Jul 5, 2008

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi

Keep your water pure & simple
Nothing symbolizes the gullibility of the modern consumer more than the bottled drinking water boom. Don’t get me wrong. I can see at least one good argument for bottled water: safety. In Third World countries, the water in the taps is usually unfit to drink. And restaurants often can’t be bothered to invest in water purification systems. This is as true of parts of Europe. So, if you are travelling or eating at a restaurant that seems to be insufficiently careful about the cleanliness of its water, then of course, I can see the argument for ordering bottled water.
But that’s about it. Anyone who orders bottled water in circumstances other than the ones I’ve described above has either been made a fool of or is a bit of an idiot.
Bottled water is not a new product. It has been available in Europe for decades. Because their tap water was rarely clean, it made sense for Europeans to treat water as a bottled drink; as the sort of thing you order along with the wine.
But the European predilection for bottled water remained at roughly the same level for many decades. The global water boom only began in the late 1970s and early 1980s when canny marketers began pushing Perrier in the US. The water — gently fizzy so it reminded you a little of soda water — had been around in Europe for years. But it was pitched to the US market as a sophisticated drink, as a way of declaring “I have arrived”.
Soon Americans began ordering Perrier by the case, drinking it with a twist of lemon as though it was a cocktail and even using it as a mix for alcohol. Encouraged by the success of Perrier, other European waters made a dash for the US market. Many were fizzy waters in the manner of Perrier, but some were still.
In most — if not all — of the US, the tap water is clean enough to drink. Nor is there a shortage of supplies of club soda. So why did Americans need to pay such high prices for bottled water?
Partly it was the lure of sophistication. But, as market penetration spread, the water companies began encouraging a culture of lies.
European waters were — or so credulous Americans were told — imbued with mystical properties. The gas in Perrier, for instance, was entirely natural. The water emerged from the earth full of bubbles.
The beauty industry was drafted to help spread the lies. Some of you will remember how, in the 1990s, articles about the miraculous effects of water began appearing. So called nutritionists told us that we should drink our body weights in water. Beauty editors declared that the secret of a great complexion was water. Other drinks, we were assured, would not do. The body thrived only on water. Every other liquid would not have this effect.Even the occasional hiccup could not stall the progress of the water marketing juggernaut. Perrier faded from the US market after a massive product recall. The gas inside a batch of bottles, we were told, was unsafe. Hang on a minute, we should have said. But surely the gas is natural?
But few people asked. And therefore they never found out that Perrier actually added the bubbles at a factory. Machines created the alleged natural sparkle. Most other sparkling waters follow a similar process.
Even though Perrier virtually disappeared, the water industry continued to grow. The big boys — Pepsi, Coke and the rest — entered the business selling ordinary water (available free from American taps) at a huge markup on the backs of multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns.
With so much money riding on the water boom, the media rarely questioned the claims made by the water companies. Hardly anyone challenged the basis of the water-is-healthy campaign: the assertion that the body needs water and not other liquids.
In fact, this claim twisted the truth. It is true that human beings need to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. But it is not true that fluids other than water cannot combat dehydration. What the flacks did was this: They took the medical evidence for the effects of dehydration (bad skin, body odour, etc.) and transformed it into the case for bottled water.
Not only did they get away with this, the media rarely asked the obvious follow-up question: Even if we need water rather than any other fluid, why does this water have to be the bottled stuff? Why can’t we just drink it from the tap?
In the end, it was another trendy campaign that finally made a dent in the water boom. The current Western obsession with global warming means that all products are audited on environmental grounds and on the basis of carbon miles.
On any environmental criterion, bottled water is a disaster. It uses glass or (more likely) plastic to bottle a product that does not need to be bottled and then transports it for many miles even though it is already available, in its natural state, at the destinations it travels to. At a time when the West is trying to cut its carbon footprint, bottled water is one of the worst environmental offenders.
The lunacy of a few years ago when restaurants had water menus and water sommeliers is now finally powering down. More and more restaurants in England and the US have abandoned the old scam of giving you a choice between types of bottled water while refusing to offer tap water. The US was always better when it came to providing tap water but even London restaurants now fill your glasses without question.
Sadly, India is neither environmentally conscious nor immune to the hand-me-down blandishments of marketers who have borrowed their scams from the West. So you’ll rarely be offered normal, purified water at a five-star hotel or a fancy restaurant. You will nearly always be ripped off with overpriced bottled water.
If you are sure about the cleanliness factor (and at hotels, water is always safe) then refuse the bottled option and ask for a jug of water.It’ll demonstrate that you are environmentally aware. But more important: It will prove that you aren’t an idiot, eager to be ripped off by some canny marketer.

India - Listen to the youth

LONDON: Last year a report by Goldman Sachs attracted considerable attention with its prediction that by 2050, India's GDP would surpass that of the US, making it the world's second largest economy. In a similar vein, a study by the McKinsey Global Institute on India's future prospects also echoed a hopeful optimism. Both reports paid rich tributes to the enormous role that the country's youthful middle class has played in reshaping India's clout. Huge socio-economic changes are taking shape as a consequence of this generation, liberalisation's children as they may be termed. But the rise of this young middle class will also have political ramifications which parties — particularly the Congress — ignore at their own risk. A potent dichotomy is at play here. The reforms process which began in the 1990s along with the process of globalisation has gradually influenced attitudes of the youth and the nation's global image. But this momentum is not without its tension. Liberalisation has brought a certain mobility to Indian society. Yet it has also irretrievably altered an old way of life. Liberalisation's children have metamorphosed from adolescence into staunch card-carrying members of the middle class — of the credit and debit variety. They belong to a socially fluid group, which has begun to admire self-made men over an old world patronage. Not for nothing do they view Infosys co-founders Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani as icons. Members of this generation also tend to exercise a greater autonomy in choosing their life partners than ever before. Yet in the inimitable Indian way, traditions aren't abandoned — they are merely adapted with a modern twist. As the plethora of specialist matrimonial websites attest, a conventional non-discretionary 'arranged marriage' has given way to a virtual dawn where pragmatists are freely 'arranging' their own fates. Interestingly too, a global youth survey in 2007 covering 22,000 respondents in 17 countries — in the developed and developing world — by the Swedish strategy group Kairos Future revealed that alongside the Danes, young Indians were the ones most optimistic about their future and also about the future of their society. This is a generation which oozes an admirable self-confidence. It's also heartening that gender equity is ineluctably acquiring a steady momentum among this generation. As the 2001 census revealed, the female literacy rate during the period 1991-2001 increased by 14.87 per cent whereas male literacy rate rose by 11.72 per cent. Yet, as research by organisations such as the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) makes clear, there is a long way to go. On the flip side, this generation is working longer hours than their parents did. Maxims like a 'work-life balance' have acquired a sanctity once reserved for deities. Divorce rates are higher too. But in overall terms, this is still a blessed generation. Not even for a minute do liberalisation's children wish for the closed-minded official dogma that impeded their predecessors.Yet, despite such progress, political parties continue to misread this generation. In a country where majority of the population is under the age of 35, the political establishment is unquestionably geriatric. Youth is consigned to the back benches and denied substantive opportunities. Contrast that with the US, where a 46-year-old Barack Obama is running for president. Across the Atlantic, a revitalised Tory party has a 41-year-old leader in David Cameron and a 37-year-old Shadow Chancellor in George Osborne. It takes no flight of fancy to conclude that this simply would not have happened in contemporary India. An ossified political fraternity in the country would have cheerfully stymied their imagination and ascent by at least another few decades. But, the disconnect between the political parties and a youthful generation is not just about adequate representation. Importantly, it is also about values. And sadly, this disjunction is nowhere more glaringly apparent than in the Congress. Some weeks ago, a party spokes-person felt necessary to declare that the Congress does not tolerate sycophancy. It was soon followed by senior Congressmen pledging undivided loyalty to no higher cause than the Family. Such baroque eruptions only heighten the feeling among liberalisation's children that at the core, the Congress adheres to a code antithetical to their own. This younger generation does not like the BJP much but it is beginning to dislike the Congress a lot. When it looks at the Congress today, a party of aspiration is hardly the attribute that comes to mind. And in the next general elections, the city-dwelling swing voters of this youthful middle class may just prove to be decisive. After a spate of electoral reversals culminating with the latest one in Karnataka, the Congress is again seized by an epidemic of introspection. But no one ought to be fooled by the platitudinous humbug on offer. How a party can claim to be either modern or democratic while reposing ample faith in the hereditary principle is quite a mystery. At a philosophical level then, the Congress's condition isn't a cause for mourning. In large part, it indicates that a youthful generation is unwilling to support a project devoted to sacrificing a meritocratic vision for a flawed expediency. This stance may upset dynasts and sycophants alike. But it is the only way the party will ever contemplate genuine reforms. The writer is a London-based lawyer.

