Vantage point

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tough Times for L

The last year or so hasn't been a great one for people associated with IIM Lucknow. It started off with the bizarre suicide of Handsdah. Then came the butal murder of Prof Singh, a retired IIML professor. Nimish Adani went through hell at the hands of the Railway Police at the Bangalore railway station. There was a serious case of food poisoning in the IIML campus, with dozens of students running high temperature and being admitted to the hospital. Amitinder Singh, from the batch of 2003, passed away in a road accident. And now Manju.

In each and every event the alumni of IIML, and indeed the entire IIML community have responded admirably and helped out in every way possible. Pardon the cliche, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

I am proud to be an L-ite.

More on Manju

When I wrote a couple of posts about Manju, the story was in its infancy. Now everyone has woken up to it. Wheels are moving rapidly on all fronts -

a) On the personal front, IIML alumni have responded admirably. A fund is being set up to help out Manju's family. There are also plans to commemmorate Manju's life through a momument and/or an event in the IIML campus.
b) On the media front, the Indian Express has led the charge in this cause, giving it extensive coverage. All major TV news channels have also carried the story.
c) As far as the policy aspects or the on-the-ground impact is concerned, things are happening here too. The government has at last decided to have two different kerosene rates, tacitly admitting that the subsidy for kerosene has helped anti-social elements more than the poor. The plan, as drafted, doesn't seem like it will be effective, but at least its a start.

For more information I direct you to this fine blog - Remembering Manjunath (Machan to his friends...) which is the hub of all information pertaining to Manju's case.

Break Ends

Back from the break. Had little access to media or net all this while. Glad to see things haven't changed too much while I was gone.

The Sensex is still moving upwards. Negar Khan is still topless. An MP is still in charge of BCCI. Trouble is still brewing in the Sena. Uma Bharti is facing disciplinary action....again(said in a Forrest-Gump-ish voice).

God's NOT in heaven, all's right with the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lost Respect for Chappell

I have lost respect for Greg Chappell. Not because he showed a finger, but because of his shamefaced and cowardly denial of it.

I think Chappell was well within his rights to show the crowd a finger. After all he was being boo-ed and heckled. If booing and heckling is a valid form of expression, why isn't that gesture acceptable? I see nothing wrong with it.

I though Chappell was an in-your-face guy, someone who would have the courage to stand by his convictions. If, in a moment of emotion, he did give the crowd the finger, he could have owned up to it, and said there was nothing wrong with it. Or he could have just refused to comment on the issue.

But by issuing a denial, in the face of such obvious video proof, he has shown himself to be no different from many politicians and other celebrities in India who tie themselves up in knots, contradicting themselves.

Stand up for yourself, Greg. The crowd deserved a finger. It got what it deserved. Don't give us childish stories, which would make even Ganguly's most absurd excuses look genuine in comparison.

Update: Respect regained. Chappell admits he did it. Attaboy!

A short break

A short break from blogging. Should be back by 1st December...maybe earlier. Break mainly necessitated by turn of events that has greatly limited my access to the internet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Extremely Pissed Off!!!

I am extremely pissed off at this one particular blogger. But as livid as I am, I realise he is doing this, just as he does most things, just to draw more attention to his pathetic and slimy self. So I will not name or link him and subject readers to his malevolent venom.

There are several reasons to feel disgust for this person. He is the lowest of low lives. He is always trying to get my goat and usually succeeds. But I tend to dismiss his efforts as attention-seeking grunts by a mentally deranged psycho. He has found ways to ridicule and denigrate tsunami victims and volunteers, 26-7 victims and volunteers, charity, quake victims.... anyone who suffers. This person revels in poking fun at victims and being sanctimonious about it.

Today it crossed all limits for me, maybe because it got personal. While bloggers, and media all over admire and salute Manju, this is what the filthy f^kface had to say to Manju on this blog

And as far as the dude who died is concerned, here is my thing : you would be alive if you had used your head instead............but you did what you did

I wonder how many maggots died when this blogger was born.

6 Test Wins in 6 Seconds

Would you be foolish enough to snatch the captaincy from a man capable of winning six tests in six seconds? Obviously not! Yet, the Indian selectors have done just that. They have sacked as captain Sourav Ganguly, a man who won 6 tests for India in six seconds.

Today as I read Times Sport in Times of India(Bombay edition), I came across this fact-box at the corner of the article

It says - "GUESS WHAT? With Ganguly's exit as captain his record is almost similar to Chappell's record.

Ganguly Tests - 49 Won - 15 Lost - 13
Chappell Tests - 48 Won - 14 Lost - 13

Six seconds later I read this fact box.

It showed Ganguly's record thus -

Ganguly Tests - 49 Won - 21 Lost - 13

Unbelievably, in a gap of six seconds that separated two fact boxes, Ganguy had won six test matches.

How can the selectors fire such a superman?

Please Make it Count!

The Telegraph reports

The Oil Sector Officers’ Association threatened to go on an indefinite nation-wide strike from Thursday if the new oil marketing discipline guidelines are not withdrawn and those behind IOC executive B.S. Manjunathan’s murder arrested by then.

OSOA president Ashok Singh said the government has been asked to “scrap immediately” the 2005 guidelines which place the entire responsibility of controlling adulteration on sales officers of oil companies.

The marketing directors of Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum submitted a memorandum to the petroleum ministry today seeking changes in the guidelines.

Singh said it was not possible for an oil company sales officer to carry out the responsibility the new guidelines had thrust on him as he had to supervise over 50 retail outlets stretching over a 300-sq-km area. He said oil companies would have to be backed by state governments if adulteration had to be effectively checked.

