Wednesday, May 31, 2006


According to the latest edition of India Today, St Xavier's, Mumbai is the best college in the country. Now, this, the tenth time the country's largest (and most arguably most cluless) magazine is coming out with such a survey. No college has ever come first more than once in the Arts category. Whether that is a deliberate ploy to keep everyone happy I don't know, but the ridiculousness of this survey is mindboggling.
Now, SRCC is the best college in Commerce (and has been all ten surveys), actually that is the one no-brainer in the entire survey. Any college where the cut-off percentage has hit 98% plus (04 and 05) is amazing. Then again, if you don't have 90% in your +2, your chances of making it to ANY North Campus college in Delhi University border close to zero - even if you fall under some quota or another, and that includes the ever powerful 'My Daddy Strongest' quota (crucial in St Stephen's).
Anyway, back to the nit-picking, Xavier's Mumbai comes second in the Commerce category, but the college themselves admit that the B.Com course they offer is a part-time afternoon course with a part-time faculty, much like the stuff they do at XIC. Weird, no?
The way the survey is conducted is similar to the one the Evening Standard (if I'm correct) runs in the UK. Principal's, HoD's and Deans of some 700 colleges are polled and asked how good or bad XYZ colleges are. The main failing of such a survey is demonstrated in that Xavier's Commerce point - better known and colleges with a degree of history always tend to be marked up, even if the course they offer isn't terribly good by their own admission.
Secondly, another huge failing of the survey is the 'Curriculum' bit. Tell me, how many colleges in India, rather how many of "India's (self-admitted) top colleges" set their own curriculum? None. The University does - which means that Economics at Stephen's, Hindu, SRCC and LSR is all the same. Therefore, ranking Universities of their curriculae might be slightly better.
Faculty rankings? You have to seriously kidding me when you tell me that the faculty of Stephen's is in the top ten in any subject (other than Maths and maybe Philosophy, where they're the best) - I was there not so long ago and I can pretty much guarantee you that the Senior Members of College (to use the technically correct term) are scarily off their rockers. But when you admit a bunch of geniuses, you will get people who end up across the Ivy League and Oxbridge or become big I-Bankers or mediapersons. It takes a monumental effort to make the cream go bad, but I also know that faculties at many other "Top" DU colleges are equally disasterous - and until there is a level of "Faculty Accountability" built-in (Hah! Like that will ever happen as long as there are unions) nothing will change. In fact, some of the better faculties in DU are actually in some of the historically more 'shady' colleges (thanks to DU's teacher recruiting norms). Again, with Xavier's over here - keep in mind most of the student's that are admitted after their Secondary Exams - thanks to Mumbai's rather weird (to a Delhi-ite) educational system, so judging them from an admission standpoint is a bit off, isn't it?
I really haven't read the survey that carefully, but if I can punch holes in the survey without really reading it, that not a terribly great sign isn't it? I mean, even their Sex Survey was better, and that ain't saying much. I shudder to think how bad the rest of it is - like the Medical and Engineering bits.
And I'm pretty sure that half the issue is full of adverts from educational institutions with dubious records and questionable recognition from bodies such as AICTE and UGC. So India Today Group must have made a pile of money from the issue (It is a really bad issue - the market crash story is nothing more than a very badly done compilation of other news reports which even an intern could have put together - that is what happens when you try to do a markets story out of Delhi by someone who has no clue how the markets operate). It is a sad fact of life that unless you score stupendously well in your +2 exam, your college choice is pretty much, well, done for.
This blog stands for a few things, and exposing the frailty of India's most dubious educational survey is one of them. I have no doubt that St Xavier's College, Mumbai has produced some remarkable people and on history alone it should be one of India's best colleges - but the method employed and some of the results are questionable. Which means the entire issue is questionable - not surprising because it comes from what I honestly believes is an increasingly questionable publication (The Spice add-on is a skin show, well, at least that is honest...)
If you must judge colleges in India, there are better methods to do it. I don't want to pontificate on how to do conduct such a survey, but maybe taking some clues from the slew of B-School surveys (at least some of the better ones) could be a start.