Fun - Demonic Dilemma

We hear people referring to men accused of horrific crimes as 'Ravanas'. The Lankan king has long been the recipient of Hindu invectives. But Ravana did not do the kind of things these men are alleged to have done. As for his wickedness, could there be extenuating circumstances? He had to go around lugging nine useless heads along with a single functional one — that may be why he became frustrated and mean. Consider that when one of the heads caught a cold or sneezed, it was hell for the other nine. He couldn't turn sideways without major contortions. If one head turned, all had to turn. If the heads had quarrelled, they did not cooperate, leading to schisms between the ranks. With four heads on the right and five on the left of the central one, he overbalanced when he walked to the side with more heads. He couldn't visit friends because he couldn't get his heads through their doorway. With all those heads, curling up in bed was impossible. Lying on his back all the time, he developed severe spondylosis. All 10 snored, generating a twister that sucked in the countryside. At mealtime, his two hands could not reach far enough to all the mouths. At least four would go hungry. Only the central head had an oesophagus, the rest were probably connected to it, but he would have had just the one stomach. Each might've enjoyed a different type of food: sorpotel, haggis, fish-vindaloo, murg-musallum, baingan-bhartha or mutton-biryani. The gastronomic assault dried up his gastric juices and created ulcers. As for alcohol, with just one peg each, 600 cc went into the stomach at once. No wonder he seemed to be drunk most of the time! When the heads conversed, apart from it being tough to talk from the side of your mouth, the cacophony must have been hideous. The central head might have often tried to be chairman of the panel, but couldn't get any of the others to listen. Romance was out. If one bent forward to kiss a girl, the other nine jealous guys must have frustrated him by pulling back just as he puckered up. So, two heads may be better than one, but 10 heads breed anarchy

World - Crunch time in Afghanistan

Managing the Afghan war is not going to be easy for the U.S. The Taliban is back — “refit, retrained, and rearmed.”
Even an intrepid traveller will fail to realise the half-hour on the crowded highway leaving Peshawar, by when he is already in the Khyber Pass. The winding road stretches ahead for another 50 km until he reaches the summit at Landi Kotal, just inside Pakistan, after a lifetime journey through mountains and canyons of such staggering beauty that he loses track of time and space. And then a breathtaking decline commences, depositing him summarily at the border town of Torkham. The Khyber Pass simply envelops you with its charm.
The Khyber Agency has always presented in history and politics an intriguing turf of the great game. Indeed, the dispatches in the western media from the Khyber in the recent days proclaim one thing insistently: it is unfair to say Pakistan isn’t fighting the “war on terror,” and with such a committed ally on its side, there is no need for the NATO to bypass Islamabad and deal directly with the tribes.
The Khyber operation will help to blunt the United States and NATO criticism — for the time being, at least — that the Pakistan military easing pressure on the militants in the tribal areas in the recent weeks gave them more space to operate within Afghanistan. It has given high publicity to the operation. Influential western journalists have been taken to the frontline. But does the Khyber operation make a difference?
It must be seen for what it is — a thoughtful public relations exercise. Khyber’s brooding mountains come out with stunning effect on western television screens. During the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, ambitious American politicians almost invariably visited Peshawar for a “photo opportunity” in the Khyber in the company of handsome Afghan mujahideen.
In fact, the Pakistani military was not involved in last week’s operation before the expected arrival of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher in Islamabad. The paramilitary Frontier Corps under the control of the North West Frontier Province government was in charge. A day into the operation, Major General Alam Khattak, head of the Frontier Corps, told Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press on the Afghan beat: “We have occupied, captured all important heights, and we have taken control of the area.”
If so, it was a historic feat. Ms Gannon promptly wrote: “The offensive in the Khyber tribal region marked the first major military action Pakistan’s newly elected government has taken against the militants operating in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. The government had said it preferred to try to defuse tension with the groups through negotiations, but with threats by Islamic militants to the city of Peshawar growing in recent weeks, the military decided to take action. Khyber is also a key route for moving U.S. military supplies into neighbouring Afghanistan.”
But the “success” of the operation proves nothing — neither the Frontier Corps’ professionalism nor the future of militant activity. There was no fighting; there were no casualties; there was no capture of irreconcilable militants. Nothing changed hands. If anything, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud turned more rowdyish, warning that he would “turn into furnace” Sindh and Punjab. Baloney, of course. The mystery of Mr. Mehsud deepens.
Meanwhile, the war rolls on inside Afghanistan. It has become much more serious. For a second successive month, more U.S. and NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. In June, the number touched 44 in Afghanistan compared to 30 in Iraq. But statistics can never tell the whole story. At any rate, scores of Afghans are also getting killed on any single day in the rain of American bombs. The war is becoming indescribably mean. Britain’s Ministry of Defence admitted to the London Times the use of the controversial thermobaric weapon, Hellfire AGM-114N. When fired from Apache attack helicopters or predator drone aircraft, the missile sucks the air out of the Taliban’s chest, shreds his internal organs and crushes his body. He cannot take shelter, as the blast creates a human-crushing vacuum with a second explosion. He instantly disintegrates.
Britain’s MoD spokesman in London said: “We call it an enhanced blast weapon.” But the unfortunate part is the weapon — also known as vacuum bomb — cannot identify a Taliban fighter. At the end of the day, no wonder, the Taliban’s “area of influence … is constantly growing,” to quote Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s veteran Afghan specialist who is serving as ambassador in Kabul. He believes that the Taliban has influence in “more than half of Afghanistan’s territory and controls up to 20 per cent of that area.”
A Pentagon study, Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, which was released in Washington DC last week, also depicted a “fragile” security environment in Afghanistan. The report anticipated that the “Taliban will also probably attempt to increase its presence in the west and north.” No doubt, the Taliban has infiltrated the Afghan security organs. An inquiry into the abortive attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in April as he sat on a podium with foreign dignitaries revealed that at least six Afghans blamed for the attack were government functionaries, including an army general.
Curiously, the Pentagon study did not identify threats emanating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region as a primary security challenge facing the U.S. troops. Instead, it cited a weak Afghan government, a non-functioning economy, narcotics production and corruption as the main challenges. It admitted that the Taliban had “coalesced into a resilient insurgency,” and would likely “increase the scope and pace” of its activities. The study saw the possibility of “two distinct insurgencies” appearing — the Taliban-led insurgency in the south and a “more complex, adaptive insurgency” in the east by several groups — with mutual cooperation and coordination.
But the NATO member-countries resist Washington’s exhortations to step up their troop commitments. The U.S. military does not have the manpower to cover the shortfall. In a presentation recently, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said: “The simple math is that I can’t put any more forces in Afghanistan until I come down in Iraq.” He said the U.S. troops were “pressed very hard” from multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan and keeping up the present operational tempo would be “impossible.” At the same time, Adm. Mullen pointed out that Afghanistan was “at the heart of NATO right now. And I believe that whether NATO is relevant in the future is tied directly to a positive outcome in Afghanistan.”
Clearly, the crunch time is coming in Afghanistan. Added to the crises there — ranging from corruption and misgovernance to the drug problem — and growing alienation of the people due to the increasingly barbarous military tactic adopted by the coalition forces, plus the inability of the NATO to step up troop presence, there is the inchoate factor, what the outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Dan K. McNeill, called the “dysfunctional” political situation in Pakistan. Diverse power centres
The reality is that whereas Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military took all decisions previously, diverse power centres have since emerged and there are fundamental differences over the insurgency. Across the board — both civilian and military — there is reluctance to use the military for counterinsurgency operations. Army chief Ashfaq Kayani appears to be sensitive to the sentiment in the barracks, which is one of guilt about fighting the Taliban. Thus the NATO and U.S. attempts to shift the locus of the war to the Afghan-Pakistan border and the Pakistani tribal areas are meeting with resistance.
But the problem is also over the U.S.’s war strategy. To quote Mr. Kabulov, “There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated [by the U.S.] … Underestimation of the Afghan nation, the belief that we have superiority over the Afghans and that they are inferior and that they cannot be trusted to run the affairs … A lack of knowledge of the social and ethnic structure of this country; a lack of sufficient understanding of traditions and religion.” As he put it, NATO soldiers and officers “communicate with them [Afghans] from the barrels of guns in their bullet-proof Humvees.” Mr. Kabulov admitted that he couldn’t help having some satisfaction that those who once backed the mujahideen were now suffering in the same way the Soviet troops suffered.
Managing the Afghan war is not going to be easy for the U.S. The window of opportunity in 2001 was to go in with an overpowering force, annihilate the Taliban and get out quickly. Instead, Washington placated Pakistan by allowing the Taliban to escape, settle down in the Hindu Kush and create a surrogate regime that would serve its regional strategies. Now, the Taliban is back — “refit, retrained, and rearmed,” as the former CIA officer, Michael Scheuer, wrote. A winless situation is developing where the choice is between an interminable conflict — oscillating between killing and conciliation — and retreat in shame and agony. Either way, the path seems to be leading to a humiliating defeat.
(The writer is a former ambassador belonging to the Indian Foreign Service.)

