A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Month: September 2013

Navratri return gifts – a project by itself !

Navratri is round the corner. Its Durga Puja in Bengal and Garba/Dandia in Gujarat while in S India its “Golu”.

What happens in S india is interesting –  every women invites her friends and relatives for ” haldi / kumkum”  – the visitor is treated to a high protein meal of  ” Chundal ( Chick Peas)” and is given a “return gift”. The guest list is broken down in Category 1, 2 & 3.  Category 1 gets the best of gifts , is invited prime time ( normally a Fri) , the best “Chundal” is made that day and the associated snack is a meal by itself.

Houses are decorated & lit , this is the season when the ladies get their Nalli & Kumaran silk sarees out , the scent of Jasmine is in the air and there is soothing Carnatic music all around. Lots of positive energy in the air.


Now lets do some simple math. My Building has 124 flats – around 20 Tamil ladies invite on an average 80 of their friends – thats 1600 visits , 1600 gifts.  (No wonder you need the high protein meal of Chick Peas Chundal if you have to climb so many stairs and walk to so many houses)

Lets now multiply this across Bangalore ( & I am not even touching Chennai ). Bangalore has a population of 8 M –  thats 2M Households (HH) , 30 % of of Bangalore Residents are Tamilians ( I am told that 30 % are Telugu’s,  20 % are Malayalees and 10 % are N Indians- so you can guess how many Kannadiga’s are in Bangalore !) – so 600 K HH are Tamilian  , if we assume that even 10 % of them decide to celebrate Navratri thats 60K Households each inviting about 50 people apiece. So how many gifts do we need , how many miles of Jasmine flower and how many Kg’s of Chickpeas  ? This would indeed be a good math problem for an IIT entrance on Permutation & Combination. Add to this the traffic criss crossing the city ! and delicately balancing time between your external visits and catering to your incoming visitors. Its a complex project.


Which brings me to the important question of return Gifts. Its not just kids who are excited about return gifts from a birthday party but so are the “girls” ( Aunties). Traditionally what you got was a coconut , some bangles, haldi , kumkum and some eatable. Almost all of it home made. But things are complex now – you cannot repeat what you gave last year and there needs to be a dash of innovation to get an edge over the neighbor. What you get in Jaynagar & Malleshwaram is passe and meant for the masses.

We hunted online and could not find a single site that had a good variety of gifts – it needs to look good , have some utility & shelf life and should be priced within Rs 250 ( Here is a great business opportunity to start an online business).

I went utilitarian and suggested to my wife to get a nice jute bag and pack it with one Kg of Onions – in todays world that would be a great gift.  As expected I got ” the look” and there ended my useful suggestion.  A dash to Chickpet is common – and the wholesale Marwari merchants are suddenly deluged with  beautiful visitors who strike a hard bargain pinching for every rupee. Every single item is checked and rechecked and packed.


Its an interesting job and you can well imagine the excitement in so many households.

Time is running out the search is still on – so anyone with good ideas do send them across. And the enterprising ladies – don’t forget the business opportunity it holds for next season.  Happy Navratri !

Leadership Vs Dictatorship – A fine line between the two

Its interesting to watch “Diplomacy” .  Nobody supported the US in its dominating brute force to bomb Syria.

UK Refused , The G 20 refused , UN refused , the Polls showed that the majority of people in US oppose a strike against Syria – and then suddenly Mrs Clinton wakes up and appears with a possible solution that if Syria returns its Chemical weapons then the matter could possible be resolved.

I am making an assumption here – but I feel that a lot of bombs in the US armory are reaching their expiry date . The Iraq, Afghanistan wars are over and the Arms lobby is itching to keep the factories humming.  A war has always been good for the US economy and a Democrat President supporting the Arms lobby is a slap in the face for the Republicans – so its a double winner.

