April 22, 2009

The Snakeman is an avid photographer too !!

I have in this blog written about my chance encounter with Capt. Suresh Sharma and how I ended up befriending this avid nature enthusiast and keen photographer. I keep recieving by email On a regular basis, his latest photographs on subjects that are close to his heart. I save all his images and admire them from time to time at liesure, often wishing these images were mine. I am putting up selected images of the captain so that more and more people can be exposed to this great adventurer.

His full work can be seen on flickr.com and you can know more about him from his websites :
All images here are courtesy Capt Suresh Sharma and all copyrights are his.

March 26, 2009

Wake Up, India !!!

A famous tea company in India is currently running a TV advertising campaign called 'Jaago Re' (lit. Hey, wake up). It talks about how the average citizen needs to wake up to his responsibility in electing good candidates as the peoples representatives to the 15th Lok Sabha (House of commons in the Indian Parliament), elections for which would be held in a phased manner in April-May 2009. The results are expected to be announced on 16th May 2009 and the new house constituted thereafter.

We have been witnessing a steady decline in the standard of our members of parliament over the past two decades or so. In the early years of our Independence, we had the leaders from the freedom struggle who had dreamt of India’s independence and strived hard so that our country could take its rightful place in the commity of nations. They worked tirelessly to achieve economic milestones as well as in the development of its people.

Once the post-independence generation came to occupy these positions, they realised that being a member of parliament gave them an opportunity to make millions from public money by distributing a part of these gains to an ever-ready bureaucracy. So the politician-bureacrat-contractor clique came to rule but atleast they had a modicum of respectability about them since whatever they did was behind closed doors and their public face was one of respectability and they continued to pay lip services to the slogan ‘Garibi Hatao’ (eradicate poverty).

But after 1985 or so, after the politicians had divided the electorate, first in the name of religion and thereafter in the name of caste, the candidate’s ability to win elections became the guiding principal while shortlisting candidates. Muscle-power became vital since stakes were large. So all sorts of mafia dons, smugglers, history sheeters, murder accused and convicted felons became the new darlings of the politicians. Some of them were in jails and running their rackets from there, be it extortion, abductions, smuggling, gambling or plain racketeering in government contracts. The scale of financial inducements offerred and a free flow of countrymade liquor have become the hallmarks of Indian Parliamentary elections of late since these are the only currencies available with the ganster-politician. Debate and discourse have long vanished from the electoral landscape.

We seem to be heading into an abyss of mayhem and anarchy. The frankenstein of gangster-turned-politician is about to gobble at the vitals of Indian Parliamentary Democracy. It is about time we wake up and vote with an eye on the future of the country and not get swayed by caste, religion or vote out of fear or inducement. I sincerely hope we wake up in time and bring about a revolution and Indian democracy is reborn.So my countrymen, wake up and vote sensibly with an eye on the future on the country, since that alone will secure your and your child’s future.

Jaago Re !!!

March 5, 2009

Bharat Ratna (Gem of India)

It was in 1954 that civilian honours were first instituted in India. Since then only 41 eminent Indians have been bestowed India’s top hounour “The Bharat Ratna” (lit. The Gem of India). These awards have been in the following categories:

1 Academecian
1 Economist
1 Film maker
1 Industrialist
3 Scientists
4 Social Workers
5 Musicians
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.

Of these 41, 21 were awarded in the first 34 years of the institution of awards while 20 got the honour in the last 20 years. Of 25 from Public Life, a euphemism for politicians, 14 won the honour in their lifetime and 11 received it posthumously. Surprisingly in the last 20 years only 2 people managed the honour while alive and 9 were awarded posthumously. Obviously hectic political lobbying has been responsible for the posthumous awards. Imagine a person of the eminence of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad getting the award 34 years after he died, Sardar Patel being recognised 41 years after passing away and the famous Assamese leader lokpriya Gopi Nath Bordoloi being conferred the award nearly five decades after his death.

The amazement is further compounded when one considers the situation amongst non-politicians. Of the total of 16 awards in this group, 14 were given in the awardees lifetime and only two were posthumous awards viz; Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Satyajit Ray. Obviously the non-politician class who have very little lobbying skills while alive have no one to canvass support for them when they are no more. In nearly six decades since independence only one Industrialist, J R D Tata has been conferred the award. This in a country where large industry was seen as ‘Temples of modern India’.

It is indeed a pity that we can not find enough talented people to confer the nation’s awards outside of the political class. Are we as a nation bereft of talent ? I believe nothing could be further from the truth. What we lack is the ability to applaud, cherish and honour those who contribute to enhancing human life in any manner be it through their espousal of Social causes, by making good Films, pleasing our senses with their Art & Craft, Music, contributing to advancement of Science and Technology, creating Industry that makes affordable products and provides large scale employment or any other field of human endeavour.