India - IIT Heads reject quota for Faculty

MUMBAI: IIT directors are doing a Venugopal. The seven IIT heads have expressed their dissent against implementing reservations for faculty appointments and have decided to wrestle with the Union HRD ministry over the issue, just like the former AIIMS boss who took on Health Minister S Ramadoss. On Friday, the directors who met in New Delhi at the meeting of the standing committee of the IIT council (SCIC), took a tough stand against the HRD ministry's recent order that there should be reservations for teaching posts in the IITs. "We are all against reservations for faculty appointments. The IIT council is now going to take up the matter with the ministry. We have demanded that IITs be considered on par with other institutes of national importance, where there are no such reservations," said a director on condition of anonymity. Another IIT director who did not want to be quoted said they had a "lengthy discussion on the issue of faculty reservations and the result was rather positive". Taking a tough stand, most directors vetoed faculty reservations and stated that the government should revoke the decision. Institutes of national importance include those like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Harish-Chandra Research Institute. The June 9 government diktat sent to all IITs states that 15%, 7.5% and 27% teaching positions be reserved for SC, ST and OBC categories respectively. Presently, IITs have reservations for backward category candidates only in administrative posts, from attendants to the level of deputy registrar. According to the order, posts must be reserved for lecturers and assistant professors in all subjects of science and technology. In other areas, like management, social sciences and humanities, reservations should be applied up to the professor level, the seniormost position. When contacted, M Anandakrishnan, chairman of the board of governors at IIT-Kanpur and also on the council, said he was not comfortable discussing the "internal matter" at this stage, as the issue was "extremely sensitive". Sources said the issue of faculty reservations was not taken up earlier by the IIT council and the order was thrust upon the directors by the ministry. Besides the seven directors and Anandakrishnan, SCIC also has C N R Rao, principal scientific adviser to the PM. The government's decision to have reservations for faculty in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) has evoked strong, negative reactions from the alumni as well as current students. Some prominent alumni, now on the board of governors of various IITs, took up the matter individually with the respective directors, only to find that the issue had not even been discussed in the IIT Council and the decision was being thrust by the Union human resources development ministry. IIT-Bombay alumnus Nandan Nilekani said: "I think this is a very unfortunate decision. Matters of such strategic importance must be discussed in the IIT Council but, regrettably, the council has not met even once in the entire duration this government was in power." The government diktat to the IITs says 15%, 7.5% and 27% quota in teaching positions be reserved for the SC, ST and OBC categories, respectively, with immediate effect. The IITs currently have reservations for backward category candidates for their administrative posts, from attendants to the level of deputy registrar. Nilekani, who is on the IIT-B board of governors, feels that higher education in India needs a complete overhaul. "Momentous decisions are taken without consultation and communicated by junior bureaucrats. Our higher education needs a complete revamp, just like the 'licence permit raj' was lifted in 1991. The recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission on Higher Education should be implemented immediately." Nilekani, one of the founders of Infosys, who contributed a generous purse to his alma mater, said that he learnt the most important lessons of his life on the Powai campus. A senior professor from IIT-Delhi said several alumni have expressed their concerns and willingness to talk the issue out with the government. "Students, current and former, know that IITs are what they are because of the kind of teaching that goes on here. Faculty members are the pillars of the IITs and these institutions will crumble if they are recruited on the basis of anything but merit,’’ he said. Another alumnus, Mastek chairman Ashank Desai, pointed out that the IITs stood for excellence and they must be given the autonomy to bloom. Students and alumni are holding a candlelight protest march in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore on Saturday evening. "To be a faculty at IIT, you need to have a PhD. Some institutes even prefer candidates with at least five years of work experience. No one can remain poor after that. Reservation for faculty is a politically motivated decision and it will degrade the IIT system," IIT-B student Neeraj Jain said

Fun - Loving Amnesia

An elderly gent was invited to an old friend’s home for dinner. He was impressed by the way his friend preceded every request to his wife with endearing terms such as Honey, My love, Darling, Sweetheart, Pumpkin etc.
The couple had been married almost 70 years and clearly they were still very much in love. While the wife was in the kitchen, the man leaned over and said to his host, “I think it’s wonderful that, after all these years, you still call your wife those loving pet names.” The old man hung his head: “I have to tell you the truth,” he said. “Her name slipped my mind about 10 years ago and I'm scared to death to ask her what it is.”

Columnist - Khushwant Singh

A matter of faith
It depends on what you mean by religion. If it is prayers most of which you do not understand but recite by rote, going to places of worship to be in the company of like-minded people, undertaking pilgrimages to places you regard holy, fasting on certain days, abstinence from sex, and abstaining from consuming some kinds of food or drink, my answer would be an emphatic ‘no’ because these practices are of no consequence: conforming to them does not make you a better human being. On the contrary, they prevent you from thinking for yourself. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, was right in holding, “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” Galileo, the celebrated astronomer, said the same thing many centuries earlier. “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Abraham Lincoln put it succinctly: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” How true! If you have to justify your words or actions, be sure your feeling good is flawed.
In the final analysis, everyone should make up his or her own religion and not unquestionably conform to the one he or she was born into. Since we do not know where we came from, belief in God as our Creator is optional. But there is no justification for calling Him just or merciful because there is little evidence of justice or mercy in our world. In earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, He takes lives of good and evil, believers and non-believers, old and young indiscriminately. All of which we describe as acts of God.
Why we are here is also an open question because we are not sure of the answer. All we can do is to teach ourselves how to live in peace with ourselves and get the best out of the faculties endowed to us without harming people among whom we live. This is not asking for too much and many people manage to live such lives.
What happens to us after we die should not be of much concern to us. There is no evidence whatsoever for believing in heaven, hell or re-incarnation. They are man-made fantasies to beguile ourselves.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt

Their time starts now
By the time this makes it to print, Amar Singh and Sonia Gandhi wo-uld have excha-nged awkward but polite pleasantries, perhaps over a cup of freshly brewed coffee. And the demons of the dinner that ended up being a political variation of the ‘Last Supper’ — a dinner where Amar Singh proclaimed that the Congress treated him worse than a “dog or a beggar”— would have finally been laid to rest.
The political drama of the past week was written to be performed as the theatre of the absurd. It had all the elements — manufactured conflict (when the Samajwadi Party pretends to be offended by the Congress); melodramatic proclamations of happily-ever-after love (when the Third Front says it is united); war cries raised by generals nervous about going to battle (when the Left keeps setting ominous deadlines which shift to the next week and the next week and the next); courtiers and viziers who claim to be loyal to the king but plot furiously to weaken him (talk to Congressmen off-camera and discover what they really say about the Prime Minister’s insistence on the nuclear deal).
Perhaps the most orchestrated moment in this obviously preordained script was when former President, Abdul Kalam, became the scientific ‘expert’ that Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh turned to for counsel. A senior Congress politician tipped us off on the outcome of the meeting before it had begun, with a complacent little chuckle. And while the Congress and the SP may splutter self-righteously against Mayawati for ‘communalising’ the discourse and making it about the Indian Muslim, it’s pretty obvious that they are just as worried themselves.
Yes, of course, Kalam is one of India’s foremost missile scientists and is easily the country’s best-loved President. But, surely we all know that there’s another reason that he was the perfect candidate. He’s Muslim and when he says the deal is in “national interest”, the two political parties hope it’s a powerful antidote to the reactionary clerics who argue otherwise. It’s the same political nervousness that has propelled the Congress into sudden public clarifications on the Iran pipeline and India’s refusal to send troops to Iraq. These are calculated illustrations, in the obvious hope that the Muslim voter (imagined erroneously as a monolith) is paying close attention. So, what’s slated for the next episode in this crazy soap opera? Well, to start with — ignore the bluster and the dramatic ultimatums — this story isn’t drawing to a close anytime soon. Here’s a glimpse of which way the script could unfold:
The Marxists (stunned and isolated by the SP’s sudden betrayal) may have set July 7 as a de facto deadline for the government to come out and clarify when exactly it plans to approach the International atomic energy Agency (IAEA). But that doesn’t mean the UPA will oblige them with a clear answer.
Instead, Congress strategists have another complicated card up their sleeves. Look out for a Parliament session convened within the next four-five weeks. Watch the PM win a confidence vote with the support of new friends from UP who will argue that their backing is more about keeping the BJP out and less about the nuclear deal. Be sure that the Congress will dither in public on spelling out any dates on when it plans to go to Vienna. Privately, party masterminds calculate that approaching the IAEA in August buys them enough time politically to iron out domestic creases. Then the attention turns to the Left. Will it bite the bait and pull out before all this is unveiled formally? Or will it end up being unwittingly (or perhaps knowingly) complicit in this complex survival plan and hang around and wait to be pushed into an even bigger and much lonelier corner?
There’s just one tiny, but crucial, piece missing in the puzzle — and that is the Americans. So far, a patient American administration has said it will wait till mid-January for the 123 agreement to reach its doorstep. But now, there are signs of exasperation and impatience. A visiting US Congressman has already warned that the ship may be “leaving the port in September.” If Washington decides to call off the lame-duck session of its Congress in December (that’s the Congress that would have convened after the elections), there’s virtually no chance of the deal becoming a reality during President Bush’s tenure. Despite proclaimed bipartisan support for the deal, it may be back to the drawing board with the new Democrats in place. Also, it is worth remembering that getting the safeguards agreement in place by September leaves very little time to get the support of the 45 countries in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). If China, or even Ireland, decides that they need more time to debate before signing off on the deal internally, India could well be in serious trouble. No wonder then that diplomats are already spin-doctoring stories on how the deal may not go through this year, but that doesn’t mean it is quite dead and buried.
In the meantime, a jittery Congress hasn’t forgotten the infamous day when Sonia Gandhi went to Rashtrapati Bhawan counting on the support of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, only to be abandoned at the very last moment. Her public claim of ‘272’ MPs would cause her endless embarrassment in the days and years to come. So, as the party nervously learns to be friends again with a hard-talking SP, enough leaders are privately lamenting that they have just switched walking sticks. First, the crutch was the Left, now it will be the SP. An alliance with the SP may have been an inevitable need for both parties in the next Lok Sabha elections, especially with Mayawati deserting the UPA ship. But in these circumstances of desperate need, the Congress has ended up giving the SP an easy upper hand.
As this drama draws to a messy, unstable denouement, there is one party smiling smugly in the corner: the BJP — watching and waiting for its moment in 2009.