I fully understand and sympathise with the Oil Sector Officers' Association. Such lopsided guidelines do seem to put an inordinately large responsibility for checking adulteration on sales officers. And yes, if the responsibility is spread out, life would be less dangerous.

But by making this the thrust of the protest, I think the OSOA is devaluing Manju's death somewhat. Manju did not die because he was the sole person responsible for checking, and neither could his death have been necessarily avoided had the responsibility been shared by others. He died because, as a colleague of his says, "he took a government directive too seriously".

That means he did his job the way he was supposed to do it.

Did he HAVE to do it BECAUSE it was his sole responsibility? Nope. Remember, he was in a PSU. He was an employee of the Government of India. His job was protected. He could just chill out at home, and still, his boss could at best transfer him. He could easily have accepted bribes, built a nice bungalow in Bangalore, and then maybe gotten a cushier posting. At the very least, if goofing off on his job or accepting bribes went against some moderate-level-principles, he could have just changed jobs. The economy is booming, and an IIM grad with 2.5 years of sales experience would have been lapped up before he could have finished typing his resignation letter.

But Manju clearly wasn't just a person who stopped at moderate-level-principles. He cared about the highest level of principles. What his father says makes it amply clear that Manju put a high premium on his integrity. He did not want the easier way out.

To use his death to ask for a collective easy way out, to me, seems like demeaning his death.

Manju had spoken to us about his wish that the process of allotment of petrol pumps be made similar to the way distribution channels are set up in other businesses. In other businesses, companies draw up guidelines, ask for applications, have a thorough review and then allot dealership or distributorship. In addition, there are periodic checks, which the channel partners strive to pass.

Why are things different in the oil industry as compared to other industries? Why haven't we heard of an HLL, Cadbury, TATA Motors, or even IBM channel sales manager threatened for carrying out inspection? I was in IBM sales, and a large part of my job had to do with managing channel partners. ALl of them had to sign elaborate contracts and agree to several standards to become IBM channel partners. After that they had to ensure quality, integrity and probity in their business. And ensuring that wasn't very difficult. Because my channel partners had no criminal record. They were hardworking honest people who had earned the right to be channel partners.

We all know about politicians and ministers having criminal records. Some enterprising journo should find out this stat for petrol pump dealers. Petrol dealerships aren't earned like the dealerships for HLL, Cadbury, Tata Motors or IBM. They are "alloted" like political capital. And once measurable parameters go out of the window for the selection process and are replaced by political influence, is it surprising that many shady characters get the allotments?

Errant channel partners who indulge in adultery, fudging of records, margin tampering, etc, are an exception in all other businesses. But they are the norm in the oil business. It has nothing to do with the guidelines that OSOA obejcts to. It is to do with the fact that the process of allotment itself starts with so much underhanded skullduggery. Is it surprising then that the skulldugegry continues and grows?

I hope someone from OSOA reads this and makes the demand for a complete overhaul of the system for alloting petrol pump licenses, making it more transparent and parametric.

IOCL is supposed to be one of the "navratnas". A "ratna" is supposed to have no imperfections, no blots. Manju's murder is a blot on IOCL which has its origins in certain archaic systems of the Petroleum Ministry. If IOCL is to be truly considered a "ratna" it should embrace standards of professionalism in every aspect of its business.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bye, Machan

It was a cold morning in our hostel in IIM Lucknow. Sometime in Januray 2004 I guess. I remember the time because it was our last term, so things were a bit relaxed. Placements were around a month away or so. Life on campus was suddenly a lot different. With no pressures of an avalanche of projects, assignments and mind-term exams, we were soaking in our last few weeks at L. Regular visits to the city for a lunch or dinner, usually someone's treat for a pre-placement offer or something, and watching cricket in the common rooms. India was touring Australia then, and having just drawn a thrilling test series, were finding themselves a bit lacking in the one-dayers.

So it was one such morning that I woke up and headed to the TV room to watch India play Australia. That's when I met him, sitting in the TV room, wearing his customary happy smile. He greeted me enthusiastically, as he always did. Very few people were as upbeat about life as he was. He was Manju, a senior of mine who had passed out the earlier year. He had come down to campus to meet a few profs, and a few friends. Manju had been placed in Indian Oil Corporation Limited.

Manju was one of the well known faces on campus. To be a well known face at IIML you had to be good at something or notorious, since at any given time, there were 500 students studying there. Manju belonged to the earlier category. He was the booming voice of "3.4", our campus band. He sang with gay abandon, from the bottom of his heart, and with an infectious enthusiasm. One of those singers who made the listeners feel like singing along, or at least clap in tune. I can't claim to have been very close to him, but I got to know him quite well as we were in the same INDEX team. INDEX is a market-research event where a team of 20 students has to work night and day for around a month. Having Manju in our team was obviously great, as we would prod him to break out into a song, and he would readily agree.

That cold morning, we got talking, reminisced a bit about our INDEX days, exchanged notes about the latest happenings. A few minutes later Sunil joined us. Conversation invariably turned to Manju's work life. We asked him how it felt to work in a PSU like IOCL. Was he the "bada babu". He shrugged. He said work was OK and all, but he felt that the business would improve a lot more if there was transparency. Apparently, part of his job was to inspect samples from petrol pumps, and report back to the company. The petrol pumps were ideally supposed to adhere to very high standards of purity. But he said the adulteration in the petrol pumps in UP, where he was posted, was usually so rampant, it's a wonder even a single petrol pump was functioning. Sunil and I, ever the free-market-nuts, talked about how allotment of petrol pumps, rather than being an "allotment" should be a transparent auction or bidding process. A petrol pump license should not be a political capital to be bartered. Manju agreed. He said the reason why this adulteration happened so brazenly was that the dealers knew that no matter what happens, their licenses couldn't be cancelled. If everyone does it, how many pumps will the company shut down? He said he usually tried to cajole, convince and scold the dealers to not indulge in such dishonesty. He said some fell in line, but most of them usually got back to the same old adulteration business. In fact Manju said, some of the petrol pump owners are downright scary. Whatever he spoke of his job shocked me and Sunil. It was clearly a job that tested one's integrity and courage a lot.

