April 30, 2008

life in financial markets: two-facedness of capitalists

The farce that is seen in any ism (capitalism, communism, socialism, religionism etc) is a
lways visible more easily during times of crises. The current inflation in food prices, oil prices and prices of industrial commodities like metals is bringing out the two-facedness of capitalists more clearly. Some measures were announced yesterday by the finance minister of India, P Chidambaram -- here, here and here. (the image to your right was taken from http://www.jewishworldreview.com/images/two_faced_cover.jpg)

There are contradictions. While export duty for steel has been raised from 0% to 15% the tax concessions on exports by software services companies continue shamelessly. Software companies' export earnings has not been taxed by the Indian government since the last about 10 years.

It has been a regressive thing if you consider one of the core tenets of capitalism that would kind of say 'let all the different businesses run themselves without bestowing special favours to any one." This tax holiday was supposed to end in March 2009. In yesterday's announcement, it has been extended to March 2010. A similar tax holiday for companies operating in areas designated as software technology parks that was to end in March 2009 has now been extended to 2010. The new 2010 deadline is of no use as the software companies will move to SEZs and continue to pay zero tax.

The concessions and favours in the form concessions in corporate income tax, excise duty, import (customs) duty, etc make the claims of capitalism of being based on free and fair competition so very hollow. In fact, 6-8 out of 10 times, the concessions are used a ruse by politicians (policy makers) and industrialists to grab the land of government and rural/non-affluent people. The land grab seen in the implementation of the Special Economic Zones Act in India is a prime example where we are seeing the commerce minister of India, Kamal Nath, acting almost like a goon in favouring companies to grab land from the rural people of India. The land grab is also seen in phoney development projects like the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in the Narmada river valley.

Exporters are a pampered lot in India. Even when things like rupee appreciation against dollar or domestic raw material price spurts (that are nothing but a natural corollary of free global trade) hit them the so-called capitalists start cribbing.

Chidambaram said yesterday "short-term pain is the price you have to pay for long-term gain." He asked companies to consider sacrificing profits to help contain inflation. Now now! Look who's talking! And look what's he talking! Where were all these bright tips and suggestions when human rights activists and ecologists advise governments and companies not to bull doze their way in their obsession with business growth at the cost of basic democratic rights of non-affluent people and at the cost of severe damage done to ecology by the industries' excesses? These fake capitalists like Chidambaram ridicule environmentalists and human rights activists when they say the same thing of sacrificing profits now and bearing short-term pain for long-term gain. Now look who is speaking in the same language!

Of course, all this is made possible, because urban consumers in India and all over the world are blinded to the perils and back-to-back consequences of their greed and excessive consumption. There is hardly any endeavour by them to become sober and moderate in their fulfilment of their desires to make their lives more and more comfortable/luxurious. A reasonably comfortable life can be lived at one-fourth the consumption volume of the urban affluent. It is the very least they can do but barring a very few they aren't doing it.

April 27, 2008

life in general: cool it!

About 10-15 years ago, I stopped having carbonated soft drinks like Coca Cola etc. The harm they do is so much more than the temporary tasty/nice feeling you may get for those few seconds when you gulp them down that it is really a crime we do to our own bodies in drinking them. What even makes it a crime on Mother Nature and humanity is the severe depletion of groundwater in all the villages and areas where these soft beverage companies have their manufacturing plants.

More often that not, and this is often done subtly and cleverly to disguise their true deeds, they bribe the local governments and pay dirt cheap rates for the water they pump out from their deep borewells and use it in their colas and other drinks. Further, the affluents from these factories, like in the case of other manufacturing industries, are generally discharged in the local ecological landscape thereby polluting it dangerously.
The villagers and local residents are forced to suffer because the groundwater table is almost exhausted from the never-ending pumping of water by the beverage companies. Also, the villagers' local rivers/streams/waterbodies/soil gets polluted from these companies affluents leading to loss of livelihood for them because they are generall dependent on a delicately functioning local ecological system.

