A Few Good Things

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

A Few Good Things

Month: July 2014

POPFLATION – Sky High Inflation due to Population, Lifestyle & Migration

A few events in the last few weeks triggered me to write this Blog.

1. I have stopped buying vegetables and Grocery since my dad came to stay with us 18 months back. Last week I happened to step out to buy veggies on a Sat. I packed my two bags with the usual items for a week and gave the vendor Rs 300 ( 18 months back the cost for this would have been about 275 – 280 Rs) – he started at me and said the total cost was Rs 550 – thats almost a 100% increase in 18 months.

2. After the Veggies I went to buy Rice. I clearly recollect buying good quality Sona Masuri rice for Rs 36/- Kg 18 months back. Thats now Rs 56/- . Thats a 75% increase.

3. This Sun I visited my aunt after her Cataract operation. I enquired about the cost – Rs 78,000 for two eyes. In 1980 my Grandmother had got it done for Rs 2000, in 2005 my dad got it done for Rs 25,000 and 5 years back my mother had her Cataract done for Rs 50,000. Inflation for Cataract operation is more than 25% YoY.

4. 3 Years back we had agreed on withdrawing a certain amount of  cash every month for Maid salary , Misc expenses etc. Last six months I have observed that by the 15th we are running out of cash and withdrawing again. We went back to the drawing board and found that our monthly expenses have more than doubled in the last 3 years.

Don’t believe the Government when they say that Inflation is 8%. Its not. The only items that have got cheaper in the last 25 years have been PC’s ( In 1992 a PC AT, 1MB,  40 MB with a B&W Monitor was 40K , Today you can get a dual core High End Laptop 50X more powerful for the same price)

Why is this happening – its more than the UPA Government messing up for the last 10 Years. Lets look at some data.

Guess the human population in 1800? Just 1Bn. From AD 1 to AD 1800 it rose slowly and steadily from 100M to 1 Bn – in 1800 years. By 1930 – in the next 130 years it doubled to 2Bn, and in 30 years from there it became 3Bn – since then we have been adding a Bn people on earth every 10 – 12 years. Thats colossal and scary.  The question to be answered is what triggered this growth from the mid 1800’s ?


One trend I spotted was the plethora of inventions that happened between 1850 & 1900. Those 50 years specifically and the 19th Century could well go down in History as the era with the most revolutionary inventions. The Steam Engine , Electricity , Pasteurisation, Telephone , Plastic , Safety Match , Dynamite, Motor Vechile (For the full list see Annexure 1 at the end of the blog). These inventions got the Industrial Revolution started , quality of life improved , diseases were eradicated , food shortages became history and mankind has since then never looked back as humanity moved from survival – necessity – comfort – luxury. Finally the hand combat wars were over as we moved to Smart Wars that could decimate cities, but by and large civilian population was safe from the marauding enemies.

We see this trend even in India. In 1850 our population was less than 250M , during Independence we were almost 330M and 50 years later we are still growing at 1.2 B threatening to overtake China in the next 20 years.



More people , more needs, more food – its a simple demand supply equation. As countries progress and per Capita income grows your nutrition basket has a higher mix of Vegetable & Proteins. Mother Earth had the resources to serve a 1B people , she is struggling to cater to the bulging needs of 7.2Bn people and may well collapse when we reach 10Bn .  We see this in India – food production has started going down or is flat. The green revolution delivered non linear growth in the 60’s & 70’s but has peaked out. GM Crops may be the only solution – but the side effects are being hotly debated. Add to this farmers see more value in growing vegetables , exotic fruits which deliver better returns than on crops like Rice and Wheat


Add to this the trend of City Migration. Poverty, dependance on Rains and lack of basic amenities is moving people from the Villages to the Cities in hordes. We already see that the Urban Population is 30% ( thats up from the < 10% in 1960) – as the Cities explode Inflation rises. Land prices have shot thru the roof  and the cost of maintaining a family with decent lifestyle in NCR , Mumbai or Bangalore is at par with the developed western world.


The formed food minister in charge for 10 years did not help – he piled up food in FCI to rot rather than let it go in the free market.


And if the Modi Sarkar ushers in Acche Din and the economy starts growing at 8 – 10% , thats going to give a further fillip to Inflation and cost rise. I shudder to think what will be the cost of undergoing a Cataract operation 30 years from now when I am 75 years old – it could be well over Rs 10 Lacs  – thats 20 Lacs for me and my wife. I don’t think I even thought about this and included this in my savings basket. Add a hearing Aid at 10 Lacs + ( Its already 1 Lac). The Bhindi and Beans thats touch 100+ Rs a Kg now could well be in excess of Rs 1000/- a Kg .  These are the necessities you need for survival.

