Sep 13, 2008

India - Water down the greed

We were so greedy for land, we killed the very channels that prevented rivers from flooding.

This year, for once, the devastating floods of Bihar, where Kosi has swollen to expand across the state seem to have touched us. I say this because, last year, when the same region was under reeling under what was said to be the worst floods in living history, we simply did not know. Media had flashed a few images but it was just more of the same: rivers flood this region every year. So what’s new?
This year there are some differences. One, the breach in the Kosi’s protection system of embankments and barrages took place in Nepal, not in India. As the protection paraphernalia was our responsibility, this meant that this year, for once, we could not blame Nepal for the floods. We had to look within.
Two, the area drowned under the flood was massive and millions were marooned in remote villages. This was partly because the river breached up-stream of the Kosi barrage and spilled over the land, forgetting that it even had a course to run. Remember this is a river that has changed its course by 210 km in the past 250 years — satellite images show 12 distinct channels of how the river has moved.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the flood captured our attention because of the scale of human tragedy. It was made clear that in spite of all our big talk and even bigger institutions for disaster management, we remain unprepared, under-staffed and unequipped for the crisis when it hits.
Now that the waters are finally receding and before our attention also moves on, let us learn for once the hard message of the Kosi floods of 2008. Let us learn because this disaster may not be the first or the last, but it is definitely the worst. It tells us that we have done so much wrong in the way we have managed our environment. It tells us that we know so little about how climate change and its manifestation of changing intensities of rainfall will exacerbate the future. It also tells that we cannot ‘adapt’ to these changes unless we do things differently.
Let’s unpack this lesson. For long we have believed that we can ‘conquer’ nature, control the flood, emasculate our rivers. It was as far back as 1991 that environmentalist Anil Agarwal published this finding in the book, Floods, Flood Plains and Environmental Myths. He explained how the engineering solution was in fact increasing both the incidence and intensity of floods. The reason was simple. The rivers brought down huge quantities of silt each year. Where the embankments were built, silt got deposited in the river, increasing flood incidence. The embankments also increased the duration of floods, as there was no drainage in the surrounding areas. Worse, the engineering walls led people to believe that they were protected from floods. As a result, low-lying areas got populated. Then when the wall broke, the flood hit hard.
In all this, Anil Agarwal explained, we messed up the drainage system of the region. We merrily filled up the water bodies, which were the sponges for its floodwater, and forgot the ‘dead’ channels of the river, which took away the water as fast as possible. We forgot because we were hungry for land. Then, we were greedy for the money we would make from these engineering marvels, which were repaired on paper and half-built for full money. Corruption became the way of life. In all this, we finally and crucially forgot that we had once learnt to ‘live’ with floods.
When Anil Agarwal wrote this in 1991, he was mocked and pilloried. The environmental lobby accused him of playing into the timber contractor’s hand. Because he said that we should stop blaming the mountains for the floods in the plains. He said that it was time we understood that the forests of the Himalayas were needed for the people who lived there. But the forests in this fragile and extremely-young and erosion-prone region would not stop the floods in the plains. The water engineers rubbished this view saying that they knew better. They had the answers.
But what we have to understand is that now we are faced with a double whammy: floods will also increase because the pattern of rainfall is in a twist because of climate change — we are beginning to see more unseasonal, erratic and intense rainfall in many parts of the country. All this will only make ‘coping’ with floods even more difficult and adapting to the future impossible.
In all this, what we can do without is the deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance. Instead we can do with some learning and a lot of doing.

Business - Simply absurd to simply red

can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness for Air Deccan, as we knew it since 2004. As I woke up one morning to see full page advertisements in the dailies announcing the extinction of the yellow and blue common man’s airline and the birth of Kingfisher Red, it was hard not to feel slight regret at what might have been and will now never be.

Air Deccan was launched with the intention of making every Indian fly. Captain Gopinath, whose baby it was, almost ran his airline aground to prove that he truly meant this. The airline bled with absurdly-low fares (one of my favourite ad-lines from the Deccan campaign was “every time we fly, the economy looks up”). Impractical routes, poor management and extraneous circumstances brought the airline to a stage where no one in his right mind was willing to lend any money to Deccan. Passengers complained about the service but flights went full because no one else offered such a deal.
Yet, despite its shoddy service and poor image, I found the airline and what it stood for had seeped into people’s psyche. A number of Indians identified with the airline as “their own”and were willing to forgive and tolerate.
However, market dynamics are not controlled by emotions and in due course Air Deccan gave way to SimpliFly Deccan. (When I told Captain Gopinath that the name was “Simply Absurd” and a mouthful — one that their own announcers at airports don’t bother to elucidate, sticking to the more easy-on-the-tongue Deccan — he defended the change.) SimpliFly Deccan lost some its regular-though-troubled fliers and many employees who no longer felt strongly associated with it (employee morale and identification with Air Deccan was among the highest I have seen).
A day before the announcement of the merger (December 2007), at his house on Vittal Mallya road, I remember Captain Gopinath telling me about how they (he and Mallya) had a shareholders’ agreement in which he was the chairman of the company and Mallya was the vice-chairman and the company was run by professionals at the behest of the board. He said he and Mallya could appoint six directors each and the board would be neutral. He said they were proceeding on trust and that whatever would happen had happened and would continue to happen with his consent. Things however took quite a different turn the very next day.
But if one was to look at what happened objectively, things perhaps turned out for the best. Hard-nosed passengers, for one, gained. With the services of SimplyFly Deccan showing a marked improvement (a fall in cancellations and a better on- time performance), passengers found they got a better deal. Fares may have moved up but that’s true across the board. For whatever the passenger pays, there’s no denying that he gets a better value for money with SimpliFly Deccan than he did with Air Deccan. In fact, many fliers may well prefer the new flashier, more arrogant and more “with it” image that Kingfisher Red promises to deliver because flying is not only about reaching destinations but also about making a statement.
He may have lost his carrier but Captain Gopinath is better off. Even if he had not sold his airline when he did, how would he have managed the latest oil carnage when bankers turned reluctant to lend to the best of the carriers? If he got a decent price then, he may not have got even half of that today. Industry analysts argue that a sale to Anil Ambani may have been better as Vijay Mallya is not known for his ability to create shareholder value but this is merely an academic point today. Shareholders undoubtedly now have more to look forward than they did last year when Deccan was usually in the news for all the wrong reasons.
With oil reaching record highs and competition intensifying, Gopinath’s chances of keeping his carrier afloat would have been more than slim. Employee’s jobs and salaries would have been at stake. Even if the 3100-odd employees feel rudderless today, without the sale, they would have been rudderless and riddled by uncertainty of whether or where their next pay cheque would be coming from. So, employees — if less happy — are probably better off than before.
I still remember the day last December when, outside the Air Deccan head office on the busy Cunningham road in Bangalore, the back-lit common man’s poster that once symbolised the airline was taken down.
That in a nutshell, literally and figuratively, brings us to the end of this story, shareholder agreements notwithstanding.

