Tuesday, 31 December 2013

I. IIT, IIM and IIO

The next time some one asks me if I went to IIT, IIM, I can truthfully say answer in the affirmative. I was at IIT KGP in 2012. And in December 2013, Deepta took me along to an alumni reunion at IIM Ahmedabad. It was largely uneventful for me, but what happened to me upon my return left me in a state of shock of an order from which i am yet to recover fully.

It happened the morning after my return. The car door would not open. I struggled with it for some time to no avail when suddenly the car started speaking to me. Turns out the car wanted to know about my trip.

So how did the recall go? Did they fix her or has she come back none of her faults resolved?
What, are you talking to me ? What recall ?
Yes I am talking to you. If there is a problem, there is a problem. It is not your fault. There is no need to be defensive.
I don’t get it, what are you talking about ?
Last week, you went to IIM Ahmedabad, did you not, you went with Deepta.
Yes.
And did she not go there where many of her batch mates were present?
Yes.
That’s the batch recall I am talking about. How was it.
This was no batch recall. It was a batch reunion.
Now now, again you are getting defensive. There is no shame in admitting to a problem.
There is no problem with Deepta.
Come on man. What about her poor sense of direction? What about her tendency to straddle two lanes when on a highway ? I have heard you rant about it. I have often wondered why you don’t send her back for repairs if you are this unhappy about her driving.
That’s not something IIM Ahmedabad can fix. In any case, this is not something that I can send her back for.
Aha, we are making progress. You are finally admitting that she is defective. You are just saying that this was not the right factory to get this fixed in. Do I also hear that it is not for you to send her back, because you are but an accessory? May be you are not an approved accessory, may be therein lies the problem. It happens with us, cars, too. If a car is fixed with an accessory which is not from an approved source, it goes out of warranty. Is that what happened?
Nothing. Because nothing needed to be fixed. Not in me, not in her. I am also not an accessory. Ok?
Ok ok, no need to get angry. Getting angry will not change the fact that you are just an accessory.
Bull shit.
Don’t swear at me when I am holding up a mirror to you. Are you from IIT, no. Are you from IIM, no. Did you not hear about the Oswal groom hunt? Every dad wants his daughter to marry someone who went to a better college and can therefore provide better for the girl.
But I did go to a better college, I studied at Yale, one of the best universities in the world.
Did you even finish your Ph D, no. Your MA is a far cry from an MBA.
Nonsense. I am the CEO of IRIS. And let me tell you, Deepta is not an MBA, she only has a PGDBM.
How terrible you are. It is Deepta and Balu who made you CEO.
Come on.
Sorry to prick your ego, but you are only an Iyer, she is an Iyengar. She is well read and talented. I am convined that you must have slipped in through some CSR program.
Stop stop. I thought you wanted to discuss the batch recall, sorry I mean the batch reunion.
You really are rotten. You are prepared to change the subject to save you own face. But you know, we cars are trained to be more focussed, else we won’t be able to take you places. So yes, lets discuss the batch recall.
Honestly, Honda san, this was no recall, this really was a reunion of her batch.
You know just before I came to you and was still in the factory, they had a recall of the batch of September 2013 Gurgaon factory. They all had a carburettor problem which needed to be fixed. Tell me, was the whole batch recalled ?
Not all of them could not make it to the reunion. And the only recall was of memories.
I wonder why the batch sent back without repairs. It happened to the July 2013 batch in our factory. The engines were heating up, so the batch was recalled. The company though sent the cars back without fixing them as it was too expensive to fix. They found some loop hole in the sale contract which allowed then to get away. The same must have happened here. I get it. Since this is the batch of 1989, the manufacturer would have invoked what you call the statute of limitations since it is 25 years since manufacture. Nothing lasts for ever you know. And no warranty can be to perpetuity, obviously.
But let that be. You know the fun part of batch recall for all of us is to see how different owners have accessorised their cars. Did this happen? Though I must admit that this cant be fun for the cars that are getting compared.
If you wish to compare like for like, as you should, I don’t I think there was anybody quite like me. There were some 25 women in Deepta’s batch of which only 8 or so showed up. Most of the 8 had opted for what is called comprehensive placement on campus itself. Deepta was the only person who showed up with a spouse like me. So, no comparison, sorry to disappoint you.
Another thing that happens during our batch recalls is to see how well the cars have been maintained. I am sure the humans would have done the same, na?
Arey, these are friends, they are batch mates. They have come together to rekindle old bonds.
If you are trying to tell me they don’t compare, you need to wake up. You don’t think people were comparing the marketcap of Rashesh, Bichoo and Nirmal ? Hell, why do you think Roshni, Dingo and Rashesh made a pact to finish ADHM together ? To avoid embarrassing each other withe the recall happening so soon afterwards. At the same time, you need to ask why Roshni did not show up at the recall. Because by finishing with the men, she was showing that she was better. Of course they compare, they kept comparing all the time. The men were even comparing which of their spouses had been better preserved. I don’t know what world you are living in.
I am tired of this. Let me tell you once and for all that this was a batch reunion, where friends got together, not a batch recall. Human beings don’t get recalled in the way cars do. Before you get started again, yes we do die. I think you could call that a recall but that is by God, our maker.
Do you know this God. After fixing you will he send you back?
Depends. I have heard that the more spiritually evolved among the humans don’t come back in physical form, unless they choose to. They become one with the universe, they blend into what we call universal consciousness.
That happens to us too. I have heard in the factory that those that cannot be set right are sent to the scrap yard after which we are melted down and become one with other metal.
Scrap. Consciousness. I have never heard of them being equated. And seriously, when you think about it, batch recall, batch reunion, same same only. Na?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Ten action points for AAP ka aur mera Arvind Kejriwal

Suggestion # 1. Every minister must put up his daily appointment calendar for the public to view. the same must be insisted of the senior bureaucrats at the level of Secretary and above to the Delhi government.

Suggestion # 2: The annual IT returns for the last 2 years (and from now on for every year) of every MLA of AAP and therefore every minister must be available on the AAP website for the public to view. I see from the candidate affidavits that many of them have family members in business. It is important to know what business they are in, not to mention the naems of the firms and associates and if they, directly or indirectly, do any business with the Delhi government.

Suggestion # 3: AAP must take a cue out of the US and get a DATA ACT passed, this will make every rupee of government spending visible to the public. Here's a link to everything you may wish to know about the DATA Act.

Suggestion # 4: The mohalla sabhas must have an offline and an online component. I have been to a mohalla sabha organised by Arvind and they really are powerful platforms. But an online platform is a must too.

Suggestion # 5: Every MLA must have a microsite which must be available as a forum for reaching out to his / her constituents. It will also be a forum for the voters to stay in touch with whats happening and to offer their inputs to their MLA.

Suggestion # 6: Arvind and the rest of the leadership should immediately project themselves as being rulers of all of Delhi. Arvind should issue a statement that he is CM of everyone, including those that voted for the BJP or the Congress.

Suggestion # 7: It is easier being an activist than being in government. I can see that the transition is understandably difficult for AAP too. as a first step, the party should identify leaders who are authorised to speak on subjects in which they have expertise. Others should keep their mouths shut.

Suggestion # 8: AAP has made 18 promises in their manifesto. One MLA must be assigned one promise to carry forward and take full responsibility for. From the day the government is formed, there should be a weekly briefing on the progress.

Suggestion # 9: It is time to stop being touchy about things like the offer of security. An assault by a lunatic on an elected official is an attack on the state and if visible security can be a deterrent, it must be recognised for what it is. Security is not a status symbol in such a situation.

Suggestion # 10: I am yet to see how the Rs 20 crore that was raised was spent. It is time to get the accounts from each candidate and publish it online and make it available for the world to peruse.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Will you atleast read the Aam Admi party manifesto before being dismissive of them ?

Until a little while ago, I had not bothered to read the manifesto of the Aam Aadmi Party. I am not a resident of Delhi and I had figured that it would make no difference whether I read it or not.

But something changed last evening. All these days I had been under the impression that the party had been promising 700 litres of free water to every resident of Delhi. The media kept screaming about the stupidity of this promise and how this was a classic example of their incompetence, their ineptitude and so on.

All of this changed for me last night too, on the Karan Thapar show. A very articulate, self assured Atishi Marlena of AAP put things into perspective. She clarified that households consuming less than 700 litres get the water for free, the rest have to pay for water and those that consume more then 1000 litres have to pay a premium. But in what has become par for the course when one's mind is already made up, Karan Thapar played deaf, repeating what he had been told by his editorial staff that AAP had promised 700 litres of water to every household. I was enraged.

Which is how I decided to go back to the basics and read the manifesto. The manifesto itself is in Hindi and the party website provides what it calls the gist of the manifesto, crux is the word they use, in English. It says: "Households using up to 700 litres of water (per day) would be given free water." crystal clear, i should think. I am not referring to the water which we still need to test after it is served up. But the promise could not have been clearer.

