April 22, 2009
March 26, 2009
March 5, 2009
1 Film maker
4 Social Workers
25 Persons in Public Life
It is indeed amazing that a country of such immensly talented people, many of whom have contributed so significantly to improving the quality of life of the populace has found only 41 people, of which a majority were politicians, worthy of it’s top civilian honour in almost 55 years. It works out to less than one per year and one per 60 million Indian people who have claimed Indian citizenship since independence.
February 24, 2009
The whole country rejoiced in the stupendous success of the Danny Boyle directed story of Jamal Malik, (played by Dev Patel, an NRI actor settled in England) the slum dweller who strikes it big in a game show to change the course of his life, ignoring the temptations to take a short cut to wealth and a better life by choosing a path of crime that his brother Salim, played by Madhur Mittal, another promising young actor, chooses. That he manges to win over his girl Latika, played by another little known Bombay girl, Frieda Pinto, is what holds the audience spell bound. In this wonderful tale you want the good guy to win all through. It is as if the elements and God himself conspire to make him succesful. It is this wonderfully simple message that has had the global film audiences enthralled.
But one pauses to ask, was it a victory of Bombay Film Industry in anyway ? I dare to say ‘NO’. If at all it was a victory of good cinema over the usual mediocre stuff that the Hindi (rather Indian) film Industry churns out week after week, year after year. It was a thumbs up sign to those who want to achieve excellence in every aspect irrespective of whether or not anyone notices.
I am reminded of the story of a sculptor who was working on a statue in ancient Greece. An observer saw that there was an identical statue lying nearby and asked him why he had made two identical statues. He said he needs only one but had to make the second one since he had accidently chipped the nose of the first one. The observer asked where it was going to be installed and the sculptor replied ‘on top of that pillar’ pointing to a pillar about 5 meters high. ‘At that hieght who would know that the nose is chipped’ said the observer. The sculptor replied ‘I would know’.
The pursuit of excellence is what earns laurels and increasingly commercial success too since audiences have become so discerning that anything that is irrational, illogical and shoddily produced doesn’t last beyond the first two days at best in this age of instant nirvana with such rapid dissemination of information. A movie or a book might as well be dead by the first Sunday after release if it is shoddy. Those who have realized it and make the effort continue to rake it in while those who think they are smarter than the audiences and can take a short cut to fame and fortune are seen sobbing hysterically when it is all over and the audiences abandon their movies on day 2 if not on day 1 itself.
Rehman epitomises excellence in ones work, treating his work as worship. It is his humility that people talk about. His humble beginning and his ability to stay grounded even after achieving such magnificient height of success is what gets written about. His quality of film music is something that has become a kind of hallmark for film music in the last fifteen years or so that he has been on the horizon. Who can forget his excellently composed numbers be it from ‘Roja’ or ‘Bombay’ or ‘Dil Se’ or ‘Lagan’ or ‘Rangeela’ or ‘Swades’ or ‘Rang de Basanti’. Who can forget his rendition of ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘Maa Tujhe Salam’.
Even his signature tune for ‘Airtel’, India’s leading telecom company, is testimony to his musical genius. I am sure many artistes would willing trade a lifetime of ordinary work to author a composition such as the Airtel signature jingle.
Every Indian, from all walks of life be it films, music, politics, sport or public life are gushing, tryng to place on record their feelings for the genius that is A R Rehman. In this moment of glory one needs to pause and ask, Where were Sukhwinder Singh, who sang Jai Ho in the movie and was slated to perform live at the Oscar awards ceremony and Gulzar, who wrote those excellent words that captured the minds of the global audiences, ‘Aaja aaja dil ke shamiyane ke tale, aaja zariwale neele aasmane ke tale, ‘Jai Ho’?? I hope the allegations that are flying thick in the Indian media about A R Rehman sabotaging their visits are untrue because I wouldn’t want to see my Idol with feet of clay.
A R Rehman has produced such great compositions at such a young age, he is only 43, that one can selfishly wish that he lives for a hundred years to enthrall us for our remaining days on this earth.