World - Not through ideology

You wouldn’t have thought that an ex-chairman of Goldman Sachs would be ordering what someone has called “the greatest nationalisation in the history of humanity”. But that is what Hank Paulson did last week-end when, as the US treasury secretary, he nationalised the giant mortgage refinance companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That immediately cost the American taxpayer $200 billion, and doubled the US public debt by adding $6 trillion to the total. This is only the latest in a long sequence of events where governments in different western capitals have stepped in to take over or salvage banks and other financial institutions. In February, there was the British nationalisation of Northern Rock (which added about $100 billion to government loans and guarantees); in March, the Fed-facilitated takeover by JP Morgan of Bear Stearns; and in April, the German Bundesbank’s $7 billion bail-out of WestLB.

Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority now owns 5 per cent of Citigroup, becoming its second largest shareholder after it pumped in $7.5 billion; Temasek, a creation of the Singapore government, owns 17 per cent of Standard Chartered, while the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation picked up a 9 per cent stake in UBS (at the same time as an unnamed West Asian investor also stepped in) when that large Swiss bank needed fresh capital. Finally, earlier this week, Lehman Brothers decided to dismember itself only after the state-run Korean Development Bank decided not to put money into the troubled New York firm. Through all this, private investors in financial firms have been losing their shirt, as one bank or investment firm after the other has acknowledged massive writedowns and/or incurred unprecedented losses. Citigroup, for instance, has lost 60 per cent of its market value, others have done even worse, and the blood-letting still continues. The result is that many of the storied New York firms are now worth less than some Indian banks!
What is the moral of this story? Martin Wolf declared in the Financial Times on Wednesday that “the US government … (should) spare us homilies on the sacred role of free financial markets for a long while”. Certainly, people in Asia and South America will remember the advice given by Washington when there were financial crises in these regions — nationalisation was never a part of the package. But if free-flowing financial capitalism is now discredited in most people’s eyes, because profits stay in private pockets while losses become part of the public debt, that is still not the predominant view within the global financial community — which does not accept that its model is broken. One consequence is that the search for a new financial sector paradigm has barely begun.
All this is of immediate relevance in India, when a new governor has taken charge at the Reserve Bank and faces the challenge of structurally reforming India’s financial sector. There is pressure to open up more to international banks, the government-owned banks need to be brought up to speed in many ways, and financial inclusion remains a challenge. It is vital at this stage to not view issues through an ideological prism, and to focus on what works. For instance, the Cornell economist Kaushik Basu has argued recently that one reason for the acceleration of Indian economic growth in 1980 (from 3.5 per cent till then to nearly 6 per cent) was the much-reviled bank nationalisation of 1969. This resulted in the spread of bank branches into small towns and the countryside, and helped increase the extent of financial savings, which helped finance higher growth. Talk of the law of unintended consequences! So it might be that, in terms of relative importance, measures to further improve financial inclusiveness are more important than the more fashionable talking points of bankers.

India - A dubious river sutra

Floods bring out the worst in us. They might occur elsewhere in Asia, Africa and even in Europe, but when they happen here, as they invariably do every year, floods turn into the quintessential Indian phenomenon: a blame game involving (angry) politicians across regions and parties, (defensive) bureaucrats, (largely absent) engineers and somewhat self-righteous civil society organisations with disparate agendas. Then there is talk of building high dams in neighbouring countries to contain turbulent rivers, however impractical or ecologically unsound the proposals might be. And, finally, the spectre of a decades-old project to link India’s rivers rises once again to complete the circle of helplessness and hopelessness.
India’s river sutra for dealing with floods is a wily mixture of politics, commerce and barely disguised ignorance of matters technical combined with a remarkable indifference to the sufferings of the victims. The millions displaced by the swirling waters — close to five million in Bihar and Assam this year — provide but spectacle and a fleeting focus for the excuses and allegations that are churned up every time our volatile rivers burst their embankments and devastate increasingly larger swathes of the country.
Although natural calamities are occurring more frequently and striking with greater force thanks to climate change, there is a remarkable consistency in the way officialdom responds to disasters. Each time a flood touches the political danger mark, prime ministers, chief ministers and party leaders hop into planes for aerial surveys of the affected areas. Ask anyone who is familiar with rivers and they will tell you that there is nothing much you can glean from this height. Even in normal times, a river is nothing but a sheet of water which hides all that has gone before it.
Part of the politics of flood management is the dole from Delhi, the largesse depending entirely on the political calculations of the ruling party at the Centre. Figures of the people and livestock affected along with those relating to the area of submergence, both of which have a bearing on final tally of losses, have nothing to do with the amount of relief that is announced since most statistics appear to be a matter of guesswork. In 2004, the Central Water Commission had claimed the land submerged in north Bihar was more than the total area of these districts! It was a discrepancy that neither the Ministry of Water Resources nor the PMO spotted when the state government used the same figures to seek relief.
This time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been unusually quick to grant a Rs 1,000-crore package for Bihar although this has triggered a political sideshow in his “home state” of Assam — Singh is a Rajya Sabha member from Dispur — which believes its misery is being belittled. Stoking the controversy is the call to MPs by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari to contribute Rs 10 lakh each from their Local Area Development Scheme funds for reconstruction projects in Bihar. Should Assam have been left out?
Relief, timely or not, has tended to dominate the discourse on floods in times of crisis but even at other times the core issue of river management through long-term measures has seldom been a priority. The standard response so far has been to set up a committee or task force to study the problem although there are enough reports with the government to erect a substantial barrage across the Kosi. In 2004, Manmohan Singh, who is chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, announced a task force to look into the problem of recurrent floods of the past 50 years. “We need to find an abiding solution to this problem — of upstream solutions in the catchment areas and downstream solutions in the form of flood control measure,” Singh declared in July 2004, when the state was in the grip of another of its “worst-ever” floods. The task force was to submit its report in six months. No one has seen its recommendations yet.
Abiding solutions may prove elusive specially since we share rivers with neighbours. Take the Brahmaputra. At 2,906 km, it is one of Asia’s longest rivers, traversing China’s Tibet region, India and Bangladesh before joining the Ganga. Every year, the river washes away countless villages and submerges vast tracts of farmlands besides causing considerable loss of human and animal life. Traditional approaches to “taming” the river do not work and policy-makers have to understand the ground realities before coming up with solutions.
Or look at the Kosi, undoubtedly one of the world’s most volatile rivers. Before embankments were taken up in earnest and became a tool of political patronage, the flood-prone area of Bihar was just 2.5 million hectares. By 1974, the Kosi had 2,192 km of embankments while the area vulnerable to floods has shot up to 4.3 million hectares. Today, the state has embankments stretching for 3,430 km and a sharp rise in the flood-prone area to 6.88 million hectares. Since embankments are obviously not the solution, another task force has been appointed to look at Bihar’s woes. That, however, will not stop much money and sand flowing down the Kosi as embankments are repaired periodically.
Meanwhile, a proposal made in 1937 to dam the Kosi at Barahkshetra in Nepal and revived periodically since then is being taken out of mothballs. This promises to take its own time even for talks to be initiated with Nepal. For the millions trapped by flood waters, there is no lifeline in sight.