I didn't meet Manju after that. Never really thought about him much. Didn't even hear about him from anyone. I just read about his murder today on our IIML group. Didn't know the details initially, but I immediately remembered what he was telling us about his work. I wondered if it was related to that. Yes it was, as is confirmed by this Indian Express report -

IOC official seals petrol pump, is killed

Manju was murdered for doing his job honestly. Considering the circumstances, this case is no different from that of Satyendra Dubey. But not a single TV channel has carried this news today. And except for the Express Lucknow edition, no newspapers have deemed it fit to report on the front page either. People always crib about how IIM grads never do anything for the country or don't join PSUs. Here was one IIM grad who joined a PSU. Did his work honestly and in the right way. The work he did was to make our lives better. To ensure that petrol sold is not adulterated. And he was murdered in cold blood. If a CAT exam report deserves 4 separate articles, surely this deserves at least one? On the front page?

It leaves me numb. I wonder what the police, IOCL, and Mani Shanker Aiyer are planning to do about this.

Rest in peace, Machan. Whatever place you are at right now, I am sure you are rocking it. You staked your life on your integrity. I really doubt if I would have done the same, had I been in your shoes. Hats off, and bye, Manju.

Other blog posts on Manju's murder
Rashmi Bansal

Osama Bin Laden - A Mascot of Freedom?

Like many others, I too oppose several aspects of America's foreign policy. I think through their blind support for Saudi Arabia, they are helping perpetuate one of the most oppressive, dictatorial and medieval regimes of our times. They were instrumental in bringing up the Taliban too. Over the years they have supported many dictatorial regimes in various parts of the world. So whenever I see American Presidents espouse the cause of "freedom" and "democracy", I laugh. What they do is purely governed by self-interest. They are selfish. They don't care about freedom, democracy or principles. America just cares about America.

But then, China cares about China. Russia cares about Russia...and I am sure even the tiniest nation cares about itself. It is not that America is the only country that pursues self-interest. It's just that America has been the most successful at it, so we view it as a super villain.

Super villain or not, the fact remains that their policies, pursued in the name of "freedom", and "opposition to terrorism", do end up actually oppressing or snatching away freedom, and breeding terrorism.

Osama Bin Laden is currently America's Enemy Number 1.

Now think of this as a logical reasoning question.

America's policies lead to suppression of freedom
Osama is opposed to America
Therefore Osama is the mascot of freedom

So we should declare Osama as the new mascot of freedom and peace. American policies lead to suppression of individualism, not by design, but as a fall out. Osama opposes America, so Osama is a symbol of individuality?

So ideally, Osama t-shirts should be "cool". Osama's mug should be considered a symbol of individual spirit, constructive rebellion against oppression, and freedom. Right?

I am sure that as you are reading this, even if you are the most ardent opponent of American policies, you are repulsed by the very idea of Osama being a symbol of freedom or of anything "cool". That is because though you know America's sins, you know Osama's sins too. You have seen him on TV, calmly provoking hatred, advocating murder of innocents, and praising terrorism. You have seen his minions murder thousands of innocent people. You have read what he has to say and it is all hateful crap.

Sadly, the media wasn't as evolved in the 60s as it is today. And sadly, communism worldwide is pretty much on the wane, so there is no incentive for the Western world to keep refreshing our memories with what the "other side" did then. Right now, what Osama does is more relevant. If only there was some way in which people could become aware of the events in the 50s and 60s, the way they are aware of the events of the past ten years, their revulsion at the thought of an Osama t-shirt would be easily matched by something else.

The revulsion at the sight of a Che Guevara t-shirt.

My earlier post was basically a joke, a wordplay on the name "Che". But I guess I was trying to provoke his "fans" when I described him as a murderer, a bandit and a terrorist. Sure enough one of them was provoked enough to write me a mail of protest.

Yes, I stick by what I said. Che Guevara was no different from Osama Bin Laden. His enemies then might have been doing wrong, the way Osama's are. But in no way does it make him a hero. And if you people today separate right from wrong enough to realise that Osama is no hero, you should be able to denounce Guevara too. All that is lacking is awareness of the right information, which, ironically, is so freely available nowadays.

Che Guevara is presented as a symbol of cool "rebellion", and of "freedom". Rebel he was, but then, so is Osama. A rebel should only be admired if he does not subscribe to oppressive views similar to those of the authority he is rebelling against. If he does, then he isn't truly a rebel. He is just a warlord, who wants to usurp power. If a rebel's mind-map is no different from his "oppressors", then what he is leading is no "rebellion". It is a plain and simple gang-war of sorts.

What were Che Guevara's beliefs? Has anyone bothered to find out? Yes, he fought against regimes which were oppressive, dictatorial and cruel. But his own beliefs were no different.

This symbol of freedom was totalitarian by beliefs. He subscribed to the soviet-style school of leftist thought. There were several people in the Cuban revolution who favoured a democratic or a democrat-socialist direction (much like India in fact). Che opposed them overrode them and imposed his own ideas, putting in place the dictatorial Cuban state that is still crushing freedom. Just google the name "Raul Rivero" and you'll realise what sort of a state he set up.

It was Guevara who set up Gulag-style "labour camps" in Cuba. Political dissidents, liberals, gays are all tortured in these labour camps.

It was Guevara, the darling of leftists, who was in favour of a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

It was Guevara who glowingly spoke of hatred as a strong tool to turn soldiers into zombies, something OBL would approve of.