So whats the Solution ?

Will my flat that appreciate 5 times in the last ten years give me value 30 years from now – or will it be a dead investment ? Will the Stock Market investments scale with these expense – or should we start buying large land banks in Tier 3 Cities and pray that they will keep up in cost with Inflation ?

Maybe we eat more Eggs – Roti and Egg Bhurji can be a meal for Less than Rs 30/- for a family of 4 . But Rice , Dal , Curry , Curd can be expensive . So follow the advice of the ad and eat more eggs. Thats one commodity where the pice though increasing seems reasonable ( Current price for 1 Egg is Rs 4/-)


Don’t worry about investing in your daughter’s MBBS & MD education. A 1 Cr Donation  to a good medical college can be earned back in 1 week ( If 20 years from now Cataract Operations continue their inflation and touch 10 Lacs / person). Now you need to laud the vision of Chidambaram and Son Karti for setting up Vasan eye care – that business probably delivers better ROE than Infosys and Wipro.

Mamta & Mulayam and Kejriwal should stop complaining about the  train hike and focus their attention on bigger things – like why Beans went from Rs 50 to Rs 120/- in 3 months or why the annual rate of inflation for a Cataract operation is 25% – I wish they would , but I know they won’t !

I don’t know the answer – all I know is that my retirement plans at age 45 stand cancelled. But I am really worried and you should be too. The inventions of 1850 – 1900 era and the world development trajectory have really screwed us badly!  Maybe capitalism wasn’t so good after all. Maybe Karl Marx should arise. We had a great run from 1992 till now but as the middle ages hit us and we look upon the second half of our life (Which is not going to be as productive as the last 25 ) a sense of deep concern sets in.  Lets hope it all works out well.

Annexure – 1 : List of inventions that happened between 1850 & 1900 

• Dr. Richard Gatling patents the machine gun.
• Alexander Parkes invents the first man-made plastic

• Alfred Nobel invents dynamite.
• J. Osterhoudt patents the tin can with a key opener.
• Englishmen Robert Whitehead invents a torpedo.

• Christopher Scholes invents the first practical and modern

• Robert Mushet invents tungsten steel.
• J P Knight invents traffic lights.
• J.S. Risdon patents the metal windmill.
• A.M. Ward issues the first mail-order catalog.

• Joseph Glidden invents barbed wire.

• Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone.

• The British Perforated Paper Company invents a form of
toilet paper.

• In 1881 Alexander Graham Bell invents the first crude
metal detector and David Houston patents the roll film
for cameras.

• Lewis Edson Waterman invents the first practical fountain
• Charles Parson patents the steam turbine.

• Harim Maxim invents the machine gun.
• Karl Benz invents the first practical automobile to be
powered by an internal-combustion engine.
• Gottlieb Daimler invents the first gas-engined motorcycle.

• Josephine Cochrane invents the dishwasher.
• Gottlieb Daimler builds the world’s first
four-wheeled motor vehicle.
• John Pemberton invents Coca Cola.

• German, Heinrich Hertz invents radar.
• Emile Berliner invents the gramophone.
• F.E. Muller and Adolph Fick invent the first wearable
contact lenses.

• Marvin Stone patents the spiral winding process to
manufacture the first paper drinking straws.
• John Boyd Dunlop patents a commercially successful
pneumatic tire.
• Nikola Tesla invents the AC motor and transformer.

• Jesse W. Reno invents the escalator.

• Rudolf Diesel invents the diesel-fueled internal
combustion engine.
• Sir James Dewar invents the Dewar flask or vacuum flask.

• American, W.L. Judson invents the zipper.

• J.S. Thurman patents the motor-driven vacuum cleaner.

“Anandam” at Ananda

The word ‘Ānanda’ means ‘bliss’ in Pali, Sanskrit as well as other Indian languages. And BLISS is the best word to describe what I experienced during my 3 day stay at the Ananda Spa & Resort in the Himalayas. I have heard so much of this place that its been in my “To Do”  list for a while. And finally I told myself – “Don’t Think – ACT” and made an impulse decision to come for 3 nights. 9W 824 is a one hop flight from Bangalore to Dehradun Via Delhi (leaves at 07.50AM) and reaches Dehradun at 11.45. From the Jolly Grant airport Via Rishikesh its a 45 min drive to Ananda and I was in the hotel by  1.15 in time for a princely welcome and a stately lunch.


