Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Achu-tung Baby !

A Rediff.com article by Shenoy, T

Observant visitors to Kerala often stump me with two questions. First, how has a state so blessed by the rain god let its rivers run dry? Second, why doesn't India's most literate state not feature at the top of the software ranking?

The answer to both: Human folly.

Kerala was once at the forefront of both the electronic and the environmental revolutions. (By Indian standards anyway!) A quarter of a century ago, citizens came together to block the Silent Valley Project, raising their voices until not just Thiruvananthapuram but even Delhi had to listen.

And KELTRON -- does anyone even recall the brand today? -- was making the best television sets in India, even talking of branching into computers, when Gurgaon was little better than a desert on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway. Instead of capitalising on these, we Keralites frittered away these advantages.

Few thought the situation would improve when V S Achuthanandan took over as chief minister. The veteran's honesty and incorruptibility is beyond question, but could an octogenarian lead the state in the first decade of the 21st century?

The chief minister is surprising us all today. Through a combination of construction and demolition, Achuthanandan is giving Kerala a second chance.

Let me begin with the demolition job. The highlands of Kerala form one of India's great monsoon catchment areas; unbridled -- and utterly illegal -- construction in the hills was slowly destroying them. And with the construction lobby winning patronage from all sides of the political spectrum, nobody seemed to have a clue about how to stop them.

After going to the hill-station of Munnar, to see the devastation of the once verdant slopes in person, the chief minister of Kerala ordered a demolition drive. I thought this would be as half-hearted and shambolic as the sealing drive in Delhi. I was wrong.

The first structures to be demolished were giant towers installed by the mobile phone giants Airtel and IDEA. They stood, I believe, at the second highest point in Kerala.

Do not rush to blame the Communist chief minister for his supposed hatred of corporate entities. The cell phone companies had built on land whose ownership was claimed by the brother of the local CPI-M district secretary!

The party affiliation did not spare the demolition. The symbolism did not end there. The second entity slated for demolition was an illegal construction owned by the CPI, a member of the ruling Left Democratic Front. The party has its district office in the building. (There was also a hotel in the same place.) The party, I understand, owned the title to the land yet the actual construction was illegal.

Once again, the chief minister showed no mercy.

There followed, I was told, an amusing sequel. Enraged CPI workers raised slogans against the chief minister. With the same breath, they shouted slogans in favour of the Left Democratic Front ministry! They could do no less I suppose given that the revenue department is headed by a CPI functionary.

Speaking of revenue ministers, the third set of demolitions involved a 'resort' owned by a former revenue minister's relative. But the popular mood is staunchly behind the current chief minister. The next day, we were treated to the sight of the former minister addressing the media, blandly supporting everything that Achuthanandan had

I was in Kerala while the demolition drive started. All of it received extensive coverage on both the electronic and the print media. Believe me, it was a treat to see Keralites watching it as avidly as, on other occasions, they might watch a cricket match or the election results.

The demolition drive cannot and must not be limited to Munnar. Vast tracts of Kerala's public property, from the beaches to the hills, has been taken over by the land mafia. Its political clout ran so deep that it made no difference whether there was a Congress or a Communist government in the state. In one place, the Kerala police no less found that 48 acres of their land had been taken over!

Achuthanandan is the first chief minister who has had the guts to take on the land sharks. He has set up a special team for the purpose, hand-picked men chosen for their integrity. But I hope everyone understands the chief minister is under formidable pressure.

The public, not just in Kerala but elsewhere, will have to demonstrate their support for the chief minister's policies.

Kerala's hills and beaches are national resources. Wipe Kerala's hills of their green cover, and you effectively cut the catchment area not for the state alone but for Tamil Nadu and even Karnataka. Encroach upon the beaches, and you will soon see that tourist dollars too dry up.

If demolition is one part of Achuthanandan's policy, then construction is the other. I refer to the green signal for the Smart City in Kochi.

Sections of the Left Democratic Front opposed it when the idea was mooted by the Congress-led United Democratic Front. Some farmers are afraid their land shall be taken over at rates below market prices.

The fears of the farmers must be assuaged at all costs. Kerala certainly cannot afford a Nandigram-like situation. But if -- and it is a pretty big 'if' -- this is possible, Smart City could be the fillip that puts Kochi in the same league as Bangalore and Hyderabad.

