Friday, December 31, 2004

Thank God! New Year finally arrived! Goodbye 2004! Good riddance!

I Wish all the readers a very Happy and Prosperous New year.

I realized that I have many opinions and views on politics, which are quite controversial and have never expressed them in my blog. When it was brought to my attention, I thought okay let me kick start the new year by expressing what I think of local and global politics. I had never included politics in my blog ( well i have used them in small quantities) because from past experience I got a feeling not many people usually agree with me. My view of India is more of what Michael Moore has of the US. While many of my fellow Indians are happy when Moore critisizes the US, They dont take a good view when India is critisized. Plus I hate current affairs and discussions on politics. But since it has pointed out! come new year, I will open my blog on a controversial note :-)

For my home state Tamil Nadu, the new year could not have come sooner! I think most of us are glad to leave 2004 behind and run for cover towads 2005. In a year where the state saw its biggest triumph, it also saw some huge defeats that brought shame and agony.

It all started with the temple town Kumbakonam's fire tragedy, where hundreds of school children were charred to death. Then there was the marriage fire in another temple town Srirangam where the thatched roof caught fire killing the groom, his family members and most of those who came visiting. The arrest of Sankaracharyar brought down one of the oldest religious institution of the world. It shamed hinduism and has left the state with more cynics and agnostics than ever before. The mutts existence is definetly threatened and unfortunately, with no worthy successor in sight, the beginning ofthe end of the mutt has arrived. The passing away of M.S Subbulakshmi left a dent in the classical music world that can never be repaired. If these all were not enough to alter the landscape of the state, came the tsunami waves with so fury that the landscape got literally changed. Losing so many lives and some land, villages were lost as the sea gained some space over land.

There was some good news also in the state. After 12 years of struggle murderer, smuggler and kidnapper, sandalwood Veerappan was finally killed. This is probably the greatest acheivement by the Police force. Given an un-cooperative neighbouring state and a opposition party that was hell bent on keeping him safe, this was a substantial acheivement.Especialy Vijaykumar (based on whom the movie kaakha kaakha was made) showed that supermen still do exist and his victory over Veerappan was almost single handed.

The cynics were out again with their hypocrisy. Opposing the police when they caught veerappan (self-confessed murderer), deparately searching for conspiracy theories and then doing a 180 degree turn to support the police when they arrested Sankaracharyar (a religious head). I saw 6 magazines desparately trying to interview Veerappan's wife, child advocate to get the inside story, whereas everybody summarily dismissed Sankaracharyar as guilty without even showing a hint of concern to listen to the other side of the story. Sankaracharyar follows a illustrious list of people who were trilled convicted by the media itself.

This shows that people in general are very bad. The people of Tamil Nadu ( and India as a whole) have a long way to go in developing some sense, maturity and balance of mind. The year started with the good news of TN getting over its water problems and ended with too much water inside the land. A sad note to end the year. This dampened my celebrations a bit. As i see around in Chennai the new year celeberations is obviously low key.

On the national level, the cynics and critics of Sonia Gandhi were stunned by the show of goodness and decency by her. I was her biggest critic and at least I knew when I was licked. I concede, She showed exceptional maturity and did the right thing by giving up the PM's post and she went a level further up by giving it to the right man. Given the let down by BJP (who proved much to my agony that they were just a bunch of noisy corrupt politicians), Manmohan singh for PM is the best thing India has ever had since independence.

The cynics still critisize Sonia gandhi. There is no good reason to critisize her but still they do. I remember the proverb "real power lies in knowing you can! but still you dont". She has real power. And the last word on the forign origin issue is; there are 1 billion people in India and it took a person from Italy to teach them what decency is. Tough pill to follow given India over emphasis on the stupid word called patriotism. But thats the truth. I still do not support Sonia gandhi's presence in the Congress or the parliament. I think she should have nothing to do with politics. Neither should Rahul gandhi or Priyanka. But I think so for entirely different reasons.

Oh! at the world level I am happy that George.W.Bush got re-elected. I was never a staunch supporter of Republicans but I think the war against Iraq should go on. Bush for all the jokes on his intellect won the election twice. So there you go. The critics should finaly shut up. I have never ceased to laugh when some jerk in the intersection of motilal street and rukmani street in some obscure place in India comes and says " the war is a fake". Does he know what the US govt knows? First of all does he knows what his govt knows ? I sincerely believe, people in India have no right to talk about anything in Iraq or anyother world-level issue. Before saying even a word every Indian should ask himself " Do I know what my government's stand on the Iraq war is ? " The government still is yet to take a stand on the 1951 Korean war. It will never take a stand on this Iraq war. It has a neutral stand it seems on WW II. Neutered is a better word. The Indian gvernment has no backbone to take a decisive stand on any international issue. It is a weak whinging country. On one hand its economy is booming because of outsourcing from America on the other hand there is a constant complaint excercise by Indians against America. On one hand India is sad America did not ask for Indias help in the war against afghan on the other hand it says it doesnt care about what America does. I think US supplying arms to pakistan is right from its part. Bottomline: Pakistan in an US military ally. India, despite its fake neutral claims, is a Russian military ally. Too bad our partners croaked! Most of us have to get into our heads that we cant constantly crtisize someone everyday and still expect them to do us favors.

Moreover, I love the idea of going after dictators like Saddam and murderers like Osama (C'mon even a silly Veerappn took 12 years). India can never do things like that. We should be happy there is somebody who can at least do that.

oh! well.. wishing you all a very happy 2005. May this bring so much good news and make your dreams come true :-)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

MTV: Smitha : "Inji Iduppu" : Remix

Switched channels to MTV while putting on my shoes today morning. I never switch to MTV after 6:45 AM (this is when classic MTV ends and stupid remix-hindi songs start playing). I have given up watching MTV since its "Indianization" (read as de-musification) in 1997-98.

The intention was to watch some skimpily clad chics while starting office. It kinda peps me up for the 45 minute ride you know :-). I usually keep the volume on mute when I switch to MTV or Channel V when the stupid remixes are playing.

Today, I was watching this dark sexy looking girl doing some hip-hop dance routine and I was thinking yet another Kumar Sanu kind of a stupid romance song remixed to look like a hip-hop video. Never understood why the two (hip-hop and old hindi songs) were considered linkable and never understood how these stupid remixes were liked by anybody. I watch the videos purely for the girls and nothing else. ( I think that is the main marketing strategy of the producers also)

I was fiddling around with my home theater system and it switched video mode (which is the TV) by mistake. Before I could mute it back, I heard a song which sounded familiar. I was thinking "wait a minute this is not a old hindi song remixed. This song sounds familiar". It took a while to get adjusted to the blaring techno beats before I could place the song.

It was "Inji Iduppu azhagi" from the Kamalhaasan movie Devar Magan composed by Ilayaraja. Not sure if IR had any rights on this song and if it was properly bought from him. But that is besides the point. The feeling was "yuck! Not Tamil Remixes!! oh! my God" . The Hindi remix boom had led to 200 stupid semi-naked girls calling themselves artists. Now we don't want Tamil in this (re)mix.

Some artists they are! All they do is copy somebody else's creation and appear semi-nude in a music video. Is this art? crap! I say!

The artist doing this song was called Smitha. Never heard of her. She confirmed to the remix video artist specifications; "well-built" & Good looking chic nodoubt! Custom built to have more skin than dress, specifically to compensate for the lack of originality in lyrics and composition.

I hope she is the last one. The only thing that was saving tamil music was the remix curse.

Michael Porter on India

Have been reading up on M.Porter for some time. I was surprised to see rediff carry an article on him. Some words are worth their weight in gold. I really think he nailed my favorite topic on the head. What he said is not only applicable to the world of business but also applicable to far away things like cricket, general administration etc.

Rediff Interview/Michael Porter, head, Strategy Insititute, Harvard' India still has a long way to

Harvard Business School's Michael Porter is said to be the world's greatest authority on strategy and global competitiveness.

The overwhelming message from Porter is that it is still too early for India to think it has been successful -- or even partially successful. And there's a worry that India's globalisation story may be aborted by short-sightedness in policy or blindsided by misguided ambition.

Were Indian companies more likely to succeed at globalisation if government helped them -- or were they better off without policy support? Why were relatively-new industries like IT services and pharmaceuticals spawning the first Indian multinationals while long-time leaders like textiles and apparel floundering in dim obscurity?

Why did the US, Japan and the Netherlands display a higher propensity to nurture global corporations than other nations did?

What Porter says can be summed up in two words: tough love. Not only did he spare time from a hectic schedule to comment on India's competitive global standing, he took pains to be honest in his feedback.

As a frequent visitor to India and as head of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard, Porter has a clear understanding of India's potential as well as Indian companies' latent aspirations for global growth.

