The Cosmopolite
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
"Son, we live in a world with walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns..." - Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

For the past few years we had forgotten Colonel Jessup's (Nicholson) words. We got seduced by the India story, by 9% growth, by Tata Steel and Tata Motors, and not least by the Internet. We believed that we had broken through those walls, we had demolished those walls and the world was a better place. We had forgotten about the value and importance of the men-with-guns who guard these walls, and on Nov 26, 2008 we were reminded.

The Mumbai Terror Attacks, India's 9/11, my lifes second before-and-after event was a watershed. It was the first terror attack in this country which targeted those who were at the forefront of the India miracle and exposed their weaknesses. These attacks went a long way to prove that while an ever increasing proportion of the world turns towards what Tom Friedman calls, building better Lexus', there are a large number of people who are attracted by the lure of the olive tree in the backyard. The deeper the roots, the harder it is to root it out...

Economic development is expected to bring prosperity and peace; however paradoxically, the same economic development needs greater protection in order for it to survive. It needs those men with guns to be strong, fair and on the side of the physically weaker farmers, factory workers, investment bankers, babus, civil workers etc to ensure that the development is not lost. All of us need that security to go out and do our thing, whatever it may be, and while whatever we may do would be important, it is no more important than guarding those walls.

We believed the hype about an integrated world and forgot about those walls.... and were rudely awakened... I hope we shall now never forget....
Thursday, March 27, 2008
  Resurgent India Bonds
One of the methods utilized for tiding over the forex crisis of the early nineties was the issue of the "Resurgent India Bonds" - to tap the money being provided by a huge Indian diaspora which wanted to help. Ten years on, the same term seems apt. Lemme explain how.

India, in my view, has never been one country. It was always an agglomeration of countries which did not have much in common except geographical proximity. Neighboring states did have some amount of shared history but neighboring regions hardly had any. The languages were different from state to state, infact the states have been formed on linguistic lines; the heroes were different; the economies were different - only two things were common 1) British Rule (which eventually decided the country's boundaries) and 2) Gods (who in their multiplicity, at least managed to command inter-state followings).

This difference has historically always manifested itself in a large number of ways and most north Indians professed that a foreign country was easier to settle in than South India. For the south Indians, it was even tougher to settle in north India. This is also the fundamental reason why regional parties are usually the power brokers in national politics.

This lasted for most of independent India's history, but it is suddenly changing now, especially in the metropolitan areas. Why is this happening? The answer lies in the words - "Resurgent India Bonds" :). Economic growth has led to a mobile society, where social mobility has been accompanies by, crucially, geographical mobility. As software boomed, suddenly talented north Indian engineers realized they need to adjust and live in Bangalore to benefit from the boom. They went there, they formed their groups, they found (to their surprise) that South Indians do party and have some very good watering holes and they amalgamated. They retained their individual culture but they learnt a bit from the south Indians, while the south Indians learnt a bit from them and thus for the first time, a truly Indian "India" was discovered. Just as this happened between north and south India, it happened between west and south / south and east / west and north etc etc. The dispersal of opportunities throughout India led to the dispersal of mostly local populations to different parts of India. This led to more tolerance for that taboo, the "inter-caste" marriage - which is leading to cultural amalgamation in even more complex ways.

Economic growth is the mantra... as a newly "resurgent India" forms stronger "bonds".
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The Economist has been my favorite magazine for a long time now and for good reason. There, in my knowledge, is no other magazine which offers such a brilliant mix of incisive analysis, all round coverage and strong opinions on the key issues at hand. All this is delivered in beautiful correct English, the Queen's English.

One of the less followed sections in the Economist may be the Obituary section. But it is in this section that I have discovered about people (albeit a bit late) from a wide range of professions arousing a wide range of emotions. It is probably the only section in the Economist which focuses solely on history, by necessity rather than design, but it is here that we often discover written gems like the one given below. This bit of writing describes the life of Bip, the world's quietest clown who died on September 22nd ('older than he seemed' as per the Economist)

"That he should wish to die was also not surprising. Often he was kept, crouching or standing, in a small cage on the stage. One by one, he ran his hands along the bars until, with all his strength, he pushed two apart and jumped nimbly out; but then, right ahead of him, behind him, all round him, he found his palms flattening against a wall of glass. Each cage was contained in another. His hands often became birds, flickering and fluttering out of his sleeves, and he made them fly swiftly from their prisons, laughing as they flew. But the bars soon closed again around him"

Outstanding, isn't it?
Monday, May 21, 2007
  Middle India cries for release
I watched the movie - "Life in a Metro" yesterday. The movie itself is ok, nothing spectacular. But its popularity reflects the emotion that is clearly visible in India, especially urban India today - middle India's incessant and increasingly loud clamor for release!!