Health* - Want Viagra Effect, Eat Watermelons

Do Note - Health would be a new keyword to our existing list
HOUSTON: Thinking of spicing up your sex life with Viagra? You may not need the blue pill as the answer may lie in a cool and refreshing passion fruit -- watermelon.
According to an Indian American scientist in Texas, water melon has an ingredient that delivers Viagra-like effects to the body's blood vessels and may even increase libido.
The citrulline, found in the flesh and rind of the fruit, triggers off a compound that helps blood vessels in human body relax -- an effect similar to that of Viagra, Dr Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Centre has found.
When watermelons are consumed in large quantities, the citrulline in it reacts with enzymes in the body. It changes into an amino acid called Arginine, known to benefit the heart, circulatory system as well as the immune system.
"The more we study watermelons, the more we realize just how amazing a fruit it is in providing natural enhancers to the human body," said Patil.
"We've always known that watermelon is good, but the list of its very important healthful benefits grows longer with each study."
Beneficial ingredients in fruits and vegetables are known as phyto-nutrients, naturally occurring compounds that react with the human body to trigger healthy reactions, Patil said.
In watermelons, these include lycopene, beta carotene and citrulline, whose beneficial functions are now being unraveled. Among them is the ability to relax blood vessels, much like Viagra does.
"The citrulline-arginine relationship helps the immune system, heart health and may prove to be helpful for those who suffer from obesity and type 2 diabetes," Patil said.
"Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it."
While there are many psychological and physiological problems that can cause impotence, extra nitric oxide could help those who need increased blood flow, which would also help treat angina, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.
"Watermelon may not be as organ specific as Viagra," Patil said, "but it's a great way to relax blood vessels without any drug side-effects," the researcher said.
The benefits of watermelon don't end there, he said. Arginine also helps the urea cycle by removing ammonia and other toxic compounds from our bodies.
Citrulline, the precursor to arginine, is found in higher concentrations in the rind of watermelons than in the flesh. As the rind is not commonly eaten, two of Patil's fellow scientists, are working to breed new varieties with higher concentrations in the flesh.
In addition to the research by Texas A&M, watermelon's phyto-nutrients are being studied by the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Lane, Oklahoma.
As an added bonus, these studies have also shown that deep red varieties of watermelon have displaced the tomato as the lycopene king, Patil said.
Almost 92 per cent of watermelon is water, but the remaining 8 per cent is loaded with lycopene, an anti-oxidant that protects the human heart, prostate and skin health. "Lycopene, which is also found in red grapefruit, was historically thought to exist only in tomatoes," he said. "But now we know that it's found in higher concentrations in red watermelon varieties."

Sport - The Nirmal Shekar Column

London: They come and go, day after day, year after year; some cocky, others almost worshipful, a few daring to believe the impossible, a good majority almost reverential and happily reconciled to their fate.
Names change. Mannerisms change. Years roll on. The climate, too, changes. Species go extinct. Everything changes.
But for one man, time stands still. And the ones who pay him a visit in his spiritual home — the Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club — the so-called rivals, are no more than pieces of statistics.
In the men’s singles semifinals of the 122nd Wimbledon championships, on Friday, Marat Safin was either No. 40 or No. 65, depending on whether you were referring to Roger Federer’s winning streak in SW 19 or his unbeaten run on grass.
For, the players that Federer is really competing against are now contented fathers living the good life, more concerned about their golf handicap rather than anything to do with tennis; some are even grandfathers, sitting by the fireplace and softly telling their grandchildren about their exploits at the greatest of tennis championships.
Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver — these are names draped in the golden glow of history, and these are the only ones that matter now to Federer after he played himself into his sixth straight final with a bloodless 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over Safin.
In fact, Federer’s real opponent — the man with whom he shares the Wimbledon record of five straight titles — was sitting in the Royal Box on Friday.
When Borg was at this stage in his career, he would have hardly known that his next opponent would be the one that would stop his glorious run and, not much later, end his career too.
John Patrick McEnroe outplayed Borg in four sets in 1981, a year after losing a five-set epic to the great Swede. A left-hander in the form of his life stopping a serial-winner on the famous lawns.
Well, history could repeat itself on Sunday. And it is entirely up to Rafael Nadal, Federer’s only worthy opponent among the active players on grass, to make sure that it does.Substantial challenge
The four-time French champion’s game did not scale the dizzy heights that it did in the earlier round against Andy Murray. But Nadal still handled the surprisingly substantial challenge posed by the German journeyman Rainer Schuettler rather well for a 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory to set up a dream final against Federer for a third year in a row.
“Today wasn’t my best match,” admitted Nadal who, perhaps, underestimated his opponent. “I have to play my best tennis in the final (to beat Federer). That is the only way,” he said.
After being humiliated in the first set in just over 20 minutes, Schuettler broke Nadal’s serve with a forehand crosscourt pass in the third game of the second and found himself serving for the set in the 10th game.
But the pugilistic Spaniard broke back to 5-5, raced through the tie-break, and found an early break in the third.
As awe-inspiring as his Wimbledon record is, Federer, too, has often looked below his best in this championship. It is just that nobody has been good enough to take advantage of that.
If the champion is yet to lose a set this fortnight, then this has as much to do with his serving might as with the ineptitude of the opponents. After promising so much, Safin played a rather poor match on Friday.
Three years ago, in the semifinals of the Australian Open in Melbourne, the lofty Russian had beaten Federer in a five-set thriller, fighting off a matchpoint with a fantastic lob and then holding his nerve to go through.
Safin then outplayed Lleyton Hewitt to win his second Grand Slam title. On Friday, the Safin who played Federer bore little resemblance to that giant warrior as a competitor. He gave too much away too soon, losing his opening service game, a pair of nervous forehands sailing well beyond the lines.
Federer is such a great front-runner that when a tricky opponent shows such signs of weaknesses, he quickly drives through. The champion lost just four points on serve in the first set. And it wasn’t until midway in the second that Safin found his first opportunity to break Federer’s serve.
But on a day when he served well for the most part, hitting 14 aces, Federer quickly recovered to fight off two breakpoints in the fourth game. Safin himself saved one in the seventh to take the set into a tie-break.
It was here that the Russian surrendered in a hurry. Three backhand errors — all of them unforced — saw Federer go up 4-1. Less than three minutes on, Safin was staring down the barrel.
With Safin serving to stay in the match in the 10th game of the third set, Federer grabbed his first opportunity to close out the match, with a backhand crosscourt pass.
Asked what he would say to the critics who thought he was vulnerable this year, Federer said, “Don’t write me off quickly. This is my part of the season.”Paes-Dlouhy pair loses
India’s Leander Paes and his Czech partner Lukas Dlouhy lost a five-set thriller to the second seeded Daniel Nestor (Canada) and Nenad Zimonjic (Serbia) in the men’s doubles semifinals.
In a match that was suspended midway in the third set in gathering gloom on Thursday night, Paes and Dlouhy did well to battle back and take the fourth set after being routed in the third.
But Nestor and Zimonjic broke serve in the 13th game before the Canadian served out the match in the next for a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-1, 4-6, 8-6 victory.

Jul 4, 2008

Entertainment - People magazine

PEOPLE, The World's # 1 Celebrity Magazine launches in India

MUMBAI: Outlook Group launches PEOPLE, the world's leading celebrity news magazine, in India under a licensing agreement with Time Inc. Time Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the United States.
With the India edition, PEOPLE makes its overseas debut as a fortnightly national celebrity news magazine. Priced at Rs 30, the first issue [114 pages] will be launched nationwide on 4 July, 2008.
PEOPLE revolutionized personality journalism in 1974 and is today the world's most successful and popular magazine. Every week, the PEOPLE brand in the United States brings more than 43 million consumers the latest news, exclusive interviews and in-depth reporting on the most compelling people of our time. PEOPLE India will be a fortnightly magazine. It will be a celebrity news magazine that will showcase 'Extraordinary People ' and 'Extraordinary Stories'. The first issue will be available on newsstands July 04, 2008 nationally.
Mr. Indranil, President, Outlook Group, while announcing the launch said, "We are delighted to be associated with Time Inc, one of the world's largest magazine publishers and to bring PEOPLE's unique editorial mix to India. The launch of PEOPLE will actually create a new genre, which is the "celebrity news magazine".
"The economic growth and opportunity in India right now makes this an ideal time to bring one of Time Inc's signature brands into the country," said Mr. Jim Jacovides, Vice President, Licensing and Syndication, Time Inc. Mr. Jacovides group is responsible for the licensing and syndication of Time Inc.'s leading brands globally. "We are pleased to add PEOPLE to our roster of 35 international editions published under license. "
Ms. Saira Menezes, Editor, PEOPLE in India, said, "We hope to be the biggest, most credible source of information on the people you want to know and the moment that shapes their lives. PEOPLE strives to tell stories that resonate, tell them well and to be at the same time fair, objective, factual and true."

Entertainment - Mahaabhaarat

9X ropes in three co-sponsors for Mahaabhaarat

MUMBAI: INX Media’s Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) 9X has roped in three sponsors for its mega-budget mythological Kahaani Hamaaray Mahaabhaarat Ki, which is launching on 7 July at 9 pm.
The three sponsors include Airtel, ITC Personal Care and Max New York Life Insurance. Produced by Ektaa Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, the show will mark the entry of the soap queen into the mytho genre.
INX Media group director sales Probal Ganguly says, “We are offering four slots. Three advertisers - Airtel, Max New York Life Insurance and ITC Personal Care - have already come on board. We are in talks for the remaining one slot.”
Ganguly adds: “Our strategy is different for Mahaabhaarat. We will wait and see the market response before announcing the rate card. Moreover as it is a half-hour daily, we do not want to clutter the space. The four slots are booked for 13 weeks. However, you may see some packages being rolled out in-between,” adds Ganguly.