Monday, May 29, 2006

OK, Tata, Byebye

I love the name these guys came up with. Well, the big bright banner you see on top is not (only) a crass attempt by me to exploit the commercial potential of the blog and surrender to the capitalist urges that ruin the media, but more on the lines of promoting an idea which I genuinely think is interesting and getting a small sum of money for it which might be enough for me to pay one of the sportswear companies for a pair of new shoes.
Anyway, because of complex tracking code issues and all, I won't put a direct link here. Secondly, I am sure that many of you have read about the concept elsewhere from bloggers who have put up the banners as well, before me because heck, they generate a damn lot more traffic than I do.
If you haven't and if you're an internet novice and came here (of all places) looking for something like this (thanks Google!), let me explain. The concept is simple, these guys give you 50 grand to travel on a circuit across certain touristy parts of the country. Anyway, you have to virtually liveblog the entire journey - which would be fun considering that there might be times that the only way to blog is to take advantage of mobile networks. Now, obviously, despite the fact that my company would fire me if I even applied for another day's leave in the next three years, I have applied because I genuinely think that the idea is interesting. And after the recent Kerala trip - I can assure you that you can live like a king for 50 grand in 15 days. Then again, in such a circuit you'll need to take buses and trains and not have a large, comfortable Utility Vehicles to trash about.
Now, given other online tools such as Flickr (which is in its Gamma testing phase and has gone beserk of late) and YouTube you can even post images and video of your trip, which would definately make the blog much more fun. Bandwidth will, I assume, be an issue from certain parts of the country, but the idfea is good.
Let me clarify, honestly, that I'm not writing a plug over here, I think the concept is interesting, but I don't quite know how it will work out. Anyway, click the ad, and find out more, trust me, its worth your while.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cannes, alternative pictures.

Now for a totally insignificant and mindless post, all beacuse I found a great photostream on Flickr.
I think Cannes is an overhyped movie festival, and to make things worse that festival also celebrates just how badly Indian actresses can dress (only Mallika's dress last year which oozed sex appeal was a stunner, Aishwariya's 2004 dress still rankles the mind). It is a place where hype meets hype - Aishwariya for example, one of the Indian media's most obscene creations, because say what you will that woman is a pretty average actress (but, I gotta admit that she is a scorcher of a item dancer - no wonder Kajra Re became so big, on the big screen that sequence was HOT). By the way, have you seen the new Lux ad with the cartoonised Aishwariya (which seems to have a lot bigger boobs than the real one!). Anyway, click on the picture, it will take you to a great photostream on Flickr of some of the pictures behind the scenes at Cannes and some of the pretty women that you'll never see in the papers. I liked it a lot.
And Taylor Hicks won! America hasn't fallen as low as I thought it had. But, I wonder why the US manages to the singers right, but their Presidents wrong? Maybe telephone vote-in's are the key. Anyhoo, I have head for the home, well, not exactly, I'm headed for the twins place, and I'll grab something from KFC on the way. Damn, I missed that Fried Chicken.
I just realised, that deep inside I'm a consumerist pig. Consume, consume, consume. Heck, at least I'm honest about it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Yet another note on reservations.

Sigh, everyday I get SMSes from both sides of the campaign urging me to forward their messages to all and sundry. I don't understand the logic of how expatriating my money to Hong Kong (via Hutch) will help either cause. Weirdly enough, after having some very interesting conversations with some of my friends, and missed those 'interesting' conversations in between all the parties and the work, certain things are a bit clearer to me.
I'm not doing a volte-face and claiming that reservations are the cure for all ills - my argument is as follows. I do not disagree with the concept of reservations for people who have historically been downtrodden. But, I disagree with the quantum being suggested by the senile Arjun Singh. Secondly, more aggressive land reform West Bengal style is the best way forward. In 1977, many upper castes protested at the concept of land reform in Bengal, but today it is land reform that Jyoti Basu carried out which will ensure that defeating the communists in rural Bengal is going to be near impossible. And weirdly enough, you will not find a single upper-caste Brahmin or Kayastha Bengali who argues against what was done - sure, you'ld find a Talukdar or a Majumdar here or there who disagrees, but few and far between.
Unfortunately, carrying out land reform is something that the Raja's (and their playboy grandsons) will never carry out. If Arjun Singh's heart REALLY bled for the downtrodden, he should give all his lands away, the lands that have been acquired through years of ruling these downtrodden people. However, a party that is full of Raja's and Rani's will never do that, so they do the next best thing - educational reservation and reservation in the government jobs sector.
Sadly, this only has a very limited impact. It has facilitated in the creation of a Dalit middle class some argue, fair enough, much like affirmative action has created a Black middle class in the US and South Africa, but how many people? The problem is once these 'downtrodden' join the middle class and become upwardly mobile they become as consumerist as you and me, doesn't really help the widows of the farmers in Vidarbha or the landless labourer in Maharajganj does it?
Also, I have always posed one question to all proponents of reservation - or least the guys arguing for the high amount of reservation - the failure rate. Why is there all this talk of increasing seats, because there is a tacit understanding that high reservations lead to a very high failure rate among students who made it through this way. I'm not implying all of them will fail, but a fair number will, so instead of 100 doctors, we end up producing 90. If the new act goes through we might produce just 80. Of course, its not that Arjun Singh will suddenly institute a couple of new IIT's and IIM's and a fair number of REC's and ITI's will he?
I should ask GBO to file an RTI application to the ministry of HRD asking for the failure rate among students who made it via reservations. I'm asking what is the point of reservation in higher education, if the darned secondary and primary systems are so messed up, because no-one wants to teach in some god forsaken poor village, but even if some money was invested into village schools poor landless farmers have no options for their children. They might migrate to a city and the kids drop out altogether. Maybe, just maybe, if they had some land of their own, they would stay back and their kids might go to school and learn something - then maybe take advatage of the seats reserved for him in some medical school and hopefully return to his village because he would have something to return to.
But why do they do that? Because they have no hope in their villages. Why? Because there is no land reform. Y'know most of the Bengali migrants you see on the roadsides in the cities are very rarely from villages in West Bengal, they're Bangladeshi refugees. Why, you ask? The villagers - SC/ST/OBC - whatever, even poor upper castes - have land. The Commies might have screwed up indutry in Bengal (until now) and the education system to boot, but they got land reform right.
Y'know something, its not half-hearted efforts to give seats in colleges that will help get you votes, but land reform. And that, the Congress is never going to do with the current dispensation in power. No Land reform = No Equality. Ever. No matter what we do with education. Maybe my argument sounds very juvenile and simplistic, but I really think if we have to start this virtous cycle we have to have land reform, and I'm very sure all those kids taking out candle-lit marches to hither-tither and the Narayana Murthy's of the world will not disagree with me.
Raja saab, aap sun rahe ho, kya?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Whats going on?

