November 29, 2008
As many in Bombay, rest of India and rest of world, take stock of the real casualties figure and the potential real details of terrorists' entry/operations/motives & lack/disregard of intelligence agencies' alerts (read here, here and here), a few random thoughts and 1/2 personal experiences that I want to share:
1. I have been to Taj, Oberoi and Leopold many times in the last many years, the first two for attending work-related seminars/conferences and the last for a glass of beer. About 7 weeks ago, when I went to Taj (i was going after a gap of about 3 months), and as I went to the secondary entrance that faces the sea directly (and not the primary one that faces the Gateway side) I saw it was closed and completely barricaded. So I made my way to the primary entrance and there was struck by an unprecedented security check with 2/3/4 gun-toting security men standing at the entrance. My shoulder bag was checked thoroughly. I had a bit of argument with the security guard telling them that while it is fine for them to check bags of mine and visitors why were they not opening the bags of the guests who were checking in to stay at the hotel. Seeing my verbal conversation with the security guard a black-coated Taj manager who was standing there near the entrance walked up to me and sternly asked me what was wrong. I told him, but by then I had seen that check-in guests' bags were going through a metal detector itself (that though begs the question of how plastic explosives can be detected).
The point I am making above is that intelligence agencies' alerts had already reached the managements of most of the biggest hotels in Bombay. A TV news channel, Headlines Today, is in fact just now (as I write this at 3 pm) reporting that it has a 'top secret' letter by Indian intelligence agencies to the Bombay police that in their interrogations with captured terrorists in Uttar Pradesh and other places in north India they have been told that Pakistan's ISI and even Pakistan's Navy is involved in training terrorists to launch an unprecedented, well-organised offensive through the sea route from Karachi to Bombay.
This letter is apparently dated December 2006, but the unprecedented security checks I mention above only about 2/3/4 months back. This newsreport in Outlook brings out even more information about the heightened knowledge of an impending sea-borne attack. As is from my above-described experience, this information had also been passed on to the Taj Hotel and perhaps the other big hotels in Bombay too. But the Taj Hotel management (and also the Oberoi Hotel management) did not take adequate measures to protect every corner of the hotel. As I quoted a Colaba-residing friend of mine in my previous post the terrorists gained entry in the Taj from a shop at the backside and the shop opened outside on the street as well had a door that opened inside the hotel. Why didn't the Taj management keep gun-toting security men continuously (for 24 hours and not just during peak-time daytime hours) at all ground-floor corners and sides of their hotel/s from the inside and the outside? Instead of blaming the government, Ratan Tata should have taken his hotel's management to task for not taking seriously the threat perceptions emanating intensely from the intelligence agencies. Night-time security checks also seems to have been lax compared to day-time security checks.
(the pic to the right has been taken from mumbaimirror.com and shows the terrorist who was at the VT station, later caught alive & now in official custody)
2. The TV news channels (and not so much the print media although many of them too) have focussed 99% of their news coverage on three places--Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House--and have not culled/scoped out the happenings at VT station, Leopold Cafe and Cama Hospital. There is much to be reported and analysed from these other places as well. VT station, for instance, saw over 50-60 casualties and Leopold saw over 25.
3. Even at this time of tragedy, the inefficiencies and corrupt bureaucracy of state/private administration continue to trouble the relatives of the victims and the missing.
Also, the Colaba Police Station that is opposite Cafe Leopold, had the most pathetically inept response when the firings were going on at Leopold and which they could easily hear. They were deliberately slow in reaching that place (even though it was less than 20-30 metres away) and in fact like cowards closed the gate of their police station. Residents in Colaba, who know about them, of course say they did not expect any better from the Colaba police station which could perhaps rank among the top 5 corrupt and brutal police stations in Bombay and in the top 10-20 in India. Had Colaba police station officers counter-attacked the terrorists at or near Leopold Cafe itself those guys could have never reached Taj Hotel. But their police officers are so steeped in corruption they have lost all ability for any concrete action involving using their guns to take on the real goons or in this case the terrorists.
This newsreport also says that at CST station there was armed police personnel that could have easily shot dead the two terrorists. But they did not do so. Shameful!
4. Pakistan's ISI is perhaps the worst official agency in the world that cleverly aids terrorists' activities and has been doing so for many years. For India to put pressure on Pakistan's current democratic pressure is being foolish. The ISI in Pakistan, closely affiliated to the Pakistani military, is a law unto itself and has to be tackled directly bypassing whoever is the Pakistani government. For this, in fact, India should shed its cowardliness and take on the United States of America that in the past and even now (discreetly though) has looked the other way if not actively coordinated with the ISI. And if the US can attack Taliban inside Afghanistan, and if Israel can carry out operations inside its neigbouring countries including Palestine, and if Russia can carry out operations inside Georgia, then India can too carry out operations in the mountains of Pakistan where these terrorist groups receive their training.
Many of general Pakistani citizens do not like their country's ISI and extremist elements. By blaming Pakistan as a country where its citizens do not have enough democratic rights is according to me not wise at all.
5. It also needs to be told that the owners (two of them -- Faizad and one more) of Leopold Cafe are racist against locals, Bombayites and Indians and give extra-special treatment to the foreigners. I say this from personal experience, and therefore avoid going there to the extent possible. I don't blame the waiters as I think they are specially trained by the two owners to be like this.
6. What has happened is 'private' terror, that is, private groups (though backed by overseas official agencies like the ISI) have carried it out fighting state forces in India/Bombay. But we ought to remember the ugly consequences of other forms of terror that feeds into the private terror groups. And one of them is 'state' terror. India is not at all clean on this. The state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat in February-March 2002 and continued boycott/harassment/denial-of-rights of the Muslims in Gujarat stands out as one of the worst forms of state-sponsored terror anywhere in the world. Then, the US-UK-Australia ugly & illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and continued forced occupation of Iraq is even a worse kind of state terror
than Gujarat was because the entire country of Iraq and all its citizens have been hurt badly by the American-British forces.