Entertainment - US Preferences

US prefers consuming content on TV than online: Nielsen
Despite the growing popularity of viewing television content online, most American adults (94 per cent) who subscribe to cable or satellite television services prefer to watch television on traditional TV sets, according to a Nielsen study.
The report is based on a study that Nielsen conducted for the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing (Ctam).
One-third of the adult broadband users (35 per cent), surveyed for the study said that they watched at least one television programme originally shown on TV via the Internet. Of those who sought out video content online, 87 per cent watched television programs directly from a TV network website.
Further, 82 per cent of those who watched video content online reported that they went online to find a specific television program that they had missed when it first aired on TV.
This indicates the critical importance of strong marketing for the initial TV showing and the success that major networks are having by taking popular programmes to the online platform.
According to the study, online television viewers are not only catching up on their favourite shows, but nearly 40 per cent report using the Internet to get the scoop on actors and upcoming episodes.
As far as the online TV viewers are concerned, 39 per cent have read background info about a show's cast member, says the report.
38 per cent have viewed a show's preview. 37 per cent have read background info about the show or the show's characters. 27 per cent have viewed a behind-the-scenes video clip. Asked to choose among 17 online content categories, online television viewers said they prefer to watch shorter video clips when they go online. This specifically includes movie trailers (53 per cent), user generated videos (45 per cent), music videos and general news segments (37 per cent), comedy programmes (31 per cent), and sports clips (31 per cent).
Ctam president and CEO Char Beales says, "Tracking how consumer behaviour is changing as a result of new television viewing platforms is critical to our business. As preferences are made clear through research, cable companies and content providers evolve the product mix to best suit viewers' needs and desires."
"With so many viewing options now available via digital technology, it's more important than ever to understand how people are consuming media. This analysis shows a continuing strong appetite for watching television the traditional way even as viewers begin to extend their viewing to the personal computer," Nielsen executive VP Susan Whiting added.
In general, the study found that people are spending more time online each week than they were two years ago. More than half of the respondents (51 per cent) reported being online for at least three hours a week last year. In 2005, just 41 per cent of those surveyed said they spent three or more hours online per week.
Nielsen and Ctam's analysis also found growth among services associated with traditional television set viewing. For example, respondents' knowledge and usage of video-on-demand services increased substantially between 2005 and 2007. Free-on-demand programs and movies also experienced a significant jump in usage from 49 per cent in 2005 to 71 per cent in 2007, while paid-on-demand usage increased from 46 per cent to 55 per cent.
Other key findings from the report include:
HDTV subscribers are exceptionally loyal: Of those respondents who own HDTV sets, two-fifths (41 per cent) subscribe to a high-definition programming service. These subscribers report making it a point to watch high-definition programs every time (20 per cent) or most of the time (45 per cent) they watch television.
Digital cable and HDTV are poised for further growth: Interest in digital cable and HDTV sets is strong among respondents currently without these services or devices. Those interested in digital cable jumped from nine per cent to 20 per cent and from 18 per cent to 28 per cent for high definition TV sets from 2005 to 2007.
Viewers are accessing TV content via new media platforms: Small, but significant, percentages of respondents reported watching television via desktop computers (14 per cent), laptops (nine per cent), video-enabled mobile phones (6 per cent), or other portable video players (5 per cent).
Portable video platforms are slowly gaining popularity: While a large per cent (82 per cent) of adults in this study own a mobile phone, only seven per cent subscribe to a video downloading service. Of those respondents who own a video iPod, 35 per cent have never watched a video on it, 16 per cent watch videos two or three times a month, 14 per cent watch videos once a week, and nine per cent watch videos daily via iPod.

Marketing - Admen write soap operas in sachets

Admen write soap operas in sachets to cut through clutter
Rising ad clutter on television and growing consumer scepticism towards advertising are forcing some big advertisers to think out of the box for delivering their brand messages in a more engaging and compelling formats.First, it was the Hindustan Unilever’s Pond’s episodic commercial narrating the tale of three characters—played by Saif Ali Khan, Neha Dhupia and Priyanka Chopra—while launching its new White Beauty range. Now, it is Idea Cellular TV ads telling the story of education in a village through Abhishek Bachchan, the priest. Moving beyond a typical 30-second format, these first rush of ‘next generation’ ads are more than just commercials. They’re more like soap operas in sachets, complete with a storyline and characters, with brand message an integral part of the narrative. In one sense, these story-like ad capsules are yet another step in Indian marketers journey towards branded-content—whether stealthily riding on ‘proper’ programming to get the message across to the audience (brand placements in films and TV serials) or making paid-advertising cover itself in story garb for better brand salience and traction. Ad-spend on mobile space set to grow exponentially “What an idea!”. You might have articulated these words while being tuned to the new Idea commercial launched in a phased manner. The first phase was a 10-second teaser, in which Abhishek Bachchan sat and wondered how he can educate all the children in the country. The commercial ended with him looking up and saying, ‘idea’. The main campaign, a 90-second commercial, launched a few days later opens with a village girl being denied admission in a school, as there are no vacancies. Bachchan, the principal of the school, hits upon the ‘idea’ of starting mobile classrooms in villages. In villages, children gather around a mobile to get their lessons while teachers in the school have mobiles on their desks. The two-way communication enables teachers to teach both sets of students.Advertisers see storytelling in phases an exciting way of generating interest for the product. The creative agency for the Idea campaign is Lowe India. Lowe India chairman and national creative director R Balakrishnan says: “The idea behind the commercial is not just relationship building as people largely interpret. We wanted to break away from the clutter and we did so by having Abhishek Bachchan playing different characters and telling a tale instead of playing himself.” Ogilvy & Mather India chairman & national creative director Piyush Pandey says: “Staging ads in several parts enhance curiosity among audience. Such a technique helps in hooking the audience to the brand for long.” Agrees Mudra Max president Chandradeep Mitra: “Weaving out stories around the product provides image to the brand. Conveying social message through the commercial gives rise to positivism.” A week or two ago, HUL’s Pond’s left TV viewers confused with its latest Pond’s commercial. Anyone can mistake the ad for a Bollywood film trailer—filmmaker Shoojit Sircar’s Kabhi Kabhi Pyar Mein—starring Saif Ali Khan, Priyanka and Neha Dhupia. However, it turned out to be a commercial for Pond’s, with characters and the plot entwined well with the brand proposition. “A breakthrough technology needed a breakthrough communication and hence it was decided to come out with an episodic format of communication. The idea was to convey the proposition of the brand in an interesting manner for the consumer,” says HUL spokesperson. Globally, Coca-Cola has set the best example of bonding with consumers through wonderful stories in its ads. The campaign, Happiness Factory, uses animated characters to tell a modern fairy tale that no way resembles a regular ad. The ad not only won several awards but also became a part of Second Life, the popular virtual world game.

Marketing-Will marketers remain buoyant?

The test is round the corner.Inflation has touched double digits for the first time after over a decade — actually after 1995. It has climbed steeply from under 5 per cent in November 2006, to now over 11 per cent in June this year, and its effects are being seen all around. Rice that cost Rs 20 per kg a year ago is today priced at Rs 27. A weekly vegetable basket that cost Rs 100 last year this time costs Rs 160 today . The government and the RBI are doing their bit to try and combat inflation at the economy level — managing CCR, controlling credit by increasing lending rates, etc. However, the sagacious Indian housewife has her own way of managing the household budget in this age of rising prices. She is unlikely to reduce her savings and indulge in the short term, hoping to make it up later in the long term — despite the general belief that Indians are getting instant-gratification oriented. She will use one of three distinct tactics: 1. Abstinence for products that she can do without for some time 2. Postponing purchase of products that she can do without immediately, waiting for a ‘better' day — like consumer durables and automobiles. The former is already seeing a slow down 3. Trading down in categories that are daily necessities, where she can compromise a bit on quality or imagery for a better price. This could take the form of moving to lower-priced brands in the same category or moving down to unbranded stuff in others, or just reducing the amount consumed. Consumer markets are bound to feel the heat. Life will not be business as usual in the future. How will marketers react in such an environment? An Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) paper released in March this year analysed data across developed markets and established the following: 1. Cutting down on budgets will only help defend profits in the very short term 2. Ultimately the brand will emerge from the downturn weaker and much less profitable 3. It is better to maintain share of voice (SOV) at or above share of market (SOM) during a downturn; the longer-term improvement in profitability is likely to greatly outweigh the short-term reduction 4. If other brands are cutting budgets, the long-term benefits of maintaining SOV at or above SOM will be much greater. In fact, the paper went ahead to say that categories that are more price-driven and where brands carry less importance to consumer choice (motor fuel, mineral water, apparel), are more susceptible than branded categories (luxury cars, financial services and fragrances). Finally, the buzz (and in India, perhaps, retail push) depends on advertising. So depending on buzz as a low-cost method to keep the brand going is not possible. Are these principles applicable to India — a developing market where categories and brands are developing and where the market structure is less homogeneous? That's an interesting question. India's market structure has changed dramatically since the mid-90s, the last time we saw such a high inflation. There are more price segments in each category today and there is a combination of multinational, national and local players in the market, giving consumers a choice to recaliberate the products they buy and bringing a different marketing perspective in to play. The optimism and buoyancy of 2007 continued in the first half of 2008, but this may not be the same as we move forward in the second half and beyond. Today, an optimism remains that a good monsoon will make this rising inflation seem like a passing phase; interestingly it is timed in a generally low ‘marketing activity' period — the monsoons. However multinationals who are historically bottomline-minded will wait and watch to see how the second half pans out. If toplines don't come in, they are likely to reduce spends. Marketers who have a portfolio of offerings are likely to re-jig their spends either at the top end targetted at the upper-income segments that are less likely to be price sensitive or support their lower-end products to make the most of downgradation. The middle market is most likely to see a squeeze. Much as marketers see advertising as a brand building investment, the reality is that investments are made only when immediate returns are looking good — advertising is measured by both short-term and long-term metrics. The joker in the pack is the Indian entrepreneur. Unlike the 1990s, when their presence and hence impact was limited, today the advertising market is driven by many such advertisers whose outlook in spending is different. Indian entrepreneurs have driven the advertising market in many emerging sectors like retail, telecom and real estate. Some are top-line driven and could see this as an opportunity to gain market share by aggressively promoting their products and brands. Some large Indian conglomerates have fairly diversified portfolios that can provide them cushions from divisions that are under direct pressure due to slowing consumer markets. There are others who advertise and brand-build not so much for immediate or long term consumer sales, but for building market-capitalisation value. If these marketers continue to look at the market aggressively, the disturbance could be much less. What challenges do advertising agencies face? Again, since the mid 1990s, there has been a change in agency remuneration structures — moving from commissions to fees, thus insulating themselves from the vagaries posed by depending on client media-spends. Hopefully, it will stand them in good stead, at least in the short run. However, if this situation persists, there will be a need for agencies to focus on more result-oriented communication and more cost-effective media, like digital and retail, that can bring immediate returns. It may be an opportunity for agencies to develop and evaluate mixed targetting at ‘innovators' in the market to drive change — this could be more effective than carpet bombing, the norm in good times. The larger issue of the inflation and economic slowdown is the real test of India's optimism and buoyancy. It is very easy for businesses and marketers to be upbeat when the consumer is gung ho. The real challenge is when the market goes down and the consumer isn't as positive. Will marketers retain that optimism and drive the market or will they ride on consumer sentiment and slow down? Only time will tell. Something worth thinking about.