1200 : The BSE has shut down today at 1155 hours. It collapsed 10.16% - 1111.70 points in under two hours of trading. It collapsed so fast that in office we were talking 500 points 20 minutes ago - "Time to Buy" people were saying. Just like the heady highs sometimes had no logical explantaion - no-one quite knows what has been happening over the last few days. I think the term 'Volatile' just got itself a new definition.

1310 : And now it is going down again, the Indian stock indicies are going batty, the markets climbed to over 10,500 then went down to 10,200 and are now back at 10,300. I'm pressing the 'Refresh' button as fast as I can. Down again, up again, down again, up again. Get back the Viagra somebody!
1350 : Any journalist who can honestly put his/her hand up and claim that they have a clue of what is going on today is lying through their teeth. That includes all our supposed experts over at Parel. Most equity analysts I know have switched off their phones. I'm sure the government institutions are buying right now, but people are selling. And they've been selling a lot!
1440 : Well, a degree of stability, and a very limited one at that seems to have returned, the Sensex has been skitting around 10,500 over the last few minutes. While it has regained a lot of lost ground since it reopened, I can imagine that the good folks at SEBI will be doing a lot of thinking over the next few hours. And so will the headline men over at the dailies. Whats the going bet on someone calling it 'Manic Monday'. Catchy tune by The Bangles that was too.
1535 : The BSE has closed for the day and what a day its been. The first ten per cent fall in the index's history - the market was down over 1100 points at one point of time. Today's range - just Monday May 22, 2006 was 9,826.91 - 11,142.90, over 1300 points! The sensex almost wiped the gains of the last three months in exactly three trading sessions. For the record, the market closed at 10,536.79, down only 401.82 points/3.67% - I don't believe I'm saying the market was down 'only' 400 points, but after what had happened between 1125-1155, only 400 points is a modest victory (EDIT : Whoops, Yahoo Finance, made a boo-boo here, for a while, the markets eventually closed down 456.84points/4.18% at 10,481.77) . The Sensex managed to pull up 700 points between 1255-1530, no small climb in itself. It was as if there were three different trading sessions today - one in the morning between 0955-1155 when it plummeted, another between 1255-1400 when it rocketed and a third between 1400-1530 when it stayed more or less level, with respect to the rest of the day, that is. I've got a funny feeling, we'll be talking about today's incidents for some time to come. This is the last update for this post.
EDIT : Alas no, I'm adding more to this post. The markets might have settled down just under the 10,500 mark, but will it breach 10,000 the wrong way tomorrow. Again! Well, 'Stop Loss' triggers might have been activated on certain scrips and brokers will have to cover margins, so the markets could well fall below 10,000. However, I'm no expert on the matter, and because certain stocks now have 'attractive' valuations (Reliance Petro, maybe?) there could be much hectic buying tomorrow - because stocks which looked extremely expensive less than a wekk ago, seem rather attractive at current levels. Of course, even if you do make money on them, Mr Chiddu would want a lot of that back to pay for Loha Lady V2's pie-in-the-sky schemes.
2100 EDIT : According to some late breaking rumours (I haven't confirmed this as yet) it seems that the FinMin is planning to investigate a particular newspaper (and more specifically, one of its Delhi-based senior business journalists) for writing negative stories that precipitated the crash. The little I know of this guy (I worked with his brother) I can pretty much rule out that the reporter is an operator - unlike experts on some TV channels - and something is even more intriguing right now, just like the last time the markets collapsed (KP) someone rather prominent is MIA again the days the market crashed. Hmmm.
What is stranger is that the FM is rather close to this group, but I don't know why he is barking up the wrong tree. The reportage might have been downcast, but hardly falsified. A couple of things are clear, a scapegoat needs to be found for the crash and Chiddu's gotta find one fast, otherwise his 'active' social life could come under a bit of pressure.
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Friday, May 19, 2006

