Showing posts from 2008

A New Start for Bangladesh?

Last year, this time, we were mourning the death of Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan looked irretrievably in trouble. The global financial crisis was just about breaking in, but the party, especially in the Mumbai Stock Exchange, was not yet over. The hope for progress in Bangladesh withered away, and the caretaker government seemed to have lost its way. In Sri Lanka , the war began in earnest, and there were aerial raids on Colombo. Nepal had a shaky government, and Bhutan was looking forward to its first election, with an iota of uncertainty. And, back home, the Manmohan Singh's government was fighting its own battle on the Indo -US Nuclear agreement, and the Left parties were threatening to scuttle the deal. In summary, 2007 ended in uncertainty and chaos. 2008 proved to be a difficult year. For the region as a whole. There was Mumbai , the most blatant organised terror incident since 9/11. We must not forget there were a series of bomb blasts too. The chill of Global Financial Cri

Thinking About Success

I am reading Malcolm Gladwell's OUTLIERS , his investigations into the nature and causes of 'Success' and successful people, including himself. Mr. Gladwell , with his usual penchant for statistical evidence and razor-sharp analysis, opines that individual success emanates from a complex combination of various environmental and circumstantial factors. It is more a 'at the right place, at the right time' theory of success. I must add here that Mr. Gladwell differs from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's idea of complete randomness - he focuses, instead, on the causation random and systemic, as well as the role perspiration plays. I think my takeaway is here - the 10,000 Hour rule - the theory that any cognitively complex discipline takes about 10,000 hours [about 10 years with 4 hours every working day] to master. However, he debunks the 'specialness' of successful people, which in a way is fundamental to our celebrity-crazed society. The broader point of this

Day 5: War Game

The rhetoric of war - from India and from Pakistan - continues to dominate the news. It is almost a hotchpotch, with both Prime Ministers saying that there would be no war, and others warning each other. There is news of troop movements, population movements from some of the border villages and increasing activity from the Americans to keep peace. The tone inside India continues to be angry, and slowly the anger is shifting from our own politicians to Pakistan, and the Muslim community. Things, in summary, do not look very promising. Somehow, it seems that both sides are playing a war game. As a political obligation, as if it must be done. There is a certain acceptance that war will not happen - both the Prime Ministers said that - and therefore, it is okay to gesticulate and show strength. But it indeed is a very dangerous game. In modern history, as many wars started by accident as by intent. All it needs is a madman somewhere, and they are not in short supply. I have never been to P

Day 4: The Christmas Day

I spent the Christmas Day as lazily as I could, knowing that I have to start one of the toughest years of my life in a week's time :) So, I am resting and preparing. Oh yes, I spent some time reading today, after a long time. I am reading Dan Airley's Predictably Irrational , an entertaining book talking about human behaviour based on a series of campus experiments mostly conducted in the MIT. It makes entertaining read, and often presents interesting ideas [Self-control Credit Card being one: I would have opted for one if it was available]. It is valuable in terms of insights, though arguably, low on empirical base. I don't know whether MIT's students [and some from Berkley] represent the human race, but the conclusions are interesting, and often common-sense. I am preparing for 2009 at the same time. 2009 is going to be a watershed year - or at least, I am planning to make it one. One of my strategies in 2009, as if I have picked this up from Professor Airley , is to

Day 3: An Order with

First, a statement: I was one of e-commerce's early converts in Kolkata . I placed my first order on for a book called Digital Darwinism back in early 1999. At $14 shipping, this was meant to be an one-off, just for the experience. However, for all the excitement, the book did not arrive even after the promised three week delivery time. I obviously chose the cheapest shipping option, which meant the book had to come by India Post from Mumbai . So, I decided to give Amazon a grace of a week, knowing how our postal system works. But when it still did not arrive, I wrote to Amazon - half- hearted - saying that the books have not arrived yet, and if they could let me know when it was shipped. In three days time, I received a replacement copy of the book, sent Fedex First Class. The original book did arrive, in a leisurely eight weeks. But by then, I have become a convert. It isn't difficult to see why Amazon lost so much money in its first years. But then, they bought