November 27, 2008
As the intense nature of tragedy unfolds in Bombay this new morning (it is 10.25 am as I write this) (click here, here and here), the question that is coming to most people's mind is 'Who did it, where did they come from last night, how many were involved?'.
It looks like a very organised operation that could have emanted from outside Bombay itself, except for recce operations done earlier. Very few terrorist groups have the capabilities to carry out operations of such a heinous nature -- Al Queda and 1-2 other Muslim extremist groups being the most prominent. It appears to be their doing.
But police and Indian intelligence agencies did have a whiff of this, for sure. The targets -- 5-star hotels and large railway stations -- were commonly known, but the likely dates of the strikes could never have been easily forecastable by anyone.
One more point: its not only foreigners that have suffered heavy casualties, local Bombayite-Indians have too. See the first news link above, and one of the pics below.
Pic 1 to the right: After shooting passengers in the waiting area for long distance trains at CST/VT, the two terrorists walk to the local/suburban platforms
Pic 2 to the right: This man, shot inside CST/VT, managed to walk to the subway entrance outside near Capitol cinema. Both pics are from mumbaimirror.com
Update 1 (5.54 pm, Bombay time): From 3 to 4.30 pm, I commuted by road & rail from my home in Kandivli (north-west Bombay) to office in Worli (central Bombay) that is 30 kms to the south from my home. Am at office as I write this. Catching up on tv news footage and a lot is still going on. Terrorists are still there at the two hotels and also at a Jews-owned guest house called 'Nariman House' at Colaba area. Guests and visitors at these 3 places are still trapped inside.
Update 2 (7.15 pm, Bombay time): Ugly incidents (blasts, gun firing etc) still on at the 3 places although police/army commandoes are also inside 1/2/3 of these and carrying out combing operators.
An aside. Yesterday, senior police officials were killed, purportedly in action and by terrorist. I have my doubts though In the murky world of Bombay police and governmental secrets anything is possible. My hunch is that Hemant Karkare, one of the anti-terrorist cell (ATC) chiefs, that got killed yesterday, could have died in mysteriously unexplainable circumstances yesterday. It is very unlikely that the overseas/Pakistan-based attackers of Bombay would know they were shooting a chief. I suspect there is something very majorly wrong in the police-ATC-government-politicians-Hindu extremists nexus/hotchpotch that has led to 1/2/3 of these senior police guys being killed yesterday night.
Update 3 (8.30 pm, Bombay time): Its still on, unfortunately, but some rescues are also taking place but again they are being shrouded in secrecy by the police (which is pathetic). Updates at ibnlive.in.com timesofindia.com, expressindia.com or mumbaimirror.com to get updates.
But I would like to briefly share a conversation I had today with a Colaba-residing friend who was at the Colaba Causeway Street yesterday and witnessed the post-firing part of incident at Cafe Leopold.
In his words: "I was about 100 metres near Leopold when we heard shots. We thought it was firecrackers being burst by cricket fans on winning yet again in a one-day international. But when it continued for 3-4 minutes we realised it could be bullets and some of us started moving in the direction of Leopold. We heard gun shots clearly. This was somewhere around 8.30 or 9 pm, and approximately 30 rounds of machine gun fire must have been fired. It lasted for about 15-20 minutes and then the 2/3 terrrorists casually walked out and started walking in the direction of the Taj Hotel. We went inside Leopold and I actually helped in pulling out about 25 dead bodies out. Later, we heard, the terrorists killed at least one, a little boy, while walking from Leopold to Taj, just because he strained himself to see them. Later, we also got to know how they or their earlier fellow-terrorists entered the Taj. There are shops at the side of Taj Hotel that have entrances from the streetside as well as inside (see the green arrow-marked area in the map-image to the left, click on the image to see it enlarged & clearer). If I remember correctly since some months they used to be shut from the streetside and entrance only allowed from inside the hotel. The terrorists went to one of the these shops from the streetside. First there is a iron grill door with a lock, then a glass door entrance. The terrorists first broke open the lock of the iron door, then shattered the glass door, went inside the shop and then through that the other side of the shop that opens into the hotel they entered the hotel and went on to the lobby. They opened fire when inside."
Update 4 (11 pm, Bombay time): Its perhaps getting over now, although the situation at Oberoi/Trident Hotel is still uncertain.
Meanwhile, some of my thoughts on the hypocrisies of corporate bigwigs when journalists were questioning them today on their thoughts about the terrorist attacks. Ratan Tata, who directly or indirectly, owns the Taj Hotel, blamed the government for not protecting the Taj Hotel. What crap! The government is what it normally is -- inefficient and inept. But what prevented his brilliant directors, managing directors, vice presidents and senior managers from posting strict security at all corners of the Taj Hotel, particularly when intelligence reports had given them the indication of being under threat. Why couldn't he spend a few millions extra to beef up the security and post gun-toting security guards at the back-side (where the terrorists seemed to have entered and even by making noise as they had to break the glass door of the shop) and at other corners of the hotel? Its typical of the corporate world to pass the buck of miserable failure on to the politicians and government bureaucrats. But my heart goes to the families of the employees (about 16-20) of Taj Hotel who lost their lives to the cowardly terrorist attacks.
November 26, 2008
(important updates to this post made below, before the updates whatever i have written i am not changing it but they were from very early reports and not comprehensive)
(thursday's update: new post here)
As I write this (11.50 pm of Wednesday 26 Nov '08) from my home in Kandivli, in suburban north-west Bombay, I am tracking web-based news (no TV at my home) of of terrorists having attacked a few locations in south Bombay (or town area as we Bombayites call it). Hotels Taj and Trident (earlier called Hilton/Oberoi), Leopold Cafe, VT/CST railway station, Colaba market are some of the places where gunmen are being reported to have opened fire randomly and also executed a few bomb blasts (not of severe intensity though).
Some detailed newsreports are here and here.
I spoke with a friend who stays near Strand road in Colaba and she tells me that they heard a loud explosion that seemed to come from the Colaba market side. This is the only bit of news that I have that the above-linked newsreports have not covered yet.
