Showing posts from 2006

Have You Seen These Billboards?

It looks like several ad folks in Mumbai have run out of ideas. The clients with their mindless quest to win at any cost have not helped either.

The hoarding for Mumbai Mirror, a sister publication of TOI, goes :

"Come on ! Give me a hundred pelvic thrusts."

I am sure no one can understand the logic of this sentence for a newspaper.

And I saw another hoarding for Euphoria Gym in Juhu:

"Some people think starving themselves is a shortcut to fitness. The Somalians beg to differ."

Utterly insensitive and in bad taste. The copywriter also probably does not know that there are more children in India with premature deaths than sub-Saharan Africa.

Cromwell In Lok Sabha

Oliver Cromwell was one of the signatories to the death warrant of King Charles I and established the Commonwealth. He declared himself the Lord Protector in 1653 for five years.

He dissolved the ‘Rump’ parliament and then formed his Barebones Parliament to which he assigned all power.

He gave the following speech on dissolving the Rump Parliament.

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of potage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not bartered your consciences for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for th…

Yeh Bombay Hai

The infrastructure in India is charitably described as lousy. The worst roads are unfortunately in Mumbai, the commercial capital and Bangalore, the IT showpiece city.

Patna today has better roads than either of them. I do not know who is responsible for this shoddy state of affairs-the centre, the state government or the local municipal corporations. It could be even the corrupt contractors and local politicians. But strangely, the general public does tolerate filth, potholes, stray animals and even unpaved roads in the middle of the city.

Mumbai takes the cake in filth and a lackadaisical attitude towards its own roads and cleanliness. So the city which has fabulous citizens, a rocking nightlife and immense professionalism has decrepit looking buildings, animal shit on roads and in many parts only mud and potholes.

Class Discriminations in India

There are very few societies more class-ridden than India. While the country focuses on caste, the discriminations based on class do not let merit and fairness prevail. Caste in educational institutions undermines the concept of merit. But class works beneath the superficial surface and insidiously destroys justice and merit. Class in the Indian context is a nebulous and complex concept.You can feel it, you practice it but you cannot capture it properly. It is tied at a gross level to caste but also to economic wealth, family station, your English pronunciation and also the colour of your skin! So a poor man is going to be beaten up in the police station but a rich man will stay unharmed. It is very rare even in the most merit-based institutions in the country to see a driver's son being friends with a privileged doctor's child. We do not let people of a different class rise and the concept of merit is twisted to suit the dominant section's interests. In a more open society…

Regional Disparities

According to the 2001 census, only 43% of rural households (56% in urban) in India have electricity.The regional disparities are even more disturbing. The level of electrification in rural Punajb, HP and Haryana are 90, 95 and 79 percent. In contrast, the levels in rural WB, Assam and Orissa are 20, 17 and 19 percent respectively. Bihar has a level of 5.1 %.
The percentages of Punjab, HP and Haryana rural households getting tap water are 16, 38 and 83. The number of rural households getting tap water in WB, Assam and Orissa are 7, 5 and 3 percent respectively. The figure for Bihar is 1.38 %.

So much for being one country and so much for Jyoti Basu's 30 year reign due to the prosperity in rural Bengal.

How Good A leader Is Manmohan ?

In around a month, Manmohan Singh will reach the midpoint of his tenure as the Prime Minister. There will be assessments followed by bouquets and brickbats in equal measure. He has been successful in bringing down the communal temperature, sustaining the economic growth, forging a brave new foreign policy path, initiating some landmark acts like RTI, launching programmes like Bharat Nirman and the rural employment guarantee. He has alienated the urban educated sections because of the reservation policy, failed in convincing the left on several reform initiatives and not managed to make any headway on preventing terror.

But how good a leader is he? By common thinking and opinion polls, he is not a good leader. But going by research on leadership he is probably the best we ever had. The most influential theories on the personal characteristics of a leader have been by Plato, Warren Bennis and Jim Collins.

