Aug 2, 2008

Columnists - Rohit Brijnath

Flying Singh Remembers

Sports columnist Rohit Brijnath talks to the 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh, the finest athlete India has ever produced, ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Now in his 70s, voice still strong, Milkha Singh knows it's Olympic year, he knows journalists (like me) will call and ask him about that day 48 years ago and dredge up a memory so piercingly painful. He has won four Asian Games gold medals, and one Commonwealth Games gold, yet it is not his many victories but one failure that people ask about. He sighs. He speaks.
India has won a fistful of individual Olympic medals, bronzes by KD Jadhav (wrestling, 1952), Leander Paes (tennis, 1996), Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting, 2000) and a silver from Rajyavendra Singh Rathore (shooting, 2004). Yet Milkha's story of a bronze missed in Rome 1960, is the most irresistible, the one we return to constantly.
Perhaps because heartbreak, as a story, is often more powerful, and poignant, than triumph. Perhaps because in 2008 India expects medals, but then in 1960, in a country that had savoured independence for just 13 years, where facilities were few, contending for medals was a more romantic pursuit.
Different world
India's progress in sport has not yet manifested itself in medals, but its strides are quiet and surer. Last year swimmer Virdhawal Khade's parents, from Kolhapur in Maharashtra state, agreed to the once unthinkable: letting him delay his class 10 examinations to qualify for Beijing. He did.
Technology is no longer foreign to Indian athletes. Khade has been privileged to use Speedo's breakthrough LZR Racer suit. World champion shooter Abhinav Bindra has been hooking himself up to a machine that identifies what activity is going on in his brain when he is shooting well. As he told me: "The key is how to train that area of the mind so it is routine to get into that state."
Milkha's world bore no resemblance to this. With a straightforwardness that is immediately disarming, he says that when he joined the army, "I came from a remote village, I didn't know what running was, or the Olympics".
Context gives Milkha's story its searing beauty, the environment in which he ran gives his tale uniqueness. PT Usha would lose Olympic bronze in 1984 by an even crueller margin, yet in a comparison of tragedies he wins because of where he came from, what he endured. Usha did not work less hard, but it's impossible to compete with a man whose parents were killed, some reports say in front of him, in the carnage of India's partition. Whose temporary home for a month was a platform on Delhi's railway station.
His beginnings as an athlete can be linked, he says, to a five-mile cross-country run that every jawan (soldier) had to run. The top 10 were to be given further training, and so he ran it, was stricken by a stomach pain after just half a mile, sat down, but then got up, telling himself, "I have to come in the top 10". He came sixth, he says. The legend had started.
He was told then to run 400 metres, whereupon he asked, "how long is that?"
"Ek round," they said. One round, he thought, could not be such a big deal.
He was not familiar with spikes. Nor a tracksuit. But what he had couldn't be manufactured in a factory. "Aag thah andar," he says in Hindi ("I had a fire inside").
Discipline, hard work, will power: he says the words with the devotion of a man nursing prayer beads. His own perseverance takes many forms, in the blood he reportedly urinated because he worked so hard, in the oxygen that was supposedly used to revive him after practice. In an interview in 1996, he told me: "My experience made me so hard that I wasn't even scared of death." But one story reflects his desire clearest.
Almost hero
In 1956, he journeyed to the Melbourne Olympics, just a novice who exited early in the heats. The 400-metre gold medallist that year was Charles Jenkins, and Milkha, taking with him an interpreter who spoke "tuta-phuta" (broken) English, met the American and asked for his training schedule.
Come back after a few days, Jenkins told him. "So we went," says Milkha, "and he gave me his coaching schedule, for hill running, for sprints, for starts, for weights."
"And I decided unless I beat his record (46.7, hand-timed) I won't stop."
Two years after Melbourne, he did beat that time, in Cuttack, his run eliciting such disbelief that the track was measured again.
Four years after Melbourne, he was a medal contender at the Rome Olympics. He'd run and won so often around the world that he says he had 20 passports. He was ready, an athlete poised for his moment.
And this is when the story must be hard for him to tell, for however many times he tells it, the result never alters. He is always fourth. He is always .1 of a second too late. He is always the almost hero.
What happened in the 400 final? Was it the fact the final was held, for the first time since 1912, on a different day from the semis, and Milkha says "that killed me, I was alone thinking about the race, no one was allowed to meet me".
Was it, as he always says, that he went out too quick when the gun went off? "It went in my mind that I was running too fast and I may not finish." So he slowed, broke his rhythm, couldn't regain it. Goddamn it.
"It was bad luck", says this proud man, "for India and Milkha Singh." And it was, for both nation and man in 1960 were trying to make themselves heard, be noticed, and perhaps this is why he still sits in the memory. In a land not given to nicknames, this Flying Sikh almost everyone Indian knows.
Milkha gave India medals in Asia, determination, pride, an unforgettable story and a terrific son called Jeev. One of these days, hopefully, India will give back to him by producing a runner who wins an Olympic medal. I think he'll like that.

World - Bribery rules on Afghan Roads

On a hot summer afternoon in the chaotic border town of Torkham in eastern Afghanistan, Mohammad Younas is counting the money he needs to bribe local customs officials.
Torkham, in Nangarhar province, is one of the busiest crossing points between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Every day, hundreds of trucks and cars, laden with passengers and goods, pass through.
The 35-year-old Afghan truck driver is carrying 15 tons of tomatoes he picked up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Trials and tribulations
However, before driving towards the city of Jalalabad Younas has to wait an hour to get to the front of the queue.
One Afghan customs official checks his papers and gives him the green light, but then asks Younas to wait until his papers are "cleared".
After a few minutes of waiting, Younas pulls out 5,000 Afghanis ($108).
''You see this bribe? If I don't pay now, they will make me wait here for hours. The tomatoes will be spoiled in this hot weather."
Younas has agreed to let me ride in his truck so I can see for myself the trials and tribulations faced by the average Afghan transporter.
The tall, blue-eyed driver hands the money over to the customs official and is finally allowed to leave Torkham.
''We have better roads these days. We can play music and have more independence. But look at the level of corruption,'' he says.
Younas began work in the transport industry shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
His village, Samarkhel, was caught in the fighting between Soviet and Mujahideen forces. Like millions of other Afghans, he took refuge in Pakistan.
"I was a young boy then. We fled and lived in a refugee camp. I started as an assistant truck driver and after 16 years I learned how to drive. For all these years I have been driving mostly between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Rude police
Younas chooses a Pashto music cassette to play as he steers his massive truck on one of Afghanistan's busiest roads. ''I am an experienced driver," he assures me.
As we barrel down the Torkham-Jalalabad highway, Younas complains about corruption and the "rude behaviour of Afghan police".
We arrive at a check post in the Daka area and a uniformed police officer asks Younas for his documents.
After a 30-minute wait, it becomes clear that the police officer wants money or else we will wait here forever.
After much bargaining, Younas doles out 600 Afghanis ($13).
"Nothing gets done without money these days. During the Taleban days, we didn't have to pay bribes," he says, visibly angry.
For about 45 minutes, Younas is quiet and the Pashto music blares as we travel in the scorching heat. I try to engage Younas, but in his frustrated state he is not interested in conversation.
As we get close to the Mohammand Dara district, a passing American convoy orders all traffic to halt and Younas finally begins talking again.
"This is a joke - the road is blocked again!"
We wait for another 30 minutes before we get the green light from the American soldier waving from his humvee.
Minutes later we arrive at another police check post. This time, the police demand a crate of tomatoes. Younas orders his assistant to give them a rotten one.
'We will all die'
Younas refuses to be photographed for fear of retribution. However, most of his fellow drivers are keen to be photographed and to have their voices heard.
Take Mohmmand Nader: "I leave Peshawar and we start paying bribes. Once we cross into our country, we start paying bribes. We have got used to it by now."
Nangarhar police spokesman Ghafoar Khan is defensive: "We have in the past sacked corrupt traffic policemen and other police officials, we have also prosecuted them. If these drivers help us with some evidence, we will sack the corrupt officials. We are very serious about this."
But drivers like Mohammad Ebrahim accuse the Afghan government of turning a blind eye to what he calls robbery.
''If we don't pay the traffic police or the customs official, they will make us wait for hours. And we can't afford to wait. Corruption is everywhere," he says while waiting outside a customs checkpoint on the outskirts of Jalalabad.
My journey with Younas on the 74-km Torkham-Jalalabad highway took three hours and 45 minutes.
We stop for lunch at a Jalalabad restaurant. Younas is soaked in sweat and visibly tired.
"Corruption in Afghanistan is like Aids - if our government doesn't punish corrupt officials, we will all die," he says, before we say our farewells.

