Should you have any questions, or comments about this review, I'd love to converse with you on Twitter.
I must admit that the title of the book had me interested before I even had it in my hands. Over-reliance on computational equipment is something I tend to fight against.
The book is a breezy read. At about 150-odd pages, you would easily run through it at one go. The language is simple, lucid, and conversational. Unfortunately though, grammar has been a casualty at places throughout the book.
The author touches upon five areas - innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, priorities, and corruption - and each section is a lively mix of anecdotes, facts, and thought-starters. The anecdotes are mostly from the author's own experiences and observations and are narrated in the same easy style that is maintained throughout the book. The facts, though, could probably have done with some double-checking. At one instance, for example, the author mentions that mobile (vehicle-mounted) ATMs are not seen in India yet. In reality, though these ATMs are not as popular in India as the fixed ones, such machines exist in India and are not exactly as rare as the proverbial blue moon either.
Each of the five sections in the book touch upon relevant and important points. However, the sections don't always seem very coherent. What the narrative definitely manages to do is set you pondering on what has been said.
The section on Innovation, while informative, overlapped with Technology and focussed largely on tech-related innovations. Consumer electronics technology is widely equated with innovation. However, I would have loved to see some more examples of grassroot innovations that solve problems uniquely without having an aspiring Silicon Valley poster boy on board.
The section on Entrepreneurship would be of value to anyone who aspires to either start-up, or is interested in understanding why entrepreneurs are called the growth-drivers in our country. This section also mentions some important parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India.
The fourth section is where it all comes together as a roadmap for India in the form of Priorities. Again, there are a good number of thought-starters here pertaining to the rural-urban divide, and the issues relating to our country's physical infrastructure.
The author has devoted an entire section to an issue that has been gnawing at the heart of every conscientious Indian lately - corruption. The author discusses the possibilities of rooting corruption out not through political means, but by leveraging technology.
To conclude, this book is a good read if you are trying to get a handle on important issues and opportunities that are confronting us urgently. This book does its job of acquainting you well with these and get you started off on your own train of thoughts.
This Navami morning, I woke up to the news that the noted litterateur, Sunil Gangopadhyay had passed away. A prolific author, his works spanned genres and age-groups. With his loss, Bengali literary circle has lost a star.
Here is his poetry "Sahaj", translated from Bengali by Nadini Gupta:
With ease I make a million flowers bloom,
All at once I light up some suns, moons, stars,
In a passing whim, I blow out the moonlight
(Remember that moonlight?) Or the sunlight (Remember that too?)
Don't believe a thing my detractors say.
They might say that I am a child, or a fool,
Or a magician...
Ragged tents, broken drums, patches
On his black coat, but look what a deadly dance he's dancing
On the pupils of her eyes, onlookers aren't fooled, they laugh
But the girl will hear no reason, oh how she ails from this dose
Of illusion. Don't believe them.
Hey you revilers, look,
Look with what ease I hold up the three worlds -
On the little finger of my left hand.
The darkness, the seas, hills, all look on amazed.
You, only you, have forgotten the language of surprise!
Come on into my house, and see what a wondrous house I keep.
The roof overhead - see, but no walls have I on the sides.
(Bounded by walls all around, dreams and phlegm in your heart,
Marking age on your fingers, drawing fancy pictures on walls,
Carefully you guys will live)
While look in my house breezes of all kinds,
Like faithful retainers move around, brush away cobwebs,
Test colours on cornices, busy day and night.
I sit in my wall-less room, and paint on the girl's pupils.
Much easier this than making pictures without.
Go back, you revilers, you are foolish children, and you,
And you, don't believe them when they call me magician.
Back in school, the history of Modern India chronicled our struggle against the British. Perhaps a lot of these stories were told as the fathers of our young country wanted them to be told. Nevertheless, the fight for independence was chronicled in our textbooks with a reasonable fidelity.
The last chapter of the history book talked about the actual transfer of power by Lord Mountbatten and the declaration of India as a free nation. Everything after that, curiously, ceased to be history and began to be on the pages of civics instead. The history of a newly independent India has been patchily described through our education system. The struggles, the shortfalls have largely been omitted. And in doing that, the sheer miracle that the Indian democracy is, has largely been left out of the story.
The Indian National Congress chose to declare Purna Swaraj (Complete Independence) on the last Sunday of January 1930 and since then every year, January 26 continued to be celebrated as the Independence Day by the Congress. Finally in 1947, when the British were ready for the formal transfer of power, the Indian leaders-in-waiting could not bear the delay till January 26 as a section of freedom seekers would have wanted. The date was then decided as August 15 to mark the second anniversary of Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces during the World War 2.