Plato propounded the concept of the ' philosopher king ‘. According to him the …

The Future Arrives Faster Than You Think

A friend has commissioned a project on "Futuristic Business Opportunities" with some ISB students and that set me thinking about predictions for the future. It is a difficult terrain and the world's greatest experts have fared badly in it. In 1990, John Naisbitt wrote 'Megatrends' and Alvin Toffler wrote 'Powershift'. In both, India features as a peace-loving, backward, democratic country which buys a lot of arms and has satellites. Neither could predict the arrival of India on the world stage. Both thought Japan will set the fashion and cultural trends of the future. China's emergence is suspected but not the scale of its achievements and growth.

Let us just look back at 1995 in India .Even ten years back, nobody would have thought that India would be an emerging superpower in 2005 . We cannot today manage without a cellphone and e-mail which barely existed then .The aspirational products for the upper-middle class were microwave ovens,compact music…

What do We Eat Now?

The list of foods that we can eat is shrinking faster than an aspiring model's waistline. Even as early as twenty years back, we were able to eat several dishes with pleasure and without worrying that we were murdering ourselves.But now the list of items with dubious value is longer.

The first item on the list is milk. This was supposed to be the panacea of all food deficiencies. Dara singh drank two jugs of it everyday and so did the Gods. It was holy and healthy, affordable and nutritious. It had Calcium to make our bones strong and Protein for our growth. But today its parentage is under severe question. We are told that no animal drinks milk of anybody other than of its mother and so cow or goat milk cannot be suitable for us. It has growth hormones more suited for calves than humans. We are also told that in large parts of the world like China and Africa, they do not drink milk at all and yet are flourishing. The propaganda juggernaut has become so powerful that Maneka Gandhi …

Lalu Prasad Turns Into Jack Welch

I have been tracking Laloo (not Lalu as he calls himself now) for a long time. I got fascinated by this rustic man with tremendous wit and humour ten years back. I also knew he was the smartest operator in Indian politics - anybody who can install his wife, with a primary education , as the chief minister has to be really a smart cookie. He also gave a voice to the downtrodden.

But the lower castes in Bihar under his patronage started doing what the upper castes had indulged in-plunder, terror and exploitation. The state treasury was shamelessly looted by Laloo and his cronies. The state went back in time. But Laloo survived through his buffoonery and political savvy.

I had to follow his motorcade once on a drive from Gaya to Patna. Laloo had just lost the lok sabha elections and you expected him to be down. But he was irrepressible on the route. The route itself was lined with his supporters on both sides - thousands of emaciated, bare torsoed men and children cheered him as he went by…

In Agra

Went to Agra on a holiday. The folks in Delhi smile indulgently when you tell them you went to Agra of all the places-it sounds quaint !

The beauty of Taj never fails to astonish me. Amongst the wonders of the world and the architectural masterpieces, it is the only one in the lists for its perfect beauty. The colosseum, the great wall of China or the pyramids are there for their size or other unique attributes. But the Taj exists possibly as the most beautiful monument in the world. It seems perfect in shape,symmetry,design and aesthetic appeal. It would have been even so much more wonderful when the marble would have been completely white and the inlay work was not damaged.

Contrast this with the city of Agra- filthy, chaotic and rough. The touts, the guides and the autowallahs treat fleecing the tourist as their divine right. I cannot even fathom how the poor foreigners would be getting taken for the ride of their lifetimes. The facilities outside the five stars are pathetic. The tow…

Indian Art in the Stratosphere

In December 2002, my wife and I went to a gallery in Calcutta which claimed to be selling affordable art. I was always interested in Indian art and I had some knowledge about a few painters. The proprietor of the gallery recommended an ink on paper by Shyamal Dutta Ray. I had not even heard of him.But the owner seemed genuine and the painting was aesthetically good. We bought it for fifteen thousand rupees. The art market boom was in its incipient stages then. Neville Tuli was just beginning to get some media space and there was some talk about Indian artists generating excitement in western art markets. Then the interest in India began. The westerners interested in India began to buy Indian art. The non-resident Indians with wealth and some aesthetic interests reached a critical mass. The rich domestic Indians also saw art as a great status symbol. The market exploded. The prices today have reached absurd levels. I got mail today from a gallery about a self-portrait by Paritosh Sen for …

