Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Indian TV News Channels, their irresponsible journalism

The only thing that seems to count for the countless number of TV News channels in the countless number of languages in India is the countable number of eyeballs they capture. Nothing seems to matter to them in their quest to score points over rival channels. Look at the recent coverage of the Terror strike in Mumbai.
The Channels first started popularising a catchy phrase ' enough is enough'. That is ok since this is what people have been saying for a long time regarding the Govt.'s inept handling of the terror menace. But then, for the Channels that is simply not enough. They decided to spread hatred against politicians as a class. The common Indian is already of the view that politics means corruption, swindling public funds, playing one community against another, buying votes, vote bank politics etc. Nevertheless, the common man has not lost lost faith in the system of democracy since he feels that he can still vote out an incumbent Govt. even if it results in replacing one set of corrupt and incompetent politicians by another set of corrupt and incompetent politicians. This is where the mischief of the TV Channels is beginning to alter the perceptions of the common man. The channels have started casting doubts on democracy itself. The underlying message of every Channel was that it would be better to place the nation's administration in the hands of the Armed Forces rather than in the hands of the politicians. In the heat and dust of the aftermath of the terror attack , no politician picked up enough courage to condemn this anti-democratic not-so-whispering campaign . But now that the passions have cooled down, it is necessary to bring a halt to the mischief of the TV Channels. Not just the politicians, but the viewing public who are not just eyeballs but have tongue, voice and cell phones in their pockets should start cautioning the Sardesais and Goswamys, Burkha Dutts and Vikram Chandas " Enough is enough. Do not cross the thin line between hatred for politicians and booting out democracy".

Monday, November 24, 2008

President Obama ! Is old wine the change you promised?

President-elect Obama's new cabinet is being hotly discussed. But it is a disappointment to read in the Newspapers that the man who promised change for the last two years is busy procuring old wine for bottling in the flashy new containers.

Who is tipped to be the new Secretary of State? Good old Clinton, the feminine one. Here is the lady who tirelessly questioned and ridiculed Obama's 'change' mantra in the run-up to the nomination. Is she going to be the agent of change under Obama? The bet is that Hillary will function as an autonomous Secretary of State. May be, she would consult the other Clinton who is even older wine than the lady herself. So, the entire foreign policy might turn out to be Clintonian, Part II.

Now look at the prospective Defence Secretary. Is he going to be some one who is in favour of reducing America's involvement in Iraq? Is he likely to be the one who has the credentials of belonging to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, like Obama himself? Oh no ! The new Defence Secretary is the old Defence Secretary. That means that Robert Gates, the current Defence Secretary under President Bush will be the brand new Defence Secretary under Obama who has been elected on a platform of change. Do we already see some eggs on the face of the electorate? This appointment is being justified on the grounds of continuity. My goodness ! If continuity is what the people of America had wanted, they would have elected good old McCain, not young untested Obama.

I do not know what other such ' changes' are in offing from Obama. One thing is pretty clear. You can not find another set of people who are as naive as the Americans. For all their child-like enthusiasm that almost brings tears in the eyes of the watching world, they are a very gullible people. They fall for slogans very easily. They fall for external appearances instantly. Catchy phrases and boyish charm are all that are required to fool the American voters. I might still reverse my views on this, if Obama's first few weeks hint at some really fundamental change in any important aspect of governance. The signs, so far, are not promising.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Myths blown away !

*They used to say that the U.S. is invincible. Economically. 'They' are running for cover.

*They used to preach that the word 'Nationalisation' is in the dictionary of the inefficient and the unproductive. Today's newspapers hint at the real possibility of the U.S.Govt. nationalising some banks. So, who or which system has suddenly turned inefficient and unproductive?

*They glorified risk-taking. Not on their hard-earned money. But yours, mine and a million other hard-working citizens'. Where are those investment banks whose managers were millionaires solely because they had a license to gamble on your money? Buried and condemned to exist under the ground for the next several years.

*They used to advise that demand and supply determine every thing and that market is always wise. But then why this bailout of the casualties of the normal market process of the unfit biting dust?

*They used to talk convincingly that the Govt. should regulate as little as possible. People who argued for necessary regulations were dubbed ' Socialistic', a dirty word in the post-cold war era. But then, countries with regulated banks and regulated stock markets are surviving the financial crisis of 2008 better than the paradises of unlimited free- enterprise.