Day 2 of the Great Indian Market Collapse

Right now, Yahoo! Finance India - definately one of the best financial websites there is (no fancy Java, just numbers, and loads very fast) tells me that the BSE Sensex has collapsed over 300 points. Most of that happened since one in the afternoon. On Wednesday evening the BSE Sensex stood at 12,217.81, yesterday it collapsed 826.38 points and stood at 11,319.43. Today, the market fell below 11,000, and has dropped almost 10% of its value in two days flat. That said, there has been rather hectic buying activity in the last fifteen minutes pushing the market above 11,000 again - maybe some people are trying to enter the market at 'slightly' more rational valuations - yet when companies trade at 20 times projected 2007 earnings (in sectors where I might be a bit sceptical about) still, I don't see how people are being 'rational'.
I have to rush out to attend the earnings conferences of Tata Motors and Bajaj Auto in a bit - both cleverly being done after the market closes, but I really don't think the market gives a rats ass. Chidambaram's minions policy to tax everything dry is backfiring on them spectacularly. And I don't think anybody will care about reservations or no reservations by tomorrow, or if Malini Ramani can go abroad or not. And surprisingly enough, given that India's 'best editors' know next to nothing about the market or even how corporates work, the media will be absolutely clueless about this.
Other than one channel maybe (given the lack of knowledge of basic stuff in their 'rival' there is only one channel to watch really), but since one person on that channel must have made a massive paper loss, I'm sure the mood there won't be good.
Oh, and at 1458hrs, the Sensex is stands at 10,985.15 down 406.28 points or 3.57%. Gotta rush!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Losing streak!

I woke up groggy eyed and late (at almost exactly ten - I did go to sleep at four - no excuse though) in the morning after Arsenal lost the game last night, though Barca were deserving winners, switched on my TV which happened to be on RajdeepTV and saw the ticker - I first thought that they'ld got the decimal wrong.
But at 10.15 I got a call from a friend - "TV dekh raha hai?"
"Haan, kyon?"
"Behanchod, its a freaking bloodbath!"
I had no idea how the day would progress, but bloodbath is too mild a term to describe what happened today. Fair enough, the Indian markets have been climbing inexorably high and today's fall is linked to falls across the world. Several other large indices also collapsed today - "A sea of red" the Beeb business news called it.
"Kitne log suicide kiye abhi tak?" someone in office blurted out.
I don't know but - dude this is serious - the BSE Sensex was down 826.38 points down 6.76% which is a lot in any language - and all 30 Sensex stocks were in the red for the first time ever.
I'm pretty sure the market will recover tomorrow, but before that the papers will do blanket coverage of the fall today and a lot of garbage will be spoken.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

