Vantage point

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Epic Battles

A reader sent me a mail drawing my attention to the Nilu-Krish wars. I was aware of them of course. Amazing fun, but the reader said it in a much better way than I could -

The whole thing is hugely fascinating. The Cartel vs. the others fight is nothing at all compared to this. Intrigue, skullduggery, shadow-boxing, complicated alliance, attacks and counter attacks.... nothing that you guys did matches up to this. I am eternally grateful to Nilu for doing this.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

That Cloud

That cloud
Dark ominous pregnant
Eclipsing the sun
Will it pass
Or will it burst

The Nest's Life

The nest loved it. It was the scene of all the action. It housed the chicks as they grew. As their eyes opened and adjusted to the bright sunshine. As they started growing a feather cover, and wings. It loved how its own life began at the same time as theirs. And how the life was so intimately connected to theirs.

And yet one day, the chicks became birds. Learnt to fly. The mother left. The birds flew away. And the nest? A few days later, it fell out of the tree in a strong gust of wind. An old lady stuffed it into a garbage bag.

And the nest died.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All work and no sex makes Pluto a non-planet

Pluto was doomed to be demoted the day its name was given to a relationship which involves a lot of talking, sympathy, support, "being there for you" but no sex. i.e the plutonic friendship. The demotion of the erstwhile planet was just a culmination of this emmasculating experience which lasted over several decades. You take sex out of the picture and sooner or later, the relevance has got to wither away.

Going by that logic, one planet that will never be demoted is Uranus. All hail the gays!

P.S - Yes, yes, I know it's platonic and not plutonic. But last I checked, there was still a long time to go until the expiration of my creative license.

Plij to be Putting Vote

Two pals of mine, young Chandru and slightly less young Kingsley have launched a cool website - It has an index finger index of the most popular and interesting stories/articles/posts online.

Go there and put vote.

Bhatt and Gatlin

Chanced upon an old interview of Mahesh Bhatt's a few days back in which he said "Originality is over-rated". Shocking. Mind-boggling. Insightful.

Next scoop, expect Justin Gatlin to say "Winning races without taking performance enhancing drugs is over-rated".


Ganpatis rediscovering their taste for milk, the sewage in Mahim turning sweet and Mother Mary crying in Kerala. I leave the country and in 10 days, it's already going bananas.

Get a grip, India.

Farewell Babumoshai

Zindagi aur maut uparwaley ke haath mein hai jahaanpanaah. Isey na hum badal saktey hain na aap. - Anand

My Leftist Leanings

Having lived almost all my life India so far, it goes without saying that I have pronounced leftist leanings. And having moved to the US I have no choice but to shake off my leftist leanings. It is impossible to survive in the US if you have leftist leanings.

Now before you bombard me with stats about how Hillary Clinton may just win the Democratic primaries, let me clarify what I mean by elftist leanings. I mean the tendency of us Indians to always gravitate towards the left side. It is of course ingrained in us thanks to the British legacy of driving on the left side. But what is interesting is, these leftist leanings are not relevant just while driving. We tend to stay to the left otherwise too. Be it while walking in a hallway, or climbing stairs, or even jogging.

And when you go to a coutnry where everyone is used to a rightist position, this could present problems. I was first made aware of this problem by Satyen years ago, when on his first trip back to India from Princeton, while leaving a cinema hall with us, he kept bumping into people.

I have had 2 minor collisions (and unfortunately, I report to you curious reader, both have been men) and averted 2 major ones while jogging. It will take a few months for me to get used to instinctively walk on the right side. And by the time I get used to it, I will be back in India for the Christmas break and again start bumping into people.

The world is a very complicated place for sure.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Patriotism and Social Justice

Recently the whole Vande Mataram issue, which has been a fertile controversy source over the years, flared up again. Several columnists wrote about it, several bloggers blogged about it and several experts said things on TV. This blog stands for absolutely uncompromised individual freedom so I am of course opposed to making Vande Mataram or even Jana Gana Mana mandatory. Forcing someone to do something against his wishes in the name of patriotism is wrong.