*They applauded when bank managers in the U.S. did not do their essential pre-lending duties. Duties to do which these wise chaps have been employed in the first place. Namely, check the credit-worthiness of the individuals who wanted to own homes but who had no capacity to repay the loan. Are those managers fit to be employed even in a roadside kiosk selling cigarettes?

*They nodded in agreement when the U.S.Govt. created Freddie and Fennie which in practice endorsed what the reckless home-loan bank managers had been doing to damage the economy through causing bad debts. Was that not the origin of the sub-prime crisis that ultimately is drowning the entire financial structure of the Western World?

Myths might have long lives. But they get exposed for what they are , in course of time. While they get blown away, they take with them even certain sound philosophies which worked well. Free Market Economy is not entirely bad. It has created wealth and stood the test of time. But when you recklessly extend the notion of ' freedom' and ridicule all ' regulations' and discipline per se , you end up with egg on your face. Sooner or later. Not later than 2008 in any case.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The word 'Change' is used so casually these days that it does not draw serious attention to the quiet changes taking place in the world. Look at the following changes in different facets of life. They are path-breaking in every sense of the word.

*The Mecca of capitalism , the U.S.A. has done the hitherto unthinkable. The Govt. there is bailing out sinking ships; the financial entities that threaten to take the country's economic might down with them, thanks to the sub-prime (housing) crisis that started 18 months ago and has proved to be far more prosperity-threatening than was assumed at the start. Bail-out packages, that text-book Socialist medicine to cure the ills of managerial inefficiency, are being prepared by the blue-eyed children of original Capitalism, the Republicans.

*A Black man is pounding at the doors of the political Vatican of the White men's world. And the doors might just open to let the brave man in. If he fails to get in, it would still ring the bells of change because his failure would mean a woman from the other Political Party will reach within the breathing distance from the American Presidency. Whether Obama wins or McCain/Palin win, what will have happened is change of earth-shaking dimensions.

*Every month, nearly 10 million people get added to the list of owners of mobile phone connection in India. For a country where the waiting time for getting a (Land line) phone connection used to be several years not very long ago, this change is of Himalayan proportions.

*Indian Movies used to be ridiculed by the World for their songs-at-the-drop-of-a-hat and running-around-trees sequences. There are still several songs in every Indian Movie. Running around trees continues, may be in a more camouflaged way. But Bollywood Movies have found a market in the West. One could say that the vast NRI population in the U.S. constitute the bulk of the viewing public there. But what explains the brisk sale of DVD-s of Bollywood movies in Germany? I have a net friend from Germany, who lives in Hamburg and who chats with me mainly on the Bollywood stars.

*About 10-12 years ago, news meant only political news. The Newspapers were full of tiring details on political parties, their petty rivalry etc. Happenings in every other sphere were ignored or left to be dealt with by glossy specialty magazines that drove deep holes on the pockets. Even the national Newspapers were no exception to this. Today, a lot of importance is given to news on economics and human interest stories. Headlines on the first page are no more reserved only for politics. Developments in national economy and financial field are given pride of place in the limited space on the first page.The reading public need not hunt for pink newspapers to get a peek into money matters any more ; the daily all-purpose newspaper keeps the readers adequately informed, be it on oil prices, impact of the collapse of investment banks or merits of unit-linked insurance plans.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Matunga to Mambalam

I have recently shifted to Chennai from Mumbai and I intend to stay here for about 18 months. The locality I have been living in Mumbai is Matunga. The place I have chosen to live in Chennai is West Mambalam. In some ways it is not a change. Culturally speaking. Except that Matunga is more cosmopolitan and has a huge Gujarati-speaking population besides South Indians.

Matunga in Mumbai is known as the South Indians' den.

In Mumbai, the term 'South Indians' has a peculiar connotation, atleast among the people who have migrated to Mumbai from the four southern states. It does not refer to all the people from the four southern states. It is an euphemism for people from Tamilnadu and those Tamils (Tambrahms) from Palghat and other towns in Kerala. If you go to a Udipi Restaurant in Mumbai and ask them whether one can get South Indian food there, they would guide you to a Tamilian or Palghat Tamilian Restaurant or Mess. Atleast in Matunga, I have seen them doing so. While geographically Udipi is very much in South India, Udipiwallas prefer Mangalorean identity to a South Indian one. The same is more or less true about those who have migrated from Kerala. For them, the term Malayalee is a more defining identity and gives them more psychological security.

