Thursday 25 September 2014

Surely there is more to Mangalyaan than outsourcing ?

On a day when we should be celebrating the great success of our scientists, on a day when I should be shouting from the roof tops about how great this country of mine is and can be, when it wants to be, I am livid.

I am angry reading the narrative about the Mars mission. I am angry that the success is threatening to degenerate into another case study for outsourcing to India, I am angry that we seem to be less proud of what we have achieved, but seem to be gloating over how little we have spent. This is ridiculous.

Thousands of words have been written in indian media and global media alike, comparing the costs of the indian mission with the American mission. Reports are everywhere suggesting that NASA should outsource to India and so on. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with the central theme of that is being played up, about how little we spent.

For me that is the wrong way to approach things. It can be a footnote, that's ok but it cannot take over the main story as it seems to have. The story is about our phenomenal scientists who worked together to pull it off. It is about India's scientific prowess. This is not just a made in india story, it is a made by india story.

When I read about how a new version of a browser was developed by indian engineers in bengaluru or Hyderabad, it is about the coding skills of indian software engineers. We are the tool boys working on the shop floor. It does not offer any supportable inferences about India's technological depth or might.

Mangalyaan does.

Unknown unsung scientists drawn from the public sector have worked with engineers in India's private sector engineering companies to pull is off. It was not just about fabrication, it was the whole package, which was executed because of the quality of scientists that we have in this country. After a long time, we can actually say that there must be something right about science in india, something right that we can build on to make it even better.

It is also a story about Indian women in science. (Eat your words, Larry Summers) It is a story about a country which received adverse mention globally and deservedly so for rape cases but which seems to also have something different going on elsewhere. When women scientists are front and centre of one of the greatest achievements of independent india, it is cause for celebration.

Sure I want india to help other countries with their space programmes. But not because we are cheap but because we can. Because we have a pool of scientists who can, because our science and technology program throws up people who can not just execute but also dream. Because this is part of our foreign policy, to use our scientific and technological strengths to help our friends and to help new friends. Let them start seeing us with respect, in awe of our achievements.

That is the narrative I want to hear.

There is more to Mangalyaan than outsourcing surely.

Friday 8 August 2014

Vitriol or journalism? The Economist's biased tirade against Mukesh Ambani

The Economist story on Reliance is a load of balderdash as is the lead editorial about the company. I don’t hold a brief for RIL, not by a long shot. But I can tell you that this story is short on facts and long on innuendos and even longer on unsubstantiated assertions.  Simply put, it is rotten journalism. Coming as it does from The Economist, which too many people view as the last word on just about anything, it is simply unacceptable.

Let me tell you where I am coming from. I am a former journalist. The last article I ever did as a mainstream reporter was a cover story on Reliance. It was a story which worried the company sick and they tried to get me off the story after they saw the questionnaire I had sent them. In the course of researching the story, I was allowed to meet just one person within the group, who, in the middle of the interview, asked me to get out of the room. With me were 3 other colleagues, one of whom had been sent to keep an eye on me, he even had the gall to fax the story to RIL for them to look it over, to suggest changes. That was the day I realized that my decision to leave journalism was the right one.

Let me also state that I do not own shares in Reliance nor have I ever held shares in Reliance.  Today I am a struggling entrepreneur. My firm does no business with Reliance. I do not know Mukesh Ambani but I must disclose that he delivered a lecture from our pulpit to honour the memory of a banker who had funded Reliance in its early days.  Let me also tell you that I was not asked by RIL to write this article though I won’t be surprised if they circulate it widely.  But I did call a friend in RIL to find out how many shareholders they have. Turns out the number is just shy of 3 million.  I suspect that most of them would take umbrage at the characterisation of Mukesh Ambani as the unloved billionaire though I am sure each of them would love his billions more.

As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that capitalism sucks. Capitalism is rotten, right down to its core. Trouble though is that communism is no better, if anything it is worse. When individual initiative is allowed to flower, is allowed to play out in its fullest in an individual’s pursuit of greed, many good things happen. But then many bad things happen too, things that one may not like or approve of.  If greed is good as I am told by all those that have funded me and those that won’t, one has to accept the reality that there will be some good and some bad.

Everything that Reliance does is in pursuit of its greed.  As does every other company which operates in a  free market. If greed is good is the mantra of enterprise, and if in the pursuit of greed, the firm seeks to get the best for itself from the government and spares no efforts to get its way, is that wrong in a competitive world. What are the limits of competitive behavior? Are the limits different for countries from different countries? US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is in India today to push for US defence contractors, all huge contributors to the Obama campaign. Is that not crony capitalism? Shortly after the Modi government took over, the British government sent two senior people to plead on behalf of UK defence contractors. Is that not crony capitalism? I am not going to list out every one of the instances where the magazine gives a great degree of latitude when covering excesses of western firms and western players while lambasting those in China, India and elsewhere for similar faults. The hypocrisy stinks.

I would have had no problems if the article and their edit had cogent arguments with facts to support it. But this article quotes an unnamed PE investor who is disgusted with himself for applauding Mr Ambani. I don’t know why this man had to do so, was he worried that cameras were trained on him that would monitor every move of his that he had to show his public approval even if privately he only had contempt? Nonsense. Then the articles quotes another unidentified gent, this one a banker who “spat out his contempt for that damn company”  when as a banker he should have nothing but concern for whether the company was eminently credit worthy. The article does not say if the banker has an exposure to RIL which I suspect it does. The article dignifies these two gents by calling them critics though I could read no criticism in what they had to say, the journalist clearly cannot tell between insults and criticism.