Though August 15 was acceptable by all, some astrologers deemed the date to be inauspicious and therefore, the Congress decided to assume power at midnight on the 14th.
Jawaharlal Nehru was acutely aware of the power of rhetoric at such an occasion and, fittingly, gave a stirring speech that is now part of popular Indian culture - Tryst with destiny. It is interesting to note that Nehru delivered the speech in English and not in Hindi.
During the day on August 14, Lord Mountbatten formally handed over the role of the Governor-General of Pakistan to Jinnah. India, however, was happy to let Lord Mountbatten remain Governor-General and live in Delhi for some more time.
The celebrations on August 15 were wild and energetic. Philip Talbot, who was then the South Asia correspondent for The Chicago Daily, witnessed the events and later recounted to his friend in a letter:
"In city after city lusty crowds have burst the bottled-up frustrations of many years in an emotional mass jag. Mob sprees have rolled from mill districts to gold coasts and back again.
"Despite doubts about the truncated, diluted form of freedom descending on India, the happy, infectious celebrations blossomed in forgetfulness of the decades of sullen resentment against all that was symbolised by a sahib's sun-topi... in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and probably other major cities, celebrating crowds numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
"Two common, astonishing bright threads ran through the demonstrations nearly everywhere: a sudden, unpredicted return to Hindu-Muslim amity and a warm outflowing of friendly expressions toward Britain... The spontaneity of both is well established...."
Lord Mountbatten ceased to be the Viceroy on the night of August 14, and was sworn in as the Governor-General of India. He then administered the oath of office to Nehru as the first Prime Minister of India, and his council of ministers at the Durbar Hall of what used to be the Viceroy's residence - what we now know as the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
In the melee, Nehru committed a minor gaffe when he went to hand over a list of the members of his council of ministers to the Governor-General - he handed Lord Mountbatten an empty envelope instead. This was but a minor incident; soon the relevant paper was found and was duly handed over to the head of the new Dominion.
Over the past 65 years, independent India has had a remarkable story - often against many odds. That, however, belongs to the civics textbook for our students. For our educational purposes, the history of modern India ended on August 15, 1947.
This post is the first of a series of posts
discussing FDI in retailing in India. These posts are a result of Stupidosaur’s
tweets and the questions he raised about opening our retail sector to foreign
investment. Questions/comments to him, or to me, are welcome on Twitter.
Last week, perhaps spurred by a series of raps on the
knuckles by the western media (TIME, Washington Post), the Prime Minister of
India, Dr. Manmohan Singh decided to sit up and act. As a result, among other
sectors, FDI in retail was opened up to the tune of 51% for multi-brand retail.
Retail is a crucial sector and one that touches all, bar
none in the country. Clearly, that is why it is a luscious opportunity for some
fear-mongering by vote-hungry politicians.
Through a series of posts, beginning with reasons relating to supply chain, we shall examine why India would do well to get those FDI
India is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. It is
also a known fact that a huge quantity of the produce is wasted. As per
government estimates, the wastage ranges from 18% to an eye-popping 72%
depending on who you ask. Even if we take a very conservative average,
undeniably, more than a third of our produce certainly goes waste. This wastage
is due to poor logistic and retail facilities.
Also, 11% of our foodgrains rot, and 50% of them are eaten
by rodents every year, again due to lack of adequate storage systems. As a
result of these inefficiencies, we have a piquant situation – on the one hand India
is among the largest producer or foodgrains, and on the other, people are unable
to afford food.
One of the biggest gains of foreign investment in retail
would be an upgradation of our supply chains. One oft-overlooked aspect of the
entry of foreign players is that along with their money, they also bring in
skills and best practices refined over decades – inventory management, supply
chain management, inventory storage systems, logistics, and so on. As a result,
more food would be available for sale. The enhanced supply would reduce the
prices and make food more affordable for the common man.
Questions have been asked if supply chain knowledge is
indeed a “rocket science” to warrant opting for FDI. The answer is – yes! The
Indian modern retail chains did not have access to the science of inventory
management and evolved their own indigenous methods and ‘best practices’ that
are actually far from being the best.
Perhaps the cold chain is not really a rocket science and perhaps
we could indeed have managed it well ourselves. If we were a little less
corrupt. During the early 1990s, the government offered a subsidy of Rs 50
lakhs for every cold chain project. Reportedly, some 300 projects were signed
up. Later, all of the projects showed a loss and the subsidy money had been
siphoned off into other businesses.