What I find interesting however is that several people who are opposed to making VM mandatory in the name of patriotism, seem to be completely OK with trampling on other sorts of individual rights in the name of social justice. Interesting and unfortunate.

Darwin Award for Pakistan

I came to know about the whole ball tampering issue a bit late. When I first heard about just the drama I was like, OK, maybe there was something to it. If Inzy really was sure that the ball had not been tampered with, then his indignation was justified. And the decision to delay the session understandable. I do believe Inzy is one of the most decent players around and would not be part of something dishonest.

But then I heard the score. Then I sat still for a few seconds. Then I went "WHAT!!!" rather loudly, making the tiny Chinese girl on the terminal next to me spill a bit of her coffee. Pakistan was sure to win the match. By pulling this stunt, they actually forfeited a test victory. That too a face saving test victory after losing the series.

This decision ought to qualify for the Darwin Awards. No one died of course, but still, the stupidity needs to be celebrated.

All Hail Colbert

I might be the zillionth guy....or to be more accurate the 17 millionth guy to say this, but Stephen Colbert rocks. Before coming to the US, I was told by everyone that I absolutely MUST watch The Colbert Report. But I had no idea it would be this great.

It's too bad the show isn't telecast back in India. All my friends would absolutely love it.

By the way, doesn't Colbert remind anyone else of the late Phil Hartman?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Keynesian Advertising

During the depression in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes suggested that that people should be paid for digging holes in the ground and then filling them up again. This would help give people purchasing power, and revive the economy.

I see that advertising in USA still follows the principle. Half the ads are about ways to lose weight, in other words, dig out all the fats from your body. And half are about junk food, with extra cheese and whatnot, to put all that weight back on. I bet this is the cycle that keeps recession at bay.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

He He...

Okay, some people who wrote in vastly appreciative mails about my PSU post are going to be pissed and hate me for life. But you all know my addiction for wordplay. And when such a massive opportunity for wordplay (alphabet-play??) presented itself, it would be unfair to expect me to restrain myself.

Later today I will be reaching PSU... the Pennsylvania State University. I will be starting my PhD in Marketing over there, specialising in Business Marketing.

Ever since the whole 125 crore brouhaha last year, one question I was getting sick to the teeth of was "So where are you working these days?" or "What are your future plans?".

So where was I working?

After the whole issue, folks responded really admirably. I had a total of 26 interview invites, from all sorts of top companies in all sorts of sectors, and for roles in marketing as well as other disciplines. But I took the opportunity given by that change in life to take a decision which was always lurking in the background in the scheme of things. I took the decision to move from the corporate world to the world of academics.

For that I would need to write the GMAT, gather transcripts, recos, write essays, the whole shebang, none of which would be possible if I took up a full time job in the meanwhile. So I did some consulting work for a couple of companies, which more than paid my bills. Got a few admits. Chose Penn State because it is one of the best schools to study Business Marketing in.

Vantage Point thus moves to the center of Pennsylvania.

P.S - Oh and yes, I still hate Public Sector Undertakings. :)

P.P.S - That does not mean I hate folks working in PSUs. Folks working in Indian PSUs are as bright as those in the private sector. They just happen to be stuck in a structure where the incentives are screwed up and priorities are warped. After all, Mittal's global empire has been built by a lot of former employees of Indian PSUs.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Emotional Eric!!

We all know how the usual emotions express themselves on our faces. But how would you look when fantasising about Ricky Martin? Or if you were wondering if your ears looked too big for your head? Or if you just realized you brought the wrong fabric softener?

A benevolent munificent unselfish young gent named Eric volunteers to take a shot at emoting all these things out for you. You can also send in your own requests.

My entry? "Looking for interesting links to post on your blog on realising you have nothing original to write today".

