Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lovely Delhi - A Flashback!!!!

Better late than never!

I have taken a hell lot of time to organise my mobile phone photographs from my trip to Delhi in May this year. This trip took me back to my days as a kid, when I used to visit all these places with my parents.
Finally here come the photos!

A familiar sight. Had been seeing this signboard since I was 11.....

My first port of call that day was at the 10 Sansad Marg branch of Standard Chartered Bank. This is where I got my first bank account in the late 1980s', courtesy my father. That time, this was the branch of Grindlays Bank, with its characteristic elephant logo.
Grindlays Bank became ANZ Grindlays Bank which then became Standard Chartered Grindlays Bank to the Standard Chartered Bank of today.
The branch was all decked up for a momentous occasion - the opening of Standard Chartered Bank's maiden IDR public offering in the Indian capital markets, that day, making it the first foreign bank to get listed in India. Incidentally Standard Chartered Bank is already listed in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
But still I do miss the Grindlays elephant overlooking Sansad Marg.... Times change.....

This building was where my first employer was.....

Méridien was the first glass building I saw as a kid and I was impressed by it a great deal...... Glass buildings like this one were quite uncommon then....

Rail Bhawan. Knock, knock, knock, is Madame Minister in?

Our Parliament - a rather splendid building....

What a view of the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhawan.....

The North Block! Did you know that Pretoria has a replica of the North and South Blocks?

Safdarjung Tomb - such buildings define the character of Delhi....

Sad, it was a Tuesday. The legendary Karims was closed.....

Friday, July 30, 2010

Up In The Air .... Part 2

Last Saturday morning, I took an early morning flight to Delhi. All along the way to the airport from home, it was literally raining cats and dogs. Boarding the aircraft at Terminal 1C, I thought my flight would be rather uneventful. But after taking off, the vibrant hues of blue, pristine white of the clouds with Richard Clayderman's Ballade pour Adeline playing in the background, made it a surreal experience.

My first A2A photograph of an A320, probably a Kingfisher or Air-India, clicked in flight, which is there in my blog post titled "Delhi Has Arrived" was a true magical moment.

A true "Up In the Air" experience!

Sparkling diamonds of South Delhi. We took off from runway 10/28 and took a sharp U, back over South Delhi and Gurgaon, enroute to Bombay!!!

Global Political Instability - Is Mars to be Blamed?

It seems we are living in crazy times.
Is it a mere coincidence that some of the biggest (or rather surprising) victors of the war of the ballot, the world over, are today down in the dumps.
Let's begin with India. Manmohan Singh was my personal favourite to lead India in last year's general elections, especially after he championed the nuclear deal and did some plain speak on the pit of hell, Pakistan. But then, after his surprise re-election, he bungled on Baluchistan, at Sharm-el-Sheikh, lost his way on inflation and his cabinet ministers today look like squabbling toddlers. Post the Sharm-el-Sheikh fiasco, Manmohan Singh looked like a guy who was very unsure of himself, extremely under confident. This is leading from one personal failure to another - talks with Pakistan being a very big, big mistake.
Barack Obama stormed into office in early 2009 riding high on a popularity wave. Well intentioned he is, I don't doubt that a bit, but his presidency is characterised by long winding spiels (they get you the Nobel Peace Prize, don't they?) with little action to follow. Within the United States, he did have a few successes on healthcare and financial regulation, but he somehow has a confused policy on Iraq and the Af-Pak region. He has tried appease the rogues of the world - China, Pakistan, North Korea, while rubbing allies like Israel and India the wrong way. Little wonder that his popularity has evaporated and approval ratings have sunk to 49% today. And the Wikileaks episode surely does not help. And now news is coming in that the Republicans are gaining ground, surely.
Nicolas Sarkozy crushed Ségolène Royal but the latest corruption scandal involving illegal election funding from the heiress of L'Oreal, Liliane Bettencourt does not help matters. His differences with Angela Merkel on the economic revival of Europe threaten the stability of the European Union. Virility with Carla Bruni is one thing, but sustaining credibility is a different ball game altogether. Hope Sarkozy realises that!
Japan's Yukio Hatoyama lead the DPJ to a decisive victory over the LDP (Indians could liken the LDP to the Congress of Japan, with over 54 years of rule?), but he too lost his way with financial scandals and his inability to keep the promise of closing an American military base in Okinawa. His unpopularity forced the DPJ to ask him to step down.
The land Down Under, Australia, isn't immune to the contagion. Kevin Rudd who was known for his infamous "orgasm with China" speech should have known orgasms do not last long, the same holds true for popularity. His popularity dipped considerably on a climate change legislation and the proposal to tax super-normal profits from mineral extraction. He ultimately had to be eased out only to be replaced by Wales born Julia Gillard, in what was called a bloodless coup by the press. It is believed that after his resignation, Rudd wept on ABC Radio. What an abrupt end to his orgasm!

