Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Great Expectations

I have been keenly following the social media’s outrage on how bad a movie Chennai Express is and the surprise on how it has gone ahead to shatter most of the box office records so easily. The criticism has become even more unrestrained after the release of Madras Cafe – I have only read positive reviews of the same on the social media. Although I have not seen both the movies (we are watching Madras Cafe tonight) and this is not a blog in favour or against these movies – I think it all boils down to expectations.
Everything in life (both personal and professional) is measured against expectations – we are happy if things turn out to be as we expected them to be, otherwise there is disappointment – more the gap between the expectation and reality, greater the disappointment.
There are many brain dead movies that have been made and have done record business (many recent Sallu movies fit the bill) but there hasn’t been such criticism of them. Maybe the expectations from Sallu are not so high, maybe from SRK they are higher. Anyways the 100 cr club is serious underachievement – at a population of 125 cr and the govt figures of middle class + population of 30 cr, even if 2 cr people watch a movie the collections should be 100 cr at Rs 50/- per ticket. I think more than 2 cr people do watch a movie, especially over extended weekends with holidays. If Bollywood is serious about its business, they should be targeting a 1,000 cr business per movie – it will happen soon after the mindset of producers change – what good is a 100 cr collection if the lead actors are said to be charging 30 cr. More on this in the next week’s blog.
High expectations can have two divergent effects – for people who thrive under pressure, great expectations can propel them to achieve impossible goals, for people who can’t handle pressure well, it leads to serious underachievement. Many shine for some time before fading away. The second generation generally fail to live up to the great name of their families. Maybe it’s also about lack of hunger and lesser talent than the previous generation, but it is also about the pressure that expectations exert. Possibly this is the reason that more often than not, great talent comes out of nowhere and hits us one day – they are doing well elsewhere while the spotlight is firmly fixed on those we are so fixated on following.
Also that’s why the people of this country are feeling let down with the UPA II government – the expectation from Manmohan Singh were very high. If the third front under Samajwadi party (or equivalent) would have made a similar mess, the reactions would have been much less critical – after all, what would one expect from such a dispensation. I know a lot of people who felt let down with the time that Sachin took to reach the centuries of centuries. Come to think of it – what a great achievement but still – so much ridicule for a rare talent.
Is there a way out – maybe not? What good is life if there are no expectations? And who is to judge if the expectations are too high/too low in the first place. My solution is to achieve a balance – expectations from self should be very high. Expectations from others should be reasonable. High expectations from self will help us aim higher, reasonable expectations from others will avoid disappointments and more often than not, positively surprise, if others also have high expectations from themselves.
Do write in if you have anything to share.
Next week – Business of Bollywood

Tuesday, August 20, 2013



"The two most important days in your life are the day when you were born- and the day you find out why"- Mark Twain.
Note: "Here" in this blog refers to our world.

The previous week was my birthday, a lot of holidays and the time spent with loved ones allowed me to be philosophical and ask myself the above stated question. Although it is a very difficult topic for me to even broach and I am sure the answers will be very difficult to come by, (if at all), it would still be worth my time (and yours) to put my thoughts on the table/(or the blog, in this case). I hope the readers will come up with better answers on their own and will be kind enough to share them with me.

To put the question in perpective again- Why Are We Here, What Are We Here For? My beloved Guru's teachings tell me that all souls take birth to fulfill a certain purpose in life. The ones with good Karma can choose its parents while the others are not so lucky. A select few do find out the answer to that question very early in their lives and become famous doing so. A kid develops a liking to a particular sport and becomes world champ, another kid develops a skill with a musical instrument and becomes a mastero- I am sure there are many others who are not so famous but make a far bigger contribution-doctors/engineers/scientists/priests/professors/teachers and many more!

A very few are able to see the path they are suppose to walk on-let alone walk it. As for me, I am not sure what I am here for and I do hope that I am able to find out soon and am able to do my biding. So what to do until the 'Inspiration' strikes me to reveal my true calling? And how will I know?-borrowing from the movie 'Dil Toh Pagal Hai'- would a lightening strike/ shooting star fall/bell chime for me to know? I will just know I guess-maybe its like falling in love. In the meanwhile I should just try to make a difference in some lives. Thanks to the internet, I came across a lot of nice thoughts and some of which have stuck in my mind and are relevant here- Helping total strangers, Random act of Kindness, Doing a favor to someone you know who will never be able to repay you, a word of encouragement to those who need it, a silent prayer for those who you cannot directly help. There are numerous things that can be done, and I guess, everything counts.

In the end- again to borrow are of my favs- if we are able to leave the world a better place than what we found it- I think we would have contributed! If what Rajesh Khanna says in 'Anand' is true- if the world is indeed a 'Raangmanch' for us 'Kalakaars' to play a part in- it doesn't matter if I don't have the lead role or even a significant role. I just have to play my part well. Since our time here is limited and we don't know exactly how much we have (more on that in a different blog) it is imperative for us to deliver a superlative performance- nothing less would be acceptable.

Next week- I haven't finalized a topic yet- although I can assure you that I have more than three months of thoughts in my mind at this point of time-- which one will I present? Well, I will wait for the "Inspiration" to decide.