World - Italians dial up best food prices

A text messaging service set up by the Italian government is helping its citizens to haggle on their high street.
The rising cost of food is a growing concern for many people across the world.
There have been protests, and even riots, in countries including Mexico, India and Egypt, clear evidence of the struggle that many people are now facing.
However, if Italians feel that their local food retailer is charging unreasonable prices, they can now call on a new service to help them haggle or walk away.
Thanks to a short message service (SMS) text system set up jointly by the Italian agriculture ministry and consumer associations, shoppers can check the average price of different foods in northern, central and southern Italy.
With prices spiralling out of control in some parts of the world, some people feel that it is high time consumers could check just how much traders are profiting.
Luca Di Maio is a consultant for the Consumer Federation in Rome, and explains that the new system lets consumers type the name of the food product they want to price check into their mobile phone and send a free text message to a dedicated number.
"After a few seconds you will receive an SMS that will tell you the different prices in the different areas of Italy", he says.
Trading tomatoes
BBC reporter Emma Wallis from BBC World Service's Culture Shock programme decided to find out how much 2kg of tomatoes cost in a market in Rome.
She found that the wholesale price of a kilo of cherry tomatoes is 69 euro cents (54p).
Whereas the retail price in the north is 2.9 euros, in central Italy it is 2.8 euros, while in the south its 1.85 euros.
By contrast, for bigger tomatoes the wholesale price is 62 cents compared with 2.15 euros in the north, 1.85 euros in central and 1.50 euros in the south.
However, the tomatoes are bought by the wholesalers for only 22 cents a kilo from the farmers.
Mr Di Maio explains that the problem facing Italian shoppers is that there are a large number of traders and prices can vary hugely between them.
He explains that the price checking system is there to let the consumer know and understand the pricing dynamics of the market, and make a more informed choice.
"We are in a free market and consumers should be able to buy or not buy, or go around and check for better prices", he adds.
Dealer's prices
Emma Wallis hit the streets of Rome to find out how many people had actually heard about the new price checking service.
"I've heard about this line and I think it's a great idea" said one woman, adding that everyone puts the prices they feel like putting.
"If you stroll down this market for instance, there are courgettes for two euros, 2.5 euros and 1.5 euros, you never know which ones to choose", she adds.
Another woman explains that she would be interested in using the price checking service, but only in certain situations.
"I do my shopping pretty quickly but I do try and check prices when I can. But I trust this stall holder so I wouldn't really need it here," she says.
But she was not sure she would use the service for shops.
In perspective
According to Tom Standage, business editor at The Economist magazine, markets are more efficient when you have more information.
"If you are in a supermarket and there's a price for tomatoes and that's the only piece of information you have, you've got no idea whether you should be protesting by not buying it," he says.
He explains that for supply and demand to work at its best, consumers need to be able to compare different prices from suppliers on the spot, something the texting service and others like it should help make easier.
"There are even services where you can scan a barcode in with your mobile phone and it tells you how much the internet retailers are selling a particular product for," he says.
If a price is too high, people will not buy the product and the trader will have to drop it, he adds.
With many analysts warning that high food costs are here to stay, Italian consumer are unlikely to be the only ones hoping to find the High Street's best prices.

Tech - The Importance of being there

On Monday I went to see author and thinker Clay Shirky talk at a lunchtime seminar hosted by the Demos think tank.
I travelled in to London earlier than I needed to on a crowded train, sitting on a slow bus across town and then squeezing into a bright but too warm room to sit on a hard seat in order to listen to something which was being recorded and will later be available as a podcast.
Clay was charming and intelligent and funny, and I got to hear him thinking out loud about the impact of social tools on international politics, which was fun, but I could have done all that by listening in online, or even by watching the stream of brief reports appearing on Twitter, the communications service that is currently taking the net by storm.
Instead I sat there offering my own online commentary on what he was saying while looking up references on the web as he talked.
Net benefits
What drove me there was the same inner need that got me to the OpenTech conference last weekend, despite the fact it meant a trip to London on a Saturday.
Two weeks ago it took me to York for Shift Happens, an event for those working in the arts to explore new technology, and before that it had dragged me to 2gether08, the strangely-named but fabulously productive convention that arch-networker Steve Moore created by inviting a lot of interesting people to come up with some cool things to talk about.
I am sure that it will take me around the country and indeed the world in years to come, because there is something special about being in the same space as someone else.
However good the video link, however clear the audio, and however anatomically accurate the avatar, sharing the same space and breathing the same air makes a difference to the quality of interaction, especially when you're trying to do something creative rather than being a passive member of an audience.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve the various online alternatives to being there, just that we should not expect them to be an adequate substitute in all circumstances.
Online may not be the same as being there, but it does of course have its own special advantages.
Online I can participate in distributed events, meet with people who could never all be present in the same space at the same time, and use the tools to mix synchronous and asynchronous communications to allow a distributed form of participation.
I can even be in two places at the same time. A video feed of every session at 2gether08 was streamed live on the internet, so I managed to sit in a room paying a bit of attention to the discussion about freeing up public data with a headphone in one ear so that I could keep up with the discussion happening downstairs.
And I get to keep a record of my participation. The chat I had with Clay after his talk has vanished, but every word I said to the team from Chinadialogue in our Skype chat last week is carefully preserved, including the moment when the clock chimed and I thought it was interference on the line.
'Virtual presence'
Although they won't replace physical meetings, more and more of us are using online tools and services to keep up to date with our friends, share information about what we're up to or interested in and even to take part in events which we're not physically present at.
But travel takes time, costs money and can have an environmental impact that outweighs the benefits of actually "being there", so we want to make sure that the alternatives are as good as they can be.
And we can't assume that there is a single model for success, or that something that works in one context will be effective or even acceptable everywhere.
Clay Shirky was in London to talk about the ideas from his recently published book Here Comes Everybody, and in it he outlines what he sees as the social and technological factors that determine the success of a social tool, whether a service like email, a site like Facebook or a video-conferencing tool offering "virtual presence" at meetings.
For Shirky every successful social tool brings together a promise, a tool and a bargain - or rather, a plausible promise, an effective tool and an acceptable bargain with users.
The promise is the premise for a group's formation, the reason why people might sign up, join in or take part; the tool makes the necessary interaction possible; and the bargain is the deal between the provider and the user about what will ensue.
If you want to launch a new service then you need to find a way to bring the group of interested people into existence by promising them something, you need to find a tool that will do the job, and you need to keep your side of the bargain once the community is in existence - however ephemeral it may be.
Tools work in different ways, and they also build different levels of engagement between their users, from contribution (which Shirky calls "sharing") through cooperation to collaborative production, and ending with collective action. Wikipedia is a good example of cooperative creation; Linux of collective action.
We are still at a very early stage in our use of online tools for interaction and community-building, so we should not assume that any of today's models will persist or the big sites will be around in a few years time.
What is clear, however, is that the boundaries between the online and offline worlds are blurring as we put our hands through the looking-glass of the screen to shake hands with those on the other side, occasionally pulling them back through into what we still like to call "real life".

Bill Thompson is an independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet.

Lifestyle - Changing the way we think

Bill Thompson considers how our multi-media world is impacted the way we see ourselves.
In her recently published book ID: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century, Professor Susan Greenfield brings her considerable expertise as a neuroscientist to bear on the question of whether and how our current use of computers is changing the way our brains work.
Greenfield argues that the visual stimulus we get from screen-based information and entertainment differs so markedly from that available to previous generations that certain areas of the brain, specifically those areas that are older in evolutionary terms and retain the capacity to alter as a result of experience, may be affected in ways that express themselves a changes to personality and behaviour.
It's an interesting hypothesis, and one that has the virtue of being experimentally testable, unlike many other claims about the effect of modern living on human psychology.
And it is a model that Nick Carr uses to support his rather broader viewpoint that our intellectual faculties are being damaged by the internet in his latest essay for the US-based Atlantic magazine.
Carr believes that the style of searching and exploration of links encouraged by search engines such as Google is changing the way heavy users think, reflecting that "over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going - so far as I can tell - but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think".
War and Peace
He likens himself to HAL, the computer in Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, reverting to child-like singing as its memory banks are disconnected by astronaut Dave Bowman.
He regretfully notes that "my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle".
Although the piece has the attention-grabbing headline 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' Carr's target is really the whole internet, where Facebook status updates and invitations compete with incoming Twitter posts, Friendfeed alerts and RSS feeds from hundreds of websites to overwhelm any attempt to pay careful attention to a well-ordered argument spread over thousands of words or hundreds of pages in a linear fashion.
Why read War and Peace, he seems to say, when you can get a text message from a friend to tell you what has happened to Pierre in only 160 characters, or cut it down to 140 for Twitter?
It's a nice argument, and has succeeded in provoking a wide-ranging debate.
John Battelle, for example, sees himself getting cleverer as he searches, follows links and absorbs information, arguing that when "performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am 'feeling' my brain light up, I and 'feeling' like I'm getting smarter. A lot smarter, and in a way that only a human can be smarter".
New literacy
Battelle may feel smarter, but he also accepts that the way of working online is different from that which prevailed when we were a print-based culture. He just thinks it is at least equal, if not superior, to what went before.
There does seem to be a difference between screen-based literacy and page-based literacy, and the reason may be that outlined by another participant in the debate, developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf.
In her new book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, she points out that reading is not an innate ability for humans but something we have to learn how to do, and there is no reason why different forms of literacy should not emerge as new technologies do.
Tech drug
After all, the ability to read a text is as much a learned behaviour as knowing how to use a mouse to control a cursor on screen, and it is claimed that the Venerable Bede, the monk who lived in Jarrow in the seventh century, was the first person to read without moving his lips.
Whether or not our brains are being fundamentally altered by the products of the Googleplex it is clear that the current generation of search tools are changing the ways we look for information and the navigational strategies we use to find our way from source to source, looking for data and insights.
Today's internet presents information in bite-sized chunks, linked together into a rich tapestry where the connections often carry as much meaning as the words themselves.
The fact that a blog post recommended by one of the A-list bloggers may matter more than what it says; and often the accumulation of small references to a topic is vital to build up our understanding.
The impact does not have to reflect a change to neuroanatomy or a fundamental shift in our way of engaging with the world of words. It could just be that search engines, RSS feeds and Tweets are western culture's informational drug of choice, the intellectual equivalent of LSD in the 60's, cocaine in the 80's and ecstasy in the 90's, a temporary obsession.
Google and other search engines may satisfy us because they are less likely to take us into areas where our preconceptions are challenged.
One of the reasons I like my Twitter friends is that I've chosen to follow people I like, whose views and opinions I am more likely to find acceptable. If I am challenged by them then it is within severely proscribed limits - I'm not following Fox News, for example, because I'd just find it annoying.
The Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget described two processes that he believed lay behind the development of knowledge in children.
The first is assimilation, where new knowledge fits into existing conceptual frameworks. More challenging is accommodation, where the framework itself is modified to include the new information.
The current generation of 'search engines' seem to encourage a model of exploration that is disposed towards assimilative learning, finding sources, references and documents which can be slotted into existing frameworks, rather than providing material for deeper contemplation of the sort that could provoke accommodation and the extension, revision or even abandonment of views, opinions or even whole belief systems.
Perhaps the real danger posed by screen-based technologies is not that they are rewiring our brains but that the collection of search engines, news feeds and social tools encourages us to link to, follow and read only that which we can easily assimilate.
Time to start following Fox, I think, and take myself out of my online comfort zone.

