Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nuclear deal and Left's position

If you believe the commentary in most Indian media, both mainstream and blogs, the Left parties' opposition to the nuclear deal with US is motivated either by their traditional anti-Americanism or their love of China. It is certainly not driven by India's national interest. Assumption there is that the deal is in India's national interest, but Left parties don't care for that and hence are trying to scuttle the deal.

How valid is that assumption? Is the deal really in India's national interest? Or can one make an argument to the contrary? Let's see.

First of all, the leftists have made it clear that their opposition is not so much to the deal itself but to India's strategic partnership with US. So rather than looking at the nitty-gritties of the deal, let's see if a broad strategic relationship with US is in India's national interest.

Now, USA's relationship with China is lukewarm at best. So it is reasonable to assume that by entering into a strategic relationship with US, we reduce our chances of having a friendly relationship with China. How good will that be for India? No matter how great a relationship we have with US, fact remains that they will always be half way across the world from us whereas China will always be our neighbour. So it is more important for us to have good relations with China than with US. More so, when you consider that China is a growing economy and could well be the largest economy in the world in another 20 years. So we have to choose between China and US. If we go with China, we can be an equal partner with them and along with Russia, Brazil and Arab countries could form an alliance formidable enough to dominate the world in a couple of decades. Or we can go with US and end up having a troubled relationship with many countries in our neighbourhood (China, Iran, Russia, etc) which is going to hamper our own growth.

One could argue that let's have a relationship with US for the time being and we can always switch to China when we find that they are becoming more powerful than US. But the nature of strategic relationship is such that we won't be able to switch sides so easily. Take the 123 agreement for example. We will be expected to shape our foreign policy on the lines of US policy or we will have to not only return all the nuclear fuel supplied to us but also forgo the billions of dollars of investment that we are going to make in building reactors to make use of that fuel. That is, once we enter into a relationship, there will be cost associated with getting out of it. All that the Left parties seem to be doing is asking us to think carefully before deciding to tie the knot with US.

There is an interview with Edward De Bono in today's (9/18) Economic Times and he makes pretty much the same point I have made above:

Q: How can India become one of top three economic super powers?

De Bono: If India can partner China, they can be a real superpower in a short time. Alternately, if India and China form a coalition bringing other developing countries in their fold, it will beat all other world superpowers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cause and Effect

There is a railway crossing in Mysore which we go past many times whenever we are in that city as it happens to be on the route from my parents' to in-laws' place. Last weekend as we went past it, my four-year-old daughter asked: "Daddy, why does the train always come only when the gate is closed?".

Thursday, August 02, 2007

This and that

Was in Cairo last week. Quite a nice city. Was surprised to find that the quality of infrastructure is much higher than in Indian cities. No phat-phati autos and hardly any two wheelers for example. Beautiful Nile flows through the city and is remarkably clean. No one washing their clothes or themselves in the river. Instead, you find boat shaped restaurants, some moored and some which actually go on a two-hour cruise and you can have dinner on the deck with dance and music and cool breeze from the river. Not surprisingly, most of the city's elite hang out near these restaurants.

This is not to say that it is on par with first world cities or anything. It is very much a third world city - roadside hawkers, pedestrians crossing roads even as vehicles are moving, reckless driving, honking and so on. But still, it is definitely better than any of Indian cities. The 3 km long al Azhar tunnel bang in the middle of the city linking downtown Cairo with the expressway that goes to airport is something I haven't seen in any Indian city. Or the ultra-posh Grand Hyatt which makes Bangalore's Leela look like a Patel Motel. There is a 10-floor mall, with restaurants, shops and a multiplex, all inside the hotel.

Another pleasant surprise I came across in Cairo, though nothing to do with Cairo or Egypt itself, was Al Jazeera English news channel. For someone jaded with IBN's and NDTV's, Al Jazeera was indeed like a refreshing breeze of professional, balanced and most importantly low-key news reporting. In their nightly 9 o' clock news for example, they only report news! No opinionating, no breaking into a panel discussion on a news item, nothing. Just an anchor and on the spot reporters. We don't have a Rajdeep telling us whether a judgment was harsh or mild, no anchor "hoping" that government takes this or that action, etc. Just report news as it happened. What a novel concept! Even their panel discussion programs are quite muted (and to think it is an Arab channel!), give plenty of time to panelists to air their views and again the moderator doesn't seem to have an opinion of his or her own. Quite a contrast from the Indian news channels where you can easily tell by their tone of questioning which side of the issue they are usually on. Here's a suggestion to Rajdeep and Prannoy: shut down your channels for a month, hole yourselves and your key editorial staff up in a hotel room and watch Al Jazeera non-stop. If that doesn't change your approach to news reporting, nothing will and you might as well look for alternate careers.

