Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Attraction called India

So, IKEA is entering India? And so are the supermarket giants, Tesco, Carrefour and Wal-Mart? And even Starbucks wants India’s mega bucks?

Suddenly, realizing that the nouveau riche middleclass of India now has a bigger disposable income, and a greater purchasing power, the multinational giants are all making a bee-line to India - salivating from the corners of their mouths, and looking at India with dollar-signs in the blacks of their eyes.

If it is not for a piece of the pie called market share, what else are these corporate bigwigs interested in India for? If it is not for earning revenue from that seemingly bulging wallet of the hardworking Indian, who slogged since Independence to fill his wallet, what else are they after? Isn't the market of the teeming millions beckoning?

But then, anyway, it is not altogether new. You can ask Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama. They will say they wanted a sea-route to India for somewhat the same reason. India had always been rich and famous, beautiful and attractive.

But, over the centuries, it had been attacked, marred and robbed of its wealth, time after time, by invader after invader. Plundered. If it was not by war, it was by trade. Even now, it is hard to see the blurry line between the then British government and the then British East India Company.

Yes. Famed travelers like Megasthenes, Marco Polo, and Ibn Battuta have advertised India so well in their writings that young men walking the streets of Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries dreamed of getting into India.

If that was the occidental fascination for India, the writings of Fa Hien and Hiuen-Tsang (Xuan Zang) created an oriental fascination for this land - The land of snake charmers and rope-climbers, of tigers and elephants, of palaces and forts, of rajas and maharajas, but most importantly, of spices and herbs, and of gems and jewels.

So, when Turks occupied Constantinople (now Istanbul), the only piece of land between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, through which European traders used to visit India, did it stop the Europeans? No. it did not deter the dreamers in Italy, Portugal or Spain to attempt to find a sea route to India - for Trade. They decided, if we can’t go to India by land, we’ll go there by sea.

And so, with Vasco da Gama and the rest, the European connection got reestablished. And soon, in came the European knives and forks, and Indian gems and jewels went abroad. And in came European clothes and finery, and the Indian handloom textile industry virtually got killed; which is why Gandhi started the movement of ‘Be Indian. Buy Indian’ and had spun his own cloth. Here's LIFE magazine's iconic picture of Gandhi with his spinning wheel, or chakra.

Oh, shouldn’t I mention here that India’s famous ‘Kohinoor diamond is now a part of British Crown Jewels? And that it was sourced from a diamond mine in my native state, Andhra Padesh?

Anyway, agreed, that - soon after independence - for a while, India had to tighten its belt, and tell the world to keep out. So that India can set its house in order. And, after creating for itself an intensely regulated environment, which protected its domestic industry, and therefore the local economy for about forty years, India rose up again. Deregulation and Liberalization followed. And, post-1990, Trade barriers were lifted. Indian borders were thrown open. And, once again, foreign goods, without the customary customs flowed into India. It was no longer the days of only Ambassadors, Premier Padminis and Maruthis, on Indian roads.

Sony and Toshiba are now already proudly displaying their billboards in India. Coke and Pepsi are continuing with their cola wars since the opening of the economy. Audis and BMWs are running on Indian roads more frequently now. KFCs and McDonald's are filled up with eager Indians wanting to look trendy.

But in the era of globalization, why are you talking so backward-ish, you will argue. In this era of liberalization of economy, why are resisting foreign product, you will say. But what can I say. I have to accept your point. And accept these guys, who will hopefully not only take from india but give India newer jobs, careers, infrastructures, and a better lifestyles. I just had to let off some pent-up feelings.

So, even if IKEA, Tesco, Carrefour, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks are coming in, they are coming late. But if come they must, I hope it is not for the greed of those outside India, but also for the good of those inside India.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is it really 99%?

"We (the poor) are 99%, and you (the rich) are 1%." - The cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But are the poor really 99%? Check out this excellent animation video.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's in a name, if there is no P in it?

This is my letter published in Daily Tribune on 12 Nov 2011
Reviewer's response published on 13 Nov 2011

Regarding your Friday review of the movie ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’, (DT, 11 Nov), I have one commendation, and one correction.

The commendation is for the way the review is written. The style and terminology used is such that any reader and admirer of the comic-book reporter-character called Tintin can easily and quickly relate to.  Not only were the visual aspects of this animation magic explained, but also the appeal of the plot and the music effectively analyzed.  Well written. Thank you.

The correction is for the way the names of the duo of detectives, the twins, were spelt. They were spelt Thomson and Thomson in the review.

It is perhaps a very minor typo. But to me, a die-hard Tintin fan who has read all the adventures of Tintin several times over, it is sacrilegious!

So, even if you think I am making a mountain out of a mole hill, please allow me this elaborate explanation.

Thompson’ and ‘Thomson’ is the correct way the names must be spelt. To be precise, one is with a P. One is without a P. In fact, in many books the twins go to extreme lengths explaining the difference between both of them.

Thompson explains he is the one with a P, as in Philadelphia. The other twin Thomson explains he is the one without a P, as in Venezuela. Of course, being the blundering detectives that they are, they often jump to their own confusions. Like the time whenThompson tells on phone that he is the Thompson with a P, as in Psychology!

Whatever it is, please let it also be known that the twins are actually identifiable; by their‘moustaches’.

If you have read enoughTintin Comics like I did, you will know that Thomson has a pointy moustache that curls outwards. And Thompson has a droopy moustache.

If you wish to argue with me, you can. But please verify with this link first :


Friday, October 28, 2011

Financial Sense from a Greek Tragedy

In Ancient Greek Mythology, Tyche was the Goddess of Chance who ruled over people's degree of Life and Luck.

It is to this Goddess Tyche that the Greeks must be singing praises now; for saving them, and Europe, from an ignominious and impending doom.

At last, after months of discussions and debates, a deal is finally made between Europe’s leaders and the Greek debtors, on Thursday morning, which may not entirely solve the European crisis. But, at least, it won’t cause the pillars of the earth to shake, like they shook, in the recent past.

There now seems to be some hope of a solution for Europe’s financial crisis that looked, thus far, like a huge financial Hiroshima just waiting to explode as it gets ignited by a default by Greece on its sovereign debt.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for private investors to take a desperate 50 per cent cut in the face value of their Greek bonds is not an easy choice. How can they be willing to take such a deep ‘haircut’? They cannot.

But when one is sinking into a quagmire, grabbing quickly, and desperately, at whatever is in hand’s reach can help. And that’s just what the private bankers have done. And the bigwigs at Brussels tried hard to plan a rope out strategy for the bankers in long term, and tried hard to keep the ‘Euro’ on higher ground.

Bloomberg’s website also reported that European leaders had boosted their rescue fund’s capacity to 1 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) in a crisis-fighting package that is intended to shield the euro area.

As the deal also includes a new €130bn bail-out of Greece by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, it, quite obviously, digs into the coffers of Europe’s funds. And the promises by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy that they will increase the size of the funds ‘four or five times’ can only send shivers up my spine, if I were a European tax-payer.

Where are they going to get the money from? From my pocket? How will they fund these funds? Well, for the moment, I don’t care.

The world was waiting with bated breath, for some decision from the European leaders. And this Thursday-morning decision is being hailed across the cyber space and satellite channels as a sensible one.

How did the markets react to this momentous deal? Very upbeat.

The Toronto Star’s website reports that by Thursday afternoon, “Britain’s FTSE climbed 2.1 per cent to 5,670.12. Germany’s DAX jumped 3.7 per cent to 6,243 and France’s CAC-40 gained 3.9 per cent to 3,297. Wall Street also headed toward gains, with Dow Jones industrial futures rising 1.6 per cent and S&P 500 futures gaining 1.8 per cent.”