India - Let the market handle exit polls

Why do politicians go out on the election campaign trail? Presumably in the hope of influencing public opinion and getting more votes. There are of course, other ways to win elections including intimidation of voters, gerrymandering, fiddling electoral rolls, booth-capturing and other creative forms of rigging. However, influencing public opinion is generally considered the most legitimate method to win an election and there should be broad consensus across the Indian political spectrum about this.

Oddly however, there appears to be a broad consensus among political parties that non-politicians should not be allowed to influence public opinion with respect to elections. At least that is the only reasonable explanation that one can find for the apparently overwhelming desire to ban opinion polling, and in particular, to ban exit polling.
The information and broadcasting ministry and the Cabinet are reportedly considering passing an ordinance to empower the Election Commission to ban exit polls. The major political parties all concur that exit polls can influence voting patterns.
This issue pops up every so often and the Election Commission is also said to be in favour of a ban. The last time it was mooted, the Supreme Court pointed out that it was a violation of the right of freedom of expression.
It is frankly weird. Undoubtedly exit polls could make a difference to voting patterns if polling is being conducted in stages, as it is in India. But that influence would be mixed at best because voter-psyche is mixed.
Some voters would decide to back the apparently winning party. Others would try to shore up the losing parties. A third set of voters would perhaps stay away because they were intending to vote for the leaders and decide to enjoy a holiday instead. What would the net outcome be? Impossible to decipher.
An exit poll is a prediction. Like any other prediction about an election outcome, it could be wrong. It cannot be any more illegitimate than a politician saying that he is confident of victory, or an astrologer or numerologist citing the influence of Mars or counting up the letters in the names of candidates.
For that matter, an exit poll cannot be any more illegitimate than any citizen of whatever hue simply saying that she wants “X Party” to win. All these are opinions that could influence voting patterns. However, an opinion thus expressed is a legitimate influence.
It is by no means clear from any cited statistical evidence that exit polls do influence voting patterns. Even if that is admitted for argument’s sake, there is no intimidation involved in taking an exit poll and there is no rigging. There is an opinion being freely expressed. To stifle that opinion is in itself a deeply undemocratic act.
It is also easy to note that the exit poll mechanism is a useful check and balance against blatant rigging. While pollsters often get things wrong, their presence prevents excesses of thuggery and booth capturing. The most recent ban on exit polls was imposed by Robert Mugabe and there cannot be a better, left-handed endorsement of the democratic utility of this mechanism.
Apart from being undemocratic, such a ban would also involve economic discrimination. It affects the professional psephologists and market research outfits. It takes away the livelihood of the temporary worker, the aam admi who is paid a daily wage to stand at the booth and ask the question.
If the current state of Indian exit polling is unsatisfactory, market forces should be allowed to deal with it. India has multitudes of opinion pollsters and if they compete with each other, they would all have an incentive to improve.

India - Car hat trick for Bengal ?

Whether or not the Nano rolls out from Singur — the four-member land committee is supposed to finish its investigations today — no one can snatch away West Bengal’s laurels in pioneering car manufacture in Asia. Some might attribute the Ambassador’s easy birth to politics in the 1940s meaning more than vote-mongering. Others would argue that today’s agreements and announcements — by and between the CPI(M), Trinamool Congress and even Tata Motors — obfuscate rather than enlighten. Whatever the reason, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should shout from the housetops that Tata’s dinky one-lakh job is chickenfeed for a state that gave India its sturdy warhorse of our potholed roads.
B M Birla started Hindustan Motors in 1942 in Port Okha but moved in 1948 to a 743-acre facility, said to be the biggest in South Asia, at Uttarpara, 30 km from Calcutta, where multi-utility vehicles (Trekker, Porter, Pushpak) were also produced. I remember as a small boy the proud thrill when the Hindustan 10 hit the road. An older politically-minded cousin claimed the name reflected British insistence on restricting Indian car production to an annual 10. As a young journalist, I was allotted a Landmaster. Though the Amby might be reeling under pressure of competition from sleek new brands, the Hindustan Motors factory, 60 years old this year, still turns out several thousand cars every month. Its remarkable freedom from labour trouble prompted whispers of the Birlas handsomely funding Communist politicians.
Congress strategists must be laughing up their sleeves at frustrated Ratan Tata’s threat to withdraw from West Bengal. With elections round the corner, it is in their interest to incite Mamata Banerjee to drive nails into what they hope will be the Left Front government’s coffin. For Manmohan Singh, it would be sweet revenge for four years of bonded slavery, especially since many in West Bengal blame Prakash Karat rather than the chief minister for the Nandigram bloodshed that preceded the furore over Singur.
There is some reason for Tata to feel “unwanted” in West Bengal because, as this column pointed out earlier, the project has been so thoroughly mishandled that there is a strong public perception of haste without planning. Our Mamata could not have gone on the rampage if Tatas had bought their own land through the market mechanism. Invoking a century-old acquisition law reinforced charges of colonial arbitrariness. The government is accused of hypocrisy mainly because of Bhatacharjee’s fanciful promises about acquiring only one-crop land. It tied itself up in knots by denying forcible acquisition, then confessed that not 400 acres, as Banerjee claims, but 167 acres (the figure has since been revised many times) had indeed been so acquired.
Application of the Centre’s rehabilitation package would have blunted the edge of criticism somewhat. So would greater publicity for Tata’s promise to generate 10,000 jobs as well as train dispossessed peasants with no idea of manufacturing. It’s a mystery, too, why the government will not disclose details of its agreement with Tatas. Secrecy fuels rumours about hidden construction and other deals for the Tatas that will handsomely benefit the CPI(M) as well as individual Marxist notables. It also encourages rampant land speculation.
Reason plays little part in the dialogue. Indeed, despite Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s heroic efforts, there is more demagoguery than dialogue. Every player grinds a private axe. The Centre seeks to discredit the Left Front, Banerjee to mobilise voters, and Bhattacharjee to retain the loyalty of the next generation of Bengalis. But as the recent CITU bandh demonstrated, the populist forces the CPI(M) has stoked for three decades can explode in its face and destroy its dream of the future.
Our Amby is the sole survivor of Britain’s glory when BMC was the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer. When Shanti Swarup Dhavan, high commissioner to Britain in the late 1960s, patriotically demanded an Ambassador, he was told that Londoners would think poverty-stricken India had resurrected a 1957 Morris Oxford Series III for its envoy. But Bengalis can take time off from fighting the East India Company to gloat over an export version of the Amby being the favourite cab in London’s trendy Notting Hill.
As the controversy rages, I wonder whether the Amby’s success or rivalry between two great industrial houses influenced Tata’s choice of location. It seems too much of a coincidence that Singur and Hind Motor should be in the same district. It only remains for Bhattacharjee to persuade Rahul Bajaj to make the Bajaj Lite also in Hooghly. That would be a hat trick for decrepit-but-ambitious Bengal.

Tech - Closing the gates on windows

Google’s Chrome is another link in its strategy to use the net for popularising free online applications to supersede the traditional and expensive desktop computing model.