Business - Sachets paying off

Companies bet big on small packs to beat inflation heat
Small is paying off in a big way for inflation-hit FMCG companies. As consumers’ monthly budgets come under pressure, smaller packs at lower-price points have become critical for consumer product firms since these have begun registering faster offtake than mid-sized packs.Companies are either introducing newer, lower-priced packs at cheaper price points or sharpening focus on the existing smaller packs. The pinch due to inflation is not being felt by the semi-urban and rural households alone. Henkel has just introduced a new 400 gm pack of Henko washing powder at Rs 40 and withdrawn the 500 gm pack that used to sell for Rs 46. It has re-introduced Pril liquid for Rs 50 (425 gm bottle), down from Rs 55 (500 gm). “A family of four requires only 400-425 gm of washing powder in a month. We withdrew the 500 gm packs as as they were making consumers spend more and consume more. In the next two-three months, offtake of products at price points of Re 1, Rs 5, Rs 10 will be higher. We are working at our distribution system so that the smaller packs are easily available,” said Henkel India marketing V-P (laundry and homecare) Ranju Mohan. According to a marketing head of a consumer goods company, unlike the slowdown five years ago when small local players gained in volumes, this time they may not be able to flex their muscles too much, owing to high input costs limiting their presence. Large companies can gain with some planning and good consumer insight. “Households are buying provisions in small packs and when they run out of them by the 21st-22nd of the month, they buy even smaller packs to sustain for the rest of the month. Companies should therefore have products to cater to such needs,” he said. Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation’s Amul introduced 25 gm packs of butter few months back, which is now clocking higher sales than the traditional 100 gm and 500 gm packs. Said GCMMF CGM RS Sodhi: “The same is the case for our milk powder. Earlier, traditional packs of 200 gm, 500 gm and 1 kg used to sell more, with the 500 gm packs selling the most. Now, it’s the 25 gm and 50 gm packs that are selling in higher numbers.” Said FritoLay marketing director Deepika Warrier: “Our smaller packs are moving faster than the bigger ones, but the reasons could be more than just inflation. We have upped penetration and distribution of the smaller SKUs, which could also be the reason why the smaller SKUs are registering higher offtake.” In FritoLay’s case, the Rs 5 pack of 15-20g is selling more than the 30-50g and 80-130g packs. Godrej Consumer Products ED & president Hoshi Press said: “It’s easier to increase prices of premium products but in case of sub-popular products, the choice is between reducing grammage and maintaining the same price points or introducing another price point to suit consumer pockets.”

Business - New Webtool to bring wisdom to grocery shoppers

New web tool brings wisdom of shoppers to the grocery store
Shoppers who dread selecting a salad dressing or anguish over buying the wrong jar of pickles can finally stop tormenting themselves.Zeer.com, a new Cambridge, Massachusetts website, brings the wisdom of the crowd to the grocery store— providing user-generated reviews to spare people the agony of uncertainty in the aisle. The website is part food search engine, part community website. Users can look up food by name or by specifying criteria such as gluten-free or calorie count. They can also read about and review products, create shopping lists, make profiles, and join communities of like-minded eaters. “If you could ask a product a question, what would it be?” said Michael Putnam, president and founder of Zeer. “What do my friends think of you? Are you healthy?” But will it work? Zeer demystifies an arena of life that hardly seems to need such help. It brings social web tools to the kind of store people visit weekly or more frequently, where products have a fairly straightforward function - to be eaten. “Milk is a baseline commodity. People are so familiar with the product and how they use it that unless there’s something dramatically new about it, they don’t need extra help,” said Patti Freeman Evans, a research director at JupiterResearch, who did say the website could be useful to people with special dietary interests. The mobile version of the service allows people to use a cellphone’s browser to access information at m.zeer.com. Shoppers can read reviews by typing in a product’s name or product code into a search field. A user who created a shopping list online can leave the paper list at home and pull up the electronic version. One challenge will be attracting traffic to the website, which plans to make money through advertising. That could be tough for the small start-up, since people seeking product information overwhelmingly use Google or go directly to a retailer’s website, according to Freeman Evans. If Zeer does attract a critical mass of users, the site’s strongest feature could be its social features, which allow users to not only browse and rate products, but connect with others with the same food allergy or low-cholesterol dietary needs. “If it’s a new mother who is trying to figure out what are the best sort of paediatric nutrition supplements, what products work best for colicky babies —that could really help,” Freeman Evans said. Zeer’s social aspect, including recommendations and discussion boards, is what April Lawson of Brookline finds useful. By joining Zeer communities such as Weight Watchers and Snackfood Lovers, she can get recommendations for products she has never heard of and shake up her routine. “It’s an automatic filter and community of people who have the same needs as you - for me, that’s hugely valuable,” Lawson said. “I’m always looking for stuff that fits with my lifestyle, and my healthy eating habits, but that’s new and not boring and I haven’t tried it hundreds of times.” Still, people have long managed to shop for groceries without specialised insight, and are used to looking at shelves instead of a cellphone screen when they choose food. Last week, Putnam demonstrated the mobile version of Zeer while wandering the aisles of the Charles River Plaza Whole Foods Market. He used his phone to pull up a list of kosher, gluten-free foods he created at home using Zeer’s search tool. He looked up information and reviews of two kinds of yogurt by punching their product codes into the search engine. Putnam conceded that many people in the United States still do not use cellphone Web browsers and might be too busy to do extensive in-store research. But that is expected to change, he said. “If I see something in the grocery store that I don’t know anything about, but might be on the more expensive side, I’d rather flip open my mobile phone and take two seconds to type it in than spend the money,” Lawson said.

Business - Titan Rebranded

Titan rebranded with new logo and communication

Advertisement24 years of being in the watch business, the Tata Group’s Titan Industries has decided to give a new brand dimension to its flagship watch range, Titan. The only other time such an extensive rebranding exercise was undertaken for Titan was five years ago, when the ‘What’s Your Style?’ and Aamir Khan campaigns were launched. In its new avatar, the brand’s logo colours have been changed to red and white (‘Titan’ inscribed in white on a red background). Titan’s new tagline is: ‘Be More’. This charting of a new course will encompass Brand Titan in its entirety. The reinvention of the brand, in the pipeline for the last eight months, is the result of an extensive study undertaken by Titan in consultation with Future Brands.
The new Titan logo“Titan has always been about the new: new designs, new advertising, new retail experiences and new advertising,” says Harish Bhat, chief operating officer, watches, Titan Industries. “Over the years, our consumer seeks to express himself in varied ways and is multidimensional. He yearns to be much more, in real life, in his dreams and in his imagination. Our take on the category is that a watch allows for these imaginative travels.” (In fact, this is what led to the creation of the Titan Aviator, a spirited range with designs inspired from World War II fighter aircraft). This change in consumers prompted the brand to take a re-look at itself.After research and insight mining by Future Brands (led by Santosh Desai, its managing director and chief executive officer), it was discovered that with an explosion of options in the lives of consumers, they can do much more with their lives. Two key insights were arrived at: ‘My watch is an expression of who all I want to be’ and ‘My watch is a compass of my imagination’.
A frame from the new Titan TVCTitan offers four ranges: Titan Aviator (for those who love flying), Titan Octane (for those who are fascinated by car racing), Titan Raga (the sensual luxury range for women) and Titan Heritage (inspired by cultural/ heritage monuments). “We want our consumers to say they feel like an aviator, or a princess, or anything they want to be, when they wear a Titan on their wrist,” says Bhat. “Hence the tagline, ‘Be More’.” Santosh Desai says that the new communication goes beyond the prettiness/ stylishness/ adornment factor of a watch. “This is a re-look at the category and the brand,” he emphasises. Dipping into Titan’s history, he says, “Many years ago, a watch was almost like a functional object that fixed you in your place in life. Titan opened up our options in a graceful way, liberating consumers to express themselves through the kind of watches they wore.” Ogilvy & Mather Bangalore has conceptualised the new campaign for Titan’s brand personality change, which shows brand ambassador Aamir Khan encouraging people to be ‘born’ every day. According to Piyush Pandey, chairman, Ogilvy India, and national creative director and vice-chairman, Ogilvy Asia Pacific, “Two decades ago, I had the privilege of viewing the first Titan ad at Ogilvy, when I was a junior employee and could only see it from afar! Since then, I have worked on it personally and I have realised that it’s a very restless brand.” Pandey says Titan comes up constantly with new designs, packaging and communication, even before one has had one’s fill of the earlier ones. “In Aamir, we found a perfect brand fit five years ago, as this is one man who is also very restless and constantly reinvents himself, leaving his fans craving for more,” he says. The new communication is aimed at reinforcing that Titan is not just a watch, it’s a state of mind – this is an extension of Titan’s recent campaigns, which talked of different watches for different moods. Titan plans on spending Rs 15 crore over the next two years to advertise on the ‘Be More’ thought. This includes mass media, below-the-line and other media such as online and retail marketing. For now, ‘Be More’ is an expression only for the mother brand Titan; whether or not it will filter down to other Titan watch brands such as FasTrack is not known. For the record, the watch market in India (both organised and unorganised) comprises 40 million watches (Rs 3,000 crore in terms of market size) out of which 15 million watches belong to the organised segment. Titan claims to have a majority market share (65 per cent) of this organised segment. Over the next 12 months, Titan plans to launch 10 new collections with 25-30 watches in each collection. Further, each retail touch point will contain a ‘Be More’ story about the collection on display.