Bloomberg’s website says, that by Thursday afternoon in Europe, when it was still 8.34 am in New York, “the MSCI All-Country World Index gained 2.2 percent”. The benchmark gauges in France and Italy jumped more than 4 percent to the highest levels in almost three months. It also said, “The euro appreciated above $1.40 for the first time since Sept. 8, and the cost of insuring European debt fell to a seven-week low. The 10-year Treasury yield gained nine basis points. Copper rose 4.9 percent, while gold dropped.”

So, the repercussions of this deal are far-reaching and, proverbially put, earth-shaking.

On its website, The Financial Times reports (FT, 27 Oct) that this 50% cut is expected to reduce Greek debt levels to 120 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of the decade. End of the decade?

This is just year 2011. The end of the decade is nine years away. And, in this period, let us all optimistically hope that the winds of change will not remain turbulent and cause bigger upheavals.

The goddess I believe that the Greeks must now pray to, as they stand back on their feet, is Goddess Athena, the Goddess of wisdom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walter Issacson on Steve Jobs

Listen to Walter Issacson who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs. I found this  two minute, forty second video on Huffington Post. Worth watching.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shalom or Salaam. Don't they both mean, Peace?

Released prisoner welcomed by family
There are two sides to every story they say. But the two most difficult sides to argue for-or-against today could well be the Israel and Palestinian sides.

Monday’s (Oct 18, 2011) prisoners-swap deal between the two countries saw a great furore across the Middle East and the world.

The release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestine, in exchange for 477 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel is a very significant development in the long ongoing bitter struggle for land by the two warring peoples.

Israel’s promise through an accord – brokered by the Egyptian government - to release 1,027 prisoners in exchange for the French-Israeli national Gilad Shalit has begun with this first batch of 477 prisoners. And the other 550 are likely to be released soon.

Some would argue that there is an imbalance. Why are so many Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for one Israeli man? Is it a fair deal?

While we do not know about all the negotiations that must have gone on between the two - through Egypt’s mediation - what we do know is that some 5,000 Palestinians are still held by Israel.

And, if Gilad Shalit has been held for 5 years, then some of the 477 released who were held for as long as 20 years to 30 years.

And, even if some of these Palestinian prisoners were caught by Israel on suspicion, or on grounds that they had infiltrated into Israel to perpetrate terror crimes, it must be noted that many were held without proper trials. And the very detention of these people for such long periods is tantamount to their experiencing a long jail sentence. So, it is high time they were released.

Some Israelis are, somewhat justifiably, arguing that their government has been lenient. That it is just not right for Israel to release some of those Palestinian prisoners who had shown no remorse on being caught with incriminating evidence of terror, and who had actually vowed to attack again.

Some Palestinians are jubilant at the release of their compatriots and are chanting that they need to catch more ‘Gilads’ so that many more Palestinians, languishing in Israeli jails, could be freed.

So, with the release, will there be a renewal of terror? Or will there be a resumption of talks? I hope it’s not the former but the latter.

On one hand, the Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of Palestinian Statehood, and are refusing to talk unless the Jewish settlements are stopped, and unless they are given the pre-1967 borders. On the other hand, Israelis are refusing outside interference, even from UN, in what they say is a bilateral issue, and are asking Palestinians to renegotiate on borders and assure them security.

Whichever way it goes, the prisoner-swap deal is certainly an historical event. And we can safely infer that it has the markings of Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy and softening at the same time.

Shalom or Salaam. The meaning is the same. Peace. And if it is not for ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to men’ what is worth striving for?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Indian Air Force and MiG 21 fighter jets

At the Air Force Day celebrations in New Delhi on Saturday, 8 Oct, India’s Air Chief Marshal MAK Browne admitted that the old warhorse, Russian fighter plane, MiG-21 was difficult to fly, particularly for young pilots, which is why he says, “experienced aviators are being put into the cockpit”.

But, logically speaking, should the focus not be on training the young pilots instead of putting the older ones at risk?

Even though the Air Chief Marshal mentions that all MiG 21s will be phased out by 2017, should the young aviators be completely exempted from flying these aircraft?

I think it is this very lack of focus in developing Indian fighter pilots that had cost the country a lot.

Out of the six air crashes involving IAF planes this year alone, four belonged to the MiG-21 series.

Of the total 976 MiG-21s inducted in the service since 1960s, over half of them have been lost in air-crashes. And a total of 170 pilots were killed in them in the last 50 years or so.

So, while I agree that the MiG 21s are old planes, I think it is not the jets alone, but the lack of appropriate training to the young, that has caused irreparable loss to India.

The planes are good. For those wishing to know more, let me explain that MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, first designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau of the erstwhile Soviet Union, and is arguably of the largest selling fighter jet series.

Some 50 countries over four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its maiden flight. The fighter plane made aviation records.

At least by name, it is the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, and it had the longest production run of a combat aircraft (1959 to 1985 over all variants).

So, now, even if third and fourth generation fighter aircraft are being made available, the knowledge and skill of flying these amazing fighter planes should not be allowed to fade away easily.

What's the Road Ahead for Bahrain's Traffic?

Having lived in Bahrain for a little over 10 years, I cannot but appreciate the government's proactive approach towards easing traffic at very important junctions. But there are still some concerns.

Many would remember the horrible traffic congestions that used to frustrate drivers at Seef, Sitra, Tubli and Isa Town junctions. But they were very effectively tackled by the building of flyovers (two of them with underpasses or tunnels). And the concerned authorities must therefore be complimented on this achievement.

The construction of two underpasses in Hamad Town too, within the last two years, have ensured that vehicles can move smoothly without encountering even a single traffic-light all the way from Manama-BFH to University of Bahrain in Sakhir, if we go over Seef, Budaiya, and Hamad Town flyovers and through these two underpasses.

But your readers would all agree, I am sure, that our troubles are far from being over.

The Mina Salman traffic junction has now become a huge nightmare - 'bottle neck' is too mild a word - in the evenings if you are approaching it from sitra flyover. And so is the Manama Bahrain Financial Harbour one. Even if the Diplomatic Area Flyover which is under construction comes up fast(and I hope it does) I do not think the traffic flow at these two junctions would be eased much.

So, I really wonder what the government is doing about Mina Salman and Manama BFH Traffic Junctions; and if there is any hope of smoother drives, in the near future.

The most horrible one - the mother of all roundabouts that could lead to frustration, especially, if you are approaching it from Sanad - is the big Alba Roundabout near Askar between Nuwaidrat Roundabout and Riffa Traffic lights. The sooner the planned flyover here is built, the better it is for the country.

A related problem within Manama city is the density of vehicles, that move two-ways within two arterial routes, particularly during the Rush hour every evening, from Salmania junction diverging in two directions : (1) towards Andalus Garden and Gudaibiya (via Sana), and (2) towards American Hospital and Sheraton Complex (via Police Fort of Ministry of Interior). We can go on these roads between 6pm to 10pm, only at our own peril. On weekend nights, these roads get completely clogged. And with no by-passes around, the frustration can lead to some real-life cardiac arrests.

Opening of the GCC Roundabout could be a first step at solving some of the traffic congestion in Manama city. But with the rapidly growing number of vehicles, if the government does not keep in pace with its projects to ease traffic, we could be left standing still at many junctions.

Is it possible that DT can publish a list of flyovers, and other traffic related projects, by interacting with the concerned Ministry? We residents would be interested to know what is the road ahead, for all of us.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Meredith's Murder. Who cares?