The majestic hotel is housed in the property that was the Palace of the Garhwal King and is located at Narendra Nagar. Its named after Ma Ananda Mayi a Sadhvi who was the spiritual guru of the Maharaja. Its spread across 100 acres, of which 25 Acres is developed as the Resort and Spa. The main Palace does not have any rooms (Barring 1 regal suite) and the rooms are located 500m away from the reception/palace. Ananda has 78 rooms , 5 Suites and 3 Villas.

While there is a lot to talk about Ananda there are 3 things that stand out

1. Verdant greenery, pristine and manicured

2. Excellent service – very well trained professionals

3. Great Spa – with wide variety of excellent treatments

The fresh verdant greenery is soothing and calming to the eyes. As you enter the hotel and drive to your room you see these well maintained gardens . The gardens even have peacocks and the entire area is filled with a wide variety of chirping birds.


The rooms are nice and comfortable. They all come with a  balcony, a nice walk in closet and all the latest amenities that you will find any 5 Star Luxury hotel. The Wi Fi is super fast and Phone signals are strong. You can even pack light because they give you sets of Pyjama/Kurta your size and encourage you to wear that in the property. They have 24 by 7 room service and a TV / VCR.  The view from the rooms is lovely – its either a garden view or a Valley View. The valley view in the morning is heavenly. And if you asks  kid to draw heaven this is what she will draw – Green hills with multiple layers of clouds and a blue sky.

The Villas are luxurious – and thats where Oprah stays when she comes to visit Ananda in her private jet. Many a former Prime Minister, dignitary and famous people have visited Ananda. (http://shanti.shawfirecreative.com/oprah-winfrey-returns-to-ananda)


The Spa and the restaurant are very close to the Hotel rooms. The Spa has about 25 Treatment rooms and a wide variety of Treatments – Ayurveda, International Experiences, Healing With Hot Stone, Tibetan, Hydrotherapy – you name it they have it. The Spa is spacious , spotlessly clean and classy. All that it takes from ambience and experience to make it amongst the best in the world. Costs vary from Rs 4500 for a 55 min session to 8500/- for a 90 min session. But get your appointments at check in – they are almost always packed out. Adjoining the Spa is a large heated swimming pool and a decent Gym.

The restaurant serves a wide range of dishes from indian to international cuisine. You can have “Mung Dal Chila” for breakfast, Pasta and Thai Green curry for lunch and Curd Rice for dinner. You name the dish they have it. But what you must try is the special Garhwali food. This is made to order and comes with its own set of starters, soup, main course and desserts. The kababs are fabulous and the main course consisting of Jakhiya Aloo, Pahadi Kadi, Jakhiya Paneer, Gahat Ki Dal, Jakhiya Rice, Mandwe Ki Roti was a wonderful dinner. (And if you are wondering what is Jakhiya – its a smaller version of Mustard that grows here). The service in the restaurant is outstanding – and thats a common theme across all of Ananda, superlative service at every step.


One good thing that adds to the peace and tranquility of the place is that they do not allow kids below the Age of 14. This place is perfect for couples or to come solo. There are many activities – they have Yoga classes for beginners and intermediates in the morning, a 9 Hole Golf course, Vedanta classes, Cooking Classes etc. Outside the resort you can go for the Ganga Aarti at Rishikesh or White Water Rafting at Shivpuri (During Non Monsoon Season). Peak season is Oct – Feb when the foreigners come in hordes, many of them staying for weeks and months.


In July with the Monsoon it was perfect for me. Occupancy was a low 30% , it was raining 50% of the time – that added to the charm. At the pavilion in the midst of nature at 5.30 Am when you sit down to do your meditation listening to the pitter patter of rain and chirping of birds – it indeed feels like waves of peace are blowing over you. The “Kavad” season made Rishikesh so crowded that we were asked to stay away. The Ganga was in spate in Monsoon so white water rafting was closed. It starts again in Sep. But all this was good as it allowed me to spend all my time in the resort and soak in the nature, peace and tranquility.

I did take a few hrs and visit the famous ” Vashisht Caves”. This is located 45 Km from Ananda – 1 hr drive. Located on the banks of the Ganges this is the cave where the Brahma Rishi – Sage Vashisht is supposed to have meditated. Since then from Shankara to Sir M – many spiritually evolved people have come here to meditate. The place is empty and nice and the caves have strong vibrations which you can sense when you sit there for even a few minutes. Fortunately its not crowded.