Entertainment - NDTV taps unusual news segment

NDTV Convergence taps unusual news segment with NoGyan.com
Kapil Ohri afaqs! New Delhi, July 04, 2008 NDTV
Convergence, the digital media arm of the NDTV Group, is trying to move beyond hardcore news. It recently launched a site, NoGyan.com, to capture and offer news, views and analysis of unusual happenings in areas such as glamour, celebrities, sports, technology, spirituality, health and automobiles. “The site is targeted at the youth and NDTV Convergence has intentionally not branded it as an NDTV product because it does not want to attach the brand value of NDTV to NoGyan.com,” says Sanjay Trehan, chief executive officer, NDTV Convergence. Trehan adds, “NoGyan does not have a synergy with the other NDTV Convergence sites. It’s a separate or standalone product as compared to our other sites, which have a synergy with the NDTV Group channels. We want to reach out to a new audience through NoGyan. We might face competition from entertainment and lifestyle sites.”
NoGyan will be opened to users in the next two months. It will include a user generated content section, My NoGyan, allowing users to upload videos, create blogs and contribute to its fora. NDTV Convergence has set up an internal team to source and cover news for NoGyan. It is also sourcing content from various news agencies such as Indo Asian News Service, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. Since NoGyan is positioned as a different entity in its portfolio, NDTV Convergence will not employ the usual online advertising techniques like display advertising to promote the site. Trehan says, “We will use social media marketing to promote NoGyan. We will be creating a community on Orkut, a group on Yahoo Groups, and will develop a NoGyan widget for Facebook. We will also create NoGyan ringtones and screensavers.”The site will earn its revenue mainly through banner and video ads and through sponsors for its various sections in the next three months.“NDTV Convergence earns 80 per cent of its revenue from online properties and 20 per cent from its mobile site, NDTVActive.com. Some 75 per cent of its online revenue comes from NDTV.com, while other sites such as NDTVKhabar.com, NDTVProfit.com, NDTVImagine.com and NDTVArabia.tv contribute 25 per cent of the online revenue. We expect that 20-25 per cent of the online revenue will be generated through NoGyan.com in the next three years,” says Trehan. NDTV Convergence also launched a travel portal called NDTVTravels.com in June 2008.

Business - Don't say goodbye to Microhoo just yet

You didn’t think it was over, did you? As Yahoo's stock has fallen dangerously low -- almost to sub-$20 levels that preceded Microsoft's takeover bid back in February -- Microsoft is looking for partners to help it break up Yahoo so that it can nab its search business, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The story cites AOL and News Corp., two businesses floated as potential Yahoo bidders back in the spring.
The story, which chronicles many of the details of the five-month-long saga, is heavily couched and says that "some of the people familiar with these talks say they are preliminary and unlikely to result in a deal with Yahoo". And it reports that a meeting between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock was canceled, which could mean no partners had been found.
In a demonstration of how desperate Yahoo investors are for good news, the company's beleaguered stock jumped about 8 per cent to almost $22 after the story broke.
Search-focused all along?
In recent weeks Yahoo has raised doubts that Microsoft ever wanted to buy it in its entirety, suggesting that all Microsoft was interested in was Yahoo's search business, which is the only way Microsoft would be able to challenge the scale of rival Google in that space -- although Microhoo would still only equal half of Google's search share.
For buyers, combining Microsoft's and Yahoo's search businesses would be a more welcome scenario than the current ties between Google and Yahoo. How would a Microhoo work, given Yahoo's recent pact to let Google sell some search advertising on queries generated on Yahoo and by Yahoo partners? Well, that deal has several outs, including one relating to change of ownership by Yahoo. While there would be a $250 million charge paid to Google, that's chump change for Microsoft if it can finally get what it wants out of the deal.
It's true Microsoft, which has a healthy display ad business and ad-serving and ad-management technologies, doesn't need the half of Yahoo that isn't search, and buying the whole thing would make integration much more challenging. If Microsoft can find other interested parties to unload Yahoo's display-ad business, it would come out of what has been a disastrous quest to goose its online business looking like the winner.

India - Strong message to the intolerant

The Supreme Court’s quashing of the summons issued by a Gujarat court to political scientist Ashis Nandy should send a strong message not just to harassers of free speech, including intolerant state governments, and religious and chauvinistic groups, but to the lower judiciary as well. The summons were issued on a first information report (FIR) registered by the Gujarat police on the basis of a complaint filed by a non-government organisation that his analysis of the 2007 Gujarat elections published in The Times of India in January tended to promote enmity among different groups and was derogatory to the state as a whole. The Supreme Court bench found that Dr. Nandy’s academic analysis was hardly the incendiary material it was alleged to be and the attempt to prosecute him was only a demonstration of intolerance. This is the latest in a series of court orders that have sought to protect writers, artists, film makers, entertainers, and public personalities from harassment through frivolous cases filed by intolerant religious or regional forces, self-proclaimed enforcers of morality, and governments. In May, the Delhi High Court quashed proceedings in three cases in which the renowned painter M.F. Husain was charged with painting Hindu gods and goddesses in an objectionable manner. The Supreme Court itself had earlier come to the rescue of Richard Gere, who was sought to be arrested and prosecuted for his demonstrative gesture of kissing Shilpa Shetty.
That the Supreme Court and the high courts should step in to prevent the harassment of writers and creative artistes through the abuse of the legal process is not a surprise. What is disquieting is that despite repeated judicial pronouncements, there seems to be no let-up in the attempts to silence free speech and expression that some group or the other finds objectionable. In part, that is due to the overly broad interpretation by the lower judiciary of what constitutes an offence under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with writings and creative activities that promote “disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups, or castes or communities.” Often enough, magistrates are persuaded by vocal and powerful religious or chauvinistic groups playing upon local sentiments to take up cases and issue summons on the most frivolous grounds. They would do well to heed the caution urged by the Delhi High Court while quashing the cases against Mr. Husain that they should strictly scrutinise frivolous and vexatious complaints that impinge on the basic freedom of an individual. The intolerant need to be told clearly and firmly of the level of tolerance called for in a democratic society. While court orders in specific cases illustrate what cannot be considered objectionable, the Supreme Court in the case relating to the film Ore Oru Gramathile had adopted a broad standard that “the effect of the words must be judged from the standards of reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view.” The permissive legal culture that provides any bigot a forum to turn perfectly acceptable speech or expression into a crime and harass writers and creative artistes is clearly in need of an attitudinal, if not structural, overhaul.