Not only do the wastages and spoilages take their toll on
the food products, the many hands that the goods change from the farm to the
market, adds up the costs. According to a report in The Economic Times, agricultural
produce lands up on the consumer’s plate, often with a price increase of nearly
2000%. The report goes on to mention: “Lobsters are hand-picked on the
Orissa-Bengal sea coast and sold for Rs 5 a kilo to the money lender. The same
lobsters reach the consumer in New Delhi for Rs 1,600 a kilo.”
Large retailers bring significant scale of operations to the
market. In order to drive costs lower, they integrate backward and forge
contracts all the way back to the producers. The goods are then transported to
the retailers’ warehouses, and later to the stores, by a fleet of modern trucks
owned by the retailers themselves. The players in the chain are all employees
of the retailer and are trained to be most efficient in their job.
As a result of the backward integration, the retailer buys
from the producer at a good price, and then sells it at a price lower than the
market prices. The retailer reaps profits out of the efficiency in the system.
The producers and the consumers both benefit in such a scenario. Also, even without
any more increase in agricultural production, we would have more food brought
in to the market.
There have been concerns about opening up the supply chains
to foreign players and the associated risks of diversion of food creating
artificial shortages in our country. It is important to understand that there
are a number of checks and balances within the system to prevent these. Every
retailer would have a 49% ownership by an Indian participant. The government
anyway monitors the domestic market and curbs exports from time to time if
there is a need to bolster domestic supplies. Most importantly, the corporations
we are talking about in the FDI context are responsible multinationals. They
are conscious of the implications of their actions on the immediate societies
as well as on the larger world economy itself. Even in the worst case, it seems
hard to imagine a diversion quantum greater than what our granaries already
divert towards the diet of rodents.
There is one question that remains - if supply chain
optimization is indeed such a sweet panacea for many ills, why are governments often
opposed to it? The government loves to keep power with the middlemen and often,
many politicians have business interests in the market intermediaries. Also,
there is an acute need to keep power at the district level with local authorities.
Bringing in private players would take away the local power and bring in
something that is absolutely dreaded by the politicians – efficiency of free
The lovely @Shradzie tweeted other day: “I want to smoke what
the petrol prices are smoking.” The promising thought resonated with a lot of
people, me included.
The state-owned Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) had just
announced the single largest hike in history – Rs. 7.50 per litre of petrol –
some major high that. Understandably, people were on the edge. The anti-UPA
outrage had started boiling over, many were suddenly more resolute about using
public and alternative modes of transport, while the rest simply flocked to the
gas stations to get their tanks filled for a short-time joy before the agony
really kicked in.
Everyone seemed to be clear that this hike was nothing but a
result of the anti-people policies of the UPA government as well as
its terrible fiscal discipline. I am no fan of the UPA government, and there certainly is much more wrong with UPA-2 than just the northward-bound petrol prices.
What then is the real trouble with petrol?
Petrol prices were officially decontrolled in 2010 by the
Government of India after an expert panel headed by Dr. Kirit Parekh
recommended a slew of measures to reform the subsidy regime. Since then, the
Government bears no subsidy on petrol leaving the OMCs to absorb all losses on
account of under-recoveries. Diesel prices were set to be decontrolled soon
thereafter. However, in late-2011, the Government announced that diesel prices
would continue to be regulated in order to rein in the massive food inflation.
Diesel, being largely a transport fuel for freight including food products, is
assumed to be a direct impactor on food inflation.
Theoretically, the oil marketing companies were set free to
price petrol as dictated by the market. Informally, and in practice, the Oil
Ministry continued to regulate the prices and the OMCs had to seek the
Ministry’s blessings before any hike.
This was because petrol prices are a major emotional issue
that could be easily politicised and used to spark dissent. Oil Ministry, in all
its wisdom, would approve a hike only when there was no immediate political
fallout foreseeable. The most recent hike was one such – the last Assembly
elections were a few months away, the next round of Assembly elections are not
any time soon, and the Parliament session had just ended.
Coming back to the issue of the raging prices, let us
understand what really goes into the pricing of petrol in our country. We shall
then go on to examine if the petrol price rise would really solve any of our
Crude prices internationally have been well over the $100
per barrel mark for months now. India is largely dependent on imported crude
oil, with our basket price on May 22, 2012 being at $107 a barrel. With the
Rupee continuing to scale new lows and testing levels below Rs 56 per Dollar,
it takes no economist to tell you that we are spending a lot more in Rupee
terms for the same amount of oil. Since January 2012 alone, the Rupee has lost
more than 11% versus the Dollar.
Petroleum products, however, continue to be a major revenue
earner for the governments – both at the Centre and the States. Rarely is a
ruling party willing to forego some of the revenues and cushion the consumer.