As I sat by the Ganges – flowing relentlessly you realise the power of Nature and the thought that this river has been flowing for millions of years leaves you with a sense of awe and humility. The river feels alive and it can teach you so many lessons. The summary of what it says is  – “Keep moving and don’t look back, for men may come and men may go but life goes on for ever


 So will I come back to Ananda. Most people do – and I definitely want to come back with my wife soon. Maybe in a  different season. I am looking forward to that day. Ananda beckons. 



Back to College – Surat Transformed

What a transformation in 22 years. Both our college – REC Surat (Now NIT Surat) and the city has transformed beyond expectations.  It feels like yesterday in 1992 when the final results came and we were all overjoyed to have completed our engineering degrees. There was always the fear of what would happen in FM6 – that was one terror of a paper but the good Dr Khajuria had ensured that there was a 100% pass – even if many did not deserve to pass.

The story of our college starts with the Icchanath (Shiva) temple at the main gate. The good lord has heard the fervent prayers of most students and ensured that the elusive 36 always happened and his aura kept the draconian ATKT’s  away . The temple is still there but the “thela wala’s” selling Sugarcane Juice , Bread Pakoda and Pan are all gone. When I think of the Bread Pakoda shop I think of the dimunitive Nara and how he managed 4 years of snacks at that joint without paying a penny during the crowded breaks.


As you enter the college the admin department looks the same, faced by green lawns and lovely gardens. But you see an imposing building in the left. Thats the new girls hostel – a massive structure that has replaced the small building that could house 20 girls in the midst of the staff quarters. Lucky guys –  the male female ratio’s seem to be getting corrected in college finally.


Not just the girls hostels – all the other hostels are also revamped. The old ones are abandoned or demolished. Picture below is of the old Hostel 2 Sarabhai Bhaban ( I Think) – now abandoned.


Hostel 1 is now a fancy building with lifts. Rooms are 2 seaters and it looks like a fancy apartment complex. This massive structure accommodates all of the old Hostel 1,2 & 3 and more.



Shanker’s canteen no longer exists and as you walk towards Gajjar Bhavan you see the new Gajjar Bhavan – another large impressive building that stretches all along the road


Walking down the road the Physical education centre is still the same and so is the medical centre. Gandhi Bhavan is also abandoned and a new hostel with A/C rooms has come in its place. Looks like a lot of MTech / Phd students – many with family in campus.


Our Mech department – No Change  and the labs still are the same – not many additions on the infrastructure side. I see the list of professors and a few names like Professor H.B.Naik still continue to be there. The college has added new departments in Chemical engineering.


The canteen was empty but still serving Cutting Chai, Poha, Mitha Toast and Omlette. Inflation has caught on and the 50 Paisa cutting is now Rs 7/-. The library is still the same building. Right behind the Library is a new hostel complex coming up.  It was wonderful seeing how the college has transformed. I even spotted some peacocks in the campus.

Surat as a city has also transformed. The stretch from College to Dumas which was empty with small restaurants dotting both sides of the road has changed. This stretch and the university road stretch is full of apartments  and Malls. Its a broad 4 lane road that is being concretised.


The city is full of flyovers – Athwa Gates, Textite Market, Adajan – all have their own large ones. Trafiic is busy but organised. You can see the Modi infrastructure charm in effect. The river looks clean and was flowing strong and vibrant along Chowpatty.


All is vibrant and shining in Surat. The only challenge was the airport. Surat Airport sucks. Our Spice jet flight to Mumbai was delayed by 3 hrs. The airport had no electricity for 3 hrs (This when I thought Gujarat had no power cuts even in the villages), toilets were stinking. With just 2 – 3 flights a day and AAI running the show – the Airport is a sorry sight. The only disappointment from my 1 day trip.

Its always a nostalgic trip to visit your college after many years. And the 1 hr I spent between 8 – 9 AM in the midst of a rushed 1 day business trip was well worth it.

North of the Narmada!

Some history facts from school days have stuck in my mind. One of them is the 634 AD victory of Pulakesin – II the great Chalukya King over Harshavardhan who ruled almost all of N India. A pitched battle was fought on the banks of the Narmada and Harsha lost. Since then the Narmada river has been a natural border between North &  South and a distinct culture, ethos and value system separates the two regions.


Rudyard Kipling in The Ballad of East & West says “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet“. I am going to extend this to the North & the South of India, and look at some interesting facts that differentiate the two.