The image to the left is taken from here. It depicts an injured person being taken out from the lobby entrance of Taj Hotel near Gateway of India.
Update 1 (0035 hrs, Thu, 27 Nov):
Below see a quick snapshot of Wikimapia of the south Bombay area where the terrorist attacks have taken place. I have marked out four spots in white arrow marks -- VT/CST station, Taj Hotel (near Gateway of India), Cafe Leopold in Colaba, and Hotel Trident/Oberoi/Hilton at Nariman Point. Click on it to see it enlarged and clearer.
Update 2 (0121 hrs, 27 Nov):
Sad. Latest news reports are bringing out the horrors of the attacks. About 80 dead and over 200 injured is being reported here.
The five-star hotels have been under tremendous security in the last few months. I remember going through rigorous check myself at the Taj Hotel near Gateway of India when I had gone to attend a seminar about 7 weeks back. Except for the VT/CST railway station and perhaps 1/2 other spots, all the rest spots picked by the terrorists indicate an intention to target foreigners because hotels Taj and Trident/Oberoi and Cafe Leopold are all places where foreigners can outnumber Indians.
Update 3 (0200 hrs, 27 Nov):
My heart goes to the near and dear ones of those who have died in these ugly attacks and to those who have got seriously injured. Few questions come to my mind, in the case of the 2 hotels. If the gunmen have killed people inside, that is in the hotel lobby, then how come they were able to take guns and perhaps also grenades inside in the first place? The stringent security checks should have prevented that. Or, is it that the gunmen started firing from outside, overpowered or killed some security guards and forcibly entered the hotels' lobbies? Answers will come in next 1-2 days in the media, hopefully.
Update 4 (0226 hrs, 27 Nov):
Jeez! Its getting uglier. Now, a hotel in Juhu attacked; abotu two anti-terrorist force squad members killed, fire in old building-wing of Taj Hotel . Click here. This seems to be a very good site so far.
Update 5 (0302 hrs, 27 Nov):
Some photos are over here.
Update 6 (0356 hrs, 27 Nov):
Am signing off for now with this updated news report on The Times of India website. I have no TV at home & so caught all news only on the internet. I will pray that Bombayites and other Indians do not indulge in callous, ugly reactions to the tragic events of the last few hours. The minorities in Bombay ought not to suffer from any violent ugly reaction from extremist Hindu groups. I pray.
November 25, 2008
Meanwhile, here in India, the securities market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India, has finished preliminary investigations into ICICI Bank's ludicrous allegations of its stock being hammered down. I had written about the witch-hunt against sellers (short or tall!) on 29 October.
Sebi has found nothing unusual in the trading in ICICI Bank. I give Sebi's full press release of 20 Nov '08 below. All this leaves an egg on ICICI Bank's face. The other cry baby, Unitech and their promoters Chandras, also better learn a valuable lesson and that is to stop crying when the going is tough particularly when you were never humble when the going was terrific.
Sebi's press release:
Trading in the shares of ICICI Bank Ltd.· In the backdrop of a global crisis in the financial sector and amidst liquidity fears, the share prices of several leading financial services companies across markets suffered a sharp decline. Rumours of financial trouble have caused a run on the banks in some overseas jurisdictions. The main spillovers have occurred in financial markets, reflecting the relative integration of such markets in the global financial system. In India, since January 2008 there has been decline in shares prices across sectors.
· ICICI Bank had vide letter dated September 17, 2008 made a complaint to SEBI alleging that “a malicious rumour is being spread to the effect that some of the top management have been selling ICICI Bank shares for the last few days”. The price of the shares of ICICI witnessed a fall of 12.5% from Rs. 640 on
· ICICI Bank, on September 16, 2008 disclosed to the public through a press release about ICICI Bank UK PLC exposure to Lehman Brothers i.e. “ICICI Bank UK PLC is holding investment of Euro 57 million ($80 million) in senior bonds of Lehman Brothers Inc. ICICI Bank UK PLC already holds a provision of about US$ 12 million against investment in these bonds. Considering a 50% recovery estimate, the additional provision required would be about US$ 28 million”. On
· The shareholding pattern of ICICI Bank for the quarter ended on
· It is seen that the prices of ICICI Bank fell by 49.52% from Rs.720.45 on
Trading pattern of the shares of ICICI bank was analyzed for the period
- The client category-wise breakup of turnover in the shares of ICICI Bank in the cash market shows that FIIs accounted for 23.57% and 18.61% of the value of shares sold and bought respectively whereas rest of the investors accounted for 76.5% and 81.4% of the value of shares sold and bought respectively.
- Top 20 investors in ICICI Bank both on net buy and sell basis in the cash market shows that majority of them were FIIs (Net Buy: FIIs-14, MF-4, DII-1, Others-1) (Net Sell – FIIs -17, MF – 2, Others-1)
- None of the major seller were observed to be placing orders successively at lower price
- There was no pattern observed regarding placement of successive orders at lower price by sellers to hammer down the price.
- There was no pattern observed of booking intraday profits by major clients or brokers during this period.
By and large, the trading patterns are consistent with the shareholding pattern of ICICI with predominant holdings by FIIs, the general buying and selling behaviour by FIIs and the broad movements of the market during this period. While SEBI continues its surveillance of the stock exchange trading in various securities, SEBI did not find evidence of manipulative trading in the ICICI Bank shares during the period referred to above.
November 24, 2008
So (as I do sometimes occasionally, sometimes frequently) I was out yesterday from morning to afternoon, as a part of a Bombay Natural History Society-organised trek to the highest point of the Borivli National Park's designated forest area.
From the Park's Borivli-side main gate, we went inside by a vehicle on a 4 km-road to Kanheri Caves point and from that point we (there were about 40 of us in the group) trekked a distance of about 3.5 kms up to the highest point. I could motivate my 16-year nephew, Rahul, to join me for this trek. It was a first for him and he enjoyed it thanks to his positive approach and his damn good stamina!