Most, being the politicians that they are, merely froth and rage.
Petroleum products have a convoluted tax structure at both
levels of governance in our country. At the Central level, petroleum products
bear customs duty, excise duty, royalty, cess, dividends, and
other taxes such as corporate taxes, and service taxes. For the state
governments, they bring in sales tax, entry tax, octroi, royalty, dividends and
some other taxes. Many of these taxes on petrol are ad valorem – they rise in Rupee terms when the prices go up.
Petroleum products together brought in more than Rs. 225,000
crores for the Central and State governments last year.
Considering current crude prices and the weakened Rupee, some
quick back of the envelope calculations show petrol prices at the dealer, sans
taxes, to be less than Rs. 50. Clearly, a very major portion of the final
prices to consumers go to the government kitties.
With that understanding, let us examine the other side of
the problem – the government’s fiscal irresponsibility and its inability to stem
the fall of the Rupee, and how the situation would not improve despite the
petrol price hike.
India loves two things dearly – oil and gold. Unfortunately,
we are woefully short on both when it comes to our internal reserves. We feed
the gigantic domestic appetite through importing them in massive quantities. We
pay for them in Dollars. On the other hand, we export a variety of products and
services that bring in the Dollars that allow us to pay for our imports. In an
ideal scenario, we bring in enough Dollar to meet our import bill, and
hopefully, be left with a surplus. Given the current dismal scenario where we
import far more than we export, the net result is a shortage in Dollars and an
oversupply in Rupee, leading to a precarious slide in its value.
To add to the woes, the FIIs have been systematically
withdrawing from our stock markets in recent times following global cues. The
government’s recent policy has been quite unfriendly to FDI. The usual
development blockers in India were up in arms against opening up of the retail
sector to FDI. There has also been systematic witch-hunting in the way the
Government has gone after Vodafone chasing taxes despite the Supreme Court
declaring the they were not liable to pay taxes in India. The Government went
ahead and amended the laws retrospectively to arm themselves against Vodafone.
Such factors have collectively dried up Dollar inflows.
The RBI has been doing its bit to keep the Rupee propped up.
It periodically keeps selling Dollars in the market to increase its supply.
Then again, the RBI does not have a limitless supply of foreign exchange and
its capacity to intervene this way is fairly limited. This keeps the Current
Account deficit wide and getting wider.
The other way the Government has shown tremendous fiscal
irresponsibility has been in terms of revenue deficit. With an eye on polls in
key states as well as the General Elections in 2014, there have been a slew of
populist schemes announced that guarantee virtually everything from food, to
income, to rural employment. Precious little thought goes into the exact
modalities of funding these schemes. The Government thus ends up with a far more
expenditure than income.
The government has also shied away from hiking the prices of
diesel, kerosene, and LPG keeping in mind their political compulsions. These
are the three fuels on which the Government bears a massive subsidy expenditure
– the maximum going towards diesel.
With a freeze on the prices of these products, the subsidy
bill is also spiralling out of control leading to a scary revenue deficit.
Since the Government bears no subsidy cost on sales of
petrol, the hike in petrol price does not contribute to reducing the subsidy
bill and thus the deficit. For that, it is important in the short term to raise
prices of diesel, and in the medium term to rationalize the tax structure
Raising the prices of diesel is a scary prospect for our
political leaders. There is assumed to be a direct linkage between diesel and
food prices though the exact relationship is not clearly known, nor accurately quantified.
Having said that, raising the prices of all fuels would
still not do the economy any good. It would certainly bring the Navaratna oil
companies PSUs out of the precarious brink that they are in now. However, for a
lasting good to the economy and to get back to the high-adrenaline growth path,
the Government must reform subsidies by introducing direct credits, cut down on
the innumerable mindless welfare schemes – each bearing a variant of the same late
leader’s name, and kick start the policy-making.
To do all of this, there needs to be a strong political
will; and a Government that can stand on its own feet unlike the UPA-2 which
lives in perennial fear of being toppled over by regional satraps.
Coming to think of it, Congress perhaps assumes that if it has
to come roaring back to power on its own in 2014, it needs as many populist
schemes that it can manage to name after Rajiv Gandhi, to woo its vote bank.
Back to square one, are we not?
Between April and May 2011, Bengal stood on the threshold of some great hope. After more than three decades of red tumult, there emerged a leader from within it who promised the people some fantastic times ahead. Change
. That is what she had as her one-point electoral agenda.
There were the naysayers back then as well - those who derided Mamata's mercurial nature, her hand-picked, yet inexperienced team of political rag-tags, and certainly her rustic ways of politicking that cut through all notions of diplomacy.