Yes, RIL is a big company. One of the few facts offered by the company is that the group accounts for 15 % of India’s exports, 4 % of its stock market value and coughs up 3 % of its tax revenues while accounting for 6% of private corporate investment in India.  Because they are big, they wield a lot of clout. With as many stakeholders as they do, they have the need and also the ability to influence policy to suit their own ends as with any company or group of a similar size anywhere in the world. The article makes no disclosures of illegal acts by Reliance but merely suggests that because the group is big and because they can get their way, they must be up to no good. I would say this is true of all big companies all over the world. Reliance does not deserve to be singled out so.

In fact, the article calls Reliance as a “how not to guide to good governance”, but none of the points made support this utterance. The journalist comments about the composition of the board of directors where Independent directors have served for more than 14 years on the average, with 3 of them old and aging and north of 80 into which the  Chairman’s wife has been inducted. An assertion is made about how the lines of responsibility are fuzzy with no facts to support the same. Nothing in the board composition was violative of the law of the day in India and to make statements like this cannot be but to make the company look bad.

The article seeks to contemptuously dismiss the ownership structure by using the word fiddly, a pejorative term, when its synonym, “complex’ would do.  What is illegal or wrong about a complex web of ownership ? If the purpose of this statement is to allege some wrongdoing, why does the magazine not say so in so many words.  The article alludes to a comment by one of the firm’s main regulators. What in heavens is  a main regulator?  RIL is a company incorporated in India over which the Registrar of Companies has oversight. The listed companies in the group come under the purview of the Securities Exchange Board of India’s purview. I can understand the journalist’s need to protect confidentiality and I have done several stories where I have attributed statements to sources who wished to be anonymous. But a regulator who wishes to be anonymous about the name of the regulator? I have never heard of this. I find this incredibly poor journalism.  If it is the taxman who wants to pierce the tax veil as I presume that the complex structure is for reasons of tax, all that they need to do is to put an excel sheet together. I am perplexed at the loaded statements. Most American companies and UK companies operating overseas have complex structures which they create for tax planning. That does not make them rogues, does it.

The article talks about how the company gets a thumbs down from foreign equity investors in India. If only the writer had done some basic research on the Bombay stock exchange website, he would have found that close to 20 % of the stock is held by foreign funds, up from 17.3% a year ago. That does not sound too much like a disapproval to me. Nor does it support the comment about foreign fund managers being wary of Reliance, why then are they holding the stock and even increasing their positions?

There is one nugget about the group that they have unearthed about how a total of $ 1.2 billion is paid to related parties, mostly family owned entities. Rightly, they have said that the board should provide oversight to ensure that the deals are at arms length.   The last thing they have unearthed as a how not to guide for good governance is a 2007 case filed against them by SEBI which continues to stay unresolved. Every company has its fair share of litigation to contend with, practices that may not be entirely kosher. But to take this and describe Reliance as a “how not to guide in corporate governance” is malicious.

The article seems to feel that there is something virtuous about the way global companies do business in sharp contrast to how Reliance operates. I don’t recall if the magazine had their knives out for the London banks who sought to cheat the global financial system by fixing LIBOR, the benchmark rate used the world over and which even a small company like mine is affected by in our dealing with local banks. I don’t recall the magazine asking for those banks to be shut down or their co conspirators to be hung from the nearest pole. Mr Ambani looks almost saintly when compared with these charlatans.

While it does not say so in so many words, the innuendo ridden article is positive about the association of the group with Marks and Spencers and with Brooks Brothers. Conveniently enough, the scandal over  how Marks and Spencers benefited from the recent horsemeat crisis does not seem to have stuck enough to make the groups association with Reliance bad. Similarly, the alliance of Reliance with scandal after scandal ridden BP seems to get tacit approval too.

As I said at the very beginning, I hold no brief for Reliance. It is just that I am aghast how an article such as this can finds its way into The Economist with no facts but only opinions that seeks to damage the reputation of Reliance and Mr Ambani.  I know that many journalists are applauding the article from the sidelines, they are happy that someone has the guts to take RIL on. They are angry that RIL took over TV 18 and they see this article as just desserts. They don’t realise that if RIL uses its newly acquired media assets to further its own narrow agenda, the quality of the offerings from their media stable will not find consumers. They have burnt their fingers once and hopefully the lessons have been learned. More than any agenda set by the Ambanis, it is the hired hands who may let them down by forcing the media to pursue what they perceive as their masters agenda.   RIL does not become evil just because they took over a media group as some would have you believe.

In sum, I would turn to the credo of the magazine which the article defies. The Economist says that it was established in 1843 “to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”  Instead the author presses forward to push his editorial line through with scant regard for facts and with an ignorance, unworthy of a magazine which has carved out a position for itself so lofty. It is a sad day for journalism.


Wednesday 21 May 2014

Sack your advisors, Mr Kejriwal

aap images

Much has been said about the need for a purge in the Congress and how the first family should have been banished to the boondocks. But I wonder why nothing has been said about the need for a purge in the Aam admi Party. They have cut such a sorry figure that there is a need for the party to be purged of them. Forthwith.

