Sep 6, 2008

Lifestyle - Economics of being Subodh Gupta

Everyone everywhere is mad for Subodh Gupta.
At the Venice Biennale, at Art Basel, at Frieze Art Fair, at Chanel Mobile Art, in Shanghai, Zurich, Paris and New Delhi, the name most readily dropped and sought out is Subodh Gupta (or “Goopta” to those who don’t know or can’t pronounce the shortened “u”). Suddenly, like the limited edition bag that the artist designed for Italian fashion house Fendi, Gupta, a small-town boy from Khagaul, Bihar, has a waiting list.

“Everyone knows who he is in the European art scene,” says Peter Nagy of Nature Morte, New Delhi, which along with Bodhi Art in Mumbai are the two galleries in India that officially represent him.
Nagy is right; everyone does know who he is. Were it possible to quantify the craze, Gupta would be in rarefied company, somewhere next to Anish Kapoor, a few steps behind perhaps but close enough to warrant a cautionary backward glance or two. Sure, M.F. Husain and Tyeb Mehta, Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya have stepped across the invisible barrier—breaking records at auctions and popping up at the errant biennale. But none of them has achieved quite so much in so short a time as Gupta.
Gupta’s hotness is a fact not lost on his manager, Flora Boillot, who moved from France to New Delhi two years ago to oversee the affairs of Gupta and his artist wife Bharti Kher. It is Boillot who handles all media requests, coordinates out-of-town gallery visits, makes sure Gupta is on time for his various appointments and that his shipments to shows in San Gimignano and Shanghai are on time and intact.
Up, up and away: A look at how Gupta’s auction prices have escalated (Graphic)
And it is Boillot who fields my request for an interview sent via SMS to Gupta’s iPhone in February. “Subodh is busy, Subodh is travelling and Subodh is not available until July,” Boillot tells me. In July, a reminder email gets another Boillot reply, this time granting the interview but with an addendum—“the interview cannot exceed 30 minutes”. She also stipulates that I hand in a release form that essentially confirms I will not use the images or information in an untoward manner (like, say, in setting up a Where in the World is Subodh blog).
Release forms and French managers are not generally the purview of artists, especially artists in India, so by the time I arrive at Gupta’s studio, in the dusty construction pit that is Gurgaon, I had built in my mind the myth of Subodh Gupta— the Damien Hirst of Delhi—who from 2005 to 2008 saw his auction prices increase 52 times.
How a boy from Bihar, with zero interest in doing what most of his village did (i.e. work for the railways), managed to become India’s No. 1 Artist is nothing short of wondrous: a fairy tale with a requisite cast of greedy gallerists, ambitious curators, a savvy wife and one bespectacled man from small-town India.

He is in every sense a product of the new Indian market, where marketing and image-building, and self-promotion are not only expected but encouraged and praised. Having worked exceedingly carefully to control output and place his works in the most high-profile collections and shows, Gupta, in that sense and perhaps that sense alone, has warranted the comparison with Hirst, a master showman in his own right.
If Gupta, 44, knows he is a much traded commodity, identifiable by last name alone despite the two or three other Guptas peppering the Indian art scene, he isn’t showing it. Mild mannered, and even a little homely, he lacks the polished smugness of a man who has just been signed to the art world juggernaut, Hauser & Wirth, a Zurich-based gallery at par with Gagosian and Saatchi, which incidentally will also feature him in a group exhibit next year.
Told that he is a difficult man to meet, Gupta demurs. “It’s not like that,” he apologizes, before sitting down on a sagging couch in a plain-walled studio cluttered with unfinished canvases and a cabinet full of Gupta’s coffee-table catalogues.
He is happy to chat beyond our allotted time (keeping representatives from a London gallery waiting), talking about his childhood, his friends, his children, his art, especially his art. But he refuses to discuss his relationship with Kher. “Why you want to go into my private life?” he asks irritably.
Those who see the two together acknowledge that Kher, born and raised in England, has been a key influence in Gupta’s life, sandpapering the rough edges, cleverly directing where they would show, and like Gupta, realizing with steely ambition that they are destined for bigger things.
“Both him and Bharti have been very savvy. ” Nagy says. “There was a period when not much was happening, and Subodh and Bharti were very generous of their time. They had lots of people over for dinners to foster a sense of community.”
“Nothing comes easy,” Gupta shrugs. “And it will never happen, it never happened with anyone unless you keep doing it and doing it.”
“Doing it” is Gupta’s way of saying he slogged, back-breakingly, until he got what he wanted. That is, in fact, the one quality that everyone remarks on: His unflinching resolve to work; to put paint to canvas and steel to wall; to meet and travel even when nobody wanted his works, when sitting in a solo booth at the Armory show in New York, dealer Pierre Huber had to beg clients to buy a Gupta.

On one of his very first visits outside India, Gupta was manic about experiencing everything he could. He was fascinated by the art, the museums, the magnetic pull of a hundred creative minds working in a thousand different ways. “I’ve been with him in Europe, and he’s running around looking at contemporary art museums, participating in an international language in form and material,” says Nagy, who first encountered Gupta as the winner of an emerging artist award sponsored by New York’s Bose Pacia Gallery in the late 1990s. “Nobody’s working harder in India than Subodh Gupta.”

Now a father of two children—a son and daughter—Gupta has slowed down. Still, in recent months, he has made several jaunts across the globe: to Hong Kong for the Chanel Mobile Art show, Switzerland for Art Basel, Italy for a solo in San Gimignano and England to support Kher’s exhibition. “Art is a long journey. So I’ve been working for 8-10 years almost for European galleries and at that time nobody in India knew about it,” he says.
While still in college, Gupta took it upon himself to orchestrate a meeting with Russi Mody, then the Tata Steel chairman, who was known to foster young talent. “What I’m trying to tell you, it’s not easy for one boy from art school to go meet Russi Mody like this, no? So it took me one year almost to meet him like this. Three months I was just preparing myself, who is this guy, how will I meet him?”
On the strength of his works and Mody’s patronage, Gupta approached various galleries, eventually scraping together enough money to move to Delhi. He arrived with 15 friends from Bihar and stayed at a guest house at the Lalit Kala Akademi. Like most migrants from small town India to the Capital, Gupta was enamoured of everything and everyone he came across. As a student in Bihar, he had belonged to an acting troupe and was thrilled to discover that in Delhi, unfettered by cultural boundaries, he could mingle with artists, actors and dancers.
“In 1986, the Kala Mela used to happen. Kala Mela for us was like oh god Basel Art fair. Like Venice Biennale,” Gupta recalls excitedly. “Oh my God, we see the Husain today, we see the Ram Kumar, we see Souza and we see Swaminathan. We go mad, these are the fathers and masters of contemporary art in front of you. So we used to go crazy and we used to go ‘Sir, please autograph’.”
How Gupta made the leap from Delhi to Paris, London, New York and Shanghai in the span of a few short years is a little incredible, even by the standards of the frenetic hypermarket of the new art world. “We’re not used to in Europe an artist going from nothing to what happened with Subodh,” says Huber, the influential Geneva art dealer, who was the first international gallerist to sign him on. “To make a work from $12,000 (around Rs5 lakh) to $1million, it’s very strange. This never happened, in my mind.”
It was Huber, in fact, who first propelled Gupta to prominence, if such a feat can be attributed to any single person. Huber is a powerful dealer in Switzerland, whose gallery, Art & Public, has amassed over the years a weighty roster, including Sol LeWitt and Robert Barry. In the late 1990s, Huber spotted Gupta’s works at a group show in Italy and spied in them something different—something he had seen in American and Chinese artists much before either contingent became appealing to European collectors. He invited Gupta to display one of his installations at the Armory show in New York in 2002, and paid for his air ticket and expenses. “Nobody was impressed, nobody was looking at the work,” Huber says, so he called a friend of his and asked him to buy his work for the now paltry sum of $12,000 (which was around Rs5.76 lakh back then).

Huber strategically placed Gupta in a series of art fairs and biennales, careful to show his installations and only a few oils. At Frieze in 2005, Gupta displayed his steel cabinet installation, which evoked minor excitement and managed to push its creator from the periphery on to the radar.
At Art Basel in 2006, Gupta showed yet again, after initially being rejected by the selection committee. This time, the work was an installation of airport trolleys, his first exploration of immigrant traffic and labour. The response was instant. “Everyone was talking about it,” Huber says.
Soon Gupta, through Huber, was on contract with Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, and began experimenting with the kind of large-scale installations that would eventually culminate in Very Hungry God—a clattering, shiny, menacing skull, compiled in precarious manner with buckets, tiffin boxes and other steel objects—displayed outside Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2006, and bought by French billionaire Francois Pinault.
That proved to be the key. In the last couple of years, Gupta has been in the news repeatedly: first for breaking the $500,000 mark at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, then crossing the $1 million mark. Then, he was placed in the elite post-war contemporary auctions along with Hirst and Kapoor, and collected by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) honcho Bernard Arnault, British billionaire Frank Cohen, Indian collector Anupam Poddar and other powerful connoisseurs. The final cherry came by way of a ranking as one of three Indians on ArtReview’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the art world. He was invited to tony charity events such as Bono’s (RED) auction, and feted on the international circuit by American socialites and European collectors, all of whom couldn’t get enough of “Goopta”.
Still, Gupta was restless, forever on the Sisyphean task of trying to outdo what he had done before. “Whatever I was making at that time, I feel like I was serving someone. And what I’m making right now, I feel like I’m doing something my own. That changed and that doesn’t come that easy,” Gupta notes of his transition from painting to installation. “Like I said, visual art takes time. It took me four years to reach somewhere to change, and in between I made so much not good art. When you lose something and become empty, something new comes out.”
The new was what most people today associate with Gupta. Large, photo-realist oils of rope-bundled luggage on taxis, of faceless bodies pushing airport trolleys, hard, sharp installations that use mundane objects in arresting display, videos featuring a naked Gupta showering himself with cowdung.
“Subodh belongs to this very small community of artists who are very free and pushed, led by a kind of vision of what’s art,” says curator Fabrice Bousteau, who invited Gupta to show at the Chanel Mobile Art earlier this year, and will again work with him in 2010 for a group show.