Despite those critics, the people of Bengal dared to dream. At the risk of sounding like a certain ponytailed management guru, the people of Bengal dared to think beyond the Communists. They dared to look beneath the surface and give the Mamata's brigade a chance. More correctly, they dared to give passion a chance. Many may have been hoping against hope. But they had scarcely an alternative.
Today, a bittersweet year since she took office, the same people are a rattled lot. The hope has turn into hopelessness. The change they got was more than what they had bargained for. And even though I call the year gone by "bittersweet", more bitter memories of Bengal fly by than the sweeter ones.
What exactly has gone wrong? How did the universe conspire against Bengal to take away from it its tryst with destiny, to borrow a cliche? How did the very same people go from being her staunchest supporters to her fiercest critics in a shade over an year?
Let us recount some of the past year's highlights, starting with the precious few positives. One of her regime's biggest highs have come in the form of the creation of the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. Didi herself takes every opportunity to highlight this achievement saying, in her own characteristic way, "Today Darjeeling is smiling, the hills are smiling, Kanchenjunga is smiling." While all is nice and peaceful on that front, a deeper look would point out a few things. One, the agreement was signed at the Pintail Resort at Sukna in the plains. There is a possible political signal to this - perhaps Didi intended to tell the Gorkhas that their demand of including more mouzas under the agreement was acceptable to the government. Two, the GTA was also granted 6-times more annual funds from the Centre when compared to the erstwhile Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Three, the agreement itself does not remove the original demand for a separate Gorkhaland state as has been reiterated by their leaders. It merely defers the agitations.
Another high point of the new government was the restoration of peace in Junglemahal - a region torn by Maoist strife. Mamata has announced the vastly reduced number of deaths in the area since she took over, the development package that she has arranged for the people there, and generally about how "Junglemahal is smiling." Many opposition leaders and intellectuals however feel that she has failed to address the core issue leading to violence - extreme poverty among the tribals. The opinion among them being that merely announcing rice at Rs. 2 a kilo and recruiting more than 10,000 local tribals into the police is not sufficient to bring about development and peace.
As soon as Mamata had taken over Bengal last year, she had announced the Singur Land Rehabilitation Act by which the land that was "forcibly" acquired by the Tatas for their Nano plant would be returned to the farmers who were originally unwilling to part with it. The Tatas had challenged the constitutional validity of the said Act in the Calcutta High Court which suggested that the Tatas return the 400 acres of forcibly acquired land while giving them the right to undertake any development work on the remaining 597 acres that were supposedly sold by willing farmers. One year down the line, the matter is still sub-judice having been challenged by the Tatas and Mamata has not been able to make further headway in terms of returning the land as she had so vocally promised.
She has recently announced a measly pension of Rs. 1000 per month for the affected farmers besides rice at Rs. 2 a kilo. Would the poverty-stricken farmers not have better off working in the Tata Nano plant, had it been allowed to come up as planned? They are left hanging with untillable land that is not their's, nor a factory job that they were promised originally.
During the recent eight-day "Pragati Utsav" to highlight the maiden TMC government's first year in office, the three achievements above were lauded with much flourish.
If, however, we take the time to gauge the sentiments of the people, say in Kolkata - the intellectual, thinking, Bengali middle-class, the picture would be coloured more with despair, helpnessness, hopelessness, and a seething, muted anger that only the Bengalis are capable of nurturing.
First came the AMRI Hospital fire. Such an incident at a private institution would, per se, not be considered among the failures of a government. However, in this case, the way Didi's government handled the fiasco, raised eyebrows. She acted promptly by cancelling the licences of the hospital, effectively downing its shutters. She also had the board of directors of AMRI arrested with the exception of the four Bengali physicians who were not charged immediately. Not unexpectedly, the treatment meted out raised the heckles of the massive Marwari business community in Kolkata who felt that they were being discriminated against. Mamata's vitriol against those accused - equating them with murderers and terrorists - further worsened the insecurities. Earlier this year, two more directors - both non-Marwaris - were arrested in the case.
Then came the spate of baby deaths across government hospitals in Bengal. As news kept pouring of more and more babies dying across hospitals, Mamata Banerjee was busy rubbishing them as rumours and conspiracies by the Left. Shockingly, she justified the deaths saying that the babies were brought to the hospital at the end, dying stages and no treatment was possible then. She also indulged in high-decibel quabbling over the actual number of deaths - vociferously arguing in a particular case that 11 babies had died in two days at a certain hospital, and not 15 as claimed by a section of the media. No acknowledgement was made of the bigger issue of the deaths itself - 11, if true, was no small number either.