World - Living longer but as second class citizens

Hasan Suroor
The British government has announced plans for tougher measures to check ageism after pressure groups warned of a “class war” if the old continued to be treated as though they were less than full citizens.
The title of the Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster, No country for Old Men — the film is not exactly about old age — could well apply to Britain where old people say they feel like “second class citizens” because of widespread prejudice against them despite stringent anti-age discrimination laws. The government has been forced to announce plans for tougher measures to check “ageism” after pressure groups warned of a “class war” if the old continued to be treated as though they were less than full citizens.
A new legislation, introduced in the Commons last week, will extend the existing ban on age-related discrimination to provision of goods and services. This follows research showing that a majority of old Britons believe that the country is “rampantly ageist” with those over 50 facing discrimination not only at work but also in other areas of life.
In a more youthful country, this may not have mattered so much. But Britain is an ageing nation and according to the government’s own data there has been a significant increase in the population of old people as Britons are living longer as a result of improved sanitation, medicine, food and living standards. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) point to a further rise in their population. It is estimated that the number of people over 100 alone is expected to be in the region of 40,000 by mid-2031.
Yet social attitudes have not kept pace with the growth of the “grey” population and, critics say, there is hardly any sphere of life where old people, especially the 60-plus, are not regarded as a “risk” or liability. Employers are reluctant to hire them; doctors don’t see them as a priority; financial institutions tend to look the other way when old people come asking for loans/mortgages; and insurance agents run a mile at their sight.
There have been cases of old people being refused credit cards, mortgages, travel insurance (one woman reported that her insurance company cancelled her travel insurance when she turned 70) and denied even proper medical treatment because of their age. Last year, a study by Quality and Safety in Health Care, a sister publication of the British Medical Journal, revealed that doctors routinely discriminated against older patients by denying them the tests and treatments they offered to younger people.
It said, for example, that those over 65 were less likely to be referred to a cardiologist and given heart treatments than younger patients. A pressure on resources was cited as a factor. “Resources are limited and doctors have to make difficult decisions. Maybe they have run out of options and are using age as an excuse. When we spoke to the doctors they were quite ready to justify their reasons. They may see older people as less deserving,” Professor Ann Bowling of the department of psychology at the University College London, who led the study, said in a newspaper interview.
More recently, The Observer reported the case of an elderly woman with back pain who was told by her doctor that it was because of old age, but later it turned out that she had had cancer of the spine. “In another case, a 76-year-old heart patient was told that she had had a ‘long life’ and asked if she really wanted to stay on the waiting list for a bypass,” it said.
According to campaign groups such as the Help Aged and the Age Concern, a person’s age should never be used as a factor in determining treatment. The British Medical Association is reported to be conducting its own study to gauge doctors’ attitude towards older patients. The view in medical circles is that the problem is exaggerated. It is claimed that more often than not, there are sound medical reasons for not subjecting elderly and fragile patients to stressful tests but this is misunderstood as discrimination. It is acknowledged, though, that there is need for doctors to handle such situations with greater sensitivity.
Ageism is reported to be most common at workplace with employers openly flouting Employment Equality (Age) Regulations which came into force in 2006 following an European Union directive. The law bans age-based discrimination in recruitment, wages, training, promotion, redundancy, retirement and pension provision.
A review on the first anniversary of the law revealed that ageism was still “endemic” with 55-64-year-olds being the worst-affected. A separate poll found that 16 million people experienced “ageist practices.” This despite the fact that more than 80 per cent of the employers said they were aware it was illegal to discriminate on grounds of age.
The Employment Tribunal Service, which adjudicates cases of alleged discrimination, has been inundated with complaints since the anti-age discrimination law came into force. According to a report of the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), a charity which campaigns against ageism, more than 2,000 claims for compensation were received by the Tribunal in the first year of the new law.
Campaigners claim that this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported. But, thanks to the 2006 law, the victims of ageism are at least able to seek redress and the issue is now “on the radar,” as an EFA official put it. Employers have been warned of a backlash if workers continue to be discriminated against because of their age.
Even in liberal institutions such as theatre, media and universities, covert ageism is reported to be rife. Actors, writers and technicians on the wrong side of 60 complain that they don’t get work in theatre. Last year, a group of like-minded theatre professionals — all in their 60s — got together to launch a company, Prime Theatre, with the aim of providing work for older actors, technicians, etc. The company, funded by the Arts Council England and the Lottery Fund, will also produce plays that appeal to older audiences and, indeed, its maiden play, Aleksei Arbuzov’s Old World, was about ageism.
Prime Theatre’s patron Edward Woodward, who has been a successful film and TV actor, said he felt marginalised as he grew older as did other members of the group. Its founder and artistic director Ros Liddiard was reported in the Stage News, the newspaper of the performing arts industry, as saying that one reason for older artistes not getting work was that fewer parts are written for them.
“It’s perceived older actors feel a little bit marginalised, not because they aren’t usable, but there does tend to be a lack of older parts. We also talked to a lot of older people who said they’re not getting the sort of theatre they want to see,” she said.Charge against BBC
The BBC is routinely accused of ageism, especially in relation to women, prompting charges of both “ageism and sexism.” Several high-profile women have left the BBC in recent years complaining that it is not a place for old women. Last year, there was an uproar when 55-year-old Moira Stuart, BBC’s first black news presenter, was dropped from news and current affairs allegedly to make room for younger presenters. A few months later, she resigned saying she felt frustrated by alleged prejudice against older women.
Before that, 62-year-old Anna Ford, one of the BBC’s most seasoned news presenters, quit saying she feared she would be “sidelined” and “shovelled off … to a graveyard shift” because of her age.
“I think when you reflect on the people who they’re bringing in and they’re all much younger. I think they are being brought in because they are younger. I think that’s specifically one of the reasons why they’re being employed … I might have been shovelled off into News 24 … to the sort of graveyard shift, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do that because it wouldn’t have interested me,” she said sparking front-page headlines about a growing “culture of ageism” at the BBC.
Then there was Nick Ross, a leading male presenter, who resigned saying he had seen the “writing on the wall” and preferred to leave on his own before shove came to push. Mr. Ross who had presented the BBC’s popular prime-time programme Crimewatch since it was launched in the 1980s, criticised the corporation for ignoring older people as it sought out younger audiences.
The BBC, of course, denies this as do other organisations. There may be some truth in claims that often there is too much generalisation with isolated or individual cases blown out of proportion by pro-active campaigners and a hyper media. But it is also true that there is no smoke without fire and, in this case, the smoke is thick enough to warrant action

India - A monument to hate in Chhatterhame

Praveen Swami
Inflamed by the Shrine Board issue, people of a village in central Kashmir build a shrine for Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists.
Bright pink plastic flowers and lurid crepe-paper wreaths adorn Jammu and Kashmir’s first shrine to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Last month, two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Pakistan were shot dead in the forests next to the village of Chhatterhama, 30 kilometres from the central Kashmir town of Ganderbal. Mired in the communally-charged, region-wide agitation against land-use rights granted to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, the local community saw the terrorists as s oldiers who had died for their cause.
“Here was India conspiring to seize our land and hand it over to infidels,” says local businessman Zahoor Ahmad, “and here were these two foreigners who had given their lives to save Islam in Kashmir. One of them was just 14 or 15, no older than my brother. And so, we gathered Rs.11,000 to give these martyrs the kind of burial they deserved.”
“May god’s mercy and the blessings of Mohammad always be with you; I shall always pray for you to be blessed by the eternal rest of paradise,” reads the poetic Urdu-language inscription on the gravestones, which identify the two terrorists by their code-names Abu Hurrera and Abu Saria. Both were buried at the highest point of the village graveyard, in an especially fenced-off section.
Ethnic-Kashmiri jihadists killed in Jammu and Kashmir have often been buried after elaborate funeral processions in special “martyrs’ graveyards.” However, no shrines or special memorials have ever been built to mark the death of Pakistani jihadists operating in Jammu and Kashmir. In some cases, rural communities have even refused to take responsibility for their burial.
Chhatterhama isn’t a likely location for a shrine celebrating the Lashkar’s Islamist cause. Not a single Chhatterhama resident joined the jihadist movement in Jammu and Kashmir. Its residents — most of them Shawl Bafs, or artisans who hand-embroider shawls — were supporters of the National Conference. Few would offer even ethnic-Kashmiri jihadist groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen shelter or support. As a result, Chhatterhama never once saw an exchange of fire between jihadists and the police or the army.
But when the Shrine Board agitation began, the village embraced a cause it had long resisted. Local authorities and political parties had done nothing to challenge rumours spread by Islamist groups that a large-scale plot was under way to give away land to outsiders — to outsiders, moreover, hostile to Islam. As a result, the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir acquired a new legitimacy.
On June 23, one day after the terrorists’ killing, Chhatterhama villagers marched to the main crossroads at Batpora to express their outrage on the Shrine Board issue. Work on the Lashkar shrine began the same afternoon. And the following Friday, Chhatterhama observed the two terrorists’ Rasm-e-Chaharrum death-rites alongside another protest march against the Shrine Board.
Why was Chhatterhama so quick to join the Islamist cause? One reason might be the growth of neo-conservative religious groups in the area, which until recently had almost no rural reach. “Most people here used to worship at shrines,” says local Jamaat-e-Islami activist Bashir Ahmad Bhat, “and followed practices that were Hindu in origin. But my generation has learned to read, and thus discovered the true Islam.”
It is also likely that the new chauvinism has been propelled by the stresses of economic change. Shawl-Bafs have been hit hard by competition from cheap machine-embroidered shawls, often made in Ludhiana and Jalandhar. Embroidering shawls, moreover, is killing work: wages run as low as Rs. 80 a day for work which leaves many Shawl Bafs half-blind and arthritic before they turn 40.
But few young people in Chhattarhama, despite the spread of school and college education, have the kind of specialist skills needed to get new-economy jobs in the service or information-technology sectors. Even fewer have the kind of capital needed to set up independent businesses — or pay the bribes often needed to get a government job. All of these frustrations seem to have fed the anti-Shrine Board protest in Chhatterhama. Local clerics from the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis, Jamaat-e-Islami activists and National Conference workers all saw reason to fuel the chauvinist fears which underpinned the protests, seeing in them a possibility to expand their constituency. All of them seem to have won.Ironic twist
Have jihadists like the Lashkar also gained? The shrine in Chhatterhama would seem to suggest so — but the evidence is more ambiguous than the memorial suggests.
Notably, Lashkar ideologues most likely won’t approve of the Chhatterhama shrine. Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis’ theological tradition — from which the Lashkar draws its legitimacy — disapproves of the veneration of shrines and relics, seeing them as heretical borrowings from Hinduism. In general, Lashkar jihadists’ graves consist of nothing more elaborate than a un-inscribed stone marker.
Indeed, Salafists — of whom the Ahl-e-Hadis are a subset — have often carried their hatred of shrine worship to great lengths. When the followers of the ultra-right Saudi Arabian cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, captured the cities of Mecca and Medina in 1803-1804, they destroyed several shrines including one built over the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima Zehra.
“In Kashmir, everything eventually turns into a shrine,” says Mr. Ahmed, a wry smile on his face. “Come back here in a few years’ time, and you might just see people telling you that they have come here to pray for sons at the grave of a famous Pir [godman]”.