Below are some pics: (top left and top right ones are mid-way through the trek, the top right one shows tulsi lake & vihar lake, the top left one has me with a ruffled-hair look), bottom left and bottom right pics are at the end-point of the trek, bottom left pic has my nephew in it with tulsi lake in the background). The pics are followed by a wikimapia snapshot of the area (the yellow circle is where we trekked and the green circle is where my home is, you can see as the bird flies it is very near but we are not birds so I have to go north to borivli by road, enter the Park gate and come south again). Click on a pic to see it enlarged and clearer.
November 19, 2008
Risks were ignored, but crisis wasn't unexpected
By Nick Ferguson
17 November 2008
SocGen's head of strategy arefers to the current crisis as a predictable surprise that rewarded those who had invested in prescient collapse products.
Most people describe the happy days before the crisis as a bull market, but not James Montier. Societe Generale's plain-speaking global head of strategy calls it the "dash to trash" – a period when the madness of crowds led market participants to ignore risk in almost every way.
The collapse that followed this orgy was not an example of one of Nassim Taleb's black swans – a massive and unpredictable event – but a clearly predictable consequence of what was going on in the markets. Indeed, plenty of economists and market watchers did see it coming. Bob Shiller, for example, a Yale economist who prodded Alan Greenspan into making his "irrational exuberance" comment in 1996, first warned of a housing bubble more than three years ago.
He made the following prediction in an interview with the New York Times in August 2005: "A very plausible scenario is that home-price increases continue for a couple more years, and then we might have a recession and they continue down into negative territory and languish for a decade." But Shiller and his fellow sceptics were in a minority.
Montier says there are several reasons why the market consensus was so wildly over-optimistic, despite the alarm bells. First, he argues, many modern risk management techniques helped give senior bankers a misplaced sense of confidence. "Things like value at risk give an illusion of being able to quantify risk," he says. "And yet we can neither quantify nor control risk in any meaningful sense."
To make matters worse, the financial industry also tends to have a self-serving bias towards happy thoughts, because most participants generally tend to do better when markets are rising – so it doesn't serve anyone's interests to draw attention to flaws in markets, accounting models or the banking system, which is why practices such as mark-to-model valuations didn't come under closer scrutiny. "It's like asking a school kid to mark his own homework," says Montier. "Don't be surprised if he gives himself 100%."
Finally, most of us are not good at spotting change. To illustrate, Montier gives the example of a popular study in which test subjects are asked to watch a clip of a basketball game and count the number of passes. Halfway through the video a gorilla walks on to the court and beats his chest, yet when asked about the clip 80% of subjects say they didn't notice anything unusual.
This is a phenomenon known as change blindness, and Montier says it can apply to markets too. "We're not inclined to look for what we don't expect to see," he says.
But some people were, in fact, expecting to see a collapse. Strategists like Montier, who are happy to work outside the consensus, were tracking the bubble as it moved through the stages described by economists Hyman Minsky and Charles Kindleberger. The key stage in the progression is commonly known as a Minsky moment; when financial distress flips into all-out revulsion, asset prices collapse and liquidity evaporates.
Back in June, Montier and the SocGen global strategy team had some particularly strong views that several markets were due to reach their Minsky moments, and his analysis prompted the bank's structurers to create a series of structured products aimed at hedge fund clients that would take advantage of the coming collapse.
At the time, crude oil was at $135 a barrel, the US dollar was at $1.56 to the euro and the S&P500 was at 1,350 points, but Montier was confident that all those values were toppish and the structurers, led by Stephane Mattatia in Paris, calculated the best way to express his views and were ready to go out and sell the products by early September.
Mattatia's so-called collapse-put was a straight forward one-year bet against 10 stock indices and crude oil. The pricing models put a very low probability on the bet coming off, based on the assumption that markets as diverse as Turkey, China and South Africa, as well as those in the developed world, are not likely to fall in tandem. With the odds apparently stacked against him, Mattatia was able to price the option cheaply with a strike of 110, meaning that investors have the right to sell the best performer in the basket at a 10% premium to the early September price.
Of course, as it turned out, the bet came off almost immediately. Right now, the best performer in the basket is South Korea's Kospi 200, down 21% since September 1, which means the option has an intrinsic value of 31% today. The option was priced at less than 3%, so investors are currently sitting on a return of more than 10 times their capital.
Even so, investors who bought the collapse-put may be worried that their bet came off too soon, but Montier is confident that equities are yet to hit rock bottom. Valuing stocks by looking at their price-to-earnings ratio is fine, he says, but only if you discount the effects of the business cycle. One way to do this is to use a 10-year moving average, and by this measure US stocks are not yet "super cheap", he says – they are at roughly 20-times right now, compared to a long-term average of about 15.
Current P/E ratios also support a gloomy outlook. Compared to average P/E levels, markets are signalling a 23% earnings decline in the US, 33% in Asia and 40% in Europe.
The second bet combined Montier's three main predictions: stock markets and crude prices would fall, and the dollar would rise. The triple European digit had a premium of roughly 20% and will pay back 100% after six months if the euro-dollar rate is down by more than 1%, the Euro Stoxx 50 is down by more than 2% and crude oil is down by more than 3%.
That looks like a safe bet today. The euro-dollar rate is down about 13% since early September, the Euro Stoxx 50 is down 28% and the price of a barrel of crude has fallen 47%.
Another of Montier's observations is that the bubble was biggest in the emerging markets, where over-optimistic investors overpaid for the hope of growth. His cyclically adjusted P/E for the emerging markets shows that valuations are still way above long-term averages and have considerably further to fall.
To capitalise on this view, Mattatia's team structured an outperformance trade that pits the two worst performers in a basket of developed market indices against the two best performers in an emerging indices basket. Investors bought a call on the spread between the two with a strike price of 110, and paid a premium of 3.5%.
At the moment the spread is zero, which means that the call is 10% in the money. The S&P500 and Nikkei 225 are down a combined 65%, which is exactly the same as the combined fall of the JSE Top 40 in South Africa and the National 30 in Turkey.