As urban consumers we have a choice and must exercise it. In the last 8-10 years, I have taken in a big way to drinking juices made fresh from seasonal fruits and vegetables. It is not that you have to always juice a fruit or a vegetable. Eating them as it is or in a cooked form is as beneficial if not a bit more.

Anyway, 2-3 weeks back, I contributed, to the magazine I write for, a write-up on cool drinks for its lifestyle section. I share it below.

Cool it

There is no dearth of food and drink items to keep your body warm during winter chills. A vast majority of Indian food—veg or non-veg—are cooked primarily to cater to your taste buds. That translates into food made using spices and oils which then raises your internal body heat considerably.

In the hot summer heat of April and May this kind of food could only make your discomfort worsen. It is possible to keep the heat levels down in your system under control by tweaking your dietary habits in the next 2-3 months. In essence, you need to stick to local and seasonal varieties in food and you will be fine.

Chilled beverages—whether aerated soft drinks or hard drinks like beer—are deceptively cool. The chemicals and preservatives in them not only raise the heat internally but are also damaging to your health. So, stay away from them.

Instead, go for tender coconut water, the most effective cooling drink. Musk melons and water melons are effective too. "Even ripe mangoes will help contrary to myths about it being heaty," says Kavita Mukhi, a Bombay-based eco-nutritionist and CEO of Conscious Foods, an organic-food company. "Just ensure that mangoes are consumed on its own in between meals, and not with meals."

Orange fruit juice is another effective coolant except for those having acidity problems. The same applies to nimbu-paani.

Among vegetables, the most effective cooling drinks are juices of vegetables like bottle gourd (dudhi), cucumber and carrot in which mint or coriander leaves have been added. Make these at home or else have it at fresh juice stalls outside some gardens and parks in your city.

Don't forget leafy vegetables in your solid diet. "Chaulai-ka-saag (Amaranth) is the coolest leafy vegetable on Earth," says Dr. Raj Merchant, a Bombay-based naturopath specialising in leaf therapy. Wheat and jowar are the two non-heaty grains to make rotis from.

Non-vegetarians need to be more careful. "It is better not to have heaty food such as eggs; your body is already hot due to the summer temperatures and does not require high-energy stuff," says Mukhi.

Coffee-addicts have no choice but to cut down on their intake if they want to stay away from the heat-generating caffeine, but tea-addicts have an option. They can brew their regular teas with mint leaves, or alternatively go for green non-fermented tea without milk.

Go slow on your meals and focus more on naturally cool drinks and food.

April 21, 2008

life in general: (part 4) left's modi on rampage again...

This is horrific. I refer to the gang rape by Communist Party of India (Marxist) goons of a Nandigram-woman-activist who has been among those opposing the SEZ (special econo
mic zones) policies of party's government in the state of West Bengal at Nandigram. I share below an email I just got from Narmada Bachao Andolan. Some newsreports on the horrendous incident are here and here.

The world ought to tell India "What is the point in your bragging about being the largest democracy on Earth when you have no honest intent in honouring it?" My earlier blog posts on this issue are at part 1, part 2 and part 3.
(in the map alongside Nandigram is marked out in a yellow circle...Calcutta or Kolkata is also seen...)

From: medha@narmada.org
Date: 20 Apr 2008 21:59
Subject: [nbapresslist] Condemn the Gangrape of Radharani Ari in Nandigram
To: nbapresslist@lists.riseup.net

National Alliance of People's Movements
News Update/Action Alert
20 April 2008


The shocking news from Nandigram where the battle is still on, is of the gang
rape of Radharani Ari from the village of Gokulnagar and the attack of three
other women, all of whom are hospitalized at the Nandigram Public Hospital. The
men are said to be missing. In a fresh attack around midnight and beyond April
18th , known CPI (M) members and Hamad Vahini Party’s armed force from
Khejuri, who are like goons attacked the house of Radha Rani and Pratap Ari,
threw Pratap Ari in the tank nearby and gang-raped Radha Rani Ari for the
second time, in her own house.