K's honest car reviews II : The 'All-New' Mahindra Scorpio

Put it like this, after two weeks and over 4000kms in the 'All-New' Scorpio (including the jaunt down to Silvassa this weekend) and after having fed that car over Rs 12,000 worth of the heavy stuff, other than a burning hole in my wallet, no other part of my body is in crying need of a massuer.
Which proves two things - firstly this car is very comfortable over long distances - a claim few other cars that are made in India can really boast. Secondly, I'm not getting signs of early arthiritis, which would be quite sad at 27. Now having made this car a constant companion for two weeks, and getting to like it a lot - so much that I drove at least 3000kms on some of India's better stretches of road (and a beach at Muzhipallingad), I have to admit that the 'All-New' incarnation of Mahindra's home grown utility vehicle is far better than the older one. And that is not just because of a better looking tail-light cluster. In fact, the rump on this particular car looks much, much better than the older one - which looked like some in the engineering team told his designers, "Sorry folks, er, we have to chop off the last two feet of the car."
Now, the advertising says that the car has '43 new features', many of them are pointless aesthetic details, to some it might appear that this car is as new as the Indica V2 was back in the day (or the Indica Xeta today). Mahindra's 43 compares with the 23 'Luxury' features that General Motors claims the Optra has (including Keyless Entry - wow!). Honestly, despite Mahindra's engineering team telling me many of them - I can't remember most of them - because they really don't make a huge difference. What does make a difference though is the much improved rear suspension - in fact it makes the biggest difference of all. And for that alone, maybe the 'All-New' tag is justified.
The earlier Scorpio behaved like a supertanker when you tried to take turns - the suspension could not take the immense physical loads the car generated when you tried to tunr it into a corner. The car behaved almost American in its cornering ability. Unlike America, Indian roads do tend to be twisty and how - just try the ghats around Chiplun on NH17, almost as bad as driving to Manali (that is another story altogether).
The new Scorpio does feel a lot more nimble, however, is it still the best-handling vehicle in India? Not by a country mile, thats still the Swift (unless I enter Merc territory), but that was a Apples and Oranges comparison, lets do Apples and Apples. Is the Scorpio the best-handling utility vehicle in India? No. The Honda CRV, the Hyundai Terracan and the Grand Vitara are all superior. OK, so all those cars cost a great deal more than the Scorpio, so comparing it to its price band - the Scorpio is marginally better to ride in that the Chevrolet Tavera but not as comfortable over long distances as the Toyota Innova. However, the almost routine 'avoid getting crushed by a bus' swerve that we had to take constantly in the narrow roads of Kerala (coastal Kerala feels like one endless town at times) and my desire not to have bits of myself being pulled from a Paulo/Neeta/Raj Travels Volvo on the Bombay-Goa stretch meant that the car had to constantly swerve from one side of the 20-foot wide road to the other. And it handled it very well (maybe due to very wide Bridgestone Dueler tyres), as did we inside the car.
But would you take the Innova onto a beach? No. At Muzhipallingad, 10 kms out of Kannur, the Kerala Tourism department has allowed people to drive on the sands of the beach. I'm not questioning the rights or the wrongs here, but it was allowed and I went ahead and drove. And I had a blast.
Of course, there are things you do on a vehicle you get for a test drive that you will not do to a car you own yourself. And instead of the usual runs down Marine Drive or max speed checks on various toll roads near Delhi (heh heh!) taking the car for a swim in the Arabian Sea was fun and different. And just like the cost of a swim in the sea is to have sand everywhere - that is exactly what happened here - the engine bay was full of sand. Yipes!
Though, that said, other than a wonky speedo (only for a bit) there were no ill effects from the cars swim. It even took us up to the hills on some really terrible roads with no major issues. The car gobbled up most of the uncomfortable roads pretty decently. It was a very comfortable ride with a very good aircon (though, often we just let the sea breeze come in, it wasn't as disasterously hot as many people predicted - it was as bad as Bombay at worst). And trust me you begin to appreciate the space that the Scorpio afford you over long distances (including vast amounts of storage) - on the traffic of the Western Express Highway on the other hand the vehicle does feel massively big.
For eight or so lakhs, this vehicle is a lot of metal. I mean a lot of metal, and while it isn't perfec, and milage does leave a bit to be desired - we got around 11-12km/litre of diesel (and if you ever go to Kerala buy Diesel from Mahe, a part of a Pondicherry in Kerala between Kannur and Calicut, its Rs 31/litre there right now). This isn't great milage because I know the Terracan with its bigger (and better engine) gives the same on the highway. But, the common-rail 2.6 litre diesel engine is fairly powerful, and has loads of torque. Top speed is around 140kmph plus on the speedo, but the car isn't exactly gainly above 100-110kmph, to maximise economy stay at around 70-90kmph, a speed at which the car is very comfortable.
And the Scorpio talks back a bit too much - I got sick of that voice - must tell Mr Mahindra that they should ask that chick they use in the advert to give the voiceover. Another problem was the occasional problem of engaging third gear - it didn't happen too often, but it happened often enough (and to all three of us) to rule out driver error. It was a bit frustrating during overtaking, but again, it happened very infrequently, but it is an issue that the company has to look into.
Do I like the Scorpio? Yes I do. Will I buy one? If I had eight and bit lakhs I would. Not in black though.
PS : Thanks to BoingBoing I got to see the most disturbing McDonalds advert ever. And it was illustrated by a Bong sitting in Leo Burnett Delhi. Creepy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Medical riots