Ironically, the heart of Montier's investment philosophy is that nobody knows very much about what is going to happen in the short term – he describes his prescient call on the collapse as lucky timing – and that the only sensible way to invest is to have a longer time horizon.
By far the biggest contributor to returns during a one-year time horizon are changes in valuations, which, he says, are essentially random. But over a five-year horizon dividend yield and growth in real dividends account for as much as 80% of real returns – and these are things that fund managers should be able to analyse and understand.
Unfortunately, the market is biased against letting fund managers do that. "Good long-term performers underperform in the short-term," he says, which, in effect, means that people who get rewarded on the back of short-term performance are incentivised to underperform in the long term. Or as Montier puts it: "Doing what I say will generally get you fired."
November 13, 2008
Anyway, as an aside, I came across an interesting two interviews by journalist Jyoti Punwani (who is known to be that rare journalist who is not afraid of taking on religious extremists of any hues) of two right-thinking Muslim citizens. This appeared in Mumbai Mirror dated 9 November '08. Here it is:
ACTS OF FAITH
Jyoti Punwani talks to Hasan Kamal and Sajid Rashid, both vocal critics of religious fanaticism and terrorism.
The difference between terrorism and jihad is a topic central to the Jamait Ulema’s national conference being held over the weekend at Hyderabad. Two of Mumbai’s intellectuals — poet and lyricist Hasan Kamal and journalist and educationalist Sajid Rashid — have for long been speaking out on these issues. Excerpts from an interview:
Popular Urdu poet and Filmfare-award winning lyricist Hasan Kamal wrote recently in the Delhi Urdu daily, Hamara Samaj: “It would be self-deception to say that no Muslim can do such things,” referring to the bomb blasts. He further wrote: “There are also elements among the youth who actually think that the Taliban are ‘Muslim Mujahideen’, which they are not in any manner, (and who) perform irresponsible acts in a fit of frenzy.”
Mumbai Mirror: Strong words. Why did you write them?
HK: Because in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, the suicide bombers are all Muslim. In India too, there is an extremist SIMI faction. A section of the Urdu press, for popularity, often glorifies Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban and readers begin to think these people are fighting for Islam. Then there are those who have been misled into believing that the only revenge for Gujarat is through terror.
One cannot say that all these people are not Muslims, or that the blasts just can’t be the work of Muslims. But I am equally emphatic about the other aspect: just as all Bajrang Dalis may be Hindus, not all Hindus are Bajrang Dalis. So also, there may be some Muslims influenced by a romanticised image of Osama, but it’s wrong to demonise all Muslims. The majority, like their Hindu counterparts, are secular, tolerant and peace loving. But we cannot deny that we have our share of black sheep.
MM: What about the theory presented by almost every Muslim, that the blasts are a conspiracy by the RSS or IB or Mossad to give Muslims a bad name, and no Muslim stands to benefit by them?
HK: That’s an exaggerated view, which may be only partly correct. There are communal elements among Hindus, the police and the media, but to ascribe the blasts to them speaks of a siege mentality. Terrorists are not normal, sane people who calculate the logic of who benefits and who suffers. They act in rage. Don’t they know that among those who die, there could be Muslims too?
MM: How did readers react?
HK: Without meaning to boast, I can say mine is the most popular column. I have been saying the same things at meetings across Maharashtra and people have mostly agreed. In the past, in a room full of ulemas, I have said that Muslims should stop opposing the demand for a common civil code. There is a growing section of Muslims who feel the old religious leadership is no longer enough.
People know my intention: I condemn the RSS with the same sincerity as I condemn Muslim extremists. I have spoken out against the terror label given to Azamgarh; that’s sheer humbug.
MM: Maybe people see you as part of the film industry and so not a real Muslim.
HK: I do my namaaz, I fast. Nobody can say I’m not a Muslim. If you want to bring about reform within Muslims, you have to be a practising Muslim, or you won’t be taken seriously.
MM: At a time when the community is feeling cornered, aren’t you betraying it by writing all this?
HK: On the contrary, I feel I am helping it. It’s my duty to point out the shortcomings of my community.
Often reviled by religious Muslims as an apostate, editor of the Urdu literary journal Naya Waraq, two time recipient of the Katha Award for Urdu short stories and former head of the state Urdu Academy, Sajid Rashid has been a vehement critic of SIMI in his column in the Hindi daily Jansatta.
MM: When the entire community defends SIMI, what’s your problem with it?
SR: As long as SIMI was a religious organisation, I had no objections. But after 1993, when it put up posters saying ‘No democracy, No nationalism, No polytheism, only Islam’, and eulogising Mahmud Ghaznavi after it began talking about jihad, I started warning Muslims about the impact SIMI would have on the next generation. My own son was misled into becoming a member of its Shaheen Club, meant for kids. In my house, I had to listen to talk about Hindus and Muslims belonging to different nations, about Muslims being idol breakers who could not live with idol worshippers. I made him leave it, and today he is a secular, open-minded young man.
MM: Isn’t it true that no SIMI member has as yet been convicted?
SR: I am opposed to the wrongful imprisonment of even one innocent. But when you include in you r list of ‘innocents’ Safdar Nagori, I start suspecting the list. I know Muslims who left SIMI in 2000 because of his hardline views.
What stopped the government from applying Sec 153 A for the Ghaznavi posters; or arresting those who organised the 1997 SIMI meet at Kanpur, where Bin Laden was eulogised as an idol-breaker, and the chiefs of Hamas and the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami addressed the meet through phone? Why didn’t they stop SIMI from distributing cassettes of Maulana Azhar Mehmood outside mosques? Simply because it suited the government to have an entire generation of Muslims ruined by this ideology, just as it suits them to have an entire generation of Hindus brainwashed by the RSS.
MM: Most Muslims feel that when all their leaders had sold out, only SIMI spoke up against the injustice done to Muslims by the State.