Until a few years ago, mainstream media (MSM) editors insisted the expansion of “FAQs” be provided when the term was used. Nowadays, faqs require no explanation. “FOSS” is another acronym heading in the same direction though MSM editors still insist on explaining that it stands for Free (and) Open Source Software.
Even if Foss supposedly requires expansion, the concepts have gone mainstream. A substantial portion of large global enterprise and all the world’s small businesses and individual IT users depend on Foss.
The term embodies two different related concepts. Free software need not be open source and open source software may not be free. For example, Microsoft offers a free but not open source browser (Internet Explorer) and Red Hat offers open source applications that it charges for.
But most frequently, Foss is both free and open source. That is, it can be downloaded and distributed freely without payment and the source code is also freely available for anybody to tinker with. Foss has changed computing paradigms.
Enter Chrome. The browser from Google is deliberately misnamed because it uses a minimum of “chrome”, which is what the look and feel of a browser is called. Chrome rides the trend of increasing dependence on Foss and other trends in communication technologies that suggest the imminent superseding of the traditional desktop computing model.
Chrome “sells” on the USP of being fast and uncluttered. It was marketed through an operating manual distributed in the form of a downloadable comic book. Reportedly, over 40 million users downloaded Chrome within the first 12 hours of release.
The browser is fast and easy on the eye because it dispenses with pull-down menus. Instead, there’s an “omnibar” where anything (urls, searches) can be typed. There’s a wrench-icon, which tweaks functionalities and an “incognito” option that allows more secure browser windows or tabs to be opened.
While average reviews have been positive, power users have had mixed reactions. There are many grey areas in current functionality. The most glaring is the lack of Linux and Mac versions, though rollouts are expected soon.
The initial End-user license agreement (EULA) gave Google copyright claims to practically any content created through Chrome. That was fixed within 24 hours (with retrospective effect for initial downloads). But there are a dozen known security holes and exploits were published very quickly. Google may have fixed some with its first security update, a week after the initial release.
While Java works quickly where it works, and the multimedia viewer experience is good on sites like YouTube, there is an absence of plug-ins that allow all java-enabled sites to work. There is also an absence of plug-ins like RealPlayer that allow one-click downloads of flash video and other multimedia content. Since Chrome is open-source, these problems will presumably be fixed fairly quickly by independent developers, if not by the Google team itself.
Reliance on the global software development community is the foundation of the open source paradigm. The logic is that, if a global community of IT developers has access to source code, holes in security and gaps in functionality are rectified quickly. The argument is that a Microsoft, with its mere 70,000-odd employees, cannot compete with a global IT ecosystem where 300 million geeks are continuously writing code.
In fact, open source may be eventually more secure and have wider functionality than closed systems developed by corporates. This is true for Mozilla’s popular browser Firefox, which has grabbed 20 per cent market share because it is clearly better than Internet Explorer. It has worked for the many flavours of Linux (Ubuntu, RedHat, Knoppix, Debian, etc).
Firefox rides on a multitude of plug-ins and add-ons written by independents. Linux distributions have become more popular as independents have developed better graphic-user interfaces (GUI) and written more applications for those platforms.
Beyond functionality and security, the killer advantage for Foss is price. The software on a PC running a legal Windows OS with MS Office bundled will cost upwards of $400. The software on a PC running a Linux distribution with Open Office costs zero and offers the same functionality and probably, better online security.
The Foss paradigm has been extended further by greater broadband penetration and commoditisation of cheap server space and bandwidth. You no longer need fancy high-end hardware to run common applications.
It started with free webmail but the concept has now extended much further. Free versions of office applications are available on the Internet (Google Documents for example) and so is vast amounts of free space where you can store content. Even software developer tools are available and of course, multimedia applications as well. All you now need is a basic device and a reliable broadband connection to get you online; after that, you can work, play games or watch videos to your heart’s content.
This is cloud computing. Information is stored on the Internet and accessed as required through a variety of devices. Services are provided for users who may not own any of the infrastructure or understand any of the technology.
Instead of charging large sums upfront as traditional products do, the providers of these IT services generate revenues from the online presence and actions of their users. Some may charge small sums on per-use basis. Also, when a user checks out an online ad or buys something, a small percentage may accrue to the service provider. Of course, since the service providers know user behaviour and consumption patterns, they can tailor offerings better and reach deeper into the consumers’ wallet.
As broadband penetration increases (in India, the next big jump will be via 3G) and more applications are available for free, this trend of doing everything online will become more pronounced. The conventional paid-OS and applications sitting on a high-end desktop will be rendered irrelevant.
Google recognised this trend earlier than most companies. Its dominance of the Net and its strategy for the future is based on trying to leverage that greater understanding. Google hopes that you will be online 24x7, using its browser, employing its webmail and gTalk chat, interacting with friends on the social networks it owns, blogging on the free space it provides, watching and uploading videos on YouTube, using its online office applications, writing applications on Gears, etc.
It does not charge the user for any of this. It probably never will. It doesn’t need to. The revenues will accrue from the things users do. The revenues will also accrue from the leverage Google possesses vis-a-vis other businesses because it influences and controls your online actions.
A long time ago, AOL built a multi-billion business out of providing a “walled garden” that connected to the wider world of the Web. That wall has long been dismantled. If Google is successful, it will become the game-warden of the wide open world of Web 2.0 and of subsequent versions of the Net.

Lifestyle - Household chores are good for the kids

Quiz for the day: How much time each day, on average, does a child of 6-12 years spend on household chores? If you guessed more than a half-hour, you’re wrong. Children are spending a mere 24 minutes a day doing cleaning, laundry and other housework—a 12% decline since 1997 and a 25% drop from 1981 levels, says Sandra Hofferth, director of the Maryland Population Research Centre at the University of Maryland, based on a study of 1,343 children. In the glacial realm of sociological change, that amounts to a free fall.