 As always do write in to share your thoughts.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

10 questions that need answers

We are told that the public memory is short. I think it is getting shorter as time passes by. News items that grab headlines for days altogether get dropped from the mainstream media (and hence public discourse) as we move to the next “breaking news”
I wonder what happens to the questions that remain unanswered? This is why i thought to put some of these back on the table. These are the issues that are important as per my understanding. At the outset, let me also say that i may have missed some bigger and more burning issues.
1.       What is the status of the Purulia Arms dropping case
On the night of 17 December 1995 a Latvian aircraft dropped a large consignment of arms including several hundred AK-47 rifles and more than a million rounds of ammunition over a large area in West Bengal’s Purulia district. Several days later, when the plane re-entered Indian airspace, it was intercepted by the Indian Air Force and forced to land. The crew of the aircraft consisted of five Latvian citizens and Peter Bleach, a British citizen. They were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment while alleged kingpin Niels Christian Nielsen (aka Kim Peter Davy), a Danish citizen and member of the Ananda Marga group, escaped. The Latvian crew (who gained Russian citizenship while in Indian custody) were later pardoned and released in 2000. Peter Bleach, too, was released on 4 February 2004, via a presidential pardon. In 2007 Kim Davy was traced by Denmark authorities and on April 9, 2010 Danish government decided to extradite Kim Davy to India but Danish authorities failed to successfully defend their decision in the Danish high court. The court, therefore, refused extradition of Kim Davy to India. He has still not been extradited.
Who were the intended recipients of such a large cache of arms? If 7 terrorists could created such a havoc in Mumbai with some AK47’s what would have happened if even some of these “several hundred” AK 47’s would have reached the anti national elements? And this was in 1995. Answers awaited?

2.       Why do Mumbai’s roads get washed away every year?
Not only are the roads of Mumbai are in the same (bad) state every monsoon, the state just keeps getting worse. Something should be done to break this contractor – BMC-neta nexus. Maybe the reason this happens every year is that this is a way of “indirect” loot and hence public reaction is not too strong.  But loot it is. Can something be done?

3.       Why has Dawood not been brought to book for all the crimes against the country?
India’s most wanted terrorist safely operates from our neighbourhood. He is always in our subconscious mind – thanks to Bollywood who keeps romanticising this criminal (more on that in a different blog). He was in the news twice recently – IPL betting and the attack on Abu Salem inside the jail. Can we never bring him to book? Why can’t he be chased and be made an example of – remember Bin Laden and America?

4.       What will happen to the Padmanabh temple treasure?
Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and located in Thiruvananthapuram. The shrine is run by a trust headed by the royal family of Travancore. In June 2011, the Supreme Court directed the authorities from the archaeology department and fire services to open the secret chambers of the temple for inspection of the items kept inside. The temple has 6 vaults The review of the temple's underground vaults was undertaken by a seven-member panel appointed by the Supreme Court to generate an inventory, This revelation has solidified the status of the Padmanabhaswamy temple as one of the wealthiest temples in India and with the final estimate of the wealth, it might overtake the Tirupati Temple—hitherto thought to be the wealthiest temple—having some 32,000 crore or 320 billion (US$5.4 billion) in gold, coins and other assets. It is estimated that the value of the monumental items is close to 1.2 lakh crore or 1.2 trillion (US$20 billion), making it the richest temple in the world. If the antique value is taken into account, these assets could be worth ten times the current market price. It’s a lot of money to be just forgotten about. Mind boggling i say. Any ideas?

5.       What is the status of the Swiss bank accounts that Indians held?
Anna Hazare and his group brought this debate into the national discourse last year. The numbers were dizzying – enough money kept outside the country to pay off our national debt. Although we can keep debating the size of this offshore money, I wonder what has happened to action that was to be taken against the people who held this? Or are we waiting for “Anna is back” I am sure many in the government would also be praying for one of his “indefinite” fasts to go on a path of no return – the nuisance will be gone once for all and the public memory is short. Action report required, maybe?

6.       If “Garibi Hataao” has been the mantra of Congress, why is most of India still poor?
This is classic. Garibi Hatao (GH) has been the mantra of all Congress governments and they have “ruled” this country almost 55 years now. If they were a private company, they would have closed 50 years ago due to gross mismanagement. If they were an employee in a private company, they would have been dismissed 54.5 years ago due to utter incompetence. But we are not so lucky. I guess GH applies only to their netas. Garibi Hataao anyone?

7.       What is the status of the Telgi scam? Has the money been recovered?
Abdul Karim Telgi is a convicted counterfeiter. He earned money by printing counterfeit stamp paper in a 600 billion (US$10 billion) scam. He and several associates were sentenced to 30 years rigorous imprisonment. On 28 June 2007, Telgi was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 13 years for another aspect of the scandal. He was also fined 1000 crore (US$170 million). The Income Tax Department requested that Telgi's property be confiscated to pay the fine. He is in bad health and may die soon, burying with him the secrets of both the co-conspirators and the current status of all the money that is believed to be scammed. Will we ever get the answers?