It could mean thousands of crores of rupees by way of investments, and create lakhs of jobs. As Keralites all over the world would attest, it wasn't any lack of affection for the state but sheer lack of opportunity that drove them to emigrate. Between the Smart City in Kochi and the TechnoPark in Thiruvananthapuram, I hope this is about to change.

If it takes guts to take on entrenched lobbies as Chief Minister Achuthanandan is doing in Munnar it takes equal courage to reverse one's own position. If the Left was a stumbling block in the path of the Smart City project earlier, then the chief minister is making amends.

Hopefully, Kerala can also learn from the mistakes made by pioneers. Bangalore is scarcely a 'garden' city any longer, and old-timers complain that Pune's charm have withered. India's policy-makers forget that Silicon Valley didn't just offer economic opportunities, California was actually a better place to live than some places in the United States. I am delighted that the chief minister understands that economic development cannot come at the cost of environmental degradation.

V S Achuthanandan's first days in office offered little to cheer about. But the past month or so offers hope that his administration has turned a corner. Should he continue in the same vein, I for one shall happily acknowledge that Achuthanandan stands right up there with the late Achutha Menon in the pantheon of Kerala's chief ministers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gap Minder

Came across this link from some web site yesterday -


If you analyse the income distribution chart specifically, it's fascinating to see how much India has grown since 1984, metamorphically Mrs G's death.

If you counter it for each era of a prime minister say - 1984 (Rajiv), 1989 (V.P Singh, Chandrasekhar), 1991(PVV Rao), 1996 (Gowda, Gujral), 1998 (ABVP), 2004 (Dr Singh) - we have made fanstastic in-road's.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An Ode to Malai

Written By - Thaths Chandrasekharan my Drona in many aspects.

Swami woke up with a start as the train imperceptibly slowed down on its way into the station. The bridge a few hundred meters from the station had that peculiar deep rumble which never failed to wake him up. He stared out of the window to see the lights on the temple towers. He was in Chidambaram. The weekend was over. Back to College life in rural Tamil Nadu. Swami started life in general and monday mornings in particular.

Swami woke up his still dozing buddies in the compartment and collected his bag. He got off the train that had not yet come to a complete stop. He was greeted by the familiar sight of his beloved old platform and, what one of his freinds preferred to call, "Tingi Tingi" music blaring out of the station's public address system. He exchanged plesantaries with the friends he failed to meet at Egmore - the station they departed from. "Dei @#$%&&!!!" (You @#$%&&!!!) shouted one of his pals, "Yen da call pannala?" (Why didn't you call?). Swami hastily apologized and made a quick excuse up for not calling over the weekend.

Soon, bleary-eyed students trooped towards their hostels. The more chivalrous knights-in-polyester-trousers-and-nylon-teeshirts made a bee-line to the ladies compartment to help their distaff half with their baggage. Swami lit his first cigarette of the day - the last in the 20's pack that he had he had purchased from the 'potti-kadai' (local convenience store) near his home in Madras. Swami, a New Liberal, felt that helping women and its implications of the women not being able to help themselves was more sexist than the Old Sexist ways.

Swami hastily finished the last few puffs and felt the pangs of hunger deep inside his stomach. "Lets eat at the VLR (Vegetarian Light Refreshment) Stall," he heard his friend and confidante suggesting. They ordered a plate each of the piping hot 'Pongal' and devoured it with relish. Swami and his chum Mani hastened out of the station at 5:45 am. Their urge to attend class on that monday morning had nothing to do with their hurry. You would be in a hurry too if you had had a taste of that divine 'Pongal.' Despite, perhaps even because of, its divine taste, it had the unfortunate consequence of being one of the best laxatives known to mankind.

Swami blissfully entered the warm confines of his bed and drifted off into sleep having set his alarm to go off at 7:15 am. He would eventually promptly wake up at 11:00am.

Mid-morning: 8:00 am
At around 7:30am the student crowd from places like Mayavaram and Cuddalore starts pouring into the station from passing trains. They are the really loyal subjects of the Indain Railways. They travel everyday from their town by one of those tortoises (turtles if you have been in America too long) that go by such cryptic names as '520 Up Passenger.' They are proud of their trains and live an entirely different sort of life from the rest of the college students.

They are probably the best managers of time in Annamalai University. They do their homeworks on the platform waiting for their ride home and write their lab reports sitting at a table inside the Non-Vegetarian Light Refreshment Stall (NVLR) eating 'muttai parotta' (scrambled eggs and paratha bread). They are also an organised bunch. They constantly organize 'Train Days' when they deck their favorite compartment with flowers and distribute chocolates to their fellow travellers. As with any organised bunch, groupism is their plague. Swami witnessed two or three 'Train Day' functions being organized in the same semester by different factions of the train regulars.