Bill Thompson is an independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet.

Lifestyle - Heaviest man eyes slimming record

But that is what Manuel Uribe from Monterrey, Northern Mexico, has done.
Now the world's heaviest man is on track to become the planet's most successful slimmer.
Put another way, his weight loss in one year is the equivalent of shedding two fully grown adult males from his body.
Manuel is already in the latest edition of the Guinness World Records as the heaviest living person.
That's because, not long ago he weighed 560kg (88 stones), or half a tonne.
Supervised diet
Supersized by nature, he has now downsized through diet and willpower.

And that will put him in the record books again.
"Look at my face," he says. "I have lost a lot."
Manuel puts it all down to something called the Zone Diet.
The diet, supervised by a team of scientists and nutritionists, consists of a strict formula of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
It's about controlling hormone levels in the body, particularly insulin and glucagons.
Those behind the diet say that when these are at the correct levels through the right intake of food, anti inflammatory chemicals are released to keep the body's weight in check.
They say the body then uses its stored fat for energy, thereby causing weight loss.
"Life is good now because food is medicine," said Manuel. "If you have the right food your body gets what it needs. If I can lose weight, anyone can."
Manuel certainly doesn't starve himself to achieve his weight loss.
He eats roughly five times a day.
His lunch was a plate of chicken cooked in olive oil with broccoli, tomatoes and slices of raw red pepper.
Mother 'proud'
He can eat fish, chicken, some meat, many types of fruit and pretty much any vegetables, but all in strictly controlled portions called 'blocks'.
He is even allowed one fizzy drink a day - sugar-free, of course.
"He likes his food," said his mother, Otilia. "But I am very proud for what he has achieved in the past year."
The Zone Diet is controversial.
The American Heart Association doesn't recommend diets high in proteins. It also says there is not enough evidence about the long-term effects of being on the diet.
The Zone Diet's backers say they have a lot of evidence to prove it is safe and that it is not 'high protein', as such.
They say that the amount of protein a person absorbs depends on their height and build. They say that goes for carbohydrate and fat intake as well.
Manuel's weight problems are partly genetic, partly down to overeating.
His scale of morbid obesity puts him in the top half of one percent of overweight people.
Extreme case
Dr Roberto Rumbaut, a surgeon in Mexico who specialises in obesity, puts Manuel's case in perspective.
"Manuel Uribe is an extreme case," he said. "Where the obesity crisis lies is in people who are 13 to 31kg (30 to 70lb) overweight."
Dr Rumbaut said there were 1.6 billion overweight people in the world, of which about 450 million are obese, according to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"It's these people who are putting pressure on health services everywhere," he said.
Dr Rumbaut says it's not just diet that will resolve what has been called the world's "globesity" problem.
"It's the old fashioned stuff like exercise and lifestyle changes," he said.
Back at the house, Manuel sits on the reinforced steel bed that he has not left in six years.
Next to it is a massage machine that he uses to draw the circulation along his limbs. His only movement is to use his hips to swing himself from the lying down position to sitting upright.
New girlfriend
It is a dream of his to walk.
It's a dream shared by his new girlfriend, Claudia, who has helped to wash, feed and encourage him through this last year or so of dramatic weight loss.
"We are very happy for the effort he has been making recently," she said.
"Sometimes he is sad and cries because he cannot get off his bed. But he is an example for other obese people to move forward. As he says: 'If I can, you can'."
Alongside his copy of the Guinness World Records lies another text, The Bible.
"I have Claudia, my mother and God to thank," said Manuel. "I am happy."
Still larger than life, but now, the incredible, shrinking, Manuel Uribe

World - Kenya's expensive free education

Rolling out the programme in January, President Mwai Kibaki said free education would ensure that children from poor homes acquired quality education.
His government introduced universal free primary education after he was first elected in 2002.
Under the programme, the government would pay tuition fees while parents covered boarding costs and bought uniforms.
But seven months after the programme was supposed to take off, the government has provided only a quarter of the funding schools need to make it work.
Some school administrators have been forced to run the institutions on a credit line while others have opted to reinstate tuition fees to avoid closing down.
Rising debt
Sylvester Wambua, the head teacher at Kyanguli Memorial School, says the delay is threatening operations at the institution.
"The government is supposed to give us $95,861 - they have only given us $19,354.
"The free secondary education is really a challenge. We have creditors, we cannot pay them," Mr Wambua says.
Buckling under the weight of a $77,000 deficit this year, the school has been incurring debts to bridge the gap.
Mr Wambua is not the only school administrator grappling with a myriad of problems resulting from the lapse of support by the government.
Chacha Ngalando, the school administrator at Kithangaini Secondary School in Eastern Province is also struggling to make ends meet.
"There has been an increase in the student population, which means increasing the infrastructure. So where do you get the beds, the books with the peanuts that the government sends?" Mr Ngalando asks.
Cash crunch
But the government has blamed the delay on school administrators, who it says have not provided proper bank accounts for the funds to be deposited.
And it promises that things will get better.
Education Assistant Minister Calist Mwatela says the programme needs time to succeed.
"It should be understood that our system is a transformation... It has its own challenges," Mr Mwatela says.
But the government has also admitted that it is facing a cash crunch.
Kenya's economy took a hit from the post-election violence witnessed early this year.
The government is also facing increased expenditure to meet the costs of a 42-member cabinet formed as part of a power-sharing agreement.
The cabinet will cost the government an extra $300m, and the ministry of finance warns it may be forced to shift funding from vital programmes.
Key ministries - among them medical services, roads, education and finance - have already had their budgets slashed to accommodate the increased government expenditure.
The free secondary school education programme may just be one of the casualties.
Heavy price
To cope with the funding crisis, administrators at schools serving the middle class have defied the government's directive not to charge fees.
Some schools are now asking parents to pay as much as $1,300 per year instead of the recommended $300.
If the government continues to delay the funding, the quality of high school education in public schools could be seriously compromised.
If this happens, it is the students from poor families who will pay a heavy price, as their parents cannot afford to take them to the costly private schools.
But the government insists that the programme has been a success.
President Kibaki says enrolment in secondary schools has shot up by 300,000 since January.
After a rocky start and with mounting challenges, the government faces an uphill task in providing high quality free secondary education.