February 14, 2009
The media threw caution to the winds and made no provision for preserving the sanctity of the dead and went about the whole sordid saga without any concern for the basic tenet of jurisprudence ‘innocent till proved guilty’. They had already made up their collective minds about Pandher and Koli’s guilt. All sorts of legal experts and former police officials were brought in to sentence the guilty without the police, and later the CBI, having even filed the charge sheets. If the media had had their way Pandher and Koli would have been dead and buried a long time ago.
Ms. Rama Jain, the special CBI judge in Ghaziabad sentenced both Pandher and Koli to death in a landmark judgment announced yesterday. That the CBI had not even sought death for Pandher since he was not even in India at the time when the victim, Rimpa Halder was killed did not stop Ms. Jain in handing out the sentence. The CBI had ample evidence of Pandher’s philandering and debauchery but none whatsoever of his involvement in either the killing or the concealment and destruction of evidence.
February 10, 2009
The ball was set rolling when Dr Chawla sent the invitation in early January. Since I did not wish to be alone in such a gathering, I went about the pleasurable ordeal of re-connecting with all old batchmates, spread across the globe. I came to know that Rahul Sharma & Resham Singh had died in the interregnum. Of the twentyone alive, I was in touch with only one, RVS Minhas who happens to live close by in New Delhi. I had no clue about the others. However to my pleasant surprise it just took a few long distance calls, a few searches on Orkut, Facebook and LinkedIn, help from some really nice people in some company offices and some emails to re-establish the network.
A chance encounter with Somnath Walia while strolling in Connaught Place one lazy afternoon in January 2009 led to Rajinder Bhandari and Rakesh Singla, who in turn led me to Ms Sadhna Saini (now Sood) and Sanjiv Sachdev, who mentioned that Jagdish Chandra Sodhi was in JCT, Phagwara and Hazari Lal Singla till 2002 was with Fujitsu which led to another round of emails and telephone calls ending with success in locating JCS & HLS. A lucky break led me to Rajendra Prasad Pandove (Pikka), the younger brother of BCCI and Punjab Cricket boss M P Pandove. Pikka by chance mentioned that Iqbal Singh was in PRTC till a few years ago. This prompted another series of telephone calls and web searches culminating in Bhatinda where Iqbal is curently located.
LinkedIn opened the gates to Gurcharan Singh Woodwal, now a solicitor in Canada and Rakesh Chawla, now in the US, who offered me Harinder Singh Sahota’s contact details. “Red Skeleton”, the decades old tailoring shop in Patiala provided Rajinder Singh Nagi’s whereabouts in New Jersey, US where he owns convenience stores. A lead from Rajinder Bhandari about Narinder Kumar Saini led to another chain of telephone calls to Vikram Cements offices in Neemuch (MP), Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurgaon and Bhatinda but with no trace of NK. However seeing my enthusiasm Bhandari deputed someone to go to Balachaur, NK’s village and obtain his contact details.
Iqbal mentioned that Kulwant Singh was last in Jalandhar with the Punjab Co-operative Department and Suresh Kumar Agarwal in Haryana Financial Corporation, Chandigarh. From there it took was some persuasiveness on the telephone to contact Kulwant and Suresh. It’s a wonder that they manage without an email ID in these days and Suresh doesn’t even need a cell phone. It must rank as the eighth wonder of the world.
A visit by Deen Dayalji, a good friend to R-9, Rajouri Garden, the one-time residence of Rajesh Sethi in Delhi led to his brother and then to Rajesh’s wife, Bindu who provided Sethi’s contact details in Thailand. About Harjinder Singh Goodwal I always knew he was from Jagson Paul Pharma, the makers of the famous ointment ‘Ringcutter’. A search on the internet yielded their office address in Hauz Khas, which led to their new office in Okhla where a telephone operator told me he had left ages ago and joined AIMIL Pharma in Gurgaon. Another web search and telephone call ensued. The guys at this place told me he had quit ages ago and started business but gave me his number. This led to an extremely surprised Harjinder on the phone when I called. He is at present recuperating from major surgery.
When I called up all these guys they were surely surprised but I am sure they were as glad to re-connect as I was. Regrettably no amount of research so far has yielded any information on Amrik Singh, the tall and lanky beared boxer, who I gather is settled in Canada. I haven’t stopped trying though. NK has assured me that he would help locate Amrik.