As a supporter of the party, as a person who voted for the party in the last Lok Sabha election, I want to know why they acted as they did. I demand to know who is responsible for the utterly stupid decision to contest as many as the 434 seats that they did. I demand that the people who pushed the party in that direction be shown the door for poor advice.

Because I know that Arvind was not in favour of fighting this many seats. I know that Arvind was never in favour of fighting more than 20 seats. But no, that would not do for the advisors who pushed him into accepting their advice that all 543 seats should be fought. With no money or volunteers, no wonder then that AAP cut such a  sorry figure.

The good news is that  the party managed to get as much as 33 % of the popular vote in Delhi this time, up from the 33 % in the Assembly elections. In most of the rest of India though, they fared miserably. I am told that one of the leaders of the party had argued that AAP should fight as many seats as they did to build up the organisation. Instead with a performance as pathetic  as this, the leader may have actually sent the party to the mortuary instead.

It is a pity that Arvind did not stand up to these people. I have known Arvind for a long time and his political instincts are well honed. He brought Anna in to raise the visibility of the campaign and when the time was right, he did not hesitate to go it alone, when Anna opposed his entry into politics. He knows when to go full throttle ahead with his agitation and when to back off. The victory in Delhi is a result of 20 years of hard work by Arvind and his team. In contrast, there was no organisation anywhere else in the country. To win elections, one needs an organisation and Arvind knows this. But for reasons that I cannot fathom, he got swayed or may be he succumbed to the pressure of those who did not have his grasp of politics. This was a huge mistake. May be he saw this as his way of being democratic but this approach has turned to be counter productive.

Now he needs to get rid of these people who climbed on to his plank as they saw it to be a good thing and will not hesitate to scamper away if things get hot. Arvind is in for the long haul, which is why he needs to purge the party of these howsoever well intentioned people but whose views are driven more by fashion and fads and most importantly, the desire to look good than anything else. Politics requires a streak of ruthlessness and an image be damned approach. Public memory is short and if you do good, they stay with you. Look at the increase in the AAP vote share in Delhi.

What shocks me is how over the last few days, a few of these well intentioned people have been undermining Arvind systematically. These are people who fared miserably in the elections or did not stand at all but now want to decide which way the party should go. I hear that they are now bludgeoning Arvind into submission. This wont do.

My support for Arvind is unconditional. I am not in the least swayed by what the media says about him, good or bad. I have been tracking his work since the mid 90s and I know that he has already made a huge difference.  But if Arvind wants to continue to make a difference, he needs to purge his party ruthlessly of the people who wont let him lead.  Forthwith. Mercilessly. Image be damned.

Do it, Arvind. For your sake. For AAP's sake. For the country's sake.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Kripa Sagar: Finding purpose




Ask yourself when the last time was that you did something truly selfless. Because Kripa Sagar does it every time she steps out of the house to run. Whether it is a race or whether it is simply to train.

I remember vividly the day she ventured out to run, it was at the NMSA grounds. She did so,  because Deepta, her cousin, was running. It was too close to the SCMM and I honestly did not expect her to keep up the training after the excitement of SCMM dissipated. But she did.

She discovered that running gave her a high like nothing else. She gave up smoking, she became conscious of what she ate, when she hit the bed, of the way she led her life, generally. It made a difference to her and I could see the difference in her.

It was sometime along the way that it struck her that other smokers too could kick the habit if they took up running. That's how she came up with the idea for the event which she calls Take a  Breath of Fresh Air (TABOFA). Very conveniently, a trust set up by some of her dad's friends and supported by him as well was working with cancer patients. Kripa decided to use her running to not only raise awareness about the value of running in kicking the smoking habit, she used the opportunity to raise money for the Jana Rakshita Trust.

It was not long before her madness found expression in a crazy idea. She decided that she would run a marathon equivalent distance in every state and union territory in the country. Not only would she run, she would also use her visit to talk to people about how running can wean them away from smoking. In Kerala. in Goa. in Mumbai. Her coach must have initially dismissed her as a mad woman but she talked him into giving her a training plan that would allow her to run effortlessly.

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I know many people who run marathons, I know of a few who run the distance once a month as part of their training. They do so to get better at the next competitive event. It is not so with Kripa.

She does so, to send a message to the world. To get them to focus attention on the evils of smoking. Not by preaching. But by sharing her own life experience. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she is a life giver. Because as my doctor friends say, the correlation between cancer and smoking is well established. By making it her mission to get more people on her path, she is changing their lives for the better.

If you have never run a marathon, you wont know what it takes to get there. The training, the pain, the discipline. Venkat P tells me that there will not be more then 5000 people in India who run this distance atleast once a year. A small fraction of them would be women, that number certainly cannot be more than 1000. But Kripa runs the distance every month, at a race if there is one, else she makes up her own event. She trains religiously, she leads a life style that would prepare her for the distance. She does this to ensure that the lives of others does not go up in smoke.

In this she is selfless. And relentless in her pursuit to convert others to her cause. Because she is committed.

The anniversary run of TABOFA is approaching. It starts on the night of May 10 and ends on May 11. Join her on the run, if you wish. Join her to cycle through the streets of Mumbai if you wish. If you can do neither, atleast cheer her on as she does something for the smokers in your family. And if you are a smoker yourself, spare a thought for her.  Thank her. After all she is doing this for you. And if you are incapable of being selfless, that is okay. Be selfish. Just don't smoke the next cigarette. Go for a run instead. Or a walk.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Dilemma of the Undecided Indian


This election, I will not be voting for the UPA, considering the ten years of misrule they have heaped upon us.