World - Blood oil dripping in Nigeria

Under cover of night dozens of barges queue up to dock at a jetty in a creek somewhere in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta.
Their holds are filled with stolen oil running from valves illegally installed into a pipeline.
Full, they chug downstream to meet around 10 larger ships near the oil export terminal in Bonny, Rivers State, where they disgorge their cargo.
By 0500, in the darkness before dawn, the ships uncouple from the barges and move out in a convoy to sea to rendezvous with a tanker which will spirit away the stolen oil, making it disappear into another cargo, bound for sale on the world market.
It is likely the tanker arrived partly loaded with guns, cocaine to be trafficked into Europe and cash, which they will use to pay for the oil.
Bogus shipping documents make their load - possibly tens of thousands of tons of crude oil - disappear into legitimate markets in Eastern Europe or America.
This, according to activists and former Nigerian government advisers, is the process by which Nigeria is losing billions of dollars every year to oil smuggling.
The illegal "bunkering", as it is known, makes a huge profit for Nigerian syndicates and rogue international traders.
It leaves in its wake chaos and misery for the people of the Niger Delta.
According to Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua this is "blood oil", akin to the trade in "blood diamonds" that fuelled bloody civil wars in West African neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
He is calling on the international community to help Nigeria end the trade.
Britain has promised military training to improve the Nigerian military Joint Task Force's ability to police the Delta region.
But a source close to the former government of President Olusegun Obasanjo says the problem is not about quashing militants in boats.
Some of the people who run the cartels are among Nigeria's top political "godfathers", who wield massive political influence.
"If the president goes after them, they could destabilise the country, cause a coup, a civil war. They are that powerful, they could bring the state down," said the source, who did not want to be identified.
He says that attempts in the past to bring the trade under control were stopped for that reason.
"This is an industry that makes £30m ($60m) a day, they'd kill you, me, anyone, in order to protect it," he said.
The militant connection
In order to get away with the theft, the bunkering syndicates operate under the cloak of the conflict between militants and oil companies in the Niger Delta.
They need "security" - gangs of armed heavies to protect their cargos - and threaten anyone who tries to interfere.
They don't have to look far to find large groups of unemployed youths willing to do what they are told for a little money.
State governments in the Delta armed militias to carry out widespread rigging during the 2003 elections.
But the militiamen say they were abandoned, so they turned to oil theft to fund their activities.
Although they are referred to in the media as "militants" there are few coherent groups.
Most are gangs, led by commanders who are perpetually at war with each other.
These youths protect bunkering ships, force local community leaders to let bunkerers pass and bribe the Nigerian military.
The thieves may also need "the boys" to blow up pipelines, forcing the oil company to shut down the flow, allowing them to install a tap in the pipe.
"Hot-tapping", as it is known, requires considerable expertise, usually supplied by a former oil company employee.
These militants don't see the process of oil theft as stealing, observers say.
They believe they are taking what is legitimately theirs from the companies and the government.
They organise themselves in "bunkering turfs", but outbreaks of violence between them have been frequent and bloody.
'Legal theft'
But militant-assisted theft is not the only way oil is stolen.
According to a source close to the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the heavy military presence in the Delta has led oil bunkerers to find other ways to extract more oil.
Simply put, they just load more onto a ship than they are allowed to.
With the connivance of officials from international oil companies, national oil parastatal officials and ships' captains, oil can be stolen through the legitimate process of lifting oil from the dock to the ship.
One oil company employee told the BBC that his company had discovered a vessel they were using had a secret compartment behind the bridge, where tens of thousands of barrels could be redirected at the flick of a switch while the hold was being filled.
Other ways include almost filling the ship with legitimate oil, then topping it up with oil that hasn't been paid for legitimately, according to government sources.
Or a whole ship can be filled with stolen crude using fake documents.
Estimates on how much oil is stolen in this manner vary, but according to the International Maritime Organisation last year it amounted to 80,000 barrels every day.
Part of the problem is that no one can be sure how much oil is being taken out of the ground.
Shipping documents can be forged.
Also ownership of a shipment can be transferred while the vessel is on the high seas, making cargo tracking incredibly difficult.
Possible solution?
The only way to shut down the oil cartels, observers say, is a tighter regulatory framework.
This would involve electronic bills of how much oil a ship has loaded, which would record if they had been tampered with.
Oil can also be "fingerprinted".
The technology to distinguish between different types of oil exists already, says Patrick Dele Cole, a former adviser to Mr Obasanjo.
Oil companies do this routinely already, sources say. All that would be needed is a database of all the different types of Nigerian crude.
The UK has offered to train the military, and President Yar'Adua wants to form a "maritime academy" naval installation in the Delta.
But activists in the Delta say that increasing the military presence would be counterproductive.
It would increase resentment and militants' numbers - the level of violence would rise, they say.
And the Nigerian military is part of that violence, observers say.
Soldiers have indiscriminately burned whole towns and killed civilians, according to activists.
The high price of oil today is partly a result of Nigeria's complex and shadowy world of corruption and violence.
It is into this chaotic shadow world that the UK is about to commit itself.

Health - Circumcision injury story

A sixteen-year-old Kenyan boy is being treated in hospital after losing part of his penis in a circumcision ritual.
He suffered the accident during the Luhya people's circumcision festival in western Kenya when the circumciser's knife slipped.
Reporters say traditional circumcision often comes in for criticism because of the health risks but is a longstanding part of the Luhya culture.
Doctors say he is in a stable condition but may require reconstructive surgery.
'Not suing'
Medical officers at the Bungoma District hospital told the BBC that the tip of the boy's penis was chopped off by mistake when the knife wielded by the circumciser slipped.
He has been undergoing surgery on Friday to prevent further bleeding.
They said it was thought that he would be able to urinate but may not be able to have sex in future.
Correspondents say reconstructive surgery is expensive and the boy may have to go abroad for surgery.
Hospital officials said this was the first such incident this year and in previous years boys had been admitted with complications such as bleeding or infections.
The boy's father said that it was an unfortunate accident but he would not be suing the circumciser for compensation.
"I have learnt a bitter lesson," he told the BBC.
"I shall take my remaining two boys to be circumcised in hospital in future."
A new programme has been launched to introduce circumcision in neighbouring Nyanza province to combat the spread of HIV and Aids.
About 2.5 million of 32 million Kenyans are currently living with HIV/Aids.

World - The Minefield of medical morals

Hardly a week goes by without a medical ethics dilemma appearing in the news.
Occasionally, on the screen or in print, a "medical ethicist" makes an appearance.
But what do we actually do?
Consider the following case:
18-year old Susan wants to donate one of her kidneys to her father John. Without the transplant, John will soon die. He has end-stage kidney disease and the waiting list is several years long. His wife died from cancer two years ago.
When performing routine blood tests, the medical team unexpectedly discovers that John is not in fact Susan's biological father. Thankfully, the two are still a match, but should the clinicians disclose the non-paternity to Susan and her father, or should they keep it quiet and perform the transplant?
When I asked this question to several hundred doctors, patients and members of the public in Oxford, the results were consistent across each group: about two-thirds of respondents said the clinicians should withhold the information, while the remaining third believed the patients should be told.
In North America, many hospitals employ medical ethicists.
Faced with the case of Susan and her father, the doctor would contact the on-call ethicist for a consultation.
The ethicist would help the medical team identify the key ethical and legal issues.
He or she would clarify the facts of the case, look at similar past cases, find relevant guidelines, apply ethical principles, and help the clinicians make a morally robust decision.
When a similar case arose in Canada, the ethicist recommended telling the patients.
The daughter and father were shocked, but grateful to have been told.
The transplant went ahead as planned.
Lower UK profile
In the UK, there are no full-time hospital ethicists.
The medical team might decide on their own, seek legal advice, or bring the case to a clinical ethics committee, if the hospital has one.
Although not all medical ethicists are alike, most divide their time between teaching ethics to doctors, nurses, and medical students, writing articles in academic journals, and sitting on committees which review hospital cases and applications for medical research.
The more outspoken ethicists may also do some media work.
About once a week, I speak to journalists about topical issues in medical ethics.
For instance: "Dr Sokol, what do you think about the case of Ashley X, the disabled girl whose parents stunted her growth to care for her more easily?"
Or: "What are your thoughts on Ms A, the teenage girl who told her doctor that she was abused by her father but begged the doctor to keep her secret?"
Or: "Should the parents of this severely disabled baby be allowed to insist on life-sustaining treatment, even if doctors think it's futile?"
As we often only get one side of the story (for example, the parents' views but not the clinicians', who are instructed not to comment), I try to give a useful but cautious analysis.
Just as doctors don't like to give medical advice without a proper examination of the patient, medical ethicists are reluctant to give their detailed opinions without a thorough examination of the facts.
Common cases
The cases that hit the headlines are dramatic, but relatively rare.
The vast majority of clinicians will not face life-or-death decisions about separating conjoined twins or giving high doses of oestrogen to stop the growth of a disabled child.
The common ethical cases are more mundane.
What should a GP do when confronted by a patient who asks for a sick certificate but who probably isn't sick?
Should a junior doctor tell a patient that he has never performed a procedure before?
When you spend your days thinking about such cases, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that the dilemmas are not mere intellectual exercises, but events affecting real individuals.
By focusing so much on analysis and argument, on trying to make our reasoning as sharp as the surgeon's scalpel, we can forget the human and emotional dimensions.
Problem solving
William Osler, the famous Canadian doctor, said doctors should have a cool head and a kind heart.
The same is true of medical ethicists.
One thing that probably all medical ethicists share is the enjoyment of problem-solving.
Contrary to what some people think (that ethicists do not experience any moral dilemmas since they know instantly what is right and wrong), my initial reaction to a case is occasionally "I have no idea what to recommend".
Most of the time, I enjoy the process of resolution: finding out the pertinent facts of the case, identifying the available options, weighing up their pros and cons, and arriving at the most ethical and practical solution.
At school, I was torn between the humanities and the sciences.
One day, I saw the late professor Jean Bernard, a French haematologist and bioethicist, interviewed on television.
He told the story of a hard-working farmer in a developing country who needed to sell his kidney to feed his family.
I remember thinking: "How tragic and fascinating!"
Medical ethics, which combines philosophy and medicine, was a perfect compromise between the humanities and the sciences.
With the growing need for ethical reflection in medicine (partly as a result of technological developments), there are more and more courses in the UK for clinicians and non-clinicians interested in the subject.
The future
Medical ethics is still an emerging field.
In a few years time, several hospitals in the UK may have medical ethicists to help health professionals deal with ethical problems, draft hospital policy, and provide ethics training.
A few have already hired very part-time ethicists.
Even in the absence of hospital ethicists, however, if you're a patient or a relative struggling with a medical ethics issue, you may wish to contact the hospital's clinical ethics committee.
Some committees are happy to consider cases brought by patients.
They may not always resolve the problem, but they will help you think through it.
• Dr Daniel Sokol is a medical ethicist at St George's, University of London, and Director of Imperial College's Applied Clinical Ethics (ACE) course.