Just because he opposed a cruel dictator Batista does not make him peaceful, compassionate and freedom-loving. He and Castro put in place a regime which is as tyrannical, if not more. After Cuba, he tried tried to start violent murderous terrorist struggles all over Latin America. But he met with tremendous failure. In fact one thing not mentioned in the hugely embellished and romanticised accounts of his death is rather telling. He was killed in Bolivia where he was carrying out his nefarious activities. This so called "insurgent guerrilla movement" that he was carrying out in Bolivia, did not manage to get support from the Bolivian peasants. He was leading a group of non-Bolivians spreading terror in Bolivia, and was caught and killed.

I started out thinking of Che Guevara as a cool symbol of rebellion too. But over the years I used the information available on the Internet. I read his essays and speeches. And I realised how I had been taken in by a very quasi-Goebbelsian bit of propaganda. This man did not deserve to be a symbol of freedom or even rebellion. And it seemed even more ridiculous that there were several people in India who denounced Gandhi but loved Che. I realised it was nothing but a triumph of shrewd branding over truth.

So go online. Read his essays, understand his beliefs. Read about his life after the Cuban revolution right up to his death. And tell me if you see any major difference between Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and Osama Bin Laden? Make Che Guevara the poster child for communism, naxalism, maoism.... but a poster child for freedom and the spirit of rebellion? Excuse me while I barf.

He was, I repeat, a murderer, a bandit and a terrorist.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why India was spared from Che's terror

In light of the recent Naxal violence, people will be glad to know that India almost became a battle ground for the horrible Che Guevara when he decided to come to our country. But he didn't stay. Why? Read on to find out.

This is what happened when the world famous bandit, murderer and terrorist Che Guevera visited Bombay.

He was first greeted by a Gujarati officer at the immigration counter. The Gujarati, for some reason, thought aapro Ernsto looked Gujju. So he started off -

GO: Jai Sri Krishna
CG: (silent)
GO: What your name? naam su che?
CG: Che
GO: Su che?
CG: Che
GO: Are baba naam su che???? What is name?
CG: Che Guevara?
GO: Che Guevara? Naam Guevara Che?
CG: No No, first Che
GO: Line maa first hi che (The officer assures Che he is first in line). Naam su che?
CG: Che

Gujarati officer gets a bit weary of this all, and notices he is due for a coffee break. He gestures to the next window and CG goes there. This is a Maharashtrian officer who thinks Guevara looks very Marathi. Meanwhile a co-traveller tells Che that "che" in Gujarati is a form of the verb "to be". So he should say "che" twice when he tells his name.

MO: Haan, naav saanga. Name?
CG: Che che
MO: Che che? Aaho naav saanga na.
CG: Che che
MO: Arre? Mee kaay chaha vichaartoy ka tumhala? che che mhantaay te? naav saanga.
CG: Che che.... Guevara
MO: aaho vara kuthla? ani kasli guha? naav sangta ki nahi? Tell name.
CG: Che che

The Marathi officer feels a slight throbbing in his head. He decides to take an early break and directs him to another officer. This one is from Delhi and speaks only Hindi. Needless to say, he thinks Guevara too is from the land where Hindi is spoken. By now Guevara has realised that saying his name twice caused more problems than saying it once. He decides to say it with a bit of affection to ensure cooperation.

HO: Haanji, kaun ho aap?
CG: (affectionately) Che
HO: Che? Aap to akele ho. Baaki kahan hai?
CG: (getting more affectionate) Che
HO: Arre baaprey! Woh waala che? Beech ka?
CG: (deciding that saying his name twice again might help) Che che
HO: (feeling distinctly homophobic) Dugna Che? Baaprey!

He too decides to take a premature coffee break, and now the immigration counter is without any officers. Che Guevara decides that a country where people can't go beyond his name, is probably not one where he can run his revolution-type-business. He does an about turn, and goes back to Cuba.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hayekian Quizzing

The Boat Club Quiz Club is an excellent example of spontaneous order in a non-economic domain. It illustrates the "invisible hand" principle at work. The BCQC started off as a spontaneous "organisation" when a few COEPians interested in quizzing decided to meet every saturday. Since then, for over a decade, the BCQC has evolved only "spontaneously" rather than through any constitution/order/authority. What's more, there hasn't been a serious effort to "take charge" or impose some sort of a hierarchy.

Read my whole post at the Notes and Stones Blog.

Pulling a Mcgrath

In yesterday India-South Africa ODI at Bangalore, Andre Nel pulled a Mcgrath. What does pulling a Mcgrath mean, you ask. Does it mean pitching the ball in the same corridor, with a nagging accuracy and surprising bounce? Nope, that's bowling like Mcgrath. It also does not mean that you pull a delivery bowled by Mcgrath. Nope, that's.....a miracle.

Pulling a Mcgrath means you initiate a verbal duel with the batsman, and then if the batsman shows the gumption to talk back, you play the victim, and squeal to the umpire. Or get your team-mates to support you since you can't handle the duel yourself.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Small Towns Etc

Writing this after reading Rashmi's post Impressions of Indore.

I have a very special connection with Indore. I was born there after all. And my family is from Indore. I still have a lot of relatives, on my father's as well as my mother's side, who live in Indore.

Indore is classified as a "chhota sheher" by Rashmi. I would agree with this classification, but offer a different definition. Beyond a certain level, population, infrastructure etc don't really matter. What really matters is the attitude of the citizens towards their own city. A 'chhota sheher' would be 'chhota' if a significant proportion of its young population would be looking to move out from it to a bigger city, for reasons which are not solely employment-related.

