Monday, June 26, 2006

India arrives on Time

TIME magazine's 20-page article on India and it's fast changing cities starts with Jim Erickson's inference that the nations growth is real and ends with Mira Nair's more thoughtful remark on why India arrives when the West thinks so. In between are references to the Mumbai bars, the mafia, J.R.D Tata and the usual clichés like the slums, the IT boom, the call centres and everything else that you expect in an India-related article.

Rather unfortunate that a magazine of such a high calibre offers hardly anything insightful or introspective in this surprisingly positive article about India. Alex Perry's write-up about Mumbai makes such sweeping generalisations and glaring errors that makes you wonder why these foreign correspondents not spend more time on research before writing inane observations. His reference to Mumbai being the setting of Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy' only goes on to prove how he has brought in terminologies without proper background knowledge. Vikram Seth's 'modern-classic' as he calls it is set in an imaginary city in North India and does not even have one reference to Mumbai.

Some interesting photos by the way. Nothing like a half-dressed Yana Gupta on the floor to support a story about the increasing number of foreign immigrants. PDF(9 MB) of the full article can be downloaded here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fall of an Icon

"Streets in India are an extraordinary sight for two reasons, one of them the cows that wander sacredly and indifferently through traffic, the other an antiquated-looking automobile with a bowler hat of a roof called the Ambassador. Little in the look of the car has changed during its 41 years on the road", writes New York Times reporter Barry Bearak.

Forget the fact that if you write about India, you need to mention the cows, even if you are from The NY Times. If you are an Indian, born before the 80’s, chances are that your first car was an Amby, as it is called fondly, and sometimes with derision. It was not just your first car, but also the only one that could fit your big family, your relatives and probably half the town- if the situation demanded it, albeit with some discomfort (which ofcourse was the main feature of the Amby).

Times have changed. Today, Hindustan Motors' Ambassador market share has shrunk to less that 5% and shrinking further thanks to their inability to make a transformation from the protectionist era to that of competition spurred by market liberalization. The remaining numbers too heavily rely on the various government agencies and ministers still sticking to this ‘Indian motoring icon’ citing patriotism – regardless of the fact that it was originally created as an desi version of Britain’s Morris Oxford.

Despite various attempts to do a Volkswagen-Beetle-type product revitalization with the Avigo, unimaginative marketing and inadequate planning did not augur well for the company. "The car has so many benefits - its so big it can be used as a mobile office," says Hindustan Motors' chief executive. "On Indian roads, where safety is a big issue, it's rugged. Mechanically, it is unlikely to fail. If it does, any mechanic in India knows how to fix it." Unfortunately, the $25 million plus losses that his company has incurred does not reflect the essence of his views.
Photo courtesy(Main Photo): Jens Benninghoffer

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Great Indian Storyboard

"It is Bollywood meets Marvel meets Manga", says Richard Branson, the man who has the knack of being at the right place at the right time, about the new wave in the Indian animation industry. Bransons company is foraying into into the 50-billion dollar world market with Virgin Comics and Virgin Animations and has chosen India as a platform for it's creative operations.
The Virgin team is collaborating with Deepak Chopra believes that Indian myths and legends has the potential to break ground worldwide.
Though I am not a big fan of comic books, I am looking forward to seeing Alex Ross' illustrations in the graphic, post-apocalyptical reinvention of the 2000-year old epic to be released as 'Ramayan Reborn'.

Back to the Dark Ages

Sri Venkatasayi Ramanarasimham is a concerned man. Sitting in his comfortable cabin of a renonwned Indian software company he incessantly sends offline messages urging all his friends in yahoo messenger to 'raise their voices' against the proposed reservation policy which sets aside a considerable portion of the seats in the top indian institutions based on caste and religion.

The offline messages are longer than his typically long Telugu Brahmin name. But it pales and fades in comparison with with tv images of numerous Medical students selflessly carrying on with a strike against this policy which takes the nation back to its Dark Ages. What do they have to gain participating on strikes risking expulsions and other disciplinary actions? Nothing much apart from the fact they do not have to explain to their sons an daughters why a person who worships God A is to be given preference over a person who believes in God B.

Because of India's cultural and socio-political stigmas developed over centuries, it might take more than a Medicos strike to create a social awakening. But surely it is a a glimmer of light which will ultimately be a revealation in the years to come. So while the Supreme court has the told the striking students to shut up for a while, in this comfortable office in Dubai, like Sri Venkatasayi Ramanarasimham, I keep hoping for the best.

Thomas Friedman discovers India

A genuine attempt from Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer prize-winning NY Times commentrator, to understand the emerging India and how outsourcing and information technology is changing the country. Despite some flaws, this documentary telecast in Discovery Channel proves to be insightful and thought provoking. You can watch the video here.
Incase you want to watch it offline, you can save the video using this excellent webtool which also supports other flash video streaming websites. Also use a free FLV player to play the video.

Coke De Basanti

The Rang De Basanti magic is fast fading. Few indian motorists gave diabetic 80-year old ministers a second look while manouvering the unending array of potholes. Decades of our indifference and apathy has made corruption and bribe a necessary evil in our country. On one hand you curse a corrupt building contractor who used sub-standard materials to cut corners (and make potholes), while on the other hand you are paying the electrician a 100 rupee 'tip' to make sure he fixes the power connection in time for the cricket match telecast. It is time we realise that corruption is not something inflicted upon us by the government, our predecessors or the beureaucracy- it is very much within ourselves.

What Martin Luther King rightfully pointed out in the context of racism can be extended to how we look at corruption in our country – “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” The very definition of honesty and values is being redefined in our nation. Every time ambition, greed and pure necessity drives me and you to do something that makes corruption gather more foothold in our society, we need to pause and give it a thought. Everytime we accept the loss with silence, which perhaps the outside world will never come to know of or appreciate, a precedent is being set towards a society which regards giving bribe as a criminal activity.

So, those of you who watched the Aamir Khan starrer with clenched fists might as well not let the new sense of resposibility be dampened by a coke bottle (marketed by the very same man) on your left hand. It is going to be difficult, because for some, such forays means more headlines and for others the incentives are far less enticing.