SR: Muslims have been facing injustice for the last 50 years. But those who have fought this the most have been Hindus. Of the 10 persons who donated a lakh each to fight the Best Bakery case, seven were Hindus. When all Hindus join the RSS, I may reconsider my view of SIMI. The State discriminates against Muslims, but it has done so against Sikhs, and now is doing so against Christians too.
To fight this injustice, do you need to take up arms, or go to the ISI? What could have been worse than the massacres of Muslims in Moradabad and Maliana by the PAC in the ‘80s? Muslims were angry; why didn’t they call for jihad then? Because there was no SIMI, with its powerful backers to instigate them. Has SIMI ever done relief work? Did they help Muslims in the Srikrishna Commission?
MM: Muslims dismiss your views because they see you as a non-practising Muslim.
SR: I believe in Khuda; my identity remains Muslim. The letters I get from my Muslim readers show that they agree with me. Till now, they haven’t been told the truth about SIMI. Muslims have mastered the art of sweeping their dirt under the carpet.
November 12, 2008
What do you do about prattling colleagues and colleagues who cunningly serve as moles of the top bosses? I say do nothing much except speak to them strictly on direct work-related matters only.
The prattlers will eventually choke on their own tattle and the moles, like this another definition of a 'mole' as per freedictionary.com: "a burrowing mammal with velvety dark fur and forelimbs specialized for digging", will eventually experience the earth giving away beneath their feet and they getting buried inside, for the good of the rest of humanity! No offence to the mammals called 'mole'! The pic to the right is of a 'mole' mammal, courtesy nature.com/mammals/talpa_europaea.htm.
November 11, 2008
Killing a good concept due to one's false assumptions is commonplace. Take the latest example, seen in the Indian financial markets.
An earlier Sebi discussion paper for SME trading platforms had recommended zero restrictions on size and track record for SMEs to raise equity capital but had recommended a minimum application size of Rs 5 lakh in a SME's primary equity issue. All this is meant to deter retail investors from burning their fingers with fly-by-night operators.
But in the process, it is likely to drive away liquidity-supplying day traders, speculators and arbitrageurs as they would not want to place orders of Rs 1 lakh and more for a company whose share capital might not be more than Rs 1 crore. This, many market traders say, is going to kill the liquidity from day one of listing itself.
November 05, 2008
I am happy for Americans, although I want them to also realise the enormous pain their jingoism and their governments have caused to Iraqis and non-combatant Afghans in the last five years and to other peoples of other continents in the last five decades. The emotions that are pouring out in support of Obama on his victory is very rare -- see here, here and here.
From Laos in Vietnam, where he presently is, my good American friend, Sean-Paul Kelley, writing in his latest blog post, says it beautifully, "... at long last I sense hope and purpose in America again. We have a military-imperial-national security state to dismantle, infrastructure to rebuild, a financial catastrophe to work through and more. But, this is a victory for all Americans, and all of America. Indeed, the sense of relief across the globe, as I sit and blog in this Laotian internet cafe, is immense. The sense that America is on the road for atoning for the wrongs of the Bush/Cheney era is real. And the world watched us and began the long slow process of growing up. There is hope. And while hope is not a good policy, I'll take it in a pinch."
The new result also makes Barack Obama the first dark-skinned President of the US. It is great. One of fellow contributor-blogger on Sean-Paul's blog has written a very touching post on this aspect. I present below his entire post. But before that I would like to offer a prayer to the universal energy to protect him from racist bigots who could try to assassinate him (there was a plot that was recently revealed).
Here is that post then:
Martin Luther King brought his campaign for civil rights to Chicago in 1965, giving my father yet another excuse to rail on and on about Negroes not knowing their place. When he was at home he was restricted to the term “Negro” – our mother saw to that – but to the embarrassment of everyone in our family he was allowed to let loose whenever his own parents held a family party with his many brothers and sisters.
We kids would sit quietly in their living room, while in the kitchen the aunts and uncles, plus Grandpa and Grandma and our Dad, would tell the latest jokes about the coons or niggers or spades or jungle monkeys they met showing off their Cadillacs, or lazing around the streets. There was a decided overtone of superiority to these conversations; it seemed to make my Dad’s family feel much better to talk about the ignorant and indolent blacks they would come across from time to time. But there was also an undercurrent of fear; the blacks were beginning to move into yet another neighborhood, they would say, branching out like a menace to all the nice communities where the sons of white immigrants from Europe made their living as tradesmen, steelworkers, or in other manual labor.
As teenagers we were embarrassed by all this racist talk, mostly because our mother made it clear we were never, ever to use such language ourselves, but also because the suburban high school we attended was intent on educating our baby boomer generation with a higher level of tolerance. This was an easy thing to do because there were no blacks in our high school, not at least until my junior year, which was the first time I ever met a black person.
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and riots were beginning to spread across the South and up into northern cities like Chicago. We couldn’t but be aware of these convulsions; they were on the television every night, and my father detested Martin Luther King almost as much as he did the Kennedy’s or Lyndon Johnson. The fear of your neighborhood changing color was now being compounded by the greater fear of physical violence.
Teenagers notice these bigger social developments, but the microcosmic world of high school is highly insular, and we spent more of our time on dating and homework and music – especially music. This was the time of the rise of the Beatles, a social force in their own right, but one that bridged the black and white cultures of the U.S. The Beatles were purposeful borrowers of musical trends emerging from inner city ghettos, and in that sense were oddly more in tune with American racial circumstances than most white kids.
In 1964..... At that moment, the interaction of blacks with whites in a big city like Chicago was almost non-existent, and whites were beginning to pour out of the inner cities to avoid associating with blacks. Eventually my grandparents on both sides of the family lost their homes to white flight. They watched the values of their homes on the Southside fall more than 50% as blacks began moving in and their neighbors moved out, and eventually they succumbed as well, with great bitterness as a result. My grandfather on my mother’s side had always been a genteel person with a decent white-collar job and no unkind word for anyone. Quite to our surprise, once he was forced to move to the suburbs he developed a racist streak every bit as virulent as my other grandfather.