At the same time, as the architect of the Business Competitiveness Index in the World Economic Forum's annual Global Competitiveness Report, he knows how far Indian companies have to go before they can rightfully claim their place in the League of Multinationals. He also knows, first hand, how hard it is to make Indian CEOs realise that a critique is not the same as criticism.
"India has a tremendous tendency for overstatement," says Porter, adding wryly: "I've made many presentations over the years in India. One thing I've noticed is that Indians don't take criticism well. They get very offended."

To compete in an aggressive global environment, Indian companies must not only learn to invite criticism, but also find ways to use it to strengthen strategy and twist into competitive advantage. In a no-punches-pulled interview, Porter reiterates the purity of his purpose while "critically" evaluating Indian's global competitiveness.

"I want to make sure (my opinions) come across as sympathetic and respectful. I have a deep affection for India," Porter says repeatedly in an interview with Manjari Raman.

Just as the interview is ending, he says it once more -- with feeling. "Indians come to the US and they thrive! They build great companies, they're global. Isn't that a wonderful metaphor for what we are talking about?" Indeed, it is.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

The Top 100 listings of global companies or global brands never had any Indian companies whereas companies from a few countries, like the US, the UK, Japan, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, tended to dominate the lists. Why do some countries spawn more global companies than others? Surely that has implications for India?

You're absolutely right! The ability of Indian companies to prosper and be competitive internationally has a lot to do with the home base, and whether India offers an attractive business environment. What we've learnt over and over again is that if companies don't have to compete at home and don't have a vibrant, dynamic environment at home, it's very, very hard for them to compete internationally.

What must be done so that Indian companies make it to the Top 100 global lists?
A good place to start is to think about the nature of the business environment in India and where India stands internationally. Certainly, India is on the right track and is improving its economic performance.

The growth in GDP per capita has been quite good. The growth in productivity is still low, but there is some evidence that it has picked up a bit. Although I did say in my presentation at Mumbai earlier this year that there seems to be a slight deceleration, it is not yet clear what we should make of that.

India's exports are growing, but that growth is dominated by growth in service exports and in particular IT-related services. India is doing quite well in IT-enabled services, but to a considerable extent, that's it!
It's a one-trick pony. India is getting tremendous international profile from IT service exports, but they aren't indicative of the broader economy. If you look at the India's export portfolio, the export clusters that are growing rapidly are jewelry and precious metals, textiles/apparel, fishing, construction, metal manufacturing and agriculture.

Interesting that you don't mention pharmaceuticals and automotive components where Indian companies are trying to be more global.

Pharmaceuticals are very small, and according to our data, the sector is growing at a slower rate than India's average growth rate of exports of goods. In automotive components, we do see India showing up on the list; in automotive products, India has a 0.15 per cent share of world exports, and it has not grown its share.

Components are one area that has been doing a little bit better, according to our data. India has a 0.3 per cent world export share in automotive parts and it has grown slightly. But automotive components exports from India in 2002 amounted to just $460 million.

Are you saying there is need to be cautious because the gains India has made so far are small compared to the global competitiveness of other countries?

India has a tremendous tendency for overstatement. I've made many presentations over the years in India. I've noticed that Indians don't take criticism well. They get very offended. Everybody feels they have to overstate the positives and understate the negatives.
I once gave a presentation to a group of senior managers attending the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School, and the Indian managers in the class were enraged although I made a very balanced presentation.
One point that ought to emerge from this interview is that India needs to learn to be more self-critical, more open, and much more honest about what needs to be done.

Isn't sensitivity to criticism a defense mechanism? One of the critical problems that companies in developing economies face when internationalising is quite simply, confidence. But your point is that by being self-critical, Indian businesses can go global faster than if they were defensive.

It's over defensive. In terms of the business environment, IT service exports are growing, but India's service exports, in general, are not growing that fast. Exports of goods are growing, but, again, not that fast, and the big areas in goods exports are still traditional clusters like textiles. There is certainly movement in the right direction, but the magnitude of that improvement is still tiny. In terms of assessing where India really is, we have to understand that there's a long way to go.

Where does a country's globalisation story begin? Does good government policy, which creates internationally competitive clusters which yield global companies, come first? Or do companies identify global competitive advantages, and need to be supported by sound government policy?

Theory would say that to build a competitive economy, first, you need to have sound overall contextual conditions, such as macroeconomic policy, a sound legal system, etc. Those are cross-context factors, and include macro, legal, social, and political factors. They need to be sound, stable, and trusted for an economy to be competitive. But in of themselves, those are not enough.

In order to have a competitive economy, you also have to have competitive firms. To have competitive firm, you need to have an efficient and appropriate business environment, which creates the right inputs, the right incentives, and the right competitive pressure to allow firms to improve their productivity.

Governments shouldn't work with individual firms--that's almost always a mistake. Government should work, first, to enhance and improve the overall business environment--the cross-cutting business environment that affects many clusters. Then, government ought to work with established or emerging clusters to remove the obstacles and constraints that prevent those clusters from becoming more dynamic.
If government does those two things, we find that exports and outward foreign direct investment follow. But it's inappropriate and inefficient for government to engage with individual companies.
Moreover, when it is engaging in cluster development, the government's role is really to support the efforts of all existing and emerging clusters to upgrade productivity rather than to make choices about which clusters need specific support. There has long been a tendency in India of distorted support through subsidies. The mentality needs to shift from "we need to support some clusters" to "we need to create a policy framework that allows all clusters to flourish."

Does that imply that government should give up traditional clusters in favor of emerging clusters that fit in better with the needs of the global economy at that point in time?
It would be a big mistake to ignore traditional clusters because they are a major asset. What needs to be done is to upgrade those clusters. In textiles and apparel, for example, government must ask: how can India move to the next level of technology? How can the quality levels improve? What are the constraints--does India need standards? What are the things that will allow Indian clusters to rise to a higher level?

I strongly believe that no nation should ever abandon any cluster. Indeed, the most important cluster that needs attention in India is agriculture because it's dominant in employment. If India could make its agriculture more productive, it could not only raise the standard of living, but it can also free up people who then can migrate into more productive uses in the rest of the economy.

Basically, while there are new clusters and emerging clusters, like bio-pharmaceuticals, there are also traditional clusters--and government should pay equally vigorous attention to all of them.
Let us consider the links between country, clusters, and companies. Why do you think it is important to have globally competitive companies in a country?

The way we define competitiveness is, companies that can be productive and meet the test of international competition. A company has to be globally competitive, or it's simply going to die. From a company's point of view, competitiveness is a matter of survival. Having competitive companies is the way a country supports a high and rising standard of living because those companies can afford to pay high and rising wages. They create new jobs. And by the way, India has a crisis of jobs in the formal economy.

When we think about cluster development, we can't think national; we have to think regional. The locus of economic development, particularly in a country of the scale and size of India, needs to be driven down to the state level, and within the state, down to the metropolitan and urban areas. The fact that some states are fairly advanced and organised in terms of that kind of thinking is one reason that India as a nation is successful.
It's not that India is successful; certain regions have been particularly successful, and those regions are driving the whole country. I don't see any systematic policy framework that works collaboratively between central and state governments to upgrade clusters on a national scale.

In the last two years, you have done competitiveness reports on Brazil, Russia, China, and India. Do those emerging nations display any common trends?

Emerging economies are becoming more significant players in the global economy. We are seeing increasing outbound foreign investment from the emerging economies, and India is an example of that. Foreign investment out of India is up to roughly $1 billion a year, and that's a meaningful amount of external investment by Indians. That would be one trend.

Secondly, the global economy has been shifting a little from the traditional West to the emerging economies in terms of sheer weight.
How does India compare?

There's quite an interesting story about India. Although the Indian business environment is improving in multiple respects, it has some fundamental weaknesses. Number one, the capital markets remain relatively weak and undeveloped. Number two, the physical infrastructure is abysmally ranked.

Indian firms face a really compelling logistical disadvantage over companies in China in terms of getting goods and services to market.
But the most pernicious problems in India--which are still not being confronted head-on - are the pervasive barriers to competition.

A lot of Indian companies are investing abroad partly to, if you will, escape weaknesses in the domestic business environment, and to build assets and skills that are slow to develop at home. It's interesting that the most successful Indian clusters are ones where the government didn't really have any (contribution).
A fundamental shift is still required in the nature of the business-government relationship. That is still very much a work in progress.

Traditional belief is linked to getting to global scale in domestic markets and then going global -- but the Indian IT industry has hardly any home base and is focused on exports. What happened to building scale locally in that case?

That works where the local market is very open and competitive. India's been frozen.
So, Indian IT companies have bypassed the domestic market and preferred to seek opportunities in the global market because it is open and competitive?