What is it that is going wrong?

Perhaps, it is something as freakish as what astrology buffs in India would say - Mars has entered their planetary charts? or "कुंडली में मंगल प्रवेश कर चूका है!!!!!"

However freakish it may be, it is surely quite unsettling to see a grand political instability at the world stage.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crazy or Stupid?

Today is Thursday and as always I was waiting for RJ Keisha's Break Free on 107.1 Rainbow FM to give me company on my endless drive to office.
Keisha's story on Break Free was interesting and provided good food for thought.
It was about a truck driver delivering supplies to a mental asylum. The driver parked the truck besides a drain and stepped out when he noticed a flat tyre.
He then took out the spare tyre started to replace the flat tyre.
One by one, he unscrewed the nuts from the rim of the flat tyre. As he was busy removing the tyre, he did not notice that the four nuts had rolled down in to the drain.
Aghast and upset on what had happened, he cursed himself. "How will I drive the truck back?" he shouted and cursed himself.
That's when an asylum inmate laughed and said "Why worry? Why don't you unscrew one nut from each of the other three tyres and get this tyre back on. Then you can head back to the nearest repair shop and get the tyre done, as well as buy three nuts."
"Wow," exclaimed the driver, "that's intelligent. You are surely aren't stupid."
"Crazy I am but I am not stupid." said the inmate.
Think about it. The crazy people around us who we deride may have something special in them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rajeev's World: Two Years On....

Today, Rajeev's World completes two years of its existence.
These two years have seen well over 150 posts, which is an average of 75 an year. That may appear not all that bad.
But the thoughts that race through my mind and the ideas I get after talking to friends, colleagues over lunch and in the pantry, on reading, etc. are far far too many. I would rather say 75 is an under performance.
The blog started off with a nondescript URL, but I decided to move it to my own domain name to ensure an easy search and recall. The results are evident in the traffic growth since then.
I have been passionately tracking the visitors on Rajeev's World for over 18 months now. The facts are startling. A substantial chunk of my postings deal with matters of national importance in India - defence, security, terror, politics besides life in general in Bombay and Bollywood.
Despite this, a substantial 35% of all hits came in from the United States as opposed to only 18% from India, as one would logically imagine. Europe comes in with a good number of hits, especially from Romania, Germany and the United Kingdom. The reason is obvious - quite a few of my batchmates are in these countries and they regularly follow Rajeev's World.
Besides these countries in Europe, there have been regular streams of traffic from other countries. There had been an avalanche of traffic from Poland following my blog post on the plane crash that killed Poland's president in April this year. I still get quite a few visitors from Poland on Rajeev's World.
My blog post "Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs... Always an Interconnected World!" got me a stream of visitors from France. The reasons are obvious. The blog post was essentially about the French opera, Lakmé.
Besides these countries, Rajeev's World has had hits from Bulgaria, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, etc.
I was pleasantly surprised to know that someone from Brazil has been following my blog passionately over the last few months. I get a few hits from Brazil at least 2-3 times a week. Same has been the case with Australia.
Asia has been not far behind. The sub-continental pain (or as Madeleine Albright termed it a global migraine), Pakistan, had given Rajeev's World a few hits, which were primarily on the blog post "Sania - Shoaib -- Alliance or Dalliance?".
My photographic blogs on Hong Kong, 香港 - Images from the Fragrant Harbour and 香港 - Images from the Fragrant Harbour - Part generated quite a few hits from Hong Kong Central. Besides these, there have been hits from Japan, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Maldives.
The Arab world has given its share of hits too with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain contributing.
Israelis too have been following my blogs quite often, more so whenever there has been a post on Israel or so.
Around the FIFA World Cup, I had written a few blogs on resurgence of Africa in general and South Africa in particular. These gave Rajeev's World a decent amount of traffic from South Africa, Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria and Mozambique.
Other places, that I consider exotic, that have added to the hits on Rajeev's World are Argentina, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and New Zealand.
My obituary for C.K. Prahlad in April remains in the top ranking pages on Rajeev's World till now. Others that are in the list of the tops are Alexander the Great - The Three Last Wishes......, Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs... Always an Interconnected World!, A sad day for Poland and Adieu VT-AXV.
Almost Like A Dream Come True, a blog post of November last year on my journey in a cockpit, a personal favourite, seems to be a favourite of quite a few aviation enthusiasts as well. The page generated quite a hits and still does.
But the post that flattered me a great deal was Towering Ambitions? which was written on June 11, 2010, just 2-3 days after the construction of India's tallest, 117 storey, residential building was announced. A few weeks later, towards July, a leading Indian business newspaper carried a story on the same development, which was deceptively similar to my blog post.
Why did it take them 3 weeks to come out with the story? Did they draw on my ideas?
I do not have answers to any of these questions. But I know that imitation is the best form of flattery. I did feel flattered on seeing that report.
The journey so far has been interesting and the credit for that goes to all who read Rajeev's World regularly. I do get quite a few mails, text messages, messages on Facebook, phone calls on the posts and that does egg me on to be there for Rajeev's World and you.
A friend recently wrote to me saying "You have some reputation to manage ..... have better things to worry like China's bubble, Gaza Strip's rubble and Obama's trouble ....."
Rajeev's World surely won't disappoint on that. Be assured of that.
Surely, Rajeev's World will continue to be there with views, reviews, anecdotes and analysis of issues that concern us all. I can only hope your interest is sustained.
Thanks for being there.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Delhi has arrived!