She must have liked this picture
of hers. This was on her
facebook profile when she died.
The murder of the 21-year old British girl Meredith Kercher, was one of most shocking true-life stories I read, first in the newspapers in November 2007, and then again a few months ago in LIFE’s The Most Notorious Crimes in American History, a book I possess.

This week I read again the revival of Meredith’s murder in the media. I saw the proceedings of the trial on TV which were telecast intermittently from Perugia in Italy. The courtroom drama finally ended with the acquittal and release of two people - the 24-year old American, Amanda Knox, who was 20 at the time of the crime, and her Italian boy friend, the 27-year old Raffaele Sollecito, then 23, both of whom had been sentenced, for the murder, for 26 and 25 years respectively.

They had, till this week, served 4 years in jail. After having appealed their verdict, they have now been acquitted.

The acquittal of Knox and Sollecito means that the only person now left in jail for this murder is Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast-born drugs peddler. He had admitted he was in the house which Meredith shared with Amanda, on the night Meredith died, but denied he killed her. Guede is still serving a 16-year sentence and has opted for a fast-track trial. But we don’t know where it will eventually lead to.

If these two just-acquitted people cannot tell the whole story, Rudy should be the one knowing what happened that night.

Whatever the adult games these people were allegedly involved in - or had not been involved in - what remains certain is this: a beautiful young girl, brimming with life, barely 21, was found dead, with a brutally slashed throat and with heavy stab-wounds.

The alibi that Amanda and Raffaele were actually at Raffaele’s flat watching a movie was never proved conclusively. And the DNA evidence of blood on clothes being contaminated during the investigation at the crime scene and while retrieving the samples, makes the entire case, an epitome of ‘unprofessionalism.’ The case as on date remains an ‘unsolved mystery’.

Now, American media (CBS News, MSNBC, 4 Oct) says freedom to Amanda came at a huge cost, because her family has run into deep debts of almost $1mn hiring and paying the lawyers. However, the British media (The Guardian, 4 Oct) says Amanda Knox can still make as much as £10m from her story, with a potential for a string of lucrative TV and newspaper interviews followed by a movie and book deals. So, Amanda’s parents are relieved. But, who cares about Meredith’s?

Like for me, for several others around the world, many questions still remain unanswered.

  1. How can the forensic experts bungle up, by mishandling culpable evidence such as DNA samples and computer log-records? 
  2. Where is the knife that actually killed Meredith, which was never found? 
  3. Why is there not more information coming from Rudy Geude? 
  4. Did US pressure groups intimidate the Italian courts to free Amanda and Raffaele by staging protests outside the court? And most importantly 
  5. Where is justice to the parents of Meredith who are still waiting to know who caused the horrible death of their beautiful daughter?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Voting Rights for Women in Saudi Arabia and USA

In 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to give the right to vote to all adult women. Two years later, in 1895, the women of South Australia achieved the same right. Very soon, one after the other, almost all democratic countries gave women the right to vote.

Now, 118 years after the New Zealanders, we hear from Saudi Arabia that women will be allowed to run in local elections in 2015. It is four years from now. But yet, it is a giant leap for Saudi Arabia.

The editorial of The Washington Times was, however, quick to criticise on Monday that since Saudi women are not going to vote this year, the announcement of the king was only a PR ploy. The editorial said that this is no big deal, because Elections are only held at the local level in the 178 Saudi municipalities.

What The Washington Times failed to understand is the centuries of tradition and the deep-rooted belief system of the Saudi Arabian people. In a huge country with a strong religious-system, changes cannot occur at the snap of a finger. And this phased manner of enabling women empowerment must be welcomed. It should not be taunted and criticised.

In fact, USA must look back its own history before commenting on women’s suffrage. Let it be known that USA was in fact very reticent and very reluctant to give women the right to vote. Despite USA being a so-called ‘learned’ democracy!

Here is the truth I learnt from a little bit of research. (1) On January 12, 1915, a women’s suffrage bill was brought before the US “House of Representatives” but was defeated by a vote of 204 to 174. (2) On January 10, 1918, another bill was brought before the House. On the evening before, the then President Wilson had made a strong appeal to the House to pass the bill. It was passed by two-thirds of the House, with only one vote to spare. The vote was then carried into the “Senate” (3) On September 30, 1918, the amendment fell two votes short of passage. (4) On February 10, 1919, it was again voted upon, and then it was lost by only one vote.

There was great anxiety among politicians of both parties to have the amendment passed before the general elections of 1920. So the President called a special session of Congress, and a bill, introducing the amendment, was brought before the House once again. (5) On May 21, 1919, it was passed, 42 votes more than necessary being obtained. On June 4, 1919, it was brought before the Senate, and after a long discussion it was passed, with 56 ayes and 25 nays. As a majority of the state legislatures must ratify it, it awaited ratification (6) On Aug 18, 1920, with the ratification by the state of Tennessee, it became a law.

So, that was how the ‘Nineteenth Amendment’ to the US Constitution was approved, allowing women to vote. Interestingly, the state of Mississippi was the last state to ratify the amendment and did it as late as 1984!

If USA took over five years in a ‘democracy’ to let the women vote, what is wrong if Saudi Arabian rulers take a little time? US and other countries should appreciate and applaud the move and wish the best, instead of making critical remarks on this amazingly progressive decision.

- Joel Indrupati

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Coal India vs Reliance? Public verses Private Sector?

I was excited to read the news that Coal India Limited (CIL) became India’s most valued firm this week - as the largest listed entity in terms of market capitalisation - overtaking Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) by Rs. 4,167 crores ( $ 913 mn).

I was not excited because I own shares in CIL. No. I don’t. But I wish I did.

The cause for my excitement is the furore the Indian media has been making on this news. Because, after four long years, finally, a government owned company, from the public sector, is back at the numero uno position.

But for four years consistently, the private sector firm Reliance Industries Limited, led by Mukesh Ambani - the 9th richest man in the world, according to Forbes’ billionaire’s list of 2011 - held sway as the largest company in India fueling a good part of the nations’ economy.

When the Market Capitalization figures on Bombay Stock Exchange showed, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 17 Aug, that the seemingly invincible private sector giant has been toppled from its number one position, it may have been a surprise to many. But it came as welcome news to those who brought CIL’s shares in its IPO of November 2010.

We can see that the top three companies in India, as on Wednesday, are Coal India Ltd (CIL), Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), and Oil and Natural Gas company (ONGC). All are Coal, Oil, Gas, or other Energy companies showing the strategic importance of these sectors to the growth of an economy. Following these three companies, on the same day, are these three private companies - TCS (Tata Consultancy Services), ITC and Bharti Airtel. And I found out that four out of the top six companies in India are privately held.

So, what does this speak of India and its economy? What can we infer from this country where state-owned companies are struggling to gain and retain the top position? What can we say of a country where a private firm remains as the number one company for four years consistently? Either the government lacked strategy. Or that the government showed strategic excellence.

But I believe that the government has shown excellence in planning. It’s prioritizing and allocating of even high earner sectors of Oil, Gas, Coal, Telecom, Software, Agro-products, Hotels and FMCGs, to private enterprises shows the futuristic vision of the Economists who foresaw value in liberalizing the economy this way.

I believe that India has proven to the world that a vibrant private sector, that is well-run, can be a great asset to the country’s population. I feel that we must appreciate the way India has liberalized its economy, during the 1990s when the now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had served as the Finance Minister, and initiated major economic reforms.

I believe that if a private enterprise like RIL could be the number one company for four years, it is a clear proof of how liberal and how effectively privatized Indian economy is.