By the time matters came to the infamous Park Street rape case, the Bengalis had had enough. Their anger was rather palpable. It shook the collective conscience of a city when a Chief Minister, herself a woman, questioned the morals of a rape victim and sought to malign her instead of trying to deliver swift justice. She claimed that the victim had fabricated a rape story to malign her government and that the opposition was behind the fabrication. Detective chief Damayanti Sen and and Joint Commissioner, HQ, Javed Shamim were rounded up soon after they managed to solve the case and arrest the accused. They were, reportedly, summoned to Writers' Building and rapped for having solved a case that Ms. Banerjee felt was "fabricated" in the first place. Soon, Damayanti Sen was transferred out to an inconsequential role, most probably as a punishment posting.
The rattles did not stop there. There was news of a Chemistry professor of Jadavpur University being hauled up for circulating a harmless caricature of Ms. Banerjee and the Railway Minister, Mukul Roy in a scene inspired by the Satyajit Ray classic - Sonar Kella. Not even the ones with the gravest demeanour would find that cartoon even mildly offensive. It was, at worst, as malicious as a child's playful spank.
Mamata Banerjee, shockingly went on to take the word "vanish" from the cartoon horribly out of context and attribute it to theories of murder conspiracy against her that were allegedly doing the rounds. She went on to say that the Professor was working on behalf of the CPI (M) by circulating the cartoons and that the Left was conspiring against her in "Facebook society, Twitter society, Email society, and Apartment society". The last referring to the apartment society among whose members Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra had circulated the "offensive" cartoon.
What went wrong? Why such massive intolerance? One way to look at it would be to infer that Mamata perhaps is herself acutely aware of her own failures and misgivings, and therefore is more cautious than needed to save face. Her insecurities probably force her to smell conspiracies in everything around her, and manifest as behaviours that seek to demolish even a whiff of dissent. When that goes too far, it results in ridiculous situations such as the one on May 20, 2012 when, at a programme organized by a television channel, she labelled a student as a Maoist and as belonging to CPM cadre for having asked her an uncomfortable question.
The other side of the her bizarre behaviour also has to do with the quality that led to her meteoric rise in the national political arena and ultimately led to the fall of the well-entrenched Left government in Bengal. It is to do with her being a self-made leader who played by her own rules without a political mentor. By having fought her way through infallible bastions of power single-handedly, it is perhaps natural to have an air of arrogance around oneself. And when one is surrounded by sycophants in the name of leaders, the arrogance tends to get multiplied manifold. The ones in Didi's inner coterie are either willful sycophants, or are forced to be such after witnessing the fate of leaders such as the former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi who attempt to do reasonable work even at the cost of falling sour with the "Dear Leader". Such men, as we have seen, are promptly booted out, leaving, evolutionarily, the apple-polishing survivors.
Without sane voices of dissent around her, it must be tough being Mamata Banerjee and taking the right decisions while walking the political tighrope.
I must speak for many Bengalis when I say that I hoped for a resurgent Bengal, one with renewed hopes, and renewed vigour. I was not carried away for once by Mamata's snazzy promises of turning Kolkata in to a London. Or of turning Darjeeling in to Switzerland. However, I did believe that there would be a tangible change on the ground. Albeit slow, but a real, positive change. I hoped for that change would start by acknowledging the problem, and then through accountability.
What are we left with instead? A city, already reeling under massive neglect, is now left with its intellectuals - its only source of pride - wounded. Apprehension is in the air. One wrong utterance, one mistimed joke, or one wrong stroke of the pen could probably lead you to a prompt arrest.
The City of Joy, is probably turning out to be the City of "Bhoy" - Bengali for fear.
He lay motionless on the busy road. The chaotic late evening
rush-hour traffic merely veered around him and carried on with no more than a slight
pause. Some looked at him and his motorbike that lay at a small distance away and
shook their heads before continuing on their way. “Roads in Bangalore these days are so unsafe!”
Two plastic bags lay scattered. Despite the knots, the bags
had given way and some vegetables lay all around the anonymous victim who
was still – tomatoes, French beans, and onions – strewn around on the busy
The man lay on his side. Not bleeding. Not in pain either,
if one were to go by the placid expression on his face.
In this fast-paced city where mega-dreams come true, not too
many had the time to stop. And help. The most hurried ones would skirt him just
as a line of ants skirt a tiny puddle of water. The somewhat more benevolent
ones would shake their heads wistfully. Hardly a soul would care to stop.
Luckily, for this man, two youths stopped their motorbike.
One of them tried to feel the motionless man’s wrist for a pulse. Or the
absence of it. Was he unconscious? Was he dead?