So what is Karan Thapar's problem? To be fair to him he was much more patient with AAP than many of his fellow travellers. Yet the fact remains that many of those who depend on the media are getting badly shortchanged. facts are not presented, except after twisting them to support a conclusion. That is tragic, to say the least.

AAP deserves a break. The next time you see a channel trashing them, a newspaper criticising them for a promise they are supposed to have made, please, please get a fact check done. For the first time in my living memory, have some people made us believe that change is possible. Let us not bury that under a avalanche of lies fed to us day in and day out by a bigoted, self seeking, self serving media controlled by vested interests.

I want to leave you with but one thought. Honestly, the folks in the Aam Aadmi Party are not the greenhorns they are portrayed to be, nor are they irresponsible by any stretch of imagination.

Post script:
I had planned to launch this section of my blog on the day AAP takes over in Delhi but after what I saw yesterday and have been seeing over the last few days, I simply did not want to postpone it.

Monday, 23 December 2013

I. Me. Myself.

I am an extinguished journalist. I am the slowest runner on earth. I am also the Founder & CEO of IRIS Business Services Limited (www.irisbusiness.com) a firm I founded with Deepta Rangarajan and K Balachandran. I became the CEO not because I am the most deserving. Just because.

I am also horribly overweight, ok, may be not so horribly. But enough for every doctor to make fun of me when I tell them about my running. You cannot be too good, they tell me and they are right.

I took up running to deal with my attention deficiency disorder as Americans are wont to call it. You know how they have converted every situation to a disease or illness so that one does not have to take responsibility for it.

When you are on the road for as long as I am, you cannot afford to be very attention deficient. As I like to tell people about my long runs, I am so slow that I leave home yesterday only to return tomorrow. Not because I run long distances but because I am so slow that it takes me a long time to cover even short distances.

I took to writing for the same reason, to deal with my ADD. I started by getting onto Facebook where I put up notes for people to read. Some did. And now I have decided to take all of my Facebook notes and put them together to launch a blog.

I will write about anything that attracts my attention, running, politics, economy, whatever.

When I was a journalist and even now, I meet a great many number of fascinating people. Each of them has a story to tell which I will share with you.

At IRIS, we have built a reasonably successful business around XBRL, an information standard which is becoming ubiquitous across the world. Today, as we approach 2014, I am thrilled that we have a presence in as many as 14 countries where we have implemented our software.

I will write about politics as the subject fascinates me. i returned to India after my education in the US in 1987 because I entertained aspirations of being a politician, I have long given that up, instead I am now trying to do something to reform our politicians.

I studied economics at Yale, a subject in which I have more than a passing interest. My greater interest is in public policy where I am convinced that the quality of discourse can be improved significantly. It is for this reason that we launched www.esocialsciences.com, perhaps the biggest social sciences research portal in this part of the world.

I call my blog Abol Tabol, inspired by the work of the same name by the great Bengali writer Sukumar Ray whose son, the legendary director Satyajit Ray, everybody would have heard of for sure. Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol, a collection of poetry, belongs to the genre known as literary nonsense.

Welcome to my Abol Tabol, my world of nonsense. Because I recognize that what makes sense to me may seem nonsensical to you.


S Swaminathan

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Crack Crime With XBRL

crime-sceneOver the last week, the CBI has been reeling under the embarrassment of goof-ups over incorrect information. In the Purulia arms drop case, the warrant had expired. In the case of the two wanted men who are actually in India even as the list given to Pakistan says that they are in Pakistan, the information was always available in the system but somewhere along the way the validation checks did not happen. All of these mistakes could have been avoided with XBRL. The government should seriously consider moving all crime records to XBRL to prevent recurrence of such incidents and, more importantly, to make investigations speedier and subsequent prosecution more effective.

XBRL or eXtensible Business Reporting Language, as its full form is, has been in use in India for the last three years at the RBI. From July onwards, some 30,000 companies will be filing their annual returns in XBRL. SEBI too is all set to start receiving filings in XBRL from mutual funds to start with and has drawn up plans to receive data from all market participants in XBRL.

LEAVING A FOOTPRINT

So, what then is XBRL. Simply put, it is an information standard which is also machine readable, or if one is familiar with the technical term, XML. Except that unlike most other XML standards, this is open source and royalty-free. Nobody owns XBRL, though there are several companies in the world which have written software for XBRL.

Every piece of information leaves a footprint. In the case of Feroze Abdul Rashid Khan, who has been lodged in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail, the records would have shown that he had been the government’s guest since February 2010. If only the list had been generated from a set of records in XBRL, this information would have jumped out, pointing to the error. Similarly, in the case of Wazhul Kamar Khan, the man living in Thane, the fact is that he is out on bail. His footprints were visible all over the cases registered against him and by simply writing software to match information footprints, this contradiction too would have been caught. Moving the information to XBRL is about much more than merely creating a database of crime records. The XML nature of XBRL makes it machine readable; what comes over and above is the prescription of data standards which spells out how data will be captured fully.

In the most celebrated white-collar crime of recent times, the problems at Satyam would have been detected early, had the filings been in XBRL. It is unlikely that Ramalinga Raju would have allowed a provident fund deduction from the salaries purportedly paid by him to allegedly fictitious employees; amounts that he allegedly siphoned off for his own benefit. Even the JPC probing the telecom scam would do well to use XBRL in its investigation.

AVOID INHERENT CONTRADICTIONS

Whether it is a white-collar crimes or crimes of any other colour, painstaking investigation requires the piecing together of information that tells a cogent story without inherent contradictions. In short, the footprints must match. With the help of XBRL that task will become a lot easier.It is time the CBI, as the nodal investigative agency, or NATGRID, the National Intelligence Grid, the brainchild of the Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, adopts information standards to make their respective tasks easier. XBRL is still in its early days in many parts of the world, and the focus in many countries continues to be on business and financial reporting. India would be viewed as a pioneer if it looks beyond. The time to do that is now.

With XBRL, you can’t hide

In 1999, five accountants, working independently, tried to figure out if the Enron lie could not have been caught before it blew up. The basic question before the five accountants was: where did Enron hide its muck. They asked if there were lessons to be learnt from the Enron saga that would improve disclosure.

Thus was born eXtensible Business Reporting Language or XBRL as it is called. As the language for the electronic communication of business and financial data, it is revolutionising business reporting around the world. The XML properties of XBRL make the information machine-readable. The addition of business rules to XML creates XBRL, creating an information set that is more easily deciphered. XBRL greatly increases the speed of handling of financial data, reduces the chance of error and permits automatic checking of information.

More than 100 countries have embraced XBRL – the list includes China, Korea, Japan, the US and most recently, India.

At IRIS, our exercise to develop India’s first XBRL database of listed companies threw up some startling findings. We were stunned that for several companies, the financial statements for financial year 2008 lacked internal consistency in the sense that the numbers reported in the schedules did not tally with the number in the main financial statement. The variations ranged from as high as 40 per cent in some elements in some companies to less than 1 per cent in others.

We also found a company that has been reporting the same cash flow statement for three years running, word for word, number for number, decimal place for decimal place.

It is still early days but the benefits are self-evident. The outgoing US SEC Chairman Christopher Cox calls it the new Information Revolution. All companies listed on US exchanges have two years to move to XBRL-based reporting, the investment companies have until 2009 to do so and the rating agencies have been asked to comply soon.

India, a late adopter, is slowly but surely moving in the same direction, XBRL implementation is happening at BSE, NSE, SEBI, RBI and MCA, with each of them working to their own schedule. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India has taken the leadership to form an XBRL jurisdiction in India.

But could the adoption of XBRL have helped in the early detection of the Satyam fraud? The answer is no. However, the use of XBRL can now help investigators unravel the Satyam story quickly.

Also, the implementation of XBRL can help the board see the information tabled before it with greater clarity, knowing fully well that if there is a footprint anywhere that is out of place, it will be visible. With the implementation of XBRL, you can’t hide, the trail will show up somewhere on the radar.

S. Swaminathan is the Founder CEO of IRIS, and India’s leading XBRL evangelist.

This article was published in Business Today.

I stand vindicated – With XBRL you really can’t hide

“With XBRL you cant hide”, this was something I stated in my previous article. Here, I stand vindicated.

The myiris.com study has thrown up some startling findings. The study has shown that more than 200 listed Indian companies have discrepancies in their annual audited financial results. The discrepancies are such that the numbers simply do not add up. The numbers in the schedules should tally with the total reported for the corresponding item in the main balance sheet or the P&L statement as the case may be. For these 209 companies, they just don’t add up.The magnitude of these errors are enormous - like for this company whose reserves in the balance sheet show a whopping Rs 2.16 billion discrepancy.