In West Mambalam, a new immigrant gets the impression that he has done time-travel and reached a point of time which would be 30 years earlier than now. Cycle Rickshaws freely move around in the narrow lanes and one of them almost hit my hip on the second day after my arrival. Most of the roads do not have pavements. Matunga roads are wide and have convenient foot paths for pedestrians. Except of course that the foot paths in the Matunga Market area have been occupied by the vendors, leaving little space for pedestrians.

In Mambalam Restaurants, they still serve food on plantain leaves. Of course, the price is nothing less than what they charge in Matunga. Efficiency of serving too is less than what one takes for granted in Matunga. Quality too is inferior. In Matunga, one could see roadside vendors selling Pav Bhaji, Bhel Puri, Pani Puri etc. besides some South Indian dishes. In West Mambalam, one sees Poli shops in every major street. They call it Boli Stall, since the Tamil language does not distinguish "P" from "B". Nor 'T' and 'D'. It is left to the individual to choose either of the two pronunciations when it comes to non-Tamil words. That is how 'Vajpayee' becomes 'Vajboy' on the Tamilian tongue and POTA becomes PODA. The word Poli originates either from Marathi or Kannada ( both the languages have this word and the speakers of these languages pronounce it with a "P".) In fact, these Poli stalls of West Mambalam belong to or were originally started by Udipi Brahmins who can be found in good number in West Mambalam. The Polis are very sweet , made with Coconut or Lentil as the main ingredient. You must eat it with good quantity of Ghee thrown on.

West Mambalam is very hot and humid. Matunga is less so. But, contrary to what I had feared, the notorious ' Mambalam Mosquitoes' are missing from the scene. Have they too migrated?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More Cars - does it make sense for India?

Crude oil price is hitting all-time highs in the international market. Except for the oil-producing countries, the news spells bad omen for every country. $ 30 per barrel to $ 130 per barrel within 5 years? ' Too much' is a mild expression to describe this gallop. This unprecedented price rise will affect the cost of living adversely in every major economy.

India will be one of the worst-hit countries. Most of its need for Petrol is met through import. The policy of the Indian Government has been to subsidise Petroleum products heavily . It is said that a litre of Kerosene at subsidised price costs less than a litre of mineral water. It might make some sense to protect the large population living below the poverty line , from a huge price rise which would be the result if one passes on the increase to the consumers without subsidies. But how much could one subsidise Petrol and Diesel? The oil manufacturing / refining companies ( mostly Govt.-owned) are reeling under huge losses and there is real danger of their going bankrupt.

Under these circumstances, is there any sense in putting more cars on the roads? Is there a need for the so-called People's Car such as Tata's proposed Nano? Leave alone the problems of congestion on the roads; what about the ballooning subsidies if the need for petrol goes on increasing at geometric proportions? Will it not affect the economy? After all, there is nothing like free lunch; some one has to foot the bill for the subsidies. Who else can it be except the tax-payers? Unless a cheaper alternative to Petrol is invented soon, the need for private transport should be voluntarily curtailed. Greater dependence on Public Transport should be encouraged. Any ' fall in living standards' as a result of this switch is more in the eyes of the beholders. Whether the remedy is applicable to the economies of the more prosperous West or not, it is certainly a good one for emerging economies like India which do not produce oil in adequate quantity.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Paulo Coelho's Witch of Portobello

Paulo Coelho

This Brazilian writer is now well-known throughout the world. His spirituality-based fictions are translated into several languages and widely read. His first book The Pilgrimage and his second book The Alchemist received lukewarm response at first. When he got the same books published by a bigger Publishing House , they became best sellers. Some ten more books followed and most of them have received acclaim. The latest book written by Coelho is The Witch of Portobello.

The Story

Athena , the ' Witch', was born in the Gypsy community in Romania. Her mother was Gypsy based in Romania and father was probably a Romanian White( the author's hint is very indirect). Her mother leaves her in an Orphanage and goes back to her community. A rich Arab couple from Beirut ( not Muslim but Christian) adopts Athena, overruling the advice of a nurse of the orphanage based on the child's Gypsy lineage. The Khalils name the child as Sherine. A member of the extended family of the Khalils suggests that in view of the increasing prejudice against the Arab world internationally, it is better to change the name to Athena. Sherine likes the sound of the name and becomes Athena.