World - China's rapid renewable energy surge

China's rapid investment in low carbon technologies has catapulted the nation up the global renewable energy rankings, a report shows.
The Climate Group study said China invested $12bn (£6bn) in renewables during 2007, second only to Germany.
However, it was expected to top the table by the end of 2009, it added.
The findings have been published as China faces criticism over its air quality ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, which begin on 8 August.
The report, China's Clean Revolution, brings together the latest data on the country's burgeoning renewables sector in one publication.
Co-author Changhua Wu, The Climate Group's China director, said the rapid rise in investment was, in part, the result of the government realising that the western model of industrialisation was unsustainable.
"China has been experiencing similar problems during its industrial revolution that western nations saw during their period of rapid growth - pollution, environmental damage and resource depletion," she told BBC News.
"Domestically, we are being constrained in many ways; we do not have that many natural resources anymore.
"We have to rely on the international markets, so there is a big security concern there."
Uncertainty over future energy supplies has seen global fuel prices reach record levels, which has resulted in renewable technologies becoming a more attractive option.
The report said China's $12bn investment in renewables during 2007 was only just behind top-of-the-table Germany, which spent $14bn.
In order to meet its target of increasing the percentage of energy from low carbon technologies from 8% in 2006 to 15% by 2020, China is expected to invest an average of $33bn annually for the next 12 years.
This was going to result in China becoming the leading investor by the end of 2009, Ms Wu forecast.
Figures within the report showed that China was already the leading producer in terms of installed renewable generation capacity.
It has the world's largest hydroelectricity capacity since the controversial Three Gorges project began producing electricity, and the fifth largest fleet of wind turbines on the planet.
Although its installed capacity of photovoltaic (PV) panels is still relatively low, it is already a leading manufacturer of solar panels.
Ms Wu explained that the rapid growth of the sector was being driven by both government and business.
"In order to really drive towards a low carbon economy, policy incentives are crucial; but it is not always the case," she said.
"The wind sector's fast growth was mainly a result of domestic policies, because the government offered incentives to developments so that private and public sector entrepreneurs would jump on it.
"But the solar PV sector benefitted mainly from the international market, such as demand from the US and EU.
"Even today, the policy incentives are still not there, yet it still has grown to the level it is now."
Lingering legacy
However, despite the advances in low carbon technology, the legacy of rapid economic growth, which was primarily fuelled by burning coal, has been soaring greenhouse gas emissions.
In the final days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, there has been growing international concern over the air quality in the Chinese capital as the world's top athletes begin to arrive.
Organisers of the Games had promised that the city's notorious pollution would be cleaned up, so failure to deliver would be seen as an embarrassing environmental shortcoming.
City officials said that they would introduce emergency measures, such as banning the use of private cars and closing some factories, if conditions did not improve.
Although Beijing's troubles are currently under the media spotlight, air quality is a nationwide problem. According to figures from the World Bank, 20 of the planet's 30 most polluted cities are in China.
"In terms of total emissions, China is already the world's biggest emitter," Ms Wu said. "That's publicly available information, even the government is not denying it anymore.
"But if you look at emissions on a per capita basis, we are not the biggest emitters because we have 1.3bn people."
The report suggests that if China's population emitted as much as US citizens, its total emissions would be roughly equivalent to those of the entire planet's human activity.
"But just looking at numbers does not help tackle global climate change," Ms Wu added.
"In China, we are concerned about the speed of growth in emissions; it is really scary."
The report showed that China was only responsible for about 7% of greenhouse gases emitted in the period before 2002, when more than 90% of emissions from human activity were released.
But since the turn of the century, it added, China's portion has been growing steadily and now accounts for 24% of the global total.
The government is looking to stabilise its emissions by 2020, primarily through greater energy efficiency and the expansion of the nation's renewable energy infrastructure, including electric cars.
Ms Wu added that within the international climate negotiations, the Chinese were looking to developed nations to prove that they were serious about tackling climate change, such as delivering the mandatory cuts in emissions outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.
"If they are not able to do it with the technology available to them, then is it reasonable to expect China and India to do it?
"China does not commit itself to a number and then not deliver," she said, referring to whether China would sign up to legally binding targets in the ongoing UN climate negotiations about what system should replace the current Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
"If they commit, then they are very, very serious about; so they have to figure out what is possible."

Business - The challenger from Ingolstadt

Audi is making a very discreet yet powerful statement in India.

All right! Mercedes-Benz stands for luxury and BMW for sportiness, but what about Audi? The whiz-kids from the small town of Ingolstadt, near Munich, would widen their eyes, hold their breath and say, “Vorsprung durch Technik.”

Loosely translated, that means advancement through technology, which applies not just to the way Audi builds its cars but also to the concern for environment and a host of things nice and new-age German.

But you ask an enthusiast what separates the average Merc and Beemer from an Audi and she would tell you, “Quattro.” The quattro badge on the boot lid of a car promises that it is dynamically safer and sharper than the one you are travelling in.

Audi achieves this by sending power to all the four wheels instead of the rear wheels alone, as in the case of the traditional luxury cars built by Mercedes and BMW.

Advantage? The traction on all four ends of the car equals safety in almost all weather conditions. But those who understand automotive production and platform-sharing will tell you it is a smart way to re-engineer a Volkswagen Golf into something called an A4 or, for that matter, an already well-built VW Passat into something that can sell for double the price once labeled A6.

Yup, the VW Group shares plenty of underpinnings and engine-gearbox combinations across its brand range. So the mass-produced VW Golf comes from a platform that also gives birth to the sporty Audi TT and the entry-luxury Audi A4, apart from a host of Skodas and Seats.

But quattro is unique to Audi and it embellishes only the more powerful and sportier models. For instance, you can book the new Audi A4 only in the quattro edition if you are opting for a petrol model. But if you want something more economical and practical for our country, you can go for the A4 diesel that powers the front wheels alone — like VW Golf.

Apart from Quattro, Audi builds its cars carefully from a rather relaxed car plant where more attention to detail results in some exquisite machinery. And, of course, the quality of materials and surfaces ensures that Audi competes with the best.

In India, A4 and A6 are being assembled from “disassembled kits” at the Aurangabad facility of Skoda. Soon this facility will become an assembly unit for cars.

Will the traditional Indian car buyer appreciate the technological leap that Audi represents or will she stick to her Mercs and BMWs? Come September, Audi will officially launch R8 — a monster of a sports car that can stun Italians with its mid-mounted 420 bhp V8 that will retails for over Rs 1 crore. A supercar? In India?

Yup, and so what if it will not sell in large numbers; it will attract more luxury car buyers to Audi dealerships and help populate our roads with more A4s and A6s, which incidentally are competitively priced against Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series, and E-Class and 5 Series, respectively.

If you have not got the plot yet, here goes. The VW Group is flexing its muscles big time in India, and Audi has a big role to play. Today it sells UK-made Bentley, made-in-Italy Lamborghini Gallardo and Murcealago, Czech-conceived Skoda, and quality cars that bear the four-rings, apart from launch pad VW models such as Passat and Jetta in India.

The larger dealer and service network may also mean better care for Audi models across the nation. So the fellow Germans do have a reason to worry. Audi has just started.

Business - Racing the Star

Not too long ago, Peter Kronschnabl was ensconced in Munich, Germany, working as a general manager with luxury car maker BMW.

Entrusted with market development in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and central and east Europe, his job was to evaluate markets where BMW had the potential to set up its own subsidiary. He had already done Poland and Hungary when India began to beep on his radar. And that changed his life.

At first, it was like any other project report — a desk analysis in June 2004 followed by two weeks of field analysis in September that involved meeting industrialists, consultants, potential buyers and long stretches of road travel.

At the end of it, Kronschnabl submitted a very optimistic opinion of India. “I gathered that everybody in India was on the move. The people were eager to achieve and open-minded. I could feel the drive of the country,” he says.

In the normal course, he would be done by that stage and head to his post in Munich. But the BMW bosses decided to add a twist to the plot and asked Kronschnabl to make good his own report.

“A project like that… India is BMW’s most strategic project globally… You do the entire groundwork and entry… you can prove in reality that the strategy was right.”

He proved that so quickly that he surprised himself. Unmarried, Kronschnabl moved to India in August 2006 as country head and president and ignited operations in January of next year.

Nineteen months later, he is already breathing down the neck of Mercedes-Benz India, which pioneered the luxury car segment in India with its launch 13 years ago and whose three-pointed star has been the badge that thou shalt covet.

BMW India’s target for 2007 was to sell 1,000 cars. It sold 1,387. It toyed with 2,000 as this year’s target before pegging it at 2,800 — a number it is on course to achieve. That will be more than the 2,491 cars Mercedes-Benz India sold in 2007.

Mercedes does not reveal sales targets. However, its director, corporate affairs, Suhas Kadlaskar says the company’s sales in January-June this year have grown 50 per cent. At this rate, it will be comfortably ahead of BMW in this year’s sales, though not very comfort-ably ahead.

Wheels of luxury
As the two German giants try to outpace each other, there has been a sharp surge in luxury car sales in India, with the volume rising from 3,050 in 2006 to 4,200 in 2007.

This year, the total volume is expected to touch 7,000 — a number referred to as “magical” by automobile analysts and writers though, as is the case with psychological landmarks, it’s not very clear why.

“This is just the beginning. This segment is poised for continuous growth. The top two layers of the income group (called globals and achievers, respectively, in the Bird of Gold report of McKinsey Global Institute) are poised to grow 10-15 times in the next 10 years. The result will be a substantial rise in discretionary spending,” says Rajat Dhawan, partner, McKinsey & Company.

With India hitting a purple patch of economic growth, personal incomes and corporate profits have risen sharply. As the feel-good factor became pervasive, people felt comfortable making a statement of their success and bought a luxury car as a symbol of having arrived in life.