Our Dad provided us a surprise of a different nature in his later years. He kept his job at a Southside steel mill until retirement, and long after the plant had become completely integrated. We would hear creeping into his conversation stories about his co-workers who were black, who were three-dimensional humans with names, and who were friends even. I remember him coming home one day from work and telling us, with great wonderment as if he had made an anthropological discovery, that if black people stayed in the sun too long they would develop a sunburn.
Dad suffered two hernias working on the loading dock, and the company allowed a very limited time for someone to recover from surgery, so it made a big difference to him when his co-workers covered for him on the job for weeks while he took it easy. He discovered blacks were anything but lazy, and it seemed to liberate him when his father died. No one had to sit around the kitchen table anymore competing over who could tell the most racist joke.
In the 80s my parents moved to one of those planned retirement communities springing up in the South. In talking to my Dad on the phone, he was a very different person from the father I knew as a child. I was taken aback one day when he complained to me about some of the white guys in the community who were “really racist.” It was as if they were insulting the friends he left behind at the steel mill. It was then that I began to wonder what sort of person he would have been if his father hadn’t taught him racism, and what sort of person I would have been if my mother hadn’t taught me in a very different way.
If my Dad had kept his family home on the Southside, and if he had lived a few years longer, his state senator in Springfield would have been Barack Obama. What would he have thought of that? I know my wife would have told him to have some pride in his state senator. She met Barack Obama in the mid-90s when he gave a speech at our local chapter of the League of Women Voters. She came home and told me “that man will be President of the United States someday!”
Just as in 1964, I filed that information away to be acted upon by Americans far, far into the future. In our lifetime, a black man would never be President of the United States – I was sure of that. So were we all, except those who met Barack Obama. He had a way back then of making people believe in unlimited, even unthinkable futures. And why couldn’t that future include an African-American as President – maybe even Barack Obama, and maybe even now rather than later? From this sort of thinking sprang up a cadre of people – some important, many unknown – who began working to promote Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate, and then ultimately to campaign for the presidency itself.
Barack Obama was a chocolate child, the sort of white-black link that Ringo Starr prophesied. The type of person who can move easily within and between both cultures. Except the emphasis here is on the verb “was” – Barack Obama is no longer a chocolate child. He has long since adopted his black heritage as his own, without disowning his white roots or upbringing, but always asserting the essential aspect of his character – both how others see him, and how he wishes to be seen.
He wishes to be seen as a man of character, a person of intellect and solid reasoning, someone of prudential judgment, someone who has associated all his life with those struggling with poverty, discrimination, and lack of opportunity. And oh yes, he is an African-American who has been shaped by the black experience in America.
I think – and I don’t believe this is a fantasy – that my father would look at Barack Obama the way Barack Obama wishes to be perceived. I suspect my father would see in him a man who would step up and do the work of others when it was needed, a three-dimensional character who put to rest the stereotypes that whites maintain about blacks. I suspect my father would see in Barack Obama exactly the sort of person he had come to know and respect on the loading dock.
Numerian November 5, 2008 - 1.52 am
November 03, 2008
Aravind Adiga's book The White Tiger has come in the limelight recently because of it winning the Man Booker prize for 2008. The book covers the dark side of Indian society that we (those among us in India who are sensitive to what's happening around us) already know. But the world needs to know too, not that there aren't enough dark stories in the most developed of countries. But still.
On Saturday (1 Nov '08) at about 9 pm, as I was commuting back home in the local suburban train, I noticed a fellow commuter, sitting a bit far from me, reading Adiga's book. I could not resist taking a pic on the sly. See to the right; i have marked the guy and the book in a white circle.
Before the prize was awarded to Adiga, he had written a column for Tehelka magazine that talked about the driving force behind his being able to complete his book.
Here it is:
Taking Heart From The Darkness
Twenty rickshaw-pullers gathered in a dingy shed in Kolkata needed more space than a newspaper article. They spurred a novel
Author, The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga's debut novel The White Tiger, an insightful but also drolly funny worm's-eye perspective of the vast class gap in contemporary India, is on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. In this essay, Adiga, TIME magazine's India correspondent between 2003 and 2005, recalls the encounter that provided the impetus for his book.
IN 2006, I quit my job with TIME magazine, and spent the first few weeks of the year trying to finish a novel that was tentatively called The White Tiger. I gave up by March. The novel was going nowhere; I was restless. I went to Kolkata by train.
It was meant to be a holiday, but I knew no one in the city and after a day, I was bored. I was too used to being a journalist: I called an NGO and asked if there was anything to cover. “The government wants to ban the handpulled rickshaws of the city so that industrialists will feel comfortable investing here,” the spokesperson said. “Would you meet one of the rickshaw-pullers and present their point of view in an article?”
The man from the NGO took me to meet a group of rickshaw-pullers. There were nearly 20 of them, all from Bihar, living in a large, dingy shed. One rickshaw-puller, as if reading my thoughts, seized me by the wrist and took me around the shed, showing me the brooms, and explaining that there was a twice-a-day schedule of sweeping and mopping. “We are clean people, sir,” he said. “And good people. I am a Muslim, but I live here with Hindus, and there is no trouble. We have separate kitchens, and we respect each other.”
He agreed at once to let me interview him. He had heard of a British correspondent who had written about a rickshaw-puller in a big newspaper abroad; the rickshaw-puller had got the article framed and sent home to Bihar. He hoped I would do the same for him.
Since I knew nothing of a rickshawpuller’s life, I explained, I would like to meet him every evening, after he was done with his work, for perhaps a week. “You can come for a year if you want,” he said. “No one has ever wanted to talk to me before.”
“Will there still be rickshaw-pullers a year from now?” I asked. That got him started. “There will be rickshaw-pullers 10 years from now,” he said. “In 1947, when Pandit Nehru came to Kolkata, he said that rickshawpulling was not fit for human beings and had to be abolished. For 60 years, every Prime Minister who comes to Kolkata says, we must get rid of these rickshaws. And nothing has changed. The Chief Minister of Bengal says he is ashamed of us, but he knows that Bengalis are too lazy to walk from one part of the city to the other. Why don’t these people just admit they need rickshaws, and stop harassing us?”
