Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pink chaddi campaign & freedom

If Mr.Pramod Muthalik thinks he is the custodian of the cultural fabric of India, he is highly mistaken. He is also highly erroneous in his judgement that people who celebrate V-day, are not as respectful of Indian culture.

I say this simply because, people have found their new freedom in expression, that was absent all these years. The fact that they choose to exercise their freedom has no bearing on any remote allegation of their having forgotten their roots. Granted, some of these celebrations may not be in true Indian taste, but that is part of the transformation that is sweeping the country. We are becoming an increasingly global country. V-day is just one part of that transformation. It does not mean that we have forgotten our roots.

I am very much a part of the youth brigade in this country (defined as folks below 40!) and am eminently aware of my roots. At the same time, I see the reasons for the Pink Chaddi campaign hurled at the likes of Pramod Muthalik - people want to tell such folks not to interfere in the youth's expression and freedom.

This may have been a very crude way of making the Muthaliks of the world to eat humble pie, but I also think that it was a fantastic, peaceful and highly impactful way of putting the point across. Just imagine receiving endless pink panties as a V-day gift....that's exactly what Mr. Muthalik will remember for life - hopefully, as a scar that drives sense into his maniacal stand!:)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Roja to Slumdog - Jai Ho Rahman!

A man who simply knocked at the deepest corners of my musical compass & interests since that mesmerising music in Roja, back 1992. And the man's genius has echoed on the world's biggest stage in commercial cinema - 2 Oscars for A.R.Rahman! Yahooo!

What a guy - immaculate, perfectionist, hard-working, sincere, committed, down-to-earth (to the point of being boring!) and extremely passionate about his art - almost the perfect recipe to scale the earth

Hats off to you, AR...I cannot tell you how proud I am of your achievement at the Oscars 2009. You are truly India's musical brand ambassador around the world.

May you show the way for more stars in India, in the future. Jai ho! Jai Hind!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The sitar and the tabla are a great couple!

They are a great couple. I have admired their companionship and ability to speak to each other for years. They get better with age. The longer they are together, the more mesmerising their togetherness becomes - almost like, old wine in new bottle. I had another reconfirmation to this intriguing couple yesterday evening, when they came together at the Bangalore Habba - courtesy Anoushka Shankar and Tanmay Bose.

I am not referring to a pair of human beings and their love story here, but am talking about the fantastic symbiosis between the sitar and the tabla. They have fascinated me since a tender age, and I have only grown to appreciate them more as I have grown older myself! There is something amazingly soothing about them, operating together - seems to bring a certain peace; a vast reservoir of love, alive; a full expression to latent talents; a fantastic mode of expressing oneself; an uncomplicated, unadulterated kind of companionship, with no malicious intent beneath. They just enjoy each other's company. I find it thoroughly enjoyable!

The strings of the sitar are really one of a kind and that 'tone' of the tabla sends me into a different zone - I almost forget myself & the things around me, when I listen to them together. The variety of the pitch that the strings of the sitar bring out, gel so well with the adjusting beats of the tabla. It is seriously thrilling to note that when the tabla-wadak (player) shakes his head vigourously and pounds with melody on his magical 'drummy' instrument, the crowd just focuses on the phenomenal expression on display. Even the sitar player constantly gazes at the tabla-wadak and appreciates his energy!

And when the sitar hums its different tunes in different types of music, it’s amazing how the tabla can adapt itself to such diversity. Be it classical, carnatic, hindustani, western classical, fusion music or even jazz - the ability of the sitar to hit the highest/lowest pitches and hit you at the deepest corners are brilliantly tied in with the ability of the tabla to keep the beat of the music at a steady/high/low pace. It changes your mood. It makes you feel extremely good. And it just makes you appreciate how versatile these 2 magnificent instruments really are.

Possibly, the best thing I like is the exchange of smiles between the sitar player and the tabla-wadak ever few seconds during a concert. A lot goes on in exchanging those smiles - musical knowledge, indication of a change of tune, pure appreciation for each other's talent, hints to create a variation within the existing tune, you name it. (I am not a sitar player or a tabla-wadak, and am only guessing logically from what I have seen on stage!).