But then I will not vote for the NDA either even though the record of the last NDA government was much much better than any Congress government in my living memory. But I dont care much for the leadership they are seeking to foist on us.

That leaves the AAP which does not have a hope in hell of making a difference to government formation by any stretch of my imagination.

I do not plan to hide behind the NOTA option as that defeats the purpose of elections.

But I will vote.

My candidate will not win, in much the same way no candidate I have voted for has ever won. Thats not okay with me, but I do not really have a choice, caught as I am between a bad choice and a worse choice.

Dont ask me who the bad choice is or the worse choice is, but let me tell you that having been a keen follower of Indian politics, the BJP and the Congress are two sides of the same coin. We need a new coin. To those of you who condemn the Congress for its corruption I say, the BJP is no better.

Until we have campaign finance reform, we cannot expect honesty from those that rule us. Which is why in this day and age, definitions have changed. The honest politician is one who does not make money for himself but for the party. The dishonest chap keeps it for himself and gives some to the party.

The total amount of money that will be spent in this elections by all the parties put together will be nothing less than Rs 20,000 crore. In places like Andhra, the spend by a single candidate in a constituency could be as high as Rs 40 crore. In places like Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal where parties will be frugal, the spend by a candidate in a constituency will not be south of Rs 1 crore, if one were to add up all the costs.  There are 542 constituencies going to the polls and in each of them, there will be atleast 3 serious candidates spending oodles of money to buy votes. The cost of getting a vote today is north of Rs 1000 in cash transfers, not to mention the marketing spend. The cash transfer amount has gone up this time around, my sources tell me. So go on do your math.

This kind of money cannot be raised without looting the exchequer in the current framework. And if a candidate spends this kind of money given to him by his friends, do you think the friends wont want a piece of the action? Whether you vote for the BJP or the Congress, the story will be the same.

The paradigm has to change, the frame work has to be altered. It can be done, but it will take time. It has to be done bit by bit, one step at a time. Things can change, if you want it to change, if I want it to change.

This may sound blasphemous to you but there will always be corruption in high places that you and I can do precious little about. I honestly believe that if we can get our government to deliver the little things, the stuff I will lump together under what I will call civic services, 99% of us will have less reason to complain. If the roads get built, if we get 24x7 water and electricity, if the schools are staffed and have children going to school, if the primary health centres have adequate medicines, if the roads are clean and of better quality and so on.

In our world where corruption has become democratized, the MP who we are going to vote for depends on the MLA to bring in the vote and has to therefore let the MLA conduct an organised loot in his area. The MLA on his part depends on the nagar sevak or the corporator to rustle up the vote and therefore lets this chap have a free run in his area. This works like a well oiled machine.

There are two approaches you can take to deal with garbage in a city. You can set up a sewage treatment plant where the water flows into the sea, or you can ensure that the garbage generated in each household is separated before it is picked up for disposal. The latter approach works best and that is what we need to do to clean up our society.

To choke off the corruption at the corporator level is much easier than to deal with the MP's shenanigans. But if you choke off the corporators loot flow, the MLA too will be affected and by extension the MP. Charity begins at home, they say and so does the clean up. Politics will suddenly not be a lucrative proposition and the looters will have to find other means of livelihood.

Which is why, we have launched the myMP initiative. Do see whats in there, what the data says about the quality of social services in your area. Do share with me your view on how we can make this more action oriented and how we can use all this data to empower people in a manner that equips them adequately to make their elected reps accountable. Heres the site URL:

Because if you do so, you can make your vote count. May be not this time, but certainly the next time. That is my game plan. I hope i wont be o undecided the next time I go out to vote.

Jai Hind.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

SCMM 2014: A Photo essay (Pics courtesy: Parag Pilankar)

Not since I was in Class 8 way back in 1974 when my Hindi teacher, the late Avanishpati Tripathi, sent me out of his class have I stood for so long in one place. But that was punishment and I had no choice, whereas my experience at SCMM 2014 standing near Flora Fountain was of my own volition, it was a pleasure too.

It was a PB for me. Never before have I ever stood for so long in one place, not counting queues for kerosene and what not under pressure from my parents, never before willingly.

I did this for Srivatsan. Infact, the only instruction I gave Parag was to shoot Srivatsan with abandon as he passes by and Parag did. He shot some fabulous pictures of Srivatsan and many others too.

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Why Srivatsan? Because without him, there would be no NMR. He took the lead to make it happen. He mapped the routes, he called to people to run with him, he paced the slowest on days, he ran with the best on other. He is one selfless character who has kept the group growing. He is leaving Mumbai to go back to school and I don't know if he will back in Mumbai after he is through. I am also not sure if in the middle of his course work, he will find time to run next year's SCMM. So, thank you Dr Vatsan as I refer to him, a Vatsan who gets people out of homes (pun intended) to run. He kept improving, and today he is simply an outstanding runner and more importantly, an outstanding human being, whose leadership has caused hospitals to lose customers to gyms and sports shops. Pravin Gaikwad is rumoured to have confided to someone that he is happy that he is a Pediatrician and not a Cardiologist with Vatsan around. "Dhandha nahin banta," he is supposed to have said. Now you know why we have no cardiologists in NMR.