The journey to Patiala with RVS Minhas on the wheel on the beautifully laid out National Highway took around five hours on Saturday morning, but the mind had already raced back three decades to that day when I first landed at the university gate with my bags in tow. The neighbourhood of the university, be it Bahadurgarh, where one used to go to fetch the occasional bottle of booze for some celebration or the other or the tea shop at the main gate brought back many memories of those youthful days of recklessness.
The venue, ‘Kala Bhawan’ is a new addition to the campus. Tea and sandwiches started as soon as we arrived, on dot, at the appointed hour of 10:30 AM. Seeing RVS Minhas, Somnath Walia (with wife Sangeeta), Rakesh Singla, Rajinder Bhandari, RP Pandove, JC Sodhi, Iqbal Singh and HL Singla after ages was really heart-warming.
The function which started around 11:30 was an energetic song and dance affair with a large number of boys and girls chipping in with their efforts to welcome us all. What pleased us all was that the present batch strength of 140 has almost an equal number of boys and girls, a situation far removed from our times when a group of twenty three had only one girl student in Sadhna. Was it any surprise then, that we were always chasing after the girls from the English Department?
Lunch had to be in the town since alcohol can not be served on the campus. But in any case who was interested in eating. Guys just want to soak it in. So ‘100 Pipers’ played along as we went on this delightful journey back in time. Iqbal still can't resist singing if there is an opportunity and he enthralled us all with his excellent Punjabi Sufi renditions.
Meeting Dr B S Bhatia, Prof U C Singh, Dr R K Sehgal and Dr S K Bansal brought a torrent of fond memories and a few eyes were left moist. We also came to know of Dr P K Kapoor and Prof K C Singhal’s passing away in the intervening period. We reluctantly departed from there around 6:00 PM after assuring Dr Arvinder Chawla that we would return to our alma mater as and when called.
The party however carried on at the Punjab State Electricity Board’s VIP Guest House in Power Colony in Patiala which was arranged by Pikka, who is the PSEB's PR Boss. This was only for the 1979 batch. The day finally got over at around midnight. HL Singla’s wife Saroj, his daughter Rashi and Pikka’s wife Sangeeta joined us for breakfast on Sunday. After a liesurely round of stuffed paranthas and endless cups of steaming hot tea, we went over to Pikka’s house to meet his lovely children. It was my pleasure to get to meet Divya, Tanya and Akul. The family photograph of the Pandove family in their front lawn on that sunny Sunday afternoon shall continue to remind me of our re-union at Patiala for the rest of my life.
February 2, 2009
The film is stark and holds a mirror to the reality of life in the slums. Its theme is provocatively violent though there is very little violence actually shown. It is full of police brutality, entrapment of slum kids for prostitution and organized beggary, roadside gambling, illicit liquor trade, communal flare-ups, hoodwinking of foreign tourists and various assorted petty crimes. It actually shows the filthy underbelly of Mumbai but it could well be any other big Indian city.
The multiplicity of experiences that Jamal goes through in life before he plots his way in to a game show as a participant prepare him well for winning a large sum in the game. However at the end of the day one when the show gets over, Jamal is ahead by ten million rupees but decides to ride his luck. Sensing that something is out-of-place, Anil Kapoor, playing the game show host gets Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Mishra, playing cops, to check him out. They resort to the usual brutal police methods to make him confess to cheating at the game. That is when he narrates the story of his life.
There may be nothing new in the story per se, but the treatment and the presentation are something one was totally unprepared for. Boyle has done well in taking unknown actors since any big star in the key roles would have glamorized and thus reduced the impact of ‘Slumdog’.
Amitabh Bachhan writing in his blog raised questions about the poor depiction of India in such films and about the morality and necessity of hawking poverty in Mumbai slums. While there may be some merit in what he says, one must not forget that film-making is essentially about story-telling. If you feel you have a good story that you think will provoke all right-thinking people in to action in some way, you should just go ahead and tell the story as you visualize it. Film is essentially a director’s medium.
