30-Mar-2007

NRN, Infosys And A Process

kmp sends a link to an article which quotes Infosys' N R Narayana Murthy:
Frankly, I don’t think having a coaching camp for a few days helps. I’d suggest we pick the 30 guys who we believe are the best in the country. They should all be given good salaries by BCCI and closeted in a hi-tech training centre round the year. Rotate them so that even if 15 are playing a series, the other 15 are training. Ensure that everyone gets to train intensively during the year. Follow best practices from around the world, give the players the best facilities and make them work really hard — eight hours a day. If anyone refuses to practice or follow the rules, axe him immediately. Follow these principles and you’re bound to have a world-beating team.
30 players cooped up in a high-tech centre round the year, practising hard for eight hours everyday. Let me humbly suggest the outcome of such a course of action: By the time the next World Cup comes along, the 30 guys would hate the sight of each other and the coach so much that on-field fights would become routine and hardly the stuff to give a second thought to. TV vieswership would shoot up initially then taper off as the novelty wears.

Seriously, the question of whether cricketing greatness can be achieved by following a particular training process is a good topic for a debate. I'm hoping to weigh in on this critical topic anon.

29-Mar-2007

The Fun Never Ends

kmp (a very good friend) writes in, responding to this post.
I knew this was coming, and I knew this particular question will be highlighted. I remember an old post [kmp is referring to this post] mentioning the “process” part in this blog! Having said that, I am still waiting for that courteous reporter to ask another much often used word “experience” to none another than “tough-talking-colonel”!

Did we let the “process” to start to find out whether it is flawed? Whom did we let in thru the “process”? I mean, whom did we let out? When an awfully out-of-form batsman gets dropped, streets were set on fire and so was parliament. He continues his awful form in County, Ranji, Challenger series etc. and comes in advertisement pleading for a chance – and lo, he is into the team coz of “experience” and that’s a cricketing reason (referring the previous post of cricketing and non-cricketing-reasons – moreover that is a damn good “process”. Sure, he did score runs aplenty (contrasting with abysmal standards that this team has set), but how on earth anybody knew that he would. And, this man who is known for those lofted hits (sixes) was clearly unable to execute in his new stint. He kept on giving those catches, but Bermuda and Bangladesh could not hold it, and Murali held it. No, I am not after Saurav ganguly, I am after those groaning rascal Marxists – for setting a “experience-process”. Other than Robin and Munaf, did we have anybody else for whom “Process” could be applied? And, do we need to have “process” for Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Agarkar? How many years they have been playing?
First up, courteous is one thing that journalists need not be - their duty is to ask and tell it like it is. If they sound uncourteous so be it. Chappell will understand - seeing that he himself is not averse to the odd gesture involving a middle finger.

As to Ganguly's comeback and how on earth anyone knew that he would succeed - well, could that be just like how people thought Chappell would succeed knowing fully well that he had failed in his previous coaching role for New South Wales?

Or it could have been an informed guess based on the following:

1. His efforts at improving himself - physical fitness, playing first class cricket regularly, and making a few good scores(thought not consistently)
2. The fact that sending a player to first class cricket to regain form is generally considered a good way to regain form, if nothing else, they come back more hungry for success - like it happened with Hayden who was left in the wilderness till recently
3. Or, maybe they did think experience does play a role, like Buchanan seems to feel :
"We've got a lot of experience in our batting, and we leave it to individual players to assess the conditions," Buchanan said. "They are good at telling each other what to do when they go out there, and they're good at sending information back. This is a new ground, and both sides were not exactly sure how it would play. In the end, it was pretty true but we made just about the most of those conditions that we could."
Mind you, this was not experience taking the place of deserving youth - the said youth had failed miserably playing in the West Indies and South Africa, after having feasted and been hyped up on home pitches. And this just a few months away from the World Cup.

And whatever he did in the World Cup, Ganguly has been one of the more consistent batsmen after his comeback. As for giving catches, I thought he played slowly against Bangladesh - I was not aware that he was lobbing balls to the fielders - don't blame me, none of the newspapers carried that bit!