Exactly. Bollywood's case would be the opposite. There is a lot of domestic demand and competition, and that's now internationalised too. Those are two very interesting symbolic cases, both of which weren't affected much by government policy, but have internationalised for different reasons.
India would have the opportunity to see more of the natural pattern if it could free up internal competition. But, right now, that natural growth has been stunted by the policy legacy.

Do you find that when there is a large domestic market, like in India, companies virtually have a disincentive to globalise?
In general, that's absolutely true, and it's certainly true for India. Firms can be fat, dumb, and happy at home. I remember cases like bicycles, where because the market was protected and sheltered, products were abysmal. The consumer had no clout and no choice.

Basically, India ended up with a frozen situation, where it had companies happy to make very good profits operating at home. But if India opens up its domestic market and has a lot of competition in the domestic market--as in the United States--then it will begin a more positive cycle.

Companies will get to ramp up and build some capability in the domestic market, and competition will drive them to start looking abroad. That dynamic could happen in India if the fundamental characteristics of the business environment are systematically addressed.

The other consequence of a large domestic market--which affects both India and China--is, what little foreign investment comes into India is not because India is a great business platform; it's there because of the consumers.
China has taken better advantage of that than India has because China is in many ways more open, more dynamic. We've seen many more companies come into China because that's such a dynamic place. The business environment is a bit more efficient, which is why multinationals use China as an export platform. But we don't see that much in India. The multinationals are there primarily just to do business in India and sell to the Indian market.

Another really big challenge for India, if she is going to develop the more advanced clusters, is the issue of intellectual property (IP) protection. Until India can be really credible on that, I think the growth of biotech will be limited.

In a way, globalisation is a great spur for Indian companies to address the IP issue. More Indian companies in emerging clusters are beginning to recognise the value of innovation, and how leveraging IP can increase returns by an order of magnitude.
All the metrics on innovative activity in India used to be horrendously low. In the last five years, we've seen a real pick up in innovative activity. The acid test is US patenting, and that supports your point.

Indian companies are starting to see that IP is valuable, and that protecting it is valuable. That gives them a lever with which to be competitive in the international market. It's crucial for that momentum to build, so that government policy can be improved in that area. What government should try to do is create a business environment that supports higher levels of productivity and innovation, and encourages company strategies based on productivity and innovation.

In the past, India's business environment was very inefficient and unproductive. The mentality of most companies was, "let's stay home, let's copy or imitate, and let's compete on price.' That didn't lead to many competitive companies. That explains your first question (on why more Indian companies don't show up in the top global lists).

Hopefully, there will be continued progress on the business environment and a continued mindset shift and a reallocation of competitive strategy among Indian companies. That combine will yield more clusters like Bollywood and IT services.

What are the common mistakes of emerging globalisers that you would caution Indian companies about?
Indian companies are starting to internationalise more, and have more international strategies. In some sectors, that is proceeding in a healthy way. In IT services, for example, companies understand that they have to move upscale and offer more advanced services. Some of their foreign investment is in getting closer to the customer, so that they can be more involved--not just in back-office business, but also in design.

Ideally, Indian companies should use international investment to upgrade their strategy over time. The big risk is that they will go and make a lot of acquisitions to be big and to claim that they have a global position without having any strategic clarity or focus about how they are going to be different from all the other companies in the global market.

Some Indian companies that are investing abroad are doing so with a really strategic focus. Others are just buying companies, so that they can say they are global.

Chinese outbound foreign investment is about five times as big as India's outbound foreign investment. Even though it's an important trend that more Indian companies are internationalising, in absolute terms, it's still relatively small.
You appear to be concerned that Indian business might harm their cause by celebrating their global success too soon.
India shouldn't want to overstate. People tend to look at current trends, and say, 'wow, isn't it a big deal?' Well, it's only a billion dollars a year; it's a trickle in terms of FDI. Indian companies are going to have to step up to a much higher level of internationalisation.

I also think Indian companies are bypassing some of their natural markets in internationalising. A lot of Indian companies should be starting with the region and then moving to Europe and North America.
For prestige and ego, perhaps, we are seeing too much of a focus on the advanced economies rather than on the gigantic opportunity in the region and Asia.
Imagine the year 2025. Are Indian companies on Top 100 global lists--or do US, European, and Japanese companies continue to dominate them?

It's up to India collectively, to determine the answer to that question. We should see Indian companies on those lists, as we see Samsung and Sony on them now. Thirty or forty years ago, they didn't exist, they weren't on lists, they weren't important.

There's every reason why Indian companies could become part of the global 100 or 200 or 500--but that is going to require change. Although the trends are positive, the magnitude of the changes that have taken place in the business environment and company strategy are still modest.

India is a complex democracy, with a complex governance process with a cumbersome, slow, and torturous reform trajectory. It remains to be seen whether India can sustain a rapid enough rate of progress, so that we see a South Korea or Japan kind of situation 30 or 40 years from now.

Going back to my earlier observation, the question is: can India be self-critical? Can Indian companies be self-critical? Can they overcome traditional mindsets and policy failures which held the country back for the last 40 years?
Only Indians can answer that question.

Monday, December 27, 2004

EarthQuake: TV coverage

Well... here is what happened yesterday ( on TV and live)

Stupid Moments:

1) Sun TV trying to gain political mileage for the DMK party even during such an hour of grief. The unethical, biased, immoral SOB's used a natural disaster where people were dying to promote their political agendas. They kept saying constantly that no official authorities were there to help. The kept lying and spreding false propoganda that the police and the government were lackadaisical in coming to the rescue of the people. When all to the contrary was true.

2) They put an amateur newscaster during an important hour on Sun News. He read out the prepared first two lines well and then started blabbering like a fool, when he had to improvize on live TV. His eyes shrunk as he struggled to talk ( too nervous) couldnt get any logical structure flowing to his thoughts. Did not lead us to any particular point or thought process.

3) He said "please don't panic" so many times ( about 5 million times) that even some coma patients started getting worked up in panic. He did not back any of his "dont panic" claims with data. He kept saying like a baby " don't panic! everything will be allright". He kept on saying "dont believe or spread rumors" and unfurled a couple of rumors on his own ( in the pretext of giving examples of rumors people should not spread)

4) A Sun TV Journalist (Swaminathan.. his name wasn't it ?) behaved badly. This dude is standing in the middle of the beach with hundreds of people around him and he started saying "people are angry. people are boiling. they are upset with the government's attitude" . The irresponsible idiot was actually pumping up the people in the wrong way and creating a mob mentality.

5) Sun TV did not show even a single government official helping ( it was cut out). There were many ( infact a lot ) who were actually doing some good work. Helicopters were around at 7:30 AM itself. These people carefully filtered that out!

Good/ Profound / Touching Moments:

1) The wailing grief stricken bearded man who could not believe the shock of someone close to him passing away. He kept shouting with folded hands "iyyappa" as someone kept pulling him away in a different direction to console him. Man! I was just moved to tears!

2) The Sun News reader who was reading live at 6:45AM. The earthquake hits and his table & monitor etc starts shaking. He is confused for sometime and then shouts "Ravi building aaduthu.. Ravii building is shaking.. bayangarama aaduthu"

3) Dr. J announcing to the news channels asking for relief funds from the center and contributions from good-hearted people. She said this announcement in English! And then some journalists asked her to repeat the full speech in Tamizh. She first did not understand what she was being asked to do. She said " enna! sonnatha ellam tamizh'la sollanuma.. Ellathaiyumaa" (Should I repeat everything in Tamizh? ). She was visibly annoyed at being asked to do this when she had important work to do. She paused for a moment said the first line " 1537 people have died" in Tamizh. Then dunno what she thought, she just snapped and said " Please donate money to Chief Ministers relief fund" and went away. My respect for her increases everyday. Given the important tasks that lie ahead who the hell wants to be giving out stupid TV interview. Bravo!.

4) Union Ministers Mani shankar Aiyyar and D. Maran being visibly moved to tears on seeing the number of dead people arranged in marriage halls.

5) A woman still in shock narrating how she lost her child. She said " I held the baby in my hands. It was sleeping. I ran very well as fast as I could. I tripped on a stone and the baby slipped out of my hands and dropped it into water. It did not get hurt. Not even a scratch. It died because it drowned but it looked as if it was still asleep. It was a big stone otherwise I wouldn't have tripped" ( and she breaks into tears)

6) It was still early days and the extent of the earthquake or the death toll was not known. The Sun TV news anchor was talking to live reports from the beach ( he was calling people on their cell phones). He is saying " There maybe property damage. But it has been an hour so far and there have been no death tolls reported. So I guess there is no casualities". The person on the other line agrees and is giving some comments on the water flowing into the road when he suddenly cries out " I see a body.. its a dead body". On Live TV the anchor realizes that there are dead bodies around.

and now for the...