This year, I did not run, not the FM, nor the HM, not even the dream run. But knowing the significance of this run of Srivatsan, atleast for me even if not for him, I made up my mind to land up to atleast cheer. To make myself useful, I offered to click some photographs. Before I could retract the offer, the die was cast with just too many people queuing up asking that they be clicked even as Shashi volunteered his camera. There was simply no going back.

Over the next 5 hours, Parag would click some 600 photographs. Here are the top 10 stories begging to be told.

1. Ogle Ogle

My favourite features Haridasan Nair. See the photographs in sequence. he is running past a lady who seems to be mesmerised by him. OMG, lady, the man is married. First she checks him out from the front, next thing you know she lest him overtake her and seems to be checking out the goods thoroughly, this time from the back !!

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2. Ride, anyone ?

Another favourite is that of Michael D Souza. he reminded me of the dancing cop near Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi. Look at his photographs shot in quick succession, does it not seem that he is actually directing traffic ? long distance running puts you in a zone where you are spaced out. Which is perhaps why Michel does not realise that on that stretch of the road, no vehicular traffic was being permitted at that time. Or is he looking to hitch a ride on the next bus that comes along ?

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3. Where did my followers disappear ?

This story is priceless. One moment, this pacer is shepherding his group, next thing he knows they have disappeared. He cant find them. Many of them had simply started walking and fell behind. It was a hilarious sight, coz it took him a while to figure it out.


4. Decoding the science of running

Move aside Tim Noakes, Venkat P is here. I did not know then that he was not just carrying the burden of carrying his herd in on time, he was also carrying an ECG machine which was recording his body vitals right through the race.

IMG_2683Some of us may recall his sweat rate study which focussed our attention on hydration and now this. Here he is with his bag strapped around his waist, I am told he was carrying an extra 4 kilos. But that is nothing, considering that I have to carry every living moment an extra 20 kilos, what is an additional 4 kg for a mere 3 hours. I am not impressed.

5. Hero of the day

This Savio is really amazing. First, he finishes his HM and gets  a podium finish. then he sets out on the road to wherever his wards running the HM and later the FM were and runs with them to the finish. I must have counted atleast 10 people that he escorted in if not more. If you add that distance to his HM, he must have done atleast 50 k that day, if not more. Savio is also the coach of our own Don who missed the podium by a whisker. To the guru and the shishya, salaam.

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6. We did an experiment with the runners, the results will be published soon in the International Journal of Voyeurs published by Harward University. Thrust a camera in front of anyone and the results will startle you. Look at Bhaskar, at first he does not see is, he is focussed on his running. then he sees us, may be hears me too screaming his name out. He smiles and waves. Then he realises that this is not the persona he wishes for the world to see. So he sticks his tongue out, the perennial jester that he portrays himself to be.

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7. The marathon is a time to help each other. This photograph captures this woman asking someone to join her. This is about 600 metres from the finish line and it brought tears to my eyes. way to go, lady. People like you make this world a better place.  It was also great to see Ram running with his brother, Anand.   Ram would tell me later that Anand helped him through a particularly tough part of the run by staying with him. What are brothers for. A Kodak moment this.

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8.  Marathon couples

Spouses that run together stay together goes the saying. In this competitive world,  the man is usually expected to finish ahead. Not so in the case of Amit and Neepa Sheth. Like the dutiful husband, he stayed atleast a hundred paces behind her.  I am also finding that the prospect of marriage slows runners down, as I saw in the case of Jitu. he got a bout of pre marital cramps with 7 k to go, a marathon version of second thoughts on the 7th of the Saat pheres, I guess. But that is not the real reason why Jitu slowed down. As it happens, I had promised to buy him  at the Taj, and invite an attractive lady friend too, if he finished with a sub 4:00 timing. Jitu knew I was serious but did not want to be seen in public with an attractive woman, just before his marriage, so you know what he did, he slowed down. The truth had to be told, Jitu.

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9. The unfussed runner

Black was the most worn colour on race day, not many had caps or sun glasses on, some came with their garmins, others with their smart phones. But the unfussed runners certainly stole the limelight, there were so few of them after all. I want to add to this list the quiet runner, who, over the last couple of years, has emerged as a very very strong runner, without too much noise or fuss. Bravo, Mani, bravo. I know you give Pravin all the credit but it is you who did the running.

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10. I call this the non picture, my favourite of all time but at the same time the one that causes me most concern. It is my protest picture. It is meant to register my protest at the absence of PYTs in the FM or the HM. How can you do this Procam ? There were many handsome men, there were many fat men, thin men, tall men, short men, white men, black men, portly men, skinny men, rich CEO men, poor working class men. But no PYTs. Alas. This is the most important photograph simply because it is the only picture I shot. :)



Friday 17 January 2014

Hudson Hollister is changing the world one byte at a time


Today my friend Hudson Hollister turns 32. No big deal about turning 32, you say. Sure, I agree.

Hudson too would agree. But it is for us, all of us in the world who are counting on his leadership to make this world a better place. 7 billion of us and counting. Because I do not know too many that have packed as much in their short life as Hudson has. In the 9 years since he graduated with a law degree, he has done more than people do in 90 or even 900. No hyperbole this.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, it is said, in the context of ushering in transparency in government and the private sector as well. Would you not want to know how the company you have invested in is doing and what they have done with the money you have invested in them; or know what the government does with its tax revenues, or, how much they spent on the road in front of your house or on salaries of school teachers in your neighbourhood. Governments all over the world do put out some information, as do companies, but they do so in a manner which is not easily understood and in a manner meant to obfuscate than reveal the true picture.