They say common sense is usually very uncommon.
This statement was proved right this week when the DGCA implemented a new rule to penalise airlines for delays in departures.
Miraculously, flight delays vanished overnight, so the newspapers wrote.

Imagine the lost manhours because of flight delays. Couldn't the DGCA think of this before?
And today I experienced that myself.
With clinical efficiency, the aircraft was filled in at least 20 minutes before the scheduled time for departure. And the pushback from CSI's Terminal 1B happened dot on time. In less than 10 minutes, we were airborne!
To my amazement we landed in Delhi 10 minutes ahead of schedule. The pilot sounded very proud to announce that we were early. Gone are the days of expressing regret on delayed landings?

This was the first time I paid attention to the landing at the new runway 11/29. The runway markers were neatly painted, the greens lining the asphalt smartly cropped. In short, the runway looked deceptively similar to the ones at Chep Lap Kok, Hong Kong!
And within 20 minutes of landing, I was in my cab.

I am now waiting with a great deal of excitement to see what the new terminal T3 has to offer.
Watch out Changi, Chep Lap Kok, Suvarnabhumi and Dubai. Delhi has arrived with its impressive T3.
Surely a grand welcome awaits all who fly in for the Commonwealth Games.

But for me, the highlight of the journey was my first A2A (aircraft to aircraft, in the spotters' vocabulary) photograph clicked inflight, of a A320, either Air-India or Kingfisher!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Brick

Thursday mornings and all I look forward to is listening to RJ Keisha on Break Free on 107.1 FM Rainbow, while driving to office.

Keisha has this very bubbly enthusiastic style that peps me up with lots of energy. Not only does she jockey with style but she also narrates short anecdotes and inspirational stories that force one to think.
Today's story was called "The Brick".
The story was about a young and very successful executive named Josh who was traveling down a street in Chicago.
He was driving quite fast in his new jazzy shiny black Jaguar. As he drove, he watched kids playing and running across the street between parked cars.
And suddenly he thought he saw something and slowed down. As his car passed, no child darted out, but a brick was hurled out and it hit the new car's shiny black side door!
He slammed the brake and the car screeched to a halt in a short distance. To check who had done the damage, he reversed the car.
When he saw the culprit, he halted. Josh jumped out of the car, grabbed the kid and pushed him up against a parked car. He shouted at the kid, "What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That's my new Jag, that brick you threw is gonna cost you a lot of money. Why did you throw it?"
"Please, mister, please...I'm sorry! I didn't know what else to do!" pleaded the little boy. "I threw the brick because no one else would stop!"
Tears were dripping down the boy's chin as he pointed around the parked car. "It's my brother, Mister," he said. "He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can't lift him up." Sobbing, the boy asked the executive, "Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He's hurt and he's too heavy for me."
Josh was moved beyond words. He tried desperately to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat.
Straining, he lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his handkerchief and wiped the scratches and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be fine. He then watched the younger brother push his brother on the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home.
And now for Josh, it was a long walk back to the sleek, black, shining, Jaguar - a long and slow walk.
Josh never did fix the side door of his Jaguar. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at him to get his attention.
Don't let the bricks in life hit you, be sensitive to those around you.
Thanks Keisha, for this lovely story!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is this a government we deserve?