It also reflects “important behavioural and values shifts that will affect lives for years to come”, Hofferth says. One consequence is never more obvious than at this time of year, when hundreds of thousands of college freshmen move into their dorms and promptly begin destroying their laundry. Other studies suggest the shift may have longer-term implications for marriage and community life.
Of course, children aren’t doing housework partly because they’re spending more time on such worthy pursuits as reading, studying and youth groups, Hofferth’s data show. Parents are doing less housework themselves, hiring help or just making peace with dust bunnies. And clearly, some housework is best relegated to museums. While Allison O’Steen, Tryon, North Carolina, loved her late mother, she says her habit of ironing sheets isn’t something O’Steen, a mother of two, wants to pass on.
Nevertheless, research into the role of housework in human relationships suggests we may be losing something of value here. While most parents today focus mostly on teaching kids self-reliance—keeping themselves clean, fed and botulism-free—the benefits of learning housework run deeper. For example: Pitching in at home has become a crucial marriage-preservation skill for young men. Studies show parents still assign more housework to girls than boys. Yet these same young women hope as adults to find men who will help out; 90% of 60 women in the age group of 18-32 studied by Kathleen Gerson, a New York University sociology professor, said they hoped to share housework and child care with spouses “in a committed, mutually supportive and egalitarian way”. After controlling for other factors, US marriages tend to be more stable when men participate more in domestic tasks, says a study of 506 US couples published in 2006 in the American Journal of Sociology.
Mindful of the issue, Kathy Helmetag, Troy, Michigan, is instilling “the whole housekeeping thing into” her sons, 7 and 9, she says. Years from now, she believes, their homemaking skills will help them “score a few points with any significant others”.
Housework has unique value in instilling a habit of serving others. Analysing data on more than 3,000 adults, Alice Rossi, an emerita professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found doing household chores as a child was a major, independent predictor of whether a person chose to do volunteer or other community work as an adult. Thus for parents who value service, housework is an important teaching tool.
David Jackson has consistently required his twins, 16, to help around the house, starting as toddlers when they began picking up their toys and adding harder chores, such as stocking bathrooms or mowing the lawn, at each new stage. He sees the chores as a way of teaching empathy and “stewardship—taking care of the community assets”, says the Tulsa, Oklahoma, father. “It helps them realize the world is not all about them.”
If you enjoy a domestic art as an outlet for creativity or love, it’s worth passing on. I love sewing; making prom dresses years ago with my stepdaughter is a fond memory. But I was always rushing around too much when my two biological kids were small to sit down and teach them to sew. With 20-20 hindsight, I’m sorry that at ages 18 and 20, they still don’t know how.
If you lack time to teach a home art you love, look for other avenues. Keeping the family TV tuned to the Food Channel inspired Cindy Harris’ son Mikey, 8, to love cooking. For show-and-tell in class II, he whipped up a chef’s salad; he concocts novel cookie recipes with chocolate, coconut, butterscotch and pecans. While the cookies can be strange, says the Novato, California, mother of two, the whole family nevertheless cherishes Mikey’s gifts.

Lifestyle - Europe on sale-Now,buy that

Charmant properties are available in old Europe for less than the price of a dream farmhouse. Rrishi Raote tells you why and how you must buy in.

For decades Britons and Americans of every class have been crossing the Channel or the “pond” to sample the delights of old Europe. Many of them have chosen to stay on and make their homes, or second homes, in parts of Europe perhaps more sunny and salubrious than their native turf.
Now that Indians are surfing a decade-old wave of prosperity, will some of us wash up on European shores? There are several reasons to think so. First, there are more Indian millionaires and “high net-worth individuals” (HNIs) than ever before, with more money and less conservative tastes than their parents.
Second, the RBI is sitting on a mountain of foreign exchange — $300 billion — and doesn’t want all of it. So it has raised the limit on how much money an individual Indian can legally send out of the country for investment, from $25,000 per year in 1994 to $200,000 per year in 2007. That’s just over Rs 90 lakh, and you can use it to buy anything from shares to bonds to property.
But what kind of dream property can you get for that kind of money in Europe? A flat in south Mumbai costs more. Well: consider a modern farmhouse on 6,000 sq m of land in the town of Castiglione del Lago, near Lake Trasimeno in central Italy, for 90,000 euros (Rs 57 lakh). Or a considerably more remote medieval farmhouse in the French Pyrenees, with access “via ancient paved pedestrian pathway” — not quite a steal at 143,000 euros (Rs 90 lakh).
No, no, you want a chic urban pad. Well, for the same amount you can have a “charmant” studio in the artsy district of Montmartre in Paris — really a poky garret. More idyllic is an equally tiny but “delizioso” flat on the outskirts of Rome, with a handkerchief-size garden, an AC and a flowering shrub near the door, for 135,000 euros. Modest and restful?
But modesty is hardly a motivating factor for the well off. You can set your sights higher by joining forces. For instance, a couple can spend $400,000, and if you buy at the cusp of the financial year, in March-April, then two years’ limits can be combined for a grand total of $800,000 —which will buy you something quite grand. Add family members and the number goes up accordingly.
At this price level, your choices are many, from brand-new villas with pools in Provence to very little castles. In Italy, you can explore prestigious territory like Tuscany, home to thousands of north-European and American expats. Here is a picturesque ruin on a hectare of hillside with sea views and fresh spring water, yours for 600,000 euros.
The problem is, Indians are not romantic buyers. “India-based HNIs show a preference for newly-built properties,” says Anuj Puri, chairman and country head of Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj (JLLM), an international property consultancy, not romantic ruins.
Unlike many British and American buyers, Indians are not making the kind of lifestyle choice that involves loving and exhausting regeneration of a rundown farmhouse with superb views. They will not buy a chateau to refurbish as a bed-and-breakfast, as dozens of British families have done. That is an emotional rather than a financial investment.
Children are our chief investment, and many well-off Indians buy homes abroad either for their children who work or study there, or so that they can spend time near them. “My daughters were studying in London,” says Kavita Malani, a Mumbai-based property developer, “and I thought they might want to stay back there.”
So she bought a house near London, with the help of a friend’s brother. “It was a very good deal,” she says, even though to meet RBI guidelines “you have to put it in four different names”. The house is one of four in a compound, all Indian-owned. “We feel much safer and mentally calmer if we have people of our own kind around us.”
Even if she decides to sell, Malani says, “That money I’m not going to bring back to India.” She’s aware of various other property offerings in “England, Dubai, Malaysia” — areas which have already attracted a great deal of Indian money and attention. “They are very easy to buy because they do everything and give you,” she says. “They even pay your ticket to see the place.” Last month JLLM published research showing that the UK residential market is ripe for Indian buyers.
Malani has a point about convenience, because buying in continental Europe involves a number of taxes and fees and careful scrutiny by solicitors. In France, notarial charges alone can be 3-10 per cent on top of the purchase price. A buyer must also understand tax agreements between those countries and India, designed to prevent double taxation of capital gains, for example, or protect inheritance rights. Perhaps for this reason, agent after European agent that we spoke to said they have never had Indian clients. One even said “We don’t do the lower end.”
Perhaps India’s HNIs are satisfied with suburban farmhouses, hill-station homes, a villa in Goa or Mauritius, a flat in London or Dubai for work or play. But this will not last, especially as the wealth gap that separates us from Europe shrinks, and as Europeans begin to look for more congenial neighbours than the Russians who are currently buying up their continent.