This shocking revelation came as the result of an exercise at IRIS to develop India’s first XBRL database of listed companies. The exercise included a study of the financials of the past 5 years of more than 1,400 listed Indian companies. The study, which is being carried out in phases, has so far covered only companies in manufacturing and services. Banks and financial services companies will be covered in the next round. The project used the taxonomy approved by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

According to the findings, of the 209 companies identified with discrepancies,

60% of the companies are listed on both the NSE and BSE, 1% on the NSE alone and the rest on the BSE alone.
In terms of sectoral dispersion, textiles with 27 companies accounted for the most, followed by IT (18), Steel (10) and Pharmaceuticals (9).
In terms of geographical dispersion, Maharashtra with 60 companies accounted for the most, followed by Delhi at a distant second with 29 companies. Tamil Nadu (22), Andhra (22) and Gujarat (19) followed.
109 companies had errors in the balance sheet, 66 in their cash flow statements while 34 had errors creeping into their Profit & Loss Statements.
XBRL, or eXtensible Business Reporting Language, is often described as the barcode of information and has been acknowledged as the harbinger of transparency in financial reporting worldwide. More than 100 countries have adopted XBRL, this includes India. RBI, SEBI and the two stock exchanges (BSE and NSE) are championing the adoption of XBRL in India, with the ICAI providing leadership. As a first step towards full fledged adoption of XBRL in India, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India has recently approved the taxonomy for manufacturing and services companies.

All Indian companies with ADRs outstanding have to file with the Securities Exchange Commission of the USA in XBRL starting next year. In fact, Infosys has been part of the voluntary compliance program of the SEC for the last 3 years and Mohandas Pai is a recent addition to the board of XBRL International.

On discovering any kind of misreporting, all eyes generally turn to the auditors, especially after the Satyam fiasco. But I feel it would be unfair to simply blame the auditors, as it is also the responsibility of company managements to get it right. In fact, we wish to compliment the Institute of Chartered Accountants for introducing XBRL in India that alone would have thrown up every one of these cases of misreporting which the auditors could have then caught and corrected.

I would say that both the companies and auditors should have paid more attention. But while I agree that there could be the odd case where some companies may have fudged their accounts deliberately, I would not pin the fraud label on all of them. In fact, we are contacting each company individually to point out the problems to them which they may rectify if they so desire.

It does not matter whether the quantum of discrepancies are material. The very fact that there are discrepancies is a serious enough matter warranting further examination to prevent such occurrences in the future. IRIS will pass on the findings of the study to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, SEBI, and the stock exchanges.

I must state unequivocally that the purpose of introduction of XBRL is not to catch errant companies. In fact, with XBRL, companies will not make errors in their reporting if they are able to implement XBRL within the organization effectively.

S. Swaminathan is the Founder CEO of IRIS, and India’s leading XBRL evangelist.

What XBRL is not

One way to understand what something is, to first understand what it is not. Allow me to list ten things that XBRL is not, hopefully making it self-evident as to what XBRL is.

1. XBRL is not a piece of software

Though XBRL is not software, you will need software to create XBRL documents, you will also need software to read XBRL documents. The software to create XBRL documents is what is referred to as publishing software; our proprietary publishing software is called Proton. To read XBRL documents one would need a rendering tool.

2. XBRL is not a new accounting concept

XBRL is an information standard, it is not a new accounting concept. It merely is a new way to report the same information in a richer, more meaningful way. It works with existing accounting concepts.

3. XBRL is not expensive

In India, XBRL implementation will cost a fraction of the US $ 100000 (Rs 45 lakh) that listed companies in the USA spend on one year’s filings to the SEC in XBRL. I must hasten to add that the cost to listed companies will be more than what it costs unlisted companies. To a listed company, a single user licence of the publishing software may cost in the range of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 4 lakh depending on who they buy from. The alternative they have is to outsource the conversion to a firm like us and choose to defer the software purchase to next year.

4. XBRL is not difficult to learn

As the saying goes, XBRL is not rocket science and even rocket science can be learned. It is all just a matter of time. In companies like IRIS, fresh recruits have to go through 3 months of training in acquiring domain knowledge combined with practical hands on experience using tools like Proton which has been developed by us at IRIS. I must caution that a 1 or 2 day training will be woefully inadequate.

5. XBRL is not just about financial reporting & compliance

While it is true that the first move towards XBRL has been taken by regulators to improve compliance, it would be a shame to stop there. Indeed, every company can use XBRL internally to improve MIS, to improve decision making. It won’t be long before firms can submit loan documents to banks in XBRL. Indeed wherever information is exchanged, XBRL can be used. From cricket scores to government expenditure tracking, from health records to trade documents, XBRL is finding application everywhere.

6. XBRL is not owned by anybody

This is the single most important reason why XBRL is taking off. It is open source, it is royalty free. Nobody owns the XBRL standard; it has evolved through collaboration between accountants and technologists.

7. XBRL is not just about external reporting

Many mature companies have begun to reap benefits of internal consolidation using XBRL. Yet others have found merit in an integrated XBRL IFRS strategy. The potential benefits of XBRL for internal MIS are huge.

8. XBRL is not going to increase compliance burden

Over at Reserve Bank of India, even with the baby steps they have taken on XBRL, they have reduced the number of forms to be submitted by banks by one fourth. Similar will be the experience once the MCA roll out is through and other agencies start working closely with the MCA. Indeed, moving to XBRL will greatly reduce the compliance burden for the filers. One word of caution though: the burden may be higher in the first year due to transition issues but it will be smooth sailing thereafter.

9. XBRL is not a problem to be dumped on IT

In many companies, the IT department is being roped in for XBRL related decisions. This may not be the right approach. In fact with an effective XBRL implementation, the role of IT will get greatly reduced, the power will move to the users of information. Hence the right people to take charge would be the Finance & Accounts Department and Planning & Strategy, not IT.

10. XBRL is not something to fear

One has read reports about how with XBRL even the smallest mistakes will be highlighted. On the contrary with XBRL, mistakes will not happen as the filings will get pre validated. The approach should be to not become a slave but to master it.

This one is for all ye virgins

I have 18 days to continue to gloat.
Until January 15, 2012, I will be one up on most of my fellow runners in NMR and elsewhere. Coz, most of them have never run a marathon in their lives, while I have. And I finished. Whereas the likes of Srivatsan, Venkat Krishnan, Surya and many others are yet to even attempt one. They are faster then me, but so what. They are better than me, but so what. They are stronger than me, but so what. fact is, they are still Marathon Virgins.
All these years, they have been fooling themselves, saying that they are running a half marathon, a term that makes me shudder. Being a half marathoner is like being a half virgin. No sire, that don't count. The marketing people conjured up that expression to make you feel happy and to fool you into thinking that if you are finding half the distance too easy, it is perhaps time for the full. If you have fallen for that, you will fall for anything. Like if i told you that self induced pleasure is enough to qualify not being a Virgin.
They told me last year that it is always painful the first time and was it indeed!! They tell me that it gets pleasurable then onwards, I certainly hope so. But i can tell you that I am worried stiff that it may end up being just s painful if not more. As someone said, you approach it a second time with greater fear after having experienced pain the first time around.
Considering that you are about to lose your virginity, I feel that it is my bounden duty to offer you some advice ahead of the big moment.
You must have only one objective, and that is to finish. it does not matter how long it takes, it does not matter how far ahead your friends are, simply forget any thoughts of a personal best. Considering that this is your first, it is automatically your personal best, but only if you finish.
Be mindful of your body at all times. I am told that the body has a stock of glycogen that will last only 2 hours. It does not matter whether you are a fast runner or a slow one, a fat one or a thin one, that's all you have. So, please take care of your nourishment along the way. Have that energy drink, have that orange, have that banana. Do not hesitate to take it even from strangers. Most of them wont even know to want to poison you. You will find kids lining the way along Worli sea face offering all this, say thank you and take it. if you are carrying GU gel or some other kind of energy stuff, that's good too. But do not forget to stay nourished.
Running 21 k is very different from running a marathon.however many 21 ks you may have done, however many long runs you have done, it does not mean that you will do well on race day. There are simply too many imponderables. The weather, your routine for the week leading to the race, your sleep, whether your excursion to the potty that morning relieved you, and so on. So, approach it with humility. If you follow cricket, you would know that every great batsman starts his innings on zero. his form gives him confidence, that's all. But he knows that he could be out on a duck. So, until he is settled in, he does not take chances. So, don't take chances. Running a marathon can be really boring, so stay with yourself.
As I discovered last year, there comes a time when you enter a zone, oblivious to things around you. Don't try to break out of it, don't try to shake yourself out of it. It will happen after you have seen enough hunks, enough PYTs, after you have run out of things to think about. It is a moment when you have no thoughts, you are blank. It is a moment of silence, a moment of ecstasy and i am not referring to the drug. Stay with it and you will finish before you can say SCMM. That for me is the moment to run for.
This year there is one big prize in store for you to grab if you are smart about it. It is the opportunity to finish with the athletes. Given the start for ordinary runners is at 540 and for elites at 7 40, if you are a 3 hour marathoner or even a 4 hour marathoner, you can finish with the elites. I know people who are planning to run with the elites, but I think if i were in their place, I would start at 5 40 and finish ahead of the elites. Just imagine a photograph of Vatsan racing to the finish with a Nigerian in hot pursuit. the photo will not say that Vatsan started earlier, it will simply capture a moment that can be the stuff to regale his grandchildren with: "I finished ahead of the Africans and here is the proof."
The toughest place to be is at the start when people are boasting about how fast they will finish. Don't stay anywhere near them. Let me tell you that we had a runner last year who finished 21 in 90 minutes but took thrice as much time to finish the next 21. As many as 3 of the 6 people who were bragging at the start did not finish. It can happen to the best of us at the worst of times. So if you need a massage at the medical tent, stop and ask for it. if you are cramping up, stop at the medical station and ask them to help you. The minute or two that you may lose here is nothing compared to the downside of not finishing.
It is a long race. Most of the people i know will be in the 4 hour category. That is a long time to be on the road for. So if you have to pee, go ahead and pee. Don't even think of worrying about losing time because of that. You will actually run faster once you have relieved yourself. As my friend Savio was explaining to one of his wards, the difference between a 6 min km and a 5 min km is just a minute. A minute is nothing in the duration of a 4 hour run. It is even less if you are going to be running for close to 6 hours like me.
So there, have a great run. It is a run, it is supposed to be fun. Leave it be and it will happen. Good luck and godspeed.