I don't think it is true that the process was not given a chance. Chappell had been having his way for more than a year. The process was already dead by the time the colonel entered the picture. The team had flopped miserably against WI in the ODIs and by the time SA were lording it over us, Chappell was already putting the players and not the process at the centre of the losses. Here is the team that played the ODI series in the West Indies (May-July 2006):
  • Agarkar
  • Dhoni
  • Dravid
  • Harbhajan
  • Kaif
  • Patel
  • Pathan
  • Powar
  • Raina
  • RP Singh
  • Sehwag
  • Sreesanth
  • Uthappa
  • Venugopal
  • Yuvraj
  • Tendulkar
I've added Tendulkar because he was nursing an injury and would have been selected if that was not the case - and one youngster would have been knocked off the list. Now this is a team which Chappel and his enabler Kiran More had selected keeping in the World Cup in mind. Except for Ganguly and Zaheer the World Cup team is in there in its entirety! That includes the nonprocessable "Sachin, Dravid, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Agarkar".

Seeing that Chappell had planned for these hardened veterans to be in the team for the World Cup, the difficulty in applying the process to them ought to have raised a red flag. An idealised process then should have been given a dose of pragmatism and modified suitably. Else it is the process that is useless and should have been dropped like a brick. And assuming that Ganguly and Zaheer had not come in and two young legs had come in instead, would four processed products have been enough to neutralise the seven heavyweights? Because somehow I think the magnificent seven would have made it into the World Cup squad, no matter who was selecting - the Colonel or More.

Now it comes to light, a tad predictably, that Chappell was not happy with the team composition. It is of a pattern with Chappell - the whining and cribbing with paper and other trails carefully preserved. He says the seniors fought against youth. Only Dravid would have had the say in the matter. So it seems to me Chappell is saying Dravid was against youth (Vengsarkar has confirmed on TV that this was the case at least where Sehwag was concerned). Now, Dravid is a process champion. So he seems to have lost confidence in the process by the time the World Cup tooled along, probably sometime in 2006 itself given that he had stopped invoking its magical powers by then. How can we support the process when one of its two firm proponents in the team has given it up?

He praises Kaarthik - why then has Kaarthik played so few matches under Chappell? And why wasn't he played in any match in the World Cup though part of the team?

He criticises Yuvraj. Here he is claiming Yuvraj is a key player - a month before the World Cup. He rues Raina not being present - but look at that interview again - he has almost given up on Raina for the World Cup.

Why blame others like a spoilt kid?

Of course, all this could just be Chappell positioning himself for an extension as coach post-World Cup.

28-Mar-2007

#$%!@*

Where does the US get off acting like the school bully? From The Hindu:
ON THE proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, the United States has dropped all pretence at nicety. American Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, during his visit to India, bluntly warned New Delhi to shelve plans to participate in the project. Mr. Bodman was direct and up front about his "concerns." His remarks can't really be termed diplomatic or nuanced; he appeared to be reading the riot act to India.

First, in an interview to Dow Jones in New Delhi, Mr. Bodman said: "During my trip I have made it clear at the highest levels of the Indian Government that the United States opposes the development of the Iranian pipeline to India." "We believe that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and anything that will support that endeavour is something that we oppose," he added.

As Amit Baruah puts it:
There is no "either or" situation here. Any Government that allows itself to be pushed around by the U.S. on ties with Iran will find itself being asked to fall in line time and again on issue after issue.
If there were some high principle involved in America's oppostion to the pipeline, it would still be acceptable. But there isn't. The reason cited, which is the danger of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons through the revenues of the pipeline is just a pretext. A far more important reason is the lobbying organization which claims to speak for the American Jews, as is argued here.

So why is the Indian government toeing the line of an American lobby on Iran? The US - on the directions of AIPAC - will most likely not stop short of attacking another oil-rich country. Unfortunately no one seems to be bothered, including India.

25-Mar-2007

Inflammable Chappel

From the press conference:
Another word that has been mentioned a lot is 'process'. What went wrong with the process?
That's an inflammatory question and I'm not prepared to answer it.

An highly inflammable coach I should say.

Off tangent, with respect to Bob Woolmer's muder, will there be a cover-up and if yes, how big a cover-up will it be? Apparently Pakistani diplomats have flown in from the US to Jamaica. As the Guardian puts delicately:
It was not clear in what capacity they would assist the investigation.
Are these diplomats trained police investigators?

