Cerebral Shangrila

Monday, July 31, 2006

Right to Information

India is a bundle of contrasts. Arvind Kejriwal , head of Parivartan, gets the Ramon Magsaysay award for his contribution to the Right to Information movement (RTI) and empowering poor citizens to fight corruption.

NDTV meanwhile petitions the Govt on this , " We are appalled to learn that the Cabinet has approved an amendment to exempt file notings and cabinet papers from disclosure under the Right to Information Act (RTI) 2005.

In the last few years, RTI has emerged as a very effective tool in the hands of the common man to check corruption, fight injustice and make governance transparent. The proposed amendments would make RTI in-effective. This will prevent people from knowing why a particular decision was taken and who said what in that decision making process. It will prevent people from knowing why no action was taken on their applications and who the guilty officials were. In effect, the Government would end up protecting the corrupt and dishonest officials.

We request you not to sign the amendment bill, if it is ever sent to you. You may decide either to just sit on it indefinitely or to return it to the Government."

Indian politicians are afterall a different class.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mc Gone Aloo

Outlook takes a look at the tenth anniversary of McDonald's & Pizza Hut in India. One of the little understood facet of Globalization is the impact of cultural exchange and invasion. When the Mc's, KFC's came down to India a decade ago, the Indians were fiercely protective of their Idli's & samosas fearing that the burgers would take over India.

A decade later, nothing of that sort has happened. The Idli's & Samosas are gaining popularity abroad, while the Burgers are getting Indianised and still nowhere close to domination. If at all anything, its making the Indian food chains hygienic,competitive and more customer friendly. Competition is always good for consumers .McDonald's has localized amazingly well!

Outlook comments, " Nearly 70 per cent of the items on our menu in India don't exist elsewhere in the world," says Vikram Bakshi, MD (north), McDonald's India. It would be impossible to find a Chicken Tikka Burger or a Paneer Salsa Wrap at any McDonald's outside India. On the other hand, the company's global bestseller, the Big Mac Burger, is excluded from the Indian menu because it is made of beef. In fact, India was the first market in the world where McDonald's kept away from beef and pork, for obvious cultural reasons. Its cultural sensitivity is also evident during the navratras, when the company also includes in its menu food items sans onion and garlic.In India, McDonald's also does something it loathes doing in the West: home delivery. "

Something unique to the developing countries is the aspirational value Mcdonald's provides ( The great Indian Americanization). Nowhere in the world would you find an executive / college kid taking out his family / friends to McDonald's for a "treat".

So a decade later, Mcdonald's has indianized than vice-versa.

P.S : I know lot of you don't think the same way I do.Let me know your views.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman & A.E.Hotchner - Book review

Paul Newman is a remarkable man by any standards ( If you have doubts, read my earlier post !). An excellent cook himself, Newman started the food products company " Newman's own" and ran it like a true maverick and ended up being wildly successful. The company donates every cent of its profits to charity ( It literally cleares its books at the end of every year and starts afresh from next year !) and has till date donated close to $200 million to charitable causes.

The book can actually be divided into two parts. The first part dicusses how they built the business in an unconventional style ( Using only all-natural ingredients, utter disregard for market research, radically different ditribution approach ). The authors impregnate the book with amusing anecdotes and wacky humor.

The second half gets more serious and talks about the different charitable causes for which they have donated the money. The prime beneficiary is the Hole in the wall gang , which runs camps for terminally ill children and makes their last few days enjoyable and memorable.

Paul Newman is a hero not just on the screen, he is one off it too. An interesting and amusing read ( at the same poignant too) , this book would open your eyes to a new outlook towards life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trivia - Identify the personality

Identify this personality using the clues given :

Clue # 1 : One of the most handsome actors in Hollywood especially famous for his "blue eyes"

Clue # 2 : Studied acting at the Yale school and has been nominated for Best Actor Oscar award 9 times and finally won it at the age of 61.

Clue # 3 : Is a successful professional car race driver despite being color blind. At the age of 70, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race.

Clue # 4 : A highly successful businessman , he founded his own company which sells food products in his name.

Clue # 5 : One of the largest philanthropists of all time, he donates most of the money he earns from his business to charity. Has donated close to $200 million in the last 2 decades.

Clue # 6 : Married to one of the most beautiful hollywood actresses, his wife is also an oscar winner for best actress.

Clue # 7 : One beneficiary of his philanthropy is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a residential summer camp for seriously ill children.