Radharani Ari is one of the women at the forefront of the struggle. Coming from
a dalit landless family, supported by Pratap Ari, her husband, Radharani was
always protesting against the SEZ chemical hub project and giving away the
land, houses, nature, and culture of Nandigram. Her heart and soul are in it
and she is one of the most articulate and courageous women and had even toured
the places of struggle in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra,
with us in Nandigram-Narmada- Gorai Jatha.

Narmada Sheet has also been a very committed and outspoken agitator from
Sonachura. Other women attacked, include Mona Pramanik and few men were also
missing when the news reached us early yesterday morning. Till this time, Radha
Rani, Pratap, Ari and Narmada Sheet and some others are in the Nandigram
and a few in Tamluk. At least 20 houses have been attacked since
yesterday and 100 members of the families, along with houses, much destroyed
and belongings looted, have become homeless, left to be supported by the BUPC
Committee. These atrocious incidents occurred in Gokul Nagar, Sonachura,
Gadhchakrabedia, under the leadership of Nabakumar Samanta and other CPM active
cadres and leaders from Garu Pada, Gokul Nagar, some of whom came from Kejuri.
Reportedly, there were also blasts in some houses, including in the house of
one Kokhon Sheet, who was just released, after months long judicial custody.

Nandigram continues to be one of the worst blot on the face of Indian
democracy. These atrocities continue to happen and recur in Nandigram with the
active involvement of the local CPI(M) cadres and leaders and tacit approval
and blessings of the party leadership at various levels. With most of the
victims for earlier incidents of violence, not even having received just
compensation for atrocities perpetrated against them, and in fact false cases
foisted against the victims of violence, as against the perpetrators, these
fresh blows in their already scarred lives is nothing short of a death blow to
the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the valiant residents of Nandigram

Condemning the continuing violence in Nandigram in the strongest possible
terms, we immediately demand the following:
1. All the accused must be immediately identified, charged and arrested
for gang rape, grievous hurt, intimidation, assault, illegal confinement and
wrongful detention and other relevant penal provisions.
2. The National Human Rights Commission must take immediate cognizance of
the violations in Nandigram and recommend stringent penal action against all
those involved, including instituting an inquiry into the involvement of the
CPI(M) leadership and cadres in the planning/abetment/execution of the crimes
3. The National Commission for Women must immediately constitute a
fact-finding delegation that must visit Nandigram and submit its Report to the
NHRC and also direct immediate payment of compensation to all the women raped
and all others injured.
4. Free legal, medical, psycho-social and other aid and support must be
provided to the women and all victims of state and party violence in Nandigram.
5. Compensation to all the affected and attacked, with houses destroyed
and rapes/molestation faced, must be paid immediately as per the High Court

Debjeet Shrikant Medha Patkar
West Bengal.


Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee – Nandigram
Nandigram :: Purba Midnapur :: West Bengal

Ref No ............
Date: 19-04-2008

List of the persons injured by CPI(M) goons

Sl. No. Name Village Age
6.Radharani Ari (raped) Gokulnagar 50
7.Mani Pramanik Gokulnagar 35
8.Chabirani Pamanik Gokulnagar 50
9.Pratap Ari Gokulnagar 55
10.Nandu Mandal Gokulnagar 30
11.Phanindranath Mandal Gokulnagar 73
12.Sudarshan Pramanik Gokulnagar 37
13.Gopal Ari Gokulnagar 22
14.Subhendu Ari Gokulnagar 20
15.Sheik Golam Ahmed Nagekirachar 46
16.Sheik Nazrul Islam 7th Part,Jalpai 45
17.Sheik Mafijul Islam 7th Part,Jalpai 58
18.Hafeja Bibi 7th Part, Jalpai 28
19. Najma Bibi 7th Part, Jalpai 30
20.Sheik Rejaul 7th Part,Jalpai 28
21.Sheik Abdul Rashid 7th Part,Jalpai 45

April 19, 2008

life in financial markets: green investing?