“There has been a sense of bullishness all along. The feel-good factor has been very strong,” says Ramnath S, director-research, IDFC-SSKI Securities.

A new set of buyers of luxury cars has cropped up. “We wouldn’t have come (into India) if the economy was not growing. India has a lot of successful entrepreneurs and professionals. Our business is related to people’s passion and how they want to reflect themselves,” says David Panton, senior vice-president, Asia Pacific (excluding China) and South Africa, BMW Group.

Mercedes, too, is seeing a new rush of buyers. “The average age of Mercedes buyers has dropped to 35 and above from over 50 four years ago. New entrepreneurs who have generated wealth in this life want to spend it in this life only. They want the best they can afford,” says Kadlaskar.

A big chunk of the sales goes to fleet owners and segments like travel and hospitality, especially those catering to foreigners. The new Four Seasons hotel that has opened in Mumbai has just bought 20 BMW cars.

“On the supply side, we so far had CBUs (completely built units, or imported cars), which attracted 109-110 per cent duty. That made luxury cars out of the reach of even some of the achievers. But in the last year and a half or so, a lot more assembly has begun to happen in India. With that, the price elasticity effect has kicked in,” says Dhawan.

The local alien
It was not like BMW only had to turn up to sell its cars. “That would be paradise,” says Panton.

Adds Kronschnabl, “It is not like I am opening a bakery and selling bread. Everyone needs bread. But everyone does not need a luxury car.”

The automobile expert of a very reputed consultancy firm says BMW’s India strategy holds the promise to become a case study.

From the beginning, it had the clear focus to become a local player. Thus, it began the India operations with assembling the 3 and 5 Series at a new plant constructed in Chennai. Of the 2,800 cars BMW is sure of selling this year, only 600 will be CBUs.

A believer in the one world culture, BMW has built showrooms and dealerships that will not be out of place anywhere in the world. Its showrooms in Gurgaon and Delhi are a feast for a car lover’s eyes.

“Finally, luxury cars have begun to be sold in India the way they deserve to be sold. In India, the word of mouth and dealerships play the most critical role in the sale of luxury cars. If you want a comparison, the internet channel in China is generally more in use by all car segments,” says Dhawan.

Extending the one world belief, BMW quickly brought nearly its entire bouquet of cars to India.

Even the high-performance M Series and the X Series of sports utility vehicles are available in Indian showrooms. The only ones it has kept away are 1 Series and Mini. The first is a small car by BMW standards. The second is not meant to be a volume catcher anywhere; it sells on the lifestyle plank, which is not seen as a big market in India yet.

The standards, processes and design are standardised across the world. The only things modified for India are safety and emission systems to meet the local criteria, and small things like not using cloth, which Indian buyers despise, as upholstery.

“We have brought world class to India in terms of showrooms and sales staff. All the machinery in the Chennai plant is of the latest technology. Our plant in India is the first BMW plant anywhere to have that kind of machinery,” says Kronschnabl.

There is a lot of emphasis on training. Everyone working for BMW in India has undergone brand training either in West Asia or in Germany. Trainers have been flown into India.

The India office reports directly to Munich and the two are constantly in touch. “Someone from one organisation is speaking to someone in the other organisation, through phone or video conference or in person, every hour,” says Panton.

On their marks
It was a different era when Mercedes came in. “When we entered, there was no market for luxury cars. We developed the market,” says Kadlaskar.

According to reports that have appeared earlier, Mercedes was slow off the blocks. From 1,800-odd cars sold in 1996, its sales plunged to 734 in 1999.

Mercedes' opening gambit consisted of E220 and E250 Diesel models, part of the W124 series. The new E Class W210 series was already ready to roll out in Germany. Indian consumers knew that, as the luxury car buyer is inevitably an extensive traveler and well-informed.

But that was a long time ago. “When a car is launched in Germany, it is in India within six months,” says Kadlaskar. He dismisses the idea that BMW is catching up with Mercedes, saying that the overall pie is growing and creating room for new players.

Nobody these days wants to comment on rivals, but Kadlaskar exudes immense confidence in Mercedes' network. "We have the edge. We are very strong in after-sales (service support). We are present in 28 cities. We give a lot of importance to training. Our entire network is certified by ISO."

Kronschnabl, though, is unfazed. "We have 12 dealers in 10 cities. This we wanted to have by 2009, but have already achieved. We will have 15 dealers by the end of the next year."

When it comes to the race with the three-pointed star, BMW is cautious, but optimistically so. Says Panton: “It is not an absolute objective to be ahead of Mercedes in India. I think we will be ahead of Mercedes as a natural outcome of what we are doing -- whether in 2009 or 2010, I don’t know.”

India - B-School placements to take a 25-30% hit this year

The economic downturn is expected to take its toll on B-school placements too. The premier Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) do not appear to be perturbed, but other prominent B-schools anticipate a 25-30 per cent drop in placements this academic year.

They are concerned that several regular companies may drop out of the placements and others may recruit fewer numbers than usual.

For instance, Mumbai-based SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) discovered that although 60 per cent of the companies have committed to recruiting the regular numbers, 30 per cent said they are not sure if they would recruit in regular numbers and 8 per cent said they would freeze recruitment for the time being.

Placement officials of B-schools who spoke to this paper still hope the situation won't be as bad but admit that the students might have to compromise on their dream profiles this year.

As a precautionary measure, the management institutes have already started expanding their company base by approaching new firms, such as smaller private equity players and wealth management firms. Unlike most years, the Banking and Financial Services (BFSI) sector is not expected to be the best performer on the campuses this year. FMCG, trading and the services sector might take the lead instead.

“The number of offers on B-school campuses by the financial sector could come down with some companies even opting out of placements this year,” said Professor Subir Verma, chairperson, placements, Management Development Institute, Gurgaon.

Some companies, however, see a silver lining in the current slowdown as they stand a chance to recruit students even at a salary they would have to offer.

According to a placement officer of a reputed Mumbai-based B-school, these companies, including banks, found it difficult to recruit from campus earlier because of relatively low salary levels, despite good job profiles.

“It helps us in the sales and marketing scenario. It’s a win-win situation for the company as well as the students because they will find growth and we will get the best of talent from second rung B-schools. Given the ambition and expectations, one cannot afford an IIM or an FMS student,” says T N Radhakrishna, HR Head, UTI MF. The company, however, would be careful in terms of articulating its recruitment needs, said Radhakrishna.

India - Street Side Blues

Instead of helping hawkers modernise, the Left gives them sophistry.

Lest it be imagined that Somnath Chatterjee faced a unique dilemma, let us spare a thought for Shyamal Chakraborty, West Bengal president of CITU, the CPI(M) trade union, who has deftly managed the conflict between principle and practice. Though CITU remained ostentatiously aloof from the hawkers’ protest against Spencer’s, the retail arm of RPG Enterprises, Chakraborty vociferously claimed a share of the laurels when an agreement of sorts was hammered out on July 5.

But this column is not about Marxist manipulation. It’s to point out that the fracas that delayed the opening of Spencer’s South Calcutta hypermart (as it’s called) has lessons for the transition from our present haphazard mix of laissez-faire and state control to the organised free market (which sounds like an oxymoron) if pain, confusion and confrontation are to be avoided. Singapore’s immensely popular hawker stalls, where you can eat everything from biryani to birds nest soup, provide an example of managing change harmoniously.

Briefly to recapitulate, hundreds of small traders prevented Spencer’s planned opening, forcing the RPG vice-chairman, Sanjeev Goenka, to beat a hasty retreat, because they feared the shop would take away their rice and dal. Demanding that no “local or international retailer” should encroach on the preserve of about 5,000 hawkers and over 1,000 traders, Shaktiman Ghosh, general secretary of the Hawker Sangram Committee, demanded that Spencer’s should not sell any grocery, vegetables, fish and milk. It was an unequal fight, for Bengali pavement peddlers are no match for one of the country’s most powerful Marwari business houses. How unequal was glaringly obvious when though every political party joined the protest, CITU did not. After all, the CPI(M) is synonymous with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government, which cannot afford to offend big business.

Ghosh’s demand was not particularly realistic either. Only three to four per cent of India’s total food and grocery trade might now be organised, as an RPG statement pointed out, but modernisation and globalisation will sooner or later bring in their train smooth streamlined shops in smooth streamlined air-conditioned shopping malls that are as much a place to buy and sell as a pleasure destination for simple folk. Given India’s extreme disparities of income, malls and pavement hawkers will co-exist for many years to come. But the gulf has to be bridged and the transition eased. The six-point compromise solution for which two Marxist luminaries, Chakraborty and Calcutta’s mayor, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, claim credit, seems too artificial to achieve this.

Who, for instance, will check every Spencer’s sale of rice, fruit and vegetables to ensure that the amount is not less than 3 kg? Will anyone stop buyers to weigh their purchases of potatoes and onions which must be more than 6 kg? Similarly, Spencer’s cannot sell spices in packs of less than 500 gm. It may be all right stipulating that rice must be branded but it seems absurd to insist that garments must be both branded and cost not less than Rs 300 when pavements are packed with unbranded readymades that cost much more. The final clause that everything Spencer’s sells must cost more than the hawkers’ price will give the two-member supervisory committee plenty to do if it takes its mandate seriously. Or honestly.