It was a few years ago when Hudson was working at the SEC that the importance of data standards struck him. ever since then, he has made it his life mission. So Hudson started an outfit called the Data Transparency Coalition to help make federal s[pending accountable, to get the data on utilisation reported in a format which allows citizens to consume it easily, to feed online mohalla sabhas as India's Arvind Kejriwal would call it. In a world where lobbying is a dirty word, Hudson's lobbying is meant to clean the world of dirt.

In 2013, Hudson got the US Congress and the Senate to pass something called the Data Act, to achieve this objective. Data transparency strengthens democratic accountability, as the website proclaims. The effect of this will be felt through out the world over the next few years. Everybody who receives funding from any agency in the USA would have to fall in line, this includes beneficiaries of USAID funding, that would include those in the health sector, for example. Don't be surprised if the World Bank soon follows suit, at the prodding of the US, with all World Bank funded projects getting a dose of accountability like never before. Once the multilateral agencies put the systems in place, every country would have to follow suit.

Now imagine what this transparency will do to India where we have heard how only 15% of the funds go to intended beneficiaries. just imagine if, following this enactment, the number creeps up to 20, 30 and 50, the country will be transformed. Primary health centres will be well stocked with medicines, schools will have infrastructure, roads wont get washed away, life will be better.

Do you still want to know why turning 32 is a big deal? Thank you Hudson, thank you for everything and thank you for your efforts to make this world a better place.


Tuesday 14 January 2014

Finger point everyone: The 4th mistake of Mr Chetan Bhagat's life

I am not a member of the Aam Aadmi party and I don't plan to become a member either. But I support them.

So when I read what Chetan Bhagat has written in his blog in Times of India, I felt like offering some gratuitous advice in much the way he does to AAP. So I say to you, Mr Bhagat, please stick to writing novels. There is no logical thread in this political blog of yours, your analysis is pedestrian at best and hollow and biased at worst. While you may be used to making up your own reality when writing fiction, you cannot take such liberties when it comes to political analysis. You are a famous man, Mr Bhagat and you have a responsibility to write with integrity. I also do not see that you have any respect for facts.

You have said
It is not easy to write a column with views that run against the wave, particularly against well-intentioned people you have yourself encouraged. I face this dilemma when I write about AAP and its need for a reality check. AAP is the flavour of the month. The media is going gaga over it, the poor see it as their messiah, and rich but bored executives are quitting their jobs to join the ‘movement’.

It deserves some of the hype. It is honest, humble and responsive. The party quickly adapts to public opinion, even if it means changing a previous stance. This responsiveness alone makes it stand out from existing political parties, led by dinosaurs that couldn’t move even if their tail was on fire.

And I say to you, Mr Bhagat

Your piece is titled "India first, AAP second." If AAP quickly adapts to public opinion and is willing to change its stance, is this not a case of AAP putting the country ahead of the party ? How then do you go onto say that they are putting the party first ? You trip on your own logic Mr Bhagat.

You have said
If AAP plays its cards right, it can be a leading national party over the next decade. However, AAP needs to realize that the bigger concern is not AAP, but India. Sadly, some recent policies and decisions have been highly questionable in terms of national interest.

In a bid to come across as a hero to voters, AAP announced free water, and a bizarre subsidy-based cut in electricity tariffs in Delhi. Some estimates say this could cost thousands of crores a year. This money could have been used for hospitals, schools, flyovers, employment generation and a dozen other purposes. The poll promise was to reduce the alleged corruption in the electricity sector, and pass on the efficiency gains to the people. The cheeky accounting and subsidy-based reduction was irresponsible. If the AAP tariff decision is extended pan-India , the cost could be lakhs of crores a year. Such moves can not only wreck the country’s finances, they will send the wrong signal to private players who will shun investing in India’s electricity sector. It helped AAP win some instant applause, but did it help India?

My response
1. You have not bothered to even get the facts right on the water initiative. Go on, read the manifesto or if you want the distilled essence, feel free to visit my blog . AAP is not doing this to come across as a hero, but to make good on a promise they made in their manifesto.
2. Pray do tell me what is bizarre about the promised cut in power tariff. In most law abiding societies, tariff is fixed on the basis of an audit of costs. How is this bizarre, Mr Bhagat ? BTW, the BJP too had promised a 30 % cut in tariff do you not know that. May I also point you to the statement of a former Chairman of DERC Brijendra Singh who ordered that tariff be slashed by 23 %, an order that the Delhi government shot down. Singh's was the voice of experience that, as you argue later in your post, AAP does not have but the Congress and BJP do. You have a lot of explaining to do for your irresponsible choice of words. Cheeky accounting is what the electricity firms have been doing, not AAP. Cheeky would be a good word to describe your snide remarks directed at AAP.

Says Mr Bhagat
Another example is AAP’s bid to have 90% reservation for Delhiites in Delhi colleges, many of which are national brands. Note the damage this creates at many levels. It prevents students across the country from joining the best colleges. It denies the colleges the best talent, and damages their brand. It creates pressure to move to Delhi, adding stress to urban infrastructure. It encourages parents to send kids abroad to study, costing us foreign exchange. Shouldn’t we discuss all this? Why don’t we have top Delhi colleges opening branches across the country, for instance?