From the early age, Athena exhibits certain supernatural abilities. She is also very religious in the Christian sense. The family migrates to London. Athena joins an Engineering course, falls in love with fellow-student Petersen , marries him, leaves the University and becomes a mother. The couple develops difference of opinion and get divorced. The story starts galloping only from now on. Athena shifts to a rented accommodation with her child . There she comes in contact with a Polish refugee and gets introduced to a mystical dance form. The dance changes her life completely. In Athena's words, " When you dance, the spiritual world and the real world manage to coexist happily". Athena, now working in a Bank, introduces her colleagues to this particular dance which takes one to trance. There is a qualitative improvement in the functioning of the staff and Athena gets promoted to move to Dubai. At Dubai, she learns calligraphy from Nabil Alaihi as a means to discover new spiritual dimensions. Still restless, she decides to undertake a trip to Romania in search of her biological mother, finds her and gets reconciled. While in Romania, she has a chance meeting with Edda, a Scottish woman deeply interested in the Tradition of considering God as feminine and Mother. This meeting influences Athena tremendously and her spiritual search continues when she is back in England. Edda advises Athena to learn what she does not yet know, through teaching. While this advice is initially puzzling to Athena, she starts teaching Andrea McCain, an actress. Andrea is very suspicious of Athena since Andrea's journalistic boy-friend is attracted to Athena. It is love unrequited. Athena succeeds in getting the Divinity to manifest on herself; the manifestation calls herself Hagia Sofia. Athena becomes clairvoyant whenever this manifestation arrives. As Athena's following grows in number, the orthodox Christian establishment gets provoked . How could they tolerate a parallel religious movement that poses a challenge to their centuries-old hegemony? What happens thereafter is interesting and the end is as surprising as a Sheldon thriller. What happens to Athena in the end? Is she murdered by the fundamentalists? or some jealous lover? or left free to spend her life in anonymity? Is her claim that her lover is working for Scotland Yard just a protective shield from male attention? If you want to know the answers, please read the book. Of course, I do not sell books and so there is no vested interest involved in asking you to buy the book.

Why the title 'Witch'?

Witch is a label the Organised Religion gives to any one performing any spiritual rituals which it does not understand and which are not part of the approved rituals of the Establishment. Athena's spiritual path in which Mother is the supreme Divinity and her non-Christian beliefs and methods of worship earned her the title Witch from the Christian Establishment. Since Athena and her followers used to meet at a building in Portobello Road , she becomes the Witch of Portobello in the eyes of the Orthodox Church.

Spiritual Message

The world has been seeing God as masculine and demanding obedience. May be, it is time to break free from this fear of God and move to love of God; a feminine God, the Great Mother who does not control , but loves. In the worship of Mother, fear gives way to love. Authority is replaced by compassion. This is not new. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism already say that every thing is one. Divinity is in every thing and every thing is part of the Divinity. They do not see God as domineering figure.

In order that one gets to come in contact with the Divinity, one needs to unlearn. One needs to cease to follow the beaten path of rules. Athena does it by getting herself freed from the stranglehold of rhythm in her dance, thus creating chaos momentarily making space for the NEW ( Divinity) to manifest itself. Her teacher Edda does it by knitting in a completely irrational way.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Migrants to Mumbai

Where do they come from?

A new study which I have just gone through says that most of the new migrants are from Uttar Pradesh. A surprising figure is that of Bihar which is just 20 % of those from U.P. This is surprising since Biharis have been subjected to as much bashing as those from U.P. for migrating to Mumbai. Of course, the study confirms that most of the migrants to Mumbai are from North India. This is understandable since the North ( with the exception of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana) is the poorest in terms of all the economic indicators. Even the East is doing better while the West and the South are much better off , with their flourishing economies and more job creation.

Southerners' change of interest

In spite of the economy in the South doing very well, there are still people from South India who are leaving their states in search of better prospects. But Mumbai has ceased to attract them. Nor Delhi. They head towards Malaysia, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S.A. They have the necessary education and skills to find good jobs in those countries. The northerners are currently doing what their southern fellow-Indians did three to four decades ago. Namely migrating to Mumbai to find employment. And of course become pawns in the political game of the sons of the soil.