I am confused. I am totally clueless. I cannot understand what is our government's policy.
When has this government given any policy of national importance you name, any direction of any sort?
There are numerous examples to prove that the government is working aimlessly, without any direction, without the end in mind.
I sometimes wonder where the decisiveness of Prime Minister Manmohan (following the 26/11) has vanished. What does he seek to achieve by talking to Pakistan? And talks for what purpose? Why do we need to talk to state sponsors of terror, to murderers? How can we ever achieve peace by talking to those who have perfected terror as an instrument of state policy?
And the worst spectacle is that of ministers and bureaucrats bickering in public.
The spat between Digvijay Singh and Chidambaram on the Naxalite issue is shameful. Is Digvijay living in a fanciful world that he thinks the gun of terror cannot be silenced by silence and inaction and not the gun of peace?
S. M. Krishna's public castigation of the Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, that his comments on Pakistan's official involvement in 26/11 derailed the talks was nothing but downright appalling. Isn't what Mr. Pillai said a fact?
Indian Railways is going to the dogs while Madam Minister is preparing to give all her Mamta to West Bengal. How can the Prime Minister be quiet on this and tolerate her?
The Congress seems to have lost its act and is aimlessly trying to govern the country.
Is this a government we deserve?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Indian Diaspora and "Soft Power"

The Asian Wall Street Journal carried an interesting article, today, on the Chinese diaspora and how they connect to the mainland, provide the impetus for its growth.

The Chinese diaspora numbers 40 million, with concentrations in South East Asia (Asia in all, has 78% of the Chinese diaspora), the Americas (15%) with the balance sprinkled around Europe, Africa and the Pacific. The overseas Chinese in Asia (Taiwan, Singapore and rest of South East Asia) and the Americas (the United States and Canada) have been the ones that have channelised investments into the mainland China, in the run-up to its growth.

The Indian diaspora in contrast numbers 24 million and it is often said that there are only countries in world without Indian residents (diplomats are not included). There are no prizes for guessing which countries are these - they are Pakistan (who would want to live there afterall?) and North Korea. The Indian diaspora is just like the Chinese - it's concentrated in the United States, Canada, Europe and South East Asia, with smaller communities in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific - Fiji, Tonga, Nauru besides Australia (if we survive the murderous attacks there!) and New Zealand.

Reading the Asian Wall Street Journal article, I recalled an interesting debate we had on an online forum 7 years back on what could be the engines for India's growth.

In that debate, I had said that if one thinks imaginatively, Indian heritage and culture, food, Bollywood could be game changers for India. Undoubtedly, software services, engineering and manufacturing, automobiles would be big businesses, these softer aspects would help India occupy brain space in the minds of the localities. That's what has been often called soft power.

Soft power is a phrase coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power.

As always Wikipedia came to help me here.

Wikipedia defines soft power as "the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option and attraction..... contradistinction to 'hard power', which is the use of coercion and payment...... soft power can be wielded not just by states, but by all actors in international politics, such as NGOs or international institutions...... can be dated back to such ancient Chinese philosophers as Laozi in the 7th century BC."

The United States' soft power had been the most visible globally through its iconic and omnipresent brands (McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Walt Disney), Hollywood movies and propagation of technology. These iconic brands had sustained the soft power component for over 50 years, till the wars in the Gulf did them in.

For India, one of the most potent instruments of exercising soft power is Bollywood - Bollywood has a very big market from the Americas to Russia, from South Africa to Egypt and South East Asia. And this market is growing and Bollywood is making inroads into the Western market as well. Recent Indian movies have been successes abroad - Kites which bombed at the Indian box-office opened in the top ten in the United States. Similarly, the movie was ranked at position no. 5 in the opening week in the United Kingdom.

Craze for Bollywood is not a new phenomena - for decades now, the Turks, Russians and Central Asians have been crazy about Awaara Hoon.

For once, I will say Bollywood dreamy song and dance teenybopper romances can be India's ambassadors abroad. These movies are doing good for India because they are not portraying India as a land of abject poverty and snake charmers - we are finally breaking out of that 'stereotype'. And as this industry matures, becomes organised and professional, it has the potential of becoming an international money spinner. And our diaspora can do their bit by promoting Indian movies abroad.

Food is another lethal weapon of soft power. Already, Indian curries have set British palates on fire and chicken tikka masala is now called United Kingdom's national dish - all this happened within 20-odd years. Even in places in Africa, India is synonymous with chapati!

The whites have a craze for spicy Indian fare, but Indian fare is generally expensive abroad, and is the preserve of the elite like the Clintons, dining at the Chhatwals'. We can certainly have something like Dominos clones growing out of India, dishing out standardised and affordable Indian fare on take-aways and delivery. Nirula's did try to do it a few years back (I guess in the late 80s) by opening stores in Muscat, but the experiment seems to have failed. Maybe its time for the likes of Nirula's to try growing abroad again. The easiest way for the Dominos clones to grow would be to encourage franchisees. Diaspora Indians would be the best to take up such franchises and promote them in their adopted homelands.