This trait is visble in every walk of life. We are so poor at applauding our winners that even when someone wins a lifetime achievement award the applause dies down in a little while. In the western world that most of us tend to cite as a point of reference, the applause would last a great deal longer and get manifest in myriad other ways in day-to-day living. The awardees would be recognized on sight and accorded simple courtesies by the ordinary people while they go about their life and work. I donot know why in public places we shy away from acknowledging great personalities and reaching out to shake their hand and greet them to let them know that we care.

Many extremely popular and eminent personalities do not figure amongst the list of winners, notable amongst them Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Lokmanya Tilak and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. In the area of non-politicians the ommissions include people like the eminent environmentalist Sunder Lal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar, the world reknowned doctors like Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, Naresh Trehan, P K Sethi, Devi Shetty, R K Jain, S Ranawat and K K Venugopal, Scientists like J C Bose, spiritual gurus like Sadhu Vaswani and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Industrilaists like Ratan Tata, Narayan Moorthy, Ghanshyam Das Birla, Aditya Vikram Birla, Rahul Bajaj, Dhirubhai Ambani and Baba Kalyani, Media barons like Pranoy Roy and Khushwant Singh, Film personalities like Ashok Kumar, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Gulzar.

Sampooran Singh Kalra or Gulzar as he is better known is a multi talented personality. From humble beginnings he has scaled dizzying heights that others can barely dream of. In a career spanning over four decades as writer, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, short story writer, lyricist, director of both film and television he has provided soulful lyrics to 96 feature films including evergreen hits like Mora gora ang laile, Do deewane shahr mein, Yaara silli silli, Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi and Aanewala pal jaanewala hai, directed 21 skillfully crafted masterpiece films like Machis, Mere Apne, Mausam, Meera, Aandhi, Khushboo, Koshish, Parichay and Lekin, produced such wonderful TV series like Jungle Book and Potli baba ki, partnered with stalwarts to produce music albums like Marasim with Jagjit Singh, Main aur mera saaya with Bhupen Hazarika, Vaada with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Visaal with Ghulam Ali and Dil padosi hai with R D Burman and Asha Bhosle. This wordsmith beyond compare is going strong at 72 and I am sure has many more aces up his sleeve.

Gulzar has already bagged all the honours that this nation had to offer any creative genius in films : 20 Fimfare Awards including Best Lyricist(11), Best director(1), Best dialogue(4) Best story(1),Best documentary(1), Critics award for best film(1) and a Lifetime achievement award in 2002, 5 National Awards for Best Lyrics(2), Best screenplay(1), Best Direction(1) and Best popular film providing wholesome entertainment(1), The Sahitya Academy Award and The Padma Bhushan besides hundreds of honours bestowed by a nation of grateful moviegoers. The one honour that had continuosly been denied to the Mumbai film world, The Oscar by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was brought home by Gulzar in collaboration with A R Rehman for the song “Jai Ho” which has become a kind of anthem for the achievers from humble origins.

Why the government does not consider Gulzar for the award of Bharat Ratna baffles all his admirers.

February 24, 2009

From Slumdogs to Supergods

The 81st Oscar Awards presentations yesterday ensured that all film enthusiasts woke up early and spent nearly five hours glued to their TVs. Indians had a special reason to rise early since it was for the first time that fellow countrymen were nominated in such a manner, all for one film ‘Slumdog millionaire’, A R Rehman for ‘Best original score’, A R Rehman for ‘Best lyrics’ for ‘O Saya’, A R Rehman and Gulzar for ‘Best lyrics for ‘Jai Ho’, and Resul Pookutty for ‘Best Sound Mixing’.

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.

image courtesy ; Mark J. Terrill / AP

February 14, 2009

Judicial overreach

The infamous Nithari killings of 2005-2006, in which Moninder Singh Pandher, a Noida businessman and his servant Surender Koli, were accused of raping and brutally murdering 19 young slum children, dismembering their corpses and disposing off the body parts in the sewage drain close by, rocked the whole nation. Surender Koli was further accused of Necrophilia (making love to corpses) and Necrophagia (eating corpses). The whole country was left speechless as gory details emerged in what can only be termed as ‘media frenzy’ at best and ‘trial by media’ at worst.

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.

What Ms. Jain said in her pronouncement about the ‘stench of a slaughter house’ pervading the Pandher residence being palpable a mile away to which ‘Pandher could not have been oblivious’ Is not enough to term this case ‘the rarest of rare’ to hand down a death sentence. By the same logic all residents of adjoining houses were guilty of the crime for which Ms. Jain handed a death sentence to Pandher. The stench did not provoke anyone to file a police complaint for over 18 months when the crimes were said to have been committed. Ms. Jain forgot that no one can be held to account for the criminal acts of another adult.