To pee or not to pee: The missing element in your race strategy.

So you have trained well, you are looking at a PB, your race strategy has been designed to get you a PB, you think you have a perfect strategy for a PB, BUT DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY FOR THE PEE?
I hope that my experience will help you draw up your own plan. I must tell you, please do not just giggle and let it be, because as you will discover, especially if you are a marathon virgin, this is one of the most important questions that you will confront on the road. If you do not have an answer worked out, you are in trouble. Your bladder will be a drag, "what gall" it will say to you as you are caught between paying attention to the full bladder and the running.
Until SCMM 2011 when I ran my first marathon (all of the earlier runs were 21 k, to call it a HM is an insult to the real thing), I never had this problem. I had never hydrated properly and there never was an urge to pee just before the start or during the race. But for SCMM 2011, for the first time in my life, I had hydrated well in the run up to the race, so much so, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, I was well liquidated by the time I reached the venue. I saw a public facility just outside azad maidan and in I went to empty my bladder before entering the holding area, pun unintended. Trouble started as the gun went off, may be because of the hydration or because of stage fright, I felt like peeing again. The bladder was getting full rapidly. knowing the topography as well as i do (when you are as slow a runner as i am, you get to inspect every stationary object very closely as you get that much more time to observe), I decided that i would use the facility under the Marine drive flyover, which I did. thats when it hit me that I had no clue where the next loo was, so my hydration for the rest of the race suffered. i had considered briefly but rejected the possibility of peeing in my pants, knowing that it could potentially raise a stink and i dont mean just with the organisers. :)
It also helped greatly that by the time I reached water stations, most had shut down and where they were still doing business, they were selling the water to fund kingfishers's expansion plans and where the water was still available, it had all but evaporated. (now you know how slow I run, but that is another matter) I started taking a bit of water and rinsing my throat and spitting it out so that the water did not settle down inside my rather ample stomach (now u know why i am a slow runner). I survived.
Since then i have run two races where i did not do so well as i had not thought through my Pee Strategy.The first was at cape town. The organisers specifically ask runners to not pee against the walls of any of the buildings we passed, but that is precisely what most people did, choosing the walls of the most beautiful buildings to spray with their liquid. I discovered very early on that most of the petrol pumps had toilets which one could use. So I stood in line at one of them but the line would not move, someone seems to have gone in on a longer tenancy kind of deal. As i saw runners going past and me still stuck, i decided to follow the local, following when in rome kind of lesson, and turned my attention to the gas station fencing which was amply covered with greens which could have certainly benefited from the irrigation. But even aftare a minute of huffing and puffing and clenching my muscles and what not, the pee would not materialise. I quickly decided to abandon it and start running again. I am glad i did, because i managed to cross the finishing line at 2:59:10, they have 3:00 cut off at cape town which is based on gun time. the pee experience had set me back by atleast 2 minutes if not more. But when i think back and ask how I could muster up the courage to abandon the task and get a move on, it has probably for to do with my mind which told me that there will be another petrol pump on the way. When I recall the restof the route, I dont think there were any more, but the comfort of thinking that there were more loos on the way allowed me to plough on.
Then came Delhi. I started off quite nicely and then the urge to pee hit me around teh half way mark. May be it happened because i saw people peeing all around me, some because they had to, yet others in what looked like an act of defiance as they screamed slogans against the government while peeing against the walls of government buildings. One particular gent who picked the wall of parliament house was clearly a votary of anna hazare and he let loose on the jodhpur stone wall. It was a silent protest, no slogans marred his moment of defiance of authority, his actions would have raised a stink that would last for a while, leaving behind a stain though less permanent than what our parliamentarians are wont to leave inside parliament with their antics. Job done, he even beamed, at some imaginary camera, raised his fist, though me thinks he did so to let the dribble on his hand dry in the morning sun. then he was on his way. My civic sense was torn between applauding him on the one hand for his act of bravery and castigating him for his stupid act. I considered and promptly trejectyed the idae when I found a few runners actually cheering him. Worse, I had my own pressing matters to deal with and my thoughts at that moment were sufficiently fluid for me to justify not taking a stand. Any way, when you have a race to run, it is okay to walk, it is okaty to run biut not to stand, so I ran off, leaving behind the protester to accept the accolades of a cheering crowd.
Close to CP is when my bladder threatened to bring cause enough distration to halt me in my tracks. So I stopped off at the public toilet. I walked in. I saw Rajiv Bajaj of Bajaj Capital standing in line. It must be a first for him, I thought to myself. There was not much of a crowd and it was my turn soon enough. I walked up to the stall boldly to pee but the damn thing would not flow out. I had a feeling of deja vu as my mind went to cape Town. determined, I stayed on but the frequent change of visitors to the three other stalls was unnerving. the line behind me grew. "Forget your Pee if you want a PB," an angry voice screamed at nobody in particular. It was a wasted trip to the loo for me, i had wasted 3 minutes. For the record, I failed to Pee and failed to get a PB.
So, on Sunday if you are faced with the questions that I faced, how do you find an answer. You have to find your own answer but here are a few questions you could ask yourself to help you figure out.
1. if you are early in the race, just go to pee, dont worry about the time factor.
2. If when you are crossing a loo, there are not many people around, just use the loo, you will not have to wait much. 3. if you gotta go, you gotta go. So, just go.
4. If you are okay peeing in your pants, go on and do it but ensure that you are well hydrate in the run up so that the stink factor is less and the colour is closer to white than yellow. Also do it, when you are pouring water on your head, so that others dont know just what it is you are up to.
5. You could also plan ahead and wear diapers but this will increase the weight you are gonna carry.
What if you have an urge for the big job. Well, that has to wait for another post.

If you have run a good HM this year, should you move to a FM next year?