Obama has been an extraordinary individual and leader – but his ( or was it Kerry) war mongering has taken many by surprise. The image he has built till date is that of a sensible , logical , mature leader. Not a Texan cowboy who screams that he will ” smoke em out of their holes”

So is Obama a  genius who has played a masterstroke. Till date no President has taken congressional support before launching military action – Reagan did not seek authorization in 1983 before the invasion of Grenada , Bush did not seek authorization before attacking Panama in 1989 , even Bill Clinton did not seek approval from Congress before authorizing airstrikes in Yugoslavia in 1999.  So why is he seeking Congress approval this time ? Is it the fear of Guilt, or is he just playing a brilliant games and winning popularity from all quarters.

The Syria war is nothing but a power struggle between Iran (Shia) and Saudi Arabia ( Sunni). Iran threatens the power of the Saudis, it is a bigger threat to Israel &  and the US is more than happy to join the party – and project itself as a saviour of the world. 9 / 11 was caused by bombers from Saudi, UAE , Egypt – but Afghanistan was bombed. There were no WMD in Iraq , but on mere suspicion Iraq was hammered . Its the same story now about Syria.


Whats the US track record on Chemical weapons. Not very healthy. Way back in 1966 the US used Chemical weapons in Vietnam. Israel attacked Palestinian Civilians with White Phosphorus in 2008 – 2009. Washington attacked Iraqi Civilians with White Phosphorus in 2004. But did you hear of the UN or the Global Media make any noise about this

(Read about all this & more in http://www.policymic.com/articles/62023/10-chemical-weapons-attacks-washington-doesn-t-want-you-to-talk-about)

Air Force

Which brings me to the topic of Leadership Vs Dictatorship. 

When you think of a Dictator – the first names that comes to your mind are Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini , Pol Pot , etc.

But what about Churchill , Indra Gandhi , Margaret Thatcher, Putin  – they are or where equally powerful in crushing dissent and ensuring that their will was always enforced. I wonder what makes them men & women of steel and not dictators.

Who is not a dictator or desires to be a dictator.  99 % of Indian Husbands are dictators at home, Ask a teenage girl and she will say her mother is a dictator, the CEO of every company just has to raise his voice or glare and dissent vanishes – he is also a dictator. Almost every CM in India has shown dictatorial powers. Every MP , MLA , Zamindar, every Panchayat & Ward leader have exhibited strong tendency of being dictators. Like the TISCO ad we may say ” there is a little bit of a dictator in every one of us” 

Its natural that every leader wants to dominate and get his way …. always , so whats the difference between leadership & dictatorship.

Adolf Hitler Saluting, 1934

The world despises dictators – we shun them – its even a crime to praise them. The Indian media and the INC say that Modi shows dictatorial powers. So shun him.

Then we should shun the powerful rulers of the Middle east – they are dictators , they don’t even give freedom to the women in their own country. We should not allow the roads in Delhi to be named Aurangzeb Marg – after all he was a notorious brutal dictator. So was every Mughal King. So was Tipu Sultan. So were the Hindu rulers of J&K . So why do we hold them in respect – every King has been a ruthless dictator. We should ban them from the pages of history rather than eulogize them.

In conclusion its all about diplomacy , real politik and who controls the media. the US can attack Syria and use their dictatorial might over the world to get away with it. Its all about how you position it and spin a story – finally the line between Leadership & Dictatorship is indeed very fine.

One day in Stockholm

The land of the Vikings Stockholm is a compact & beautiful city.  At 59 Degree N latitude its the N most city I have visited ( Only Reykjavik at 64 & Helsinki at 60 are established large cities at higher latitudes). Like any European city it has a wonderful personality  and old world charm. A population of about 900,000 and 30% of the city is waterways and another 30% are parks. Its a wonderful place to walk and experience and it takes just a few hrs to cover the length & breadth of the city.


I finally got an opportunity to visit the city famous for greats like The Abba , Bjorn Borg, Greta Garbo , Ingrid Bergman & Alfred Nobel.


Thanks to our quarterly team meeting being held here I was able to spend a Sunday here. Its a short flight from Frankfurt ( 90 Min) and the Arlanda Airport is a well designed spick & span airport. The Arlanda Express connects the airport to the City in less than 20 min and the Sheraton where I stayed is right opposite the Central Station. While one can walk around the city it has excellent public transport – Buses , Taxis , Metro, boats  and even Tramways.