Funny Moments:

1) Our jackass Sun TV fellow in the morning decided to call up Seismology department professor from Anna university.

JackAss: " Now about the earthquake . Can it be predicted?"
Sleepy Prof: " What ?"
JackAss: " The earthquake sir!!. Can it be predicted?"
Sleepy Prof: " What ....?"
JackAss: " Earthquake Earthquake sir!!. "
Sleepy Prof: " What ....? Earthquake.. what ?"

(cuts off the line)

JackAss: " We are experiencing some communication problems....."

2) Our jackass Sun TV fellow later decides to call up Seismology Department, Chennai.

JackAss: " Since earthquakes cannot be predicted. Can at least the after shocks be predicted ?"
SeismGuy: " Eartquakes can be predicted easily ?"
JackAss: " Okay..(then realises what the other guy just said) WHAT! they can be predicted"
SeismGuy: " Yes they can"

now jackass is in conspiracy theory mode

JackAss: " Do you think the government deliberately held back the information"
SeismGuy: " No! I dont think after-shocks can be predicted. But I along with three other people have written a paper on Earthquake prediction presented in International conference..bla bla.. in Hyderabad talking of methodologies to predict earthquakes"

He goes on to explain and market his thesis dissertation. Jack ass gets confused regarding his credibility. Seeing the moment slip away.. he says

JackAss: " Sir.. please hold for a moment.I will get back to you."

General Stuff:

Madras was pretty peaceful for the rest of the day. In fact, I think the police, navy and the coast guard did a wonderful job in responding to the crisis. Looking at various TV channels and whats going on in Chennai (where I was on Sunday) they did whatever was humanly possible. The main advantage was Madras having the best hospital infastruture in the country. So it was able to handle the "injured" people very well.

The police Inspector General R.Nataraj was confident, assured and pretty articulate when he said " We responded immediately. Everything is under control. It is a natural disaster and we are responding the best way we can." Looks like there was one policeman in every square foot on the beach road in Chennai.

The sad thing is among the casualities in Chennai, a major number belonged to the people who play cricket on the beach. I remembered my college days where we used play cricket on the same place every Sunday morning ( ya! Sunday ). We use dto go there at 5:45 AM to reserve spots to play the game. By 7:00 AM the place usually becomes pretty crowded with 20-30 games of being played by some 50 odd teams in a small space on the beach. It was like a tradition.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

EARTHQUAKE -- Bloggin It Live

( Although the earthquake and events described are real. Due to my state of dizzinessand general cnfused state.. i have given only the humorous perspective of what happened.. not the reality ..docu drama shown in the news)
6:30 AM West Mambalam, Chennai, India:

I had finished my bath ( yes! I do bath and that too early in the morning on Sunday) and just had my veshti ( dhoti) on. I felt a mild dizziness and I thought "Man! I have had some crap last night that screwing my stomach up!" then I realized that I did not eat out last night! So I thought " maybe I did not eat anything last night" . Then I realized I had food last night! Unknowingly I held the cupboard to balance myself. My dad was shouting behind me as to why I left the wardrobe door open! When I was think "whaat I didn't"... when my mom entered the room shouting the "the building is SHAKING" . I was confused. I now had to shift perspectives from having an intestine problem to building shaking. My mom led me to the kitchen and showed me Juraasic Park style the water jug shaking. The water inside the jug was jumping like ocean tide. My vision was getting blurred ( well.. that happens often :-) ). the cupboards were open. EARTHQUAKE

I saw my neighbors shyly peeping outside to check if everybody else were facing the same situation ( most of them thought they were sick). I could only process so much information that we had to rush downstairs (we were in the fifth floor). But I had the horse sense to take the stairs and not the elevator. So there we ran downstairs shouting to all the people to come down and also not take the elevator. By the time we had assembled down there were already some people on the road.

Star Status:

So there you go! I experienced an earthquake. I am an earthquake survivor. I am a star! Hearing about earthquake experences from Chennai residents four years before and my relatives in Gujarat. I was thinking man! I haven't experienced anything significant! :-).
After rushing down! I realized that I had nothing on me except a towel sort of thing around me. Then I looked around the excited west mambalam residents and was sort of releived that most of them were semi-naked.

Now this is Madras and that too West Mamabalam you send some of the residents on the road to do nothing but talk what will they do? They spoke for 10 minutes regarding their experiences " ooh! I thought the chair was moving on its own". " Oooh! I thought the tumblers were rolling on its own". We are still constructing our own house still and the house ownership was in transitionary state. My dad was worried about house insurance and natural calamity insurance (these are all virtually non-existent in India. if you lose your house all you get it a share of relief money after attrition over several bribes to government officials). In spite of all such concerns you wouldn't believe what all the people did.

After 10 minutes of eartquake talk! everybody immediately switched to the Sankaracharya arrest topic. Oh! my God! Seriously Man! There ought to be a law in Madras that nobody should be gossiping about Sankaracharyar anymore. Its been beaten to death. And I was so excited on getting this star status, that I couldn't believe the moment was being shattered. I pleaded to everybody "please switch back to the earthquake topic". No! fat chance! Sankaracharyar's arrest was far far more important thing for these dudes when the earth was shaking underneath you.

But I was not willing to let go of this new found star status. I tried calling all my relatives to discuss this event and their experiences. But I forgot something fundametal, this was marghazhi thingal ( the tamil month of margazhi). Nobody were at their homes. they had eloped to the temple at 4:00 AM. I realized then that if I had to bath at 6:00 AM then my relatives should at least be light years ahead of me.

Well there you go! I experienced an earthquake and there is nobody I could talk to. It was good opportunity for some excitement but sankaracharya, religion, regional, caste , sub-catse politics seemed to dominate my neighbor's discussion. People were excitedly talking about karma and the rage of the sea. They paused for a moment's silence when my dad gave his own atheist comments before resuming their argument's on sankaracharyas arrest and the role of DMK. So I went to the temple to discuss this and nobody inside were aware of the earthquake. None of my relatives, friends inside the temple had experienced it. Damp Squib!

When I came back from the temple, there was another round of mild tremors. My dad by then had settled down in the bedroom with the morning newspaper ( reading of Junior Sankaracharyar being called up for police interrogation ). My mom started the usual excitement routine ( complaining of dizziness ..water jug etc) and some of the neighbors started running down. But my dad had by then lost respect for the earthquake. He preferred the newspaper to running down. Most of the people in my building seemed to take an attitude of "aah! it will stop after some time".

I give up! There used to be a time when tremors caused concern. Even 4 years before when the quake came people had to rush out. They could not contain themselves to stay outside for even 10 minutes. The T.V mega series soap opera "chitti" was going on! They rushed back in even when the ritcher scale was greater than zero.

Seriously! Earthquake survivor( well I am still alive. although if you don't see any blogs from me in the future.. you know what happened) status means little in Madras. People always have better things to do when there is an earthquake.

T.V is showing that water has come into the roads from the beach. I still feel some shaking going on and mild dizziness but! what the heck! nobody cares. There is the corruption controversy regarding the veeranam Tamil Nadu water project going on in the news. Thats more important! Sigh...

Friday, December 24, 2004

Standing in Line: Seriously! Some Manners Please

Something (somebody) pissed me off last week and I wanted to blog about it but didn't have the time (memory). I yelled at a lady in public last week. I yelled at her in my office cafeteria where lot of people were present. I was fully aware that I would be embarassing this lady by yelling at her and I shouted at her so loud that many people turned and saw us. This embarassed the girl and almost choked her to tears. I was very happy. In fact the whole day I was feeling smug. Thinking back 1 week later, I still feel happy about it.

I was standing in the cafeteria line to order my breakfast and there was this lady standing behind me. From the time she joined the line, she somehow seemed eager to get past me. She tried standing parallel to me then put part of her hand in front, then her legs in front and all the time constantly peeping beyond me. I was fully well expecting her to squeeze past me ( I was ready this time). So when I approached the counter, she put her hand underneath mine with a 20 Rupee note and ordered something. I quickly grabbed the Rs.20 note and asked her loudly (quite loud) " Do you know the meaning of a queue". Bred for 30 odd years in the shameful shameful Indian mentality ( yes! thats what I said) of not knowing what a queue or line means, bulldozing through queues had probably become part of her bloodstream. She did not expect a person to shout at her. When I asked her again (this time with better volume ) "Do you know what a queue is? Do you see me standing in front of you? Why do you want to go in front of me ? Are you really educated? "

She stammered in embarassment, was visibly scared and so started blabbering something to save her face. So she said " Its okay! you can buy! no problem! I won't mind" . I decided I would sting her one more time before I let her go and said " I know I can buy. The thing is you do not know I have to buy before you".