As for the ICC, the ACB is already doing its bit regarding the match-fixing charge. Calls seem to have gone out from some person to members of the Pakistani and Indian teams. Who got these calls, what were these calls about? Will the ACB come up with anything in the middle of the World Cup? It will be a pleasant surprise if they do, the status quo seems to suit everyone just fine. Like the recent Samuels case - what happened about that? It is obvious that match-fixing is very much present. When a captain says that his gut-feeling is that fixing is happening, one can't just ignore it. One treats it as English understatement and concludes that it fixing is taking place, more likely than not.

Update: How much more rotten can it get?

Former South Africa player Clive Rice said that when news of the match-fixing scandal broke seven years ago, he was coaching Nottinghamshire while Woolmer was in charge of Warwickshire.

“We were actually involved in a match in England at the time and Bob and I discussed it. He told me a lot that never came out…. I’m not just talking about other players being involved, but officials too,” Rice said.

“Bob knew a lot of what went on during the match-fixing scandal in which Cronje was nailed.”

Rice said Cronje, who died when a chartered plane crashed five years ago, too, was planning a book and that he had acquired the rights for it.

“I went to see him six months before he died. He signed over the rights to me. Like Woolmer, he knew a lot more of what was going on. His so-called accident was just a lot cleverer than the one that killed Bob.”

24-Mar-2007

Super-8s Math

After that defeat, the only way India get through to the next stage is if Bangladesh lose to Bermuda by a big margin. It is very obvious what the Indian team must do to make that happen. They need to sit down with the Bangladesh team and pass on their considerable experience to the minnows.

After that, they need to pray that Bangladesh are quick learners.

23-Mar-2007

The Motive Is Everything

From The Hindu:
It is still under wraps. Despite an effort made through the Right to Information, no one outside government has seen it. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has proposed to introduce the Environment Tribunal Bill, which envisages the setting up of "green" courts to deal with environmental disputes. Why is this necessary? How will the "green" courts work? Who will benefit from them?
...
The excuse being used to set up an environmental tribunal is that there are too many cases pending in courts. A Central tribunal in Delhi and regional ones, it is argued, will take the burden off the courts. The plan is based on the assumption that the groups presently taking matters to court will be satisfied with the civil remedies that the environmental tribunal will offer. What is not so well known is that apart from communities with grievances, proponents of projects can use the tribunals to clear their projects if they feel aggrieved that they have been denied permission on environmental grounds. The government would argue that such a set-up would obviate the need for specific committees as the tribunal could set up its own committees to look into specific projects.

On the surface, this appears reasonable. But people selected by the government will man the tribunals. When the majority of the cases that land up in court concern government policy and the perception of groups and communities that the government is violating its own laws, how can such tribunals be viewed as impartial?

Not Cricket - 2

Sambit Bal writes in Cricinfo:
Take the current predicament of this World Cup as an example. The major stake-holders in the tournament - the television channels and major sponsors - risk losing millions, either in cash or kind, if India go out in the first round. They are not the number one team in the world by a mile. Not even number two. They are ranked sixth in the ICC team ratings and, while that might not always be the best indicator of a team's worth, they have not won a competition of note outside the subcontinent since 1985. Yet the fate of the World Cup rides on them. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
Like they say on the comment threads: Tell Preach it, brother.

Getting Off Lightly

From Tehelka:
“When I will be asked by the Supreme Court why everyone else has got TADA and my client only the Arms Act, I will have no answer.”
He could just say it is an instance of the “benign judicial eye”.

How Wrong Can One Be

I never believed that it was murder. The better half was convinced it was murder or suicide right from the time the death was announced, but I couldn't think of a motive. And suicide also seemed unlikely, he being a professional and all.

How wrong was I.

And yes it was the chamber maid who found him.

22-Mar-2007

Different Versions

Of Bob Woolmer's death are doing the rounds on TV and online. But there are many inconsistences. Just one of them: Who actually found Bob Woolmer's body? I've read three different versions online:
1. The team manager (or some team official) sent Inzamam to Woolmer's room to pick him up, because he had not been seen for more than an hour
2. The hotel staff forced their way into the room
3. A maid found him after she entered the room (presumably for cleaning)
Which one is true? And linked to this question, which of the various versions of the cause of death are true?

Poor Losers

From The Hindu:
As soon as the House assembled in the morning, BJP members were on their feet, raising slogans against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. They were warned by the Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to refrain from rushing into the well. "Do not march into the well or else you will regret it later," the Chairman warned before adjourning the House for an hour.