Clue # 8 : A fierce democrat and known for his humorous quotes , he commented, " Being on President Nixon's enemies list was the highest single honor I've ever received."

Clue # 9: His most famous movie served as the inspiration for Indian filmmaker Maniratnam's tamil movie " Thiruda Thiruda" ( which was dubbed in hindi as "chor chor").

Clue # 10 : Lee Strasberg (The guru of "method acting"), who trained him at the Actor's Studio, said that he would have been as great an actor as Brando if he hadn't been so handsome.

Identify this amazing individual who is also one of my favorite actors and role-model. Also let me know how many clues did it take you to identify him !

P.S : Btw, why this sudden trivia post ? Because my next blog post is based on him , his book and his philanthropy.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Naseer turns director

Art is perceptual. Opinions differ. Which is why I am confused about what I read in the fourth estate about Naseer's debut movie as a director.

Naseeruddin Shah , one of India's most versatile and talented actors, made his directorial debut on Friday with the movie " Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota" ( Which is about the Indian obsession with America ) .

From the initial reports , the opinion seems to be sharply divided. While Moneycontrol (Perhaps not a great site to trust for a movie review !) raves about the movie , Raja Sen in Rediff isn't impressed and just gives the movie two stars but the movie opens to full house at Osian fest in Delhi and playright Uttam accuses Naseer of tampering with the script and changing the original story.

Looks like this might be another script in the making .......

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

India curtails blog access

Its a sad day for "freedom of expression" in India.The directive by the Govt (DoT ?) to ban access to popular blog sites such as blogspot.com isn't the right signal the world's largest democracy is sending to the world. India is and has always been the torchbearer of liberalism and freedom of expression ( Perhaps except during the brief emergency period).

The ban would not even serve the purpose of preserving national security ( If that is what is the reason cited). The internet is already full of tools and ways to bypass the ban. Trying to rein the internet isn't that easy in a democracy.

I hope good sense prevails and the govt rollsback its decision. As Noam Chomsky said, " If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dilbert - Good one ! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Krrish Tour in Singapore

So did you like the places that you saw in the "Krrish" movie ( The Singapore part) ? The STB (Singapore Tourism Board) has launched a " Krrish Tour" to capitalize on the tremendous success of the movie.

Singapore's official tourist website says, " The Singapore Krrish tour explores the beautiful island city through the eyes of leading Indian movie director Rakesh Roshan. While also sharing interesting trivia about the movie and its making, this tour will acquaint you with the flavor, culture, sights and sounds of the island city as you trace the steps of the Super Hero in the cosmopolitan city.Come face to face with the Orangutans at the Singapore Zoo, dance on Sentosa beach, cruise down the Singapore River, marvel at the world’s largest fountain and swing by the Lau Pa Sat clock-tower, where all the daredevil stunts were filmed.

Make your date with Krrish tour and treat yourself to a breathtaking experience as the film unfolds, showcasing the unique attractions of Singapore. Also get limited editions Krrish t-shirts with Hrithik Roshan’s signature and free tickets to watch the movie in Singapore."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Infosys - The amazing success story

Rediff has a simple but elegant slide show on the Infosys success story to mark the 25th anniversary of the Firm. Infosys' success story is a lesson to millions of middle class educated graduates . " Dream big. Work hard. Invest in values and people. Success will follow "

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mumbai Blasts - A City gropes for answers

Yet another series of bomb blasts have ripped the commuter trains in Mumbai. The Politicians / Govt officials visit the place , the press is loud,blaring and screaming , the international community condemns it, the intelligence bureau looks for clues, and as usual Mumbaikers show their resilience and humanity by helping one another.

The problem is , this scene is becoming all too familiar ( If not the blasts at least the calamities striking Mumbai). Poor Mumbai, my heart aches for it. If the government does not take swift action in going after these heinous perpetrators , we stand to lose our credibility as a resilient nation .

There is no doubt that Mumbai is resilient. It would spring back to normalcy within days. Its people would continue to be its lifeline. At this moment,I only wish India was at least half as resilient as Mumbai .

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

WC 1975 India Vs England - Thou shall not be talked about

Surprisingly , no one talked anything about it all these years. Finally on "Walk the Talk" in NDTV , Venkatraghavan ( The Captain then) talks about Sunil Gavaskar's 36 not out ( as an Opener in a 60 over one-day match) against England in the 1975 World Cup. England batted first and scored 334-4 in 60 overs . Chasing this mammoth total , India scored 132-3 in 60 overs. Gavaskar batted right through the innings to score 36 n.o. He faced 174 balls (29 overs) for his 36 runs.