Although he was illiterate, he had picked up the language of the trade unions, and spoke of his “fundamental rights” as a working man. He didn’t support the Communists, though. “They’ve kept the peace between the Hindus and Muslims, I’ll say that much for them, but they don’t care about the poor. No one cares about the poor, because the poor don’t care about themselves.” He had nothing nice to say about the Bengalis whom he took about in his rickshaw, but he loved Kolkata. “There are no rules here, like there are back home in the village. Even your language becomes free here. People who come here from Bihar are astonished when they hear me talk. They say I get the kaa and kii completely mixed up now,” he said, beaming, as if this were a matter of pride.
As he talked to me about his village in Bihar, a boy sat by his side — “my son”. While taking a customer about the city, he had seen an advertisement for the Indian Air Force. “I want my boy to join the Indian Air Force. He can do something for the nation; when he gets his pension, I can live off that, when my bones are broken from this work.” He made the boy write his name, in English, on my notebook. “Remember to tell the world that my son can write in English,” he said.
On the third evening, he asked me: “You’ve been listening for a long time. But I don’t know what you think of me. Do you look down upon me because of my work?”
“No,” I said. “But I keep wondering why a man who is as smart as you is doing this work. There must be something back in Bihar. Even tilling a field; there is dignity in that. Why pull a rickshaw?”
He smiled. “You’ve seen my boy, sir. But I also have three daughters; they stay with my sister in another part of Kolkata. The eldest girl is now 15 years old. She’s in school. All three are in school. If I go back to my village,” he said, “The first thing I will have to do is take them out of school and marry off all three of them within a year or two. There is no choice for Muslims of my background in Bihar.
When he stopped to catch his breath, I noticed that the other rickshaw-pullers were sitting in a circle around us and listening, in the dim light of the shed.
“This place may seem like an animal’s abode to you, but for someone like me, who has learnt to speak and think in the city, home is darkness: and this Kolkata is like light. I send my boy to the village each year, but my daughters will never go back.”
I couldn’t convince any newspaper to take my article on the rickshaw- pullers of Kolkata. But in December that year, when I returned to The White Tiger, what I had heard in that shed in Kolkata came back to me in a flood.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 38, Dated Sept 27, 2008
November 02, 2008
And here is what Nikhil Wagle has written in the latest (8 Nov '08) issue of Tehelka:
Raj Thackeray is aping the 1970s politics of the Shiv Sena
Editor, IBN Lokmat
DURING THE last few days, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has dominated Maharashtra politics. The day Raj Thackeray was brought to court, hundreds of buses were burnt, public property damaged and north Indians in Mumbai were attacked by his supporters. The media covered the manner in which Marathi speakers demonstrated solidarity with Raj Thackeray and his secessionist politics. The Marathi intelligentsia, while condemning the violence, in principle agreed with Thackeray’s cause.
The Raj spectacle makes me wonder if anything has really changed during the last 40 years. In the 1970s, it was the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray who were busy playing the politics being aped by Raj Thackeray today. Then, in order to contain the threat posed by communist parties, the Congress actively used Bal Thackeray. Today, the same party is using Raj Thackeray to restrict and divide the Shiv Sena vote. It is ironical that neither the Congress nor its strategy of using the Thackeray family has changed. The Congress is known to feed monsters for its political gains. The sidelining of Marathi speakers and Marathi language in Mumbai still remains an sore point. Instead of removing this pain, the Congress-NCP Government is trying to use it for political gain.
Elections are on the anvil. This time, the Shiv Sena commands power not only in urban, but rural Maharashtra too. The support of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has improved dramatically. The stakes are high. The MNS is a good weapon to divide the Shiv Sena vote, at least in the urban constituencies. Due to reorganisation of constituencies, Mumbai, Pune and Thane districts are going to play a major role in the elections.
It was a sad state to witness the lack of will on the part of the government to punish Raj Thackeray for his violent speeches. He was arrested and brought to Mumbai in a police car like a hero. He entered Mumbai not as an accused, but a king, waving to his supporters. After he got bail in court, the ACP opened the car door for him. The government ensured that he was treated well. He was charged under bailable sections of the IPC. The lack of will on the part of the government to punish him, and the respect of Marathi police officers was obvious.
Raj Thackeray is being supported whole-heartedly by the lower middle class Marathi youth. It is not that everybody is supporting him, but those opposed are silent. Worse is the fate of the leftist intelligentsia in Maharashtra. They are not only cynical, but have not protested.
The feeling of injustice in the Marathi mind needs to be addressed rationally. Mumbai being the financial capital of India, speaks in the language of money. Globalisation discarded the Marathi working class in Mumbai. The service sector driven postindustrial Mumbai prefers cheaper Bihari labour. The feeling in the minds of sons-ofthe- soil is a global phenomenon. Local cultures and languages are threatened by migration. The government, instead of finding solutions to this problem, is letting Raj Thackrey cash-in on this issue.
Solutions are difficult, but not impossible. A threepronged plan could end the violence caused by people like Raj Thackeray. The government should display the willpower to implement law and order. The media should be balanced in its reporting. If people display a strong sense of national integration, the MNS can be contained. My gut feeling says if we all get together, it’s possible.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 44, Dated Nov 08, 2008
November 01, 2008
In my 29 Oct post I wrote about elements in corporate India using some of the top media editors to plug their agenda. I just came to know that one of the Chandra brothers of Unitech is using 1/2/3 top editors through their obnoxiously close connection with a notorious PR agency (that handles accounts of the several companies of largest corporate group in India, and is now pitching for Unitech's account or already got Unitech's account) to pressurise Sebi to haul up the imaginary short sellers. Unitech, a real estate company, is in deep shit with regard to its finances. A large chunk of its properties are currently lying mortgaged with Indiabulls. There is much more going on in these connections. Its very very ugly. Its a shame on Indian media as well, particularly on these top editors who are batting for Unitech shamelessly.