Of the places I have been to, I will identify Lucknow and Indore as chhota shehers because of that reason. In both these places, there are many youngsters who want to move out, and settle down in places like Delhi, Bangalore, Pune or Bombay, with the reasons not being restricted to just employment.

Conversely, a big city is one in which, if employment is not a factor, the population would stay on. Which is why Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Calcutta are equals in the big city league. Most people from these cities would never move if they got the jobs they like. Even when their jobs force them to move, they keep making efforts to go back to their beloved home towns. I know dozens and dozens of software employees in Bangalore who are pestering their HR departments for a transfer to the Mumbai or Pune offices.

What factors other than employment would make someone shift their base? Social life, safety, entertainment options, schools and colleges for kids, family, and the ertain "x factor" where you just love a city.

In a nutshell, a big city is a place where people aspire to settle down, buy houses, bring up their kids and maybe grow old, all the while, letting their career flourish.

By that definition Indore is not a big city. None of my relatives who moved out of Indore and settled in places like Bombay, Pune, Bangalore etc, are really actively seeking ways to get back to Indore and settle there.

A disclaimer though. The way Rashmi's experience was largely Marwari-centric, my experiences are largely Maharashtrian-centric. There is a significanmt Maharashtrian population in Indore, and most of them do look to settle down in Mumbai or Pune, or even Nagpur. There might be the Marathi-pull at play there as well, not just the big-city-small-town funda.

Let them live their lives!

For the past few months, there has been a bizarre and noisy media campaign of sorts targetting the BPO industry, more specifically the call centers. The noise has reached a crescendo after Chetan Bhagat's latest book was released.

People feel that the work in call centres is only about answering phones, and offers no satisfaction or growth or whatever. People expressing these opinions, will also, at other times exprss sentiments like "In Western countries, there is dignity in labour. No job is considered bad. Even plumbers, postmen, bus drivers etc are considered respectable people". Which is why the whole point behind trashing the nature of work in a call centre is lost on me. It is important work. It is necessary in the day-to-day lives of everyone. Customer service is of vast importance in today's marketplace. Now that we pay bills, book air tickets, and even rail tickets through call centers or back offices, how can we dismiss BPO work as below dignity.

In my opinion, this whole call-centre-bashing exercise is an unconscious expression of the deeprooted prejudices in our collective minds put in place due to the caste system. The whole idea of the caste system was, only a few jobs are respectable. All other jobs, be they menial or trade-related, were secondary. So what a brahmin does was admirable, while what the cunning sahukar or the filthy shudra does, was not.

These very prejudices led to the Indian middle class placing too much emphasis on medicine, bureaucracy, engineering and charterd accountancy as the A-grade professions. This unnatural order was further maintained due to the socialist policies of the state which led to unemployment as well as underemployment. So most people with a "mere" BA or BCom or BSc could not aspire to earn more than 1/4th of what an engineer earns. And no one thought there was anything wrong with that.

With the coming of even slightly free market policies, this changed. Improvements in technology made outsourcing a viable...rather a necessary practice. It started with software projects. Indian engineers through Indian companies worked on foreign projects and got paid good salaries. Everyone applauded. Suddenly "software engineer" or "programmer" were added to the A-grade list. The "brainy" engineers were now doing even better work than the early days.

But then call centers came. Anybody who spoke english, or even showed a willingness to learn could now earn good money. Thousands and lakhs of "lower" graduates, even under-grad students, could just work in a call centre and earn as much money as the software engineers!

A plush restaurant, an expensive discotheque on a weekend, mobile showrooms, car showrooms, apparel showrooms..... all these domains which were earlier restricted only to the engineer-doctor-types or the rich-kids were now invaded by hordes of call centre employees. The "caste system" was breaking down.

So naturally a softare engineer would ask himself.... here I slog to get into an engineering college, then slog to get an engineering degree, the slog to get placed, and now I slog writing code. This fellow didn't give two hoots about his graduation, whiled his time away, had to deal with much simpler course material in college, and now all he has to do is turn up for an interview, answer phone calls in a foreign accent, and get the same pay as me? Where is the justice in this world?

It is this sort of subconscious thinking that makes us all take potshots at the call centre employees

"Just answering phones....what a dumb job....I would never do it!!"
"Working all night and sleeping during the day...what a screwed up life man"
"Answering phones in a foreign accent... I am sure they must be facing an identity crisis"
"Where is the scope for growth in that business yaar? You just answer phones all your life!"
"You know, they dont have holidays for diwali, ganpati!!!!"
"No social life for call center people"
"Such a pathetic life, no wonder attrition rate is so high"
"This call center boom is just a phase. soon it will move to some other country"

I suggest we all lighten up. Let people work in call centres. That business will, like other businesses, have its own set of problems. Why highlight and exaggerate them unnecessarily? In which well-paying profession in India today, is there a healthy work-life balance? In which sector are employees not under stress? In which industry would there not be many job changes if there were lucrative options?

The call center folks are being unfairly put under the third-degree-lamp. And sadly, it is being done as a knee-jerk reaction without any logical reasoning or respect for factual accuracy.

For instance, I heard Chetan Bhagat say on TV "Call center jobs are there in India because no one in the West wants to do those jobs". I wonder if he followed the 2004 US Presidential elections where outsourcing was made a big issue because it was thought of as "job stealing". So if the jobs are so unwanted in the US, Mr. Bhagat, why is there a hue and cry over their being stolen?

Let us not argue backwards from our conclusions. Let the call center fellows live their lives.

Update: A reader sent in this link which talks about life in the Indian software industry.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The State of India Cricket

Go to Cricinfo to read a blog-debate about the state of Indian cricket. Participants are Amit Varma, Harsha Bhogle, Ashok Malik, Devangshu Datta, Mukul Kesavan and Sambit Bal.

Great post by Harsha. Keep you eyes on it. As Amit says, fun will come.