In the global investment funds industry, since the last couple of years, funds dedicated to clean energy or green energy has attracted attention from investors worldwide. Ecologists question the veracity of the claims made by many green technology companies. The global funds too do not bother to check the veracity either. As a result, a lot of the investment in green energy funds do not really go on to save the environment. Anyway, something is better than nothing, and I wrote something on such funds, about a month back.

Green investing

Ecologically-conscious investors will likely give a thumbs up to a new investment avenue expected to come their way soon from Benchmark Asset Management Company, the only mutual fund in the country with specialisation in innovative passively-managed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and the like. Benchmark Mutual Fund is awaiting a green signal from Sebi for four global scheme funds for which it filed a common offer document late last month.

Benchmark Global Clean Energy Fund (BGCEF) is the one that will attract the eco-sensitive investors while the other three, Benchmark Global—Private Equity Fund, Water Fund and Commodities Fund—will be relevant for all those investors wanting an exposure in global niche markets.

These global funds will invest primarily in international ETFs that are linked to indices whose constituents are publicly traded companies involved in their particular sphere of activity. For instance, the ETFs that BGCEF will invest in would be investing in indices such as Wilderhill Clean Energy Index (that is made up by small green technology companies in the US) and Ardour Global Index (that is made up of a mix of small and large companies from US, Europe, China and Japan).

Investing in global companies which work towards independence from polluting energy sources is not a pipe dream anymore. So, go green, go clean.

April 13, 2008

life in general: khuda ke liye

Ten days ago, a bit by accident and a bit by design, I watched Khuda Ke Liye movie at
Regal theatre (my most favorite theatre in Bombay, its in Colaba in southern Bombay).

The movie beautifully showcases the difficult times many Muslims all the world going through due to the regressive attitude of Islamic extremists and the hypocrisies and closed-mindedness of
non-Muslims towards Muslims.

I must say that it is among the most powerful and meaningful movies I have ever seen. The script is insightful and powerful, the music is soulful, the acting is good, in fact everything about the movie is worth watching.

I have always respected film makers who have had the courage to question the extremism of any organised religion. Christianity (followed by those who call themselves Christians) has been questioned many times by filmmakers of its faith. With Khuda Ke Liye made by a Muslim fi
lmmaker I think to a reasonable extent Islam (followed by those who call themselves Muslims) has been questioned.

Strangely, though, the regressive tenets of Hinduism (followed by those who call themselves Hindus) have, to the best of my knowledge, not been bought out by any filmmaker in India. Bits and pieces have been covered but the issue as a whole has not been
addressed by any Hindi movie made in India. The same, as per my knowledge, applies to the Indian/non-Indian movie industry with regard to Sikhism (followed by those who call themselves Sikhs), Judaism (followed by those who call themselves Jews) and Zoroastrianism (followed by those who call themselves Parsis).

See some excerpts from Khuda Ke Liye on YouTube here, here, and here. If you like the music and the songs in the movie you can download free full mp3 clips here.

Do not miss this movie!

I also particularly took delight in the scenes shot in the tribal region on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and also the chirpy little girls shown as staying in a family in a village there.

April 08, 2008

life in journalism: the dark side

There is something about human behaviour in the current age we are living that one keeps on experiencing inflated egos of those who grab positions of power, whether in the workplace or in a family. This is seen in the corporate world, or within the confines of an urban family or even within a village community.

In Indian journalism this is reflected in the attitudes and actions of editors of those kind who wield power over other journalists in their respective organisations. Their designations could range from editor-in-chief to executive editor to deputy editor to associate editor.

I present below some unpleasant characteristics in the last 14 years I have observed and also every now and then experienced. To be sure, there are some good and pleasant characteristics too.

1) They will brag about themselves most of the time. They give little importance to listen to their journalists. They will highlight something strong and ethical they have done but fail to acknowledge the same traits in the journalists working for them (even to acknowledge one has to know; these editors do not even try to find out how strong and ethical their journalists even are).