They are a great couple. Just makes your heart dance to their tunes- and it is one of the few things worth listening to, every now & then. The standing ovations are really earned...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pride of being a defence man

I am still recovering from the fantastic display of aeroplanes at the Aero Show 2009 yesterday in Yelahanka, Bangalore. It is an annual show that attracts the who's who in the world of aeronautical engineering, not to mention, the flashier movie stars and business tycoons.

I have been to this show a couple of times earlier in the decade, but this was the first time I learnt something concrete. Courtesy, the company of some knowledgeable friends, who are analysts of this wonderful industry called aeronautical engineering! All these years, I used to go to this show just to experience the thrill of skillful pilots rip-rapping the skies and making displays that would make my jaw drop.

Of course, my jaw did drop this time as well; just that I was even more amazed when I learnt about all of the following - the risks that these pilots undertake, the kinds of technologies they handle, the criticality of each of the planes that they operate for national defence, the competition that goes on in securing deals in defence, the incredibly sensitivity of the information that these planes carry and provide to defence intelligence et al. It was an eye-opener.

The greatest moment of the day was not actually on display in the air, but right on ground zero. There were scores of uniformed men patrolling the entire expanse of land that housed the planes and passers-by. As we were walking under the blazing heat, there were a bunch of people who were taking photographs with an armed officer. My defence analyst friend, Brijesh, also went up to him and posed for a couple of photographs with him - only to return stumped! That armed officer had 4500 sorties on his uniform i.e. he had flown a fighter plane 4500 times in his life, successfully i.e. returned alive! That just made all the hair in my body stand erect - out of sheer respect for the man. Just imagine the kinds of situations he would have undergone in his life; the kinds of enemies he may have encountered in his life; the kinds of conditions he would have operated under; and the sheer horizon and level of thinking that he would have. Mind-blowing. Just made me appreciate and respect the uniformed officer of India that much more - as against the bashing that I have seen on TV shows. Hats off to such people!

Of course, on display were some great planes and the antics on display were stuff that one usually sees in Hollywood war movies (Indianised version here, though)! The display of the day for me, was, as always, that magnificent F-16! What a plane! What a sleek, magnificent, classy and incredibly dynamic plane!! The kinds of revolutions it made, the kinds of drones it made, the ease with which it flew at low altitude or rotated 1000's of feet up in th air, were just breathttaking. After a point, I stopped clicking photographs of the F -16; I just wanted to stand there and enjoy the display and internalise it for a long time to come. And both my friends & I thought that the pilot navigating that fine aircraft would possibly be one of the finest aviators in the world. Phenomenal!!

There were other classy performances as well -the MiG, the F -18, EuroTyphoon, and of course that captivating Sukhoi!! There was even a regular aeroplane standing on the ground - LuftWaffe - with people mistaking it to be the Lufthansa!:). But the powerful are some of the greatest 'brands' in the aerospace world, and to see them do the kinds of things they did in mid-air were scintillating. And to think, that these things that were putting up acrobatic after acrobatic, actually have the ability to knock out the world, with their missile powers...

The Indian versions of the planes were a touch more mellow - Saraang, Suryakiran - but powerful in their own right! But, they were more popular with the crowds there, as they let our steam in the form of the national flag!:)

The crowd was colourful too - what with Valentine's Day coinciding with this weekend schedule of the Aero Show!:).

At the end of it all, I saw the reason as to why a place like Singapore has its nationals compulsorily serve the city-state in their defence service. It instils an incredibly amount of pride for the nation, teaches a person a lot about handling extreme situations and I guess makes a person amazingly worldly-wise.

I salute the armed forces!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The i-bankers are gone!

The credit excesses of Wall Street are only too well documented for us to narrow down to the prime cause of the world's ghastliest recession in the modern era. Not to mention the mounting debts that these credit excesses brought with them to the average denizens.

In all this, we seem to have forgotten the basic theory that world is a lot more global than it ever was in its history. It has taken us this sort of a severe beating to realise that classical economics no longer holds true i.e. supply will find and be matched by demand, purely by market dynamics. That was the old school. The Keynesian rules are far different from that - the market needs regular checks & balances, lest it crashes.

I am not great professor of economics (though it is my all-time favourite subject!). But, this market theory has just been seen in theory and in real life in the last year or so. How many of us envied those pin-striped i-bankers with jet-setting lives and making a few million bucks by selling the most complicated (so-called) equity reports. B-schools harped on i-banking placements, whenever consulting firms took a dip. More often than not, these 2 industries were jostling for space in most top campuses with the aim to grab the 'cream' of the talent. Cream for sure they did - the entire world economy, that is!