8.       What are we doing to prevent the disaster that we are speeding into?
We are heading full speed into a terrible disaster. We here is the world – which supports 7 billion people now – more than ever in the history of the planet. It took us thousands of years to reach a population of 1 billion – by 1800’s. In the next 200 years we doubled to 2 billion by 1920’s and then doubled again to 4 billion by 1970’s. We are on track to doubling again – soon. Most of our problems can be traced to the sheer number of people that the planet is currently supporting. At this rate, we will reach the point of no return soon. Can something be done about it?

9.       Why is there still no treatment for Cancer?
The world's oldest documented case of cancer hails from ancient Egypt, in 1500 BC. The details were recorded on a papyrus, documenting 8 cases of tumors occurring on the breast. From the 1920’s mankind has been trying to find a cure for the dreaded disease. It is difficult to imagine that the problem remains unresolved after almost a century of dedicated research. What will it take to discover a cure in the next decade?

10.   Why is the army called every time there is a crisis?
We have a wonderful tactical unit to tackle all crisis – it is called the Indian Army. Uttarakhand floods – no problem.  Riots/curfews to be imposed – let’s call them. Terrorist attacks – call of action. Elections – their duty calls. Kids fell into borewell ditch – let’s send the SOS out. And by the way, they are also required to unfailing guard our borders, with us being surrounded by hostiles from all sides. Are we not demanding too much from them? What will it take for us to really develop a disaster recovery unit instead of calling out the army every time?
When asked correctly, questions can lead us in the right direction. Not all of them will have answers, not all of them should have answers. Some solutions may be immediate, some may take time. But i think it is important not to forget about these, maybe the mainstream media can publish the important ones that slip out of our collective memory every year. And some more that need us to think about answers to them.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Next week – Why are we here and what are we here for

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Is gold the problem or the solution

For the past 6 months various “people who matter” have been complaining about our love for the yellow metal and how it has caused various problems that we currently face – our Finance Minister even appealed to his fellow countrymen to consume less gold so that the current problems of the country can be tackled. I hope soon he will also appeal to his fellow cabinet ministers to be less corrupt and work for the benefit of the nation – even better – he should appeal to them to take a permanent retirement from all forms of “public (self) service”
Our obsession with this metal is legendary.  India was called “sone ki chidiya” and the gold attracted many mercenaries from across the world to plunder this wealth – some of them stayed back to become rulers of this great nation.  We now consume about 25% of the world’s production of gold as against 10% a decade back – a level that is clearly unsustainable.
By some estimates we hold gold worth 2 trillion dollars. To put this number in perspective, our annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the total economic activity of the country is about the same number). Although i am not a big votary of gold as a asset class (more on that some other day) it is indeed a lot of wealth that is held by the citizens of this country. 
The problem is not the domestic consumption of gold – the problem is that we don’t produce any of it – almost everything is imported and paid for in dollars. Instead of trying to get to stop consuming it, maybe we need to think how to reduce the import of the same.  Gold imports magnified itself in a problem as the price of gold increased about 5X in the last decade and our demand of gold doubled during the same period.
Lets look at some possibilities  -
1.       Improve the domestic recycling of gold – We are not satisfied holding so much of gold - we also keep adding by importing a lot of it - almost 850 tonnes of it every year. Incentivising people to recycle some of this gold – gold FD’s/gold bonds is an option that needs exploring.
2.       Get it out of our religious institutions - The Tirupati, Vaishno Devi and Shirdi temples hold a large quantity of gold that should be sold – it will give these temples cash which can be put into other financial instruments like FD’s and will spare the headache of safety of this metal while it is in the vaults of the temple. The Tirupati temple holds about 200 tonnes of gold and deposits 1 tonne every year with SBI in its gold deposit scheme. All the gold held by the other religious institutions of the country will easily be 4 times of what Tirupati temple holds – about 800 tonnes which would be enough for us not to import gold for a year. These nos are estimates but there is little reason to doubt these.
3.       Encourage the electronic goods recycling in the country – some large global players are able to produce 10 tonnes of it every year by this method. The laws such be made stringent so that the pollution levels do not increase due to this but this is a good way to create a steady supply of gold into the country. With the consumption of electronic goods ever increasing in the world, the supply of goods to be recycled should not be a problem.
4.       Re open the Kolar gold mines – the mines in Karnataka have been closed since 1992 and can produce about 20 tonnes of the metal every year.
5.       Prevent the flow of black money into gold - Enforce the KYC at jewellers more strictly – it should not be possible to buy gold without PAN or an Aadhar card.
6.       Enforce the wealth tax on gold holdings more rigorously – the gold deposited with the banks under the gold deposit scheme should not be levied this tax hence encouraging the citizens to use this scheme in a better way.
Only the combination of the short term measures (1, 2, 5 & 6) and long term measures (3 & 4) will ensure that we come out of the current difficult situation and do not go back into it the next time the prices of gold start moving up sharply again.
Maybe it is both a problem and solution – it is just a matter of perspective.
As always – thoughts and comments are welcome.
Next week – 10 questions that need answers