2) Rules made are mostly to be implemented one-way. That is to say the journalists are held accountable (some of them shout at, scream at and verbally abuse their journalists) for some serious non-adherence to a rule, but when the editors do not follow that same spirit of the rule they do not acknowledge it nor is there any one above them to take them to task.
The editors in charge of their journalists will keep harping on how their journalists are not professional. What I find greatly worrisome is their inability or unwillingness to hold the mirror to themselves with the same vigour. It is important that they are professional because their lack of professionalism has an adverse effect on all the journalists working for them. For instance, in a profession where time is precious the top editor will go on his ego trip in meetings with journalists talking on and on about issues that are not relevant or important for the immediate tasks at hand. And since he is the head of the team the others are almost forced to listen to his endless talk. This eats away into the time of the journalists and the editor does not even recognise it.
A good rule is meant to be adhered by all including the top bosses. But a rule should also be framed after adequately and honestly consulting everyone who is affected by that rule. I don't know whether this is widely prevalent in all of Indian print media but the internal rules of operations are heavily biased against the editorial department (reporters and feature writers) and excessively favour the working of the copy desk department and the graphic design department.

3) This is another ugly aspect in Indian journalism. Quite some editors compete with their journalists in stories and story ideas, and then harp about how they have done this or that. I find it a sign of not immaturity but also a sign of insecurity because these editors tend to ride on the shoulders of their journalists. This happens in two ways.
a) Firstly, being editors they have much better access to the top honchos in whatever beat (corporate or political) they cover; this is simply because the hypocritical corporate or political world tends to open doors more faster and easily for the editors then they would for the journalists working for these same editors.
The companies or their PR agencies provide much more information and access to the editors than they would to the others.And the better the circulation figures of the publication the more the pampering. The nature of the business of media is such it is not just PR agencies but also readers when they write to the publications about their various problems or at times give breaking news tips it is always the top editors in that publication to whom this will first go to.
All this means that in any competition between a top editor in a publication and the other editorial writers in that publication the former will always an upper hand based not on his skill sets or abilities but chiefly on the basis of his designation and his publication's reputation.
b) When journalists write some insightful or news-breaking stories they do so on the basis of various kinds of sources. The top editors who have the final authority on the journalist's stories can use or abuse (depending on his/her intent) his/her power by making the journalist disclose the sources. These same sources are then later tapped into by the editors.

4) The passing the buck game, as is seen in other companies, is also very widely prevailing in Indian media. If the circulation figures are faltering or if they get a negative feedback on the quality of their publications, many editors will tend to pass the buck on to the journalists saying they are not doing quality stories. But they forget that they are the ones having the final say on a journalist's stories and many a time they do not encourage or at times even kill good story ideas by the journalist or even make a journalist do stories on ideas that they themselves have come up (and thereby deplete the journalists' time available to work on his/her own story ideas).
It is a simple management principle. The ones who wield the highest power in an organisation are also supposed to be held the most accountable. But the irony is that the ones with the highest power also have powers to sweep their own dirt under the carpet. There is no one to monitor them! Similarly, one of the most important aspect of an editor's job is on how he/she behaves with other journalists on whom he/she wields his/her power. But who is there to check on whether he/she is doing that fairly, ethically and professionally? The answer is no one.

5) If you are a female journalist then you have the additional burden of undergoing subtle sexual harassment
too. I have heard horror stories from my female colleagues about the behaviour of some editors in Indian media. But even if the story is not a horror story, subtle forms of sexual discrimination always operates in the workplace. This is not unique to the media industry. It prevails widely in the entire corporate world.

The above 5 are not the only ones. There are more.

At the same time, however, when an editor is straight-forward and honest the end result can be beautiful not just for the journalists but for the entire reading public at large. Indian media does have instances of this happening. I have experienced some of them too. I only wish that the number of such good instances increase.