For Gupta, this vision came from his childhood, from his days spent in a vast joint family, playing with cousins, watching his housewife mother craft small objects and clothes, and attending theatre shows put up by the local Bengali community. Plundering the vast array of objects at his disposal, he began appropriating childhood knick-knacks in ingenious fashion. One of his very first installations, 29 Mornings, was a composite of 29 wooden stools, or patlas, which Gupta remembers sitting on to eat his breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Seventy per cent of the population is poor people, or lower middle class or upper middle class. We still use, even in my home, utensils day-to-day for our food. So it’s such a common material. And that is India, 80% of country, no?” he says. “So, in that kind of atmosphere, when you are growing up you are going past many kinds of activities, ritual ceremonies and somehow even if you don’t practise right now, subconsciously you can’t forget what’s happened. And today, I’m lucky that those things helped me to create my artwork. So this is very important for me, and that’s how things happen.”
Unlike so many of his peers, Gupta was astute in packaging his “Indianness”—he managed to draw in local collectors with opaque references to a changing India, but beguiled Western tastes with his flawless execution, and bundled-up exoticism.
“Firstly, they are beautiful, and secondly, because they glorify and beautify quotidian Indian culture, I find that the work responds to a particular fusion of ideas that appeals to me,” says Cohen, who featured Gupta’s work in his Passage to India show at his gallery in Wolverhampton, England earlier this year.
That mishmash of seemingly disparate worlds was essentially Gupta, still inherently a boy from Bihar but with some of the savvy of a jet-setting artist who could take hot pink chimtas (tongs) and hang them in pompom-like configuration. Those who have known him for years say that Gupta is still the same, ambitious undoubtedly as he’s always been, and with more polish, but with the same quiet courtesies of a small-town boy.
Indeed, at the start of their respective careers, Gupta and Kher were generous with their time and money (of which they had little), hosting dinners, inviting artists, and curators, helping to foster a sense of community when Indian contemporary art was derided as a quaint by-product of post-colonial angst. Even as they grew in stature, Gupta hung on to his roots, helping organize an exhibition for young Bihari artists in 2007, and keeping in touch with galleries he later outgrew. “He has moved on in life,” says Renu Modi, owner of Gallery Espace that was among the first to give him a solo show in 1992. “But he has never stepped on to other people’s shoulders to step up.”
Through the course of our interview, Gupta is meticulous about giving due, crediting a list of people, including art collector O.P. Jain, Modi, his cohort of Bihari colleagues, whom he declines to name, his parents, who let him shift to Delhi though they were disappointed in his career choice, and a scattering of other people who helped him along the way.

He still speaks in accented English, unapologetic when he trips up on French names, and only sheepish when asked about his participation in Chanel Mobile Art—a travelling show sponsored by the fashion house that invited an eclectic group of artists to interpret the Chanel bag—and designing a bag for Fendi, which he says he did because the money would go to charity. “What kind of serious art I will produce for that?” he says of the Chanel project. The curator Bousteau was a friend, so Gupta agreed, but on his own terms, cheerfully subverting the idea of a posh bag into a video of people carrying thailas and gatharis. “This is Chanel bag for me, no?”
This is Gupta’s flair, to take the homely and make it beautiful—an obvious aim for any artist but, in an age of cow dung-strewn paintings and dead animals, not necessarily a qualifier for a work of art. Under Gupta’s direction, even the most humble objects, the bartan (utensils), the pot, the tiffin box become shinier, prettier, better. Immortalized in oil, they shine with a brilliance that lifts them from their lowly position on the still life scale.
With a clutch of high-profile collectors and a trail of gallerists eager to sign him up, Gupta has had to grapple with the surreal mathematics of pricing. From 2005 to 2008, his prices at auction for an oil painting increased from $23,126 to $1.4million—a 5,000% increase.
Gupta’s primary market prices hover between $350,000 and $1 million for the larger installations. And though even Huber concedes that Gupta’s prices have jumped by exorbitant proportions in the last few years, he asserts that the pricing is in keeping with the artist’s stature. “He’s the No. 1 contemporary artist in India. Why does he have to be cheaper than the No. 1 contemporary artist in China or the US?”
Still, there have been allegations of price manipulation, a practice in which a gallery will put up a work for auction and then buy it back at a high price, thereby justifying a precedent for exorbitant prices not always in keeping with quality. In a Mint article on the Indian art market (Picture is looking less perfect for Indian art), art critics and experts named Gupta and Kher’s works in connection with inflated pricing. However, auction houses and galleries denied having any hand in the practice.
Gupta is unruffled because in spite of or despite him, prices will continue to increase, as they have for Indian contemporary artists across the board. His solo at Hauser & Wirth next year will further brighten his spectre, and it is not farfetched to think that in a few years Gupta, if prudent, will find himself in prominent museum collections.
“This is my job,” he says. “What is an artist’s job? My job is to think about art. And I do that all the time, thinking. Even while sleeping, I’m thinking about my artwork.”

The Timeline

1964: Born 2 January in Khagaul, Bihar
1988: Moves to Delhi, to study at Lalit Kala Akademi
1989: Meets Russi Mody of Tata Steel, who sponsors his exhibit in Jamshedpur in 1990
1992: Solo show with Gallery Espace; meets his wife Bharti in New Delhi
1996: Moves from oils to installations with ‘29 Mornings’
1997: Wins Bose Pacia emerging artist award in New York
2000: Exhibits with Nature Morte for the first time at Lokayata, New Delhi
2002: Pierre Huber takes him to the Armory Show in New York
2005: Shows at Frieze Art Fair in London
2006: Shows at Art Basel, after first being rejected by the committee
2007: Is placed in a contemporary sale, as part of a selection from the Pierre Huber Collection
2008: Becomes youngest Indian artist to enter million-dollar club when ‘Saat Samundar Paar 10’ sells at a Christie’s auction for $1.2 million
2009: Solo show with Hauser and Wirth; part of a group show of Indian art at Saatchi

Business - BIG Pictures & Big Plans

Big Pictures, the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group company, with a presence in film entertainment, broadcasting and new media ventures, is busy exploring tie-ups with regional directors, whether mainstream or ?arty? because, it feels, ?every director has a certain viability.?In the Hindi film space, two co-productions are on the anvil — Daddy Cool with Maruti Pictures and Do Not Disturb with David Dhawan and Vasu Bhagnani. Big Pictures has a rights acquisition deal with Excel Entertainment for Luck By Choice and is working on its own production, Sikander, which is being directed by Piyush Jha. All four films will release from January 2009 onwards. The company is investing over Rs 1,000 crore over the one-and-a-half years in films. Mahesh Ramanathan, COO, Big Pictures, shares the company?s plans with Madhumita Mookerji of DNA Money. Excerpts:Has corporatisation helped improve efficiencies in the film industry? First, fundamentally, there is now a lot more focus on marketing and distribution. Films today are reaching far deeper. Secondly, a more organised approach is being adopted in film-making — the schedules are more well-planned, scripts are getting locked well in advance. Earlier, scripts used to be written during shoots. There is now more collaboration between the studio, which markets and distributes the film, and the creator. Earlier, directors made films out of passion. Now business is at the forefront. Making a film is important, but making it a success is more important. Previously, films were being funded by individuals… now clean money from organised sources have entered film production which is making it easier for the creative people to experiment. Rock On and Singh is Kinng have been big successes. How has the revenue mix been? Has more money come from abroad or India? There is a trend of growing overseas collections. This is mainly because, one, we have got a very good distribution system. Secondly, we are very big in the exhibition space. Under Adlabs, we own 250 screens in the US and 50 screens combined in Malaysia and Singapore. We plan to add more screens in the US. There are 18,000 screens in the US. Compared with that, there are 12,000 screens in India. However, that is inadequate in terms of the population. About 1,000 films are produced in 17 languages per annum in our country against say 225 films produced per annum in the US. How much of a role does distribution play in the success of a film? Has the distribution chain changed with the entry of corporates? With the exhibition space growing, more distributors are entering this area. However, the role of the distributor will have to evolve, because, now production companies have the ability to go to the theatres and book directly. So far, distributors took the risk by paying a guarantee. This risk can now be taken by the production companies themselves. But, traditional distributors will not go out of business because they have local knowledge of the market and the ability to reach remote areas. How is the Indian film industry doing? It is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 18% over the last five years. Now that?s double India?s GDP growth rate. Can this growth be sustained? Yes, of course. The Indian box office is the largest in terms of admissions or ticket sales, at 3.5 billion per annum. In the US, admissions are at 1.5 billion per annum. But, in value terms, the Indian film industry falls much behind the US. We enjoy just 1.5% share of the global film industry. But that is where the opportunity for growth lies. You have signed deals with several Hollywood talents. What is the plan? We have signed development deals with Nicolas Cage?s Saturn Productions, Jim Carrey?s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney?s Smokehouse Productions, Brad Pitts?s Plan B Entertainment and Jay Roache?s Everyman Pictures. Now we will take these partnerships to the next level — we will greenlight some of the scripts. Will these be joint productions? We will decide on that later. Our overall plan is to have a development fund of $1 billion in these partnerships. What sort of a growth blueprint has Big Pictures envisaged? We are in the process of creating a very different motion picture slate, which will be pan-India in character. We are the only studio actively producing films in nine languages. We plan to work with the best creative talent and make good quality films. We are working with Shaaji Karun in a Malayalam film, Cheran in a Tamil Nadu film and M S Sathyu in Kannada. With Amol Palekar, we are working on a Marathi film and Govind Bhai Patel for a Gujrati movie. In Bengal, it?s Rituparno Ghosh and Buddhadev Dasgupta. For the Indian film slate, we have earmarked in excess of Rs 1,000 crore over the next one-and-half years. What is the trick to make movies that give good returns? A lot needs to be done at the script level. Scripts are the key to success. To invest in a good script, we need to work with the best directorial talent. We also need to have an organisation that can connect with consumer preferences, track viewership on genres and give feedback to the creative team which can be worked on for developing concepts. Is India moving towards production efficiencies found in big Hollywood studios? We have set up a production service team under Adlabs, which will invest in production infrastructure and production services. We have acquired a majority stake in the Nitin Desai Studio at Karjat. We are also building studio facilities in Goregaon ( in Mumbai) with shooting floors etc. The lab infrastructure is already in place. We?ll establish one of the finest post-production services under Adlabs with a 4K digital intermediate facility for colour corrections etc. Can Indian IT talent be leveraged for special effects? Yes. In fact, at Adlabs, we are setting up one of the world?s best special effects facilities. It?s in the process of being implemented and will take a year to be operational. Plans are afoot to have an integrated studio set-up.