Day 2: Walking Around in College Street

I spent most of today walking around in College Street. Yes, College Street, that old, run-down, crowded area of Calcutta, which was its core - its heart - till about recently, till Sector 5 took over. All the things Calcutta was known for was here: Its colleges, its Coffee House, its most famous square, its bookshops. As I walked around, I knew the streets and its corners, and almost recognized the people, after all these years. I realized that I spent most of my college life on these roads [as opposed to being inside the classes as I should have], but also realized that it has changed very little since then. Before I was in the area, I was asking my father how the Bengali publishers are doing. My assumption was that they should be doing well. The reasons are plain to see: There are new channels of book selling, the new departmental stores, and a new trend where being a Bengali is actually fashionable. The Bengali eateries are doing well. So are Bengal-focused websites. So, I was expe

Day 1: Visiting the Big Bazaar

I spent some time today buying groceries, and visualizing, back of my mind, what life will be like once I have decided to shift back to India. I did go to the neighbourhood Big Bazaar, the trailblazing Indian retail outlet, though it is not exactly neighbourhood. We had to drive about 5 kilometers, not too far by Indian standards, but some distance compared to what I have to do in England. There are a number of things one would immediately notice, as the comparison meter back of my mind started working furiously both on the comparative scale with England as well as my past experiences in India. To start with, there was nothing comparable in India five years back. Big Bazaar was possibly the first household supply retail chain [I may be wrong], and looking at their gift book and the array of brands, they have done surprisingly well in this short span of time. I tried reading 'It Happened in India' by Kishor Biyani earlier, where he recounted the story of Big Bazaar, though fou

Preparing for 2009

I am taking a week's break, first time in two years. Moreover, I am taking this break in Calcutta - staying home without any prior commitments - and this must be a first in more than five years. This feels suitably new, and enormously exciting. I am not a lazy git, but this break allows me a pause to think and plan. And, I haven't had a chance to pause for a while. I come to this break with a plan. I have realised three things. One, I have made a number of mistakes - in my personal and professional life - in 2008. The good news is that I want to correct my mistakes and move forward. This is what I wanted to do during the next seven days - reflect and learn and plan ahead. Two, during all the excitement of my daily life, I missed out on what is important. I have ignored my health, lost the initiative on professional development and the sight of a final goal. I lived my life one day at a time for far too long. I desperately need a bit of long view - an evaluation of all my prior

The Agenda of India

Like American exceptionalism , many Indians have a strong sense of a special purpose that their country will play in the history of the World. It can be argued that India is a pretty modern nation, as many Western historians have insisted, created based on a somewhat 19 th century concept. Many Indians feel deeply offended by this and point towards its rich history, culture and united identity spanning over many centuries. Both sides are right, proving Amartya Sen right, who quoted one of his professors who said, 'whatever can be said about India, the opposite is also right'. This is a bit about two Indias too, one modern, self-confident nation, and the other, eternal, pinned to its history, identity, existing side by side. Interestingly, you can almost two kinds of exceptionalism in India, therefore. One, of eternal values, of disregarding material wealth and pursuing spiritual glory, which many Indians present as a solution to what is wrong with mankind today. Many

Macaulay and I

I was prompted to write about Lord Macaulay because of a hoax mail forwarded to me. Eventually, I was surprised to find how widespread the hoax is, as I recently found Amitabh Bachchan , rather carelessly, putting it up on his blog . I know writing a blog is very different from writing a piece for a published journal, and on that count, Mr. B's indiscretion is forgivable. But he being who he is, his views will be counted - and therefore, one would wish he is more careful about what he writes, even in a blog. But, obviously, since I wrote about him, I seem to have acquired a connection with Lord Macaulay. I did not think I was writing about him, though; I found the quote sent to me full of contradictions, not just because of its rather modern language, but also because its public cynicism, which is not Victorian, and certainly not British. Coming on the wake of several famines, the comment that Macaulay did not see a poor man in India [before he decided to introduce Engl