Indian mythology, heritage, culture and therapies (yoga) can also be leveraged by India to build its soft power. While it may be debatable, but Indian god-men (the likes of Osho and Maharishi Yogi) did their bit to promote Indian philosophy abroad. But the real magic will work when all major neighbourhoods in metropolises, the world over, have a yoga centre catering to the local population.

India needs to enhance its soft power, surely but rapidly, to command a share of the global citizen's mind. Military might and economic clout are necessary, but they attract fear and loathing. In such a context attaining soft power status will be a force multiplier in India's quest for attaining superpower status.

We have the right elements to concoct a soft power formula woven around our vibrant culture, fascinating film industry and immensely palatable and acceptable (exotic) cuisine. China had leveraged on its diaspora to multiply its economic success, but we are not far behind - we can use our Diaspora to propagate India's soft power.
All it calls for a vision for the next 50 years at the minimum and the willingness for the government to go the extra mile for our Diaspora.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cyber-wars for Pizza: It's no laughing matter....

Just a few moments back, I came across a news report on the internet, sourced from the Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, that seemed innocuous and laughable.
The report was about Turkish hackers stealing personal information of 100,000 Israeli citizens from Pizza Hut's Israeli website.
This incident sparked off a humour fest on Facebook, with quips. A guy called Stephen Phillips remarked "Because of the number of Turks owning fast food businesses the Turkish Government may want to deal with this, it's very harmful to their reputation and people will stop buying from any business that involves Turk management or food."
Another comment on Facebook, from Michael Pratt said "They are just jealous because the don't have any pizza there..."
J. Kriss White commented "Wondering what the Israeli hackers will target in retaliation..."
In all probability, this hacking would have been in retaliation for the Israeli attack on the Turkish flotilla headed for Gaza, but it exposed chinks in Israel's e-security armour. Haaretz assuaged fears and reported that their customers have little to fear as credit card details are not stored on the web server.
This incident reminded me of The Economist's recent cover story "Cyberwar: War in the fifth domain", which spoke of how the US planted a bug in a Canadian software controller for gas pipelines, which was stolen by the Soviets and installed for a gas pipeline in Siberia. The result was predictable - the pipeline blew off with an intensity matching that of an atomic explosion.
Cyber war is not a joke, It can cripple trade, finance and the monetary systems. Imagine what would happen if you woke up one morning to find that your bank account has a zero balance. Years of savings have been swindled, wiped off from the bank's system.
Worse, when you get to the bank to figure out what happened, you realise you are not alone, there are thousands who are affected by the e-breakin. All hell can be expected to break loose, undoubtedly rioting and social unrest will follow.
This scenario can play out going forward.
The Economist spoke of Iran claiming to have the largest "cyber army". We know China maintains it regiments, that have have routinely targeting Indian diplomatic, bureaucratic and economic interests.
But what is critical is for India to evolve an e-security policy, enact legislation to make e-security mandatory at economic installations and proactively target all those who could target us in the future.
Hacking of pizza data may be laughable, but it could be much more serious. Are we ready?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Symbolic Move?

The Rupee will never be the same again...

India has announced that it would give the Rupee a symbol on the lines of the Dollar ($), Euro (€), Yen (¥), Pound Sterling (£).

Sounds great.

We do need to differentiate our Rupee from the worthless currencies of our neighbourhood, primarily the Pakistani Rupee and the Nepalese Rupee, though the Sri Lankan Rupee does not have much to be spoken about either.

Indonesia and Maldives use a derived pronunciation of the Rupee as the names of their currencies.

Beyond the Indian subcontinent, Mauritius and Seychelles have also named their currencies as the Rupee.

As a superpower, the differentiation of the Indian Rupee was long overdue, especially from the similar-sounding clones floating around in our backyard and the symbol selected would come in handy.

The government and the newspapers now talk of our Rupee's new symbol catapulting us into the big league of the Dollar, Pound Sterling, Euro or the Yen.

But is a mere symbol going to do the magic? I doubt it.

I did a quick search on Wikipedia on currency symbols and came up with a long list of some 30-odd countries that have unique (and aesthetic) symbols of their currencies. The list includes Nigeria, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, etc. All these are countries which do not have much to be spoken about, as far as their currencies are concerned.

A symbol does not help. The Chinese Yuan's emergence as an international currency proves that. I am told Chinese Yuan travellers' cheques are now available in India. China did not need a symbol to get there, did it?

I feel it is a great symbol, a greater differentiator, a recognition of our ambitions, as a people, as a nation.

But for me India would have truly arrived when Indians would not need to convert Rupees to Dollars to travel abroad, when the Indian Rupee becomes the preferred currency of exchange globally, like the way the Dollar is today.