In the euphoria after a successful completion of a HM on Sunday in Mumbai, this is the question that must be on the minds of many of you. I just thought I must share with you my experience for whatever it is worth as you proceed to make up your mind. The decision to run a FM should not be taken hastily or on an impulse and the fact that you did well on Sunday is not enough reason to justify moving up to a FM.
Just by way of back ground, I have run 2 FMs, I enjoyed the first one which was almost effortless though I took 6:15 to complete it. I laboured through my second one, it was a disaster though I did better my time, albeit marginally. I trained more for my second though I was better prepared for the first.
The first lesson I have learned is that running more is not the same as training better. For this year's event, I had logged close to 1000 km between June and December, whereas my running load for SCMM 2011 was much much less. Why then did I do as poorly as I did. It is because, even though I ran more, the rest of the training sucked, I was not as well prepared as i should have been. What I logged therefore are what are commonly called junk miles.
On the morning of SCMM 2011, I weighed in at 78 kg, on the morning of SCMM 2012, i weighed in at 80.3 kg, a clear 2.3 kilos heavier and one year older. The two together makes for a killer combination which can slow you down and make the run laborious. So, lesson one, mind your weight, else the wait on the road to get the finishing line will be a long long one. Becoz in the run up to SCMM 2011, I was particularly careful about what I ate and what I drank, something i did not follow as strictly as I should have.
In the run up to SCMM 2011, I never failed to get a deep tissue massage every Monday morning, especially if I had had a long run on Sunday. This ensured that the knots did not get too naughty, it ensured that I had legs that were relaxed through the season. My physio had asked me to take Shelcal M to prevent cramps, this I did but I was somewhat irregular about the massage. During the massage, the physio would also help me stretch and for someone who was very inconsistent on this score, the Monday morning stretches helped greatly even it often stretched the physio's patience with me.
Even though I was not keen on doing my stretches before or after a run, I would still do a couple of stretches quite regularly, but not so this year. Even if you do not run long, if you keep the body flexible with yoga and stretching, that is half the work done. I did not pay heed to this and paid the price. Last year, I felt much lighter on my feet, this year by lower body felt heavier than ever. Just having to drag that body over 42 k was painful, I should have seen the writing on the wall but did not. Being heavy is different from feeling heavy. You can be overweight, yet be light on your feet, I would strongly recommend Yoga to anyone who wishes to do a FM, to first get light on their feet, something that regular yoga will help you achieve.
Last year, I did a fair amount of hill training which I did not do this year. Hill training makes your legs stronger, you can achieve the same in a gym too. But i hate goping to gyms. I would advise you to strengthen your legs before you attempt the 42 k.
If inspite of all this, I still managed to shave off a few minutes from my time of last year, it must be because of the miles I had piled on. So, while I refer to it as junk miles, even junk can sate hunger though it may not be healthy. I had also followed in the last 2 months, something called the Maffetone method which has yielded amazing results for a few people that I know and some that I know of.
What i did right this year was to hydrate well, this ensured that i did not cramp at all, my Shelcal M must also have contributed to this.
The second right thing I did was to have atleast 3 runs of more than 5 hours during training, of which two were for longer than 6 hours. As I keep telling my friends, the only thing you know for sure on race day is the distance you have to cover. You ddont know how long you will take, you dont know how your body ios going to react, you dont know anything else. So, if you are planning to run a full marathon, definitely increase your time on feet. This is a lesson my doctor runner friend Rajat Chauhan taught me, an invaluable lesson. So on race day while you hope for the best, you must be prepared for the worst. Thnk of the worst run you have ever had and assume that you will run at that speed on race day and train to be on your feet for as long as it would take at that speed to cover the distance. I had a horrible race this year, I hated every moment after the first 3 hours but I plodded on because i knew what 6 hours was, having been there and done that.
I ran this years race after not having slept for the previous 2 nights, since I was travelling. So I was dog tired on race day and my long hours on my feet during those 3 days of 5 hour plus training must have helped and stood me in good stead.
I tried something new on race day, and it worked like a dream. I ran for 7:30 amd walked for 1:00, it is a variation of the Galloway method, it kept me going till more than half way into the tace when my body buckled due to the unpreparedness after 2 sleepless nights and poor eating. So, try a run walk if u can from early on. It requires discipline to do this but it is worth it. Alternately, you can learn Chi Running which will soon be taught in India by my friend Abhijit Pradhan. It is all about injury free running where strength matters less than form and technique. My wife, Deepta, follows Chi running principles and if you see her run, you will she how effortlessly she covers the distance. another runner I know, Venkat Krishnan, has an effortless style of running. His recovery time post a race is near zero. So, if you wish to run a FM next year, work on your form.
As for me, I will not run any more FMs until
1. Until my weight drops to 70 kg or thereabouts
2. Until my technique improves, i hope to perfect my Chi Running during the year
3. Until my endurance increases, for which i will take inspiration from Maffetone and combine it with regular pranayam
4. Until I get some more strength into my lower body (and upper)
5. Until I feel lighter, which can happen with regular yoga
6. Until I train smart for a reasonable period of time with a good coach like Daniel "Zico" Vaz
7. Until I do a HM at close to 2:00
I know you have to register in August for the next SCMM as we all do, but I do urge you to take your decision after careful thought.
Why then did I run a FM last year and again this year. I had made up my mind that i wanted to run a FM before I turned 50, hence I ran last year when i was yet to turn 49. I was worried that if I did not do it last year, i would be forced to do it this year to meet my goal. I ran again this year, because my ego came in the way and I said: Oh, how can I possibly go back to class 6 when I have graduated from it already ?
Who says I am not stupid.

The birth of God

I wrote this piece in 2010 after a visit to a place called Bhojpur near Ujjain.

+++++++++++++++++++
On Sunday, I witnessed the birth of God. In a matter of a few minutes, the God disappeared, leaving behind the offerings of mortals. It was a moment of confrontation with truth. In a manner of speaking.

It happened at the Shiva temple at Bhojpur. They claim it is the tallest Lingam in the world, the precise dimensions are not material. All that one needs to appreciate is that the Lingam is beyond the reach of the human hand. In walked an old man, clad in a saffron loin cloth and a kurta, he must have been in his 80s. I would find out later that he is a local resident who comes every day to do his puja, make his offerings to the God. He came in with a basket of flowers and a kamandal (jug) with water in it. There was something about his presence which captured my attention.

I have seen many old men in my life, I am half way there, but he was different. Obviously, the man could not reach the top of the lingam to do a proper puja. There were no scaffoldings to climb, not that he was the type would have climbed one even if there had been one.

He simply created his own God. He took some water from his Kamandal, poured it with his hands on the stone and using his fingers drew a lingam as best as he could. Then he took out some flowers from his basket and decorated this shape he had made with water. It was a simple sight, yet a stunning one. I was witnessing the birth of a god. That’s the photo I have posted, of the image of the lingam drawn with water on stone. Adornment done, the man offered some incense to his god. Pooja over, he left as quietly as he came. I hung around. Within a few minutes, the image he had made of the lingam disappeared, as the water evaporated under the glare of the sun. The god who he gave birth to, simply evaporated, the image erased by the blazing sun. I don’t know if God died but his image certainly was no more.

I have heard often that it is man who creates god in his mind and while I understood it at a certain level, this experience really drove home the truth. God was created by the old man and when he was done with it, he left the god to fend for himself. Who then is this god that we need to protect? Who is this God that we need to worship and why? The BJP wants a temple at Ayodhya, the birth place of Ram, they want to protect our gods and goddesses. Who is this god we turn to for help and protection if we start getting into conflict to protect their depictions in the first place? I never understood it, I understand it even less now. The truth of it all as driven home by the old man’s actions.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Saluting the unpretentious runner

(Posted on my Facebook page on April 10, 2012)

I have seen many runners. Being the slowest runner on earth, I have seen most of the others go past, causing me to check if I have really been moving at all.

I have seen many fully loaded runners. They can tell you why they wear the shoes they wear because their gait is like this and the pronation is like that. They wear a Garmin on their hands and a synched heart rate monitor strapped to their chest before they leave home. They wear drifit Tees and can tell between one brand and another like I can tell a dog from a cat. They can tell you all about the right diet, how they needed to calibrate the balance between the zinc intake and the magnesium. Because they are experts, listening them talk about minerals, you can be excused for thinking that they have acquired mining rights in Karnataka or Goa. They measure everything to the last detail, to the second decimal place, they can tell you that on a certain day with the temperature at a certain level, how much water they must sip and at what speed so that they can maintain the right level of hydration which when combined with the correct everything else will allow them to breach their previous PB. It took me several years before I figured out that PB is runners lingo for personal best and did not draw inspiration from the periodic table as i used to think it may have had to do with the leaden feeling I was left with after my run, just goes to show how poor a chemistry I share with running.
Running today is getting very very competitive. I saw it from close quarters at the recently concluded Hot Pursuit held at Kharghar. Lest I be rejected for reasons of my slow pace, considering that the fastest runners would have covered twice the distance in half the time (that makes them four times faster then me, if my mathematics has not failed me) I opted out and became a volunteer instead. Some teams got rearranged, some even roped in professionals, yet others dropped those that they felt were unprofessional. It was a fun event but somewhere along the way, for many, the joy of running was lost.

Which is why the story of Mumtaz Queireshi, Apurba Das, Umesh bhai, Kirti bhai and Dr Ramani needs to be told. None of them even own a watch to wear when they run and if they are wearing one, it is only to help them remind themselves to get home before they get locked out by an irate wife who had allowed their husbands out but to only get the morning bread and milk. Most of these gents run in just about any clothing. Not for them the drifit, or even the body suits that marketeers would promote as being great to hasten recovery after a long run. They are not too fussed about shoes either, they wear what they have until it is so torn that they absolutely need to get a new one. Not for them the concerns that stem from having more than one shoe which would then require them to have a shoe rotation policy, much like Dhoni's, except that rotating functional shoes is less of a wasted effort than rotating non performing players.

These men simply run. they run for fun, they enjoy running, in a very uncomplicated way. They are supremely unfussed. Not for them the run walk combination of Galloway, not for them the nice body incline to get gravity to share the responsibility of carrying them forth in the manner of Chi running that would make Danny Dreyer and his protege, Abhijit Pradhan proud. They don't spend hours going through Runners World pouring through articles to see how to run better. You wil never hear them say, "Oh I need to find 2 minutes 22 seconds somewhere, to improve my timing." Because they simply run. On days when they have time and they are liking it, they run more. On days when they are not liking it, they don't run less.

Not that they are poor runners by any stretch of imagination.