Also, even though the state-owned Coal India is at number one position now, from the way the private sector is performing, I am somehow confident that It won’t be long before it loses that position.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 - A Review

A dragon warrior has a higher calling. He must ensure that ‘kung fu’ does not become endangered. He must show China - and all the world - that kung fu is not dead! He must show this, in particular, to that horrible villain, Lord Shen, the slim and slimy, rude and ruthless peacock.

But can our dragon warrior, the panda called Po, and his band of brothers and sisters, the furious five, succeed? Can Po get the ‘inner peace’ he needs to overcome the aggressor? Can Po find out the secret behind a disturbing memory? Can Po confront the hidden truth about his parentage? Can he consolidate his strength from the memories of parents he had never seen? Can Po fulfill the prophetic statements of soothsayers, and free China from the evil? The answers to these questions lie in the movie - A movie with animation that I felt was cutely captivating, magically mesmerizing, and simply superb.

Using the latest technology that resulted from the invention of fireworks in China, the evil Lord Shen uses fire cannons to terrorize and subdue people, village after village, across China.

But, our reluctant hero, the loveable, cuddly, rotund, black-and-white bamboo-lover, the protagonist Po (voice of Jack Black) must now lead his friends as they traverse the mountains and lakes to meet their nemesis, and to end his evil plans. They must wade through dangers and perils unknown. And they must use kung fu to thwart the dark forces. This team, the furious five, who include Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie chan) and Viper (Lucy Liu), go on to show us the importance of realizing our destiny, embracing our responsibility and ridding the world of evil that mocks tradition and culture.

Like all typical Hollywood villains, specially from James bond movies, Lord Shen has the aspirations of ruling the whole world. He dreams of controlling the whole of China. But like all such villains, Lord Shen must be taught a lesson. Which is what Po’s ultimate mission is.

Like Po, who does not know how Lord Shen’s fire-cannons spew such venomous fire, I do not know how they make these animation movies. But I do know that the blending of music, visuals, and voice has resulted in this fascinating production called Kung Fu Panda 2.

With spectacular scenic beauty, stunning visual appeal, fast paced excitement, crispy, witty dialogues, this is a movie worth watching on the big screen. My children loved it. I loved it. I am sure you will love it too. But please go to the movie taking with you that wonder and awe, and that delight and joy, that a child has.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Government attack on Baba Ramdev - Wisdom or Folly?

In India, it’s yet another protest by fasting. After Gandhian leader Anna Hazare, we have now seen the famous yoga guru Baba Ramdev locking horns with the ruling Congress-led UPA government by declaring a fast unto death. But why was he fasting?

He had a few anti-corruption demands such as declaring black money stashed abroad as national assets, framing a separate law on national assets and enforcing strict punishment for the guilty. All his demands were obviously for the good of the country, and most people agree with him; especially, the millions of yoga enthusiasts who literally worship him for his teachings.

But his attempt at this ‘satyagraha’ was, however, brutally cut short by the Delhi Police who, on Saturday, in a late night crackdown at the Ramlila Maidan, tear-gassed his followers, evicted him from Delhi, transferred him to his ashram in Haridwar, and banned him from entering Delhi.

Why did the police suddenly do this? Well, they say, it’s simple. He was only given permission in that place in Delhi for conducting yoga classes and not for mass protests. Also, the permission was for only a few thousands and not for the tens of thousands that began assembling to encourage the Baba. A security threat would have arisen if the crowds kept increasing.

Now, this rapid action can only show us the wisdom, or the folly, of the UPA government, depending on our point of view. To be or not to be aggressive? That was a question the government must have contemplated much before sending its police brigade to confront the powerful guru; one who could direct the masses with his fingertips, just like he does with his various 'yogasanas'.

But why did the government take this enormous risk? If we backtrack a bit, we will see that the government’s top brass had met Baba Ramdev for talks, and later announced to the media that they had agreed to his demands and he had agreed to give up his fast. But he quickly responded by saying that he never said he would quit fasting, and that the officials were all liars. Maybe that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back!

And so, soon came the police. And apprehend him they did.  The government now says he has some other hidden political agenda, not related to corruption, because they had agreed to all his demands, and yet he wants to go ahead with the fast.

What repercussions this high-voltage drama will now have on Indian politics is something that only time will tell. And whether we call it wisdom or folly, one thing is certain - the Congress is definitely walking on a thin rope. And with actions like these, while it is performing its dangerous balancing act, instead of encouraging crowds to clap hands, it seems to be only encouraging them to throw stones.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Songs for Japan - Listen and Contribute

I wish to draw your attention, friends, to an audio CD and to online music download, of an album called ‘Songs for Japan’ released by Sony Music. By buying this CD from a music store, or by buying this music online, you would be supporting a worthy cause; because SONY is donating 100% of the net proceeds to Japan’s Red Cross for the reconstruction of Japan, after the devastating tsunami two months ago.

Available on the iTunes store for just $.9.9 (about BD 3.700, or AED 37 or INR 400), you will get to hear 38 amazing music tracks by various artists. The 38 artists, who lent songs to the album, include legends like Bob Dylan, U2, Bruce Springsteen and the late John Lennon; country acts like Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum; rock artists like the Foo Fighters, R.E.M. and Bon Jovi; pop icons like Madonna and Pink; and top hit makers like Bruno Mars and David Guetta.

Also there are Lady Gaga, Eminem, Beyoncé, the Kings of Leon, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna.

What more can you ask for as little as BD 3.700? Listen to this collection of legal music, and help Japan. Be a better music lover and a bigger philanthropist at the same time, by buying many CDs and by gifting it to your friends.

You can gift-mail them through too. Your friends will never get a compilation like this. And you can never get an opportunity to serve, like this. Little drops of water can make a mighty ocean. Let us buy and let us help.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can't the new IMF chief be Montek from India?

After the International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York this week, on charges of sexual assault on a maid in Manhattan, the important question that governments want an answer for is, who will be the next IMF Chief?

This has been a question looming in the global financial circles for long because Strauss-Kahn was anyway expected to leave IMF and contest for the post of President of France. Of course, from his cell in the notorious prison on Rikers Island - which itself is a giant leap backwards from the $3,000-a-night hotel suite he stayed in, two days earlier – the French presidency may seem to him, now, like a remote and distant dream, if not a completely shattered one.

For me and for many others, however, the question was whether the new IMF chief would be from the rising economies like India or China, or whether it would continue to be from one of the European countries. Because, Europeans have held all 10 managing director positions since the fund was created in 1945, and four of them have been Frenchmen. So, isn’t it time that one of the rising powers like say, India or China is given a chance?

I was thinking that India’s Montek Singh Ahluwalia would be a good choice. Apart from being a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford, his long stint in India’s Planning Commission, in India’s Finance Ministry, and in the Washington-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty, have given him the knowledge, experience and skill, I am sure, that an IMF chief’s post deserves.

But I was surprised to hear Ahluwalia’s announcement that he is not in the fray for the post. I suspect he said it because he knows Europeans will never allow that in the current economic scenario. With the austerity measures and financial cuts by governments of many countries across Europe, they would want the post themselves.

At least, I hope that, in future, the EU and other countries will try to encourage the emerging economies to play a more significant role in the management of the International Monetary Fund.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Indian Elections - Conquests and Upsets

The results of India’s general elections to legislative assemblies of several states have surprised many of us; expats, in Bahrain. Being away from India, we have completely missed the hustle-bustle of the election fever which India, the world’s largest democracy, usually offers; but could only grab the news bites from Satellite television channels, watching from here.