Yes, it is true that the movie at times is too crass, like the 1973 scene where Amitabh Bachhan, the movie star’s helicopter is about to land and Jamal, who is an ardent devotee of the star, is locked inside a crude ramshackle toilet on the fringes of Mumbai airport. To escape from the imprisonment and to meet his idol, Jamal jumps out of the toilet, landing in a heap of sh*t. Then in that sh*t-laden condition he runs to greet the star and take his autograph. That scene should have been done a bit more aesthetically. Again that is my perception and I guess the director is free to present it as per the demands of the script or as he sees it.
However the highlight of the film would have to be the scene in which the older brother, Salim, who has become a gangster, forces Latika, whom Jamal, who has joined a call center as a chai-wallah (a tea boy), manages to locate after an extensive search, to sleep with him. It is an extremely touching scene where the sheer helplessness and rage of Jamal comes through as does his extreme affection for ‘Latika’. That he yearns to ‘protect’ her rather than ‘have’ her like ‘Salim’ is what distinguishes the two characters.
Danny Boyle has churned out an engrossing ‘masala hindi movie’ where the characters happen to speak in the English language. One only wishes the language was a little less profane, but such transgression is permissible, given that this is about the underbelly and no one from a Mumbai slum can be expected to have gone to a finishing school and speak the Queen's English.
Whether it deserves to win ten Oscar nominations is likely to be debated for long. It would, in all probability, end up winning three, may be four Oscars. The Bombay film industry ardently hopes that list would include an Oscar for our very own A.R.Rehman or at the very least Gulzar Sahib, for their excellent work in the song that comes at curtain call, ‘Jai Ho!’
That ‘Jamal’ ultimately manages to win twenty million rupees and gets his girl is what appeals to a large majority of the viewers. It is this fairy-tale ending that inspires euphoria.
January 28, 2009
It now appears that way back in 2002, an Income Tax investigation had unraveled a can of worms. A large scale evasion of Income Tax, many incidents of Insider Trading and related matters came to light but the enterprising income tax official was transferred and the files buried.
After the change of governments at the centre and the state of Andhra Pradesh, one would have thought that the new regimes, in the centre and in Andhra Pradesh, would go hammer and tongs after Mr.Raju, till then considered a protege of Mr.Chandra Babu Naidu, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and an important partner of the NDA government at the centre. However as no such thing happened, it would be fair to assume that either the new regimes are incompetent or that Mr.Raju has managed to win new friends. We all know what is most likely to have happened.
Single-handedly, this man has jeopardised the careers of nearly 53,000 young men and women. He has nearly undone what nearly two decades of economic liberalisation had achieved for India Inc.'s image. After so many decades of the brain drain taking away our talent to pursue their dreams abroad, our young computer software writers and engineering talent had brought the entire western world to virtual dependence on our IT services. The west needed our low-cost IT services to stay viable and India benefitted because of the higher earnings of it's youth. This helped both India and the west.
But Mr.Raju's acts of ommission and commission at SCSL would have created some doubt about our ability to prevent recurrence of such scams. The TV footage of Mr.Raju donning a business suit travelling to the courts in his Mercedes car gives the impression that he is proceeding for a business meeting. If we do not act decisively and fast we might create an impression that political affiliations matter more to us than national economic interest.
It is obvious that Mr. Rama Linga Raju was not alone in this devious and long-duration scam. I pray and hope that good sense prevails upon our politicos and any effort at saving Mr. Raju are abandoned and all those who are guilty are punished forthwith.
January 24, 2009
He not only diverted funds from the reserves of the company to satisfy his unending appetite for land, he also created around 13,000 fictitious employee records to inflate the salary bill and siphon out money. Though the Satyam bankers have denied opening any bank accounts for these fictitious employees, it remains to be investigated how this money was transferred out of Satyam’s bank accounts. If any complicity by anyone at HDFC Bank, one of Satyam’s bankers is even suggested, Mr. Deepak Parekh should step down immediately from the Government appointed Satyam board chairmanship.
It is therefore no surprise that the net profit margins (NPM) of Satyam were lower than the top four IT companies for all these years. The balance sheets of Satyam over the last seven years show the NPM averaging at around 20% against the top four companies average of 28-30%. Which means by overcharging salaries he depressed the gross profit margins (GPM) and thus the NPM of Satyam.