Lifestyle - India Inc Rocks

During the week, Udayan Dasgupta, 39, is the picture of the responsible, senior executive. But over weekends, the director finance of Crocs India turns rock musician.
For the best part of the two days, from around four in the afternoon to 10-11 at night on Saturday, and again from nine in the morning to one in the afternoon on Sunday, Dasgupta’s to be found at the HCL auditorium in Noida banging away on his Fenders Strat — the Clapton Blackie he picked up on an office tour to the US — rehearsing with a band that goes by the name Contra-band.
They play covers, all the old Rolling Stones, U2 and Floyd favourites, and have also recently perfected an original composition, a dirge to Nicobarese Shompen and all the tribes that are losing their habitat and way of life to civilisation:
“Yanomamo die — of the common coldFrom Miners , digging land for gold.Said a Yagua — in an Amazon treeThe Jaguar, is life’s only worry...”
Ask Dasgupta, or Raja as he’s known in music circles, where he finds the energy and he’ll tell you that “it’s a lot about passion” and that making music is relaxing. “It’s a reprieve from all that I do throughout the week.”
Raja was a fairly well known face in the college-band scene in Kolkata as the lead guitarist of Midas Touch, which swept many a college fest in the early nineties.
“We were once even approached by Magnasound to cut an album,” he says. Then, of course, the band dispersed, as each member left college and the city. Music, after all, especially rock music, did not pay. Raja, too, did his company-secretaryship, and left to work for various companies in different cities. His guitar and his music were confined to the odd gig and jamming at friends’ places, an exercise in nostalgia.
Last year the opportunity to be part of a band surfaced again with Maarich, a Bangla band (whose members again had absorbing dayjobs, one was a doctor, another worked with a private firm; only the drummer was a professional). Maarich played at a few puja pandals in Delhi, but the momentum was soon lost. And then Contra-band happened.
Sounds familiar? Does Raja remind you of Aditya Shroff, the character Farhan Akhtar plays in Rock On!! — a rock musician who becomes an investment banker and then makes a comeback with his band, juggling his work day with rehearsals, bonding with band members, discussing chords, riffs and scales?
In truth, Aditya and Raja are not isolated phenomena. There are many others, mid-level and senior denizens of the corporate world, successful entrepreneurs and businessmen, whose lives have taken a similar trajectory.
Take Krishnan Chatterjee, lead vocalist for Contra-band, and assistant vice president of HCL Technologies. Or its drummer, Kalyan Kumar, who is global practice head of HCL Comnet’s IT service assurance division.
Then there’re Philipe Haydon, president and CEO for Asia-Pacific for the pharmaceutical division of Himalaya Drug Company, who sings lead and plays the guitar for Ministry of Blues in Bangalore; Devraj Sanyal, CEO of integrated marketing firm PDM India, and vocalist with Brahma, a popular heavy metal band; as also Anup Kutty, the editor of Maxim and vocalist again for Delhi band Menwhopause.
Among others of this ilk are Suresh Bhojwani, chairman and managing director of plastics company Bright Brothers who, along with his wife Devika, is a regular at Not Just Jazz By the Bay, Hard Rock Cafe, 1900s, and lately The Blue Frog, of which he is director.
Rock On!!’s Aditya is “kind of” based on Pratish (Prat) Motwane, Wharton graduate, ex-investment banker (Goldman Sachs and First Boston in New York) and now energy entrepreneur who plays the Blues Harmonica for Beatroot Blues.
True, there are many senior executives with absorbing hobbies, even music. But rock music? That’s for the young — or so most of us think.
Indeed, most of this set picked up the guitar young, when they were growing up between the sixties and the eighties, the high noon of rock. Their initiation was college fests such as IIT Kharagpur’s Springfest. It was heady, being on stage, being the subject of adulation, the slightly beyond the pale persona of the rock musician...
“Ahhh, the ‘scene’!” reminisces Jaideep Gopinath, director, brand management and marketing operations of Subex, who was part of a band called Sweet Cynaide in college and still plays the guitar occasionally.
“Sitting around talking about Ozzy Osbourne and his crazy antics on stage, or what a great guitarist Jimi Hendrix was and how unfortunate it was that he died so young, or dreaming about the rock greats coming on tour to India, or Back Masking — rumor had it that rock bands were conniving with the devil and adding words from the occult into the back ground of their music...but it added to the mystery of rock music and was a favourite urban legend topic with all of us.”
Others like Haydon (and his brother Mark who works with Astra Zeneca) came to it fairly late: “Dad bought me my first guitar from a hippy in Goa for Rs 10...said it was a bargain too good to resist! Super support from mom ‘n’ dad…” Ditto for Motwane, who became part of the blues scene in New York when he was all of 26.
“I did an eight week course in the Blues Harmonica at the New School for Social Research,” says the musician who has played with jazz legends like Muddy Waters and Jerry Portnoy (a regular with Clapton) and jammed with Buddy Guy at the NCPA — along with his friend and occasional rocker Milind Deora.
But for every Haydon, for every Raja and for every Motwane, there’re many talented others who fell by the wayside. Take one illustrious example, that of Prabhakar Mundkur, vocalist, guitarist and later song-writer for Savages, the band from the late sixties-early seventies considered by many to be the pioneering rock band in India (Remo Fernandes was for a brief while a part of it) — now CEO of advertising agency Percept.
“I played from 1968 to 1973 and then left to go back to my studies. At the time I didn’t see any future in live music.” And this when, by his own admission, Mundkur was making more money out of music than his naval officer father. Savages, incidentally, was back in June this year for a 30 years’ reunion concert at Mumbai’s Not Just Jazz By the Bay, but Mundkur is dismissive about the grey-haired, paunchy lot getting together seriously again.
Nondon Bagchi, the HIP Pocket anchor and veteran on the Kolkata rock scene, makes an important point when he says that there’s no need to romanticise these middle-aged rockers, because when it came to the crunch they chose to forsake music.
“I remember a friend — this was in the eighties — who was part of our band and used to work with Mecon. Even a half inch extra length of hair was frowned upon. I remember we had to lie to his boss and tell him that we were going to play at the Asiad Games opening, to attend a gig in Delhi. Those were difficult times.”
Indeed, many a rock band member turned to music professionally so they could continue to do what they liked — somewhat. Chris Avinash, who was part of Sweet Cyanide with Gopinath and later formed another band, Document Done, with his BPL colleagues, stumbled upon a winning concept, the corporate rock festival TouchBass, and chucked his job to concentrate on growing the event.
Many of the members of Savages too did that: Bashir Sheikh, who worked with music companies, and Joe Alvares, who worked with his father’s auto ancillary firm and turned to organising high-profile jazz events under his company, Galilee Superstars.
But the times have changed a bit, and perhaps, our rockers have a slightly easier time of it today. “Today’s organisations are much freer, they are not process driven like earlier, but ideas driven. They know that they have to help employees unleash their human potential if they are to come up with fresh ideas,” says Chatterjee, who has ready access to the HCL auditorium, which is where Contra-band rehearses.
Families too are, by and large, much more supportive. “My wife and two daughters are quite used to the fact that after I get home every day and regardless of how late, I practice for at least an hour,” says Haydon. Motwane also says that it was his wife (author Namita Devidayal) who pushed him to pursue his passion.
Of course, when it comes to the crunch, work has to take precedence. “Initially, I’d put in more than eight hours of practice a day….can’t manage that now,” rues Haydon.
“But then you build redundancies into the band, so that if someone has got to be away, you can carry on,” points out Chatterjee. At least the self-employed like Motwane and Bhojwani have the leisure of doing as they please!
In one way, of course, having a lucrative career on the side is a big plus. You can afford all the fancy guitars that you could never hope to buy if you were a lowly musician. Haydon has 13 — three of them gifts from his chairman — including a rare Fender Heartfield Talon2 and an Ibanez Les Paul copy (’73).
Bhojwani has seven, his favourite being a 1964 Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” with a rosewood fretboard on a maple stalk. Is that compensation enough?