The states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Pondicherry and parts of Andhra Pradesh have all had some startling results with interesting upsets. And here is a quick short look on the election results, state by state.

In Kerala, the UDF victory had a margin that is wafer thin. Not a very good way to win for UDF. But Congress-led UDF alliance won 72 of the 140 seats, while CPI-controlled LDF got the remaining 68. And, it is interesting to note here that – with a difference of just 4 seats - the outgoing Kerala chief minister VS Achutanandan says that he would not try to garner a majority using disgruntled members from other parties and would choose to sit in the opposition. This win is a big improvement for UDF, from the 2006 assembly polls when UDF had won 42 seats while LDF had won 98. Now, in 2011, even with his hat-trick win in his constituency, it looks like VS Achutanandan cannot stop UDF’s new rule over Kerala; probably under the leadership of Oomen Chandy, the Chief Minister probable.

In Tamil Nadu, we see that, with her allies, the former Chief Minister Jayalalitha has victoriously gained 199 of the state's 234 assembly seats, trouncing the DMK-Congress alliance which did not even manage to garner 40 seats together. Obviously, the 2G telecom corruption scandal - in which DMK’s first family of Karunanidhi and daughter Kanimozhi, along with another DMK leader A Raja are seriously involved - could not have come at a better time for Jayalalitha. From what I understand, at every meeting, she kept reminding her electorate, based on the allegations, what a corrupt party DMK was. And the people could not have agreed with her better! Now, seeing the massive mandate she received the Congress party leaders who openly supported DMK must be, I am sure, privately slamming their foreheads, and cursing themselves, for siding with DMK.

In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Congress Party alliance, with a huge win, ended the long 34-year control of the state by CPI-M. Her party bagged 184 out of 294 Assembly seats in the state and made the communists bite the dust. But is this really her success? Or the communists’ failure? The journalist Anirban Roy, of India Today, blames the now outgoing chief minister Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself for this debacle for CPI-M. Unlike his predecessor Jyoti Basu, Bhattacharjee could not emerge as the patriarch of the Left Front, mainly because of his soft image and his failure to reign in "corrupt and oppressive" leaders in the grassroots level. Roy added in his article that : “after the death of Anil Biswas, the state CPM chief and a deft strategist, in 2006, a large section of the party cadre deviated from the party's principles, weakening the party's base”. Bhattacharjee had himself lost in his Jadavpur constituency with 16,000 votes; that is his very sorry state in the West Bengal state. But what we need to see is, if Mamata Banerjee becomes the Chief Minister, will she - who gave a dismal performance as the Union Railway Minister - give a greater performance in West Bengal after Jyothi Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? Let’s see.

In Assam, Congress Party’s excellent performance, I am sure, was able to give some great sighs of relief to its leaders. Sweeping the polls with 78 out of the 126 seats, which are near two-thirds of the total seats, Tarun Gogoi is all set to be the Chief Minister for the third time.

In Puducherry, a union territory, AIADMK led coalition of NRC (N Rangaswamy Congress) Party has won 20 out of total 30, trouncing the DMK-lead Congress coalition. So, hopes that Congress will retain this little Old French territory are all now gone.

In Andhra Pradesh, there were by-elections in two constituencies – Kadapa and Pulivendula. Results from these two places were expected have a great impact on the overall Andhra Pradesh political scenario because, for the first time, a new party ‘YSR Congress’ was fighting with the traditional Indian National Congress. One particular seat to the legislative assembly had the focus of the entire nation, the Kadapa constituency, where Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of late chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who died in a helicopter crash, contested and won with over 545,000 votes, a stunning performance. Mr Ravindra Reddy, currently the State Health Minister, and Congress candidate lost his security deposit. And in Pulivendula constituency too, ‘YSR Congress’ won, with the window of the former chief minister winning over her brother-in-law who represented congress, with a record 81,343 votes! Congress has been making major mistakes in its dealings with the Andhra Pradesh popular sentiment.

So, it is a major setback to Congress in some places, while they got some relief from others, but with the political scene is changing like it never did before, if congress doesn’t work harder in the coming months, it could be the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Manhattan without the Twin Towers

Though I was raised in a city, my parents had come from a small village in India. They had struggled to give us the best. And for giving that, we children would always remain grateful.

Whenever I shared my dream of visiting USA, with my friends and relatives, they often looked at me with disbelief and derision.

All places aside, for me, USA meant the 'Statue of Liberty' and the 'Manhattan skyline'. And during my childhood, one of the pictures that got seared into my memory - from a New York City tourist-booklet that an uncle of mine, who returned from USA, gave me - was that of the Manhattan skyline with the twin towers of the World Trade Centre looming over it. And I have always desired and dreamed to see that skyline. In that way.

But following that fateful, tragic day, 11 September 2001, when I heard that the towers were attacked by two planes, my television was continuously on for two days as I was glued to the news. My heart was broken, like those of many; not only at the thousands who perished in the attacks, but also at the sight of the two beautiful buildings crumbling to dust in billows of smoke, in those news clips that were replayed again and again.

I was unable to understand how anyone would attack and destroy such beautiful towers. But the Al Qaeda, with its leader Osama bin Laden, seemed to only see destruction, and not beauty, in it.

Last year, I was able to finally visit the New York City. And standing at Ground Zero, with my wife and two little children, the flood of emotions that overpowered me, are not easy to express. In fact, they cannot be expressed. And if I can feel that way, I can understand how much harder it is for the New Yorkers, the Americans, and especially for those who lost their loved ones in the 9/11 attacks.

I was able to talk to a Ground Zero construction site supervisor, who himself was a New Yorker but had been visiting Canada when the attacks occurred, expressing his sorrow. I was able to listen to the tourist guide explaining the new design of the tower coming up at Ground Zero.

I was able to explain to my bewildered children, one of whom was born around the same time that the attacks occurred, on why this particular place had become so important.

The 9/11 attacks have changed the course of history. And the death of this terrorist, Osama bin Laden, who led the attacks must now be consigned to history books.

Somehow, it is very strange; and against my normal temperament, but I just do not seem to have any pity for him.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Succession in British Monarchy

For centuries now, succession to the British throne has always been to the first male, born to the ruler, unless there is no male offspring; like in the case of two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, born to King George VI. His death in 1952 automatically made the eldest daughter as Queen Elizabeth II who is currently reigning. Her husband Prince Philip is, however, her consort and can never be called King Philip.

Until her ascension, interestingly, she was always regarded as a ‘heir presumptive’, unlike her own first born son Prince Charles who was, and still is, the ‘heir apparent’ from the time he was born. She was called a presumptive heir because her father George VI before his death was still capable of producing a male offspring who could have ascended to the throne, even if he was many years younger than his sisters. And the King’s wife, of course, is always called a Queen unlike the other way round. So, understanding British Monarchy could be a bit tricky.

But now, in a surprising but welcome move, the British government has begun the process of reviewing the ancient, discriminatory rules of royal succession, so that if Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are getting married today, have a baby girl as their first child she would eventually become queen; even if a male succeeds this female child. However, amending the succession law would require agreement and similar legal overhauls in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the British monarch is the head of state, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Many are hoping the matter will be resolved before Kate Middleton begins producing children to avoid a confusing line of succession. In the last two centuries, the succession of British rulers from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II makes up a very interesting study.

Queen Victoria’s rule (1837-1901) was over an extremely vast British empire, which at that time had large parts of Africa, India, Japan, China, and some Atlantic and Pacific islands, within it. Queen Victoria's first child was a daughter — also called Victoria — but it was her younger brother who succeeded to the throne, as King Edward VII. This was the queen who faced the first war of Indian Independence from her Indian colonies, and appointed viceroys with military power instead of the East India Company which had held military power till then.