In effect he also understated the Earnings per share (EPS), which led to a greatly reduced market value for the Satyam stock. He caused massive erosion in the daily trade turnover, which also caused a great revenue loss for the exchequer.
When cornered he admitted that he had overstated the GPM due to competitive pressures and that the actual GPM was much lower. What he wanted us to believe was that the profits were non-existent and never accrued to Satyam while the truth it appears is that the profits were real, the expenses were not and thus Raju was not merely guilty of window dressing the Satyam book of accounts. He was responsible for large scale swindling of investor wealth.
The question uppermost in the mind of a common man would be “Who guards the stake of a small investor whether investing through the primary or the secondary market or through the Mutual Fund route?”
Similarly the State needs to ask itself “Who ensures that the State gets its rightful dues in Income Tax, VAT, Security Trading Tax and so on?”
Obviously sharks like Raju are lurking to steal and swindle. What are the ‘Eyes and ears of the investors’ like SEBI doing? Just pinning the blame on Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), the Satyam auditors and sitting smug is not going to be enough. PWC are global players with more than two hundred years of experience and know well how to play this game of ‘passing the buck’. They would have reams of fine print in their agreement with Satyam to save their skins.
The games must stop. The law should be allowed to take its course and Raju tried in a fast track court. If convicted he should be made to pay dearly. All his assets must be taken away and he should be forced to lead the life of an ordinary man once again.
If he is all that smart, let him start Chapter II of his life or better still Satyam II, if anyone would lend him a dime for business.
January 16, 2009
No one seems to have an answer to my next query. If the choice is so simple then how is it that the entire length of roads is not so bad and only patches are rotten? And why are the roads in and around the city center viz. Connaught Place, India Gate, Parliament House and Jan Path so much better? Obviously these places are at a much greater distance from the hot mix plants, which are located outside town.
We as a nation have convinced ourselves that our politicians are superior beings and deserve the best that modern technology offers. The lesser mortals can simply go to hell. We have come to believe collectively that these suckers, who have no choice but to have their incomes taxed at source and very little chance to evade taxes, have no right to drive on good roads. The politicians most of whom are accused of rioting, looting, arson, many times rape and even murder have a birth right to good roads so that their imported luxury SUVs and latest brands of highly prized sedans can take them to state assemblies and to Parliament in total comfort.
Till this set of notions change we are doomed to drive lousily built Indian cars on lousy roads. When the cars break down we are doomed to shoddy service at ill-equipped workshops and have ourselves cheated by some manufacturer of spurious motor parts, who has even forgotten when he last paid any VAT or income tax but lives in a beautiful mansion in a swish South Delhi neighborhood which would obviously have much better roads.
Our people have to understand that Quality is not an accident. It is an outcome of sincere and hard work over long period of time. It is something you achieve when you tell yourself that I have paid the price so I am entitled to what I seek. I am not going to settle for anything that is second best. It is only when a vast majority of Indians cultivate this kind of value system that the ‘Made in India’ label would become a hallmark of quality. It s only then that the 14 km. Ride to my office would be a smooth and comfortable one.
January 3, 2009
Delhi had an unusually warm December with average temperatures remaining 4-5 degrees celsius warmer than normal. The weather office stated yesterday that December 2008 was the warmest since 1953. Well it took them 33 days to know what the average Delhite already knew well in advance. I guess they must have been sifting through old tattered and moth-eaten registers to know for sure that it was 1953 and not 1853.
The weather gods in the last few days are trying to make amends and since the dawn of this new year the average temperatures are about 3-5 degrees celsius cooler than normal for January. Yesterday night the minimum was 3 degrees and today morning was around 8 degrees celsius. The thick fog that engulfs the whole city makes the experience almost poetically romantic. A brisk walk in the morning (with not more than 20 of the 200 or so regulars in our park) leaves one totally energised and ready to face the day.
One is beginning to enjoy the biting cold. I guess Delhites would now get an excuse to gorge on the winter goodies like 'Gajar ka halwa', 'Gulabjamuns', 'Makki ki roti and sarson ka saag', 'Gachak', 'Moongphali', 'Bhugga' and many other delicacies which our sweetmeat shops have meticulously crafted to shift the focus from the cold.
In case any one reading this piece is familiar with such weather related goodies please offer your inputs and enrich me.