That is a realistic scenario, perhaps 20-30 years from now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Hundred Bhopals?

I knew this hullabaloo would die as fast as it was raked up.
Less than a month back, when the courts announced their verdict on the Bhopal gas tragedy, there was a great deal of public anger on what had (not) happened and why.
The media played a grand role in whipping up passions.
For nearly two weeks, all we heard were views and discussions on the matter ad nauseum. There were demands for extradition of Warren Anderson, the then head of Union Carbide in India, etc. etc.
It beats all logic to get Warren Anderson extradited. What punishment can a court mete out to a senile 90-year old? If at all a conviction is carried out, won't it be as bad as justice denied?
Another raging controversy is British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill threatens the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf, but did not claim thousand's of lives.
The Obama administration's response was swift and brutal.
British Petroleum has been forced to escrow USD 20 billion as a spill response fund to deal with the ecological disaster that adversely impacts the marine life and the fishing industry. The fallout could be fatal for British Petroleum - it has been forced to sell its oil fields in Alaska and itself could be bought out by Exxon-Mobil.
Compare this with the pittance of a compensation thrown out to the victims of the Bhopal tragedy.
Perhaps, the life of each fish or bird or shrimp in the Gulf of mexico is more valuable than that of each human victim in Bhopal.
Such is the irony.
Had a disaster of half the magnitude of Bhopal happened in China, the United States would have been forced to pay up.
The blame lies with our politicians of 1984 and those of today. Despite prolonged suffering of our people, Manmohan Singh did not do any tough talking with Obama on Bhopal.
Just today, there was a leakage of chlorine into the atmosphere in Sewri, Bombay. Over a hundred people had to be hospitalised.
How can hazardous industry be allowed to operate within municipal limits in a megapolis like Bombay. I know for a fact Delhi and Calcutta are no different.
Perhaps, a hundred Bhopals are waiting to happen and our government will again be caught napping.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Greek Tragedy!

I was shocked to read today's Wall Street Journal, which had an article on the defence spending of Greece.

The article said that Greece ranks fifth in the world in defence spending behind China, India, the UAE and South Korea (are we missing out the United States and Russia here?), is the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and has had the highest defence spending in Europe as a percentage of its GDP over the last few years.

The irony of it all is that the Hellenic defence had been dependent on Germany and Germany is executing orders for 6 submarines costing billions of dollars, but Germany has been extremely critical of Hellenic fiscal profligacy.

Why does Greece need so many weapons?

It has a small population of just 11 million (perhaps just two-thirds of Greater Bombay).

Unlike, India or South Korea, Greece has no real enemies perhaps with the sole exception of Turkey. Possibilities of a conflagration with Turkey are remote, as both are NATO members.

Greece is no where close to having superpower ambitions like China, nor does it have petrodollars like the UAE.

Can or rather will those weapons ever be used?

Does this have something to do with kickbacks usually associated with political-military-industrial nexuses that virtually exist in every country?

But this cost the Greeks a lot. Its a Greek tragedy indeed.....

Can Terror Limit Africa's Potential?

If India gave the world chicken tikka masala in the 1980s, South Africa has given the world, its Vuvuzelas in 2010.
South Africa's potential goes beyond the cultural influences like the Vuvuzela.
South Africa's potential has been showcased in the FIFA World Cup. Sceptics were livid at South Africa's bid, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela's charm and international goodwill saw it through, though governance and effective administration did play their parts well.
And if South Africa has done it, the rest of Africa will follow, in a few years.
Increasingly I am getting coinvinced that Africa is the future, the growth engine of the world after India and China.
I recall meeting a seasoned senior telecom executive who did remark that Africa is the direction Indian firms will be increasingly taking. Ten years back people would have laughed at that comment. But today, Africa is emerging as a preferred location, as has been reported about Bharti Airtel.
But the bombings in Kampala, Uganda prove that Africa is not immune to global and homegrown terror emanating from fundamentalist hotbeds like Sudan and Somalia.

Uganda, which has been an oasis of peace, so far, shining brightly as the pearl of Africa, was ravaged by a blast at an Ethiopian restaurant, while the World Cup final was on.
Will the potential of Africa be limited by the tentacles of Islamic terror, I hope not.
For a Ugandan by birth, I can only pray and wish for the very best for my motherland!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Oracles of Paul, the Octopus....

The oracles of Paul the octopus seem to be far, far more spicier than the games itself!

While some Germans fans are throbbing with anger directed at Paul the octopus, threatening to chop it up and cook it to meet the fate of any other octopus, I wonder if there really is anything psychic about Paul, or is it that chance has been on Paul's side far, in the so called "oracles".