Link via mobile phone from Sarika.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Joining a PSU

People reading my blog will know that I have always been critical of the Indian state. I am especially peeved at PSUs. I always found PSUs to be behemoths that just suck blood from taxpayers and enjoy unfair monopolies.

Guess what? I have reformed. I have realised the folly of my ways. I have realised that to really make something meaningful out of my life in a way that it will be useful to the society, I must join a PSU. By working for private companies, that too MNCs, I was just working towards enriching someone else in some other country. Sure, I got a nice salary too. But the masters, those supposedly benign shareholders, sitting in America, were earning so much more. And without doing anything.

The most natural step after an MBA from an IIM would be to get into a PSU. I have been thinking about it since a few months, and I am glad to report that I will be joining a PSU in a few days. And the decision is also beneficial from a personal point of view. The pay is much more than what the MNC was paying me, and the work is relaxed. Obviously, being in a PSU means I don't have to stick to the cliched 9-to-9 routine that the private sector enforces. I won't have any sales targets, and I won't have to be in cut-throat competition with any other companies. I won't have to dress in formals and I won't have to worry about whether a promotion is around the corner or not.

So it is with great pleasure, humility, and a sense of social justice that I will be joining a PSU. And this PSU is an 84000-strong behemoth!

I am so happy.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Desi Profanity & Amdavadi Darwin Awards Contenders

A couple of cool posts on Sarika's blog.

This one leads us to speculate that Trey Parker, the co-creator of South Park, probably knows Indian profanity.... more specifically the hindi equivalent for the f-word. What else is a character called Chodaboy doing in a film called Orgazmo?

The second one pokes some well-deserved fun at residents of that fine city called Ahmedabad. It also tells us about a strong contender who, if sufficiently lobbied, could win India its first Darwin Award. When hundreds have died in floods all around you in the last few days, and you still go to watch the gushing waters like a tourist and drown, then we can only thank you for removing yourself from the gene pool.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sushikshit Fight

This was going to be a marathi post on my never-updated marathi blog. But my computer crashed, forcing me to rely on net cafes. Netcafes do not have the sofwtare requried for composing marathi in unicode.

When two well-to-do Delhiites fight, they let loose the choiciest of expletives invoking the females in each others' families. When two well-to-do Lucknowites fight, they take care never to slip up from using "Aap". When two well-to-do Bombayites fight, they raise voices, and make threats of bodily violence, daring the other person to take the first blow. Of course, both Bombayites are in a hurry so they go their separate ways before the violence begins.

When two well-to-do Puneites fight, they follow a very peculiar methodology. They berate each other for behaving in such a deplroable manner inspite of being "sushikshit" i.e educated.

One such exchange which I was privy to recently -

man1 - He bagha, tumhi mee mhaNto te aika (Look here, you listen to what I am saying)
man2 - Aho tumhi sushikshit asoon asa kaay vaagta? (Why are you acting like this in spite of being educated?)
man1 - sushikshitpanaa kaadhu nakaa. sushikshit aslyamulech mala kaLatay ki tumhi chook aahat. (Don't bring education into this. It is because I am educated that I understand that you are wrong.)
man2 - Aaho! Mee pan sushikshit aahe. Driver aslo mhanun kaahi mala ashikshit samju naka. I am also educated. (Hey! Even I am educated. Just because I am a driver don't think I am uneducated. I am also educated.)
man1 - Tumcha sushikshitpanaa kiti rikama aahe te kaltay (It is obvious how emoty your education was)
man2 - Jaasti bolu naka saaheb. Maajhya shikshanabaddal kahi bolu nakaa. (Don't talk too much, sir. Don't talk about my education)
man1 - Kaa? Kaa? Ataa kaa? Swatahach sushikshitpanacha vishay kaadhla na? Ata kashala laajtaay? Kuthlya college madhye shiklaat tumhi? (Why? Why? What's the matter now? You brought up the whole point about bein educated, right? Why are you feeling ashamed now? Which college did you go to?)