There was a lot of uproar after that innings though Gavaskar emerged untarnished from it. Did Sunil play that way because he was slow to adapt to one-day cricket ( which was in its early days then) or was he according the kind of respect that one-day games deserved then ( Remember in the early 70's Test Cricket was still "true" cricket and one-day was a mere experiment in progress)? Whatever it was, there was not much public discussion then.

After 31 years, Venkat ( who is known for his candid and sometimes blunt views) discusses about it.Here is the Q&A :

" Q (Shekhar Gupta) : Before I let you go Venkat, let me take you back to your playing days, your two stints as captain in the World Cups when India didn’t have a very good one day team. And there was this match which everyone talks about.

A (Venkat) : You are referring to the match against England in the first World Cup at Lord’s.

Q : Yes, a 60-over match and Gavaskar 36 not out.

A: It left a very, very, bad taste. He let the team down, the spectators down, the spirit of the game down. I don’t know what happened to him. Afterwards he can say that he can’t explain it but...

Q: In his autobiography, he says that he tried to score runs, but each time he hit a shot, it just went straight to a fielder. But did you have a gentle discussion with him after that?

A: Of course I did.

P.S : After seeing the Zidane episode, I could only think of how Sportng demi-gods sometimes seem mere mortals.That is the beauty of sports. It makes heroes out of men and men out of heroes. Be it Soccer or Cricket or any other game.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Top 10 Rain numbers - Hindi songs

Its monsoon time again. Rain holds a special place in most of our hearts. Dinesh Raheja in Rediff picks his top 10 "Rain" songs (hindi). Though there are a few surprise inclusions ( Chameli ??), the overall selection is pretty good.

For me the sight of rain evokes nostalgia of three beautiful songs ( in Hindi) . My eyes visualize " Pyaar Hua Ikrar Hua " ( From Shree 420 -- Nargis & Raj Kapoor in an umbrella is the definitive rain visual ) , my lips murmur " Rhimjim Ghire Saawan sulag sulag" ( From Manzil - What a beautiful song , excellent visuals and kishore's amazing voice. Though the lata version was shot in the rain , my lips always murmur kishore ) .

Deep in my heart the song that echoes on seeing the rain is " O Sajna barkha bahaar ( From Parakh - Salilda's excellent orchestration and Lata's melodious voice wafts across gently ) .

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Soccer WC Final - Will it be Italy ?

The month long sporting extravaganza would be culminating in the finals in a few hours. I am really lousy at predictions . I wanted Brazil to win at the start of the tournament but was very impressed by the Germans later on. Now that both of them are gone, I hope Italy wins. Its been 24 long years since the azzurris have won. Can they do it again ? we will know in a few hours.

P.S: I am waking up at unearthly time for the finals (2am !!) .

Saturday, July 08, 2006

AIIMS - Another pre-eminent institution at peril

If Arjun Singh : IIT/IIM , Then Anbumani Ramadoss : AIIMS. Its a clash in India now between the reservation lobby and Meritocracy. The Sacking of AIIMS director Dr.Venugopal ( an eminent cardiologist and Padma Bhushan awardee) is yet another battle between the pro-reservation ministers and public institutions. The AIIMS sags is yet another example of bloated ego's,dis-respect for democracy and lack of inaction at the centre.

Thankfully the battle has a temporary reprieve since the High Court has stayed the dismissal (thereby snubbing the minster) . Interestingly, Arun Jaitley represented Dr.Venugopal in the high court. The embarassed minister might now head to the Supreme court.

What is shocking in this as well as the NLC divestment plan ( where the DMK threatened to withdraw support to the centre if it went ahead with the plan) , is the lack of spine at the centre. The congress continues to flounder badly in managing the coalition and has virtually become a prisoner of the allies where the smaller parties blackmail the centre to satisfy their vested interests. Shekar Gupta (Editor , IE) comments about this undermining of authority.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Kids for tigers -- Needs Volunteers

Kids for Tigers' is a Sanctuary environmental education programme in schools across India that aims to bring out the vital connection between the survival of the tiger and our ecological health.

Through 'edutainment' workshops, tiger fests, nature walks, film shows and tiger information kits, 'Kids for Tigers' seeks to increase awareness among children about India's biodiversity and sensitise them to the fact that saving tigers and their forests will also secure our water supply and help save ourselves.