Mumbai is not just Maharashtrian

If Mumbai generates so many jobs to cater to the local population and still accommodate outsiders, the credit does not go to the Maharashtra Government or Maharashtrians. Millions of migrants over the decades have created wealth for Mumbai. Besides, the Central Government has been very liberal towards developing Mumbai as the financial capital of the country. The Reserve Bank of India has its Head Office in Mumbai. So are so many other banks and insurance companies. Several entrepreneurs from all over the country have set up their Head Offices in Mumbai. Several Mutinational Companies have their Indian operations monitored through Central Offices in Mumbai. Naturally, these companies are listed as Mumbai-based companies and their gigantic turnover figures are considered to be arising from Mumbai. But this is absolutely a wrong conclusion. These companies have factories and sales offices throughout the country and every such establishment has contributed to the turnover fogures and profitability. Therefore, Mumbai's wealth is on account of the entire country.

Decentralisation the Solution?

In advanced economies such as U.S.A. or Germany, they do not focus on only one city and starve the rest of the cities. For example, in Germany it is not only Frankfurt which is well-developed. Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Koeln, Stuttgart etc. are also well-developed. So, it is necessary that our own Central Government should adopt policies to divert part of the investment to other cities and towns. Mumbai need not be the only beneficiary . Of course, private entrepreneurs will go wherever infrastructure is good. That is why a lot of recent investment has been in Chennai. Bangalore and Hyderabad etc., besides Mumbai. U.P. and Bihar are paying the price for having inefficient administrators and their lack of interest in developing infrastructure. But the Govt. of India could have a few of its important institutions in other cities as well. Today,R.B.I, National Stock Exchange, Western Railway, Central Railway and so many other important organisations have their Head Quarters in Mumbai. This must change without causing disruption to productivity and sound economics. Till then, Dadar-bound Varanasi Express will keep bringing thousands of Hindi-speaking people to crowd Mumbai more and more. They will watch Bhojpuri films and become an eye-sore to the Raj Thackerays of the political world.The fault does not lie with the migrants.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Municipal Patriotism

Raj Thackeray wants North Indians out of Mumbai. His uncle Bal Thackeray had wanted the South Indians out of the then-Bombay in 1967. What will happen if this trend spreads? Sholapur would want the Kannadigas out. Nagpur would want the Hindi-speaking people out.
But there are Maharashtrians living in the other states of India. So, Indore and Gwalior would want the Maharashtrians to leave. Gulbarga and Hubli would show the door to the Maharashtrians. May be, even Belgaum. There are several thousand Maharashtrians who are well-settled in Uttarakhand. 'Quit Uttarankhand' notice might be served on those Maharashtrians.
If the other states start having a look at who the outsiders in their respective states are, then Tamilians will have to leave Bangalore. May be, also Palghat in Kerala. The Andhraites will have to leave Chennai. The Malayalees will have to leave Coimbatore and probably also Kanyakumari. Kannadigas will be driven out of Kasargode in Kerala. Tamilians will be pushed out of Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. Bengalis will have to say good-bye to Jamshedpur and Guwahati. May be, even Pondicherry. Gujaratis will have to quit Mumbai ; Marwaris Kolkata and so many other places. Punjabis will be unsettled from several places. Is this the shape of things to come? Does any one in his or her right frame of mind wish for such a massive cross-migration and the resultant refugee problems?
If the world at large copies this very Indian poison, what would happen? Indians and Pakistanis will be thrown out of U.K. and the Middle East. The Chinese will have to leave Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and several other countries. The Turks and Italians will be unwelcome to stay in Germany. The Algerians and Moroccans will be asked to go from France. The Indians of Goan origin will not be able to stay on in Portugal. The English will not be able to continue to live in Zimbabwe. The Germans in Namibia will have to pack their bags and return to their 'Vaterland'. Almost all the ethnic groups except those of European origin will leave the United States.
Of course, such a nightmarish situation has no chance of arising. Thackerays are still in a hopeless minotiry in the world including India. They are , in fact, a vanishing tribe in the global village that the world is fast becoming. Hopefully, their own followers will soon come to their senses and force the Thackerays to leave politics, if not Mumbai.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Advertisement Hype and Sad Reality