Timbuktu and Mali

Today, Timbuktu means a place from nowhere. It seems to be beyond the end of the known world. It is actually a town in Mali in West Africa. Mali is a poorly governed, impoverished country today. Thomas Friedman in his book discovers that ,even in Mali individuals have started using open-source software and to him it is almost like the final acceptance of the concept of open-source software. Naseruddin Shah fantasises of sending his wife to Timbuktu on his 25th marriage anniversary in Omkara.

But it was not like this six hundred years ago. Mali was then a country of fabled wealth. It was said that gold grew on trees in Mali. It was for about twenty years ruled by Mansa Musa (part of the Mansa family) when it reached the zenith of its glory. Mansa Musa undertook the Haj and went through Egypt. He distributed immense amount of riches wherever he went. Apparently, he gave away so much gold in Egypt that it caused inflation and the price of gold crashed by twenty five per cent.

The world-tra…

Utter Rubbish

There was a time when I used to think that everything printed in the newspapers and magazines is the absolute truth. Growing up in remote places of Orissa,a copy of The Statesman or the Sunday magazine were items worth looking up to. Later, I joined a B-School which itself was written about in the press and for the first time I realised everything written is not true. But I gave the benefit of doubt to the media.

Working in the corporate sector also did not open my eyes to the bullshit perpetrated as news for a long time. But I was not sure about why they wrote what they wrote. Then I discovered the P.R.agencies. And I realised ,that may be fifty per cent of what is written in respectable newspapers could be trash handed over by the agencies. In fact,any article talking about the plans and expectations of a company or an industrialist or a politician is usually only that-plans of smart operators who know how to use the media.

I know of an industrialist, a rogue would be the better word,…

The CEO-The Other Side

The aspiration of anybody who passes though a B-School is to be a CEO. He is the great figure of our times. He is intelligent,powerful,smart and experiences life in ways that other people cannot. It does not hurt that he makes loads of money. The media has stories about these celebrities and their lifestyles which encompass but are not limited to , buying art, diving in Australia and spending the summers in Finland besides driving the latest cars. There is a massive industry of consultants and reporters which thrives on understanding this great animal. So a couple of years ago, four of us sat down to unravel the mystery of these creatures. Was it genes or parenting or the management school that made them successful? Or was it exceptional communication skills or interpersonal ability or strategic thinking? Or was it all of them? Arun Sarin of Vodaphone has probably given the best answer , I have come across, to explain the phenomenon. He says to be a CEO you need to be two sigma on the s…

History Through News Reports

Nothing brings the magic and flavour of history back like news reports of the time when the event happened. No historian today can reflect the mood and temper of the moment better than the news hacks who were present at the place of the event.

Read the Oct 1931 article on Gandhi in Time magazine when he visited the House of Commons. He is described as a small ,nut-brown man, bare-legged and bare-footed as usual. A special meeting of the house is convened to meet him.There Gandhi meets the world's most talented hecklers, the members of the House of Commons.

Rajmohan Gandhi said recently that Mahatma was not a bore as he has been portrayed by Indian historians and media. He was witty and interesting.The first member of the House sarcastically asks him about the meaning of the term Mahatma. Gandhi replies with a deadpan face that it means an insignificant person!

He then travels to Lancashire where the mill workers have been hit hard by the boycott of British textiles by the Indians. He…

Speed of Snails and Origin of Tennis

It is really a fascinating experience to see your children grow. It is even more interesting when you discover through them that you are an ignoramus about the world. It is more galling to understand that when I thought I was the well-read types. Rian is two months short of his sixth birthday and his mission in life seems to be 'Exposing Papa'.