I did a quick search on Google and found that since Independence almost 80% of the tenure of Finance Ministers in India have come from states that are below or along the Narmada (Bengal & Gujarat Included) – Chidambaram , Pranab Da, R.Venkatraman, C.S.Subramaniam, T.T.Krishnamachari, R.K.Shanmugam Shetty, S.B.Chavan, Y.B.Chavan, C.D.Deshmukh, Morarji Desai are some of the famous politicians who have held the post of Finance Misnister of india – all of them are from below the Narmada. ( the remaining 20% of the time we have had the Singh’s and Sinhas and Tiwari’s to name a few)

So is the case with the RBI Governors , here probably 90% of the tenure has been held by people from below the Narmada since independence – From the Current Raghuram Rajan to the formers – Subba Rao, Y.V.Reddy, C.Rangarajan, S.Jagannathan, H.V.R.Iyengar, M.Narasimhan, A.Ghosh, P.C.Bhattacharya , K.G.Amegaonkar and many more.

But the trend changes when you look at the Chief Justice of India, Chief of Army Staff and even Prime Ministers. Here people from North of the Narmada have brutally dominated in these posts since independence.

Lets analyse some more cases.

People of Indian origin or close linkage to India who have won the Nobel prize. 

Rabindranath Tagore, C. V. Raman, Amartya Sen, Hargobind Khorana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and V.S.Naipul – Barring one again all are S Indians or Bengalis. Ramanujam the mathematical genius was also a S Indian and J.C.Bose the prolific inventor a Bengali.


Since independence till the 70’s the IAS officer were predominantly Tamil Brahmins or Bengalis or Maharashtrians – and then reservation changed the game. Even today the largest no of CA’s come from the Chennai and Kolkatta centre. It so happens that the Kolkatta centre has started sending a lot of Marwari’s but yes birds of the same feather flock together – so a large number of Gujaratis, Jains and Marwaris have actually migrated to Chennai and Kolkatta.

Large Indian Software Companies and Indian MNC Heads 

CEO’s of almost the top Indian Software Companies were S.Indians (before Mr Sikka) but India Country Managers of most MNC’s are of  N Indian origin. The former needs scale and strategy and the latter is purely quarterly sales driven and the art of diplomacy to manage the masters. Nadella at the helm of MS is a S Indian and so was Krish Prabhu who was heading Alcatel many years back. Sundar Pichai the CEO of Google is also a South Indian.

Spiritual Saints 

Lets look at some Spiritual Giants – Shankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi, Shirdi Sai, Ramakarishna, Vivekananada , Sant Dynaneshwar, Sant Tukaram, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Raghavendra Swami…… almost all the names that are renowned in the spiritual world come from below the Naramada. And present day gurus or god men like Sai Baba, Sri Sri, Jaggi Vasudev (Yes we have Baba Ramdev from North and Nithyananda from the South  – but I guess they don’t fall in this league)


So the big Q – what makes this happen ?

Is it the Power of Rice? Yes Bengal,  T.Nadu and Andhra are predominantly Rice eaters and looking at the high % of Intellectuals and spiritual Gurus from these states one may reckon that this has something to do with the Power of Rice. And is it the  power of Wheat and Chicken that makes the Defence Chiefs  and the thick skinned politicians come largely from North of the Narmada.

Studying in a REC (Now NIT) I had the opportunity to observe three batches before me and after me – so a total of 7 batches of students across 4 years from every state in the country. Thats a large sample size for any survey analysis.

Three key observations I recollect from my College days

  • Diplomacy and aggression became more visible the more Up North you went from the Narmada. Trust Quotient went down.
  • Guys from the South and East tried to commit and deliver and there was a sense of guilt on going back on your commitment. There was no such remorse in students from the North – offence was the best form of defence for them. They were brutally thick skinned.
  • College Secretary post was always won by a N Indian but the Literary Committee secretary was always a Tamilian or Bengali.

In the 25 years I have worked in the Corporate world travelling all across India – I have tried to break the above logic but sadly I see it being true even today. Sure there are exceptions and I have a few N Indian friends who beat the stereotype totally – but thats more an exception than the norm. (And in S India you will find an A.Raja and N.Srinivasan) – but the big picture is clearer. A curd ricing eating S Indian symbolises – hard working, straightforward, not political and a Dilli Wala stands for ” Jugad, Smart Talk – and in a way an empty vessel that makes noise”

What makes North different? Is it the years of facing invaders at the borders and seeing your family, kith and kin slaughtered in front of you. Is  flexibility and adaptability an outcome of having to live under the rule of brutal invaders & Mughals for almost a 100o years ? I don’t know – but clearly there is a difference.

Yes the Idli has invaded the country, and Salwar Kameez is as popular in Tamil Nadu as Punjab but when it comes to genes and DNA the core is very different –  and I have no qualms in saying that  North is North and South is South and the twain shall never meet ideologically.




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