I feel this is a case of judicial over-reach and the sentence would be overturned by the Allahabad High Court in case of Pandher. He may be guilty of many other crimes but none so serious as to hang him. Pandher’s son Karandeep said that the matter of Pandher’s debauchery was between Pandher and his wife and even he would not like to comment on that. I think he had a point there.

Philandering or engaging in sexual acts with someone who has accepted some compensation is not an offence, unless that victim is a minor or the act is done under duress. That is not grave enough to hand out a death sentence. Pandher’s debauchery had already cost him his marriage and even his son was not living with him. He deserves to be punished for his criminal acts of enticing innocent girls and raping them.

I think Pandher has already realized that he can not lead a life that is anywhere near normal after what he has been accused of and as such asked his family members not to file an appeal and let him fade away. That would be an easy way out for him. His biggest punishment would be to sentence him to a term in jail and then live in a hostile atmosphere thereafter. The public memory, that is proverbially touted to be very short, is not that short so as to forget his gory crimes. I sense no one would come forward to embrace him or have anything to do with his family hereafter.

The house in Nithari would neither find a tenant nor a buyer. Nor would any member of Pandher’s family find the courage to ever spend a night there. As such it should be acquired by the administration and demolished to build a befitting memorial to those children who were brutally assaulted and killed within that house.

February 10, 2009

Travelling back in time - The Patiala Re-union

Einstein’s theory of relativity postulates that no body can travel faster than the speed of light. However the human mind defies all logic and allows one to travel back and forth in time in split seconds. Recently I undertook such a journey, some thirty years back in time, at the behest of Dr Arvinder Singh Chawla, the Director of The Punjab School of Management Studies, my alma mater, to attend a re-union in the thirtieth year since we passed out in 1979, from what was then called The Department of Business Management, Punjabi University, Patiala.

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

Millionaire Slumdog

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ the film by Danny Boyle, is about the lives of an orphaned boy ‘Jamal Malik’, his older brother ‘Salim’ and their childhood companion ‘Latika’. Deven Patel, a first time film actor from England, who plays the protagonist’s role, is ably assisted by Frieda Pinto as ‘Latika’ and an amateur young man from the Mumbai slums playing ‘Salim’. It has veteran Hindi film stars like Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Mishra in beautifully scripted, short but meaty roles.

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.
image courtesy the producers of the movie

January 28, 2009

The bare truth

'Satyam Computer Services Limited' (SCSL) was named after the sanskrit word for truth. The scam perpetrated by Mr.Ramalinga Raju has been termed 'a blot on image of India Inc.' by none other than our Prime Minster, Sh. Manmohan Singh.

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

The Satyam saga - blame it on the auditors

It is now crystal clear that Mr. Rama Linga Raju, the Founder and till recently the Chairman of the board of Satyam Computer Services Limited, a listed, public-owned and widely traded company that is India’s fifth largest IT company by revenue and an E&Y award winner as ‘The most admired company’ in 2007 has cheated the Satyam investors.

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

Priorities for public spending

Everyday as I drive from home to work I cross the stretch of road near the foot of the Savitri cinema flyover in South Delhi. Daily I wonder why after such revolutionary leaps in road building technologies is that part of the road so uneven, potholed and bumpy.

My civil engineer colleagues, who I thought should know better, usually give the explanation of inferior quality of raw materials being used. The civic authorities come up with the novel explanation that the plants to make hot bituminous mix are located too far away from the city, as per Supreme Court (SC) guidelines which means to the mix gets laid at a much cooler temperature than desired and this leads to the prevailing situation. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) would like to paint the SC as the villain of the piece for its insistence that Delhi residents get a less polluted air to breathe. According to the MCD the residents of Delhi have only one choice – Poor carcinogenic air to breathe or lousy roads.

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

Dilli ki sardi !

(The Delhi winter cold)

I remember a song from 'Zameen', a film released few years ago which compares love for the beloved with 'Dilli ki sardi' (Delhi's biting winter cold) probably because both don't allow one to sleep in peace.

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.
I guess in every part of the world there are such man-made diversions associated with extremes of climate to shift focus from the cold and attendent discomfort. One starts looking forward to the acutely cold weather so that one can savour such treats that are associated with extreme cold and one is free of any guilt. In a climate any less hostile partaking of these delicacies provokes a feeling of guilt.

In case any one reading this piece is familiar with such weather related goodies please offer your inputs and enrich me.