A few 'days-callers' drifted into the station to have their lunch of dried 'Thayir Sadam' (rice and youghurt) and musty 'Vadai' (fried lentil patties) which even a rat would be ashamed to share a trap with. There are also a few "regular" students at the Annamalai University (like Swami) who are die-hard station addicts. Having nothing better to do at this hour of the day they spend a few minutes in the station (smoking, of course) on their way back from 'Maami mess' (The local Mom and Pop, in case you know the vernacular - the Uncle and Aunt). There are also the Thanjavur type of families waiting for the perpetually late Cholan Express.

There were also a couple of students who are going back to Madras to collect funds for their organization's upcoming event. Swami sweared at these students. "Lucky @$#%%^&$%!!" He said "They are going away on OD (On Duty - meaning they got credit of attendance and a possible 10% of the money they collected)!!"

Evening: 5:00pm
The Tea 'Kadais' (shops) serve tea briskly to the students returning from classes. The students prefer the tea in the station as the one served in the hostel is as transparent as "Silk" Smitha's garments. Swami drank his tea slowly (making loud hissing noises blowing on his piping hot tea) and drove the sleep induced by four hours of lectures away. Some students are still carrying their books while the ones who finished their classes earlier can been seen lounging around in their 'lungies' (sarong is the nearest "english" word that I can come up with). Swami and the ever accompanying Mani made it to the VLR and gobble up steaming Idli's and Poories.

Late Evening: 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Chidambaram Railway station is Austin's Sixth street, New Orleans' Bourbon street and New York's Times Square rolled into one. One should understand the positioning of the station. The train track metaphorically and geographically divides Chidambaram from Annamalai University. The station is the Checkpoint Charlie of Chidambaram. If Kipling were to know of the existence of the station he would not have made such sweeping claims like "And never the twain shall meet." A number of entrpreneur set up businesses at this point because they could appeal to a mized clientale - middle class families from Chidambaram and the rich students from the City. All sorts of businesses were carried on. Free Market Economy flourished. One could find old hags selling jackfruits, middle aged men selling magazines and twenty-ish women involved in human-kind's oldest profession.

Swami entered the station from the hostel side. The mechanics involved in any gathering of humanity was at play. Groups formed, merged, split, fought, collided, disappeared, re-formed and slowly entropied. Some eternal drifters like Swami moved on from one group to another and thus maintained neutrality.

Chidambaram is probably the only station in India where platform tickets are scoffed at. Swami recalled, with embarrassment, 'The Incident' - buying a platform ticket in his first year at Annamalai. He would be ostracized if word of this blasphemy got out. He guarded the shame zealously. "How could I have been so dumb?!" wondered Swami, "I should have known that I was doing something wrong when the ticketing clerk gave me that strange Are-you-out-of-your-mind look. I should have realised it when it took a full 15 minutes for the lady to find a platform ticket."

The groups coagulated around distinct areas of interest on the platform. Around the refreshment stalls, tea stalls, the "multipurpose store" and notably, around the women's waiting room. Swami slowly drifted along the platform continually moving himself towards the beehive of most activity - the multipurpose store. He stopped to gawk at the Tamil magazines on the stand. Mani, in perpetual hurry (not to be confused with the perpetually money minded Hari) and unable to appreciate the soft-porn art of Tamil magazines, dragged Swami away from the stand. Swami grabbed a few final glimpses of the pictures and drawings of starlets splashed across the covers of mags like Kumudam as he was inexorably dragged towards the center of the station.

The multipurpose stall was situated near the entrance. This stall sold all kinds of things - cigarettes, bananas, medicine, cool drinks, chocolates (love lorn students used to buy their quota of Amul Chocolates - a gift for someone they loved) and what not. There stood the 'Dwrapalakars (gate keepers).' No!! They were not employees of the Indian Railways. They were the students who were in financial doldrums. They lived life on the edge, bumming cigarettes and other things off people going home to Madras. Their philosophy - "One is always generous when one is going home." Swami had joined their ranks many a time.

Swami waltzed across the tracks to the other platform to greet other friends and to grab a gulp of some colored drink in a bottle from them. He then returned to the multipurpose stall and exchanged a few words with the shopkeeper with whom he was in first name terms (incidentally the shopowners name is Visu. And this has nothing, whatsoever, to do with this narration).