Business - Australian dry cleaning major to launch retail chain;India

Australian dry-cleaning and laundry major Brown Gouge has entered into a technical collaboration with Delhi-based Diamond Fabcare to launch retail chain ‘Wardrobe’. With an investment of Rs 150 crore in the first phase, Wardrobe will spread its footprint in the North initially and look for a pan-India presence in a three-year horizon.“We have been scouting for a partner for the last seven years to enter India. With lifestyle changes sweeping India, it is a good market for us to explore. Currently, there are no organised chain in the sphere and with this partnership we are looking to improving the standards in the dry cleaning and laundry segment,” Mr Tim Mottin, Co Promoter, Brown Gouge told Business Line.Under the collaboration, the 93-year-old company will provide the technical knowhow of running the business, besides developing a supply chain system and conducting training programmes.‘Wardrobe’ will deploy equipment imported from Europe and the US, besides using fabric-friendly chemicals. The garment and upholsteries will be picked from its retail outlets and cleaned at a central processing unit.Growing sector According to marketing information company AC Nielsen, the dry cleaning and laundry industry in India is estimated at Rs 3,000-3,500 crore. Demand drivers such as the rising number of working women and awareness on dressing right and growth in hospitality and retail sector is giving a fillip to the sector.Mr B.L. Bajaj, Director of Wardrobe said, “According to our estimates, the daily demand for laundry will increase at 20-25 per cent annually.”He said the company will open 30 company-owned outlets in next two-three months (phase I). “We will be investing heavily into the supply chain management as it is critical to our operation. Wardrobe stores will be opened in residential areas to start with,” he said. The company is targeting both institutions and individuals for its growth

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi

Why Video doesn't kill TV Stars

I have recently come to two reluctant conclusions about my home viewing habits. The first is that though I have scores of movies on DVD, I don’t really watch them that much. The discs just pile up, unwatched and unloved, and often I forget I even have them.

The second is that I don’t watch much entertainment on TV either. There was a time when I loved watching TV shows. When Star came to India, I made it a point to stay at home to watch the latest serials. And through the 1980s I became a fan of such American TV shows as LA Law. Plus, there were those that I remembered from my childhood in England: Batman, Charlie’s Angels, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible, The Saint etc. But these days, I hardly ever watch any fiction on TV. No matter how good a show is — and BBC Entertainment has some terrific programming — I can’t be bothered to read the papers each morning, find out when it is on and rearrange my evening accordingly. Hell, I can’t even be bothered to watch the damn thing if I stumble across it accidentally. I’d much rather watch news or current affairs.
I admit to all this reluctantly because, at some mindlessly egotistical level, I regard myself as a guy who is into popular culture. I think that I should make it my business to find out what people are watching on TV or to work out why a movie is doing well. And yet, here am I, evening after evening, leaving the pile of film DVDs untouched, switching channels when Life On Mars plays on BBC Entertainment and watching TV news in bite-sized 10-minute chunks.
And when I’m not doing that, I’m watching DVDs. Aha, I hear you say, but we thought you had stopped playing DVDs? Well, yes and no. It is true that I don’t often watch movies at home. But my DVD player comes on virtually every evening.
And what do you suppose I watch?
Why, the very same shows that I refuse to watch on TV. It’s a habit that started in the 1980s, when there was no satellite TV. I was cleaning out my video drawer recently and found that I had innumerable 1980s and early 1990s TV shows on video: The New Statesman,Spitting Image, Absolutely Fabulous, Blackadder, Prime Suspect, French and Saunders, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People etc.
My reason for buying the videos then was that there was no other way I could have seen the shows. Even when Star Plus finally came to India, it tended to focus on the Baywatch kind of mass-market TV rather than the stuff I wanted to watch (which, in those days, was mostly British).
But when you watch a TV show on video, two things happen. Not only does it seem right for the box (in the way that movies, made for the big screen, never quite manage) but you are also no longer at the mercy of channel programmers. Do you want to watch four episodes in one night? No problem. Would you like to rewind to figure out some plot twist you did not fully comprehend? Easily done.
The consequence of my video-watching years is that I can no longer enjoy TV fiction in real time. I must see it at my own pace, in my own time and in as large a dose as I want —11 episodes in one night, if I so desire.
The DVD boom has made it worse. When I first started watching 24, I found it strangely compulsive, even allowing for all the times when Jack Bauer’s foolish daughter was kidnapped. I thought I’d watch a couple of (hour-long) episodes a day. No chance: I ended up seeing the whole first season plus extras (over 24 hours of programming) in less than three days.
Since that first season of 24, that’s pretty much been the pattern of my TV viewing. I buy whole seasons of an interesting show and then devour the episodes with a glutton-like glee. Look through my DVD collection, and away from the movies, still pristine in their shrink-wraps, you’ll find another pile of well-watched discs: Spooks, Hustle, Murder One, Life on Mars, Californication, Dirty Sexy Money, Boston Legal, Mad Men, Dr Who, The Tudors, Rome, Poirot, Hotel Babylon, Dirt, 24, State of Siege, Entourage, 30 Rock etc.
Sometimes, the shows become an obsession. The first few seasons of 24 had me staying up all night. (Not the last two seasons though.) So did the first season of Murder One. When one of the discs on the second season of Heroes did not work, I scoured Delhi looking for a replacement. (I found it.)
And sometimes they take over my life. I got into the West Wing late, long after the show had been cancelled. But the first season grabbed me so completely that I bought all seven seasons (something like 150 hours of programming) and watched the show relentlessly. If I travelled, my West Wing DVDs travelled with me. I watched the continuing travails of President Bartlett in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Mauritius, Bangkok and London and when the last episode was over, persuaded myself that there had to be a Season 8 and that inefficient shopkeepers were remiss in not stocking it.
The end result of all this is that I now know most major American and British TV shows inside-out, having watched every episode in sequence, something that could never have been possible if I had watched them on TV in real time.
Consequently, my movie watching has suffered. I’ll go and see movies in cinemas (Sex and the City and The Dark Knight, both subjects of previous columns) or watch them on planes (Shine A Light). But they seem curiously shrunken and short on my home screen.
The TV set is meant for watching TV shows. And in today’s world, we can do that — in our own time and on demand.

Business - Rock On! with these

Shopping for a rock and looking perhaps for a stone that will be just perfect? When it comes to De Beers diamonds, the “Forever” mark is an assurance that the stone in question is indeed top-of-the-line in terms of not just size but also colour, clarity, origin and so forth.
Only one per cent of all diamonds produced are marked as such and thus, as far as a certificate of exclusivity goes, this one is certainly it.
Now, the Forever mark is available in India too — on luxury jewellery by Amaris Regalia, a new brand that launched this week and one that is now positioning itself as “the first” Indian luxury jewellery brand of its kind.
A joint venture between Delhi-based Khanna Jewellers and M Suresh Co, one of De Beer’s biggest site-holders in the country (importing roughs and cutting, polishing and mostly exporting finished diamonds), Amaris promises exclusivity not just in terms of design but also in the quality, size and colour of the stones used.
Exclusive stores are planned to retail the jewellery, the first of which opens at DLF Emporio, the new luxury mall in Delhi, tomorrow.
“We felt this was the right time to extend our expertise to the luxury segment. We intend to take our brand to top metros like Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, and expand to international markets like London and Dubai,” says Manoj Khanna, CEO.
So, what can you pick up? For one, there is a nine carat ring with a “Forever” mark, so exclusive as to merit a price tag of Rs 2 crore plus though Khanna only gives an estimate, reluctant to really pin it down further.
There is also a bracelet in natural golden diamonds pegged at Rs 35 lakh, as also an entire set in natural golden-coloured diamonds. Khanna says that the full range of jewellery will be offered —from traditional Indian bridal to contemporary.
“The finest in solitaires and designs with the eye-catching natural coloured diamonds will also be available.” Rings are available for Rs 2 lakh plus while larger pieces obviously command higher prices.
In addition, there are limited edition jewelled articles and accessories such as jewelled kripans (daggers), navratan pooja thaalis, belts with diamond-studded buckles, cuff-links and so forth.
If you are looking for more exclusive jewellery, designer Divvya A Bhasin has some very unusual pieces. Bhasin has long been known for her trunk shows all over the world, participating in exhibitions in Basel and Las Vegas. She has high-profile buyers, including the high-flying Emiratis (the royal family in Dubai) but primarily operated through word-of-mouth till now.
Recently, however, she has opened her store in Delhi’s Archana Arcade. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA)-trained designer is known for her use of natural materials with precious stones.
So don’t be surprised to find wood, beads, leather or suede with polkis in her work. In fact, she has also put together old traditional kundan with fabric, corals, sea shells and even fossils bought in Greece!
This season, amongst the hottest picks are dressy “Om” cocktail rings made of wood. These are carved with the motif and studded with gold and uncut diamonds (polkis), making for eyecatching pieces. What’s more, they are affordable too.
“The more you pay, the better will be the quality of the stones, but jewellery can even be something that is worn on a string. It is what appeals to an individual,” points out Bhasin.
Another interesting buy from her collection is fossil earrings, embossed with gold and polki, apart from very chic navratan cufflinks in an abstract theme.
The Om ring is priced at about Rs 25,000, the cufflinks for Rs 35,00, while the earrings are more expensive. Bhasin’s collection ranges from Rs 15,000-20 lakh. And in case you want her to customise something, she could do that too.
“If you have an old wedding lehnga or your grandmother’s brocade saree, we can take a bit from that and form it into jewellery so that it has some sentimental value too,” Bhasin says.
Meanwhile, The Gem Legacy, an exclusive coloured stone jewellery brand that was launched by designers Gaurav and Ritu Khanna some time ago, is now expanding and going all over India. The pieces have a touch of Western styling to make them suitable to go with both Indian and Western wear.
New here is the Zambian Emerald Collection, which presents an extravagant range of necklaces and ear pieces made with emeralds. Every piece is crafted individually and adorned with diamonds in white gold.
One of the magnificent pieces here is the ring of oval Zambian emerald married with the brilliant cut of diamonds (Rs 2.15 lakh). You can also buy a necklace of marquese diamonds, with Zambian emerald drop, in white gold and teardrop emerald earrings (Rs 5.3 lakh).
Besides these Indian brands, there are a few international ones that have recently launched in the country too. Interestingly enough, you now have a Thai company, Pranda, launching a brand of 24 carat gold jewellery here.
Pranda is primarily a South-east Asian manufacturer, with clients among some of the top jewellery brands in the world. It’s also got some brands of its own, and launched its campaign in India with its best known one — Prima Gold.
The company has picked on three collections after an 18-month long research of the Indian market, reveals its managing director Vinod Tejwani, “Classic, which has geometrical shapes and straight lines and makes for elegant designs; the more conventional Natural collection inspired by flowers, leaves, butterflies and so on; and the two-toned Modern collection in 24 carat yellow gold fused with 18 carat white gold. The progressive, sophisticated middle-class market is our target.”
Pranda is tying up “TRJs” — trusted retail jewellers — for distributing Prima Gold. At the moment, the network takes in eight states but it’s soon going to spread to the rest of the country, promises Tejwani.
A store in Jewelworld, the jewellery mall in the vicinity of Mumbai’s Zaveri Bazar will also open later this year. “But that will be more for the trade,” says Tejwani. Prices — Rs 4,000 to Rs 5 lakh.
Finally, if Swarovski is what you are fixated on, this would be a good time to buy a couple of pieces from their new collection of jewellery — where the motifs are all “swan” dominated. The swan has been an instantly recognisable symbol of the brand since 1989.
Now, this year, it has been reinterpreted and given the name “Swanflower” by Nathalie Colin-Roblique, creative director. The motif is the star of a new line of jewellery and accessories. Buy that rhodium bangle with bicolour pave crystals now.