Reason behind bad roads

According to Sarika, it is the fact that our governments treat roads as public goods rather than capital assets. Great point.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pat on the back for DD

Have been meaning to make this post for many days now, but I always forget. Finally making it.

This blog has been very critical of the shoddy quality of service from Doordarshan with regards to cricket coverage. While there is still a lot of scope for improvement (please never let Mohinder sing!), there are two noticeable and commendable improvements that deserve a mention

Firstly, the duration of an over. An over on DD now actually has six balls. Once upon a time it was a 4-ball or 5-ball over, as ads were inserted stupidly before time, and continued after time. Someone in Mandi House seems to have actually watched the match on DD. He must have gotten irritated and ordered the nonsense to stop. So thankfully, we have six-ball overs.

Secondly, in a rare pioneering move, DD has found a female panelist who is easy on the eyes, articulate as well as knowledgeable. Anjum Chopra, ex-captain of the India women's team is doing a great job on the "Fourth Umpire" panel. She talks more sense than Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Charu Sharma and Atul "What-!-He-played-test-cricket-!-when-!?" Wasan combined. Plus she is more articulate than Diana Eduljee, the grouchy matron who sometimes graced the panel. Whoever thought of hiring Anjum Chopra certainly deserves a pat on the back.

To end the post, a suggestion to DD. Please change the name "Fourth Umpire". It makes no sense. Okay, you don't want to change it? At least make a change to the audio-visual opening bit of the show. You know how you guys show examples of the first, second and third umpires, before announcing that Charu is the fourth? Well, an error there. What you show as a visual for the third umpire is actually one of the first two umpires - our friend Brent Bowden. He is just asking for the third ump. Why not replace it with a visual of the third umpire's cabin with the green-red lights hanging outside it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Maratha Machiavelli

Often while talking to friends from outside Maharashtra, I mention Sharad Pawar as one of the few sane voices in Indian politics. A rare regional leader who has a vision that is on a national scale, and not just on a regional scale. He also has a strong mass base, and speaks the language of the common man with the same erudition that he speaks the language of the TV-studio-host. The reason Sharad Pawar is so much more pragmatic than other regional eaders like Lalu, Mulayam, Jaylalitha or Karunanidhi is that he wasn't always a regional player. Having spent most of his life in the Congress, he thought like a national leader. In fact after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, I remember that the general feeling in Maharashtra was that within a few years, Pawar may become the Prime Minister, because no other Congress leader had as much mass base as him. But then the riots happened, Khairnar happened, he lost power in the state. Then Sonia Gandhi kicked him out.

But at heart he still remains a leader with a national vision. And a rare politician who can actually speak free-market-ese and pragmatism in a language that everyone can understand. His "home base" of Baramati is not built on just muscle-power, as is the case with many other politicians. He has truly transformed Baramati and improved the lives of the common people there. He wins elections in Baramati easily not because he has instilled fear in the hearts of the voters, but he has done work to improve their lot.

I am not saying he is an absolute angel. There are negatives related to him as well. But by and large, I think Sharad Pawar is among the best politicians in the country.

Read this transcript of Walk the Talk with Sharad Pawar. (Link via Amit Varma)

It pains me how misunderstood free market economics is. Bleeding-heart-liberals feel that the poor villagers in our country, who are moslty farmers, are also "weak". A lot of compassion flows from these bleeding hearts about how Indian farmers need to be protected from the cruel market, and how the "maibaap" government should do it.

Sharad Pawar however doesn't take this "bleeding-heart" line. He understands that it is overdependence on the "maibaap" government that has shackled farmers, and that free market policies will actually help them. In fact on most issues, he has a position which is easy to agree with. A few excerpts -

On Farmer's problems - Farmers, in fact, don’t want subsidies. The farmer today wants basic infrastructure. If anybody is ready to provide him assured water, good quality seeds, infrastructure for the processing industry, effective marketing facilities, I don’t think the farmer wants anything more than that. Unfortunately, we have neglected all these.

On free market - I believe, basically, that the world is changing very fast and unless we open our economy in all areas, we will not be able resolve the basic problem of the poverty of this country.

On disinvestment - Q - Sharad ji, if I may remind you, you also said that there were two more things you would do. One, you said you would privatise the public sector if you had a full majority-and, second, you said you would wind up many government departments starting with the PWD.

A - In fact, there is tremendous scope for that. In the good old British days, there was no infrastructure. That’s why the government set up many departments, which are not required today because our country now has its own entrepreneurs. In those days, entrepreneurs were not available, technocrats were not available. That is not the case today.

On US-India relations - For years together, we took an anti-US stand. But, you see, those days are completely gone. It’s alright-once upon a time we were very close to Soviet Russia, but that Soviet Russia doesn’t exist today. We have to protect our own interests. Without association with the United States, I don’t think we will be able to resolve many of our issues.

On Indo-US join exercises and the left's opposition - one should never forget, the total base of the Indian army, air force and navy was essentially Soviet-we were totally dependent on the Soviets for our defence technology. Now, the Soviet Union is no more, there are serious problems. We have to select the best technology that is available in the world, whether it is with America, whether it is with the French.

Whatever benefits the country’s interests, we should go ahead with it. If you are going to bring politics and our old political ideology into it, I think we are going to unnecessarily weaken the country.

On English-Medium education(contrast with views of Mulayam and Babulal Gaur) - it’s surprising the students essentially come from rural areas and in the villages, they want English medium. So, in the last five years, we have had to set up five English schools.

I reiterate the opinion I have expressed to several bloggers and friends before. That Sharad Pawar is one politician that Libertarians can "do business" with. It's not just because he is a politician who has pragmatic views on economics and foreign policy. All parties are full of politicians who know what is right. But Pawar is one man who openly stands by those ideas, and is still able to command support from his largely-rural mass base. He is one guy who can actually "sell reforms to the masses".