Who is to blame? I don't know. Why am I even bothering to write about it, when I am not in Wall Street or never defaulted on a payment? Well, I don't know why I feel it - no facts to back them up - but I feel it. Our globalized world and ambitious currents just made us believe these guys way too much. We swore by them, almost. A Merrill Lynch stamp on an IPO was sacrosanct! These Wall Street guys were 'aspiration' for folks who did not get there. They represented the successes of a corporate life - the types dreams are made of. Jet-setting, five star life, CxO connection, partying, and the millions! The important things in life - or, so they seem from outside, anyway!:)

But, how many of us who interacted with these salaried-millionaires, managed to ask tough questions on each recommendation they made? I don't know, again. Maybe they were asked, maybe they were not. And maybe they were asked and answered to as well. I don't know.

But, I do know, that the shareholder and average citizen never knew anything beyond those flashy reports. And that, I know is where the accountability ended with these flashy i-bankers. They were out to make their buck (good for them, nobody denied it to them); but they lacked accountability; made recommendations in a bull run, that the underlying currents went unnoticed - by everyone: experts, decision-makers, clients, finance whizkids, CFOs, CEOs, stock brokers, economists, students, et al. That, I guess was the biggest mistake.

In a way, it is sad that the i-banking profession has been hit so hard. Who would have ever dreamt that a household name like Lehman Brothers - ah, that dream placement for any MBA - would be history? But then - this is my conjecture again - alumni after alumni from every discernible business school, possibly did not correct the credit excesses of their predecessors?

I am not for once discounting the credibility or capability of these i-bankers. I am only thinking that maybe, nobody, just about nobody on the Street saw anything beyond his/her bonus. After all, the bonus is (rather, used to be), 5 times the salary of an average Wall Streeter!! We paid the price for THAT excess!

Now, the press and everyone else has enough ammunition to hurl at these erstwhile blue-eyed folks in the corporate world. We were possibly waiting for this sort of ammunition to hurl at them in our lifetime, anyway. Not because of the millions alone, but at a deeper level, for the 'gasbag/lack of accountability' they had.

The other day, my friend told me about the kind of rather discomforting reaction she received when she told somebody that her husband was an equity analyst - a once pristine profession! That, is a story in itself.

It's not Obama's problem alone

Obama has rocked the world. The man, who was an unknown quantity just 4 years ago, is now in the most powerful chair on planet Earth (or, so they claim). Expert parliamentarians, political analysts, economists and psephologists have all been stunned at his stellar growth from a chair on a village ranch in Chicago to the prime chair in the Oval office in D.C. His campaign was all about hope and bringing about the much-needed change. Not just for corporate America, but to the world economy at large.

But, I firmly believe that it is not Obama's solo prerogative to solve things in the world. He alone cannot do it and should not be given the responsibility to do it. After all, what justice is it to overload one man with the problems of the magnitude that are confronting us today? Solving job losses, pay cuts, no hikes, drowning brands and companies that are household names, inflation, high interest rates, declining revenues, taxes, poverty, AIDS eradication, the I's (Iraq, Israel) and the K's (Korean) and the P's (Pakistan, Palestine), are just a few of the things on this man's 'to do' list.

What we need is a collective endeavour to attack the world's problem head on. There needs to be a greater and more actionable role for the UNO (after all, it was created in the height of the mess in the 1940s', right?). We also need greater resolve from top funding agencies like the IMF, World Bank etc, in conjunction with banking institutions - and by that, I mean, exercising basic rules of credit checks while disbursing loans, be it a retail, government or corporate consumer.

I also feel that people around the world should stop saying that their solution is the only solution around. Liberalisation has brought this "know-it-all" attitude amongst a varied many, that can have a ripple effect (negatively) - as sound theory and alternate opinion will dissolve. For good opinions not to dissolve, I think we need a global central agency for policy reforms - not just country level. Some sort of a central authority that takes in inputs from various people around the world and presents the most actionable inputs to the 'powers-that-be' (Obama & his ilk). My reason is that, solutions may emerge even from the unfanciest of places possible and we need not always believe that pin-striped guys travelling in limos are the solutions to the world.

All in all, it is certainly not Obama's sole prerogative. He has a role to play. So do the rest of us.