Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ramblings on morality

Yesterday started with a lecture by Robert Swan, renowned polar explorer and environmentalist. Then, we had three lectures, one following the other in the afternoon. Somehow, in the midst of this spurt of hectic activity, I got writing - 

What is the color of morality? A confused shade of grey or a clear shade of black and white? What makes people test the limits of morality and move on? Is it because, we define it very loosely or rather, is it because, morality, per se, is undefinable and hence relative and amenable to exploitation? What about beliefs and principles then? Can they be altered and justified based on the vagaries of time? Or, are we just getting caught up in the dictionary meanings too much by attaching weights disproportionately to words? Perhaps, there is no reason to worry at all, or is there?

As we progress, we tend to measure advancements in terms of the size of our bank accounts and in terms of how quickly our stock of business cards runs out! When somebody who has been to the north pole as well as the south pole (literally) walks in and says, "Status is not about what you have; it is about who you are", it shakes us up! It makes all the races we run, deadlines that we chase and the obligations we get tied to, pale into insignificance! 

What really is character then? What does it encompass? How do we measure up? When everything is elastic, inflatable based on one's position and perspective, what is absolute? What is constant and unchanging? Well, when I think about it, I draw a blank! Honesty, truth, loyalty, friendship, commitment, sincerity...? If, in the face of competition and for the sake of reasons, entirely attributable to impatience, greed and  selfishness, each of these can be trampled on and traded to move on, what happens then? What are we left with to hold on to? Where does it leave us in the larger scheme of things? 

It leaves us rudderless, ready to sway and be tossed about by even the slightest hint of turbulence. We become pawns that can be moved by any random player, surrender ourselves to fortunes that we can't even imagine controlling! We lose our grip on our own lives, regret every misstep, brood over missed opportunities and watch helplessly as happiness remains elusive! 

As Jose Saramago puts it beautifully in his masterpiece Blindness - "When one stars making small concessions, in the end, life loses all meaning." Indeed, the world of one's own moral boundaries begins to blur as soon as the first concessions are made. The erosion starts right then, and spreads like forest fire. Small drops make an ocean, quite fast at that!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aisha - A pleasant sojourn during a English Summer

" In the very first sentence she (Jane Austen) introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma, however, is also rather spoiled; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; and she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives and is often mistaken about the meanings of others' actions" - Wiki entry on Emma.

When you see Aisha, you admire the canvas on which it is etched! A world far removed from life's harsh realities, much like a cloistered society where shopping and match-making are Aisha's chief pastimes. Its separation from reality is so complete with the costumes worn by the characters, in parts, transplanting them almost in the England of the 1800s. The movie's charm and appeal lies precisely in that. To be able to Indianize an old English classic, with characters drawn from Delhi's high society and do it quite well at that- that is Aisha for you.

Sonam Kapoor (as Aisha) looks good minus the heavy make-up she is made to wear for the most part of the movie. Abhay Deol (as Arjun), as he is known to, subtly underplays his part with elan, while in fact, his voice in the movie is very strong and as a character, is respected by the others including Aisha. New comer Amrita Puri (as Shefali) has lot of potential and plays a small town girl struggling to come to terms with a new identity she is forced to assume, thanks to our protagonist. 

The movie's high point is the time the characters spend camping for river rafting. A lot of analogies could be drawn from different scenes - the aerial shots as they ride the waves, as they are tossed by the ferocity of the sea, as they gleefully have fun by the seaside, as each one's egos and jealousies come to the fore in an interplay that typifies the innermost feelings feelings that, all of us, as human beings, harbor deep inside the crevices of our hearts, only to realize that they seldom do us any good! They only reveal the shallow nature of our selves, the easy conclusions we like to draw, the reductionist approaches we resort to, sometimes just to avoid facing the truth. 

Having said that, the second half is a little cyclic, with Aisha continuing to test her match making abilities until she comes to grip with the reality that, people around her can't forever bear her smugness and overlook her faults. 