I guess for at least the next few months she will make sure she will stand in line before her old habbits catch up with her and become one of the millions of idiots in this country, who inspite of having so many diplomas/degrees, the stupid software engineer badges their company gives them are still so retarded that they don't bloody know the meaning of a queue.

I remember some 10 years before in 1994. Devi Paradise had made a big thing about it being the first Digital Dolby 6.0 Sourround sound movie hall in India. Speed was the movie screened in the cinema hall. It was my XII grade vacation and I had decided to go to the movie alone. Standing in the queue I was lost in my dream world and until I was near the counter. When my turn came I noticed suddenly that 6 or 7 hands tried to shove me aside and put their hands into the counter. What I did not notice, when I was the dream world was that the tickets had dried up and when my turn had come there was just one ticket remaining . The people behind me had seen this ( I had obviously not) and instead of resigning their fate to lack-of-ticket-availability they decided to push me aside and somehow buy that ticket. These weren't road-side ruffians we are talking about. These were decent looking (dressed) people returning from work and there was one lady also.The man behind the counter took the ticket book in his hands and took a step back ( possibly out of fear of the mob plucking the ticket and running away). He asked me from a distance, "there is one ticket! do you want to buy it". I nodded and he carefully gave the ticket to me while the wrecthed creatures next to me were still grabbing and hoping that they would get the ticket. Once I got the ticket, these people around me walked away as if nothing had happened. They were in fact dissapointed that they did not get the ticket. No apologies offered. It was as if this was part of our culture. No I retract and rephrase; this is part of our culture. The mannerlessness. This probably defines an important attribute of our country.

Every weekend when I go to the temple; I find 50,000 autodrivers inside the temple. Auto drivers (wherever they are Bangalore, Pune , Madras) are the scum of the earth. the lowest life form ever seen by mankind. I am only sad that Veerappan died without killing all the auto drivers. They are people who travel only 2 km/hr on the road but on seeing some vehicle before them they will travel fast enough to overtake that vehicle ( this they do by driving on the wrong side of the road or by overtaking from the left) and then they park themselves in front of that vehicle and resume driving at 2 km/hr.

Inside the temple while doing pradakshanams ( the thing where we walk around the deity clockwise ) we have our in-temple autodrivers who are more interested in overtaking the guy in front of them than praying. Once they cross the person-in-front they go as slow as possible. They have come to the temple to complete 4 or 6 or 8 circles as fast as they can. Mind you... they have not come to pray. That is not in their interest at all. They have to rapidly circle God 8 times and run out of the temple. It is almost a competition. Sometimes when I stop near a deity to pray, I block the walk-way ( its a pretty narrow one). So I instantly have 10 autodrivers queuing up behind me. They try and nudge me push me or make some coughing noises. Initially I adjusted or moved fast. Nowadays I delay for an extra two-minutes, make sure they are extremely irritated and then I move. Someday, I want to line them all up give them a sound whacking and make them repeat 10000 times " I have come to pray and not to compete in a race".

I seriously feel we should stop critising the west on anything. Culturally we are the most backward country in this planet. We should not ask for any proof about this or compare ourselves with any other country on any other aspect. We just have to assume that we are pretty backward and get that rammed into our minds. Only then will we ever develop some manners. The country should bring out some sort of law that will send people who violate queues to prison for a week. Or at least fine them 50,000 Rupees.

If you don't believe me. You can just see any one of the following places ; railway stations, airport counters, coffee shops, cafeterias; and see how our country men are doing with regards to standing on a line.

A simple thing if you have a coffee machine in your work place see how the people will shove you aside to fill their mug, when you are actually filling your coffee mug. If you finally manage to fill the mug and you are walking out of the coffee room (which has an entrance that can allow only one person). The incoming person will bump on you without caring whether you have a coffee mug in your hand or not. He wants to go in and and if you block the way he will ram into you.The fundametal problem is our people can't wait. They are always in a hurry (even when the dont have to be anywhere soon). While on road if a car is reversing and therefore blocking the road; the other vehicles will try and squeeze through the sides, even if it means the car that is reversing will have to stop or get stuck. They will honk ..shout and create all nuisance. They don't care to wait for 2 minutes. they do not want to. Our people want to keep moving all the time. Brakes are tools used only during an emergency .

The thing that best sums up this attitude is, my office bus driver let flow mouthful of expletives at a traffic cop. Why because the cop was regulating traffic. Our bus was stopped to allow the intersecting lane's traffic to go. This irritated my bus driver (who obviously did not wat to wait) and he let go a stream of abuses ( it was in kannada so I could decipher it) which could have possibly adjectivized( he he) every member of the cop's family. The cop could only shout back. He did not pull up the driver aside and book him. He cannot! Oh! no you can't do that man.. you can't pull up one person who has the chronic ability to not wait and thereby get into an argument with 60 other passengers who have the congenital I-can't-wait disability.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


The Armful

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns --
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

-- Robert Frost

Saw this poem somewhere and I thought my life resembled this :-). So decided to put it up! Robert frost is good on the 'road' eh!?

Monday, December 20, 2004

P - o - r - n - o - g - r - a - p - h - y

The following is an extract from the Indian Penal Code taken from a popular website

Section 67: Publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form.Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on the first conviction to five years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees and in the event of a second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and also with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees.

Section 79: Network service providers not to be liable in certain cases. For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that no person providing any service as a network service provider shall be liable under this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder for any third party information or data made available by him if he proves that the offence or contravention was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence or contravention.

Explanation. For the purposes of this section

a. 'network service provider' means an intermediary;
b. 'third party information' means any information dealt with by a network service provider in his capacity as an intermediary.

So two separate threads are dominating the headlines. The Kareena kiss thing and the Delhi Public School under-age por n scandal.

I would assume safely the contents of the Delhi Public School video clip is pretty high-level. It should be so Clinton-Lewinsky kind of high level that some regular professional XXX porn stuff may take a backseat. Otherwise the Delhi police might not have been offended so much that they are on a vindictive trail arresting the entire network.

Its interesting right. Some school kids have their harmones on a high and so decided to get naughty. The guy nicely cons the girl, tapes her and then he shows himself to be pretty sinister in forwarding the recording to his friends( probably boasting to them of his big catch). the friends, in-turn forward it all over India. What happens next, the high-flying CEO of (ebay equivalant) sipping wine and dining with fine people in the US finds himself locked in jail. And that too the nauseating sub-human Thihar jail. Wow!

I agree with almost everything the Delhi police is doing. They must've been frustrated with so many law-evasions that they want to make some one an example. It has worked from that angle. But I don't quite agree so much with the laws surrounding these incidents and the arrest of the Bajaj fellow. You don't arrest a CEO because the restroom cleaner pee'ed on somebody. Its really unfair to him ( the CEO that is). I hope the time will come that the police will freeze the organizational structure and then trace exactly.... the dude who is responsible for the "oversight" and arrest that specific person. Arresting the CEO is very vague. Its like arresting our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh if some Indian in the US violates immigration laws. You can comeup with a reasonable argument as to how Manmohan singh could have ensured that every Indian behaved well in the US but it would be an in-effecient way of looking at the problem.

I am quite sad for Ravi Raj the IIT student who decided to make quick money selling the tape in If he comes from a poor family then thats pretty irresponsible of him to have done this. It all looks funny when you do it, right? You don't even know a law exists to prevent whatever you are doing. and when you find out, its like a surprise. When the dude is arrested he could be saying something like " I didn't know the Indian Penal Code off the top of my head officer. There are just too many sections that I tend to forget the first sections when I am reading the final ones." The poor guy has to study for IIT exams which are already so tough and on top of it has to learn the IPC in detail :-) On the serious side I do think anything you do that borders on the grey side of black will get you in trouble pretty fast. I know of quite a few people who have squandered their lives doing unnecessary "extra-curricular" "activities" while relegating their college degree to the back seat. Raviraj learned it on-his-face. His career is gone. He will be obviously expelled (even if he wins the court case). What a waste of a life ?

The first thing to look at is the law itself.

How many people know all the sections of the IPC in detail? Not possible right? If we are doing something and we don't know if its legal. We don't stop to browse the law books right? In the DPS case it must be a pretty tough thing for the guy to do with his pants down :-). I hear what you are saying!! "That's p orn. I don't do it". Well fine. But is there anything else you do thats prevented by the law. Do you know all the things you can or cannot do ? Does that mean only a person who gets caught is the offender and everybody else are by-th-book. Is perception reality? What I am getting at is. Is the government advertising their laws well enough. Are the citizens aware? If you ask me I'll say no.