Lifestyle - More Italian Dons

Whatever the reasons, there has been a recent rash of Italian designer stores (clothing, accessories and shoes) being launched in the metros, Italian “plug-n-cook” kitchens are catching on, and Italian fashion seems to be closing in on haute couture. So why not Italian wines?
After Tuscany (whose Chianti I wrote about last month), the most famous wine area in Italy is Piedmont (“at the foot of the mountains”), the region of north-west Italy adjacent to Turin (Torino), and the best Italian wine is undoubtedly Barolo — the name given to wine made from the Nebbiolo grape of this region and which has famously been called “the wine of kings — and the king of wines”!
Barolos typically have an aroma of tar and roses, are expensive and some older wines can take on an orangish hue.
The traditional method of producing a Barolo gave a very dark and intensely tannic wine that required at least 10 years of ageing in large casks to soften; many producers have now changed to a more modern process that allows the wines to be ready within 5-7 years (much to the horror of traditionalists and the delight of consumers).
Barbaresco is the other world-class wine made in this area, also from the Nebbiolo grape, and like Barolo takes its name from the village at the heart of the area permitted to use this title for its wines.
The major difference between the two wines is that a Barbaresco is softer and ready to drink sooner that a Barolo, but will not keep for as long.
The largest volume of wines in Piedmont comes from the workhorse Barbera and Dolcetto whose vineyards occupy much of the area devoted to wine. Also produced here is the white wine Gavi (made from the Cortese grape) and Asti Spumante — a light, fruity and sweet sparkling wine produced from the Muscato (Muscat) grape.
The Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso rates Gaja (of Piedmont) as the best winemaker in Italy, having garnered 41 “three glasses” awards over the last 21 years. Other notable wine companies from Piedmont include La Spinetta (32 awards), Altare (26 awards), Clerico (19), Giacomo Conterno (17), La Barbatella and Paolo Scavino (both 16) — all unfortunately still unknown in India.
Among prominent wineries from Piedmont whose wines are available in India are Pio Cesare, Castello Banfi, Prunotto and Marchesi di Barolo. And, of course, the vermouths from Martini Rossi and Cinzano.

Lifestyle - The Princess Trap;Shahnaz Hussain

For the third time I try to take my leave. For the third time it is peremptorily dismissed.
“Bring nimbu-pani,” she says, “and ask a tailor to come in.”
In her “cosy room” with its cut-glass (surely it can’t be acrylic?) sofas painted gold, with sequinned cushions to match, cups of sweet coffee cool on the side tables. To one side is her gym. This is where she does yoga in the morning. Phones barricade “her” chair.
Outside, another door leads to a warren of rooms that constitute her walk-in closet. Racks are packed with hangers from which hang dresses — caftans, robes, coats — with sequins and beads and fussy detailing. A wall is hung with handbags. A mirror and chair indicate where her in-house beauty staff attend to her.
An assistant takes out several jackets, their lapels and cuffs and belts trimmed with leather cut from Louis Vuitton leather handbags. “I love matching my clothes with my bags,” Shahnaz Husain had tossed her tawny mane, “I’m Louis Vuitton’s best roving ambassador.”
Three tailors work full time for her, stitching, beading and embroidering clothes for her approval, clothes she will probably never repeat. And now, one of the tailors, trembling, is standing by to take my measurements because Shahnaz Husain has decided that she will design me a kurta.
“You must wear it,” she commands. I don’t dare demur.
Only moments earlier, she’d rung a bell to summon an assistant. “Neeche se awaaz kyon aa rahi hai?” she had wanted to know. All I could hear was a soft murmur of voices drifting up from the ground floor to the first floor.
Now she rings the bell again. “All that noise,” she is irritated, “I want the building cleared, everyone, out, out, out!”
Only a few hours ago, she had descended the stately staircase, past pillars and vases and banks of artificial flowers, a red coat with silver buttons flapping over a black dress edged with lace. Red clogs added six inches to her height. Gold gleamed on her wrist and around her ankle, diamonds burned on the slope of her nose. A photographer recorded the journey down for posterity on his handycam In the living room where I await her, the major domo lays the dining table for lunch, strewing rose petals across the glass before setting the delicate porcelain. The sofas and chairs are all white, synthetic fur draped across them, furry cushions like soft animals nuzzling into the small of the back.
In the event, all his efforts were in vain as Shahnaz Husain, huge kohled eyes dimpling behind an enormous pair of glasses, insists on a trolley brought where we are sitting. A huge feast for the guest. A minuscule but balanced meal for the host. A half-hour after looking at it several times, it is sent back.
She wants tea instead.Sweet tea comes in pretty cups and saucers that match the luncheon set. Shahnaz Husain’s cup lies untasted.
In that room with its mirrors and chandeliered lights, its Chinese vases and Italian sculpture, Shahnaz Husain is a vulnerable grown-up child, confessing to a fear of time. “I want to cling to memories,” she says, “I want to hold on to time.” In a corner, facing away from her, is a photograph of her son, Sameer, who committed suicide some months back. A decade ago she had lost her first husband. “Sharing grief with others is not possible,” she had snapped when I had commiserated her loss.
“I was married at 13, pregnant at 14, a mother at 15,” she has told practically every journalist who has set foot in her home. Now she says, “Maybe because I never had a childhood, I’m obsessed with dolls and teddy bears.” As a possible cure, she’s locked away her collection.
But there’s another facet to her compulsive behaviour that has endured. “Every evening,” she says, “I go to Barista to have coffee.” Her chosen location is Select Citywalk in Saket; in London, she’s to be found at Starbucks. She wants to open her own coffee chain, she says, called Starstruck, but Starbucks, it seems, has objections to the name. Shahnaz Husain shrugs her impressive shoulders. “Maybe I will start it, maybe they will sue me, let’s see.”
She snaps her fingers for assistance from the battery of staff gathered in the lounge outside “You know I don’t meet journalists” — snap! snap! — “I’ve told you I want you to record my interviews so you can play them for anyone who wants my views.” A tape recorder is hastily placed next to her by the assistant who has been hired to write down everything Shahnaz Husain says, all of it to go into a book that will be called — “what will it be called?” Shahnaz Husain snaps some more fingers.
“It will be called One Life is Not Enough, says the scribe. “And my blog, tell him about my blog,” the diva commands. “It’s called,” says the companion who will travel with her for three months to London to record her musings. “Write about it,” Shahnaz Husain turns to me, “it might inspire some poor girl who has given up all hope.”
To the hapless girl in the room she says, “Tell him the quotation I like.” Turning to me, the assistant diligently parodies: “One day you’ll ask me what is more important — my life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away, not knowing that you are my life.”
“That’s the way I want you to think of my work,” says Shahnaz Husain.
Her story is well known, of her little salon and the curiosity it first created in the seventies, of her making unguents and creams in the verandah of her home, the patronage of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that got her a foothold into the Festivals of India and the headiness of selling to Ingrid Bergman, Princess Diana, the Queen Mother, Barbara Cartland and Michael Jackson. I refrain from commenting that they are all dead now, with the exception of Jackson — and look at him anyhow!
There’s no doubting that Shahnaz Husain lived up to her formidable “Princess” persona, wooing the media with her larger-than-life image, all glitter and gold, beside whom the European royals looked anaemic. She stormed into London and Paris and Tokyo. “I’m a creation of the media,” she says happily. Then, “I’m a creation of our missions overseas.”
It’s not true, I contradict her, no one else could have created her, only Shahnaz Husain could have created herself. But she is already reminiscing about packaging and media headlines and selling civilisation in a jar. Is she, I ask a little louder, a creature of the past? “I’m a child of tomorrow,” says Shahnaz Husain, “I never think of yesterday, never live in today, only tomorrow is important.”
“You cannot change the past,” she explains, “the future you can change.”
In the past, she made her first million in Yugoslavia, and that helped finance her factory. She tells stories now, of how she went by her gut against her financial department’s advice. “My husband, Mr Husain,” she recalls, “said ‘Shehnu, risk mat lo. Iska anjam samajh lena, tum maut ko lalkar rahi ho’.” His concern, she says, was the dreaded FERA regulations, but she had her way.
“When I see a wall,” Shahnaz Husain says, “I don’t walk away, I break through it.”
For all that, she couldn’t be having an easy time. It isn’t just old-timers who swear by her products, but the packaging for the domestic market is a disaster. Upstarts have taken over the market. Biotique has a fair name, and VLCC is leaps ahead in the business. And foreign brands are streaming in with lavish marketing budgets.
Shahnaz Husain, weighed down by personal tragedy, and age, is coping. “I’m launching,” she tells me, “a new range for the masses, with everything priced under Rs 100.” All because, she says, a stranger on the street told her that Shahnaz was only for the elite.
She looks pleased to be considered part of the elite. She looks pleased too to be bending a little for the masses.
Will she sell her brand?“There was a company” — she refuses to name it — “that said, ‘Princess, we’ll give you $500,000 to associate our brand with yours in India’. I asked if they would use my brand with theirs internationally. When they said no, I said no.”
But yes, she’s open to a professional CEO running the business, provided he dedicates his life to Shahnaz. “Or, I’ll have to take the last call before dying,” she smiles happily at the thought.
The “Princess” — her staff though refers to her as “Mummy” behind her back — is open to financial opportunities. “I’ve wanted to do an IPO for a long time,” she says. “Maybe the time is right now, maybe I should.”
“I would not mind if a foreign company joined us and put us at the world level professionally. A company,” she pauses, “that makes small, homegrown companies grow internationally. I wouldn’t mind that such a company should put in its finances, time and effort into Shahnaz.”
As I try and leave, yet again, she says, “I’m very irritable about details. If something doesn’t happen as it should, it causes me immense disappointment.” She adds, “Though that’s what people say about me, I don’t interfere with everything, I don’t look into everything.”
We exchange pleasantries and promises to meet again soon and I’m halfway down the stairs with the staff standing by but no one filming my escape when she calls, “You must promise to wear the kurta I’m designing for you.” Oh dear.