Again, this move may have helped AAP, but did it help India?

You may be honest, but if you are ok with raiding the national treasury and hurting national brands to aid your party, are you completely pure?

My response
Again your disdain for detail shows, Mr Bhagat. I must tell you that hyperbole cannot ever be a substitute for facts. Manish Sisodia has proposed a 90% reservation in the 12 colleges funded fully by the Delhi government. Here's the link to two news reports on the subject. One appeared in the ToI the other in HT. If the Delhi government is funding these colleges in full with Delhi tax payers money, why should they not reserve all of the seats for residents of Delhi, I ask you. How do you say that this creates pressure on people to move to Delhi. The intention is to offer reservations to Delhi residents and not to people moving to Delhi to reside to be able to get college admission. Then you talk about kids having to go abroad. But wait, Sisodia is only talking about denying admission to kids from elsewhere in favour of Delhi kids. How does this lead to more kids being forced to go overseas, I don't get it, Mr Bhagat.

I know whats bothering you, so let me also put your mind at ease, Mr Bhagat. Under the scheme proposed by Sisodia, none of the colleges where your audience studies is affected. Not Stephens, not Hindu, not LSR. You may not even have heard of the 12 colleges. Here's the list: Indira Gandhi Institute of Phy. Education & Sports Science, Shaheed Raj Guru College, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, Bhagini Nivedita College, Maharaja Agrasen College, Mahirshi Balmiki College of Education, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, Dean Dayal Upadhyaya College, Acharya Narendra Dev College, Keshav Maha Vidyalaya, Aditi Mahavidyalaya and BhaskaraCharya College of Applied Science. It will be stretching one's incredulity to refer to these as national brands given the state they are in.

When I read your argument, it reminds me of the story told of the wolf who accused the sheep drinking water downstream of muddying it.

You have said
There also seems to be a self-righteous attitude towards an ‘aam-aadmi’ lifestyle, and a disdain for affluence. While conspicuous consumption is wrong, I fail to see how aspiring to a good lifestyle, or living it with one’s hard-earned post-tax money is less virtuous? Millions of Indians have worked hard in the past decade and upgraded their lifestyle. That has increased our per-capita GDP. Should we discourage that? Do we want an honest, but poor India? Is AAP pro-poor, or pro-poverty?

Why is AAP getting it wrong already? One, an explicable hurry to compete in the LS elections. Two, a mindset that lacks vision on what India needs to be, apart from being corruption-free. I wouldn’t blame AAP for the latter. They were meant to be an anti-corruption movement. Now they aspire to be a national party. There is a substantial re-think and reinvention required before it goes ahead with its new goals. It needs to learn governance, and have clarity on how it can deliver not only a corruption-free India, but also a thriving economy with millions of opportunities for youngsters . All this needs time. However, the upcoming election and the overrated ‘momentum’ it seeks to capitalize on, is hampering this crucial process. In this hurry, AAP also risks attracting the wrong people who seek power over a better India. If AAP opted out of the LS 2014 race, only the truly dedicated would join. AAP’s entry in the LS race will increase the chances of a hung parliament and a khichdi government. For what it’s worth, a lot of foreign governments, investors and local entrepreneurs feel Modi can put India back on the path of growth. I am not sure they feel the same way with AAP. What is best for India then? Similarly, the Congress, with all its ills, has the most experience in governing India, while AAP has none. Does that experience amount to nothing? Should these factors not be considered in 2014 when we think of India? Or is it not about India anymore, but only about AAP?

Let us citizens also place India’s progress over any political party’s progress. The keys of the nation should be given to people who are not only honest, but can also take India to the next level.

My response
I follow AAP reasonably closely and I have never heard them express a disdain for affluence, or speak disapprovingly of anyone seeking to upgrade their own life style. I don't know where you got this from especially when I remember the Delhi CM making a reference to transforming this country into a "sone ki chidiya" in his post swearing in speech.

The only one getting anything is wrong is you and I have not spotted one fact that you have got right through this rant of yours. Why should they opt out of the LS 2014 race Mr Bhagat? Yes, their participation increases the possibility of a khichdi sarkar but what is wrong with a Khichdi sarkar ? Congress may have the most experience governing India but have they done anything to improve the lot of the common man ? You extol Modi who, now that he has been cleared by the courts of any wrong doing, can still be charged with inept governance when his state burned. Let me also tell you that neither the BJP nor the Congress fight elections on a shoe string budget and flout every rule in the book. AAP has kindled faith of common people in the system, I urge you to not prick this with your sanctimonious spiel.

I don't get it Mr Bhagat when you say that those that rule the country should listen more to foreign governments, investors and local entrepreneurs and less to the voters who elected them in the first place. How ridiculous, Mr Bhagat. We live in a democracy where the majority will should prevail, not that of a small privileged elite and certainly not that of foreigners.

I submit to you, Mr Bhagat, that if corruption is tackled effectively, much of India's problems will disappear. Public services provision will dramatically improve, the poor will find succour. The face of this country will change. Pity, you don't even see the possibility. Let me suggest to you that you may want to take your own advice.


Wednesday 8 January 2014

Pee, potty and pace: Prepping for the big day

Every time I have gone to run a race, I have tried to do a review of my preparedness a week ahead of the run. Here it is, for whatever it is worth.