The Kareena Kapoor kissing-her-boyfriend affair shows that PDA ( funnily called Public Display of Affection) is banned. I did not know that. Coming out of my 12th grade after-school tuition classes from Guntur subbiah school, I could not help noticing that Dr.Natesan park in T.Nagar used to be a showroom for PDA's. Imagine the number of accidents that have happened near the park..with people bending over backwards to catch a PDA or two. In general Indians have shown a poor awareness towards rules, regulations and laws. Its mostly learned the hardway. After the fact.

Both these incidents are sort of pioneers. I had an American collegue who used to joke "War teaches Americans Geography" . I guess scandals are the way Indians will learn law.

Now there are many of my friends at work, who keep arguing "why is PDA wrong. She is my girl friend. We can pretty much do whatever we want". Its a tough call. I do not know what to say on this. I agree to a certain extent such a freedom should be given in India. After all we are a democracy. But where do you draw the line and how do you communicate it to the farmer in Bihar who doesn't care a rat's ass if his 7th and 8th wife don't wanna be room mates. It is obviously okay to a certain extent in the US, you can go pretty far before people start saying "get a room guys". People are well aware of the rules there. India is a different ball game altogether. Even now in most places outside the metros people don't hold hands in public. We are changing ( I did not say developing. I said changing) at different rates withing the country. What this means is that we have people who strongly agree and dis-agree with PDA or pre-marital fun stuff.

Then comes the "who are these police officers?" part. If cops, lawyers, judges come from the metros they are more willing to understand this as part of a specific lifestyle (which only means punishment will be on the lower range). If they come from places where this is frowned upon they will throw the book on you and prosecute you pretty hard. Which is what I guess is happening to the school students. A closer look at the Law books reveals that the law prohibits any form of sexual relationship, intimacy, physical touching that borders on sexual behavior, intercourse, outside of marriage. I did not know that either. So what our laws say is that if two people are 'doin it' and if they aren't married ( to each other.. otherwise it doesn't make a lot of sense :-) ) then they have violated the law and are liable to porridge or chill-out in jail for 5 years. Pretty cool huh!. Try telling that to Kamal Hassan, Karunanidhi and 20% of the Indian population.

Now I am not trying to take any moral high gorund here. I have never passed a judgement on anybody ( except raviraj) here. I just took the lawbook and tried to objectively interpret it. To me it appears that the Law is not well understood by the people and it also appears out-dated. The key is do we have the visionaries to change it so that its makes sense, in sync with our tradition and at the same time providing a sense of democracy ? I do not think we have.

On the other-hand, I will never condone the school kids who actually participated in this. 'Doin it' when you are below 18 years is pretty risky. Yes! people fool around and all that but it is still if you are under-age it is risky. US has the strictest possible rules for under-age sexual behavior. I guess even with that the law, for various reasons, cannot be strictly enforced. India is waking up to this phase where love marriages is rapidly over-taking the arranged ones. Which means kids in this country are gonna start dating at school and parents will have to be okay with that. How do you know they arent crossing the line (wherever it is). How do you make sure you child is not part of a porn movie or a group sex thing. If at all this country wants to enforce any disipline some visionary law makers (wherever they are) need to start working.

It is not the banning of porn that I am talking about. Everybody has seen porn. Nobody in India can grow up to be a 25 year-old without seeing it. The ladies who are reading it, you should know that your husbands have seen it, you brothers have seen it, and right now (or in good time) you kids are seeing it. I am saying this not to appear stunning or in-your-face.

Why is it risky then?

The girl in that video has allowed herself to be willingly video taped. Since she is in high-school I am guessing, she cannot be older than 16 or 17 ( given that people pass out of XII grade at 17). If she has also willingly participated in some major level "acts", it could also mean she(and/or the boy (or) most probably both) could have seen porn videos to learn how to do it. If this is true then my point is two-pronged. Girls nowadays get access to porn matrial and videos and they do see them..willingly. But more importantly, even though they are aware of matters concerning sex to a certain extent, they can still be conned. The boyfriends could persuade the girls to perform non-trivial 'acts' and use porn to say "they are doin it! its okay! its fun". So porn in essence is used as a argument-winner, a substantiator.

I suspect girls are more liable to blindly follow whatever their boyfriends will say ( to a great extent) without protesting. Fear of being branded a non-cooperative person could be one reason but not understanding what they are getting into is a huge reason. In cases like Delhi public school, the 'brainwash' factor is definetly a huge factor. When a girl does not know a crap about the whole sex thing.... she might not know if she is playing with a nuclear bomb or a bijili and could easily mix up the two. Well I am not saying girls are idiots (that would be a sexist comment). I am saying something to the effect of "little knowledge is dangerous". Guys , especially the evil manipulative ones, (who think about porn all the time) will make sure girls mix em'(the nuclear bomb..) up.

What probably parents should take away from this incident is to make girls aware of the risks. Parents are in general easy-to-fool types. No seriously, no matter how educated you are( three Ph.D's in Pschology and adolescent behavior) if you are a parent you can be fooled in 3 seconds. Parents of Girls ( okay let me include boys for equality sake) definetly need to educate girl's on what is considered bad and what is not bad. The risks( in terms of teenage pregnancy, unknowingly becoming a porn-star) have to be clearly explained. Otherwise like this girl's parents many other parents could learn it from a news paper.

This is not the first such incident. I heard from collegues that some video called "mysore malligai" which was another video tape by a boy of a girlfriend in a variety of poses. Its seems the boy gave the tape to a professional video shop to copy the tape to a VCD and in a week's time every teenage kid in India secretly evaded his/her parents to see a copy of the VCD. I heard it destroyed the girl completely. More than superficial things like expulsion, the pyscological damage should be enormous. Many parents rest when they feel the girl knows what she is doing and will make the right decisions. Nowadays, many girls do seem to be "aware". But some still slip through the cracks because these things are so complicated that the girl is quite liable to get lost in the details and get confuse on the levels of what is right and what is wrong.

It is definetly a tough life for the parents no doubt!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

DaVinci Code

Took up a "fiction" novel after a very long time. After finishing The Lord of the Rings in February, I thought I needed a break before touching another book. So I spent time with some non-fiction kind of things. There were some books that were in the mental waiting list for so long that I had to read them. I bought "7 Habbits of highly effective people" and "Warrior Unleashed" the former was highly recommended in a "soft-skill" training program I attended at work ( and consequently kind of dissapointing) and the latter I just picked it off the shelf in Landmark, Madras and simply loved every bit of it.

As I took up Dan Brown's Da Vinci code, I just had an inklng its a murder-mystery variety. I had never read anything by this author before and usually I take pretty slowly to new authors. Even the PGW ones, I cannot move outside his jeeves stories even though they are touted to be much better than Reginald Jeeves. I haven't kept up with what's what in the book world off-late but looks like DaVinci Code is a pretty popular book. So far I have seen about 100 people at my office bus, canteen, garden sitting around with this book in hand. As I started reading, the first thing that struck me was the James Bond kind of opening scene. You know the one that immediately ropes you into the middle of a tense encounter. The book much like a bond movie starts you up by throwing you into the middle of a tense situation. You dont know what the hell is happening, you put together whatever the characters are talking to each other and try and somehow make some sense out of it. Yes! of course by the time you realize you are involved deep into the book and you are turning pages swiftly. From a marketing standpoint it works! Not that I am against such starts... in fact I love them.

But strangely enough both Warrior Unleashed, written by ex- U.S Marine corps commando started with a similar stunning openening sequence. Where he narrates his experience in the 14 day boot camp that is intended to elimante and separate the boys from the men. "7 habbits.." also begins in a relatively intense situation, where the author's son is suffering from a syndrome and he explains how he went about solving it.

Books work like this mostly. They tie you in on a tense start and then slowly unwrap the environment to flow like a novel. It makes me think.. do the authors feel that a slow start and a build up would probably make the readers put down the book they paid and bought?? I don't know the level of adultration that happens to written work from the time the author feels he has done his final draft till the point the publishing house iterates it over and over to bring it to bestseller level. If it can happen to movie makers it can happen to authors too.

Neither Lord of the Rings nor Fountain Head begins this way. In fact The Fellowship of the Ring is so descriptive and non-action oriented at the start that midway the real readers will get separated from some punk who wants to just get done with the book for a school assignment. Most of the time I was reading it, I was so happy seeing the volume of pages remaining. It just reassured me that there were so many adventures the book was bound to take me to. Fountain head almost dissuades readers from pursuing the book and begins to kick in some action only after the reader persists with the book for quite some time. I guess books written in the first half of the century target people who simply love to read rather than a James Hadley Chase cover page which will attract any passer-by to buy it ( well..that worked for me too and I do think JHC is really good).

Nowadays its more marketing driven with the authors being given statistics on attention span and audience demography by the publishers so that he can have them in his mind while writing. Gone are the days when you will see a writer like the dead serious Somerset Maugham. Nothing wrong with the new age writers but the old ones weren't bad either.