Monday, November 14, 2005

Majboori Ka Naam Mahatma Gandhi

The title of this post is very difficult to translate. However the loose import of this Hindi neo-proverb is that most seemingly noble actions are taken because there is no other option available.

We see an ironic demonstration of this saying in Malwan, where the Shivsena in an unexpected twist, is turning to Gandhian ways. This is all the more ironic, considering the Sena's history, which is filled with ridicule and contempt for Gandhiji and his principles. Indeed the entire Saffron movement, of which the Shivsena is a semi-offshoot, was based on rubbishing Gandhiji's principles as unrealistic and counter-productive.

So I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I read about the Shivsena launching a Shantirath(peace-chariot) while campaigning in Malwan, where the upcoming by-elections see Narayan Rane, the former-Sainik-turned-Congressman, trying to retain his seat. Not just that, the Shivsena claims to be the "real followers of Gandhi".

A more fitting illustration of "Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi" is impossible to find.

The reason the Shivsena is swearing by Gandhian ideals (don't laugh too hard if you are reading this in office) is that Rane used to be their muscle in those parts. The Shivsena brand of politics has always relied on grandiose demonstrations of bravado and sabre-rattling. Such demonstrations can't be carried out by normal "party workers". They need the participation of folks who use bravado and intimidation in Folks with police records, tough bodies, and expertise in brandishing weapons. For Sena, in the Konkan(and most of Mumbai) region, Narayan Rane was the supplier of this commodity.

Now if Rane himself is the enemy, where will they get someone to fight him?

All this is very reminiscent of a 1990s Sunny Deol starrer 'Narsimha'. In the movie, Om Puri plays 'Baapji', an influential politician (coincidentally, he too wears shades). Deol plays Narsimha, his most reliable muscleman, his "problem solver" so to say. Due to a combination of various factors like a re-awakened conscience and the beauty of Dimple Kapadia, Narsimha turns against Baapji. Bappji sends some goons to punish the errant soldier, but Narsimha, in true Deol-esque style, swats them like baby flies, and says to Baapji - "Earlier when you had a problem you couldn't solve, you came to Narsimha. Now if Narsimha himself is the problem, whom will you go to?"

The situation the Sena finds itself is identical. When your biggest problem-solver becomes your biggest problem, who will solve it? No one. So what do you do?

Shantirath! :-)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Generation Fed on Bevan

I will not join the optimistic rally and pronounce that the Indian ODI team is back in gear. At least not yet. Yes, the Indian team has shown hunger never seen before in finishing off a 7 match series in the 4th match. What's more, the 3rd and 4th matches were actually won from challenging positions. However it is too soon to blow our trumpets yet. Such form should be maintained consistently, for at least a season, against different oppositions. Only then can we truly claim to have turned the cliched corner.

This post is to acknowledge the contribution to world cricket, of a certain Michael Bevan. The contribution which will be apparent more in countries such as India and Pakistan where the sport is not run very professionally. The contribution which will be fully evident only when it stops being noticed, because Bevanesque cricket will become the norm rather than the exception.

Over the past few years, players trickling into the Indian team are from the same generation as me. Guys who idolised cricketers from the 90s. And if there was one man who can be called Mr.ODI of the 90s, it is Michael Bevan. His success was symbolic of the evolution of one-day cricket as a separate entity from test cricket. It was Michael Bevan who showed that the ideal one day cricketer should be a great athlete and a great street-fighter. Diving saves and direct hits while fielding....sure, Jonty Rhodes was the poster-child of that sub-trade but Bevan was a huge franchisee too. Playing the ball with soft hands and stealing a single. Converting 1s into 2s and 2s into 3s. Meeting an asking rate of 8 runs an over without hitting too many boundaries. All these "tricks" made Bevan an ODI magician. Ask anyone who watched cricket in the 90s and he can tell you of dozens...literally dozens of occasions when Bevan came in with Australia in trouble, and he marshalled an impossible looking chase with just his nudges and aggressive running. And the guy refused to get out! No wonder that his average in ODIs is somewhat Bradman-esque.

In the past few matches, it is evident that the Indian team now has more and more players who grew up idolising Bevan. Until recently it was only Yuvraj, Kaif, Harbhajan and Pathan. But now more and more "children of the 90s" have started dominating the scene. We see Raina hitting the stumps with amazing regularity. We see bowlers like Sreesanth and R P Singh slide and dive to save runs with the natural agility of someone who has grown up doing it. In Pune we saw Dhoni, a butcher, slip effortlessly into the role of a sushi chef, deftly slicing the Lankan fightback with 1s and 2s, and yet maintaining the run rate.

Whether Team India will continue this winning habit remains to be seen. But I am positive that good fielders, runners and 'nudgers' will now be a rule rather than an exception. This truly looks like a generation fed on Bevan.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Explosion

Everyone around him was scrambling to the door. He sat there, clutching the handlebar tightly, his knucles white. He was frozen to the spot ever since someone shouted "HEY THIS BAG...THE GUY WHO GOT DOWN DIDN'T TAKE IT WITH HIM!". In a minute, the bus was empty. He too had managed to get his feet working. He saw the bomb squad had arrived.

The inevitable explosion happened. No, the bag was OK. It just had a few papers. No RDX. What exploded into tiny shreds was his innocence. His carefree trust.

Natwar Stripped...

... of the Ministry of External Affairs, making him the first casualty of the Volcker report. He will now be a "Minister Without Portfolio". Until Bush's 2006 India visit, Manmohan Singh will be in charge of the MEA.