Perhaps they would take him away to a nearby hospital where
they would look for signs of life in his body.
For the family who he was going back to, life would never be
the same again. Either it would be a long road to recovery for the man. Or, if
God has not been merciful, it could be worse for his family.
The anonymous man was like any other commoner – working hard during
the day to ensure food reached the plates of his family members. But God had
other plans. The vegetables that were to be lovingly fed, now lay strewn –
waiting to be crushed against the tarmac by the next bus that came hurtling
Soon, the megacity would be asleep. The citizens had to
retire for the night in order to wake up refreshed for another day. Another day
of work, chasing dreams. Most manage to fulfil them, however, some are less
While the road would slowly be deserted, and the city would
shut off its lights, the life for one family would never be quite the same
again. Not, at least, in the near future. The hopes, dreams, love, and life of
that family now lay motionless on the busy road.
Another classic from W+K for Indigo! The theme of describing Indigo's machine-like efficiency continues from their 2010 commercial; not to forget, another brilliant jingle!
Indigo is the not just only airline in India that has been reporting profits, it also is perhaps the best run among all of the Indian carriers. Having completed five years in the domestic sector, the airline run by Rahul Bhatia now has the permission to operate on international routes.
Indigo's advertising messages have always been popular. I particularly remember their outdoor campaign to emphasize their same day return flights between key domestic routes - "Sleep with your wife". Attention-grabbing, funny, and drives the message home.
With the current TVC, Indigo has elevated the ad from being a marketing campaign to being an entertainment capsule. I look forward to the ad when it comes on TV, unlike other ads that make me look away.
The Broadway musical has been shot in Los Angeles, directed by Steven Antin, and choreographed by Denis Faye. Yes, the Denis Faye who choreographed Chicago.
Indigo, I truly believe that you're "here to be the model of the modern global airline." Just don't forget to remind yourselves of that promise "one more time."
The following post is from my older blog that shall be retired soon.
Still in Idukki district, Kerala, next on my agenda was an early morning date in the wild. I was headed to those fascinating forested hills on the Western Ghats - the genuine wilderness of the "Periyer Tiger Reserve".
The forests could be approached through multiple entry points - Thekkady being the most popular. I chose to base myself at Kumily and enter the forest through Gavi.
The park gets its name from the Periyar Lake at the centre and the Periyar River that snakes its way through the forest. The lake was formed after the Mullaperiyar Dam flooded the nearby areas.
Kumily had no dearth of tourists, a majority of them being foreigners. The usual touristy accompaniments too were in abundance - local handicrafts, cheap souvenir t-shirts, spices and forest produce, and plenty of 'cyber cafe' all endowed with 'CD Writing, SD Card reader', clearly targetted at the camera-toting crowd hassled by friendly 'Memory Full' messages.
My 'jeep' was to arrive at an hour 'unearthly' by my lazy standards, but I did not complain - nature called the shots here, she was indeed the queen!
My mind still hurting from the gregarious tourist experience at Eravikulam, I could only hope to have sensible and sensitive co-trippers on the 'jeep'.
Braving the amazing cold and mist at my designated pick-up time, I ventured out suitably clothed only to be cheerfully greeted by my driver for the day: "Good Morning, Saar"!
The forest area began after about a 1-hour drive through undulating roads that passed many tiny hamlets, and of course, manicured tea bushes. During a quick stopover for a very welcome cup of steaming tea, I was acquainted with two fellow tourists who I shared the vehicle with - a British and a German - both very amiable gentlemen. Their paths intersected at Ooty when one was on a South-India trip and the other on a South-East Asia trip.
I quickly doubled up as their interpreter too - I spoke Tamil.
My guide for the nature trek into the park was a friendly fellow who had grown up amidst the forests. I sporadically continued to interpret for the group, though for most purposes, the guide spoke sufficient English. It was clear that he knew the forests like how you know the bylanes of the town you spent your childhood in.
The guide laid out ground rules - silence, walk in a single line, no camera flash, and some more silence. We nodded - obedient children!
I was curious what his green canvas backpack contained, but I did not ask him, and soon forgot all about it - the forest was too intriguing!
We trekked up the rolling hills, crushing dry leaves beneath our trekking boots; we descended the wet, slippery slopes with the forest so thick that it was almost dark - all the while walking along with ant-like discipline.
We stopped abruptly when our man raised his hands - in front of us were elephant tracks, and fresh elephant dung. A herd just passed by; we were unluckily late. The anticipation was palpable, the anticipation of the kind only the prospect of truly "wild" life can bring to our city-bred hearts.