Here is your chance to help in this noble initiative. Here is an email that I received in one of my Wildlife newsgroups :

"Kids for Tigers is a nature education programme run by Sanctuary Asia and Heinz India Ltd. We work in 10 cities and close to 400 schools all over India. Wildventures used to run the programme in chennai for the last two years. I am moving out of chennai and will need a group or an individual to run this programme across the city. My experience with the programme has been fantastic and we met close to 35000 children last year . We work in 40 schools in Chennai.

Those who are interested please contact me at geetha_mahadevan@yahoo.com"

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Monsoons lash Mumbai - Again

The July mayhem seems to be repeating. As rains intensified, normal life was paralyzed in Mumbai again.I remember a monsoon evening 7 years ago (when I used to live in Mumbai) , when I had to walk 12 kms in waist deep water because the trains stopped running and the roads were flooded. With little street light , that was the longest walk of my life.

However, this time there is a new legal twist. The High Court (HC) has slammed the Mumbai civic bodies. Indian Express reports , " The Bombay High Court on Wednesday came down heavily on Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for its failure to tackle flooding of low-lying areas due to heavy rains in the city on Tuesday and asked the civic body to explain why action should not be taken against contractors in view of bad conditions of roads.The court also observed in view of yesterday's disruption of normal life in the city, nothing much seemed to have been done with regard to long term planning for tackling heavy rain situations."

Business Standard says, " The Bombay High Court has directed the BMC to file an affidavit by July 26.The court has asked BMC to explain how the money allocated for road repairs and infrastructure development has been used.The court has also sought an explanation from BMC as to how the flood situation got aggravated."

Let the politicians/bureaucracy at least answer the judiciary if not the people .Is PIL (Public interest Litigation) the only way to reach the deaf ears of Indian Politicians and Bureaucracy ?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen -- Book review

Amartya Sen is anything but argumentative. A foremost thinker & economist of this generation,this book by him is a collection of his lectures and essays over the past 20 years. Through thorough research and cogent analysis , Sen enunciates India's tradition,hetrodoxy,liberalism and the rich cultural legacy. Unlike most others, who argue about India's merits based on mere emotions, Sen's analysis is an in-depth exposition supported by detailed list of sources and references.

He covers a gamut of wide ranging topics such as multi-culturalism,religion,Indian identity,gender & class inequality,secularism,India & China, Indian calendar system, nuclear arms policy and post-independence India. His breadth and depth of knowledge is astonishing and provides a glimpse of his versatility as an economist,philosopher,historian,sociologist - all rolled into one.

He berates the popular Hindutva and quotes with authority from India's history about our secularism with examples of great emperors - Ashoka,Akbar and others. As a social economist, he shines in his essays on gender inequality and value of human rights.He debunks the popular british history of India with an unparalleled panache and cites how liberalism thrived in India much before it became a phenomenon in the west.

This book is a beg,borrow or steal. Unlike most other books about India, this does not thrive on mysticism . Its a must read for every Indian. Perhaps you may not agree 100% with Sen's views but you cannot disagree about his dazzling intellect and amazing clarity. I salute this genius. May such men thrive !

Monday, July 03, 2006

Brazil Loses in QF

I know that they were never at their best in this WC. The WC has lost its zing. The samba dance is over .

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Andre Agassi Retires - Goodbye!

I remember it like yesterday. John McEnroe was in his swansong year, Ivan Lendl was Mr.Dependable , Boris Becker was the heartthrob of the tennis world and the swedes had two charismatic players in Stefan Edberg & Mats Wilander. And then there was this hippie , with rock star like hair,an ear-ring and flashy T-shirts.

The first time I saw him , I thought here is another confused hippie generation youngster . But beneath that veneer was a player of incredible hard-work with the Gen-X " attitude". No player has captivated the tennis world in the 90's like Agassi. Yes, agreed, that Sampras is a legend , a definitely better player. If Sampras played for the classes, Agassi played for the masses.For someone who had one of the weakest serve & volley (among the top players) and yet to have won all 4 grand slams , is a scintillating achievement.

Agassi has seen it all. He has fought with the Samprases,Couriers,Federers.Agassi will finally look forward to peaceful marital bliss with his beautiful wife - Steffi.

There is a rebel inside all of us,and you were our torch-bearer on the tennis courts. We will miss you !

P.S : Here is a nice write-up by my favorite sports writer - Nirmal Shekar on Agassi's retirement in The Hindu.