This is the umpteenth fight between Punekars that I have seen descend completely from the topic at hand and gravitate towards each others' education.

The city truly takes its "Education Capital" tag a tad too seriously!


A hindi news channel gets an anonymous call which says "India Gate ke paas red maruti mein ek bum hai".

The channel immediately starts a "news flash" - "India gate ke paas laal maruti mein bum". It informs the cops and sends an OB van with the cops to India Gate. En route of course, the correspondent sticks a mic into the cop's face and says "India Gate par bum ki khabar mili hai. Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?".

They reach India Gate and cautiously advance towards the red maruti. The chief of the bomb squad opens the door. What he sees inside leaves him speechless.

It's a homeless unwashed man in tattered rags.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

News Channels and Milan Subway

On any extremely rainy day in Mumbai, all news channels will send reporters to the Milan Subway in Vile Parle. They will stand there with the subway in the background and say "Jee haan, Ashutosh, Milan subway mein kaafi paani bhar chuka hai aur yahan se vaahano ka aana jaana namumkin ho gaya hai" or some such shit. Then they will add "Vaise thodi bhi baarish ho jaaye toh iss subway mein paani bhar jaata hai".

Now the second line shows that like any Mumbaikar, they know that Milan Subway floods if someone as much as spits in it. Then what is the point of focusing on it if you want to tell the viewers how intense the deluge is? Or on King's Circle? Or Lower Parel? Instead go to a place which does not usually get flooded. If there is knee-deep water even at such a place, then you are successfully conveying that yes, it is raining rather hard.

The next time I see a squeaky-voiced reporter telling me that the Milan Subway is flooded, I might just be tempted to drown her in that very water.

More about Railway Station Privatisation

Why should we privatise the railway stations at all?

Well, firstly, the government has no business running business and that itself should be a big enough reason.

But even looking at it from a utilitarian perspective, because life will be much better for all parties concerned. So from the utilitarian perspective, should ALL stations be privatised? Nope. At least not right away. Let us start from big stations which have footfalls numbering in multiple thousands. Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata..... big cities where the central location is a big plus for retail and restaurant businesses. Pune is the only station I have been to which has used its space in such a way and a vast majority of customers at the station coffee shop are non-travellers.

Bombay is a different case and I feel that most of the suburban train stations there too have this potential. There are a few small outlets at the Churchgate station and these outlets have many times more customers at any given moment than the Western Railways Canteen right there. But admittedly, all the customers are commuters stopping by for a bite.

A private company running a railway station with huge footfalls will have two main sources of revenue.

One will be the advertising of course. Even now we see at least suburban stations in Mumbai having several hoardings and posters. The second will be leasing out the space to eating joints or retail outlets. The second source of revenue will act as a natural counter-check against too many hoardings cluttering the station. Because to attract customers, they will have to ensure that the ambience is not intrusive and ugly. Think of malls. There is a lot of advertising in malls, but never so much that you will feel besieged by the ads. For the simple reason that if you dislike the atmosphere, you will take your business to a more pleasing place.

Look at any city centre in India. Any building is multiple storeys, to maximise the use of the prime real estate. The sole exception are the railway stations which are almost exclusively single storey. Even the few stations that are multiple storey, actually house railway offices. The multiple storeys could be the place where these businesses could be set up.

These businesses would of course exclusively target non-travellers. But a private company would also have incentives to maximise revenues from travellers. Stalls on platforms would be a lot posher. They would not earn as much as their cousins upstairs but would definitely be able to rake in more than what the railway-run kiosks currently do.

There will be problems of course. Streamlining the flow of people, parking spaces, access issues, etc. Especially in Bombay's stations. But a private company entering the business to make money would do so after ironing out these kinks, as opposed to a governmental body which works for the "public good", one of the most specious terms ever coined.