King Edward VII’s reign (1901 – 1910) was for about nine years. He had married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Their first son Prince Albert unfortunately died before the death of Edward VII. So the second son ascended to the throne as King George V. He had also married the fiancé of his elder brother, Princess Mary of Teck.

King George V’s rule (1910 – 1936) had seen much turbulence as the First World War was quickly followed by industrial unrest in UK. It was in commemoration of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary that the ‘Gateway of India’ was built in Mumbai. So, that he and his queen would enter their Indian territory to meet their Indian subjects. His first son who became King Edward VIII caused a major storm in the monarchy’s succession law.

King Edward VIII’s rule (Jan 1936 – Dec 1936) of 11 months was the shortest in centuries of British monarchy. He caused a constitutional crisis, before his formal ascension to the throne, by proposing marriage to the American socialite Wallis Simpson, who had divorced her first husband and was seeking a divorce from her second. The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept a divorced woman with two living ex-husbands as queen. This would also conflict with his status as head of the Church of England, which opposed the remarriage of divorced people if their ex-spouse was still alive. Amidst the huge crisis, he chose to abdicate rather than give up Mrs Simpson. And his younger brother became the king, as George VI.

King George VI’s rule (1936-1952) began unexpectedly because as the second son of George V, he was always under the shadow of his elder brother, Edward, who was the heir apparent, groomed to inherit the throne, and who no one expected would abdicate. King George VI was not very strong, and had a voice impediment (made more famous by the recent Oscar winning movie on his life, The King’s Speech). But George VI took over from King Edward VIII and reigned well despite a Second World War during his term. King George VI’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother resulted in two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

Queen Elizabeth II’s rule (1952 onwards) began instantly with the death of her father King George VI when she was away from UK. With husband Prince Philip, she went to Kenya as ‘Princess Elizabeth’ but had to return to UK as ‘Queen Elizabeth II.’ She was 26 then. She was received at the airport by her then Prime Minister Winston Churchill along with Clement Atlee and Lord Mountbatten. Prince Philip, her consort, stayed back in the plane for a while to allow time for the new queen to emerge and meet the dignitaries and her new subjects. Since then, she has seen almost six decades of amazing changes in the world. And she and Prince Philip have four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales is heir apparent to the British throne; and second in line to the throne is his eldest son Prince William, from his first wife the late Princess Diana. Now, with his son’s marriage to Kate Middleton, all of UK and dominions of the commonwealth are eager to know if in case, the first child born to this couple will be a girl, will she be the future queen?

That, only time will tell. But for now, all eyes are on the marriage of a man who would be king.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Forbes 2011 Richest Fictional Characters - Shady or Not?

WHAT? I had to exclaim aloud, when I read that Scrooge McDuck has made it to the top of Forbes 2011 list of the 15 Richest Fictional Characters. His net worth is a staggering $44.1 billion (BD16.6bn), the report said. It even had pictures. But then, this Dickensian-Disney character, the uncle of Donald Duck, has always been a miser to the core, and must have amassed enough to reach this No 1 position.

But why did they push the poor little rich boy Richie Rich to the fourth place? And doesn't Bruce Wayne of Gotham city who turns into its night time protector as Batman deserve a higher place than eighth? And why is the corporate raider on Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) relegated to the 14th place?

The list also had Twilight series character Carlisle Cullen, the icon amongst the young readers, Artemis Fowl II, and chief executive officer of Sabre Corporation from the The Office series, Jo Bennet.

Upon realising that this listing is not fiction, but a fact, I checked up the Forbes website and got deeply worried. The combined net worth of these 15 characters is equal to $135.55bn. Which means they could pose a great threat to countries like New Zealand whose GDP is much less.

Which brings me to another point, what do these guys at Forbes think the real GDP of Atlantis, the fictional city, would have been today? It must be calculated at the base rate of 50 BC, when Julius Caesar ruled Rome, two centuries after Pluto wrote about Atlantis. But, I digress.

Let me come back to my verification. I checked up and discovered to my utter shock that there are biographies, and even interviews with these characters, apart from explanations on how the net worth was calculated.

But I have my arguments against this listing. Why have they not taken into account other characters whose riches I think are worthy of their appearance in the list?

Where is Lex Luther, the archenemy of Superman? With Lex's huge investments into gigantic global projects, and superb scientific prowess, mainly aimed at annihilating Superman, shouldn't he be in the list?

Where is Captain Haddock, from Tintin series? With his forefather Red Rackham's treasure he gets as inheritance, and with his subsequent purchase of the sprawling estate with Marlinspike Hall, shouldn't he be in the list?

Where is Willie Wonka, whose Chocolate Factory is the world's best? With his scores of employees called oompa-loompas, and huge chocolate making plants, shouldn't his assets put him in the list?

They are not there. And I smell something fishy. I suspect some of these 15 rich characters have somehow bribed the guys at Forbes. With the riches at their disposal, who knows to what lengths these characters can go? Most are shady, anyway.

Published in Gulf Daily News on April 13, 2011


Monday, April 04, 2011

I cheered, like I did in 1983.

Twenty eight years ago, as a very young teenager, always hanging around with the neighbourhood’s big guys, I huddled around a small black and white TV set with them, watching live the 1983 Cricket World Cup Finals. 

It was India against the mighty – at that time, considered almighty - West Indies!

Can India ever beat these giants of cricket? The giants who had won in 1975 and 1979, the only two times the World Cup was held? And the giants who, in 1983, were now gunning for a hat trick?

It was way past midnight in India, when at the Lord’s in London, much to our delight, one by one, Gordon Greenridge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Larry Gomes, Clive Lloyd, SFAF Bachhus, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, and Michael Holding... all fell down

Yes. It is important to mention all the names of these titans. They were, indeed, a formidable team of that time. I had never known any foreign team’s full batting order as I did the West Indies’ then. 

Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal together, literally ran a truck through the West Indies team taking six wickets, three each. They left two wickets to BS Sandhu, and one each to Roger Binny and Kapil Dev. 

And, thus the seemingly big and invincible Caribbean team was completely demolished even before they could reach 140 while chasing a target of 183 that India had set.

The giants had fallen! And at the fall of the last wicket, of Michael Holding to Mohinder Amarnath, we had erupted into such loud applause of joy that we almost woke up the entire neighbourhood. 

What a match!! What a night! When India became the world champions!

Now again, yesterday, as a grown up, as an adult, when Dhoni hit that final six, making India win the World Cup again, I was unable to contain myself, and screamed with the same delight that I had had 28 years ago. Despite that sudden deadly silence that hung in the air when Sehwag and Sachin left the field, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni brought back cheers to Indians the world over. And the climax was heart-pounding.

Today, one of the friends who had watched that 1983 finals on TV, at the same time, wrote on my facebook wall, saying, ‘Isn’t it surprising that from 14 to 41, the digits of my age have reversed, but my excitement has not diminished’? I had to just say, touché!

Just like the black and white memory I have, of Kapil Dev lifting the Prudential World Cup in 1983, I will now carry in my mind, a colourful picture of this World Cup 2011, of Dhoni and Sachin being carried on the shoulders of their team members. 

And will I, or will those millions around the world, ever forget the tears of joy on the faces of Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Sachin? Will I, or will those millions around the world ever forget the final six that Dhoni swung into the crowds? It is indeed pure magic. Joy unspeakable.