The White Tiger

I am travelling in India again, and the last ten days have been hectic. The global recession is catching up on us, if not materially, but most definitely psychologically. The nervousness of the entrepreneurs are becoming obvious, and relatively insignificant business cycle movements are extracting big pounds of flesh from us. I realize the best strategy now is to keep my head down and keep doing the job I am doing - hopefully I shall be able to emerge soon from this abyss, and be able to set the terms again. It did indeed help that I read Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger at this very moment. Darkly humorous , the tale reminded me of Crime and Punishment at times. The difference is the punishment bit, obviously this tale ends in the protagonist emerging as a successful entrepreneur in 21st century Bangalore. Probably indicative of the milieu, that difference, whereas 19 th century Russia was grappling with moral insecurities and despair, 21st century India is relativist, pragmatic

Why Terrorists Will Fail

Yes, I just left the link - because I could not write any more. Watching Moshe cry out for his mother - I knew why terrorism, of any kind, for any cause, is fundamentally wrong and stands against what is good in being human. And, this is why terrorism can not succeed. But then I get this comment from a friend: Hey,I thought u r a liberal person but after watching that vdo now i am doubtful about yr thoughts. Did u see the comments??? They said they hate Islam, muslims r evil.........etc etc. Is this what u want to see? Then the heading of yr blog should be " Why we shall hate Muslims". Do u know what is Islam mean??? Islam means peace. U cant blame the whole muslim world for few terrorists. Anywz , i dont want to argue with u but yes after this i will never visit yr I must shout Not Guilty here - the comments on the Video are not mine, nor do I subscribe to those thoughts. However, I did realize the dangers of leaving the video without an e

Being Indian

Interestingly, while I felt intense pain about Mumbai and tried to write my private thoughts on this blog, I have been on the receiving end of some stinging criticism, some of it for what I have been writing, but most of it for who I am and what I do. That strain of criticism ranged from affectionate - 'you are a third party regardless' - to downright hostile, like this one from a friend [which I have edited a bit to make it impersonal]: Do you really think that, people who are sitting in London,NY,LA and writing about Mumbai are true INDIANs ? Well, you may argue that from the bottom of their heart they are Indian and it's their country. What a joke indeed . The gentleman who called them third party is absolutely correct. These people who left this country, are still licking the feet of already snooty West for their due residency or citizenship are of course not true Indians. These people have no positive contribution to Indian welfare. Just don't tell me all of them

Mumbai: Why are we getting it wrong again?

The usual and the expected have happened. India is cutting off air and rail links with Pakistan, and suspending the peace process effectively. Pakistan is threatening to shift 100,000 men to the borders with India, from the Afghan borders where they are currently stationed. So, terrorists have won. That's exactly what they came for, didn't they? They wanted International Media coverage and they got it. They wanted India and Pakistan face off each other yet again and release the pressure on Afghan border - they are going to get it. They wanted India to threaten Pakistan again, and millions of decent Pakistanis to feel threatened by India and betrayed by America - which is going to happen. They wanted to weaken the Pakistani state, which is going to happen. They will possibly even be successful, in the next few days, in triggering off a riot and undermine the Indian state even further. This operation will be hailed as a great success in the annals of terrorism and many more opera

Mumbai: The New War on Terror

Finally, we hope, the seize in Mumbai is over. 250 people, and counting, died, and more than 300 were injured, some critically. Two NSG commandos, fourteen police officers, scores of known faces among them. The entire city is recovering from shock and disbelief - the schools, colleges, offices were closed for two days, and now opening. The stock market opened yesterday, but the attendance was minimal, a rumour of firing nearby almost closed it down around mid-day. I would have said, the city is limping back to normalcy - but someone reminded me that the city will never be normal again. Surely, questions will be asked and investigations will be launched. The government has to show that it is acting. The opposition will have to show that they know as much and are capable to govern, if power comes their way. Rhetoric will fly. Some issues will flare up; some issues will retreat from headlines. [One notable casualty of this crisis : Raj Thackaray and his MNS - we never felt more '

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