There is an advertisement frequently aired by a big nationalised Bank on TV. A customer of the said Bank gets into a tram ( obviously in Kolkata since that is the only Indian city which still has Trams) and sits by the side of an officer of the Bank without recognizing him. The officer, noticing that the customer has not recognised him , starts a conversation with him, half humourously and half sarcastically, to tell the customer that the latter has forgotten him since he has taught the customer the nuances of internet banking and thus obviated the need for the customer to visit the bank at all; and now the customer does not even recognize the officer. The idea behind this advertisement is to tell the viewers that the bank is customer-friendly in the old-fashioned way , maintaining social contacts with them while simultaneously being modern enough to use tools such as internet for the benefit of the customers.
My personal experience with this particular Bank makes me wonder on which planet the officer portrayed in the advertisement lives and which utopian branch of the Bank he works in. In my experience with the branch of the said Bank in my locality, neither any officer nor any clerk of the bank is friendly even to regular customers;none of the staff exhibits any understanding of any modern tools of customer service. Whether it be updating the simple Savings Bank account Pass book or issuing a new cheque book or making available with a tolerable delay the ' Tax Deduction at Source' statements, the service is annoyingly poor. So, advertisements such as the one described above can not fool any one familiar with the said bank.
While the claim made by so-called beauty soaps such Lux can be forgiven since the claim is decades-old and by-now totally unbelieved hype, what is more objectionable are the advertisement hypes by special soaps such as Aloe Vera soaps and Turmeric (Haldi or Manjal) soaps. Soaps are soaps and Chemists say that to maintain stabilty and durability, these soaps contain several chemical additives in the same way as any normal soap. The special 'health-adding' ingredients such as Aloe Vera or Turmeric are so little in quantity that they are not adequate to offer extra health benefits. So, why fool the gullible viewers and charge a premium?
Stain Remover
The advertisements on the various products that serve as remover of stains on clothes are the worst liars. The sales girl in one such advertisement demonstrates the effectiveness of a fast-selling brand and very effortlessly removes the stain on the clothes after deliberately staining a shirt of some one watching the demo and ironing the shirt to dry the stain, thus making it harder to remove. If you believe the advertisement and buy the product, you would soon know how invalid the claim is. I have tried the product and found it not half as effective as claimed.
Where is the accountability?
The above are just a few samples picked up from among the several advertisements which promise paradise and ever-lasting happiness in return for customers' money and blind faith. It is the same story whether the advertised product is soap or mutual fund or mobile phone.
Is there any non-profit organisation which is interested in exposing the hollow claims of so many such advertisers? I look around and find none. In the meantime, gullible people keep buying the false claims with their hard-earned money and wait patiently for the promised benefit to arrive.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Black President for the U.S.?

Obama routes Hillary in South Carolina

Does it automatically follow that Obama will win in other state primaries and be nominated as the Democratic Presidential Candidate? Not at all. He might win a few more primaries. But as his challenge to Hillary grows more serious, the Democratic primary voters will ditch Obama and opt for Hillary. In the unlikely eventuality of Obama clinching the Democratic nomination, there will be cause for celebration in the Republican party. The defeat of the Democratic nominee would be certain if Obama is the nominee.

But America not ready for Black President

The blacks constitute only about 10-12% of the American population. But that is not the reason why the U.S. can not have a Black President. While there has been grudging acceptance of civil rights for the Black community, the American Whites are not ready to be led by a Black man , however erudite and capable he might be. The Whites nurture very deep distrust of the Blacks. Even those Whites who are friendly and sympathetic with the Blacks do not accept as equals; their attitude is more of a patronising type, if not outright condescending. The U.S. could , do and did have a Black as the Secretary of State. But that is the highest political position a Black can aspire for, for a long time to come.

Even a Woman President has not happened

If Hillary gets the Democratic nomination ( which appears a near certainty in spite of Obama's initial wins) , she will still have to win over the conservative White males of America before she has a reasonable chance of making it to the Oval Office. The U.S. has never so far had a woman as the Presidential nominee of either of the two parties. Two decades ago, there was a woman on the Democratic Ticket as Vice-Presidential nominee. Less developed countries like India, Sri Lanka, Israel , Pakistan and Argentina have had women as Head of State . Even European Countries have not shied away from having a woman as their Chancellor or Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher made it in U.K. 25 years back. Germany elected a woman as its Chancellor two years ago. France almost elected a woman as its President. But not the strongest Democracy in the world, the U.S.