Two songs stand out - 

Koi ankahi, koi ansuni
Baat dheemi dheemi keh rahi hai
Kahin na kahin jaagi hui hai koi aarzoo
Kahin na kahin khoye hue se hain main aur tu

and the title track. Extolling the genius of Javed Akhtar can only be redundant! 

A movie that can't be slotted under romance or chick-lit or comedy, it is definitely worth a watch. A fantasy you would want to be part of until you come back to reality...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dr. Rakesh Singh delivers a lecture unparalleled in intensity

What makes a lecture great?

Quite simply, the food for thought that it generates! Its ability to kindle interest, sustain it and its ability to hold the audience in a trance like state where they forget their surroundings to become absolutely engrossed in it, through its whole length. 

It was Dr. Rakesh Singh's (Rocky Sir as he is fondly called by the class) last lecture on 'Macroeconomics'. Our seniors had documented it last year and after going through it, our expectations were quite high and boy, what an extraordinary phenomenon it turned out to be! 

He started with the post independent India and painted a canvas of its growth that ran like the evolution of postage stamps in a country's history - every watershed moment, every significant economic, social and political milestone was part of it, all of them adding up to the present day and in the process, condensing the history of India's post independent economic evolution and its key players quite remarkably. 

Initial Nehruvian socialism and our relative isolation from the world economy gave way to green revolution and nationalization of banks as Indira Gandhi assumed the mantle of prime minister-ship. That was when the term 'permit raj' came to be coined leading to rampant corruption in bureaucracy. Electronics became the flavour of the Rajiv Gandhi period.  As the soviet union collapsed and India was on the brink of a balance-of-payments crisis, IMF and LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization) came to the nation's rescue. The years following the initial reforms were challenging when the Government had to make some significant choices. The tough period of 1996-2002 saw a slowdown and finally things started looking up in 2003. 

Throughout his lecture, Dr. Singh gave umpteen number of examples replete with the power to capture the gravity of the events he was talking about. Fiscal deficit, absence of judicial reforms, politicians' - businessmen nexus, neglect of agriculture and a lacunae in labour protection  laws are some areas where our country urgently needs to plug glaring holes. Dr. Singh ended the lecture on a buoyant and optimistic note by saying that, India would emerge as the global food giant of the future when the World shall face a food crisis. 

The intensity of his lecture bowled us over. No words can ever succinctly capture the experience he gave us in the space of a little less than 2 hours. Not a single sound was heard except that of his voice and his footsteps. Such was the spell he held us under and when we never wanted it to be broken, it ended! As he slowly made his way outside the class, a rapturous applause could be heard, one that went on undiminished for a few minutes...  

Thank you Dr. Rakesh Singh from all gladiators!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Entertainment, stars and tourists converge to deliver a home run

This is the 2nd article that is pure fiction, all part of projections for India in 2020. This assignment is something that I loved. It let all of us wear our thinking caps and brought out some excellent output. 
Bollywood as an exporter of Indian culture – this phrase is perhaps as old as the Indian film industry itself. Indeed, Raj Kapoor and his movies like Shree 420 were such a rage in Russia , Iran, Middle east and Egypt that they typified the internal post independent conflicts, we as a nation were faced with, torn between a ladder to modernity and struck with the legacy of imperial conquest. India as a land of snake charmers and tight rope walkers – this phrase needs no explanation either as in the eyes of the westerner, this was the dominant perception until the IT boom catapulted our intellectual capital to global heights. Slowly, as the Government’s “Incredible India” campaign gathered steam, this perception gave way to pictures of exotic boat houses in Kerala and Srinagar, idyllic valleys of the Himalayas and the north east not to mention, an attractive destination for medical tourism. Over the last decade, these two potent forces -in Bollywood and tourism- have converged and delivered a home run to India’s growth story, thanks to the celebrity patrons the Government has managed to rope in for its tourism thrust.