Middle India is claiming its rightful place in India, as it moves into the space traditionally occupied by the rich elite. Liberalization, the retail boom, the great software revolution have all given them greater economic rights, but they are not satisfied. Middle India wants more... it wants social appeasement, it wants recognition and importance, it wants a lifestyle which it has been deprived of and denied so far. And this desire is being manifested in a zillion ways - through popularity of movies like Life in a Metro and Lage Raho Munnabhai, through the throngs that routinely populate Hyper City and malls like In Orbit, through the increasing popularity of the judiciary and the now clearly voiced hatred for the rich elite.

The recent cases of Alistair Pereira and Manu Sharma (Jessica Lall murder) are examples which amplify the point. The people, and their protests, had as much of a role to play in the re-trials as the proactive judiciary themselves. And such victories provide a greater impetus to the fight for greater rights, as the large middle class wakes up, gains in confidence and begins believing in the machinery and checks & balances of democracy. More importantly, it begins believing in its own power. And if this confidence were to be instilled strongly, nothing could be better for India!
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
  The paradox of population
Hello people, I am back, and you will notice a spurt of activity on the blog again before I disappear for a few more months.

The following link, combined with the lack activity in my office, prompted me to write a blog entry...

What never ceases to surprise me is the fact the population growth is always the highest in poor countries, where there is not enough food and money to feed the existing population. These countries keep increasing their population while the richer countries, where vast social security nets ensure a decent life, find their populations shrinking.

Some of the reasons are obvious - lower education levels (general and contraceptive related), the desire for social security (more children = more hands on the ground to earn) etc. But on digging deeper you discover that things are not as straightforward as they appear on the surface.

In the list of high population growth countries, there is significant churn. Every few years, a new list of high population growth countries emerges and on analyzing this churn the true picture emerges. In my view, what we can gather is that population in low income countries increases in times of turnaround or re-structuring of the country primarily for two reasons.

The first reason is economic and applies more the countries recovering from civil or cross border wars. During long years of war and economic downturn, millions of lives are lost. The lives lost include a large proportion of the working population, as able bodied men are chosen to fight the bigotic wars and peaceful able bodied men are killed by the opposite party aiming to strike at the economic base of the nation. Therefore, when the nation somehow gets out of this quagmire and is looking to grow again - it looks to reconstruct its human manpower. Therefore, a large number of refugees are lured back home and, more importantly, we notice a increase in birth rate.

The second reason is more related to human nature. Parents want their kids to have a bright future. And therefore, they think about having kids when they are optimistic about the future. No point in having kids in the middle of an African civil war, when they will likely either be killed in the war or kidnapped by one of the warring groups. Therefore, we notice the countries that are on the path of progress generally have higher population growth rates compared to the others. This also explains why a lot of European countries have low birth rates. Clearly, most of Western Europe (with the exception of maybe Britain and Ireland) is not very optimistic about the economic prospects of Europe!!

Combine the above two factors and you get Afghanistan, Eritrea, Burundi etc, some of the countries with very high population growth rates.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Can one man change a team? Monty Panesar may just provide the answer today, a spinner on a paceman's track, a Sardar in a English team, a vociferous turbanned dynamo representing the stiff upper lipped ones... seriously, with so many differences, can he change the flagging fortunes of the English cricket team?

Maybe he can, maybe he already has. He's struck in his first ever Ashes test and has already taken three wickets.... and what wickets has be taken? Do I hear you ask that? Is it? Ok... Langer, bowled by the King of Spin, Symonds, bamboozled - he thought he had Monty when he hit him for 17 in the earlier over, but no, he did not, the evil one has the last bearded smile.... - and Gilchrist, for 0 again. :) :) :).

I think this is gonna be fun. I just hope the English batsmen capitalize now. Also, before I forget, Monty's done something remarkable, the English fans on BBC Online are behaving as if England is 3-0 up rather than up against it 2-0 down. Some comments, credit, of course, to the BBC sport website:

"I moved to British Columbia two years ago. Nice big house, beautiful view of lakes and mountains and a fantastic wife. But I?d swap the lot for a TV or even a bloody radio right now.Richard Taylor, via TMS inbox

"Even in Kazakhstan, rest assured that there are some die hard Ashes fans being distracted from work by the online updates. Nearly lunchtime here, I'll see if I can find Borat to convert him to the manly business of cricket!Nick Brealey, via TMS inbox

"Where have they been keeping this guy Monty? Seriously, where the hell have they been keeping him?"Geoff Lawson on TMS
Friday, December 08, 2006
  Desperately seeking 'Good News'
Is there any good news out there? Any? Anything will do...

Have the Arab militas in Darfur been stopped? Has India won any matches in South Africa? Has the US finally begun turning the tide against sectarian militias? Am I going to crack a few billion dollar deals? Am I going to have the guts to do what my heart wants me to? Is Sachin going to hit 4 hundreds in this tour of South Africa? Or even 1? Is the work load at office going to reduce?

I desperately need a intravenous shot of motivation...
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