Business - India;Retail keen on evaluating biz structures with high end cos

MUMBAI: The slowdown in the economy and archaic rules on real estate may have affected the mainstream retail industry, but there is a flurry of activity on the high-end retail segment, as existing players actively explore business structures to tie up with global high-end retail majors. Mandates with consulting firms, including those from the Big Four, show that players such as Reliance Retail, Aditya Birla Retail, Shoppers Stop and others are keen on evaluating business structures with high-end firms such as Marks & Spencer or Armani or a Moschino to tap demand from the growing number of HNIs (high-networth individuals). According to sources, growth in demand for luxury items is pitched against a slowdown in mainstream retail as high inflation pushes back purchase decisions. The main driver is an increase in the number of individuals in India, who can afford to fly abroad to splurge on high-end accessories ranging from Rs 80,000 and above. Business structures being considered include a franchisee model to start with, which could later be converted into a joint venture if the two partners consider it worthwhile. Firms such as KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young are working on such structures and also advising on possible tax-efficient structures, as there are grey areas in levying value-added tax (VAT) on items such as a diamond-studded watch or a high-end leather jacket. For a diamond-studded watch, if the item is categorised as a watch then VAT levy is a high 12.5% compared to that on a gold or a diamond item where VAT could be just 1% or less. Recently, many UK retailers, including Marks & Spencer, have been looking to gain a presence in India. Consulting firm KPMG’s tax partner in India, Amarjeet Singh, is expected to advise such high-end retail clients who are planning to move to India, especially as there is a strong demand from European clients for advice on the tax and regulatory environment around investing in India. Speaking on the robust interest in high-end retail, KPMG manager strategic services C Ravishankar said: “The market for high-end luxury items in India is growing. Since it is difficult to build a luxury item from scratch, there are efforts to bring established global brands into India. In such cases you have to be clear on the type of business structures that can be formed,” he added. India’s fast-growing high-end retail market is expected to increase from the current $3.5 billion to $30 billion by 2015. According to sources in Reliance Retail, the key driver for luxury retail, apart from growing HNIs, is that the margins are also very high, as much as 70% to 80%. The luxury retail market is roughly estimated to be about Rs 2,000 crore and expected to grow at 20% in the next five years. Although the pace is slower than the mainstream retail, which had been growing at the rate of 30% to 40%, the value of the luxury market is much higher. According to KH Vishwanathan of Astute Consulting, firms are currently involved in doing a concept study to highlight the compliance part and tax efficiency of a proposed business structure. Nielsen Company director (retail consulting division) Asitava Sen says the move to prepare the business structures between Indian retailers and high-end global players is vital when there are strong brands. “Most foreign players are very protective about their brands and won’t allow their Indian partners access to these brands,” he said. The business model that such ventures would work on is in allowing the foreign company to own the back end in a retail venture while leaving the front end to the Indian company. In such a structure, the foreign company would have complete control over the price and packaging.

India - Sky's the Limit

In a ruling that could change the face of Mumbai, the Supreme Court has cleared the way for pulling down more than 16,000 pre-1940 buildings — including chawls — that have become dilapidated, and constructing modern high-rises in their places. The ruling has devised a win-win formula according to which people who occupied the old tenements will be given, free of cost, flats of the same size in brand new buildings. Other flats in the building can be sold by the builder, who has been allowed to make his money by relaxing the floor space index (FSI) to permit the construction of high-rises. Cities across the world tackle housing shortages through redevelopment and the construction of high-rises. But rules governing land use remain archaic in Indian cities. That includes FSIs that are low by international standards, inhibiting the construction of high-rises. Coupled with other restrictive legislations that hobble the real estate sector, the net effect is acute housing shortages and the proliferation of slums. Even among Indian cities Mumbai is a byword when it comes to housing shortage or lack of commercial office space. Inability to resolve the former means that the city offers a poor living standard to its residents. And unless it can tackle the latter it can bid goodbye to its dreams of becoming a global financial hub. The boost in public morale from shifting millions of people from slum tenements to pucca houses cannot be overestimated. It compares only to the sense of well-being that can come from advances in education or public health. But the same story of housing and infrastructure shortage plays out across most Indian cities. High-rises are restricted across large parts of New Delhi, leading to soaring property prices and the lack of commercial space. The rationale for restricting high-rises is that they strain municipal services unduly. But since they don't in other parts of the world, that points only to the infirmity of Indian cities in providing basic services such as water, sewage and transport. Rains routinely cripple cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata because municipal authorities aren't doing their job. The proper solution isn't downgrading FSI but upgrading municipal services, which ought to be outsourced to private providers if public authorities can't come up to the mark. Studies should be made into what makes great cities across the world tick in terms of zoning laws, land use regulations, operation of municipal services, permitted FSIs and the aesthetics of urban architecture. Similar norms should be put in place to give rise to world-class cities in India.

Fun - Greek postmen win oddest book title

LONDON: 'Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers' benefited from a late surge in public support to win the title of oddest book title of the past 30 years, the Bookseller magazine said. The book, which is a comprehensive record of Greek postal routes by Derek Willan, grabbed 13% of the 1,000 international public votes cast to chose the oddest title from the winners of the annual competition that began in 1978. It beat 'People Who Don't Know They're Dead' and 'How To Avoid Huge Ships' into second and third places with 11 and 10% votes respectively. "The posties pulled off a real shock here. The pre-tournament favorite was the prize's first ever recipient - 'Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice,' said Horace Bent, custodian of the annual Diagram prize. "Right from the off, it was Gary Leon Hill's 'People Who Don't Know They're Dead' that set the pace. It topped the polls for over three weeks," he added. Another early favorite 'How To Bombproof Your Horse' also failed to feature in the final count. The prize was dreamed up initially at the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair as a way of avoiding boredom. It has since become an annual star. This year's winner was 'If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.'

Personality - Sanjaya Baru (G.Read)

Me - I wish i had this job ;-)

Why would anyone give up a job so close to the centre of power and opt for the quieter confines of academia? Well, this is exactly what Sanjaya Baru, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former media adviser, did when he opted for Singapore, where he has taken up a teaching assignment. He doesn’t see this move as a surprise, given his background. “This is not the first time in my life that I have got off a train to sit on the platform,” he says.
“I left the Times of India in 1997 to spend a couple of years at a research institute in Delhi. That came after eight exciting years in the media. For an economic journalist like me, the period 1990-97 was most exciting. Those were the years of crisis and reform and so much else. I took time off between 1998 and 2000 to read and write. A book came out of that period.” Baru returned to the media in 2000 and then went into government in 2004. He believes that being in the media or in the Prime Minister’s Office is like being on a fast train. “You get from one station to another pretty fast. Things are moving all the time. There are a lot of people who come and go in and out of your professional life. There is really very little time for reflection. Getting off a train and sitting on the platform, just watching all the other commuters and all those other people moving around changes your perspective. It allows you time to reflect.”
“This is my second interregnum,” he points out, “A period of reflection and rejuvenation.” But the train journey has had its interesting moments. Working with a scholar-administrator-politician like Manmohan Singh was “an educational experience”. Singh often said that working in government is a means of securing personal education at public expense. “Working with him was doubly so,” says Baru. The four years in the PMO had their “ups and downs and moments of great excitement, and great frustration”. But when we look back objectively at this period, he believes that we will come to recognise “the great transformation of mindsets” that Singh helped bring about in the country, in the government and in his own party. His stint at the PMO also made Baru more patient and less talkative. He would not have had the courage to make this change had it not been for the support of his family, wife Rama, a reputed academic, and daughter Tanvika, who has relocated to study in Singapore.
So what were the high points of Baru’s stint? “The first high point came within three months of my joining the PMO. This was the first national press Conference of the Prime Minister, at Vigyan Bhavan. It was the first time an Indian Prime Minister was addressing such a big event, that too with live telecast. We had over 500 journalists from India and abroad in that large hall. Dr Singh sat all alone on the huge Vigyan Bhavan dais, with no aides. He answered 50 questions over 90 minutes. Such a thing had not happened for a long, long time. I must add that when I first mooted the idea of the PM addressing such a press conference, several senior advisors of the PM cautioned me against such ‘adventurism’,” says Baru. Some felt he was not yet ready to face the media. “I was adamant and succeeded in convincing the PM. We drafted 75 ‘likely’ questions that he could be asked and he was briefed on each issue. I kept track of all the questions asked. Forty-nine out of the 50 were on our list of likely questions. Only one googly was bowled when a journalist — from Hindustan Times — asked the PM what he thought of his ‘spin doctor’.”
A second ‘high point’ was the visit of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to New Delhi in 2005. “Once again there was a lot of apprehension in the PMO and the ministry of external affairs about how the media would report the visit and its outcome, because of the famous Agra fiasco during the NDA’s tenure. I think the Musharraf visit to Delhi went off without a glitch.”
Given the high-pressure job that he had, Baru says that his present job as a professor is a welcome contrast. “But you never quite get journalism out of your blood,” he says. And he missed it most each morning when he saw the papers that he had to read in his role as media adviser. “I wished so often that I could have written some of those stories and editorials.”
He misses the casual chats he used to have with Singh. “I used to enjoy what I would call my gup-shup sessions with him, where we would chat about various things. Normally, the PM is not given to small talk and chit-chat. But when he got into the mood, it used to be fun just having a good gossip session with him, watching him laugh. Sometimes when he was particularly stressed his personal secretary would call me and say, “Why don’t you drop in for some gup-shup, the boss is free.” I used to say that I felt like a court jester who would be called in to amuse the king whenever the king was in a foul mood. I enjoyed that. I wonder if he misses that. I certainly do.”