A reader wrote in to me talking about the Vashi railway station which is already quite versatile. It has various outlets, is clean, and even has several private offices in it. Indeed, many stations along the Harbour Line in Mumbai are like that. In fact Kharghar station has parking on the second floor, an "innovation" very rare in India. All these stations were built because of a few good men who happened to be in charge. By throwing many of our big stations open to the private sector, we can ensure this efficiency by and large regardless of the people in charge.

What about the small stations? The ones which do not have as many footfalls. I do not have a utilitarian framework on their privatisation will exactly pan out. But I am sure whatever earning potential they have will be maximised under private ownership rather than state-ownership.

Today the government's biggest expenditures are subsidies and wages. The wage bill is huge, keeps growing, thanks to multiple pay commissions. This government is keen on burning money in the name of social sector schemes. Well to burn money there, they have to stop burning money somewhere else, right? At the moment railway stations, with lakhs of unionised employees working in a business with misaligned incentives are a major bonfire for that public money.

So at least in the interest of burning money in newer hare-brained schemes ostenibly aimed at social justice, the government would do well to consider privatisation of railway stations.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oh Hang Him, I need a smoke!

Imagine if you were a juror totally hooked to smoking. And if you were told you couldn't smoke until you had decided on a murder case. Wouldn't you just say, oh let's hang him and go out for a smoke?

That's what Phillip Elmore of Ohio says happened to him. It would have been funnier if his name was Phillip Morris. Then the headline could have been "Phillip Morris dies because of smoking habit".

Mika and Rakhi

Don't be surprised today if you hear of Mika forcing his way into Rakhi Sawant's house and ties her up. After all 'tis the day to tie rakhis. :-P

Child Porn and Free Speech

A very common argument made by those favouring "reasonable" restrictions on free speech and supporting censorship is that it is needed to crack down on child porn. In fact child porn is the easiest counter-argument any pinhead puts forth.

Let us understand that cracking down on child porn is not censorship. In child porn, the rights of a child are being violated. So if child porn is being cracked down on, it is an exercise towards protecting the child's rights from being infringed. The crack down is not about protecting public morality or something. At least it should not be. So if someone writes a fantasy story with child porn in it, it should not be banned. But porn with kids' images should be.

It is no more censorship than cracking down on copyright violations is censorship. If you are clueless enough to think that Kaavya Vishwanathan's book was withdrawn due to "censorship", only then should you stupidly put forth the child porn example while arguing for censorship, even if in the rarest of rare case.

Because unless someone's rights are being violated, there is no valid excuse for restricting freedom of expression.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Eternal Question

Friend and I go to eating joint. I order chilli chicken. She orders egg toast. Half an hour later and the food still hasn't been served.

Reason for delay?

My theory - the waiter is confused about what goes first, the chicken or the egg. :-P

P.S. - I know, I know, the frequency of such posts has gone up recently. At such times, I am glad I am me and not you.

Privatising Railway Stations

The ideal scenario would be if the rail sector is thrown open and Indian Railways privatised. But even the most "educated" folks in our country would splutter out their coffees at the idea. So let us start small and let us start with something mildly achievable.

Railway stations can be and should be privatised. All railway stations in India are sitting on prime real estate. If rail tracks were to magically disappear tomorrow, all railway station land would command the highest possible price for the city. If a private company were to operate railway stations, it would have the incentive to keep them clean so that they can maximize revenues from it.

A few major changes are happening in my life these days, so am a bit busy to write a full-fledged post about this idea. Why don't you do it? In fact if you are b-school student, take this as a suggestion for your next marketing term paper. Possible revenue sources for privatised railway stations.