No President of Southern European origin either

There have been several actors of Italian origin in Hollywood. But there has been no American president who was of Italian origin. For that matter, no Spanish, Portuguese or Greek either. Dukakis lost in 1988. His Greek origin did contribute to the defeat.

Catholics have seldom won

Except for Kennedy's name , no name comes to my mind when I think of a Catholic as American President. Leave alone people of Latin American or Italian or Spanish origin who are mostly Catholics; even Catholics of Irish or German or French origin have failed to occupy the Presidential Chair.

America is conservative

Contrary to the popular impression in the world, the United States does not take huge risks. Reforms on social issues ( as different from economic issues) , if undertaken, are more as aberrations. The country finds safety in sticking to time-tested positions on many issues. The politicians do not believe in tinkering with the deeply-embedded conditioning. So, it is doubtful that a woman will make it to the Presidential Office. It is impossible that a Black will ever become President. Only WASP, oh sorry, only WASPROM (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male) will be accepted as the occupants of the White House.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is the U.S. on the decline?

Once-mighty Dollar

The U.S.Dollar replaced the British Pound as the most sought-after currency in the world long ago. Perhaps, soon after the second World war. Or latest by the mid-1960s by which time Britain had lost all its colonies and was no more the World Power it once was. So, the U.S.Dollar has remained as the queen currency for over 4 decades. It is only in the last couple of years that the U.S.Dollar is sliding. The slide may yet be only slight, but the slide is unmistakable. The Euro is growing in stature. In 2002, when Euro took the place of major European Currencies such as D-Mark, French Frank , Dutch Guilder and Italian Lira, one Euro fetched less than a Dollar. Now, one Dollar fetches less than 75 Euro Cents. It should not be a surprise if in another 10-15 years, Euro becomes the No.1 International Currency.

Once-invincible Economy

Some experts say that the U.S. economy is already in recession. Some others say not yet. But no one rules out that recession is round the corner. Banks are writing off bad debts. And such write-offs are huge. People are spending less on consumer goods. Houses offered for sale are fetching much less than the loan taken to finance them. Jobs are getting lost. The mood of the people is sullen. America's underbelly stands exposed. The sub-prime crisis may only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The one consolation(?) that the Americans could have is that if the U.S. economy sinks, the economies of the rest of the world will sink too. The health of the world economy still depends on the American economy doing well.

Once-loved Democracy

Once upon a time, long long ago, people around the world loved America. The country offered hope. If there was one place on earth where any one could nurture an ambition of making it in life irrespective of one's background, colour, religion, gender etc., it was the U.S. No more. America lost respect by supporting dictatorships and fighting unjust wars. Within the country, successive Presidents have encouraged special-interest groups and let themselves be used against the greatest good of the largest number of people. Internationally, the U.S.Administration is no more seen as walking their talk of free enterprise. Free enterprise was good as long as it suited America's interests. When the balance started shifting in favour of the emerging nations, then it was time to bring about trade barriers as a way of protecting America's own producers. This hypocrisy in politics, democracy and economics undermined the credibility the U.S. used to enjoy.


....the U.S. is still the leader. No single nation or a group of nations is as yet in a position to take over the world leadership from the U.S. Europe is too divided. China is seen as too self-absorbed and unreliable. Moreover, China does not respect human rights of an individual and so is unfit to graduate to global leadership. Japan is already a has-been. Any way, it is too small a country to think of leading the world. Russia is still licking its wounds inflicted on it by the demise of its world-power status. It is at best an emerging but cheap carbon copy of the west. So, for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will remain as the leader of the world. But, just a lame-duck leader counting its days before the day of ouster dawns upon it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kodai and Yercaud - a personal view of the two Hill Stations


The Kodai hill is nearly 7000' high. One could reach Kodai Road by train and then take a bus to Kodaikanal. There are a number of trains from Chennai to Kodai Road. There are regular flights from Chennai to Madurai. There is even a flight from Bangalore to Madurai. It takes four hours by road from Madurai to Kodaikanal.

Yercaud is situated very close to Salem in Tamil Nadu. The hill is 4500' high. There are several trains from Chennai to Salem. It takes just an hour form Salem to Yercaud. As yet, there are no flights to Salem from anywhere.