Old photographs of Singapore show an abundance of hawkers and peddlers quite as untidy as those who clutter up Indian pavements. Itinerant food sellers were especially popular, and the government dealt with them by making it unlawful for cooked dishes to be sold without running water. Simultaneously, it bought space, provided water and electricity and laid out stalls that were then sold or rented to hawkers. Other pavement traders need a licence, and opposition politicians like Chee Soon Juan have been arrested for selling their publications without a permit. I bought Chee’s To be Free (which he inscribed “Towards greater humanity”) from him in Orchard Road without realising it was an illegal transaction.

Such laws would never be enforced here because hawkers are vote banks. Each Left Front constituent has its own pavement constituency. The stalls Kolkata’s city fathers built at a cost of more than Rs 8 crore for more than 7,000 hawkers displaced 12 years ago have been passed on to other occupants (no doubt for a consideration) or are used as godowns. The pavement is still their favourite pitch. This combination of hawker obduracy and political patronage makes it easier for business houses to bludgeon their way and repeat in 21st century India the avoidable anguish of Britain’s 19th century Industrial Revolution.

India - When the onus is on the victim

Sitting in my first floor flat in a middle-class Delhi colony, I have a choice of five Wi-fi networks. My own is kind of secure though I wouldn’t bet it is hack-proof. At least it doesn’t broadcast and log-ons must be manually assigned from the admin console

The other four networks can all be jumped easily. Two are open and offer connections to all comers. Two have WEP security but neither admin has bothered to change the default network name (the router’s brand). Nor have they shifted routers from default gateway IP addresses or changed Username, Password options (“admin”,”admin”) the routers shipped with.

This means, one can make an educated guess about where to find the router, log on as admin and do whatever. It is possible to gain access to passwords and other sensitive information without any effort. In fact, you could do it by accident.

My home is not in a very high net-penetration zone, being residential apart from a few lawyers’ chambers (at least two of those insecure networks belong to law firms). In the office areas of downtown Gurgaon and the Noida STP, you can war-drive long stretches and take your pick of dozens of Wi-fi networks.

Maybe half are unsecured; almost all are vulnerable to automated attack. The required software can be downloaded free for legitimate purposes from many sites. As a result, even Geoff Boycott’s proverbial mum could hack most Wi-fi networks.

It’s the same all over urban India. Wi-fi is convenient, laptop and Smartphone penetration is rising and laptops are default-configured for Wi-fi access. SOHO and SME environments brim with Wi-fi, often to the point where channels must be reset to manage signal interference.

Configuring security is painful and most people consider it unnecessary. Any Wi-fi user is likely to be using unlimited plans, paying flat rates regardless of traffic. An extra machine doesn’t degrade quality of connection much, so why bother?

This casual approach can lead to grief for US-based iPhone users visiting India. The iPhone is configured to default-access any available Wi-fi. This saves money and improves speeds in the home area. On international roaming, it causes huge bills if the user forgets to switch the feature off.

Keith Heywood, an American living in Navi Mumbai, is learning the hard way that there are other possible consequences of leaving Wi-fi unsecured. Somebody sent emails (using a address) from his Wi-fi, claiming responsibility for the terrorist attacks just before mayhem started in Ahmedabad.

Mr Heywood was probably collateral damage from war-driving — that is the simplest explanation. It is possible to spoof IPs. But spoofing requires some knowledge. It’s much easier to just wander around with a smart phone that latches onto any open Wi-fi.

Mr Heywood has been a beneficiary of racial profiling in that it has been assumed that he is victim rather than perpetrator because of his background. If the Wi-fi network in question had belonged to an Indian, that assumption wouldn’t be made.

The scary thing is that this could happen to anyone and the victim would not know it until the police come calling. The hack may not even show up on a forensic exam if the logs have been wiped.

The legal position about an Internet connection being hacked and used for criminal purposes is unclear under the IT Act, 2000. It is analogous to having a phone or car stolen and misused. But in those cases, there are warning and clear legal recourse. The onus in a hack is on the victim to prove there has indeed been a hack. Maybe it’s less trouble to secure the stable door before the horse has bolted?

Columnists - T C A Srinivasa Raghavan

An extraordinary thing is happening. It is not yet a tide, nor may it happen to the extent that the CPI(M) would hope for. But wherever you go, you find people slowly reverting to their old tormentors in the public sector after expressing extreme irritation with the private sector and its ways. Indeed, my worst abuse — well, not really the worst, I suppose — for the private sector used to be “you are no better than the public sector”. Now I ask public sector managers why they are behaving like the private sector — which really confuses them.

Let us take four examples, though, one each from telecoms, aviation, the media and banking, because these are the great success stories. Without exception, the service quality in each of them has plummeted. Overall, each of them has started treating the customer as a pain in the neck, just as the public sector used to. In contrast, the public sector seems to have woken up to the fact that even a little improvement in service quality goes a long way.

The mobile phone fellows have become almost as bureaucratic as, say, the DGS&D. There is no way that you can get something done in less than an hour or via a verbal instruction, even when delivered in person. Everything has to be in writing, even a disconnection. I have a dozen stories to tell because as a family we have five or six connections with one of the firms. I am waiting most anxiously for number portability.

What has happened to the premium airline is also very sad. It started out so marvellously but began to decline after about 18 months. If you take each element that contributes to this decline separately the explanations seem reasonable enough. But then isn’t that true of the public sector also? In any case, it is the overall outcome that matters, and in the case of the airline I am referring to, this is a visible increase in tawdriness and lateness. In contrast, Air India has become so much better now.

Then there are the banks. The biggest of the private sector ones is now no better than what SBI used to be in the old days. The bottom line is exactly the same: irritation and aggravation when you have to deal with it, even online. The bank has simply lost it when it comes to customer service.

Last but not least is the electronic media. Scores of people I know are now turning back to Doordarshan and AIR for news, for a very simple reason: there you get the news without idiotic frills. DD and AIR have stuck to the old concept of news and not some claptrap that the private sector channels think will get them the eyeballs.

So what’s the problem with the private sector? My guess is this: there is a disjunction between the mad race for market share and the pressing need to keep costs down. The fellows in marketing are under pressure from above to sell more, while the fellows in finance are being told to cool it. The result is the same as for the public sector, even though the driving forces are different because in the public sector it is the procedures and the corruption that delay capital spending. There is no real pressure to keep costs down.

As long as the private sector’s customer base is small, the opposite pressures to expand market shares and keep costs down lead to greater all-round efficiency. But the moment it crosses a critical mass, which I would put at about 500,000 customers, problems start surfacing.

The reason is simple: the indivisibility of capital expenditure. That is, in order to keep the same level of service, you have to add to labour and capital costs in amounts that don’t appear justified, given the rate at which market share is expanding. So you try to squeeze more out of existing resources, and soon that begins to tell on the quality of the output. There is nothing like a combination of old machines and untrained workers to really short-change the customer.

All this, I daresay, is well-known. But that really is not the point of this article. Instead the issue to focus on is whether when dealing with large numbers of customers, ownership ceases to matter. I now genuinely believe that it does. Public or private, the customer is done for.

I was once sent to interview a mathematician from Oxford and after the usual questions, I asked him if the Jupiter effect (light bends when it gets near it) applied to the management of large numbers as well, in that you need completely different rules when you serve so many customers. He said he would have to think about it but to date I have not got any answer.

That is why I suspect we in India are doomed forever to live with poor service quality. The market is so large that, by definition almost, any service provider, public or private, will fall way short of the standards you find in smaller markets. This means there is a case for a large number of small firms, rather than a large number of large firms.

But since that is not likely to happen reassure yourself, with the most famous of all Confucian thoughts.

India - DTC,Low Floor Performance

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has a fleet of some 3,600 buses. In two years, it will have 80 per cent more buses, despite retiring about half of today’s fleet. That is not because the existing fleet is old — most of the buses were inducted only a few years ago when DTC switched from diesel to gas as fuel. But DTC is buying 5,000 new low-floor buses (of which a quarter will be air-conditioned), for Rs 1,800 crore. The first few of these are already in operation, and have given the city’s streets a noticeable face-lift with their bright colours, hi-lux lighting inside the buses as well as on the display panels, and contemporary styling. Already, the existing CNG fleet looks as though it belongs to the last century. By the time the Commonwealth Games come around, Delhi will have the country’s largest and finest city bus service.

DTC does not have the money to finance this dream, since it has the distinction of losing more money than the rest of the country’s city bus systems taken together. Last year, it lost more than Rs 1,000 crore, with total costs being four times revenue. Even its operating costs are twice revenue. And its employee bill alone is more than the revenue it earns. With those numbers, it is a disaster on the road, in more ways than one.

What is the problem? DTC has 10 employees per bus on the road. So does Mumbai’s BEST, but Mumbai with slightly fewer buses carries 75 per cent more passengers. To be sure, the average trip length in Mumbai is shorter, but even if you count seat-km per bus, there is a huge difference in productivity. Bangalore even managed to run its bus service at a profit for some years, and now has only a marginal loss; Chennai has far better operating efficiencies. From whichever angle one looks at it, DTC brings up the rear.

It is an old problem in India’s public sector. Services have to be provided to citizens, the chosen vehicles for doing the job are run badly, but more money is shoved down the same pipe while nothing is done to improve performance. Delhi’s citizens feel chuffed about the new buses on their roads, but this is a gift to them because DTC’s finances will get hobbled even more when it has to service the capital cost of its snazzy new fleet. The capital’s already pampered citizens know none of this, of course — in part because DTC’s last available annual report is three years old.