Take Aamir Khan as an example – the actor was one of the first few campaigners for Incredible India, one of the most remarkable brand building exercises ever undertaken in India’s modern history. The actor is now engaged fulltime in promoting India globally as a tourist destination for tourists of every hue and colour. Other contemporaries of Aamir Khan like Shah Rukh Khan and Mohan Lal from the south have come together after a voluntary retirement from movies as brand ambassadors of Indian tourism. The ladies were not far behind when Konkana Sen Sharma, Nandita Das and Kareena Kapoor jumped onto this limelight vehicle when age caught up with their movie careers. This has been a win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved with Bollywood movies shunning exotic foreign locales, local Indian tribals and villagers raking in the moolah and the Government facilitating the entire exchange.

The Indian tourism industry recorded phenomenal growth over the last decade with a consistent upward trajectory. A stable government, relatively peaceful neighbourhood, marked improvement in rural infrastructure, an increasingly educated populace, a rising global awareness thanks to the profusion of communication technologies and cooperative state governments came together to script an incredible campaign. From the promotion of innovative energy huts to the advertisement of the remote mountainous north eastern terrain, the campaign wove such a beautiful yarn of the country that it was compelling for the traveller willing to have a good time. The tourism industry’s share in the nation’s GDP hovered around a decent 6.5 to 7 % at the beginning of the decade and now stands at a sizeable 12%. This doubling in some part, is a reflection of the country’s phenomenal economic growth over the decade.

With the successful conduct of the common wealth games 2010 at New Delhi, tourists began to flock in huge numbers to discover the Indian heartland.  A refurbished tourism ministry under the Rahul Gandhi administration with the stewardship of Omar Abdullah seized the opportunities as they came by. Medical tourism and Eco tourism have been the mainstays of the industry. Ancillary industries like hospitality and healthcare also gained as a consequence of the windfall. As India’s share of foreign tourists stands the highest in the world at an impressive 8%, the occupancy rates in the Indian hotel industry have reached an all time high of 92%. As per a report released by ASSOCHAM (Associated chambers of commerce and industry of India) there are nearly 100 new hotel projects in various stages of development. The tourism industry accounted for only 6.5 % of the total employment in 2010 while exactly a decade later, that figure has also doubled to hover around 12%. Little wonder that India is ranked 1st in the World’s list of attractive Asia pacific tourism destinations as per the travel and tourism competitiveness report of 2019.

Bollywood super heroes who were on the verge of retirement got enamoured of the idea and threw their weight behind tourism as it grew. They influenced producers to shoot in scenic places within the country rather than venturing out to the erstwhile hotspots of Switzerland and New Zealand. It helped that Indian film entertainment too grew alongside with cross over cinema and multilingual cinema gaining in momentum due to rapid globalisation and rising number of cosmopolitan cities. Film industry grew at a CAGR of 14% over the decade with its share of contribution to the overall media industry’s revenue pie increasing from 150 billion in 2010 to 450 billion in 2019. This combination of superstars, movie entertainment and tourism has some lessons for the future growth momentum as well. Wherever synergies are natural, leverage them to laugh all the way to the banks!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The reality of the transformed geopolitical landscape

Preface to the post: This post is pure fiction! As part of one our assignments in the Macroeconomics course, our teacher, Dr. Rakesh P Singh asked us to come up with a 6 page Economic Times issue dated Jan 2, 2020. So, we set down to work and I decided to write a column. So, this goes out as a column written by MJ Akbar, my favorite columnist in TOI in 2020 -

The decade ending 2019 proved to be a watershed. It panned out in a manner that was quite unimaginable when it started and yet, in hindsight, with the benefits of the wisdom it accrues, nothing could have been more logical and fitting. Mankind learns the hard way; often, it is not the wisdom of his ancestors he turns to, rather, he always wants to set examples so that his future generations can learn from his mistakes. This is an unending cycle that perpetuates and ensures that history books are always replete with new sensational material.