The scene was no different when the House reassembled at 12 noon but Deputy Chairperson K. Rehman Khan continued amidst the din with the business of laying papers, moving and passing the National Institutes of Technology Bill, 2006, the statement by Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and even ran through the list of Special Mentions.

At this stage, BJP members trooped into the well, continuing their sloganeering more vociferously and demanding a discussion on the Nandigram issue. Left with no choice, the Deputy Chairperson was heard telling BJP members who had stationed themselves just below his chair: "Go to your seats, I am adjourning the House."

Leading to this conclusion:
...the BJP ... has proved itself to be a poor loser after the May 2004 general election. In the aftermath of that defeat, the BJP boycotted the budget, leading to its passage without a discussion. In the Rajya Sabha on Monday, its members made a bid to snatch budget-related papers from Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, forcing him to cut short his reply to crucial points raised by members. The party has gained a reputation for disobeying rules, flouting agreements reached in the Speaker's chamber, and refusing to extend the normal parliamentary courtesies to Ministers and to other parties. The Treasury and the Opposition benches must come to a minimum agreement on running Parliament — if not for improving their own public image, at least for the sake of Indian democracy.
It is especially sad when the party with a difference behaves thus.

20-Mar-2007

Before The Spin

Begins, someone sounds a cautionary note (via Atrios):
The sub-prime and overall mortgage carnage is now likely to lead to a financial crisis whose cleanup and bailout costs will make the S&L bailout bill look like spare change. We are only at the beginning of this fallout but, already, several proposals and bills in Congress have been submitted to help millions of sub-prime homeowners on the verge of bankruptcy and foreclosure. The prospect of millions of homeowners thrown homeless on the street is already shaking politicians of every stripe.

Given the fallout and real, social and financial costs of this disaster the political blame game will soon start. So it is important to make sure that the self-serving spin game that accompanied the game of those who happily ignored since last summer the looming housing, mortgage and economic mess will not be repeated again. Powerful political and financial interests will spin their self-serving ideological spin on who is to blame for this mess. Specifically be ready for a cabal of supply side voodoo ideologues - from the Wall Street Journal editorial page (and its invited op-ed writers) to hacks (calling them economists would be an insult to my profession) such as Arthur Laffer, Steve Hanke and other assorted voodoo religion priests - to start spinning a tale blaming government regulation and interference for this disaster that has instead its core in the lack of sensible government regulation, not the existence of such regulation. In the meanwhile powerful financial interests that repeat the mantra – or better the proof-less dogma - of unregulated free markets and do not like any – even sensible – supervision and regulation of the financial system will happily blame government action – rather than their own reckless greed and stupidity - for this disaster while happily demanding and receiving billions in bailout funds from the same government that they so happily disdain. This will be the most appalling form of corporate welfare: privatize the profits in good times and socialize the losses in bad times.
Privatize the profits and socialize the losses. Nice.

US And The World

From The Hindu:
Western leaders promised the former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would not expand eastward. That promise was broken less than 10 years later, when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were admitted to the alliance. Later, NATO swore that no military infrastructure would be deployed in the territories of new members of the alliance. Today, the U.S. is setting up military bases in Bulgaria and Romania and is about to deploy missile defence components in Poland and the Czech Republic.

...

And this is only the beginning. The Pentagon said the European component of its global missile defence would keep expanding and upgrading. On March 1, Lt. Gen. Obering said he would like to have an additional radar station in the Caucasus.

It is difficult to imagine why the rest of the world should believe anything that the US says.

Judges And The Poor

A former Supreme Court judge writes:
Most Ninth Schedule statutes were meant to save the wretched from the claws of pro-property dimensions of Part III of the Constitution. Judges must abide by Churchill's dictum: "Humanity, rather than legality, must be our guide".

Crunching The Numbers

I wrote here about the hyperbolic headlines accompanying the IIM placement season and the fact that some graduates are opting to stay back in India. The Hindu article carefully avoided hard numbers. Well, let's look at the actual numbers.
Dollars, pounds and francs don't hold any glamour for them anymore. Big buck offers notwithstanding, they would rather stay put in apna India, thank you very much. This year, about 20-odd students from the three IIMs – Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta have rejected plum international postings.
20 students out of approximately 600. That is a full 3%.