Everybody has written on this - there have been bloggers who know stuff writing on it and bloggers who know nothing writing on it, UndieTV and RajdeepTV are playing this 24x7 (Sorry, no direct reference intended) and I'm not talking about the Srinagar Sex Scandal. Its the anti-OBC reservation protests - spearheaded by the nations young and trainee doctors. Again, for a bit of cross-referencing - I had written a contentious post in January soon after Meira Kumar made her announcement.
Y'know something, Arjun Singh managed to time his quota announcement for OBC's almost perfectly - when most of the colleges and universities are either finishing off their exams or had already closed for the summer. The old man from Madhya Pradesh thought he had pulled off his greatest achievement. And the Docs went beserk.
Now, I've got my reservations against reservations - but pray tell me why has the Human Resources Ministry be concerned about all this sort of stuff. Why don't they seriously improve the lot of India's primary and secondary schools instead. All I read about HRD ministers is that they keep putting their grubby fingers into the pie of India's good higher education institutes. Yet, they do nothing about either increasing the number of higher education institutes - allowing characters like Ponytail to rip off students - and they do jack about the courses that students study in the few institutes they have.
Tell me something, India's top non-professional universities are at their wits end - Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Jadavpur, JNU (and others) are at breaking point but the government is doing nothing about improving that infrastructure. No, HRD ministers are all control freaks - age does do something to the brain. Why are they only so many IIT's and IIM's - why doesn't the government do something about establishing new colleges - or establish guidelines for private participation in higher education? Because that won't win them bloody votes.
I'll tell you a dirty secret about reservation in top institutes - many students who make it through quotas into top colleges cannot keep up. Ask people from IIT or IIM about this. And in Parliament someone should ask Arjun Singh the pass ratio of students who make it through quotas. Trust me it makes for sad reading. And many of these are kids who are from 'privileged' backgrounds.
I agree that it was traumatic to have been a lower caste in India - but I also feel that 'increasing' reservations is not the key. While I have nothing against a limited amount of affirmative action - I do feel that the truly downtrodden SC/ST/OBC people living in rural India will be better served if the government improved the education system in those sorts of places. And here is another tip - update syllabi without getting caught in politics - DU's English Syllabus was changed after 25 years, its History Syllabus has been going on for many more despite rapidly changing global geopolitics.
When I was in St. Stephen's College, a common joke was that many people in college did well academically and professionally 'inspite' of the faculty and the pathetic syllabus but I know the same joke was said in Presidency and Xaviers and Loyola and SRCC and yada yada yada. Many Indians are bright people and they tend to do very well despite the system but the best way to improve the lot of others is not foist them focefully into the system - because many of them will get crushed. get the schools right before you move ahead, Mr Singh (or Mr Joshi or Mr Whoever the hell sits in the HRD ministry).
If I make no sense and this sounds crazy - tell me that. Till then, all power to the docs and I'm gonna pray that no-one I know falls ill.

Monday, May 15, 2006

More censorship and beer problems.

This blog has taken to cross-referencing in a big way, however I have to refer back to my last post because of some of the comments that it generated. And just talk of a precautionary tale for the writers of a particular blog mentioned - no, not Pradyuman but rather a website called, which began with a very nice concept. Or so they thought!
They wanted to be Page 3 online, this was back in 2000 - the dot-com boom and all (when I worked at Indiatimes - how dumb I was!) and they even hired some writers from some big papers in Delhi to run the place. It was all about eyeballs and such - no-one cared that there were only some 250,000 internet connections in India and less than 5 million users - most geekly 18-25 year old guys looking for women/porn. Hey, come to think of it, that is still the predominant category among desi net surfers even today.
Now, what that site became was a bitchboard - kids from Delhi's top (hah!) public schools started spreading stories on each other. Kids from MSVV/MSBK/DPSMR/DPSRKP wrote about what happened in their bathrooms and the kids from the single-sex schools (SCS/CJM/CC/LC/FAPS) were as bad. It was lunacy out there - and 99.99% of the stuff was gibberish. Much like the comments section of the blog I'm talking about. Heck, come to think of it, the kids who commented on DG have grown up now and it seems they have joined the news channels. Which is why I would rather watch movies with such amazing titles (it is rather irritating that such gems of Indian cinema never play on the mainstream multiplexes or the mainstream cable channels) than Rajdeep TV or UndieTV - because they're staffed by childish idiots.
And - why does Indian beer suck so much? I mean, why must a bottle contain 50% glycerine?
Now, the Indian beer market is quite unique - the weird tax laws in India for alcohol mean that a brewer effectively sells in 30 different entities rather than one - VAT be damned. The lack of a smooth logistics system means that it takes a week for a bottle of beer to make it from Aurangabad (Fosters) to Delhi. Now given that beer trucks don't have cooling in India - the glycerine is added to ensure that the beer stays drinkable. Which means the best beers (like Kings in Goa) with low glycerine content only get sold in limited areas. This also means that instead of a large single brewery - India has tens of microbreweries - Kingfisher is brewed in some 20 different places and tastes insipid from each one of them.
Now, Vijay Mallya has actually canned some of the other brands in the UB stable - like Kalyani Black Label - or ruined the concept - like Ice which began life as a low alcohol content, crisp beer
and now (at least in Kerala) feels heavy and strong. Smaller (sometimes nice like Kings) brands without national coverage cannot compete with UB (they don't own breweries across the country) so VM continues getting richer and we keep on getting bad beer.
The other problem with beer in India is that the concept of nice, light beers don't seem to exist. The objective of drinking - beer - of all drinks is to get wasted as fast as possible. Therefore, we have the rather unique concept of 'Super Strong' beers in India - such beers are supposed to have only 8.25% by volume. But, believe you me, I've drunk beers (and not too much of them) which have left me pissed drunk very, very fast. Not the standard Thunderbolt, Godfather, Haywards 5000 stuff - I once picked up Kala Titar (aka Black Patridge) at Surajkund and by god, that must've had 25% by volume alcohol. Four grown adults in my car were demolished - I prefer the Bong term dhongsho - by one 650ml bottle of hard-core Haryanvi beer. Tequila I can handle lots of, but this is the bomb!
And now, the problem is that judges in the SC make observations that the government should work really hard in implementing Article 47 of the Constitution. I'll leave the country if that happens! I mean they let people like this into our Supreme Court - I'ld rather have the people Bush nominated anyday! Judge laws people, not morals.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Promotion Season / Blogging