Indian politics turned full circle by turning to dynasty politics again. When Jawaharlal Nehru became prime minister in 1947, no Indian could have ever envisaged a Moraji Desai or a AB Vajpayee occupying the august chair. Yet, these two stalwarts did turn the tables and had their moment of glory. Is it not an irony that our democracy while remaining a sham, has managed to deliver what it was expected to? While decrying dynasty politics was the fashion a decade back, people have realized that the job of steering the nation’s ship is best left to a lineage – one whose authority is never questioned thanks to its surname and whose hold is strengthened by the sycophants who keep genuflecting at the “high command’s” (read family’s) feet without realizing the folly of it!

Coalition politics and regional parties were expected to get more arrogant, but on the contrary, the grand old party of India has consolidated its position along the length and breadth of the country thanks to the kind of campaigns run against it. The opposition lacked a strong representative voice and got fragmented into numerous disjoint pieces while the center-of-left parties found that their populist ideology was usurped; they were left without any moral high ground to argue from, when the intellectuals abandoned them en mass.

In India’s villages, a remarkable transformation took place. Armed with the benefits endowed by the UID and the boom in the rural banking sector, the agriculture-dependent population got a bonanza, when the center, left without any alternative, permitted the entry of GM crops. The anti-GM lobbyists had to find alternative employment. Middle men and money lenders couldn’t find any villager to dupe and exploit. The resurgence of hope in the rural voter began to have multiple effects. Having seen the benefits of technology at first hand, the population finally began to see the benefits of education. If one were to single out two right investments, the Indian Government made during the last decade, they would be primary education and the UID Project.

As we face a new decade, we encounter a greater period of uncertainty than ever before. Any forecast of trends and directions would be futile; yet it is not difficult to foresee that this new decade needs a new maxim. While it is easy to gloat over the successes we have had, unless we equip ourselves with a broad set of moral imperatives, we might run out of luck. Indeed, the world is poised at a crossroads. The Indo-pak issue and the US-china issue, both of which threatened the very existence of mankind, have now come to be characterized by a deflation. Both Pakistan and the US have been stripped and shown for what they are – the duplicity of the former exposed and the unbridled greed of the latter, running out of easy prey. While the USA has reconciled itself to the existence of a superior economic power, Pakistan continues to throw tantrums and seek attention.

The geopolitics of the world has seen the emergence of new powers – Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). If these four powers are to consolidate their places of reckoning in the global order, they must co-operate to address the newer challenges before they begin to appear insurmountable. To start off, we must realize the importance of learning from our past mistakes. We must put a stop to the lethargy inherent in procrastination. The new decade, in a sense, needs a new maxim, one that would encompass the lessons of the previous decade–

·         Sustained accountability of the power wielders – Power corrupts unless it is held accountable; the only incentive for a voter should be the intention of the power wielders to be answerable to their electors.
·         Moderation of greed – We face a severe natural resource crunch; technology can only save us to a certain extent, so long as innovations keep cropping up. We need to moderate our greed for increasingly lavish lifestyles in the interest of our future generations.
·         Equitable distribution of wealth – Social unrest arises primarily because of disillusionment with the state resulting from a unfair distribution of the fruits of labor. It is incumbent upon the Governments to ensure that there is equitable wealth distribution
·         Reduction of nuclear warheads – the threat of an impending global doom doesn’t augur well for peaceful progress. Instead of talking about global peace in every forum, the BRIC 4 should start acting by reducing their nuclear warheads.
·         Check on newer forms of terror – Conventional terrorism thrives on ignorance. However, rapid technological advances might result in newer and more subtle forms of terror.

While we need to congratulate ourselves for the hard earned fruits of the past decade, a word of caution isn’t misplaced. Scaling a peak would just remain a fashionable adventure if it soon becomes uninhabitable by thoughtless action.
Shall soon post one more article - all part of Jan 2, 2020!!