Not Cricket

Not any longer. It isn't just a game any more. Money plays a starring role.
Kunal Dasgupta of Sony, the official broadcaster of the World Cup, agreed that the money spend on advertising will be hugely affected if India is knocked out. He complained, ‘‘The entire format of the 2007 World Cup is flawed. In a 48-day tournament, if a team like Pakistan is already out for playing bad cricket in two matches, there is something really wrong. We were against this format and even told the GCC (the commercial wing of the ICC) to reconsider it. But they refused.

‘‘Now that Pakistan is out, the fun of an India-Pakistan Super 8 match is gone. And if India lose another group match, the Cup will be the biggest flop in India and advertisers will lose value of their investments and we may also lose money even after selling all slots,’’ he said, indicating that advertisers could force the broadcaster to lower rates if India went out. He refused to divulge any financial details.
So a television channel is trying to influence the format of the cricket World Cup. And the world cup is no longer about the best teams winning, but an India-Pakistan match on a Sunday.

Bob Woolmer

What a way to go. Alone in a hotel room far away from home. Totally dejected and no one to share the pain with. All for a game of cricket.

It was horrifying to watch the news break over the news channels on sunday night here. The looped video footage of the scenes with Shoab Akhtar and Mohd Asif and others, making it too obvious that the coach was hardly enjoying a good working relationship with at least some members of the Pakistan team. Still some of them probably felt otherwise as was evidenced by Kamran Akmal and a few others breaking down during the farewell meeting.

There must be many dying every day in other ways that are equally tragic. But we don't know their particular stories and hence don't feel as much. But in this case everything was open. The humiliation of the loss against the weakest of teams. The shattering of the world cup dream. All the hard work - not only for Pakistan but also the illustrious career with SA - down the drain. The shocking death of the affable and mostly cheerful - as far as one could judge on TV - coach. It was hard not to feel sorrowful.

18-Mar-2007

Boosting Religion

Albeit, under the radar. Also, it is news to me the Sri Sri Ravishankar has achieved "enlightenment". Wonder how it feels like. He's eversmiling, so must be good.

Please Don't

Screw up the rich environment along the coast and the nearby ghats by building a coal-based power plant. Coal pollutes big-time.

More Freedom

Governments don't work - can't work. Can never work. So they should get out of everything except law and order, defense, and 'a handful of things'. The handful of things is left artfully unelaborated. Probably would include education, healthcare and so on. Some of the most important things for common citizens.

The questions is: if government can't do anything else straight, why would a libertarian expect it to do well in these important fields?

I need to really read up on libertarianism.

Spine

Lack of it (via Atrios):

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

This is a US Presidential candidate who will run in 2008. Stumped by a simple question of whether condoms help stop the spread of HIV/STDs. Because his political base - the conservatives - wouldn't forgive him if he agreed.

16-Mar-2007

One Down

The Hindu's editor gets a letter:
I must confess that I was one of those who protested against increased reservation for the OBCs when it was announced. But the two-part article exposes how difficult life can get for those born in a supposedly inferior class. As one aspiring to study law in the hope of making some difference to the widespread administrative malfeasance, I felt truly disheartened on reading the article.

Surely, a dual society prevails in our country — one that has an economic growth of 9 per cent and the other that is stuck in the medieval times. The article has made me realise that I must not go by popular response to the things I see. But it must also be said that it was the media that influenced my thinking that Dalits and OBCs do not deserve reservation in a "modern" society like ours. I only wish I could help and was told how to in more such articles.

Srishti C. Kalro,
Bangalore

So that's one person converted. Only about 310.5 million more people to go.

15-Mar-2007

Free Market At Work

Via Atrios.

Today's pop quiz involves some potentially exciting new products that mortgage bankers have come up with to make homeownership a reality for cash-strapped first-time buyers.

Here goes: Which of these products do you think makes sense?

(a) The "balloon mortgage," in which the borrower pays only interest for 10 years before a big lump-sum payment is due.

(b) The "liar loan," in which the borrower is asked merely to state his annual income, without presenting any documentation.

(c) The "option ARM" loan, in which the borrower can pay less than the agreed-upon interest and principal payment, simply by adding to the outstanding balance of the loan.

(d) The "piggyback loan," in which a combination of a first and second mortgage eliminates the need for any down payment.

(e) The "teaser loan," which qualifies a borrower for a loan based on an artificially low initial interest rate, even though he or she doesn't have sufficient income to make the monthly payments when the interest rate is reset in two years.