Few Things that must be seen

The Djurgardsvagen area – which is like a large central park and covers a vast area. Its green , enchanting , peaceful and tranquil. I was up at 5.30 AM and walked to this park ( 25 min from my hotel). AS I was walking I passed a beautiful passage of tree lines roads that created a boulevard for walkers and cyclists right in the middle of a arterial road.


I spent a good 2 hrs getting lost in the peace and quiet of this wilderness. I loved this green patch which was glistening with dewdrops and spent 30 min meditating in the fresh morning air and praying that in my next birth I should be born in Europe.


Right opposite to the park is the Nordic Museum a structure that has a Russian influence. The city and its people have a mix of Russian , German , Lapland influence which is visible in their features and the architecture of the buildings. In the 9th & 10th Century the the Vikings from sweden spread all across E Europe and reached as far as Constantinople. They even invaded Russia and all but the last Tsar are of Viking descent.


Next to the Nordic Museum is the Vasa Museum. This is the most visited Museum in Stockholm ( and they have 87 Museums in the city) . The Vasa was a ship like the Titanic built in 1628. It was a War Ship built to enable the Swedes to control the Baltic – but the design was faulty and the ship sunk within an hr of setting sail. 333 years later in 1961 the wreck was salvaged. The reconstructed vessel (98% original) is now the largest Tourist Attraction in Scandinavia.


The city also has a Hop on Hop Off bus service , but this can be avoided as all the places are walking distance and the commentary and service is no comparison to what one sees in London. One good place to drop by and explore is the old city


In addition to this all along the waterways there are boat companies offering city tours , bridge tours , hop on hop off tours . One option is to link the Bus & Boat tour in one package.

What else to do – Visit the Opera House and Palaces if you have the time. The hall where the Nobel Prize is announced. Food is not a problem  and there are enough Italian / Sandwich / Pizza Huts  / McDonalds all over the place. One large TGIF and Hard Rock Cafe are landmarks. I did not spot an Ikea or the Ericsson HQ  – and was told that its in the suburbs and not in the Central City. City shops are mainly Mom & Pop stores. Not much of SE Asians ( fortunately) and did not spot any Indian restaurants in the 8 hrs that I walked around. Lots of Chinese & Japanese Tourists.

The local currency is SEK ( Swedish Kroner) and not the Euro though Sweden is covered under the Schengen Visa. (1 SEK = 10 Rs). The place is not cheap – food for one in a simple restaurant is about 300 SEK ( 3000 INR) , the Hop on Hop Off is 260 SEK and the Arlanda Express one way is also 260 SEK ( Compare this to the 14 Pounds for the Heathrow Express – and London looks a lot cheaper). The room rate at the Sheraton is about 2000 SEK ( 20 K INR) and this was booked 60 days in advance ( The ITC Sheraton in India for 10 K / night is a lot more luxurious with superlative service) . So a one day cost for 1 person is about 10 K ( Luckily I had the room on my Rewards Points). Getting a family of 4 with 2 rooms can be a very expensive proposition.

Did I see the Aurora Borealis – No I did not . Although the hotel staff did say that it was visible on certain times of the year. I was lucky that it was a nice sunny day ( 25 Degrees) and it was bright till 8 PM. Summer days are 18 – 20 Hrs and winter nights are 18 – 20 hrs.

Thanks to my company and my manager in London one more beautiful city ticked off the – To visit list.