Today, he saw a snail in the park while playing and the question to me was,"Papa,how many years will the snail take to go around the earth?" I said,"I don't know beta but we will find out on the net."

The snail has a fastest speed of 0.03 mph and the circumference of the earth is 24900 miles. So the snail, going at its fastest speed, will take 95 years to circle the earth. Not bad for a snail!

We came back home and he saw a bit of U.S.Open. So the missile thrown at me was,"Which country did Tennis start in?". Flummoxed again, I ran to my reference book. It started as Jeu De Paume in the middle ages in Fran…

Resuscitating the Blog

After a long time saw the blog again and got a shock to see that the last post was in April-four and a half months back. And then,I did a google search for Green Monsoon blog which threw up the name of Indiblogger on the first page. They have an interesting cut-off period for defining dead blogs. Any blog which is without a post for four months gets listed under R.I.P. So, it seems, to the world at large this blog is well and truly dead !

But it probably comes like its namesake -the monsoons. It will appear at regular intervals.

But now I intend to make blogging a regular practice and see where it takes me.

The Brave Engineers

It is human nature to start reminiscences when one is a little idle and when I go through my life the time in N.I.T.Rourkela seems the most surreal one. I or rather we did things that seem completely improbable now and depending on the way you look at it they were completely bizarre or just hilarious.

It was Holi. The campus was situated next to a tribal settlement. Suddenly the rumours started flying in campus that a student of second year has been drenched in colours against his will and then mildly beaten up in the settlement. It was enough to start a virtual war against the tribal settlement. The revenge had to be taken-the village had to be attacked.

And it was the fashionable thing to jump into such activities. It fetched you tremendous peer respect and favourable publicity. So here was I, 53 kgs of weight, thin and wearing a spectacles of negative 3.5 power and the only violence I had indulged in was killing mosquitoes. I was desperate to get the glamour and star appeal of the st…

What Makes Italians So Hot?

What is it that makes Italians the best-rated lovers in the world by women consistently year after year? I am sure men all around the world want to emulate their Italian counterparts. Here is my attempt at throwing some light on the most educative and useful of all subjects.

First, of course the looks. The men have olive complexion, sharp features and being of Roman lineage anyway fit the generally conditioned idea about male beauty better than other races.

Second, they are genuinely interested in women. They love everything about women and the women notice that they actually light up from inside when they see them. It is also not a sexual kind of interest, which is a special trait of the North Indian male but a true desire to spend time with the women and make them happy.

Third, of course the famed Italian charm. It flows naturally from their genuine interest in women. But they can be insouciantly charming and their body language in presence of women is devastatingly seductive in a …

AIDS in Nigeria

Nigeria is a country obsessed with sex. The President, a highly respected man otherwise, has eight wives reportedly. Amongst the wealthy and the powerful not having multiple wives is the exception rather the rule. The women are as aggressive as men in hunting for partners.If you go to a cyber café ,the only thing you see is boys and girls chatting on yahoo to hook and fix up their rendezvouses. A significant proportion of single women are willing and available for a price. If you want a girlfriend all you have to do is go to the university and ask for one. It is not unusual for fathers to ask their daughters to fix up a school/college girlfriend for their colleagues.The FM stations in the morning are full of pastors exhorting the sinning masses to restrain themselves sexually.

No wonder with so much promiscuity, AIDS has struck. In absolute numbers South Africa and India are ahead but in percentage terms Nigeria has 5.3% of the population affected by AIDS against 1% in India.