Hmm... what else has been happening. Oh, the Test match. BCCI Bozos vs ECB Idiots. One team bowls head-high beamers and the other throws peppermints on pitch. What drama, what emotions! To top it, I heard that ESPN made half an hour program on just one incorrect lbw decision! In that case, I hope Taufel got a cut out of the ad revenues ESPN made from that show.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why keep the Rupee down?

Thanks to huge inward remittances of dollars, there is pressure on Rupee to appreciate. RBI has been trying to control this appreciation by buying dollars from the market. This in turn is creating inflationary pressure. The reason RBI doesn't want a stronger rupee is that it is bad for exporters. Everyone seems to take it for granted that a stronger rupee is bad for exporters. But, does it have to be so?

Let's take the IT industry. Let's say rupee goes from 40 a dollar to 30 a dollar. It doesn't mean the IT services companies have "lose their competitiveness". They can keep the billing rate at the current levels and still make profit - by cutting costs. Reduce salaries to account for the rising Rupee - other costs like travel etc will go down anyway as they are linked to dollar rate. A 20-30% reduction in salary for IT folks only means they are back to last year's salary levels in rupee terms - hardly makes a dent. Especially, if rupee is at 30 a dollar, petrol and all other imports will be much cheaper bringing down inflation - so your salary may be lower numerically, but in terms of purchasing power you are no worse off.

So, why not let the rupee appreciate to its true value? Why keep it artificially down in the process taxing all the citizens in the form of higher inflation?

Update: A ToI article supports the view with this sentence: "But many feel the focus has to be on cost control, and especially salary cost, which is by far the biggest component — about 40 per cent of total cost."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Destiny's Child

Rags-to-riches stories are plenty. But I find Rajanikanth's one of the more remarkable ones. A maharashtrian of humble background from Bangalore, no great looks, through sheer grit and determination becomes a super star in Tamil film industry. And then his popularity spreads all the way to Japan! A true Destiny's Child!

I have not seen any of his movies till date and I hope to correct the situation with Sivaji. Here is wishing him all the success.

"India Unbound"

Read this book on a recent long-haul flight. It is written by Gurcharan Das, former head of Procter & Gamble, India. It is partly biographical, but mostly an account of post-independent India's economic policies. Written in an engaging, informal style, peppered with anecdotes, it is a very easy read. Author is clearly a believer in free markets and recounts with frustration the socialist policies India adopted and the kind of impact they had on the economy.

Even though most people blame Nehru for taking us down the road of Fabian socialism, Gurcharan seems to think that larger share of the blame has to go to Indira Gandhi. Nehru at least had the excuse that at that time ('40s and '50s) central planning was considered the way to go by a number of leading economists world wide. When P.C. Mahalanobis came out with his Second Five Year Plan document in 1956, it was hailed as a master piece in economic planning. But by the '70s it had become apparent that central planning was not all that it had been cracked up to be and the author blames Indira Gandhi for not only refusing to change the course but actually taking us deeper into socialism.

Overall, a very informative book for anyone interested in history and India.

Sir Osama

In response to Britain knighting Rushdie, a group of Pakistani clerics have decided to bestow a similar honor on Osama Bin Laden. From now on, he is going to be Saifulla (Sword of Allah) Osama. Just goes to show the depths a society plumbs when it takes the path of religious extremism. I mean, Rushdie and Osama - one a man of letters and the other a gun-toting terrorist - and these guys think they are comparable. Scary.

Return of Atlantis

I haven't followed this Atlantis space shuttle story that closely, but till today I had thought that Sunita Williams is the only passenger on that space ship. Imagine my surprise when I learnt this morning that there are six others along with her and she is not even the leader of the team or anything. Then, why does the Indian media focus only on her? Is it just the first name? Idiots.

Actually, I don't even understand why there is so much hype about these astronauts. Given the risks involved in space travel, I am not even sure if we should be sending these highly qualified people and then worry about getting them back safely. Why not pick a few death row prisoners, give them six month training on the kind of experiments they need to do in space and send them off. If they come back safe, fine, they get amnesty, otherwise, well, they were going to die anyway.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mallus' invasion of Mysore - Domestic tourism explosion