If this isn't a MEA Culpa, I don't know what is.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Highway Robbery by the Government

"Don't steal, the government hates competition"

The first time I read this one-liner, I nodded heartily in agreement and approval. Of course, the first time I read it, I was 17, and the one-liner was on a sticker pasted on the bike belonging to a girl I used to have a crush on. So her bike sticker could have summarised Hitler's Final Solution, and I would still have agreed and approved. But that doesn't take away from the pithiness of the one-liner.

Readers might think I am referring to the cases of Natwar Singh's oil kickbacks, or the Sub-inspector caught accepting bribes on camera. Those cases are foul, and represent how deep corruption has penetrated in the Indian system. But I am talking about an example where the government, officially and legally, is stealing from the people. And in what is a real tragic irony, the victims of this theft are the same farmers whose suicides are used by several parties and "thinkers" to oppose free market policies. Read the following article and you realise that this theft would have been extremely unlikely and difficult under a free market regime. But under this socialist regime, it is literally as easy as signing a piece of paper.

Govt adds to farmer woes in Vidarbha

Here's the story in a nutshell. Farmers in Vidarbha, are being forced to sell their land to the government at a price way below its market value. The Indians laws, which show scant respect for property rights of an individual, permit the government to appropriate privately owned land, and also permit the government itself to set the price. The sellers victims can't negotiate. They can't even refuse to sell the land. The government will grab it anyway. Legally. In Vidarbha, the government is grabbing farm land and paying farmers only 1.2 lakh rupees an acre. The current market price, even within 100 km of the area, is around 70 lakhs. If an airport is being built nearby, I am sure the price would grow many times more.

Now, the very existence of such a tyrranical law is justified by its supporters saying that since the government will use the land for public good(roads, etc), it should be empowered to grab land from recalcitrant land owners. Well-being-of-many-is-more-important-than-well-being-of-few and all that jazz. Personally I find even this justification tenuous. But even if we do accept it for the sake of the argument, note what the Vidarbha land will be used for. It will be sold to private developers and companies. Buildings, industries, and an airport will come up on that land. Who will be doing this selling? The government of course. Already, it has auctioned off several chunks of the grabbed land at over 60 times the price they paid the farmers for it. The land is adjoining a highway, and has a great deal of commercial potential. Ideally, the farmers should benefit from the economic windfall. But the government is playing the part of a very canny middleman, and pocketing the profit.

If this isn't highway robbery, I don't know what is.

Imagine how things would be in a free-market scenario. Such a land-grabbing law would not exist. Neither would there exist laws which forbid farmers from selling their farms for non-farming purposes. Instead, a farmer would be free to negotiate the price of his land. Developers and private industries would come, negotiate a price, and buy the land from the farmers. Would robbery be possible even then? Yes, maybe. But only in the worst case scenario, and only if extreme force or threats were used. If the mafia decided to be the middlemen, and threatened the farmers to sell the land at below-par prices, and then sold it to the private developers, pocketing the profit. Even this would be possible only if the police/state were incapable of responding to the farmers' complaints about the mafia. Without threats of physical harm, the farmers are not stupid enough to sell the land below its real value.

Here, however, we have a situation much worse. If the mafia or even the private developers intimidate them, the farmers can go to the government, i.e. police and ask for protection. Maybe even hire private security agencies. Here, the government itself is intimidating and forcing the farmers to sell their land dirt cheap. Where do the farmers go?

A lot of people think that the biggest cause of the failures in our system is "corruption". I hope this example shows them, corruption is a symptom and not the cause. The biggest cause is the flawed system itself. In the Vidarbha case, let us assume no kickbacks have been paid to the government officials by private developers. Let us assume the deal is completely "clean" and free of coruption. Even then, with a process allowed, sanctioned, and enforced by the constitution of socialist India, hundreds of farmers are being fleeced out of a lot of money. Money that could improve their lot, enable them to start a new life in a profession much more productive, efficient, and profitable than monsoon-dependent farming. Money that could potentially stop a lot of suicides. Money which should rightly be in the bank accounts of farmers. But the money instead, is lying, not in the Swiss bank accounts of a few corrupt people.

It is lying in the coffers of the Government.

This will be cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog later today, marking my debut as a guest contributor on that fine blog.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Kobra Rocks Kobraland

Writing this post in the lunchtime of the Pune ODI. That enigmatic Kobra, i.e Konkanastha Brahman, Ajit Agarkar, has once again rocked Lankans in the bastion of Kobras - Pune. I am watching the match at home today, but I remember being in the Nehru Stadium six years back, when the same two teams were playing, and Agarkar took three wickets for thirty five runs. Now the Nehru Stadium is very close to Sadashiv Peth, the locality which is the more specific bastion of the Kobras. It seems like the ghosts of benevolent Kobras, led, possible, by the great Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, have been helping the wiry fast bowler out whenever he comes to their "ilaaka".

Okay, now, leaving behind talk of ghosts and castes and sub-castes and Pune localities, it certainly is Agarkar's day today. Don't be surprised if you see him walk out to bat after the fall of the first wicket in the afternoon.

The Worst Punishment in Hell....

..reserved for the worst sinners, would definitely be strapping them to a seat, forcibly keeping their eyes open ('A Clockwork Orange' style), and making them watch Shaadi No 1, the latest David Dhawan film.

Nuff said!

P.S - In my defence, my intention was not to go and watch the movie. I had gone to the multiplex to watch the much acclaimed Marathi movie 'Sarivar sari'. It was sold out. The only other options were either the aforementioned monstrosity, or the Kareena-Salman starrer Kyun Ki. Or else, go home. I suspect going home would have been the most sensible option. Meanwhile, if any of you have seen Sarivar Sari, mail me your opinions. If it really is good, I may try to book tickets in advance and watch it.