I remember what Kirti bhai told me after SCMM 2012. "Thoda sa slow bhaga," he said, causing me to derive what I knew was perverse pleasure in someone else's self confessed poor timing. But the joy was shortlived. "I did 2: 04, though I think I should have pushed myself to finish in under 2." Kirti bhai is north of 60 and this is slow timing for him. I remember another exchange with him, when i was extoling the benefits to him of wearing shoes like mine which look like they are made for running in the rain. A couple of minutes into my spiel, I paused out of courtesy to see if he had anything to say. "I simply take my wet shoes and wrap them up in newspaper and they are dry by the next morning," he said simply and was off before i could do any more showing off.
Or consider Dr Ramani. His best FM is under 4: 30, so when I asked him what his secret was, he simply said, " I run every day, I do 3 courses of the mini sea shore (for the ignorant, each round of this course is about 2.5 km). So that's it, he ran 7.5 km a day, every day and went off to finish a FM in under 4: 30. The other day I saw him on Kharghar Hill, stronger runners were huffing and puffing when Dr Ramani simply kept running past them, every time. he ran as fast up hill as many of them did downhill. And he is older than every one of those he was beating hollow. His T shirt was soaked in sweat, he wore no dri fit. the day was hot, he wore no cap. Others were fiddling with their Garmin to determine elevation, he did not even wear a watch. And while others were debating the utility of Vibrams, Dr Ramani ran in what looked like all purpose shoes that were made before Nike had you buying running shoes.

Finally there is Mumtaz. MQ I call him, his motion quotient is very high. He wore a watch that Sunday when he ran 100 km as he did not want to fall short. Trouble is the watch that he had borrowed from Mani found the responsibility of keeping his statistics too daunting and gave up. MQ ran for 17 hours to cover a distance of 100 km and at the end of it all, looked as fresh as a person about to set out on a run. Ditto was the look on the face of Apurba Das. That's what happens when you enjoy running, I guess. That's what happens when the fun is more important than the competitive spirit, I guess. This was the second time I was seeing Apurba do a 100 km, he tells me that he has run that distance 4 times, he makes it happen like it is some walk in the park. I was driving to help the runners but by the time I would finish serving the the runners and head to the next stop a km away, Hari and Apurba would be in sight. Unmindful of the heat and the lack of any tree cover on Godbunder road, they were flying and this was at the 80 k mark.

Meanwhile, MQ was having fun at Mani's expense, keeping his wit in that heat, knowing that he had some more distance to cover. He is a totally unassuming runner, not at all flashy, immensely popular, ready to pace the slowest of runners. As we turned into the western Express highway, his stops got fewer, his strides more rapid, his pace near frenetic. It was a sight to behold. A man possessed.

Ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.

Salaam.

In the interest of full disclosure I must disclose that I wear a Garmin and a heart rate monitor. I rotate my shoes and I wear drifit. I wear a cap and sometime a hydration belt too. But I have an excuse. As I keep saying to myself, "If you can't be a runner, atleast look like one."



The next PM: Not a pipe dream

(posted on my Facebook page on August 29, 2013)

I was on the phone with a very senior politician last night and what he told me left me dazed. I don't think this will happen, but i can tell you that stranger things have been known to happen.

Between the two of us, the politician and I, we were going through alternate scenarios. Modi and BJP will sweep North India, he said, giving the BJP something close to 180 seats. Even then it will be difficult for Modi to form the government, he said.

The Congress will not get much more than 120, he said, ruling out a Congress led government. It will be hugely unstable, he said.

Does this not mean the day will belong to the third front, I asked him. Sure, he said, but who will be the PM that will be acceptable to all, he went on to ask.

As he rightly said, no formation will be stable unless either the Congress or the BJP support it. Also, if the biggest party turns out to be SP, Mulayam would want to be PM, the only other person he would consider supporting is Sharad Pawar. The other two big parties could be AIADMK and Trinamool, but neither has a PM aspirant of their own (though Amma is said to harbour such thoughts from time to time) or one would be willing to support without reservation. in any case, the AIADMK will throw its weight behind Modi.

Thus, if the largest party in the group has fewer than 40 members, the President will have a tough time determining just who could provide a stable governement. It is easy to say that there would be a floor test but the President can only invite someone when he is satisfied that the person can sail through a floor test. He will ask for letters of support from the various parties.

The whole thing will hinge on who would be acceptable as PM, who can get the letters. It cannot be a Congressman or a BJP person, it has to be someone who is senior and acceptable. Sharad Pawar, I offered. But Sharad Pawar will at best have only 10 from his own party and if he fights the election in a pre poll alliance with the Congress, that could rule him out.

By now, I was getting impatient. Who, who, i asked.

How about PM?
Yes, who will be the PM?
PM.
Yes PM, but who.
Don't you get it, he said, further trying my patience, which had by now worn thin. PM.

Suddenly it hit me.
Who else but PM. He is as senior as senior can be, he has friends cutting across party lines. He has for long harboured the ambition to be PM.
But could he, wont it be a come down for him, I asked. He would have to resign from his present position. Is there no conflict of interest especially if he has to be the judge of who will be in a position to provide a stable government and he picks himself?
He will do it in the interest of the country. Instability or stable government, that is how the choice will be presented.
So, PM for PM.
I wonder.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Why India’s poor need a vibrant stock market

The poor have no stake in the stock market, right? Wrong.
On the contrary, the poor have a greater stake in the stock market than rich investors do. Prakash Karat and his ilk who have appropriated for themselves the position of spokespersons of the poor need to understand this.
There are several ways in which this story plays itself out, but the one line I wish to explore for now is inflation.
Allow me to step back a little and take you to this morning’s newspaper headlines. Petrol prices are up by over Rs 7 depending on where you live. Comrade Raja of the Communist Party of India would have you know that this will have a cascading effect on prices and will hurt the poor. No kidding.
This Comrade like other comrades who are wont to prefer ideology to facts, do not even have a rudimentary understanding of market economics or a grasp of the facts. If he had bothered to check the facts, he would have known that we have adequate stocks of rice and pulses, which if used properly, need not make this increase hugely painful for the poor. If the Comrade had an understanding of market economics, he would have figured out that his solution of not raising prices is not just simplistic and naive but suicidal in the short, medium and long run. Unburdened by the pressures of having ever had to rule, hence untormented by the burden of policy making, the good Comrade knows only to oppose which he does, like his other brethren whose propensity to paint the world red has left the finances of many countries swathed in similar colours, only difference being in the shade of red.
But why did they have to raise fuel prices? Because the oil bill shot through the roof. Today’s DNA tells me that every rupee decline against the dollar adds Rs 8000 crore to the oil bill.
Why did the oil bill go through the roof? Because the dollar surged ahead, not persuaded by the assurances of the government.
Why did the dollar surge ahead? Because there are many more foreign investors wanting to get their investments out than those wanting in.
Why do they want out? They want out because they do not see the Indian policy environment with all of its flip flops as being a stable one to be invested in. So they are buying dollars.
The timing of all this could not be worse. As a country, we are running an unacceptably high current account deficit. The result of this is that we are dipping into our foreign exchange reserves to finance our consumption. I won’t bore you with the precise numbers but suffice to say that the numbers are alarming as they are showing no signs of correcting. Historically, remittances from Indian resident overseas has helped bridge the gap but with the world in turmoil that too has come down. So we have to dip into our reserves to finance our purchase of day to day needs such as oil and so on. At the same time, if we have to use the forex reserves to meet the burgeoning demand for dollars from foreigners who want to take their money out, we have a problem on our hands. There is simply not enough dollars in our reserve kitty to defend in any meaningful way the rupee, hence a sliding rupee is inevitable.
So, when the stock market tanks, and foreigners take money faster than it comes in, as the dollar rises and oil bill shoots up, a petrol price hike becomes necessary. When petrol price increases and other fuel prices follow, the cost of inputs goes up, the cost of moving goods goes up, inflationary conditions sets in.
The poor and those working on daily wages are the worst affected by inflation. They don’t enjoy the benefit of inflation indexing or what the salaried class knows as DA or Dearness Allowance which corrects their wages automatically for inflation.
When the rich lose money in the stock markets, their wealth erodes and that’s that. But when foreign capital takes flight, as the dollar strengthens and inflation raises its ugly head, the poor have a tough time just living, one meal at a time.
My friend Ashish who now heads the BSE told me that as much as 2 % of our growth rides on the back of foreign capital. I have also seen back of the envelope calculations which establish a clear correlation between economic growth and job creation.
So when the stock market behaves as it has been doing, the poor really get a raw deal. It is high time their champions woke up to this.

Why is Mamata Banerjee playing games with Pranab babu?

More than two months ago, I wrote that Pranab Mukherjee will be India’s next President. I continue to stand by that statement. What I will do is to try and provide a perspective on what is happening and why.

Pranab babu wants to be President of India. Unless he can become the Prime Minister. In which case, he will give up his Presidential ambitions to move into 7 RCR. Mamata knows this and the game plan is to confuse the hell out of everyone by coming up with these 3 names for President.

Mamata does not like Pranab babu, not in the least bit. She sees him as a CPIM stooge. His previous elections to the Rajya Sabha happened because of help from the CPIM. I know of one occasion when Dhirubhai Ambani called Jyoti babu to get Pranab babu the surplus votes that the Left front had after getting their own nominees elected.