Normal programming resumed sooner than I thought.
Life has become 'Special' for me as some of you speculated. Bossman was in Bombay last evening and I got a chance to thank him. I got this nice feeling when I 'updated' my signature in Microsoft Outlook today morning. For kicks I also changed my gmail signature to something stupid. Anyway, but after promotion season is over I also look around to see who else has been bumped up and who are the people who've been left behind. It always makes for interesting viewing - even though some might argue that it is needlessly competitive.
However, it wasn't a comparison of ones peers that caught my eye. I was seeing the tombstone of a major national publication based primarily out of Delhi - well make that almost exclusively out of Delhi which has the following rather unique editorial staff. They have one Editor, obviously. But they also have :-
3 Managing Editors
4 Executive Editors
4 Deputy Editors
3 Senior Editors
That means they have 15 very senior Editors on board. Just for comparison, their main competition has a far more streamlined organisational structure. Not for a minute am I implying that any of these 15 are not worth their designations - even though I know of people who would want me to say that. But someone please explain to me what the f*** are three Managing Editors and four Executive Editors going to do when you essentially bring out ONE edition. No wait, wanking is an option - because most of the time the stuff this organisation comes out with is so godawful is scares me and that despite 15 such gifted people. Say what I might about ToI or EchTee, their organisational structures are far superior. Even though I heard that one Executive Editor was bumped up leaving the other Executive Editors very upset - they were so ready to get new visiting cards. And therein lies the rub, so many senior people leads to guaranteed political machinations (this organisation has been described by former senior editorial employees with whom I've interacted by the terms 'snakepit', 'minefield' and 'catfight heaven'), particularly given that the 'Editor' of this place is in a particularly troubled spot right now.
Now, if you thought this was classic, lets look at the number of other people this organsation has - seven Associate and Assistant Editors (ranks that Newspapers usually use to fluff - but here you get to put 'Managing' or 'Executive' on your card) and 17 Correspondents (across all levels). Wait a second, 15 Senior bosses and 17 underlings. Wow, thats almost a one-to-one ratio.
Now, I would call this organisation 'Clueless' (not just about structures but also news, but the latter is a different story which I have written about before - hint, hint), but you can guess the name of this wonderful place in the comments.
And if they come to hire you, don't agree unless they make you a 'Senior Editor' at least, Try for 'Managing Editor' you might just get it as well.
I'm not making another post today, so I'll add material to this one.
It seems one large media house has issued an email to its Editorial staff 'advising' them on blogging. In no uncertain terms employees are advised to keep things 'personal'. It is not my media house, and to be really fair to my Bosses, they have allowed me to continue writing on this blog with only the occasional aside to 'control' content - which in a way is fair. Other than a few times when I'm a bitchy mood, this is what you would describe as a 'vegetarian' blog - a bit spicy, but vegetarian nonetheless.
Now, even though this issue has evoked consternation here and there and certain media houses have barred the URL, my take is a bit weird. Firstly, one of the reasons I blog is that I get to write and I've always felt the only way you can improve your writing skills is by writing. A lot. However, there does need to be a level of moderation from within.
You often know certain things about your own organisation which is comepetitive information - now say for example you are writing the flyer for XXX daily. This is your first ever flyer and you go and blog about it before your edition is out - don't think others from rival media houses don't read your blog. I know people from across the media spectrum read mine. So, if I were to give competitive information out - I am compromising my organisation. I know that we are all mercenaries - but if I'm a mercenary, I want to be a bloody good and loyal one as long as I get the moolah. Across blogs run by some people in the media fraternity, a lot of stuff is needlessly given out - fair enough, marketing and adsales people tend to blurt out more - so imagine what would happen if they start blogging (Scary!!!!) - but a small bit of advice to some media bloggers - until and unless your organisation has embraced blogging as a new modicum to transmit information (yeah, right!) don't blog about work directly. Yeah, sure I bitch out pressers and all that - but if I'm doing a story on something I don't tell half the world and their uncle by posting info requests/updates on blogs or other online media. Don't think that you're the only tech-savvy S.O.B on the planet.
Plus, can a 'blog' be truly 'personal'? Touchwood, I've had a very good equation with my bosses and most of my colleagues past and present. But, in case I didn't and I didn't run a 'anonymous' blog and I then proceeded to bitch my bosses/colleagues out - that to me crosses that very thin personal/professional boundry. Though, that said, I do like WFN and its bitchy nature I'm not so sure that their 'Name and Shame' policy is the smartest thing to do. Because at the end of the day, this is one heck of an incestuous profession, and news always spread (in the older days EchTee's newslist found its way to BSZ Marg and sometimes the other way round - I hear Archana and Noida also have a leaky phone line connecting them) but the naming people to the whole wide world - and with the WWW - the whole wide world is rather literal. Visitor stats can make for some very interesting reading on where and why people come to blogs.
OK, so I'm exactly not this example of ethicality and I am not claiming the moral high gound. However, media bloggers should be careful, no-one has lost their jobs as yet, but I have a very funny feeling someone who is a media 'insider' who blogs will lose a job for blogging about something they should not - not the ridiculous organisational structure like I have blogged about above - because that is really both depressing and funny at the same time (and because of the 'tombstone' is public knowledge, I am not disclosing family secrets here). And use a level of your own judgement when blogging - I've made mistakes and blogged about things I should not, but I have become more circumspect of late and will have to stay that way. Its a dangerous world out there.
That said, blocking the URL is censorship and reflects poorly on the senior editors and management of the news organisations that do this. Honestly, RajdeepTV (even though I do suspect that Rajdeep knows who the WFN bloggers are and he himself uses the blog as a useful tool to get the message across - banning it in office means people won't waste time writing comments there all day but they surf it from home in their own time - call me cynical/stupid but this is a gut feeling) and Jain&Jain NOW (Bennett and her sister organisations need to reevaluate the way they look at blogs - which is quite strange because Bennett counts as both the most progressive and the most regressive organisation when it comes to blogs) should not do the Ostritch in the sand thing. Blogs are here to stay and you really can't take on Google either by telling them to ban XYZ blog. The best of dealing with blogs is not blocking them and hoping no-one reads them, but understanding the format.
Yada, yada, yada, its a Friday night and I have a life, so til' tomorrow.