1. Garmin: I have one Garmin in working condition, (I own 2 other garmins which don't work much like the local support that they have in India) I have located a charger which too is working fine. I was in a state of panic last week when I discovered that one of the chargers that I had for the Garmin was simply not working. I then came up with a back up plan, to use my iphone with endomondo installed.

The Garmin is important for two kinds of runners:

One, is what I call SILK (Srivatsan and his ilk) who are constantly running with a geometry box in hand with protractor, compass and all to plot the shortest route through the course of the race. They are particular about running the exact distance so that they get a PB and nobody gets ahead of them by running more efficiently. Vatsan's training in the stock markets, dealing with candle sticks (no reference to a runner's long wiry legs) and all gives him an edge over others. In the markets it is about trends, on the roads it is about bends. Big D.

The second, the group has people like me who wear a Garmin not just to show off that they completed the course but to show that they ran more than what the race required, not so much because of incorrect measurements of the course but their own poor running. Occasionally, people like us stop and swagger off course to garner sympathy of the by standers, to get that extra orange from a kid (usually it is the pretty mom whose attention we are trying to catch) on Peddar road. We crib after the race that the course was too long but if that gets debunked, we can always say that we lost our way or that we had to navigate through the slower runners, adding otherwise avoidable centimetres that we pass off as the reason for a poor finish.

2. Race day attire: Even if you can't be a good runner, atleast dress like one, that is my principle. there are good runners, good looking runners and runners who show up all dressed up. I belong in the last category. When the world was running in cushioned shoes, I ran in Vibrams, to get noticed. now that the world has moved to minimals, I am simply at a loss. so I have decided to wear bright clothing, fluorescent green tee with equally bright green shoes. If it gets cold, I may have to wear a full sleeve, which will dampen my fan following but hey, something's gotta give, no? My race day attire is all washed and ready to be worn. I am ready. Tee. shoes. socks. cap. Fuel belt too.

3. Music: Two things have not changed in my running over the last decade or so since I took to the roads. My choice of music and my running pace. I have discovered that there is nothing like a loud rendering of Raag Todi by Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar to make way for yourself on the crowded sea link. Especially if the musician has taken off to a slow start and you make all runners around you listen to it by strategically letting the ear plug connecting to the ipod come loose. At a time when they are listening to the cacophony of the latest punk artiste, the mere sound of a Chembai or a Semmangudi is enough to make them freeze in their tracks and let you go past. My ipod too is ready.

4. Waist pouch: The high point of my races overseas is my shopping spree at the expos, never the race itself. So, I picked up this waist pouch in Cape Town which can hold like a ton of stuff. It serves me in two ways. It can hold my phone, some money and an ID to help people identify me as being of a different vintage if, by some quirk of circumstances, I end up running so slow that I end up finishing at the top of the pack of the finishers in the 2015 edition of SCMM which they have now announced. But this pouch also does a fine job of reducing my own middle to look like the rim that sits inside a car tyre.

5. The 2P strategy: this is usually not mentioned as openly as I am going to, but as i said, this is critical to all runners to work out in advance. It is about the pee and the potty. Comrades runners don't think twice of peeing in their pants. But when you are running in broad daylight on Mumbai streets, this is not really an option. It is better to know where the loos are. I have mine identified. there is one under the Marine drive flyover, the next is at the Prempuri ashram at the beginning / end of Peddar Road. I am also certain that every one of the buildings on Peddar road will have a servant's / driver's loo better furnished than any of our own living rooms and I am sure that one can find a caring chowkidar who will let you in.

The potty is a tougher one. Unlike the pee which creeps up on you and you can make an assessment as to how long you can hold on, the potty descends on you suddenly, like, thump. When you gotta go, you gotta go. If you manage to walk long enough, the urge will ebb, but is it in you to walk that long. And in the course of this long walk to a loo, you will go through discomfort of an order that will make you go contort in ways that will leave onlookers wondering. I have faced this more than once, I must confess and I might have even have heard bystanders remark that I am giving it my all to my run. The one thing that should worry you is if the medical tent takes you in and starts administering the wrong treatment, perhaps for the glutes, without realising that the problem is really between the glutes! It is best in those situations to take them into confidence right away so that a solution is found quickly. They may even have a bed pan, though i confess i have not checked. This year, this P could well be the most vulnerable aspect of my race, I am dreading it. It may well be the factor that keeps me away from a PB.

6. Weigh in: Running is much unlike a boxing bout nor are there weight categories though I sometimes think that there could be a separate overweight category. On the last occasion, I had arrived at the starting line weighing 85 kg and there is a distinct possibility that the number could be south of 82 this time around. I am aware of all the benefits of this but my greatest relief is that it will be easier for me to suck my tummy in whenever i spot photographer. Even if I were to be ambushed by a hidden photographer, I will look better than I looked the last time. small mercies, wouldn't you say.

7. Have I had a good taper ? The only time when I am training like the elites and the more committed runners is during the taper. Because the rest of the time, my running is really a caper. If someone said that I am on a perennial taper, they would not be exaggerating. The only difference is that when the taper period sets in, I stop making excuses and instead make myself feel like one of THEM.

8. Training: Oh no. I knew I had forgotten something.

How Arvind Kejriwal can gain from the turmoil in the Congress

I am convinced that if Arvind Kejriwal plays his cards well, he may emerge as the biggest gainer from the chaos in the Congress.  Allow me t...