DaVinci code has not dissapointed me so far in the four chapters that I have read. It seems to have setup a plot that makes me wanna read further. And the first chapter was quite stunning indeed. I remember JHC books being advertised as a "real page-turner" . Well So is this one.

Interestingly, Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors, has come up with a new book called "State of Fear" . It is another thriller but this time it is about global warming. The author, it seems makes a 5 page statement on the non-existence and hype about global warming. Michael Crichton can sometimes go overboard with his fantasy but I love is precise writing style with a lot of analytical bent. His use of italics and bold letters somewhat fascinate me. I haven't yet read "Prey" which is supposed to be another mouth-watery masala thriller. So watch out for State of Fear in a favorite book store near you! :-)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Into the Grey Havens

Mornings have a beauty associated with them! don't they? There are quite a few people who would relate with a morning like this; Sipping freshly brewed Madras coffee and reading "The Hindu" newspaper. There is one more element that is part of the morning ambience mix and one which as been part of people's lives for decades together. Yes! It is the Suprabatham by M.S. Its almost like a pre-packaged set, isn't it? Nine out of every ten people from Madras will say " Hey! I know what you mean". There are lot more intangible emotions associated with the coffee+hindu-paper+M.S-Suprabatham than what meets the eye of a casual observer.

Well! She is gone. People say an era is over. "The Hindu" seems to have realised that an arm of its has been broken and has sincerely carried news relating to M.S in the main page. I was lucky to be in Madras this Sunday and had a chance to visit people here and there on some other business. Wherever I went I saw people locked to the Television sets. It moments like this you realize how much a single person can impact the lives of thousand other people. I had read news on M.S being in serious condition on Saturday night in but she had just been in and out a few months before and with Legends like these there is always a feeling that they would come through. I have to say there was a feeling of personal loss when my mom showed me Sunday morning's "The Hindu" which read "M.S.Subbulakshmi Passes away".

I am not much of a carnautic music expert. Days, months and years of listening to carnautic music in my house has had much less impact on my finer senses than it might have had to somebody else. I took a more or less common man's view of the passing away of M.S. My extended-family has been polarized with regards to M.S. There are some who even think she is part of the family and there are others who plainly refused to listen to her. Digging further revealed that her Bhakthi Rasa was what made her a fine singer from a religious context but from a puristic carnautic view, it seemed she was not up there with the best. I don't know technicalities but to me she was more than just impressive. There was some sort of an electric feel to her voice, which I felt was quite rare. Especially when she begins songs like "bhavayaami".

As I saw some people shedding tears for her on and off TV, it made me realize how much memories she means to these people. Not since Sivaji's death have I seen so many people feel a terrible personal loss. And it is about memories to people isn't it? Of course there are some who cry because it reminds them of changing times and probably reminds them of their own age. Some fellow singers were also deeply moved at her death. I was told that these were the same people who were offended at M.S being given the "sangeetha kalanidhi" at Madras Music Academy , which really is regarded as her greatest acheivement, well surpassing the UN appearance and the other awards she has won so far.

D.K Pattamal, the only surviving member of the famous trio; MS, MLV and DKP was interviewed on Sunday. She ( at the time of the interview M.S was still very much alive) was emotionally moved and in the end and she said in tears that her last breath must be left in a song. Quite a passionate ambition for a conservative women of the old era. A kind of passion, I belive all three possessed and allowed them to leave an indelible mark in the minds of the people. I guess for most people M.S in an invisble (but integral) element of what we call nostalgia. You hear a distant song, when you are travelling in a car. You press hard and you hear it well enough to say " thats what my mom put most mornings". With the exception of the fantastic rendition of Thirupaavai by MLV not many religious renditions outside of M.S songs have really been part of a person's life for such a long time so as to merge as part of his or her recollection of the past. Such songs bring much more than musical pleasure but rather a rolling bioscope of past flashes past us. Such songs dont merely flow from a tape they rather envelope us and create an environment.

For some reason, I was reminded of this Tolkien quote. There were other phrases and poems that would have been more apt for this context but this one was my personal favorite.

Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep;for not all tears are an evil.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Oceans 12. ( Pretentious, Uncool, Boring, Crap)

This is a kind of movie where no situation is serious enough. The actors joke and make smart ass comments about anything ranging from a handicapped person to nuclear disaster. The movie through its actors tries to be cool. Ofcourse all situations are plainly unreal (which is okay) but the element of contrivedness is a little bit too much that substance loses out to style.

I am all okay for "cool" movie but "coolness" should be icing on the cake rather than just icing and no cake. It would have been better if Sodenberg had focussed on one theme or one plot and let the actors revolve around it rather than interwine multiple themes with multiple roles and a screenplay that is not so much chronological to boot. In general Julia Roberts plays too much of an intelligent smartass in most of her movies. I think she has done enough of the " I am witty, classy, superior, sarcastic person " roles and she better put a lid on that dimension of her acting career and focus on more real ones.

Okay the story ( if at all this is of any concern to the audience) begins by introducing character after character like reading out names of in an attendance register. But before all that the movie introduces itself by showing Brad pitt and Catherine Zeta Jones as lovers. This is where the movie begins to show off its coolness. Catherine is a police officer ( or something to that effect.. Brad Pitt says "she is a detective"). We don't even have a clue as to what her designation is? whats her job profile?, which country she works for? and what the hell is Europol? The movie has no time for such things. It has to juggle around 15 people in 150 minutes. This transalates to 10 minutes per character. Which is exactly how much we get to see every character in the movie ( Brad Pitt and Clooney included). So from what C.Z.Jones says ( a total of 7 words or so), we understand she is sort of a police person and when she updates lover Bradd Pitt on her status (as it always happens) we find out he is the person she trying to track down ( we arent sure if she knows that or not but she later claims she always knew.. so there you go!). Anyway when Brad Pitt hears of the clues she has found so far ( a strand of hair, boot marks etc) he rues his mistake of leaving those clues behind. But he is not overly perturbed, he reacts in a way we would react if our bathroom pipe sprung a leak for the sixth time ( " oh no! not again" ). So that is the definition of "cool" for you. The situation is life-threatening serious but to the players it is an everyday thing. So once you get this "cool" thing understood the movie is about repeating the same thing again and again.

So Andy Garcia returns( he appears for about 4 minutes in this movie). He tracks down every person of Ocean's 11 and gives them 2 weeks to return the money back ( Plus interest). He's already got the money from the insurance company but this he does for vendatta. After he painfully goes all over the world to exchange two sentences with every crook, we see the crooks assemble in some place for a board-meeting sort of discussion. The have discussions ranging from naming their organization to the amount each guy owes. All this is too spoofy and again attempting to be soo 'cool' that it almost looks childish.

They plan some scheme of looting a handicapped man's art things. Someday these movies have to stop robbing itsy bitsy art stuff and get around to robbing a regular bank, which has real cash. I am sick and tired of sophisticated James Bonds in Suit and Tie robbing some painting, which looks like crap, and then claiming it was $60 million heist.

Moving on..after some technicalities on how to rob the dude's place ( they lift the house-level up so that the computer-dude in Ocean's org can stick his secret code breaker thing and crack the code.. Such things are almost assumed as "can-be-done"), they find that some crazy fellow called "Night Fox" has already robbed whatever-it-was Ocean wanted to loot. All this is told in a see-saw time sequence with the movie telling from Time X perspective as to how the events unfolded in Time X-10, X-8 etc. Catherine Zeta is the i-know-it-all-i-can-feel-the-criminal-thoughts pyschic kind of cop( still no clue whom she works for) who based on looking at the house can exactly recollect what happened there. We get to know the details when she imagines ( with a smile ) "what happened". Here I am thinking, " dude! I am seeing the movie.. I can see all the characters..i dunno whats going on.. how come she does ?" So we learn Night Fox is a competitor robber. It seems he wants to be known as the "best robber in the world". He was offended that his Guru-Mentor-Master ( Some other boring great legendary thief called Le Marke) agreed that Ocean was the best thief ever. So he arranged a deal with Garcia to give Ocean two weeks so that he could get into real-time competition with Ocean. The movie begins to fall flat from this point onwards ( if it already wasnt razed to the ground). Really these people have to stop this glory stories on great art theives and their legends. I am frankly bored.