I am also aware that journalists (some or many, I can't say for sure) too, through their weaknesses and dishonesty, add to the problem. But it must be recognised that if the top editors in any publication are themselves fair and straight forward no journalist working for them can get away for long with un-professional or un-ethical behaviour. At times, even I falter in my work with regard to deadlines and quality and I have no right to crib if a straight-forward and professional editor takes me to task for it.

April 07, 2008

life in general: friendly khadi cotton

I started wearing Khadi-cotton shirts and trousers two years back and am now addicted to this fantastic cool fabric. In the heat and humidity of Bombay it is, in my view, the only sensible option before us for dressing up.

Anyway, 2-3 weeks back, I wrote something on Khadi-cotton in the magazine I work for. It gives further insight into Khadi cotton fabric.

Here it is:

Friendly Khadi

It is not exactly in vogue but definitely has the potential to fire the imagination of ecologically sensitive or practically-oriented corporate executives and managers. Hand-spun and hand-woven cotton fabric, or otherwise popularly known as Khadi fabric, is presently not a hot-selling item as far as office wear or formal wear is concerned. Objectively speaking, it is the lack of marketing of Khadi-cotton as a hep and stylish brand that is causing its absence from fashion-conscious corporate managers. In no small measure is also the association of Khadi fabric with politicians and government bureaucrats that puts off many.

But when current trendy designs and elegant colours are applied to Khadi-cotton fabric the results are so rewarding that it can open up closed minds. In the world of fashion designers who encompas in their work all kinds of wear including informal wear, party wear, ethnic wear and formal wear are very impressed with the results they get when they experiment with Khadi-cotton fabric. "Even in formal wear, Khadi-cotton fabric is elegant, understated and classy and works very well in workplaces where you would want to be very relaxed in your corporate attire," says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, a well-known fashion designer from Calcutta.

Formal trousers tailor-made from Khadi-cotton fabric and formal Khadi-cotton shirts either tailor-made or ready-made are the options before men. Suits, however, are not currently done in Khadi-cotton. "Due to its light weight you will not get the required finishing in suit trousers," says Nikasha Tawadey, an upcoming fashion designer from Bombay. But Bangladeshi designer Bibi Russell, who prefers to work with cottage industries, has already designed pin-striped suits using Khadi-cotton.

Women, for whom formal wear includes the traditional churidaar-kurta attire, have more options. Says Tawade, whose kurtis and chunis for women made from Khadi-cotton fabric are available in high-end boutiques in Bombay, "Considering our hot weather Khadi-cotton fabric is a viable option; in fact, world over, hand-woven fabrics are also a fashion statement."

Khadi-cotton is the coolest fabric one can get since the hand-woven cotton cloth allows easy flow of air through the fabric. Basically, the fabric breathes out the body heat, making the wearer more comfortable. In polyester-based attire the petroleum-chemical element in the fabric blocks the body heat from escaping making the wearer feel hot and uncomfortable.

Government-funded Khadi Gram Udyog Bhavan's Khadi Bhandar line of retail stores all over the country are the most easily accessible stores to purchase Khadi cotton fabric material that can then be stitched to your individual style from your preferred tailor. Boutiques and popular stores like Fab India, Anokhee and Khadiline are the other places where you can go to buy Khadi-cotton fabric.

At the high end, a nice colour Khadi-cotton material for a trouser will cost between Rs 125 and Rs 200 per metre. For 3-4 metres you will pay upto Rs 600-800 and add your tailor's charge of Rs 250-500, your trouser will cost you between Rs 900 and Rs 1,300. Costs for a high-end good-design and nice-colour Khadi-cotton shirt would be between Rs 500 and Rs 800. For women, at the highest range of Rs 175 per metre, the cost for a churidaar-kurta attire using 6-7 metres and factoring in tailor charges would be between Rs 800 and Rs 1,500. More innovative colours and designs will take the price above Rs 2,000 for men and women.

Using Khadi-cotton you avoid petroleum-made polyester fabrice and so you can also implement your sensitivity towards ecology every day in your workplace. Also, since Khadi means hand-woven you also encourage self-employment opportunities for skilled artisans and workers across rural India.