Columnists - Barkha Dutt (V.G.Read)

Isn't it infuriating when women who probably abhor the very fundamentals of feminism suddenly embrace it in order to play victim? And isn’t it so offensive when Gender is used as the convenient and automatic justification for losing?
Watching the otherwise fascinating American elections unfold, I’m stunned by how ‘sexism’ has become a central character in the narrative. First, they argued that Hillary Clinton got booted out because she was female. Never mind her dithering, incoherent positions on Iraq; forget about the surly anger and petty control that her husband brought to the campaign and don't even mention the fact that when they thought the ‘tears’ were working, her managers pushed her into playing it even ‘more female’. If anything, surely that’s sexist?
But no — even the hard-nosed, bright lawyer could not resist the temptation of casting herself in the role of victim and the American people in the role of women-hating oppressors. The subtext was incredulous — Hillary’s camp was suggesting that when it came down to prejudice, being Black was more palatable to people than being Female.
Now, public focus has shifted away from Hillary to a woman deeply antithetical to her — in appearance, personality and ideology. But the charge of ‘sexism’ continues to define the political debate in America.
Anyone who heard Sarah Palin’s feisty and combative speech this week knows that the former beauty queen and hockey-mom who also hunts, is no one’s idea of a poor-little-thing. Palin cleverly positioned herself as an outsider in Washington’s charmed and powerful circle of influence. But, who is she fooling? The small-town mommy persona is entirely deliberate and crafted. With one eye firmly on Middle America, Sarah Palin made sure that the Family Postcard was on perfect display at the Republican Convention. The doting husband; the five kids, the youngest born with Down’s Syndrome; the teenage daughter who got knocked up but is going to do the ‘right thing’ by marrying her childhood sweetheart and the PTA mother-turned politician, presiding like a protective matriarch, over her brood. This, as an American commentator wrote, was Christian country ethos: hate the sin, love the sinner. As strategy goes, it is fair game and may even be the smartest move the Republicans have made so far. John McCain wanted a running mate who would rustle up a storm and he has got one. Palin’s personal history — the kid with special needs, the daughter who got pregnant — speaks to the essential fallibility of the ordinary American family. If the postcard is frayed at the edges, it’s because so is Life. To that extent, McCain may have played an ace.
The problem begins because Palin also wants pity. Scandals have begun to surface in the American media on how the Alaska Governor tried to get her brother-in-law sacked, how she was abusive on a radio-talk show, how she is married to a man who wanted to secede from America and how she really doesn’t know that much about the war in Iraq, despite having a son enrolled in the military. Others have demanded to know how she can justify the Republican policy on teaching school children sexual abstinence over using protection (Republicans do not fund education programmes that advocate birth control) when her own daughter is a living example of why that policy has been a dismal failure. But the moment the fierce public scrutiny and criticism kicked in, Palin’s supporters fell back on that tired old accusation — the Governor, they argued, was a victim of sexist bias.
For god’s sake. Even if Palin were not haunted by controversy, her ideology alone makes her antithetical to the very notion of Feminism. She believes the government should force women to bear children, even if raped. She is on record saying that the pro-life dogma should begin at home. Can this really be the ideology that heralds a new political dawn for women? As the acerbic, left-leaning columnist Katha Pollit wrote in the Nation, “McCain must think we have the collective IQ of a tampax.”
The problem with Feminism in the 21st century is precisely this. It’s got mauled and distorted into being defined by so-called ‘free choice’. If you choose to strip to the skin and make your millions that way, you are ‘liberated’. If you ‘choose’ to be a stay-at-home mom and never become financially independent, you are ‘choosing’ what your mothers were forced to do. If you want to play a born-again evangelical messiah you are not orthodox — by the new mantra of feminism, you are ballsy for saying what you think. Listen to American professor, Linda Hirshman who says caustically, “Choose to exploit your beauty; choose to exploit your brains. Reports from Alaska reflect a serious subset of Palin supporters who just like to look at her legs. Hey, there’s a leg up for future feminist candidates. Boy, everyone’s a Feminist these days.”
And here’s the question: If Hillary’s 18 million voters see a kindred spirit in Palin or an alternative to Obama, should that be branded a feminist choice or just a very stupid decision? What can Hillary’s voters and Palin’s supporters possibly have in common other than Gender? And if that is reason enough aren’t women playing to the worst stereotypes?
Back in India, we may be amused at all the fuss and the fury. But our polity isn’t free from the overweening political correctness that seeks to make potential victims of us all. We saw the first signs of this distorted debate, during the elections for the President’s office. Women in India have enough real issues to battle and real victories to savour. Let’s not get imprisoned by our Gender. Female First doesn’t have to be our motto.Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

Lifestyle - Politicians who get up early

Buried among the more electrifying revelations about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is the mildly disturbing fact that she gets up at 4.30 a.m. every day. Of course in Anchorage, where Ms Palin lives and where sunrise shifts from 4.20 a.m. in summer to 10.15 a.m. in winter, alarm clock settings may be regarded as a mere matter of personal perversity.
There is, however, a marked tendency among politicians to get up way too early. Condoleezza Rice wakes up at 4.30 a.m. every day to go to the gym. George Bush is a famous early riser, but prefers to be tucked up by 9 p.m. Margaret Thatcher got by on less than five hours’ sleep a night. Gordon Brown is at his desk at six every day, and he lives above the shop. Not every politician shares this love of the vampire shift. The leader of the U.K. Opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron, recently suggested that he would be “a different sort of prime minister” and that a healthy work-life balance might include the occasional lie in. “If you immerse yourself from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m., it so affects your balance, family life, your sense of who you are,” he told the London Daily Mail, implying that by getting up early Brown was doing something foolish and vaguely evil. And John McCain has let it be known that sometimes he sleeps until 8 a.m. It’s a wonder he and his running mate have ever met.
— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

India - Free trade with ASEAN

India’s new trade pact with the 10-nation group can be seen as the triumph of economic diplomacy with a political focus.
By coincidence, Singapore conferred its Honorary Citizen Award on Ratan Tata, “an exemplary business leader,” just a day after India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced a trade pact in the City-State.
The trade-in-goods agreement, slated for signature by the two sides in December, will set the stage for talks on a liberalised flow of services and investments in either direction. And, while Mr. Tata had, as noted in connection with the award, “helped propel Singapore’s economy,” the City-State has remained a key prime mover on the ASEAN side for its diversified engagement with India.
Another coincidence was that Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University conferred its honorary degree of doctor of engineering on the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on the eve of announcement of the trade pact. Singapore will co-chair the ASEAN-India panel on services; and the City-State has, for long, recognised the actual and potential contributions of Indian professionals to the economic growth of Southeast Asia.
The powerful mix of such symbolism and substantive hopes is the driving force behind the ASEAN’s engagement with India in recent years.
Obviously, experts on both sides, more so in India, are keen to comb the trade pact for signs of a caving-in by one party or the other for the sake of doing the deal, which was hanging fire for nearly six years of hard parleys. The issue of relative gains and losses becomes more acute, because neither India nor the 10-state ASEAN enthusiastically described the pact, soon after it was announced, as “a win-win deal” for both. This nomenclature is important, because the win-win approach has become a standard formula for political and other negotiations in the present post-Cold War period.
Outwardly, the ASEAN will stand to gain more from this deal than India, at least to begin with. The available indications are that India has agreed to reduce, substantially and progressively, its import tariff on a few items of utmost export-importance to some key ASEAN states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. These items are palm oil, coffee, tea, and pepper. And, as for petroleum products, Brunei’s export lifeline, India has been equally accommodative.
Surely, the 10 ASEAN countries have also, variously, committed themselves to giving a greater market access than available now in respect of Indian exports. At stake, as a fundamental question, though, is different from the standard analysis of economic transactions. And, within the economic domain itself, the ASEAN, aware of its relative gains, does expect New Delhi to negotiate from commanding heights insofar as its exports of services are concerned. At the same time, the ASEAN has envisioned India as an investment-hungry partner. And, given the strengths of some ASEAN states in a few critical areas of infrastructure-related investments, this group, which specialises in projecting its image in larger-than-life dimensions, is eager to strike a hard bargain with India.
On balance, the latest ASEAN-India trade pact, which will create a free trade area of 1.7 billion people and $2.3 trillion Gross Domestic Product as of now, can be seen as the triumph of economic diplomacy with a political focus.
As India seeks to rise as a nation to its full potential, the importance of regional partners cannot be downplayed, regardless of the “centrality” of “friendship” of the United States as the sole global superpower of the day.
In fact, before the U.S. appeared on India’s horizon as a “potential partner,” the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, had outlined the “Look-East policy” of developing linkages with the ASEAN and its northern neighbours. One of his reasons, in the early 1990s, was to gain for New Delhi some political and economic space in the then context of an “imploding” Soviet Union, which had, in its halcyon days, stood by India as a strategic friend in need. The ASEAN, on the other hand, was also looking at that time to widen its own circle of friends. As an economic bloc, its priority then was to try and befriend India as a potential trading partner. Yet, given the political circumstances in which the organisation was born, it was also mindful, all the time, about India’s potential role as a regional player in a neighbourhood dominated by China.
These aspects of recent history are no longer defined by the interlude of deep misgivings on the part of some ASEAN states over India’s nuclear tests in 1998. This relative new reality can be traced to the fact that the group itself is growing up, at a slow pace, as a strategically savvy outfit as well. It has indeed begun, in more recent years, to try and position itself as the nucleus of the political universe in East Asia. Uncertain future
The ASEAN’s future in this respect remains uncertain. However, the outfit has, by and large, managed to project itself as a regional force that would pose no threat to the big powers in the political domain and would, instead, provide them with opportunities in the economic sphere. To a large extent, it was this reasoning that helped the group to clinch a major trade pact with China. The accord was, of course, the first of its kind. Authoritative Chinese sources have told this correspondent that Beijing, in doing this deal with the ASEAN, felt the need to opt for a political call, as different from a total judgment on the basis of exclusively economic reasons. This does not mean that China’s mega economy cannot absorb the impact of a trade accord with a neighbouring group of small countries and a few middle-power-aspirants.
The political lustre of a trade pact with the ASEAN having become irresistible, following China’s example, India has finally decided to follow suit. This does not mean that India’s economic interests will not be served by this deal. However, as a dialogue partner of this group in the East Asian Summit and as a player eying high stakes, as evident in the current debate on India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, New Delhi’s political choice becomes explicit.

