Um, if anyone has bothered to look at the sports pages of late - its cricket and European soccer. OK, so the ToI today carried a piece on how Nico Rosberg took the second seat at Williams, a seat that Narain Karthikeyan was hoping to buy, but Williams made enough money from Jenson Button and didn't want to buy Narain. Despite what the Indian auto magazines (hah!) say, Narain had been completely out-performed by his non-pay team-mate Tiago Monteiro in the second-half of last season. Narain was a novelty in F1, the first Indian F1 driver, he was never going to become the first Indian F1 champion or F1 podium finisher, heck, he did have a chance of making the podium, but he bungled that up at Indianapolis (and his reaction to that race ruined whatever respect I had for him). Anyway, its rather clear that Narain most probably won't have a drive next season. Experiment over.
Honestly, instead of seeing a driver in F1 I would rather see an unified motorsports body in India - there are two the FMSCI recognised by the FIA and the MAI recognised by the Indian Government, which has crippled the development of motorsports in this country. Heck, other than a couple of race-tracks down south there aren't even good tracks in India. Instead of spending money to send not-so-good drivers to F1, we should spend on developing India's motorsports infrastructure, so that we can also produce a Raikkonen or an Alonso or even a Nico Rosberg, who isn't just a famous name - he also won the FIA GP2 championship this year.
By the way, I find A1 Grand Prix rather boring.
Now back to Cricket. We are winning, something which is driving a stake through thousands of Ganguly acolytes (read : the Bengali community). I heard the rather ridiculously cynical idea that Sri Lanka are throwing the matches so that Ganguly doesn't come back. I might be as much of a cynic as the next person when it comes to cricket match results, but for gods sake. I genuinely like the way this 'new' team is playing. There is a verve to the team and then there is Dhoni, who I believe has buldgeoned his way into the Test team. Bye bye Parthiv Patel.
But, the big sporting news, something which must leave my old guitarist friend Hammar who is currently in Boston close to crying (its strange to see a big bloke cry, but the news is such) is the implosion in Manchester United. The problem is that other EPL club fans (such as an Arsenal supporter like myself) are secretly rather pleased at ManU's apparent fall from grace. First they are bought by a greedy American (instead of upwardly mobile rich Russian) and now this. Pity, because they were a great club. I agree with Kevin McCarra, I think Sir Alex should move on, because somehow Mourinho and Wegner are much better managers, and somehow know the inherent worth of players far more.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


First, I had a great Diwali, I lost copious amounts of money yesterday after winning a kilogram of tenners on Monday night. But, big deal I had a great time looking at all the fancy fireworks that the people of South Delhi sent up to the moonless skiy. The fireworks might have been imported from China (much to the chargin of the Sivakasi factories) but by god, they were of a higher quality than anything that I've ever seen before and they were quieter and I believe less pollluting as well (as they conform to EU pollution rules, or so some of them claimed).
Anyway, before I lost the money I went to meet Doctor D who came back from his tour of duty (on a film set) to Kabul. Two weeks of Afghanistan and the man looks dazed. Maybe because it was the large amounts of cheap Afghan hash that he smoked (very high quality - for 200 Afghani a tola the stuff is a steal). But also was amazed at the extreme contrast in that land - on one side there are tens of Toyota Landcruisers (which the standard mode of transport over there) on the other there is extreme poverty. And there are Bollywood stars everywhere. The Doctor was working on a film which starred John Ambraham (The Kabuliwala's liked calling him John Imbrahim) and had tales of how the man was mobbed by large numbers of AK-47 toting men at everywhere he went.
But for a land that has endured war for 30 years non-stop, he said that it is a country of amazing natural beauty. I'll get him to scan some of his pictures (The Doc is a die-hard film fan) and post them. Yet, so many cities have seen battles for them for years - I believe Mazar-e-Sharif itself has been fought for 22 times in the last 10 years. Going back a few centuries it is amazing that a dusty mountainous land has been fought for so many times.
What I am scared of is that while Afghanistan is bad, the seed for centuries of warfare has been laid in Africa, and that is going to be far worse than what we saw in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Happy Diwali and all about freedom.

First, Happy Diwali and my head still hurts from last night. And five hundred rupees in tens can really stuff your wallet. Sidharth organised a great party yesterday and some of us had a very entertaining time playing teen-patti. Small stakes of 10/20, but I still managed to end the night with one hell of a lot of ten rupee notes. A lot of them, and many twenty buck notes as well. A breakfast at Fortune Global wasn't too bad as well.
Anyway, coming back to the Delhi blasts, yesterday's TOI had a front-page edit advocating the imposition of laws that could prevent attacks like what happened on Saturday. Essentially, I believe the newspaper was asking for a reimposition of the rather repressive POTA. An act that the Congress government repealed (rather than modifying it) when they came to power. Strange because Maharashtra (despite a Congress government, though it is the strangest Congress government in the country) still has the even more repressive MCOCA.
India has suffered terrorism for longer for almost any country in the world save Israel/Palestine (Note, I equate both parties in the Middle East). The killing of soldiers and paramilitary forces in attacks might be shocking, but since they are still 'soldiers', I could still at one level understand those attacks. But the killing of women and children who are out with their families is indefensible at any level.
However, will it be correct to impose an authorotarian act upon us because of that? I don't know, because I do not know how authorotarian the act will be. Will it be as invasive as the 'Patriot Act' that the US has? Or will it just add another level of security to Indian streets? Frankly, I still feel no matter how much security you have through metal detectors and guys feeling up my ass-cheeks every time I fly, India by its sheer crowd and inherent open-ness will continue to have the occasional attack - killing even more civilians.
The only way I feel we can tackle this is to be proactive (a la Israel) and just send a few of those Sukhoi's we have parked at Pune across the LoC and attack the militant camps once and for all. But with this government, which breeds corruption (Natwar Singh, Hullloooo?) and then denies it (Mitrochkin is a lying bastard and now Paul Volker is being tarred too, lets just forget Lalu) is not going to be the one to do it.
Somehow, at a karmic level we are being punished for having elected this bunch of jokers into power.