Lifestyle - Kitchen porn

Twelve years ago, I shopped for kitchen supplies for my first-ever grown-up kitchen at Mehta Merchants and General Suppliers in Sarojini Nagar. Mehta Merchants didn’t believe in pampering the customer: if they had aluminum cookware guaranteed to give you a stomach ache, or knives that couldn’t cut butter, too bad. That was what you got.

It’s considerably different today. If you’re buying cooking pans, there’s Le Creuset — wildly expensive but absolutely worth it. Even the local kirana store will answer your questions about whether a knife has the right tang (the blade should run the entire length of the handle). And the debate over whether to buy Global, Glaser, Santoku, Furi, Masamoto or Misono can get ugly if serious chefs are involved. (Extra points for bespoke knives, especially if they were made by Dehillerin in Paris or by a fifth-generation knifesmith tucked away in a small village in Japan.) Olive oil pourers, copper casseroles, cast-iron woks, butcher block cutting boards that retail at over Rs 3,000 — all essential in the eyes of fanatic chefs or, unfortunately, amateur foodies like myself.
“Are we going too far?” I asked a writer friend who’s also a passionate cook. “I don’t know,” he said, “but if you’re rich enough to afford Le Creuset, my birthday’s in January.” Another friend who’s a professional chef asked not to be identified because she endorses several high-end products: “It’s gadget porn,” she says. “It’s about equipping the perfect designer kitchen. My question is, are you really going to cook in it? If you’re buying a Misono knife, do you know how to look after it, or will your maid be using it to slice onions?”
Good question. Like many amateur cooks, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes — usually to do with gadgets that look like they’re promising a lifelong affair when all that they’ll deliver is a one-night stand.
My whirly basket salad spinner does a lot of whirling and twirling, but doesn’t get the leaves dry — and it needs as much care as a week-old baby. (I dumped it on a foodie snob who doesn’t cook, but who loves showing it off.) The melon baller? Good buy: I use it for everything from scooping out little potato or apple marbles to, yes, melons.
The potato-and-egg slicer? Bad move. It mashes potatoes, turns eggs into egg salad, and I’ve sliced my fingers on it more times than I can remember. As for the cherry pitter, the stove grill pan that smokes the kitchen up in three seconds flat, the egg separator — I can only plead temporary insanity. And I would never use a garlic press — what it does to garlic is akin to what Jeffrey Dahmer did to his victims, and that’s what your fancy chef's knife is for anyway.
So what are the keepers? I polled a few dedicated cooks, and here’s what we came up with:
1) Knives, two sets: Let the household help have the cheap, short-tang set that will take a certain amount of abuse; invest in at least two really good knives for yourself. Learn how to use a sharpening steel, ditch the fancy knife block (it picks up dust in India) and use a knife case or magnetic knife rack. If you’re clumsy, don’t touch mandolins, no matter how heavily they’re praised by top chefs: you’ll lose more in blood and bone than is good for your health.
2) One really good cast-iron non-stick frying pan, one really good casserole ditto. Copper casseroles only if you’re prepared to look after them. A good wok, preferably cast-iron if you’re prepared to season it; a steamer basket and an omelette pan that’s used only for making omelettes. And a vegetable steamer.
3) A hand-blender and a stand mixer, but a juicer only if you’re fanatic about juicing — otherwise it’s just one more gadget to clean.
4) Microplane graters —absolutely essential and great fun to use.
5) And most important, a sense of fun. Cooking shouldn’t be about showing off what you know or what you’ve bought — it’s about enjoying food and spending time with family and friends.

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi ( Is Jesus Christ a god,a legend or a myth?)

Westerners often say that fundamentalist Muslims are entirely isolated from the world and focus only on their immediate environment. By and large, this can be true. One of the worrying things about the current Kashmir agitation is how virulent the hatred of India is among the young. But this is less baffling when you realize that this generation grew up during the insurgency, after the Pandits had been driven out and when the only Hindus they ever saw were soldiers. They have no experience of the world outside the valley and no sense of how Kashmir would collapse as an independent nation.

But I sometimes wonder if the same isn’t true of Western Christians as well. The fundamentalists of America’s Bible Belt may be ignorant bigots, almost by definition, but even educated Western Christians seem remarkably ignorant about the origins of their own religion.
They have been brought up to think of Christianity as a Western religion and of Jesus Christ as the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan messiah of European paintings. When you point out that the chances of Jesus having fair skin and blond hair are roughly on par with Osama bin Laden being outed as a secret Catholic, they look at you in astonishment.
The truth is that Christianity is a West-Asian religion, born in the same general vicinity as Islam. Jesus was a West-Asian Jew and probably had dark skin, curly hair, brown eyes and Semitic features. The parallels with Islam do not end there. All three West-Asian religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) subscribe to the Old Testament and the Quran includes many references to Jesus. Further, the “Allah” whom credulous Americans have come to regard with such dread is a Biblical figure; Allah is simply the Aramaic word for God. The Bible is written in Aramaic so whenever God is referred to, it is as “Allah”. And when Jesus talked about his divine father, he probably referred to “Allah”.
Say this to most Western Christians and you’ll freak them out.
Integral to many currently popular views of Christianity is the notion that Jesus asked his Western brethren to go to the Third World and to save the heathen black and brown hordes. Tell an American or a European that there were Christians in India many centuries before Christianity had taken over the West and he is startled.
But the truth is that the Syrian Christians of Kerala are among the world’s oldest Christian communities. According to legend, they were converted by St Thomas (the Doubting Thomas of the Bible) who journeyed to India after Jesus’s crucifixion. The Syrian Christians had flourishing churches at a time when Europeans were worshipping trees and animals.
Once you see Jesus as a brown man and Christianity as a West Asian religion, it rather changes your perspective on all the claims advanced for the Christian basis of Western morality.
But what stuns Western Christians the most is the idea that Christianity may have had a Hindu link. Though the evidence for this is sketchy and scant (fair enough: the evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus is also hard to find), there is a legend that suggests Jesus came to India before and after the crucifixion.
The theory is based on three planks. The first is the persistent Indian legend that Jesus was here. The second is the mystery of the missing years. We know from the Bible that Jesus spend much of his youth travelling, though the Gospels are unforthcoming about where he went. By the time he was ready to found the sect that became Christianity and be treated as the messiah, he was already a grown man. So where did he go during those missing years? Is it plausible that he came to India? After all, we know that travel between West Asia and India was easy: How else could the Syrian Christians have converted so soon after the crucifixion?
The third plank has to do with the nature of his teachings. The God of the Old Testament is a vengeful God — it’s all “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” stuff. The God of the New Testament, on the other hand, is gentle and forgiving: turn the other cheek etc.
Where did this peace-and-love message come from? Of the world’s great religions, the only one that advocated this kind of message was Hinduism (and perhaps, Buddhism which spun off from Hinduism).
Could it be that, on his travels during the missing years, Jesus came to India and picked up on our spiritual tradition?
It’s only a theory, of course, and one that has no evidence to support it. But it is a worth a thought, isn’t it?
Then, there’s an entirely distinct legend. At most Indian airports, you’ll find copies of Holger Jensen’s book on Jesus’s Kashmir years on sale. Jensen picks on the persistent Kashmir legend that a tomb of a holy man who is buried in the valley is actually the tomb of Jesus Christ (I gather that the same claim is advanced for other tombs in the region as well.)
According to this legend, Jesus did not die on the cross. (Others routinely survived crucifixion too.) He fainted and was taken away by his disciples. A couple of days later when he was better, they moved him to a safe location (this explains the missing body and the Resurrection) and then, he went off to Kashmir where he lived and preached for many years.
I’m not sure I believe any of this myself. It rests on too much guesswork and too little history. But then, so does most of the Bible. Is there any evidence for the parting of the Red Sea? Of Jesus walking on water? Of the raising of Lazarus?
In these matters, you either believe or you do not. I’m not a believer in any of these views. But if the origins of religion are not about evidence but about faith, then here’s one theory that deserves to be heard.