Originally uploaded by Tripping in India.
I set up another Flickr account to post some of the pictures from this trip. Click on the picture and go there. I know I don't usually get all personal on the blog, but I am reflecting the warm afterglow of a great holiday!
On another note, things have been fairly active while I was away - with Pramod Mahajan passing away, the elections - of which I saw a bit in Kerala where the Lefties swept into power - and despite my dislike for communism, the lefties were able to make huge inroads into the voteshares of the Muslim parties which for some strange reason are considered 'secular' parties by the Congress.
Amma lost and Sun TV won and in West Bengal - well my creed has decided that we'll stay on as the world strangest communists for now. Bongs make for stranger commies than Prada wearing Chinese. On the other hand mad JNU types whose sister-in-laws run influential news networks make for dangerous Commies. Brrr... Seriously, I find Prakash and Brinda Karat scary.
And there was that entire Kaavya Vishwanathan thingie too. I've also taken 'inspiration' for college term papers and tutorials - for gods sake if you have to write something interesting on such delightful texts such as 'Joseph Andrews' or 'Mansfield Park' you'ld take inspiration too - but then again - 'inspiration' was a way of life in SSC. Someone told me that one of my fathers old MA tutes (from the 70's) was still doing the rounds when I was in college. That said, there is a big difference between some crappy tutorial which had no impact on your academic results and a book which is part of a $500,000 deal. Heck, if someone gave that kind of crazy money I'ld make sure that nothing seemed remotely familiar. But anyway, say what you will the girl's badly taken photograph made all the papers - and the ToI - that doyen of originality took a very strong stand on the issue.
Anyway, normal programming will resume soon, till then enjoy. But before that, I have finally found someone in the blogosphere who agrees with my contention that Rang De Basanti is not what half the world makes it out to be, and in his brilliant style too.

Back in Bombay....

OK, short post. Don't quite have the time, my Outlook has spent the last hour downloading some 300 new emails, even though I know half of them are either spam or PR mails (almost as bad as spam most of the time) and some are dated, I have to see them. So I will post more stuff later. Til' then, all I will say is that I'm back - maybe a bit bigger (thanks to lots of coconuts and prawns - usually together) and a lot darker (thanks to the sun) and still have sand in various orifices. But I had a blast, anyway have to work now.