Grateful that he was to the Left for their support through the years, Pranab babu did the CPIM a great service by keeping Mamata out of an alliance with the Congress for as long as he could. The left has been scared only of Mamata but they also knew that so long as Mamata was with the BJP, they had nothing to worry about. Whenever a disenchanted Mamata sent feelers to the Congress, she would be rebuffed at the prompting of Pranab babu who made her leaving the BJP a condition precedent to any talks of cooperation. The BJP gaver her a foothold at the national level and she knew that she would be weakened in her negotiations with the Congress if she dropped the BJP first. Pranab babu exploited this to the hilt and used this to get the High Command to keep Mamata at arms length and making it clear to her that she should dissociate herself from the BJP.

When Karat pulled the rug from under the Congress’ feet, Pranab babu’s efforts to keep Mamata at bay came a cropper. Pranab babu’s adversaries in the Bengal Congress managed to get the ears of 10 Janpath, it also helped that Mamata had by then had started distancing herself from the BJP. An alliance was struck and the CPIM was decimated, the Left buried.

Mamata holds Pranab babu personally responsible for allowing the Left one term more than what she though they would get. She used to call the Congress, the B team of the CPIM and Pranab Babu its captain.

Her pleasure comes from causing Pranab babu pain. She knows that she cannot stop his becoming the President. But she knows that he wants to be PM. But having learned his lesson from his previous blunders when he flaunted his ambition, he will not reveal his cards this time around. He wants to be president, but he wants to be PM even more. Of course he is tired and wants to ride away into the sunset which is what moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan would be about. But if there is even a remote chance of becoming PM, he would not want to give that up. Over the last year, he has been the target of barbs by Chidambaram for which he blames the PM, he is livid about that. So what if he says he is tired and wants some R & R. Narasimha Rao had retired from politics when the prospect of occupying the PM’s chair allowed him to stage a miraculous recovery never recorded before in the annals of medical science.

Mamata knows this and is playing with him. If she can convince him to believe that Manmohan Singh is an acceptable alternative and if she can rally other parties around Singh, not to mention congressmen who have begun to view Singh as a liability, she would have won the battle. This morning’s papers have industry leaders talking about the missing leader at PMO. All of this works to Mamata’s advantage. But Sonia Gandhi does not trust Pranab babu and that is a real problem. She cannot allow him to be PM but she also knows that she cannot do without him in the government. It is a real quandary she is in. At the same time, she cannot also ignore the cries from her own party for a leadership change.

Can the Congress not show Mamata the middle finger and get its way. It can. But with less than 2 years to Lok Sabha elections, the Congress can ill afford to antagonise its allies. The formation of a thrd front will hurt the Congress the most and tit would be stupid for them to drive their own allies away to join a new formation. The BJP will gain. So, the need for consultations and the need to look like they are trying to arrive at a consensus.

In the meanwhile, Pranab babu may have made Mamata’s position more rigid by reaching out to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. People who think Mamata will be under pressure to support Pranab babu as he is a Bengali are wrong because the argument will be turned around by Mamata who will shout that he is of no help to Bengal when he is loath to sanction the rescue package she is asking for. That argument will not work.

Where does all this leave Pranab babu? He must know how it felt for Trishanku, i guess.

In defence of Mamata Banerjee

I am fond of Mamata Banerjee.

I feel that she is misunderstood. If one were to see her actions, there is one thread that runs through it all, a pathological hatred for the Communist parties and everything communist. If you understand this, you understand everything else about her, you begin to develop an appreciation for her actions, for her utterances, for the way she reacts.

Her moving into the seat of power must be seen in the same light as you and I moving into a termite infested house. The first thing you would do is to call pest control to exterminate the termites, isn’t that so? After the pest control chaps have left the house and you spot termites again, would you not go ballistic? You would start looking for termites everywhere, you would look for early warning signals, you will err only on the side of panic. If someone tells you that the beautiful mango tree is the problem, you will order it to be felled immediately. If yet another person told you that the termites have taken over one side of your house, you will order that side demolished. You will Google everything about termites and if there is the slightest indication that they could stage a comeback, you will stop at nothing, simply nothing.

To Mamata, the communists are worse than termites. Over the 3 decades they have been in power, they have taken over everything. They sought to control a great deal through the education system. In the early 1990s, teachers’ salaries became part of the state budget, with a crippling effect on state finances. The Communists believed that if you had the teachers on your side, you could control the people. Not only were the teachers in the advantageous position of filling the minds of kids up with communist propaganda, it was also useful to keep them happy as it is they who conducted elections. No surprise then that Mamata’s first move is to purge the education system casino en ligne francais legal of anybody with a fondness for communist ideology. She sees everything in black and white: either you are against the Communists or you are for her. If you are for her, you will cut her some slack. If you are for the Communists you will attack her, make fun of her, slight her at every opportunity. She did not set the rule on this one, the CPIM did.

The argument she makes is simple enough: You allowed the Communists  so much latitude, you let them get away with even daring to take Tagore off the shelves, you let Jatin Chakravarty impose his concept of Sanskriti, banning everything (including, or should I say especially, Usha Uthup) else as apasanskriti, you let Subash Chakravarty and his goons run amuck at election time, you let the communists retain their stranglehold through what came to be known as scientific rigging of elections, and now you have elected me, don’t forget that it is your battles I am fighting. What probably irritates her to no end is that the media would not have dared to question Jyoti Basu thus or even his successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. She realizes that she is paying the price of being a Ma Maati Manush Chief Minister. She is accessible and therefore leaves herself open to ridicule. Not for her the idea of sitting on a lofty perch, far removed from the people she represents.

People ridicule her for her scatter brained ideas. I wonder how many people remember that the CPIM once tried to set up a power plant for which they tried to raise funding through blood donation camps. I don’t recall too many people making fun of Jyoti babu at that time, the media was too scared to raise the slightest voice of protest.

If you want tonknow how the Communists work, read what Kerala CPIM leader M M Mani said recently. According to him the party would not hesitate to kill to achieve its ends. In Kerela, there was atleast the Church to provide a balance and keep the Commuinists on their toes. Yet they behaved as Mani says they did. in Bengal, they had no opposition of any kind. How do you think they dealt with opposition?

I am not for a moment extolling the greatness of Mamata, I am the first to accept she has not shown too much evidence of that. She has not done too many great things that I can talk about.  All that I am simply suggesting is that if you kept quiet during the purge by the CPIM, why don’t you extend the same courtesies to her? She has been through hell to get here. She deserves your sympathy. Give her a break.

Please.

Marathon musings

The marathon was the most challenging run I have had to do in my 49 years on earth. I should think that it would rank right up there with my first steps or even my first crawl but since those are moments I cannot recall this must rank right up there on top as the most challenging physical activity I have ever attempted.

If someone asked me if this was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life,  I would put it on par with the effort I had to expend to get through school, especially class 8 when I flunked in 4 subjects in the half yearly exam and class XI where even after mutual assistance (Chetan Shah was at the other end of this mutual business) neither of us had enough to show for Anjan Dasgupta to have the pleasure of deducting any marks by way of penalty. When I think about it, I am not sure if I made an impression anywhere in school except in the attendance register and even that impression was upto the teacher to make against my name.

Enough of digressions, over to the marathon. After all, I have a lot of ground to cover.

  1. At the outset, allow me to thank Ankit Agarwal and Santanu Santra who helped me get into running. So disgusted they were with my lack of discipline and slowness of movement, that they both left IRIS and went a long way away from me. Santanu even changed his name in a bid to acquire a new identity and rid himself of any association with me, while Ankit started working for a firm which produced medical equipment in a bid to see if there was anything they had that could set me right.

  2. Then there is Rajat Chauhan, my friend, a marathoner (he ran 21 km everyday this past December), a doctor, who has promised to help me come up to a reasonable speed before the next edition of the marathon arrives. If there is one big carry away from Rajat, it is that there is a huge difference between orthopaedics and sports medicine specialists. The latter help you keep on doing what you have been doing, the former want you to stop. I remember having shown by X Ray to a leading orthopedic 2 years ago, he was sorely tempted to get me on to his operating table, his business must have been slow. Rajat took one look at the same X Ray and threw it away, saying “If you knee does not have this much of wear and tear when you are 47, you have not even used it.”  The next time any of you want to have your knee checked out, you know what sort of a doctor you are looking for.

  3. It was Priya who sent me to Rajat.  Priya is a PYT and a smart one too who ran 5 marathons in 5 days in the Himalayas at a height of 18000 feet. (Priya: If I have exaggerated a wee bit, leave it be) Priya is a musician, a composer, a hugely talented person who got the young men of her building in Goregaon running after her, so that they could get a date with her. She simply outran all of them.