What happens next? and the ending are load of crap! It reduces to movie to a farce and makes you realize that regardless of T-2, Shrek-2 and the Indiana Jones movies, making a sequel is not always such a good idea. There is a scene where Julia roberts plays Julia Roberts ( yes! i am not kidding). So Matt Daemon ( whose 10 minutes in this movie has at least 7 minutes dedicated to making him look like a clown) feels that Tess Ocean Playing Julia Roberts ( there is a striking similarity between them it seems.. puke) could be a nice idea to help rob some golden egg thing kept in a museum ( ya! those laser lights which guard these crappy art things are also there). This leads to the crappy self-referenntial scene. Then there is stupid sequence involving Bruce Willis playing himself who keeps asking stupid questions to Julia Roberts ( who plays herself but is not really her.. oh! my god.. crap fest) and traps her. The movie shoots itself in the foot at this point and loses the audience forever.

Catherine zeta jones is not the 12th person in Ocean's 12 because (a) she is not (b) she is a cop (c) julia roberts. But she does all she can to aid ocean and team do their stuff. She talks with Bradd Pitt like they were college kids trying to grab a date and play some love games ( hey! you are a police kind of person remember and he is a robber.. come on!!). She forges signature on some inter-government agreement papers, steals Bradd Pitt's phone ( who in-turn could easily have reported the phone as lost and cancelled subscription anytime but does not do so.. just to allow a joke on the phone to find a place in the movie a few scenes later). C.Z.Jones's is the lamest character in the movie. Turns out Le Marke is her father. Ooh! That was a surprise which I knew before the title sequence began. Horse Crap!

This confusing stupid pretentious movie has some extra-ordinarily trite sequences involving Matt Daemon's mom coming to his rescue and him begging her not to tell this to his dad ( oh! man). The movie ends with a stupid sequence of Julia Roberts and Clooney doing the come-uppance on Night Fox. With both narrating how they stole that egg thing. It involves that stupid choerographic dance thing where night hawk evades those laser lights to steal the egg ( similar to the one catherine herself did in entrapment.. but i guess since everybody does only 10 minutes in the movie they dont really know whats going on in the other 140 minutes). I would just post 2 guards 24 X 7 to watch the stupid egg instead of the boring laser lights.. much cheaper and more effective. Finally it turns out, after a long pretentious scene with lot of smug over-acting by Julia Roberts, that Ocean won the game. I never felt so happy walking out of the theater before ..the relief when a bad movie finally ends its agony is better than the satisfaction of watching a good movie.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Parking Lot Adventure

It is the parking lot story I promised a few blogs before. It happened in the recent past(not too recent though) and I still get some kicks narrating it.

It was a season of long weekends. I think thursday and friday was a holiday for some reason. I was thinking "let me add a wednesday into the mix" and so had a ticket to Madras from Bangalore for tuesday night. On monday I learned that my manager was taking-off from the afternoon for a week ( oh! the 'cat is off and the mice are out to play' syndrome). Looked like was going to be a slow week at work and so I asked my manager with the oh-so-sweet face, you know the one that babies have when they say "Can I have some chocolate mummy?" (Okay it wasn't that corny but it was quite up there.). So I walked up to his cabin and told him. "I am taking-off tomorrow (tuesday).. I think I need a break" ( a question masquerading as a statement).

My boss is really a sweet guy. Sometimes he is so cool you would think he is a bunk mate in a hostel ( you know.. the ones with which you bet "how high can you pee on the restroom wall") than a project Manager. He looks at me, almost immediately gets my point, smiles and says something similar to " you dog you! so you wanna do something naughty in Madras don't you ?". I tell him with a blank face " I have nothing naughty to do in Madras. I want to spend time with my parents". Another corny lie. He rightly does not believe me. So he says something to the effect of " I have heard better BS in my life than this! Bharath. But if you don't want to accept then fine!" .

So I walk out proudly looking at a 7 day vacation. BUT there was a problem! train tickets!!!. Monday is a bad day for Bangalore to madras. In fact all days are bad days but Monday is especially bad. Not in a mood to give up I was determined to raise the stakes to Ist class Air Conditioned sleeper coachwhich costs Rs. 1400. So I left early with my collegue and headed straight to the booking office. Now the vehicle that I was using was a Kinetic Honda. I had conned my dear cousin to loan me the vehicle for a month and subsequently extended the period by 6 more months. So we parked the scooter (lets call this place Place X) in a crowded complex( we were lucky to get a parking space) and went up to stand in the booking line. I checked ticket availability status while on the queue and found that there was just 1 First A/C ticket available. That dampened my spirits somewhat and I started suspecting everybody before me as a possible sabateur (thats really a word, you know?! and I can use it in front of children). So I was analyzing the 50 or so people if front of me thinking " the guy with blue shirt-- dirty clothes, unshaven, not rich enough for an AC first class. The lady with funny dress -- may have money but looks stingy" and so on.

Then my friend gave me a radical idea. He said there was another booking center close by. And that it was relatively less crowded. We decided that he would go there and try while I continue stand in the same queue. So I gave him my scooter keys and he ran off to that center. My serpentine ( fancy word alert) queue slowly moved up and when I was 3 people away, my friend called my mobile phone and said that, that place was more crowded than the one I was in and so he was returning back. I reached the counter and the lady said " no tickets available sir! but I can give you a suggestion. if you reach the station in 1 hour you can catch the cauveri express which still has 30 2nd A/c tickets available. It has started from Mysore and so I can't issue tickets now".

So the countdown began 5 minutes later my friend came back, I explained the situation and we decided to rush to my house, pack ( a lot of stuff) and then rush to the station. So I asked him where he had parked the scooter and he showed me an aisle in a different corner of the parking lot ( lets call this Place Y). I searched for a few minutes and then did the hands-arms-wide-open gesture (which meant "what the crap"). When he came closer to me I told him, "dude where is my car..err..scooter". He'd forgotten the exact place where he parked. So he kept listing all the Kinetic Hondas that were there and kept asking me "is this your scooter?" "is this your scooter?" ad nauseum. None of the scooters in Place Y matched my scooter. Panic began to set in as 10 minutes had elapsed. Then he yelped "there it is" and I happily looked in the diretcion he was pointing only to find it was again not my scooter. But he was more confident. He said " I remember the sticker on the front. This is your scooter. This is where I parked. I remember now!" Funnily enough, He sounded genuine, and something ( I still don't know what made me do it till date) made me insert the key into that scooter and turn it.
It Opened.

Now! A single key opening many socoters is not new to me. When I was in college my Maruthi 800 car keys would open my neighbor's Maruthi 800 car door (but wudnt be able start the ignition). But I had a bigger problem to face. I asked myself the following questions

(Minutes elapsed: 15)
1) Did my friend drive my scooter(lets call it scooter A) to that booking center and on his way back took Scooter B and parked it here?
2) Did my friend completely miss the point and took scooter C from this place itself and come back with scooter C?
3) Did my friend take scooter C from this place park it there and then come back with a totally new scooter D?
A tough situation indeed. A situation that required a calm head and the best of minds. But then I am not called Sherlock Homes' successor for trivial reasons. I went into action quickly.

(Minutes elapsed: 16)

I drove this scooter to Parking Space X to eliminate some or all posibbilities. I instantly knew I made right call when I was confronted with a crowd, 2 crying ladies ( one of them was staggeringly beautiful) and a policeman. When the elder of the two ladies saw the scooter and both of us on it, she let out a loud wail ( I didnt see the wailing lady my eyes were fixed on the second one). Now! I dont know crap about speaking kannada language. To me Places are all *.halli (bommanahalli etc) and words are *.thaava ( barthaava etc) and people are *.appa ( sidappa etc). So my friends springs into action and goes near the policeman to explain in kannada the "misunderstanding" ( in other he was going to say "yep! I screwed up"). But instead the elderly wailing lady did a wild swish of her bag at my friend only to be restrained by the non-wailing yet-to-be-introduced goddess. My friend was visibly shaken by the attempt at his life and frantically said " &&#*&#.halli $*#$*.thaava #^^.maadu-baeku ". I nodded intelligently at everything he said. If I knew the language a little better I would have said " friend-halli bad-baeku criminal-thaava. Arrest him. I will console the beautiful girl". But sadly I didn't know Kannada.
(Minutes elapsed 20)

I think I stood transfixed in time while there was a big argument-explanation-argument going on. Finally my friend managed to convince the poilceman to at least listen to his point of view. But by that time I had got another idea (But then I am not called Sherlock Holmes.....) I showed my keys to the policeman and using it, I started the lady's scooter ( I was already happy that I had sat where the chic had her u-know-what). Then I used the same key to start my scooter and then people around me were like... "aaaah". Having demonstrated the mis-understanding using language-independent-demo, I removed my scooter from that place and said "sorry" to the wailing lady and smile + "sorry" to the chic and left the place.

Oh! yes! I caught the train! with 5 minutes to spare! But not before I dumped my friend on the road in the middle of nowhere for hurting that poor little girl's mind. I am quite sensitive about protecting the emotions of fellow human beings you know!!!