Keen to soak in the visuals of fresh dung, we almost missed a stray white-socked bison couple. We managed to get a quick glance at their posterior before they disappeared into the thickets.
We continued trudging along till we reached a little clearing within the forest. Our knowledgeable guide unloaded the mystery backpack and out came bottles of water and glucose biscuits. Blessed guy!
Powered by packs of glucose biscuits and lure of more wildlife, we sprang back to our feet. The sun was bright and it was hard to imagine that the morning had been so cold. The forests morphed frequently, from tropical rainforest, to grasslands.
The trek, though exceedingly beautiful and reasonably challenging, did not reward us much in terms of wildlife excitement till we reached a narrow stream ensconced between rising rocks on either side. There, amidst soft mud, was an unmistakably fresh footprint of the big cat. Though the feline eluded us, the paw print had us all agog and the mysterious possibility of the tiger lurking around was enough to keep us focussed and silent.
On our way back from the forest, I was delighted to spot a trio of playful Giant Malabar Squirrels, a near threatened tree-dweller endemic to this forests.
I overheard a few fellow tourists whining for not having seen much wildlife. Secretly, I was glad that nature does not conform to push-button gratification that we are beginning to expect from nearly every quarter. No, I did not spot a tiger, but the anticipation of one made my trip worthwhile - my journey itself was my destination. And who knows, my lingering inner voice may just have been right, "The tiger might have spotted us"!
The following post is from my older blog that shall be retired soon.
The hills of Munnar were a mammoth change from the humid coastline of Kochi. Not only was the weather cool, the nature around was at her benevolent best. My eyes, habituated to seeing the Bangalore concrete and dust, could not thank me enough while soaking in all that greenery.
My hotel at Pallivasal was a few miles before the town of Munnar, set amidst lush tea plantations whose leaves left these heavens in packets branded 'Tata Tea'. Hard as it was to tear myself away from the fabulous view from my hotel room, I told myself that I had all that nature to myself for the next two days.
Urgent knocks on the door and the young man with the biggest smile ever came in with a cup of tea. I looked at the cup, and then at the rolling plantations outside. I do not know if the deduction was logical, but I assumed that tea coming from such wondrous locales should taste more heavenly than the best champagne I could treat my taste-buds to.
I had to get to the town for a quick stroll before the dusk set in. I gulped the brew in the tiny cup in two huge sips. As you might have guessed, the tea was not heavenly - it tasted the same as my neighbourhood tea stall back in Bangalore, only sweeter. That tea certainly could not have originated in those gardens - I concluded, naively!
I decided to simply amble around the charming little Munnar town with no 'to-do list' in mind. A shop here, a temple there, a quarter-kilo of home-grown green tea, and I had to make my way back to my hotel; it was dark already.
I found a Kerala State Roadways bus to get back to Pallivasal, the helpful conductor alerted me at my destination: in front of me was a signage that proclaimed: "Tata Tea, Pallivasal". There was no sign of my hotel around. Upon asking at a nearby shack, the old man shrugged his shoulders and pointed further downhill, "5 mins".
5 minutes for the sprightly villager, 15 minutes for the concrete-bred. Well to be fair to me, it was sheer unfamiliar road, where I was only one careless step away from the velvety-green slopes.
Restless to experience the beauty of those slopes when the early sun rays cut through the lazy mist, I was up and awake well before routine. If morning indeed was to show the day, I knew I had an awesome day ahead.
Munnar did not disappoint; nature never disappoints. Some of us, insensitive humans, do!
The Eravikulam National Park, home to the critically endangered Nilgiri Tahr - a serene mountain goat endemic to these hills, was a revelation. It was clean, well-maintained, and organized. The authorities did their best, to keep the park pristine, groups of tourists were
systematically packed into mini-buses that covered a distance up the hills from where one could walk a bit further up with the rugged Anai Mudi as a backdrop. Families of the Nilgiri Tahr gathered on either side of the paved road. A few bothered to look at the tourists with their melting eyes.
As luck would have it, I found myself packed in the bus with a huge group group of gregarious tourists. If there is a difference between the good old-
fashioned picnics and these trips to national parks, this bunch certainly was unaware. Armed with enormous rations of potato chips, cookies, and other condiments, with noise and gossip in equal measure they set forth to meet the Tahr families. 'There is a difference between the zoo in your city and a national park', I screamed in my head.
On the way back, I marvelled at the greenery at each turn, every frame through my Canon's viewfinder seemed to be one picture-postcard.
Days later, back home, my Italian friend with an exquisite taste, exclaimed at the pictures, "Tantissimo verde". That to me was the most beautiful way to describe Munnar - lots of green!