What a day for us, the cricket-crazy Indians, across the globe that all the years of waiting for a second World Cup are finally over. We had to still struggle, with the three time champions, Australia, with one time champion, Pakistan, and with one time champion, Sri Lanka. But we came through - no, zoomed through - into a final brilliant explosion of sheer delight.

The roar of the crowds on the television, and the roar of the horde of friends in my living room, are still reverberating in my ears, and might take quite a while to subside.


Some special credits,

Then, in 1983..

  • To Surender anna, in whose house we watched those 1983 matches

  • To Deena Kumar bava, whose passion for cricket was simply too contagious to resist

  • To Vidya Sagar Karnam and gang with whom we screamed our lungs out

Now, in 2011..

  • To Arthi, Pauline and Joyce for the snacks, food, and drinks, (apart from whistles & hoots)

  • To Lorraiane and her cheerleaders, for cheering so well that my landlord is now threatening to evict me.

  • To Aldrin Bogi, whose comment I used here.

  • To my daughters, Jennifer and Janelle, who are still dazed at the behavior of 'adults'.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Sand is fine. I am not.

The dust that the sandstorm from Kuwait brought with it, on Friday night, had sneaked very swiftly and promptly into all nooks and crannies of my house. Even though I did my best to secure all windows and doors as soon as the wind started, these tiny, creepy, slippery, slithery, unkindly particles of dust laid themselves into thick layers on our sofas, table-tops, shelves and floors.

When I went down to see my car on Saturday morning, it was also clothed in an attire of such deep dark brown colour, that I had to pay extra to the man who washed my car. I also heard, from your newspaper, that the doctors had to treat dozens of people who went to them with dust-related complaints.

I have now, therefore, come to a firm conclusion that this sandstorm has been specially imported by house-cleaners, car-washers, and medical doctors to make an extra buck, through a wicked multi-national conspiracy.

There is an immediate need for sandstorms — and those importing them — to be strictly warned against further infiltrations like this, and also a grave need for the government to also consider putting up a dust embargo, on neighbouring regions. This dust-to-dust free-trade imbalance should not be tolerated.


To see this letter in Daily Tribune click here

Massive sandstorm shuts Kuwait airport

But it is ok now

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan will rise again!

The havoc wreaked by the earthquake and the tsunami that hit Japan, on Friday, is truly immense.The lives lost, the people injured, the buildings ruined, and the property damaged, makes it a heart-rending tragedy. I really wonder how many years it will take to rebuild the places which had to face this completely unforeseen devastation and destruction.

Despite the latest advances in technology, and the so-called accurate meteorological and seismological knowledge that our generation possesses, it is really proof again that humans together hold but a minuscule power to fight the forces of nature. And, as if nature's fury was not enough, the blasts in some Japanese nuclear plants, made by man, are likely to cause deadly radiation, threatening the survival of thousands.

One way to look at all this is with resignation. That man is completely incapable of predicting earthquakes and many other natural disasters, and must take all these acts of God, as completely unreasonable on His part, and get angry at Him.

Another way to look at this is with determination. That man is blessed with a unique ability to cope with situations like these. The very fact that man can predict hurricanes, storms, and rains, to determine their motion paths, and to plan warning systems, evacuation methods and rescue operations, are what makes life challenging.

It is the second act that we must consider a precursor to the ‘triumph of life’; when determined people around the world, can come together to help this nation in distress, in uplifting it as it regains its footing, and in helping it pursue relief and recovery much faster than what is expected by all.

Japan has risen from the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - like the pheonix - to show the world what a great country it is. And I am sure, with help from countries around, it will do it again!

Our hearts are with you, Japan. And we wish you a speedy recovery.

Phil Collins lays aside his drumsticks

Uh ho. Phil Collins has called it a day? How can this great singer retire? So quickly? When even the much older Mick Jagger is performing on Grammy's Stage shows still?! But then, he must have his reasons.

But while he performed, he was a great entertainer as a drummer and singer - whether as a member of the group, Genesis, or whether as the solo artist himself.

I cannot forget all the wonderful songs that he regaled me with, and those several millions the world over. I am sure his songs will keep going on around the world; whether in the form of songs on radio, videos on television, CDs in stereos, or as MP3 files over the internet. Against all odds, Sususudio, True colors, and Another Day in Paradise are among my favourite hits of Phil Collins.

Here’s a bit of trivia for people. Phil Collins is perhaps the first, if not the only person, to perform on the ‘same evening’ in UK and USA! He performed at both Wembley Stadium and JFK, utilising Concorde, the supersonic jet, to get him from London to Philadelphia, before it was evening there!

UK TV personality Noel Edmonds piloted the helicopter that took Collins to Heathrow Airport to catch his flight. Aside from his own set at both venues, he also provided drums for Eric Clapton and the reunion of the former members of Led Zeppelin at JFK.

By the way, he had won seven Grammys and one Oscar, not much mentioned in his news of his laying aside his drumsticks for good.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Where is pakistan's voice?

Yet again, a man is brutally killed for speaking against the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian government minister of Pakistan was shot dead in Islamabad last week. Ironically, he was the minister for ‘minorities affairs’ in a country which has the majority, 95% of its 180 million population, as Muslims.

So, what is the protection for minorities in a country where a Minister of Minorities could be shot dead in broad daylight, for holding views contrary to the majority? And what is the state, when the majority simply stands and looks away, extremely tired, worryingly fearful, and indifferently silent to condemn this gross intolerance? What is this strange paralysis that grips and prevents intelligent people of Pakistan from voicing out against this violent extremism in the name of Islam? Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab has proudly accepted the responsibility of killing Bhatti and, except for a few hackneyed phrases of bringing culprits to justice, there is no concrete condemnation, let alone action, from the country’s top officials.

Just a few days earlier, on January 4, Pakistan’s Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer was also gunned down. By his own bodyguard described by many as a fanatic, but hailed as a hero by some religious groups and even lawyers. The killer allegedly said he was angry with the governor's stance on the same blasphemy laws.

Farhat Taj, a researcher and writer on Taliban, says that both these men had been vocally opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and publicly supporting the release of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman implicated in a dubious blasphemy case. Both had been publicly highlighting legal flaws in the blasphemy laws. Saying that these flaws are used by some to victimize innocents. And what do these two get for speaking about the flaws in the blasphemy laws? What do they get for saying that these laws are draconian, and need be revised? What do they get? Murder. Death.

The thousands of people who thronged the roads in Khushpur, a Christian-dominated village of around 10,000 in eastern Punjab province, chanting slogans demanding justice as Bhatti's body was flown in and driven through in an ambulance covered with rose petals, are indicative of the respect the dead man had commanded. But what he did not command, and what he had to eventually fall down for, was the hatred and anger of killers who consider themselves sole guardians of Islam.

The Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised Bhatti and told an audience that included U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter, that "People like him (Shahbaz Bhatti) are very rare, I assure you, we will try our utmost to bring the culprits to justice." But it seems unlikely that anything is going to happen quickly, in bringing the killers to justice. Somehow, the State looks weak in the face of Islamic extremism.

I flinch as I type the phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ because no religion should be ever associated with extremism of this nature. And more so, Islam, which is supposed to be a word derived from the Arabic root "Salema" meaning peace, purity, submission and obedience. But atrocious acts like these by misguided elements have created this now ubiquitous but unfortunate phrase.