It is worth investigating whether the hype surrounding Paul's oracles demoralised the German team, leading to its debacle in the World Cup. That should be an interesting assignment for any psychologist.

Now, it appears, Paul's oracles have competition.

Mani, the parakeet, from Singapore's Little India, will have its moment of fame tomorrow, when his predictions are put to a test.

But like any foodie, I would rather not worry about Paul's oracles. I would rather think about whether Paul would make for a delectable meal or not!!!!

Remembering 11/7 .....

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the train bombings in the city.

I missed the 11/7 bombings by a whisker. I was about to leave my office at Churchgate, at about 6PM that evening, when I had to get into an urgent call with a client. Just as I was getting into the call, I received a call from Delhi. Neeti's Dad enquired if all was well. And I alongwith my colleagues stayed on in office till 10PM, when I took a taxi (I was lucky to get one that night), picked up Neelima from her office and went to Abodh's place where Neeti had come down.

We stayed put in Abodh's place, only to move out at 1AM after the situation seemed settled.

Till now we do not have a clue who was behind the blasts, let alone booking the culprits to justice.

As life goes on, we move on one from one terror attack to another, month after month, year after year. The same story repeats itself all over again, in city after city - Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, etc.
Perhaps, the sole exception of a speedy investigation has been the 26/11 case, but it remains to be seen how long it takes for Kasab to hit the gallows. Our track record on that is pathetic too. Isn't it contempt of the Indian citizen that Afzal Guru is still alive, 4 years on after his sentence?

To me, even the fast pace of the 26/11 trial seems more like an exception, as the system was under immense pressure to act, for high profile establishments had been attacked, known personalities were caught in the crossfire.

Had 26/11 not happened at the Taj and the Trident-Oberoi, but only at CST, etc., Kasab may have gone scotfree.

Sad, but true.....

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Bandh Day

It's a bandh day today.
When I woke up at 7 in the morning today, I grabbed my Blackberry.
Through my half-closed eyelids, I saw a mail from a colleague advising caution - venturing out was supposedly not advisable.
Was it so bad, I thought. I walked down to the window and saw the New Link Road absolutely empty - no cars, taxis, auto or BEST buses, which is very odd. The streets looked as though some cataclysmic event had struck my city. That reminded me of the two days after 26/11.
Now I too was a bit apprehensive about venturing out.
But at the same time, I was happy at the prospect of grabbing a few extra winks, I dozed off again for two hours.
True, the fuel price hike is a major issue. But so is inflation that has persistently dogged our economy for the last 2 years.
If I feel the pinch of my grocery bills doubling in the last 2 years, people below the poverty line must be having a harrowing time.
Which political party has really taken up the cause of food inflation? No one really. The BJP and the Left really did not give it the attention that it deserved and the government got scot free.
But I wonder what purpose does a bandh serve?
I wonder what a taxi driver, who is on the fringes of the poverty line, would gain from a bandh? Will it solve his problem of inflation? No. Instead he is deprived of potential earnings.
I wonder if the sponsors of the bandh ever gave this a thought.
It's absolutely senseless shutting down a megapolis like Bombay. Bringing the economy to a grinding halt for a day would solve all the ills, I wonder?
Sad, but it's true, the propaganda by all our politicians is bullshit. The bandh would just give them a few minutes in the limelight, keeping their hopes alive for the next election.
But there are things for which bandh has no effect. As Neeti's status message said today, "Thank God, the rains are not on strike!!!"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hoping on the Fourth of July!!!!

Today is the Fourth of July, the day when America celebrates its independence day!
This was the day the hope for the modern world was born, way back in 1776 - hope that self-determination is achievable, hope that colonial hegemony cannot survive for long.
As the CNN talks about the Fourth of July weekend being celebrated in America today, I am reminded of the book on American history that inspired me a great deal - the struggle that culminated in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the ideals of the founding fathers, the principles upheld during the American civil war, the territorial expansion of the fledgling country of 13 states to the acquisition of Louisiana from France and Alaska from Russia to expansion to California and Hawaii, which resulted in the 50 states that we know of today, the spirit of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, etc. etc.