As a starting point, you can mention the privately run 24-hour coffee shop on the Pune railway station. Throw in some info about how foodcourts in American railway stations are quite successful.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Omkara Review

It was impossible to watch Omkara without comparing it to director Vishal Bharadwaj's previous Shakespeare film Maqbool. And Omkara comes in second. Primarily because, at least in my personal opinion, Macbeth is a far better play than Othello, both in terms of the story and the prose. Omkara has a couple of more chinks though. The casting for Maqbool was perfect. Omkara has two actors badly miscast. First one is Ajay Devgan. While the man may carry off superficially intense roles like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, he is out of his depth portraying a modern-day version of Othello. He just can not convey the dilemma, the confusion, and the betrayed trust well enough. A second minor miscasting is that of Bipasha Basu. I like Bipasha and think she is a decent enough actor, especially among the current lot. But she is too sophisticated to carry off a Billo Chaman Bahar. She failed at the latkas and jhatkas miserably, and her dances as well as mannerisms suggested a model who has turned up at a fancy dress party dressed as a nachnewaali, rather than an actual nachnewaali.

Those were the negatives. But even after taking them into consideration, Omkara is a brilliant movie. Bharadwaj has yet again managed to project the bard's story into contemporary India superbly. He has chosen as the setting UP's political world in which baahubalis, or strongmen play a very crucial role. This time he has stayed much more faithful to the actual plot than Maqbool where he actually made Lady Macbeth the wife of the King of Scotland. The only variation one sees is adding more flesh to Emilia/Indu, played effortlessly by the talented Konkana Sen Sharma. He has also added a bit more depth to Roderigo/Rajju, played by Sanjay Dobriyal who is sure to get more and meatier roles after his perfect performance.

But Othello was always Iago's play, and Omkara too is dominated by Saif Ali Khan who plays the desi equivalent - Langda Tyagi. The whole play rests upon the two-facedness of Iago, and Saif is able to wear the two faces without making the transition seem awkward or laboured. Often when actors have to play a character that behaves in two different ways, they end up delivering two separate performances. He though makes sure we can see Langda being sincere and compassionate. And we can see Langda be scheming, conniving and manipulative. And yet he manages to seem like the same person.

Shakespeare's plays tend to be too melodramatic for modern day cinema. I disliked Orson Welles' Macbeth for the same reason. Bharadwaj has however very adroitly scaled down the melodrama to perfection. Several scenes where excessive emotions overflowed in the original play have been weathered down. And this impacts the character of Desdemona/Dolly the most. Kareena Kapoor has delivered her best performance to date by calibrating her emotions perfectly. She seems more like Bharadwaj's Dolly, a much tougher task than seeming like Shakespeare's Desdemona, and in that lies Kareena's triumph.

Vivek Oberoi has a limited acting repertoire, but luckily for him, Cassio/Keshu does not require him to reach beyond it. The only person whose limitations were hopelessly exposed was Devgan, and one wishes that Bharadwaj would have cast Manoj Bajpai as Omkara instead.

The script is peppered with lighter moments which were absent in the original play and it helps make Omkara a much more wholesome product. The attention to detail in designing the backdrop is refreshing and unprecedented for the reality it manages to convey. And I don't mean the realistic depiction of the lax jail security which someone like Prakash Jha has already introduced us to. Or the MP's demand to turn the train around, an almost prophetic scene considering that it was written well before Lalu Yadav's brothers made trains change platforms. I mean the smaller detail as well. There is a lot of thought given even to the minor points which are seemingly unimportant to the script. For instance, in one scene, as Indu and Keshu are talking, Langda sits there applying nail polish to his pinky finger. Anyone who has been in UP would know that nail paint on a pinky is a bizarre custom among men of those sort. I don't know the reason behind it, but the fact that Bharadwaj wove it into the background shows the mental effort that went into writing the screenplay.

Another minor complaint as compared to Maqbool is that the music isn't as good. But whatever music is there has been used brilliantly. Especially the use of the song jag ja is heart-rending, during the tragically brilliant final few seconds of the movie.

Very rarely does one come across a Hindi film that is in a different league altogether. Unfortunately, such films are not box office successes. SO my advice to you is, go watch Omkara if it is playing on a big screen near you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Brace Yourself!

For the next 4 years, the FIFA World Cup will be written as FIFA World Cup.


Well, Italy currently hold it, so it has to be italicised. :-P