A couple of 'Yettu's' (police constables) were lazing around in the platform. Their pot bellies barely covered by their khaki shirts were objects many a joke among the student community. A few months after the 'Annamalai-nagar-police-station-incident' the jokes changed to other parts of the policemen's anatomy.

A bunch of students were returning from the local watering holes ranging from a pleasant evening at Nattiya - the local pub - to a quick gulp at MS Wines (aka Ganesh Wines). One of them endowed Swami with a bear hug and declared his undying loyalty and love. He even made profound statements like "You are the only one who really understands me." Swami mouthed the appropriate replies and escorted (arm-in-arm) his comrade out of the station.

Some local families had gathered in the station for 'Shenkottai Fast Passenger.' A misnomer if ever there was one. It neither went upto Shenkottai nor was it very fast. The only reason students still used this train was it was cheap and, more importantly, the journey to madras was overnight and they did not have to loose precious day time in the journey. The PA system started blaring out the same "Tingi Tingi" music. That, is Jaladarangam music, for the lesser informed. Swami's eyes started darting between the horizon (where he expected to see the lights of the train any moment now) and the "decent looking" teenager probably heading to meet relatives in Madras with a couple who appeared to be her parents.

A small group of foreigners walked beside Swami with their heavy backpacks. Swami and Co. immediately changed the medium of conversation to English from coarse college Tamil. "The problems that plague the society today are entirely due to man's inability to see Satre's Being from an objective standpoint while Freud himself says that Being is Nothingness." The foreigners (who went by the common name of "Americans" or "Hippies") had gone out of ear shot. Swami continues "Nasti figure illa macchi" (did she not have a great figure).

The train made its way into the station. Swami loved seeing the ancient ritual of "keys" being exchanged between the train driver and the person on the platform. As soon as the train pulled to its scheduled 7 minutes halt, a group of students started moving alongside the train and staring into every window. When they happened to notice a girl worthy of their time they stayed outside that window and practiced the mating rituals that resembles a peacock's preening dance.

The bell tolled and the train started departing after a shrill whistle. The crowd waited for the train lights to dim in the horizon and started its trek back to their hostels. Lumpy beds awaited them. They would doze off thinking about their future and dreaming their sultry dreams. They would wake up to another day with its set of troubles and triumphs. The only solid certainty in their lives was the station and 'Shenkottai Fast Passenger.'

Monday, May 14, 2007

Random Thoughts !

In Indian mythology, there is an interesting tale of an asura named Bhasmasura who
meditated on Lord Siva and performed severe penance. The Lord was pleased and granted him a boon. The boon bestowed upon the Asura the power of turning people to ashes with not more than a mere touch. However at first the sceptical Bhasmasura didn’t believe that Lord Siva would grant him such a powerful boon. Therefore he decided to test the validity of the boon on Lord Siva himself.

The Lord fled with fear and approached Vishnu and asked to rescue him from destruction. Vishnu decided to trick the Asura. He appeared before Bhasmasura in the form of an enchanting damsel named Mohini.

Bhasmasura was passionately excited and forgot his objective. He wanted Mohini to marry him. Mohini agreed, subject to one condition that he should promise her by touching his own forehead that he would not think of another women from then on.
Bhasmasura forgot the consequences of this and touched his forehead.

Momentarily he turned into ashes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mayawati - Scheming fire-band or a superstar ?

Few women in North Indian politcs have evoked so much disgust, respect and awe, strictly in that order, as BSP supremo and CM of UP in waiting- Ms.Mayawati.

Be it her decision to join a struggling, blasphemous political outfit called Bahujan Samaj Party way back in 1984 or her decison to not support the BJP led central coalition in 1999, Mayawati's persona has always been ambigous.

She started out as an anathema at first but fast grew into an agony aunt for political outfits looking for string support of M.P's to form a government. The 90's saw her rise as an alternative to the Etawah wrestler Mulayam singh yadav and she was brilliant in observing and portraying herself as the messiah of the downridden.