Spent the long weekend going around some tourist spots in and around Mysore - Talakad, Somanathpura, KRS, Nanjanagud etc. It was nice, but what surprised me was the number of tourists, especially out of state tourists, in Mysore. Had never seen that kind of rush in Mysore except during Dasara. Most of them were from Kerala, but there were quite a few from Tamil Nadu and Andhra too. There were cars, taxis, matadors, tempo travellers all bearing neighbouring state registration numbers. Good to see domestic tourism growing in India. What was even more heartening to see was that majority of the tourists weren't the "new economy people". Is this an evidence for trickle-down effect in operation?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I have always believed that Mysore is more than a place - it is a state of mind, a way of life. If I were to describe Mysore in one word, it is moderation. In Mysore, like its weather, everything is moderated. Pace of life, desire, ambition, wealth, effort, ostentation - Mysoreans love everything in moderation. You are not supposed to be either too rich or too poor. If you are over ambitious, you are ridiculed. But if you live like a sanyasi, you are ridiculed too. You study or work too hard - you are called a kudumi. You don't study at all - you are classified lazy or useless. You spend a lot on your daughter's wedding - you are called a show-off. Cut corners and you are called stingy. Whatever we did, we were always encouraged to go for that golden mean. Neither too much, nor too less.

In sharp contrast is the metro philosophy - more the merrier.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia campus shooting coverage

Indian-origin prof killed in Virginia campus shooting shouts the headline on CNN-IBN website. Even their TV coverage in the morning was focussed on the Indian victims - a professor dead, a missing student etc. I don't understand this. If this was some hate killing and the victims were mostly Indians, then yes, it makes sense to emphasise the nationality of victims. But from what I gather, there have only been a couple of Indians at most out of the 30+ victims. It seems more like indiscriminate killing than targeting persons of any nationality. Then how does the Indianness of the victims matter? Is it some kind of pride: "We Indians are not behind others in any field - not even in getting killed on US campuses"? I just don't get this. If you want to cover it, cover it for the human tragedy it is. Cover it for the growing trend of violence in US schools and colleges. Or if you think such coverage won't be of much interest to Indian audience, then leave the topic. Go on to something else. Even Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty. But why focus solely on the couple of Indian victims?

I really want to see how the thought process of those who decide such things goes. Do they get excited when they hear that there were a couple of Indian victims. "Whoopee, surely they must have some relatives over here. Can we get their sound bytes?".

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

If Sri Lanka can produce a top class cricket team, why can't Karnataka...

If Sri Lanka with a population of 20 million can produce a quality cricket team, there is no reason why every state of India cannot do the same. Yes, I am not talking about single Indian team, but every state - Karnataka, TN, Maharashtra etc with populations 2-4 times that of SL should be producing such teams. After all, these states are no worse than SL in economic parameters or in level of interest in cricket and we are no different genetically/racially either.

So why doesn't it happen? Simply because of this stupid nationality based format which allows a Test team for a tiny country like SL but also limits a huge nation like India to one team. So since the requirement is to produce just one team out of a billion population the system has geared itself to produce just one team out of this huge amount of raw material we have. Change the requirement to produce twenty teams instead of one and each state will be churning out a team like that of SL or the current Indian team.

Just goes to show ICC's stupidity - they constrain a huge cricket crazy nation of one billion into producing just one team and then go around desperately trying to create teams in places like Netherlands, Canada, what have you.

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Secession of the successful

Is Narayana Murthy's comment about singing of national anthem embarassing the foriegners another evidence for this phenomenon mooted by late economist JK Galbraith? Where the successful just retreat into their own world and tend to be disconnected from rest of their countrymen? And to think such a man was being considered as a candidate for President of India!

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BCCI's restriction on endorsements

Couple of points:

1. BCCI is well within its rights to impose these conditions on players who wish to play for them. I have seen people (including some business leaders) question bcci's right to do so, have called it violation of players' rights etc. which is utter nonsense. Playing for bcci is not a right guaranteed by constitution. If you want to play for them, you abide by their conditions, as simple as that.

2. As for whether it makes sense - I don't agree with the stated reason (spending too much time on shooting ads etc) but there are other grounds for justifying the decision. There is no doubt that endorsements do not reward all performances equally. Batsmen who do well in one-dayers end up with bulk of endorsement deals whereas bowlers and Test batsmen (Laxman vs Yuvraj/Dhoni for example) don't get as much. This can lead to and has in the past led to frictions within the team. If bcci doesn't want to create such differential rewards, if for them harmony within the team is important, then it makes sense for them to impose restrictions on endorsements. There was a similar case in my previous company when a customer wanted to reward some of the team members, but the company didn't allow it - they said we have our own performance management and incentive schemes, we don't want you to meddle around with it.

3. In any case, I have always argued that boards are more powerful than players in the current system and I am just happy to see the players get screwed :-) If this leads the players to go play for a parallel league, as a consumer, it will be better for me.

How cricket continues to delude itself...