(f) The "stretch loan," in which the borrower has to commit more than 50 percent of gross income to make the monthly payments.

(g) All of the above.

If you answered (g), congratulations! Not only do you qualify for a job as a mortgage banker, but you may also have a future as a Wall Street investment banker and a bank regulator.

Read more about it in the linked article. Tying it in with something a bit closer to home, the meltdown in the Sensex (and the rest of the global stock market indices) is apparently due to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the US. No I don't have a clue what a subprime mortgage is, so don't ask me.

Nandigram

This is pathetic. The Governor of the state asked:
“the news has filled me with a sense of cold horror”. “What is the public purpose served by the use of force that we have witnessed today?” he asked.
What purpose was served really?

The issue has been too politicised too. The lady is too reckless. And the government is too stubborn. Will this be the beginning of the end for the Left in WB?

Fence Eating The Crop

Officials of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes are themselves prejudiced against the Scheduled Castes apparently. On second thoughts, not much of a surprise there I guess.

Wheels of Justice Grind Too Slowly

Here's a senior advocate in the Madras Courts High arguing that hanging may not be required at all if only more convictions were coming from the higher courts. Instead of the steady drip, drip, drip of delays in hearing the cases on account of frivolous technicalities. Of course, this tactic is not restricted to corruption cases.

13-Mar-2007

Corruption

It is a bit disheartening when one finds people like Ramesh Ramanathan writing for the Freedom Paper. As I was going through his latest article in my mail, the feeling just grew. He seemed to have changed his tune completely. No more people and politicians/governance institutions working together in a partnership? All the blame on the politicians? Not the Ramesh Ramanathan I know (I don't know him personally, only through his writing), I thought. But I'd jumped to conclusions as I found out. Here is the article itself (this is supposed to have appeared in Live Mint, but the online site does not have a link).

Travel Notes

On a recent family trip to the US and UK , we also got a glimpse of Eritria , Ethiopia , Pakistan , Ghana and Morocco . We were “taken” there by the various taxi drivers during our travels. The conversations were honest, stripped of the veneer of diplomatic deceit, possibly because we knew that weren’t likely to meet again.


We learned a lot about their countries. We also discovered some universal qualities of people across societies – more on this later. We learned that Eritria was once a part of Ethiopia and that it got Independence recently, a fact that made the Eritrian very proud, and the Ethiopian very angry. They took away the ports”, he said testily. Eritrian independence cost Ethiopia the entire coastline of the country, leaving it completely landlocked. We were surprised to hear that Ethiopia is actually not desert, that it has plenty of rainfall, and forests and mountains.

And what about the famine?” we asked, referring to the calamity that had put Ethiopia on the world map. It’s them politicians”, he said, continuing, “It’s a great country, with wonderful people and lousy politicians. And because of them, we have hunger and corruption, and one out of 10 children dies. If only we could get rid of them politicians…

The Ghanaian – Kwesi - was very quiet at first, rejecting our conversational overtures. And then we asked the one question that always breaks the ice, “Is your country beautiful?”

He smiled wistfully and spoke in that delicious thick African accent, “Oh yes! We have everything in Ghana .” And he was right, 500 kilometers of coastline, mountains, plenty of natural resources and arable land. Unfortunately, we also have politicians”, he said, “and they are looting all our gold and cocoa.”


Our Pakistani driver, Masood, had wanted to be a Bollywood actor, and had even stayed in Bombay for 3 months, working on a film with Urmila Matondkar! “Don’t look at me now”, he said, pointing to his balding head and belly, “I used to be really handsome then”. The producer-director had died unexpectedly, and Masood’s dreams with him. He now drives Sunjay Dutt in Long Island whenever he visits. We rode silently down Van Wyck Expressway, under the newly constructed monorail to the airport.

How is this monorail affecting your business?” my wife asked him. He snorted, “Behen, you know what the size of the taxi business in New York - in New York alone - is? Billions of dollars. This silly monorail starts somewhere in Queens , in the middle of nowhere. Who is going to take it? The taxi fleet owners have paid off the politicians to make this white elephant. Hundreds of millions of dollars” – he said “dhollars” - “phoof”.