I heard BBC’s radio interview on this, with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, who was earlier the Bishop of Punjab in Pakistan, and served later as the Bishop of Rochester in UK, say that the real problem in many parts of Pakistan is the indoctrination of the young into a hatred for anything non-Muslim. He says the growing indifference and intolerance is a result of years of teachings in the madrasas which drip-feed hate. And he calls for Muslim scholars to revamp what is being taught in some religious schools. But listening to contrarians seem to be an endangered phenomenon here. Some minds stubbornly want to stay closed.

While we do not yet know the solutions, what we do know is that only when a country is tolerant to accept diverse views and contrasting ideologies can it raise a new generation of forward-looking, open-minded individuals who eschew violence and embrace peace. And those wanting that change must let their voices be heard.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bahrain Protests: Let Reason prevail over Emotion

As an expatriate, I am probably not expected to have, or give, an opinion on the current situation in Bahrain.

Some might say who am I to speak about it? And what authority do I have to talk on this matter?

Some might say, what do I know about how marginalized a section of people were? And how unreasonable the people of the other section had become? What do I know about the undercurrents of discontent here?

Some others might say, why are you even talking sectarian? Isn’t this all for just ONE Bahrain? Isn’t it all for a shared Bahrain that that we all love; A Bahrain, free, with greater reforms? What do you know of the progress Bahrain made? Or of this sudden pain it is going though now? What do you know?

Yes. Maybe, I don’t know.

At least, not everything I should know.

But, after having seen and experienced the hospitality of this lovely island country, over the last 10 years of my employment here, I am unable to contain myself from thinking aloud. After having made great friends from both sects of Islam - who themselves have been great friends with one another - I am unable to stop myself from voicing out.

How can I stay quiet? When the image of this beautiful country is being sullied in International media, and when I see best friends becoming bitter foes, just by their facebook status lines? How can I be silent? When I see an emotional venting of distrust and anger, instead of a rational understanding of truth and legitimacy?

In 1998, I knew very well that I was entering a country described as ‘monarchy’ and I had also read that there were riots here, a few years earlier. But soon, in 2002, I was happy to see Bahrain become a ‘constitutional monarchy’ after the new king announced the adoption of the National Action Charter. The world media then lauded it as a great move forward - towards Democracy. I heard BBC and CNN extol the country’s change. And this change in Bahrain was definitely a first among the region’s countries.

Since then, elections were held three times. Economic progress has been significant. Crime has been minimal. Order has been noteworthy. Educational services grew in number. Social freedom grew appreciably. Establishing businesses became easier. Arabic newspapers increased and private radio channels increased, thereby enabling people to air their opinions more freely. Business opportunities for entrepreneurs, and training opportunities for the unemployed, were on the rise. Simply put, progress was perceptible.

But the protests now, I understand, are for want of a 'real' constitutional monarchy. They ask, mainly, for a more equitable representation of people, for a fairer composition of the Parliament, and for a greater restriction on nationalisation of migrant workers. In other words, they are for greater 'power to the people'. Which I also believe is necessary.

But these issues could have been debated in the Parliament, public opinion swung in their favour, and changes made by constitutional amendments. After all, democratic inroads have already been made in this country. But the parallels drawn with the situations of Egypt and Tunisia are definitely unnecessary and completely flawed. Bahrain’s situation is entirely different.

Just as a peaceful protest should be allowed in a democracy, so should the government’s actions be allowed to protect security of its residents, property, and the functioning of its economy. Though, in this case, it is sad that the firing and deaths had not occurred.

But, ultimately, Reason should triumph. Rationale should win. Logic should pervade. Subconscious sectarian thinking should move aside. Blind passionate emotion should step away. Ill-founded rumours should be brushed aside.

Now that the Crown Prince has offered a dialogue, it should be taken up. Not with a high-handed attitude that the government has stooped and that protestors have won. But with a noble attitude that through these negotiations, Bahrain will win. That through openness on both sides, adjustments would be made. Accommodations and compromises are a part of conflict resolution. Especially because, unlike coups and military takeovers, democracies evolve.

Time is, therefore, a very important determinant in a country’s growth - from a monarchy to a democracy. It sometimes takes years, for some changes to manifest. But here we were, seeing visible changes. In fact, we were seeing them much faster than many had even imagined. But now, a continued state of political unrest can pull the economic progress backwards.

I feel the current situation is showing Bahrain in a negative light to the world, instead of the positivism towards which it was efficiently marching. Therefore, it must be handled with thought and caution. Not with emotion and anger. All sides can never be appeased.

But let us hope that the dialogue between the government and opposition parties is fruitful, and amicable, to all involved. And let us hope that Bahrain will show the world how political crisis can be resolved with talks.

God Bless Bahrain. Let Wisdom, Justice and Peace prevail.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Move over Superman. Here's Super Granny.

Who needs Superman when you have Super-granny? Yes. Like some newspapers are calling her, this grandmother in her 70s, who gave a sound thrashing to the three out of the six robbers who attempted to steal from a Jewelry Store, in Northampton, England (DT, 9-Feb), should be given a bravery award.

I found the scene very funny when I saw the video clip online. Running towards the robbers and wielding her handbag as a weapon, she battered them enough to make them flee. She also knocked a robber off his moped, and enabled another to be caught by the passers-by.

I read on other websites that an employee of the shop, Sarah Jane Brown is supposed to have said, "We were terrified. We locked the door. We hid under the desk. We were really scared. And then, we looked outside and, God love her, she was running down the road, with her handbag in the air, banging them on the back of their helmet with her handbag." All Hail Granny Power!

For those who want to watch the video this is the weblink :

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Gulf Air - will it Make Profits?

If Gulf Air starts to show profits again, in three years time, as a newspaper says in its front page report, (Runway to profit, Daily Tribune, 26 Dec), it will indeed be a great relief to the Bahraini government.

I sometimes feel sad that Gulf Air, which at one time was the brightest star in the region, is now at a state where it has to struggle hard for profits. After reading your report, I did a bit of searching on the Internet and wrote this down which your readers might find not only useful but, perhaps, inspirational in some way.

When, in the 1940s, the British pilot Freddie Bosworth started a flight-taxi-service from Bahrain to Doha and Dahran; and when, in 1951, this smart entrepreneur expanded it under the name “Gulf Aviation”, no one thought it would go higher.

But thanks to the oil drilling and refining operations in Bahrain, the need for speedier air travel was rising, and a joint venture with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was made. Bosworth, they say, tragically died in an air crash in 1951, at an air show.

But the joint venture lasted for more than twenty years, until it was eventually taken over, as 'Gulf Air’ in 1974, by the Gulf States—Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The airline soon became a leader in the GCC, and a stronger political and economic union was formed with more countries; with newer stake holders, the new full set being Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Oman.

But, one by one, as oil was found in these countries, and as they became richer to started their own airlines, they sold off their stake in Gulf Air, and withdrew. Obviously, their commitment to ‘Gulf Air’ reduced, and the regional competition increased.
I remember telling a friend when, in May 2007, I read the news that the last of the countries in the group, Oman, was also selling off its stake in Gulf Air, that it will be extremely tough for Bahrain’s ‘Gulf Air’ to give a strong fight, when all the once major stake holders have now all become competitors!

I am giving here the names of the other regional airlines, in the order of their formation, which have all made this region highly competitive - Saudi Arabian Airlines (1946), Kuwait Airways (1954), Emirates (1985), Oman Air (1993), Qatar Airways (1993), Etihad Airlines (2003), Air Arabia (2003), Al Jazeera (2007), Bahrain Air (2007), FlyDubai (2009).

With this highly competitive situation, I am really not sure if Gulf Air can make profits, without showing competitive advantage on many factors. I am skeptical about how far what your report says can be achieved. But I wish Gulf Air the best.