I hadn't seen this earlier. A world map showing flags of all teams participating in the world cup. You look at it and you will think, "How evenly the game of cricket is distributed across the world. 4 in Asia, 4 in Europe, 3 in Africa, 3 in Americas and 2 in Australasia". Never mind that 80% of the market is represented by just that one tri-colour there!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Nenapaadalu Shakuntale

Watched a play by that name at Rangashankara last evening performed by Aneka group. The play followed Kalidasa's masterpiece pretty much to the letter, but the notable feature was music and songs in kannada. Probably the songs occupied more time than the dialogues and they were sung very well by the group led by a youngster called Venugopal.

Highlight of the play - Shakuntala's friends Anusuya and Priyamvada run off to the ashram leaving their friend alone with king Dushyanta. Shakuntala, while happy to be alone with her lover, pretends to be scared and tries to follow her friends. Dushyanta holds her hand and she keeps saying, "leave me, leave me". Dushyanta says "yes, I will". She turns to him and with a smile and feigned impatience asks, "yavaga?" (when?). Beautiful.

However, more than the performance, while watching the play I couldn't help but admire Kalidasa for creating a masterpiece like this nearly 2000 years ago. The description of serene atmosphere of the ashram, Shakuntala's love for nature, blossoming of love in those pristine surroundings, friendly banter between Shakuntala and her friends, everything in this play reflects the sheer genius of its author. Thanks to Rangashankara and Aneka for staging this and keeping the great poet's works alive.

Another organization that is doing its bit to keep alive our tradition and culture is Sri Rama Seva Mandali of Chamarajpet. Like every year, this year too they have organized music concerts to celebrate Ramanavami. Had been to couple of concerts (Kadri Gopalnath saxophone and vocal recital by a youngster called Madurai TN Krishnan) - both were excellent.

Speaking of music, got Worldspace satellite radio installed at home. It rocks!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Timmajjiya Myaglundi

Here's an attempt to write in kannada - a review of a book I read recently. Click on the images to get enlarged versions.

Friday, March 30, 2007

A suggestion to make one-day cricket more interesting

There is a problem with one-day cricket. No, I am not talking about match-fixing or the over dependence on Indian market or too many meaningless tournaments or chucking or any of those. Those are bigger issues. But the problem I am talking about is to do with the game itself. Which is that there are very few exciting games taking place these days. Even if the teams are evenly matched, even when we can't tell in advance who is going to win but what we can tell with fair amount of certainty is that it is going to be an easy win at the end for either team. In nearly 80% of the matches, result is obvious within the first 15 overs of the second innings. They are either chasing a low total and get off to a good start or chasing a huge total and lose a couple of key early wickets. In first case there is very little the bowling team can do except going through the motions and in the second the batting team does that.

This has mainly to do with the fact that a couple of key batsmen can have a huge impact on the fortunes of a team. So if those key batsmen get out cheaply, match is as good as lost. So here are a couple of changes to fix this problem:
- A batsman can continue to bat when dismissed.
- Deduct 30 runs from batting team's score per dismissal [1]
- Maximum limit of 50 deliveries per batsman

- One mistake by batsman doesn't put him out of the game thus substantially reducing the luck factor (or bad decision factor)
- One or two batsmen cannot dominate the entire innings. Just as a bowler is limited to 10 overs, batsman is limited to 50 deliveries.
- Match is not over till all the 100 overs are bowled. Even if the chasing team is 100 runs past the target there is always a chance for bowling team to take a hattrick and win back the game.
- More importance to attacking bowling and taking wickets.
- Just as a bowler can be taken off if he is not bowling well, batting team captain can recall a batsman if he is struggling and send him back in at a later stage. More thinking to be done by captains.
- Since only 6 batsmen are required to bat, teams can go with 4-5 pure bowlers rather than going with bits-and-pieces players as done currently.

Now, tell me why it won't work.

[1]: If you think deducting 30 runs leading to negative scores can be confusing to viewers, add 30 runs to bowling team's score instead.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

ICC, call off the world cup

Now that the Jamaican police have confirmed that Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was murdered, I think ICC should cancel the world cup if they have any sense of decency left. It is bad enough that they got on with the event without missing a beat when an important member of the cricketing community died under suspicious circumstances. But to carry on with the carnival when it is confirmed that it was a murder and probably related to cricket would be totally improper. World cup is supposed to be a celebration of the game and how can you carry on with the celebration when the game itself is under the cloud?

Besides, all the caribbean governments have invested heavily on this event and it is in their interest to make sure that it is a success. It is not inconceivable then that pressure is brought to bear upon the police to delay the investigation till the world cup is over. If ICC is really interested in getting to the bottom of this murder, they should call off the event so that the police can carry on the investigation without any fear of their own governments.