  4. I owe a special thank you to my physio Heath, a South African who has now inspired me to run in Cape Town in April. Aptly named the twin oceans marathon, it will allow me to boast that I have run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Heath drilled into me the importance of stretching but if I have not been as disciplined as I should have, I have only myself to blame. Heath does a deep tissue massage like nobody else that I know, he is simply a class act. If you have ever seen Anil Ambani run, you would have seen Heath running alongside. (While on the subject of Anil Ambani running, I think the reason he runs is so that he can keep pace with SEBI’s whole time Member Dr Abraham, also a keen runner. The only place they can have a private chat without worrying about the conversation getting taped for subsequent airing is during a marathon!!)

  5. Thanks are also due to Shahaji Bhosale my coach in Vashi, I was his first ward and the one to  disappoint him the most, methinks. I have a feeling that he tolerates me, because I must have been a good endorsement for him, causing his clientele t grow. “If he can make me run, surely anyone can,” was his understated sales pitch. I am especially grateful to him for pointing out on day one that everything was wrong with the way I run. I am also happy that he has not done much to correct it, for, this excuse has stood me well even as I have laboured over distances long and short. All this notwithstanding, I hope I have done him proud by being the first of his wards to attempt and complete the 42 k.

  6. I have to thank my co runners at Vashi, each one faster than me, who would lavish fulsome praise on any slight improvement I had to show, knowing fully that I was never a threat to them. Ram, Mahesh, Sivakumar, Aditya, Bhosale, Rajendra, Srini, Mani, Balu, Jayaraman, the Pavan Putris (we used to call them PPs) Raji, Sheela,  Shobha, Anu and of course, Deepta. Each of them has inspired me in their own unique ways. They  were all so much faster than me that to a bystander it looked as if I was standing by.

  7. Many are those who helped me enroute. The day was hotter than I had expected. i must thank Shilpa for helping me undress, she is also truly a great pin up artiste, the dexterity with which she pinned my bib back on was amazing. Personally, the bhangra musicians turned out to be more useful to me than all the other musicians, this has to do with where they were placed and the rhythm which they stuck to. We need more music on the way back. A special thank you to Revathi’s husband, Shivvie, who egged me on at the Haji Ali circle, it helped me gain some tail wind. At 32 km, one is thrilled to see a familiar face. But at my speed, I was torn between feeling happy that he was there and feelimg embarrassed at my slow progress.

  8. I have always been a slow runner. I continue to be one. Initially I used to blame it on my old age (I am almost 50, you see) but then older people went past me. Then I turned to blaming it on my weight until much heavier people started passing me by. That’s when my excuses started turning complicated. It was a broth, with a bit of travel related excuse leading to poor sleeping habits caused by irritating flight schedules disrupted by weather. Throw in some client enforced socializing, a bit of illness and there you have a concoction that will cause people to actually give you credit for running in this condition.

  9. It was at the Mahalakshmi race course that this woman Roshni Bakshi kept overtaking me. It was very embarrassing at first especially because she is Deepta’s batchmate. Howsoever much I tried to tell myself that it was unnecessary to get competitive, I had to find a way to deal with it. Mercifully for me, even before I completed 2 of my targeted 8 rounds of the race course, I had found a way out of my predicament. No, I did not stop running, that would have been a cop out. Instead, I simply decided to run the other way. But very soon, I had a new problem. I discovered that Roshni had a habit of reversing her direction every so often. The moment I realized this, I started doing the same thing and from then on, Roshni Bakshi never overtook me and I could run in peace without being torn to pieces by someone who ran so fast that even her shadow could not keep pace with her. I also rechristened her Rush Nee Bhag Chi, with apologies to the 4 languages I am twisting in so doing.

  10. When I told Deepta about my new name for Roshni, she wondered why I had spared her friend and another batch mate, Sandeep “Dingo” Bhandarkar, an experienced runner and my guru. Turn out that she did not want Dingo spared, considering that she had co habited with Rush Nee in the girls dorm at IIM A.  Dingo was easy. He became Bhag daud kar. Nice Maharashtrian Brahmin ring to it, wouldn’t you say.

  11. This ability to find creative escapist solutions so as not to be viewed in dim light would stand me in good stead much later too. When deepta announced her intention to run, I was genuinely concerned. Mercifully for me, she said that she would run the half and not the full, eliminating the possibility of me finishing after she did in the same event. I kep telling husbands never to compete with wives. Balu did not heed my advice and ran in the same event as his wife Raji and lives to regret it as she finished way ahead of him. When he got injured during training, keeping him off the tracks for 6 weeks, I thought he would see reason. But no, he is an analyst you see, Crisil trained. He was trained not to see whats behind the scenes, he was ill equipped to understand the subtle messages. Poor Balu. He has run off to Kerala to hide.

  12. I did not have to confront the timing issue until I reached the marathon venue. I overheard people around me talk about their target times. 3: 30 said one, to which another said, “I would have liked to do 3:15 but my boss is running with me, so I have to slow down.” When it was my turn to share, I said “2:30” confidently. Most thought I was mad, yet others did not know what hit them. Being polite, they chose not to probe, little realizing that I was talking about finishing by 2.30 PM and not in 2:30 hours. How am I to blame if they understood otherwise? Mahabharata has been truly instructional in my life.

  13. You may wish to know why I could not have finished sooner than the 6 + hours I took. For this the organizers are entirely to blame. Last year when I ran the 21, the first signs at the toll gate very clearly announced “No overtaking.” I took it seriously and being a concerned citizen, I realized that I had two choices. I could either insist on starting before everybody else and run faster than them so that I did not violate the law, or if I started later, stay back and not overtake anyone. In so doing, I ensure that not only did I not have to overtake anyone, I did not let anyone overtake me either. Later someone told me that the rules did not apply to marathoners but I ask you this: why have signs if they are not meant for those using the road? How silly.

  14. Manoj Sinha tells me the story of this run where he finished in record time because he got to admire the rump of two PYTs. No such luck in Mumbai. I strongly urge the organizers to have a reservation policy so that there is a greater representation of PYTs in the run. Now that they have started asking for the photos of the runners, this should be easy enough to do. The presence of more PYTs can be tremendously inspirational and if Manoj was not left behind because of his fixation on their rumps, I am sure it can have a similar effect in Mumbai too.

  15. On the subject of Manoj Sinha, I must tell you that he wanted to run too but woke up too late. And then asked me to get him a bib. You know how these NRIs are, they want everything their way. They will create conditions to violate rules and then blame our motherland for being in a state of lawlessness, a jugad state and so on. You have heard the saying, right? Jab tak suraj chand rahega, NRI to badnam karega. I will have none of this.  What is worse is that he wanted to come and show us up, us poor Indians with a target time that was half of mine. I think we should not let them in, say what?

  16. As someone said to me, there is hope for me yet, considering that I belong to a minority of 0.0001% of Mumbaikars who not only dared to run and go on to finish the 42 km long run yesterday. While I accept the compliment with humility, I should point out that if you focus sufficiently narrowly on the numerator and divide by the humongous population that we are blessed with, anyone can be in as much of a minority as they choose to be. To extrapolate further, I must have finished first in the category of Vashi resident Tamil Ayyars of Kolkata origin, married to Iyengars from Delhi. So there, I am feeling good already. Levity aside, I am actually on top of the world.

  17. Why did I take 6+ hours? Because I ran much much more than the required distance. My Garmin tells me that I ran almost 43 km.  On many roads I took the outer arc, adding to the distance traversed. I tried to stay in a group of one, so that people coming from the other direction could spot me and admire my efforts. This is very important. Until such time as I had not passed all the 21 km runners coming from the opposite direction, I stayed on the extreme right so that they could see me and applaud me. Subra did, Raji did. But Rashesh did not. I am not sure if he even  grunted an acknowledgement as I hailed him. May be that’s because he is IIM A. May be because, his competitor Ranu Vohra of Avendus was running the 42 k while Rashesh was still on the baby slopes which is how we marathoners refer to the 21. Though I must give full credit to  Rashesh’s as a manager extraordinaire for planting two of his able lieutenants to keep an eye on Ranu to see if he was cutting any deals on the way. In any event, Rashesh’s lack of encouragement slowed me down further.

  18. In all of this there was a silver lining though. Over the 5 years I have run the half marathon, I have always had to face the ignominy of the full marathoners overtaking me even before I reach the finish line. It used to be traumatic. How else can I describe it when people running twice your distance overtake you in half the time? No such worries this time around. I can say honestly that I have now raced several Olympians to the finish. They overtook me as they were supposed to but so what? How else would they have won? I did not want a repeat of what Asterix did to the Romans. The organisers would not have approved.

  19. The biggest gain from the Marathon was a totally unexpected one. As a colossal failure who did not get into any enginering college, what to speak of IIT, as a disaster who did not study at the IIMs, I used to respond to those that asked if I am from the IIMs with a stock “I am with a lass of 89″ reply. But now that i have been invited to lunch next Saturday by the class of 89, I wonder if I can now say that I was with the class of 89? I should try it out the next time. :)

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