Oh for a silver lining in this sea of negativity

We have been a lucky generation. We started our career in 1992 when the engine of growth just started revving up. But for a small blip post the Lehman crisis its been great sailing with strong tailwinds for most people of our generation.
However the sea of negativity that has been all pervading and accelerating over the last few years is  now getting us deeply worried. And I am sharing some of my concerns.
Match winners lose in the last over 
I would rate Narasimha Rao as one of the finest PM’s India has produced. The man pulled the economy from deep crisis and set the road for a 20 year bull cycle in India – credit may have gone to Manmohan but PVN was the anchor  – he was indeed the shrewd Chanakya of indian politics – he lost his next election.
Atal Behari Vajpaye was the darling of the educated urban – the India Shining Campaign , Golden Quadrilateral project , fast decision making,  clean governance, brilliant foreign policy – he  gave hope to millions – markets were booming , economy was on fire , the feel good factor was all pervading and thousands came back from the US in the early 2000’s – sadly Atalji and BJP lost the next election. I always felt that if Atalji & Advaniji had got 3 back to back terms they would have changed the face of this country – but that was not to be.
Closer home Chandrababu Naidu was the man who put Hyderabad on the global IT map. His vision and passion was evident as he worked 16 hrs days to realise his dream. Building the roads , fly overs getting Bill Gates to invest in Hyderabad – he was more of an effecient CEO than a politician. He also lost his next election.
What scares me is that UPA may win the next election by putting together a majority with multiple partners. NDTV , Times Now , CNN IBN , Facebook , TOI & HT touches a few Million people- we can cry ourselves hoarse – but things like the food security bill deliver votes. Nobody questions why a Food Minister who has been around for 10 years has done nothing about rotting food and a broken distribution system
Drive 30 min from Bangalore and nobody knows Anna Hazare & Arvind Kejriwal – thats were 80 % of India lives. The whole formulae of freebies & largesse to the poor , caste politics , minority politics is indeed a great concoction that delivers votes. Who cares about the 15 M educated Tax Paying salaried class who are great at intellectual masturbation but sadly 80 % of them dont vote.
If you messed it up so badly its a strategy – not a mistake 
A booming economy cant get messed up so badly in 5 years. The growth momentum sustained UPA 1 , but all that they have done in the last 5 years seems to be calculated moves. 18 Months back Anna & Arvind Kejriwal were threatening the Parliament from Jantar Mantar. The whole country felt that finally we were at the anvil of a revolution. When was the last time you saw either of them in a TV Interview or read their interview in a paper ? They seem to be totally blocked out – How I wonder ?
Is there fear amongst the powerful ruling class – many of who are descendants of erstwhile Maharajas that the educated middle class like Arvind Kejriwal can upset their party. Some time back a very famous CM of Bihar had said – as long as people are poor and hungry its easy to brainwash them and get their votes. Educated people with the power of RTI can be threatening. So its better to keep the people poor and hungry. And for that you need to get the economy on the slow track. Stop investments , block FDI with retrospective Tax , complicate transactions , build infrastructure at snail pace, outsource everything for a price  – what happens the factories get built in Thailand , Vietnam , Cambodia and even Bangladesh. We just become a country of Traders. But then that serves the purpose of the 10000 rich families that probably control 80 % of the wealth in India. Remember the biggest protest against liberalisation came from the Bombay Club !
Reverse Exodus  
As we live in a bubble economy ( Tanker Water , Generator , Private Security , totally devoid of any Government institution help) I see a lot of worried friends . Many US citiziens who came around 2000 are heading back. Not just because of the economy but because of the state of Education and the safety of women. You are really scared if your daughter cannot walk 200 m from your building to buy a packet of milk or cycle with her friends outside the complex or take a bus / train on her own. The news paper every day reports at least one ghastly rape. Quality of education has collapsed – we still have good schools but the college’s are a disaster. Even the IIT , NIT , IIM’s are nowhere close to the standard that they had in the 80’s. A leading Medical College like Manipal has a batch size of 250 + , St Johns , AIIMS, AFMC & JIPMER  probably have a batch size of 25. And people are ready to pay Crores to become a doctor from Manipal. There is no work for the 15 M Engineers & Graduates who come out of College every year. There are no good teachers. Yopu pay donation join a college and then join tuition classe. So what happens most people who can afford send their children abroad to study even for UG course. And with the $ close to 70 that makes it even more challenging. The cops dont exist for the common man and the ROI for the last 5 years has not even beaten inflation. What do you do ?
I just hope I am not getting too pessimistic and I would love someone to show me the silver lining. A friend who came home for dinner yesterday did say that we have indeed been a generation that has never seen challenges. The potholes of the last five years do look like black holes but over a 20 year period they may seem miniscule. I just hope he is right – I just hope UPA 2 does not come back to power.

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