To find ou…

The Other Rath Yatra from Puri

I spent a large part of my childhood in Orissa,a state known for its bucolic beauty,stunning temple architecture ,frequent floods, poverty and Lord Jagannath.In fact Lord Jagannath occupies a more prominent place in the life and psyche of Oriyas than any God for any other community,I can think of. Of course, the chariot festival is well known but less known is that Oriyas of all ages, classes and types think of him as protecting and helping them everywhere. He is Jagannath meaning lord of the universe, a lord for all. Some of his most famous devotees have been Salabeg,a Muslim and also an elephant who was trapped by a crocodile in a river. He is the Lord who is for universal brotherhood;kind,compassionate and very much a part of your own milieu rather than a powerful God ruling you from a distance.

So it is with a lot of pain that I read that Rajnath Singh’s rath yatra will commence from Puri.I understand that he has his right as an Indian citizen to travel anywhere.But it is tragic th…

India-Two Different Millennia

India is a more fascinating country from a distance.Everytime I travel abroad ,I realise the greatness of the country which sometimes escapes my attention in the din and noise of its daily life.It has grinding poverty but it also has unique grandeur.It has its venal politicians but also a brilliant middle class that is making waves around the world for its prowess in IT,management and engineering.It has its centuries old caste inequalities but also its rich,distinct culinary tradition.Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” does a fine job of delving into the splendid tapestry that is India.Alongwith Nehru’s “The Discovery Of India” ,it will remain a fine example of throwing light on the cultural,social and knowledge mosaic that is this 5000 year old civilisation.

But the disconcerting fact remains that the great contributions of India to the world like concept of zero,the decimal system,elements of trigonometry,buddhism,ayurveda or formal rules of grammar all belong to the period …

Dubai and Lagos-A Story of Contrasts

I have had the opportunity of spending some time in the last three months in Dubai and lagos. It is a fascinating contrast. Dubai and Lagos are stories of two divergent ways in the world and how good governance makes a difference. Lagos is the capital of Nigeria and Dubai a principal emirate of UAE.

Both are rich in oil but Nigeria more so. It has the world’s fourth largest oil reserves. But Nigeria quite surprisingly imports oil also.

Both are on the sea. Dubai has a very pleasant climate for four months in a year but for six months it is unbearably hot affecting life and work. Lagos temperatures fluctuate between a pleasant 18 to 35 degrees centigrade through out the year.

The common language of Nigeria is English and everybody speaks it. Some local citizens of Dubai are passably conversant with the language but many do not understand it.

UAE is principally a Muslim country but Nigeria has Muslims and Christians co-existing in relative harmony. In Nigeria, each religion has its own spac…

Is your social strategy in place?

Despite all the euphoria about economic growth, the obstacles in India’s path remain formidable. One of the most difficult issues to tackle would be the increasing level of economic disparities. So while there are 53000 households with annual incomes of more than 1 crore, 400 million go to bed hungry. These 400 million are below the poverty line which by definition means that they do not get enough to eat everyday. The simmering violence of a hungry stomach can be explosive. And a large alienated mass of people is a potential tinder box if they are mobilised. History has shown that such disparities are socially unsustainable.

When a large section of the society is disaffected then it tends to retaliate against people who it thinks are exploiting them or the society. The consequences of such conflicts are enormous and problems become intractable. We have seen that the population of NE and Kashmir have felt alienated(though for both economic and political reasons) and it has led …

Innovation and FMCG industry in India


The Indian FMCG market has slowed down in growth for sometime. From a growth rate of excess of 12 percent in early 90’s, it has registered only 4.4 percent odd so in the last five years.
In the last five years , the GDP has grown by a CAGR of close to 6 percent at real prices. So FMCG business is not even growing at the pace of the domestic economy. One would have thought that in a country where penetration and consumption are still low by international standards, this industry catering to basic necessities would have registered higher growth. But in the last decade sectors like telecom and durables have grown spectacularly but not FMCG.

The reasons for the slow growth have been discussed and debated endlessly. Primarily a) The housing, telecom and durables sectors had a latent demand which ensured explosive growth. b) The easier and cheaper availability of credit supported this growth. c) The consumers started spending more on products of these sectors and had lesser …