Stay and Food

Kodaikanal is a well-developed town. It has numerous Hotels and Restaurants. Hotels suiting different budgets are available. Hotel Carlton and Hotel Kodai International are five-star hotels. There are several medium priced Hotels. Hotel Astoria, Hotel Annapurna, Hotel Bala , Hotel Jaya. Hotel Tamil Nadu etc. have rooms in the price range of Rs. 600- Rs.800.- during off-season months and Rs.900 -Rs.1400 during the season months ( April-June). All these Hotels have good restaurants attached to them.

Yercaud does not have many good Hotels. Hotel Shevaroy is 3-star. Hotels in the normal price range of Rs.600- Rs.800 are very few. Hotel Tamil Nadu is worth mentioning here. But the service in Hotel Tamil Nadu is very poor. Of late, a few cottages have come up in the medium price range; but they do not have restaurants attached to them. There are not many tourists visiting Yercaud. So, not many hotels have come up. It can also be that tourists are not coming to Yercaud since there are not many good hotels. More than the shortage of hotels, the acute shortage of good restaurants would discourage day-time tourists.


The most important place for sight-seeing in any Hill Station is lake. While Kodai Lake is kept beautiful and the surrounding is clean, Yercaud Lake is an apology for lake. The surrounding is very unclean.


A visitor to any Hill Station purchases oils such as Eucalyptus, Lemon Grass, Winter Green, Citriodora, Citronella etc, Aloe Vera Jell or Juice, Spices such as Cardamom and Pepper, Tea and Coffee. Kodai has several shops selling a variety of products and brands. Yercaud has very few shops and they are not even conveniently located.

Quiet and Peace

Yercaud scores over Kodai in this aspect. Kodai is heavily commercialised and one will find very few places where one can take quiet walks. Yercaud has an uncrowded atmosphere since there are very few tourists. If you want comfortable and economical hotel rooms and good food served in your room itself while enjoying the pleasant weather of the hill, then go to Kodai. You will like the shopping experience and lake-side walking too. If you dislike crowds and do not mind walking half a mile to a restaurant from your Hotel for food , then yercaud would not disappoint you.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Some Stray Thoughts about New Year

"New" Year

There are very few people who do not rejoice at the birth of a new year. Even those who do not party the whole night to bring in the New Year wake up on the New Year day morning with a pleasant feeling. What is so " new" about a year? If it is a new business year, one could understand. The businesses need to review the performance over a definite period. Year is a long enough period to show some results and short enough to take corrective measures for the future if some thing has gone wrong. But then, business new years do not necessarily coincide with calendar new year. Same is the case with academics in many countries. In India, a new academic year begins in June and ends in April in the following calendar year. So, what is the significance of a New Year to us beyond business and academics?

Links in the Chain

In my opinion, the end of one year and the beginning of a new year are to Life what links are to a chain . It would be inconceivable to have a chain without links; even if it were possible, it would be monotonous just as a long road without turns. Human beings understand the passage of time better when time is divided into smaller units. Though one ages every moment , it is practical to have a unit called year. Once we have this unit called year, it has to begin at some point of time and end at some other point of time. Ending gives us either satisfaction or relief , depending on the individual experiences. But the beginning is always reassuring and promising. Another example is staircase ; one can not think of a staircase without intermittent landings. It is for rest and pause. The New Year forces us to ponder over whatever we have done or whatever happened to us over the previous one year. After all, milestones force us to introspect and possibly do some course correction.

Chance to be rid of old baggage

New Year gives us hope. It lifts one's spirits. Here is another chance to attempt. Another opportunity to achieve. Even if the past has been full of failures, one could now blame it on 'the unlucky last year' and move on with hope. Old baggage can be dumped and dead past can be shed. The sky is clear again and it would be some time before the clouds gather once more. The gap is for us to utilize.

New Year Resolutions

Oh yes, it is a good idea to make a few resolutions. But not the ones like moving the mountain. reaching the stars and emptying the ocean or even becoming the President of the United States. Leave such giant strides to super humans like Hillary and Obama. We are ordinary mortals. So,resolve to take small steps which would lead the way to measurable results. Defining the steps is an absolute must. Be it reduction of one's weight by 5 Kg in 8 weeks or saving 2o percent of one's earnings every month or any such possible goals. Vague resolutions and impossible goals will result in frustration and within two months into the new year , one will call it quits.

What if .....

...the new year turns out to be as wicked as the previous year? Do not lose heart. New Years are never in short supply. Come next January, one more chance will smile at you.