Columnists - Siddharth Varadharajan

Whatever the American strategic objectives, the Indian origins of the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement are in Tarapur. If that U.S.-supplied reactor marked the beginning of India’s quest for a commercially viable civilian nuclear programme, the subsequent denials of low-enriched uranium for TAPS and reprocessing consent for its accumulated spent fuel are equally a part of the programme’s foundational narrative. Following the Pokhran test of 1974, the U.S. unilaterally abrogated its nuclear agreement with India. Thanks to France and Russia, fuel for Tarapur was always found but it was out of a desire to end the supply uncertainty once and for all that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began his nuclear engagement with Washington.
The text which emerged on July 18, 2005, went beyond merely envisaging LEU for Tarapur: the U.S. committed itself to ensuring full civil nuclear cooperation with India at the national and global level. As the deal moved through each subsequent stage, Indian negotiators were driven to find ways of insulating the country from a repeat of the Tarapur experience. If billions of dollars were to be invested in new reactors, India had to insulate itself from the possibility of fuel supply disruptions no matter what the cause. From the March 2, 2006 Bush-Manmohan joint statement (M2) onwards, therefore, fuel supply assurances have been a pivotal part of the deal. Regardless of what the American side believed or wished, neither M2 nor the 123 Agreement of July 2007 qualified the circumstances under which these multiple layers of fuel supply assurances would kick in.
These layers of protection consist, inter alia, of U.S. support for an Indian strategic reserve of nuclear fuel, and the pursuit, in tandem with Russia, France and Britain of “such measures as would restore fuel supply to India” in the event of disruption. The last layer of protection was India’s right to take “corrective measures” when all else fails. These U.S. commitments were an essential building block of the legal edifice which followed, including the IAEA safeguards agreement.
It is significant that paragraph 5.6 of the ‘123’– which repeats verbatim the M2 fuel supply assurances — provides no scope for derogation from these commitments by either party, even after termination of the agreement. Just as Washington expects India’s commitment to safeguard U.S.-origin or obligated equipment and fuel to outlive termination of the agreement, the U.S. commitment on fuel is linked to the life of the reactors and does not lapse upon termination for whatever reason.
If there is no derogation, there is no qualification either. Para 5.6 (b) begins with the sentence: “To further guard against any disruption of fuel supplies, the U.S. is prepared to take the following additional steps.” The meaning of ‘any’ is unambiguous. Thus, the agreement covers all disruptions regardless of cause. It certainly does not speak of different types of disruptions, let alone rule out disruptions caused by specific actions by India such as a nuclear detonation, a phrase which does not figure in the text of the 123.
The most shocking aspect of the Bush administration’s answers to the House Foreign Relations Committee (HFRC) is not its known stand on termination of cooperation in the event of a test but the repudiation of the U.S. commitment to these fuel supply assurances. The answers were provided to the HFRC in January and kept under wraps at the request of the State Department. The reason for this secrecy lies in the contents, which make it clear the U.S. has no intention of honouring the 123 agreement, is unilaterally pushing for changes in it and had actually negotiated the text in bad faith.Assurances abrogated
In its replies to the HFRC, the State Department undermines the sanctity of the fuel supply assurances in six ways. First, it refuses to consider the assurances in M2 to be of a binding legal character, calling them instead “important Presidential commitments” that the U.S. will uphold only to the extent they are “consistent with U.S. law.” This answer sets the stage for wriggling out of M2 once the 123 agreement — which gives legal expression to these — is terminated.
Secondly, it arbitrarily restricts the meaning of “disruption of supply” in Article 5.6 of the 123 Agreement by saying this “is meant to refer to disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own” such as a “trade war resulting in the cut-off of supply; market disruptions in the global supply of fuel,” etc.
Thirdly, it adds insult to injury by falsely asserting, in the same answer: “We believe the Indian government shares our understanding of this provision.” It is surprising that this assertion has gone unchallenged by the Indian government.
Fourthly, in answer to a question about the status of fuel supply assurances in the event of a Indian nuclear test, the letter unilaterally asserts that “the commitments in Article 5.6 would no longer apply” because a test would give the U.S. the right to terminate the agreement on a year’s notice.
Fifthly, the letter serves notice of the U.S. intention to implement the so-called ‘non-binding’ clause of the Hyde Act (Section 103(a)(6)), which says it shall be U.S. policy to seek to prevent the transfer of nuclear material to India from other sources should American nuclear transfers be suspended or terminated. By ignoring President Bush’s “signing statement” of December 2006 in which he had said he would treat this clause of Hyde as “advisory” and not binding, the State Department opens the possibility of the U.S. actively working to deny access to fuel from elsewhere in the event of a disruption following a nuclear detonation by India.
Sixthly and finally, although the State Department acknowledges the 123 agreement does not establish a minimum or maximum quantity of nuclear fuel to be placed in India’s strategic reserve, it warns that the parameters of the reserve “will be developed over time.” It also says it is “premature to conclude the strategic reserve will develop in a manner inconsistent with the Hyde Act,” which specifies a stockpile based only on the “reasonable operating requirements” of Indian reactors.
Taken together, it is clear that while India sees the 123 as establishing clear rights and legally binding obligations as far as future fuel supplies are concerned, the U.S. emphasises the political contingency of the arrangement. Indeed, in its answer to Question 17, it says the fuel commitments are not legally binding but based on the U.S.-India initiative’s “political underpinnings.”
Far from slaying the ghosts of Tarapur, the spectre of fuel denial and arbitrary abrogation of commitments has again raised its ugly head. This time around, the situation is potentially far worse because India is thinking of importing billions of dollars of equipment and the conditions under which the U.S. can terminate the agreement are open-ended. In one stroke, the U.S. has slashed away the layers of fuel protection India has built and reduced it to just one: strategic reserve. And even on that, the final word has yet to come.
As for that other ghost of Tarapur — denial of reprocessing — the State Department’s letter warns that the consent rights contained in the 123 will not be “permanent” and can also be terminated by the U.S. It asserts that a provision to this effect will be incorporated in the yet-to-be negotiated “arrangements and procedures.” Leaving aside the fact that Article 14(9) requires both parties to define the “exceptional circumstances” under which consent rights can be suspended, and this has not yet been done, the answer is another warning that India needs to take seriously.
Was the release of the letter on the eve of the NSG meeting an act of unilateral disclosure by the HFRC’s Howard Berman or a bilateral provocation by Berman and nonproliferationists in the State Department to ensure the NSG does not approve terms more favourable than what the U.S. has accorded India? Certainly, State had known for two weeks that its letter was to be made public on that day. But the sin lies not in the timing of the disclosure but the contents. The answers show there is such a huge gap between the Indian and American perception of the 123’s provisions that no rational decision maker in India can afford to buy any nuclear equipment from the U.S. without first resolving these differences.
The only insurance left in India’s hand if the Americans push their interpretation on fuel supply assurances is to build a strategic reserve (of non-American fuel) to guard against supply disruptions caused by U.S.-led sanctions. Even if the NSG were eventually to approve a waiver for India, the bilateral aspect of the U.S.-India nuclear agreement is more or less dead. Buying reactors whose fuel supply may be uncertain and whose spent fuel India may be eventually barred from reprocessing would be folly of the highest magnitude. India does not need to conduct a nuclear test and should not do so either. But these are sovereign decisions the country must take in an atmosphere free from pressure and the threat of sanctions.

India - Kashmir;Is secession the answer?