C'mon ICC, for once act with courage. If you have to, return all the money you have received from your sponsors. But don't let cricket and justice down for a few million dollars.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


While returning from a business trip recently, as the efficient staff of Singapore Airlines started serving breakfast and the familiar sten... er, smell of roast beef filled the cabin, my mind as is its wont wandered. Why is it that of all the places on earth, vegetarianism has a significant presence only in India? Look eastward, and in Korea, Japan and China people eat everything including creepies and crawlies. Look west and you have middle east, Europe, Africa and Americas - again mostly meat eating societies (despite some recent movements of vegetarianism in Europe and USA). So how is it that India alone has developed this habit of not eating meat? According to the wikipedia page on vegetarianism India accounts for more than 70% of all the vegetarians in the world and that the percentage of vegetarians in India is anywhere between 20-40% of the population (this tallies with the recent CNN-IBN survey too which had mentioned that in South India around 20% of the people are vegetarians whereas in North, the figure is around 40%).

So, coming back to my original question, why has this practice developed only in India? The wiki page cites mostly religious reasons like ahimsa, asceticism (as meat is considered a luxury), the Law of Karma (you hurt the animals, the bad karma will come back to hurt you), etc. But then, next question would be, why did those religious beliefs develop here? What made people here, and only here, realize that hurting animals is bad? As someone who believes that there has to be an economic reason for most human behaviours, I wasn't willing to accept religion as the only reason for vegetarianism in India. Sure enough, the wiki also mentions economic reasons for not eating meat.
As populations grow, lowering meat consumption worldwide will allow more efficient use of declining per capita land and water resources, while at the same time making grain more affordable to the world's chronically hungry.
But that doesn't fully explain the behaviour either, because if the reasons were economic, then you would expect the poorer people to be vegetarian. However, in India it is not so. It is the upper castes like Brahmins and Rajputs (of Vaishnav variety) who are vegetarians by choice. So, maybe it is religion after all which has made us vegetarians.

Speaking of vegetarianism reminds me of an incident which happened a few years ago. I was telling my wife about a team lunch we had gone from office and mentioned that fish was on the menu. My daughter, who was three year old at the time, was surprised and asked "What?". I explained to her that some people do eat fish (and other animals). She said, "No, we shouldn't eat that". I was surprised by her vehemence, because I didn't expect her to have an opinion on anything at that age, let alone on what people should or shouldn't eat. Just to understand where she was coming from, I continued the argument and asked why not. Just as we eat vegetables, they eat fish, what is wrong with that? She thought about it for a few seconds and then said, "But fish have eyes like us. We can't eat them?". I was intrigued by her response. I wondered why did she choose eyes and then realized that she didn't yet have the concept of life or living beings at that age. However, she somehow instinctively knew that fish are more like us than vegetables and when I pressed her she had to think about it and justify her belief. She couldn't say they have arms or legs or head or face, because fish don't have any of those. So she chose eyes as one of the few things they have in common with us. This got me wondering - are kids vegetarians by instinct? Remember, we had not taught her that it is bad to eat animals or any such thing. In fact, that was the first time she even got to know about the option of eating animals and somehow her instinct told her that it is not right. Food for thought.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Telecast rights imbroglio

They are at it again. Doordarshan is once again fighting with the cricket rights holder, Nimbus in this case, for something that they don't own rightfully. Nimbus bid for those rights and have paid a hefty price. I don't understand what makes DD think that they have some god-given rights to the signals of cricket matches. If Sony gets exclusive rights to telecast some Bollywood blockbuster would DD similarly ask Sony to share the feed with them? They don't. But somehow neither DD nor the government seem to get this simple concept of "he paid for it, he owns it" when it comes to cricket rights. The I&B minister has called Nimbus "unpatriotic" for not sharing the signal with DD. Come again? Onstensibly, the objective is to make the matches available for those who do not have cable connection. But then, what about those who don't have a TV set itself? Would the minister ask LG or Samsung to distribute TV sets for free to all those who don't own one and call them unpatriotic if they refuse to comply with such a ridiculous request? It is no less ridiculous to ask Nimbus to part with something they have purchased legally.

In any case, what has cheering for a bunch of cola salesmen got to do with patriotism anyway? It is high time we put an end to this myth that the players are "representing the country" and supporting them is a patriotic activity. It is just entertainment business, folks. No different from movies, music or other television shows. The players make money, boards and sponsors make money and hopefully the viewers get some entertainment. Let's leave it at that, rather than attaching non-existent attributes like nationalism, patriotism etc.