DTC is now busy getting into side activities. It is re-designing its 4,500 bus stops so that advertising space will fetch many crores every year — in the fullness of time, perhaps as much as it gets from passengers. It wants to develop its 35 depots, many of them in prime locations, as real estate projects, complete with budget hotels and perhaps shopping malls. All of which is fine, but that should be icing on the cake, not a substitute for operational efficiencies.

Fixing a bus service is not rocket science. Bangalore’s bus service was set right because a dynamic officer teamed up with a good minister to do all the right things. DTC, in contrast, once had a minister from a neighbouring state who ordered that thousands of voters in his constituency be hired as employees. The official who was the DTC boss (he went on to become a prominent minister in the central government) duly obliged, and destroyed DTC’s finances — not for the first or the last time. The question is, when will Delhi be lucky to get the accidental concatenation of forces that Bangalore did?

India - 3G

Indian consumers will have their tryst with 3G telecom services in the next six months, with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) announcing that it is issuing state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) spectrum to roll out all-India services.

3G or third generation services offer consumers internet access at speeds that are at least 30 times faster than 2G.

The move will give the state-owned corporations a four-to five-month head-start in the 3G space over private sector rivals.

The government, which announced the broad guidelines of the 3G policy today, said details of the auctioning of spectrum — radio frequencies that enable wireless communications — and the number of players allowed in each circle will be finalised within four months.

The state-owned corporations, for which spectrum has already been reserved, will have to match the highest bid after the auction for private companies is completed.

Announcing the new 3G initiative, Communications Minister A Raja said: “We expect to earn Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 crore through this 3G auction.”

BSNL Chairman Kuldeep Goyal added: “We will roll out an all-India 3G network in six months starting from the north and east.” The company has placed orders for equipment and said 25 per cent of the 40 million-line GSM order is for 3G services.

Industry experts predict 45-70 million 3G customers by 2012, roughly 10 per cent of the mobile customer base. New players that win bids will, however, have to pay additional cash (Rs 1,650 crore for an all-India 3G licence) for mandatorily taking a universal access service licence (UASL) also.
(Key telecom announcements by the government on Friday)
Spectrum to be auctioned in blocks of 5 MHZ for 20 years
Number of licences to be auctioned would vary from five to ten in each circle
Licence holders and new players with 3G experience to be allowed
The reserve price for auctioning in Mumbai, Delhi and category A circles set at Rs 160 crore, for Kolkata and category B circles at Rs 80 crore and Category C circles at Rs 30 crore
One block of 5MHz reserved for BSNL and MTNL
A new player who wins a 3G bid also has to take a UASL licence
Roll-out obligation imposed; in metros have to cover 90% of the area in five years and 50% of cities in all other circles
Spectrum withdrawn if roll out obligation not met after giving a grace period of another one year (from 5 years)
Auction to be conducted by an independent expert agency

Two players to be licenced for number portability services
Number portability in metros to be launched in six months and across the country in a year

Reserve price will be 25% of the 3G service price
Licence to be given through e-auction
Licence holders as well as new players with experience in running internet service

The industry is divided on today’s announcement. "The government’s plans to allocate additional spectrum should ensure the fullest possible breadth of competition in 3G services," said T V Ramachandran, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents GSM mobile operators.

“This will surely push our valuations up since new players who win bids for 3G, will have to tie up with us for 2G,” said Mahendra Nahata, a shareholder in all-India licence-holder Datacom Solutions.

But new players interested in entering the country (AT&T, Sprint and some West Asian telcos) said the guidelines will make it unviable for them until they also get 2G spectrum simultaneously.

“You can’t sustain a business in which 10 players are fighting for only 70 million 3G customers. You need a mass consumer base of 2G subscribers to survive, so getting 2G spectrum with 3G is essential,” said a senior executive of a telco with plans to enter India.

Although new players have to pay more for a UASL, there is no guarantee that they will get the 4.4 MHz start-up 2G spectrum that comes bundled with the licence because such spectrum is in short supply.

Also, a new player would need $3 billion to $3.5 billion to roll out a 3G network from scratch. A 2G incumbent can roll out 3G operations for half the cost, giving it a huge competitive advantage.

Mkitg - Viral Mktg & Bollywood

Everything is possible in virtual world. So when you see Bollywood’s latest teen heart throb Imraan Khan knocking on your computer screen it has to make you curious and wonder what he’s doing there?

“Marketing is a separate exercise altogether and is actually a creative art. Our film budget was Rs 8 crore and we spent another Rs 4 crore to market Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Na, which is 50% of our budget! And we used some really innovative marketing, specially the eye blaster technology, which I believe has been used for the first time in Bollywood, which sees Imran coming right up to you on your screen! This really was aimed at the target audience and helped in creating a buzz. It also got the song, Kabhie Kabhie Aditi a great start,” says producer Aamir Khan.

New viral marketing techniques are the latest buzz in Bollywood films. Love Story 2050 too used the internet to generate a different buzz around the film through some innovative campaigns and the much-awaited Akshay Kumar starrer, Singh Is Kinng has partnered with web portal India FM which will go live on Monday with an interactive campaign where the users will see Kumar doing stunts while the users can play a game where they get to be Akshay Kumar.

Films have now moved on from just plain vanilla advertisements to ones that ensure more interactivity with the audience. Misrosoft Advertising rich media banner where Imran Khan comes alive to interact with the user on his desktop, walks on the website, looks around, knocks on your screen and then walks into the advertisement and even moves to the tune of the song Kabhi Kabhi Aditi Zindagi worked really well for both. A separate shoot was done only for this advertisement which had a click-through rate(CTR) of 2.8%. The average CTR of banner advertisements is 0.3%.

“Earlier content that was developed for the conventional medium was put on the internet too but today specific content is developed for the internet because of the nature of the medium and the returns justify the extra costs. Five lakh users replayed the Jaane Tu... advertisement and then there is word of mouth that goes around too,” says Vineet Gupta, marketing manager, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions.

Songs are the first consumer touch point for most Bollywood films and draw audiences to theatres. Love Story 2050 and Jaane Tu.. had groups on Facebook as well much before the release where the film’s pictures and posters were put up and the group would facilitate discussion on the film. Movie Talkies launched an application for Jaane Tu.. on Facebook on the day of the release, where users were discussing the tagline of the film — so when do you know it’s love?

Entertainment is a segment that requires different treatment than other products which is why innovation is the key in viral marketing. “The audience must get to sample the film, so that they are enticed. Net advertising aims to break clutter. It is a mixture of the right creative in the right environment,” says Nabeel Abbas, CEO, Epigram Advertising.

Films that are more youth-focused tend to use more viral marketing as the internet is popular among the youth. But according to Abbas, the internet is a good way to advertise even for those movies that are not primarily targeted at the youth. According to him, the general audience can be reached through conventional advertising but if producers are looking at a blockbuster hit then the youth must be engaged too. Knock, knock...who’s there? Imran?

Fun - Food for sex

Cloves : If you thought they were good enough as mouth-fresheners only, think again. Cloves are the most powerful natural aphrodisiacs and are also effective against mental and physical fatigue. So the next time your partner complains of being tired when you are in the mood, just feed him/her some cloves.

Ginger : They don't just add flavour to your dishes, but can also excite your senses. It has been used in drinks and when taken in reasonable doses, it can cause healthy hot flashes.

Garlic : The thought of a garlic smelling mouth is hardly a turn-on, but then to get something you need to give up something. The heat in garlic is said to stir sexual desires. So the next time your partner stuffs your dish with garlic, you know what is playing on their mind.

Tomatoes : Now we know why this vegetable is a must in almost all Indian dishes. Our ancestors surely knew what they were doing when they made all those recipes. Tomatoes have been associated with goddesses Venus and Aphrodite. Paired with other sensual flavours like, basil and mint they can create a lot of heat and passion.

Coriander : They can not only spice up your curries but also your sex life. Dried coriander seeds have an euphoric effect especially on women. So the next time you go vegetable shopping don't forget to stock up some extra coriander.

Onion : Remember how widows in ancient India were asked to refrain from using onion and garlic in their food. Well, with the kind of lives these women were expected to lead they couldn’t afford to have their sexual desires kindled. In France, centuries ago, newlyweds were fed onion soup on their wedding day to restore their sexual energy.

Horseradish : If you like ‘muli-ke parathe’ you are in luck. Feed your physical and sexual hunger with this vegetable. The pulp of horseradish is said to have aphrodisiac properties.

Carrots : Well, here's an excuse to have another bowl of ‘gajar ka halwa’. This phallus shaped vegetable is said to be a stimulant for men. In ancient Middle Eastern royalty they were used to aid seduction.

Bananas : Who would have thought that this fruit, so commonly available round the year, would have such properties? Your humble ‘kela’, is much more than a nutritious fruit. The banana flower with its phallic shape is partially responsible for its popularity as an aphrodisiac food. Banana is also rich in potassium and vitamin B which are a necessity for sex hormone production.

Grapes : This is one fruit which has often figured as food of love. Pictures of lovers teasing and feeding each other with grapes are quite common. But now we know why. Related to Dionysus, wine and fertility, grapes have long been considered the food of Gods.

Saffron : Often used as a flavour in many Indian sweet dishes, these orange flakes, better known in India as ‘kesar’ has stimulating effects on the erogenous zones. Studies have proven that saffron has the same effect as hormones.

So you see, getting yourself or your partner into the right mood is not that difficult or expensive. While scented candles, massage oils and caviar are always a welcome treat, for the not-so-special occasions you can give always peep into your refrigerator or your vegetable basket for some help.