It would be foolish to argue that the secession of a people is ruled out forever.It would be equally foolish to choose secession without a careful thought of the larger ramifications.
The protests and violence in Jammu and Kashmir have once again raised the issue of the State’s secession from India. While the Amarnath shrine dispute is clearly the trigger for the secessionist calls in the Valley, the agitation there seems to be part of a deeper malaise.
Recognising this, a body of opinion outside Kashmir argues that it is probably time to let the State go. A sense of fatigue over Kashmir and a feeling of discomfort over compelling people to stay within the Indian Union when they want to leave are evident in these arguments. This is understandable: it has been 20 long years of conflict and pain; and it is discomfiting to think that we are holding a people within a community when they are unhappy.
However, secession is never simply a choice internal to the community seeking it because the consequences may well be felt in the larger community from which it is separating and in the international community which it seeks to join. This does not mean that secession is ruled out forever. There are times when it may well be necessary.
Under what circumstances can (or should) a people secede? Political theorists argue that in the face of genocidal violence, a people has a right to secede. They also suggest that massive discrimination and denial of human rights are grounds for secession. But is Kashmir an instance of genocide, discrimination, and egregious human rights abuses?
Have Indian actions in Kashmir amounted to genocidal violence? There has certainly been violence in the Valley, by both the militants and the agencies of the Indian state. While it is true that there has been provocation from the militants and, on occasion, from protesters, there is no avoiding the conclusion that innocents have been illegally detained, there have been rape and pillage, there has been torture, there are people missing, and there are those who have died in faked encounters. Does this amount, though, to genocide? The roll-call of abuses is a melancholic one, but it is not genocide — either in intent or in practice. The Indian government has not sought the extermination of the Kashmiri people whatever its motives and actions over the past 20 years.
Can the government be accused of massively discriminating against them? It would be hard to show that this is the case. If anything, it is the opposite. Article 370 of the Constitution gives the State special rights and privileges. Kashmir has its own Constitution, the only State to have one. No Central law can apply there without the assent of the State legislature. Indians from other States cannot own property in Kashmir (there are other States in the Union where this is true). The Union government’s responsibilities are restricted to foreign policy, defence, and communications. It is true that New Delhi has fiddled with Article 370 or at least with the spirit of it, but it would be an exaggeration to say this amounts to a case for secession.Economically better placed
Economically, Kashmir is better placed than most other States. It has amongst the lowest levels of poverty. It gets more per capita transfers from the Central government than virtually any other State. One might argue that it could have done better economically; but so could have many other States. The development problems of Kashmir — poverty, lack of education, bad infrastructure, not enough industrialisation and private investment, poor governance, and rampant corruption — are hardly unique to the State. These cannot be attributed to a policy of government vindictiveness.
Human rights violations might be a ground for secession even if discrimination is not. Indian government agencies have a lot to answer for, as noted above. But are their actions a case for secession though? If the government made no attempt to improve its record and if it is true that the Indian political system is without resources and methods to improve its approach to Kashmir, then the case for secession would be strengthened.
Once again, it would be hard to show that the Indian government has been unwilling to rein in its agencies and make restitution for earlier lapses and mistakes. It has prosecuted some members of the police and armed forces who committed human rights excesses. It has got rid of two draconian laws, TADA and POTA, which gave the authorities the power to detain and hold citizens preventively (although there are special powers in place that have not been dismantled).
New Delhi has also tried to educate the army and para-military forces on human rights conduct. Crucially, despite its earlier electoral record of manipulation, the Indian government has held free and fair elections in the State, and the media continue to report on Kashmir, including the excesses of the government. This is not a brilliant record, but it does suggest that the system can be made more accountable.
Even if the government’s record does not justify the case for secession, we might still support the separation if it is shown that those who claim to lead or might come to lead the independent state are representative and responsible agents who would make life better for Kashmiris.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which claims to represent Kashmiri opinion and which might lead an independent Kashmir, has never been tested electorally, principally because it has chosen not to contest. While it is a coalition of parties, there are parties which are members of the APHC and which do not necessarily support secession. The militants, who are fighting for secession, are even more unknown; evidently, they are more feared than loved. Finally, whatever support the APHC and the militants enjoy in the Valley, their base in Jammu and Ladakh is much smaller.How representative?
How confidently can we say the APHC and the militants would be better than the present dispensation in giving Kashmir democracy and good governance? Would there be a constitutional government, elections, an independent judiciary, an active media, and public debate? Would religious and ethnic minorities be protected?
The APHC has been remarkably coy about its political values and preferences, so it is hard to tell how respectful it is of democracy. It is ridden with internal conflicts and has displayed little coherence. Perhaps, as a result, it has failed to articulate a cogent view of politics in an independent Kashmir. As for the militants, they have attacked not only the agencies of the Indian government but also unarmed civilians, Muslim and Hindu, with great regularity. Violence against unarmed people is terrorism pure and simple and is surely not encouraging in terms of the political values of these groups. The rising influence of fundamentalist Islam in the Valley also does not augur well for a democratic, pluralist, and open Kashmir.
Before we countenance secession, let us also ask whether or not the geopolitical setting of an independent state would be conducive to independence. Kashmir would be surrounded by three regional powers, two of which are mega states, India and China, and the third is Pakistan, the eighth biggest country in the world in population terms. All three will have claims to Kashmiri territory and allegiance, and will exert enormous pressures on the state in their own strategic interests. That Kashmir is landlocked will not help. Whatever the rights of landlocked states and upper riparians under the international law, Kashmir will be dependent on the goodwill of India and Pakistan, if not China.
Secession is not simply a choice that a community makes of its own free will. Since the effects of secession may be felt far and wide, the international community has a right to bear on the issue. It has a right to ask if the new government will be stable and well organised and capable of preserving its independence. It must also ask whether the effects of secessionism are, on the whole, positive for those near and far. Secession from India could well have calamitous effects within India and Pakistan and on their mutual relations: the fragility of these states and their relationship makes it almost certain that the independence of Kashmir will lead to massive political convulsions. The effects of Kashmiri secession may not be restricted to South Asia. It may flame Islamic militants all over the world. And it could energise separatists well beyond the region.
Kashmiris in the Valley and Indians outside the Valley must consider these issues before accepting the case for secession. It would be foolish to argue that the secession of a people is ruled out forever. It would be equally foolish to choose secession without a careful thought of the larger ramifications.
(The author writes on foreign policy and security issues.)

India - A job well done;RBI Governor

Soon after taking office in September 2003, Reserve Bank of India Governor Y.V. Reddy emphasised a judicious mix of continuity and change in the conduct of monetary policy. A second important objective was to continue with the process of demystifying the policy and thereby turn the annual statement and the three quarterly statements into “non-events”. Both these have been the defining characteristics of monetary policy over the past five years that witnessed sustained economic expansion amidst low inflation. The economy moved up to a higher growth trajectory. The average annual GDP growth rate touched 8.8 per cent and inflation remained well within tolerable limits in the first four years. Spurring growth without hampering price stability ought to be counted as a significant achievement in that period. However, the more recent challenges in the wake of the persistently high inflation are testing the resolve of policy makers. The inevitable monetary tightening has pushed up interest rates, slowing down industrial growth. While there are critics who say that the RBI has been behind the curve in fighting inflation, another view is that the monetary measures have been too harsh. Inflation might still be a monetary phenomenon but the RBI, like many other central banks, has been constrained by the fact that it is a global problem caused by the unprecedented upsurge in oil and other commodity prices.
The persisting financial sector crisis has roiled many banks and institutions in the Western markets. The fact that no Indian institution has been affected so far speaks volumes of the record of a central bank which critics have accused of being too conservative. Dr. Reddy himself would like to define his approach as calibrated. Certainly, the RBI’s measured rather than knee jerk responses have stood the country in good stead in many areas. For instance, both in the march towards capital account convertibility and financial sector reform, its step-by-step approach has been vindicated. The exchange rate policy — the rupee is on a managed float — has stood the test of time and is emulated by many countries. Dr. Reddy’s caution on the deployment of forex reserves has been proved right. Although reserves are now more than four times of what they were five years ago, recent developments suggest that they may not be stable. It is during his time that steps have been taken to foster financial inclusion and financial literacy. Perhaps Dr. Reddy’s biggest achievement as RBI Governor lies in ensuring a reasonable degree of autonomy for the central bank and in underlining the fact that fiscal profligacy is a prime factor behind inflation.

Sport - Pankaj Advani decimates Geet Sethi for Crown

BANGALORE: It turned into a mid-afternoon coup. The Crown Prince usurped the throne from the King. On this ‘Teacher’s Day’ an accomplished student — Pankaj Advani — stood up to salute the packed hall at the KSBA after his 6-1 annihilation of Geet Sethi, an eight-time winner of world billiards, in the best of 11 frames final of the ONGC IBSF World billiards championship.
“This fifth World title to me is special. Though it’s just a year ago that I won the fourth at Singapore, this felt like a long time coming. And it came in the place I grew up playing the sport and in front of my home crowd,” said an elated Advani.
At 23, Advani has already amassed five world and two Asian billiards titles besides an Asian Games gold. On Friday he added his latest title, a comprehensive 150-90, 151-0, 150-24, 150-0, 86-150, 150-72, 150-12 victory over Sethi and $1,500 to go along with it.Spark of revival
There was a spark of revival from Sethi, as he did against Dervendra Joshi in the semifinals on Thursday. With an unfinished 150 in his second visit in the fifth frame, after trailing 0-4 in the first session, Sethi played really well. But it was effectively thwarted by Advani with breaks of 63 and 87 (unfinished) in the next, punishing Sethi for his slightest errors.
Both Advani and Sethi looked scrappy to start off with. The edginess and indecisiveness was apparent. But it was Advani who settled down faster.
A 79 unfinished in the first was followed by a 145 (unfinished in the second), a 90 (third) and an unfinished 150 in the fourth, off his second visit and the break was called for, much to the relief of Sethi.
After the three hour break Advani snuffed the challenge with two more big breaks — a 145 unfinished in the sixth and a 143 in the seventh to rousing applause.
Sethi, gracious in defeat, lavished praise on Advani while accepting the runner-up trophy and $700. Peter Gilchrist of Singapore pocketed $300 for the highest break of 154 unfinished that came in the league stage against Ireland’s Larry Drennan.
The results: Final (best of 11 frames): Pankaj Advani (Ind) bt Geet Sethi (Ind) 6-1 (150 (79 unf)-90, 151(145 unf)-0, 150 (90)-24, 150 (150 unf)-0, 86 (86)-150 (150 unf), 150 (63, 87)-72, 150 (143)-0.