Interstingly her political career has swung like a trapeze artists rope - The same political outfits that make mockery of her are going out of their way in singing paens about her -

Now that the Bahujan Samaj Party has won a majority in Uttar Pradesh, opposition leaders are bending over backwards to mend ties with Behenji. But Maya memsaab is in no mood for charity. Consequently, her rivals are having to eat humble pie. During the counting, as the BSP took the lead, Salman Khurshid, the UP Congress chief, declared that his party had offered to support the BSP. By evening, the BSP had a majority, prompting Mayavati to scupper Khurshid’s pledge of support. Khurshid wasn’t the only one getting the cold shoulder from Mayavati. Raj Babbar, with one seat in his party’s kitty, was quick to back the BSP. When Mayavati heard this, she pretended as if Babbar did not even exist. Meanwhile, Ajit Singh, along with many other independents, also found that there were no takers for them this time around. But none dared to criticize Mayavati’s show of disdain. Instead, they chose to blame the electorate and the EC for their fate.

Could her change in fortunes, form a platform to the ideas of forming a 3rd front at the center by another brave and brash woman down south of the vindhyas ? Time will defi tell.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Warren's letter to his shareholder's - A sumptuous Buffett.

Even though I have been an ardent investor for the past 2 summers, Berkshire Hathaway never excited me because of it's enormity and my naive belief that investing in large corporation's is like placing faith in Indian Politicians.

Neverthless, accidently laid my hands on the AGM letter of Mr Warren Buffett 2 days back. I think Mrs Melinda Gates is right when she says an hour spent with Warren is equivalent to a day spent at a B School !

The letter was an epitome of what corporate communications is all about - straight, un ambigous, un-adulterated synchronization of what happened to 'BRKA/BRKB' last year and what might happen in the next 1 year. His witty anecdotes might seem cynicism to puritans but he delivers value not just to himself but thousands of his ardent devotees and followers.

Excrepts from his past writeup's -

On Multi tasking -

It reminds me of the tale of an elderly couple who had been romantically challenged for some time. As they finished dinner on their 50th anniversary, however, the wife – stimulated by soft music, wine and candlelight – felt a long-absent tickle and demurely suggested to her husband that they go upstairs and make love.

He agonized for a moment and then replied, “I can do one or the other, but not both.”

Motivating Employees -

I do this in the spirit of the farmer who enters his hen house with an ostrich egg and admonishes the flock: "I don’t like to complain, girls, but this is just a small sample of what the competition is doing."

Looking for new disruptive changes to the Investment portfolio -

Our exemplar is the older man who crashed his grocery cart into that of a much younger fellow while both were shopping. The elderly man explained apologetically that he had lost track of his wife and was preoccupied searching for her.

His new acquaintance said that by coincidence his wife had also wandered off and suggested that it might be more efficient if they jointly looked for the two women. Agreeing, the older man asked his new companion what his wife looked like. “She’s a gorgeous blonde,” the fellow answered, “with a body that would cause a bishop to go through a stained glass window, and she’s wearing tight white shorts. How about yours?”

The senior citizen wasted no words: “Forget her, we’ll look for yours".

More to follow, but if you are intrigued you can always read more about him from -
http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/ .

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thiruda Thiruda !!

Most of us who are in the Business Intelligence (B.I) field proclaim that B.I takes us the closest to Real time data and supplies us with spot-on Information about things.What I experienced today was something amazing and made me realise that the above said fact is not just lip service.

Many of you know that for the past month or so Iam camping at the Corp HQ of a Retail Chain. They are designing their 1st Data Warehouse and your's trulyhas been assisting them in doing so.Early this morning, we got a call from the Corporate Affairs about a case that happened lastevening at one of their store in Alabama. Someone came to return their product and claim refund. The clerk accepted the return and was about to ask what mode of refund the person would prefer, when she found a gun was being trained on her.The shop lifter looted what ever was available and skooted away.

A pretty normal case we see on T.V rite ?

This is where B.I came to the rescue !The stupid shop lifter (Mr X - henceforth) had left his receipt at the counter and the Corporate Affairs wanted us to probewhat little information we can find about him from that. Like any big chain in the US, my client has a detailed CRM program that captures information about it's clients, giving the information or not is your decision but Mr X decided to do so exactly 62 days back when he bought the product.

Within 10 minutes of the request, we were able to generate the shop lifter's Phone Number, Address, First Name, Last Nameand even his Fav color and Hang out spot ! The police feels they have never recieved such a detailed information about a thief, well all they had to do was go introduce themselves and arrest that goofy goon, I suppose !

I was ruing the fact why am I literally in the middle of nowhere, when most my friends are in SOHO,NY or So Co, Austin !

But this experience made the stint worth it !

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