Our last taxi trip was with Tahar, the Moroccan, in London . He arrived ten minutes early. Pacing around, he waved us in, loaded the luggage impatiently and raced off. “The rush, it is too much”, he said, “ten minutes, and you lose thirty minutes in traffic. I said, “We have plenty of time, no problem”, to which he replied, “Yes, but I haf problem! One more trip, I can make.

He waved his arms around, carving and chopping the air like a music conductor as he spoke, the words coming off his tongue like hand-rolled cigarettes.

Oh, Morocco , beautiful country, we haf everything. Our Mediterranean beaches, our oranges. They are the best in the world. And our pears, you can smell the aroma a mile away.”


He drove frantically, weaving in and out of the narrow London lanes, zipping across the short stretches of motorway, glancing at the clock on his dashboard.

And what about the government?

Oh terrible! Looters, I tell you. We have oil, gold. But they hide it away, they keep hush about it.”

As we took the exit for the airport, he reached his short, stubby hand across, shook mine vigorously, and said, “I am Tahar. When we reach the airport, there could be some people, they ask who you are. You say that you are my family ok”, he whipped his head around to take in those in the back, wrapping an imaginary rope around the group, “family, ok?”.

I was puzzled. Why?” I asked. He shook his head, and looked away guiltily, saying, “I not tell the taxi company, this way I keep the entire fare. Times are tough here in London , you see.”

There was an awkward silence for the next few minutes as we drove up to our terminal.

Nobody stopped us, thankfully. As we got out, I asked him, “So, Morocco sounds like a great country, but the government, it is corrupt, has no values, right?” “Ah, absolutely. No values.” He took the fare, climbed back in and drove off to catch his next trip to the airport. Such is the state everywhere in the world: the mirror reflects our own image, but we don’t recognise ourselves.

Toilets In Government Schools

Are very difficult to come by. DH writes about it. And the Primary and Secondary Education Minister says it is just a matter of 2-3 years before the toilets are ready. Kids are really having it tough in Bangalore lately. 2-3 years before they can get toilets in their schools. At least that many years, and most probably many more, before they are able to walk on the street without fear of dogs (since the birth control program lets dogs back on the streets after sterilization).

IIM Placement Season

One could also describe it as the season of lists and mellow wantonness, and silly headlines. Lists as in lists of companies attending the placements. Wantonness as in the big pay packages. And silly headlines like this from today's Bangalore edition of The Hindu (not present online):

IIMB graduates prefer to work in India

Silly because the article hardly justifies it - two graduates are quoted as having decided to stick on in India. Oh well, I'll just recycle an old post. Why not, when they are recycling the headlines.

12-Mar-2007

Hang It All

We're responsible for it aren't we? A reader hits the nail on the head in The Hindu:

Once again, we have drawn a line. On this side of the line are "we, the good and the noble." And on the other side are "they, the bad and the ignoble." Face reality. Aren't we the ones who bestowed on "them" the power through our own political process? Aren't we responsible for what society is today? Are we separate from the rest of society that we now sit in judgment and proclaim: "Those of you, the evil, shall be hanged?" Let us no longer fool ourselves — we and we alone are responsible for the corruption around us.

S.B. Badekila,
Bangalore

11-Mar-2007

Two Quotes

Two unrelated quotes. First from Khushwant Singh in DH:
When it comes to voting, large sections of the Sikh peasantry including those who do not observe Khalsa traditions by chopping their breads, smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol vote the Akali party because they believe it stands for the Panth.
Very interesting. The next, from The Hindu:
... peddlers of distilled male fantasies like Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Vidhu Vinod Chopra continue to dabble in dreams.
That sentence rolls off the tongue nicely. Peddlers of distilled male fantasies...

01-Mar-2007

The Budget And The Markets

From Hindustan Times:
The stock markets gave a virtual thumbs down to the Union Budget and the benchmark BSE crashed 541 points to end below the 13,000-point mark on Wednesday in highly volatile trading on selling by funds and investors.
Right. China's markets crashed by 8% yesterday. Following that, the Dow lost 5%. And following that, all world indices are awash with red today, except Norway's. And the budget caused the crash?

Update: et tu The Telegraph?
Palaniappan Chidambaram had looked good at the nets yesterday when he came to the pitch with the India Shining story in the Economic Survey. But today he dropped a sitter.

The stock market howled, driving the sensex down by 540 points after the budget.
The story was mostly correctly told like here and surprisingly here, but a little surprisingly again not here.