All these were the very concepts and ideals that catapulted America to a leadership position on the world centerstage, taking over from imperialistic Europe.
America achieved a great deal within 250 years of its existence, something that took Britain over 600 years to achieve and lose it all. In fact such had been the decay of Britain's power that a few years back, Tony Blair was once called Clinton's poodle.
But in the last 2-3 years, America seems to have undermined its own cause to such an extent that it is quite probable that would end up as China's poodle in the next few years. Already America lives on Chinese debt and the Chinese dictate terms to the America.
Obama promised to be a breath of fresh air, but we can now smell is bad breath all around. This regime has been marked by failures of policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration has developed a reputation for sucking up to oppressive regimes in the Middle East, Burma, Iran and North Korea, while ignoring strategic partnerships with Israel and India.
Columnists in various publications - the world over, in India, Israel and America as well - the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have often lamented the lack of vision.
So, on this Fourth of July, I can only hope that America gets its act together for a second run on the world stage, recognising its strengths and partnerships and by not canoodling with rogues of this world!!!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is Bombay the next Calcutta?

As a kid, growing up in a small town in Haryana, Bombay, for me, as it was known then, was our equivalent of the Big Apple, with a fast paced life, glitz, glamour and money.

Somehow that romantic notion of the city lived on in my mind for years, as I grew up and moved from school to college and to my career.

I shifted to this city, in its new avataar, Mumbai, in 2004 and my friend, Abodh, made a profound statement "This city is like a sponge with an amazing capacity to absorb".

Historically, yes my friend's statement was true. The city was India's true melting pot, absorbing influences from all over the globe - whites, Armenians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, Iranians, Arabs, etc. The city was the best in India in terms of infrastructure, discipline and orderliness.

But in the last 6 years, I have seen the city bursting to its seams and its systems crumbling rapidly.

And today we woke up to the news that the Terminal 3 (T3), at Delhi's airport, is being inaugurated today by the Prime Minister. The T3 promises to be among the finest in the world, in the top league with Changi, Chep Lap Kok, Incheon and Dubai. On July 14, 2010, when the first flight, Air-India AI 102 from New York, docks up at an aerobridge at T3 at 1645IST, there promises to be a whole new "India" for our visitors from abroad to experience (first impressions, at least!).

But my city struggled in vain to get the squatters removed from the CSIA airport land for expanding, building a parallel runway to expand capacity, as against the present situation of two intersecting runways limiting traffic. It became a big political issue and high commands played spoilsport.

The situation at CSIA is abysmal today. The civil aviation minister has just warned that they would not be in a position to approve additional flights into CSIA. As if that bad news was not enough Air-India has announced it would be shifting its operational hub from CSIA to Delhi, which will be a major blow for CSIA and the city.

A new airport was proposed at Navi Mumbai. But we now hear that it's run into a red signal put up by Jairam Ramesh on environmental grounds. Haven't aiports internationally been built on reclaimed land, close to mangroves? Were planners at Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Hong Kong (Chep Lap Kok) and Osaka-Kansai fools to let that happen?

I am partial to aviation, which explains that long spiel.

But the situation is no different on other fronts. The suburban trains are choked. One wonders when the east-west connectivity will see light of the day. The Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro line is nowhere near completion. The Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road is not yet fully complete, so is the Santa Cruz Chembur Link. Grandiose plans for the Western Freeway hinge on the completion of a series of sealinks, which perhaps only my grandchildren will see 50 years from now. The Western Express Highway does not look like a highway at all, instead looks like some very often bombed street in Kabul, with potholes big enough to take in a Nano. The list of woes can go on and on.

I am now, seriously having doubts about this city retaining its numero-uno position as India's commercial capital.

People here often crib that Delhi gets all undue attention from the Union Government. If that's an unfair comparison with Delhi, let's take Hyderabad's example. The state government there positioned Hyderabad as a destination and put all its might behind infrastructure projects, a policy which had been followed by all governments till the Telangana issue hit them hard last year.

Sadly, the state government in Maharashtra been napping all these years.

If this goes on, my city of dreams will certainly go the Calcutta way, into decay, only to be lost in the sands of time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Be Proactive....

On the way to office this morning, had 107.1 Rainbow FM (it is Thursday afterall) on in my car and RJ Keisha again, true to her peppy style, narrated an interesting story that showed how being proactive can have very some pleasant and rather unexpected outcomes in life.
That story was about a little boy who worked at a bicycle repair shop. One day a person came to the shop to get his bicycle repaired. The bicycle was old, in need of repair and quite dirty.
The little boy not only repaired the bicycle but also cleaned the bicycle such that it looked spanking new.
The other workers were surprised on the extra work, of cleaning, that the little boy was doing and laughed at him.
When the owner came to collect the bicycle, he was so delighted to see his bicycle looking as good as new that the he offered the little boy a well paying job.
The moral of the story is that to achieve something in life, one has to walk that extra mile, take that one initiative and be proactive. On the other hand, if one doesn’t take initiative, one may be left behind and lose out.
Little initiatives taken each day can add up to great big something, someday, that perhaps we can’t even imagine today.
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