Business - Lunch with Kalpana Morparia, JP Morgan Country Head( G.Read)

From watching films on their opening weekend to shopping like there is no tomorrow, life is swinging at 60 for this former joint-MD of ICICI Bank.

She didn’t want to hang up her boots quite so soon; after all, she was used to 12-hour days in ICICI Bank. And she didn’t think she was cut out be an entrepreneur. So when the job came her way, Kalpana Morparia decided she would head JP Morgan in India. As a little girl, all she had really wanted was to get married, have lots of children and go to kitty party or two. But life turned out very differently for the lady who must catch a Hindi film on the very first weekend, whether in London or New York, writes Shobhana Subramanian.
We’re at the Trattoria in Mumbai which doesn’t quite have the ambience it did several years ago and completely lacks the kind of Mediterranean cheerfulness one would ideally have wanted. It’s well past one but there are very few people present, possibly because its pouring outside. This makes it easy to get a large corner table. Since she’s conscious about her weight and also has to battle a low metabolic rate, Kalpana’s very careful about what she eats. She’s already worried that her new job is going to throw her gym schedule out of gear because she has to be in by nine. So we skip the starters, settling for soup instead: a minestrone for her and a mushroom soup for me.
Life after 33 years in ICICI must be very different, I say. Yes, she admits, ICICI Bank was like a surname. “I could never complete an introduction without saying ‘Kalpana Morparia from ICICI’,” she says. But she believes retiring from ICICI would have probably affected her much more. The excitement of working with a big investment bank now is a big kick. “I wouldn’t mind being on the regulatory side but that isn’t really open to private sector bankers, so I decided I was going to get back to ‘deal-making’ which is what I really enjoy,” she says.
Kalpana says it was KV Kamath who helped her migrate from being a corporate lawyer to a corporate leader, when in 1996 she was asked to head ICICI’s treasury. What prompted her to study law in Government Law College, Bombay? “I did it for a lark, possibly because my sister did law,” she says. Incidentally, Kalpana had drafted the legal framework for the JP Morgan-ICICI Bank joint venture in 1991. That fell apart after five years, as have other JVs after that. A key reason why joint ventures in the investment banking space haven’t worked out, she says, is because the business isn’t as well-defined as it is, perhaps, in life insurance, where it’s clear what products are going to be sold. “Banking is all about cross-selling, much like a hypermarket where players are trying to get as much as possible from one customer,” she points out. “JP Morgan probably wanted to do much more than what the blueprint allowed and since many of the products were off-bounds, they decided to move on.” It’s unlikely that too many joint ventures will take off in this space, she feels, probably because home-grown investment banks, like Enam or Motilal Oswal, are not really looking to compete with foreign banks but are instead looking at a different market and a different set of clients. What Kalpana wants to do at JP Morgan is to customise as many of its global products as possible for the Indian corporate sector that’s raring to go global. “Ten years ago, the products may not have been so relevant but today, with the appetite that companies have to go global, there’s a lot of potential,” she says.
The pasta arrives — extra spicy penne arabiata for my guest while I eat lasagne. Kalpana loves Italian food and like most Gujaratis, she can’t resist South Indian cuisine. The other thing she can’t resist is shopping — for sarees and jewellery (she loves diamonds) — and she doesn’t mind spending her money. Since she doesn’t have children, she feels she might as well enjoy everything she’s earning in one lifetime. So, no trip to Hyderabad or Jaipur or Europe is ever wasted. She takes as many holidays as she can and has just returned from a holiday in Turkey; Istanbul, she says, is probably the best city in the world and is certainly her favourite.
It’s on long flights that she catches up with her reading. Kalpana’s a big Robert Ludlum fan — she’s read all his books — and being a banker, she hasn’t missed Alan Greenspan’s biography. One of her favourite authors is Richard NorthPatterson and she has the entire collection of Georgette Heyer. But what she enjoyed thoroughly is India after Gandhi — she says she’s been promoting it so much she must ask Ramchandra Guha, the book’s author, for a share of the royalty. On domestic flights, she catches up on all the gossip in Bollywood, reading Stardust and Filmfare from cover to cover. “My most embarrassing moment was when the editor of a business magazine told me he had been sitting next to me during a flight from Bombay to Delhi but hadn’t had the heart to disturb me because I had been so engrossed in some film magazines,” she recalls. and it’s not just gossip, Kalpana doesn’t miss out on Bollywood films either. “Even if I’m in London or New York, I try and see a film in the first few days. I also love TV shows like Koffee with Karan.” So it’s not surprising to learn that she was one of the strongest votaries of making Amitabh Bachchan ICICI Bank’s brand ambassador.
Kalpana doesn’t have a sweet tooth so prefers a cappucino while I indulge myself with a tiramisu. Will it be difficult for someone to step into Kamath’s shoes? She doesn’t want to talk about it but I persist. “When HT Parekh stepped down, we thought no one could replace him, but Mr Nadkarni came along. When he moved to IDBI in 1985, we felt bereaved and wondered what would happen to ICICI. But Vaghul completely reshaped the organisation. And then, when Vaghul stepped down, Kamath came back from Manila and once again re-jigged the bank. There are always leaders,” she says definitively.
Nachiket Mor, was tipped to be a favourite for the number one post at one time, I say. “Yes, he was brilliant, he topped every exam he took. But he was more drawn to development for the underprivileged people. That is his big passion. And the development of market linkages, microfinance and infant mortality. So, he’s working with the ICICI Foundation now,” she says.
What Kalpana will probably miss a lot now are the shopping sessions, while on tour, with colleagues Chanda Kochar, who’s also a compulsive shopper, and Shikha Sharma. Though she might still make it for holidays with Renuka Ramnath and Ramni Nirula. And she’s not about to give up “ladies’ night out” with the gang. “I always tell them to dress well for the occasion,” she chuckles, adding that “apart from talking about everyone else we know, we also gossip about media persons”. As we leave the restaurant, Kalpana gets an SMS from a friend wanting to know when she’ll be free to see Rock On. At 59, this lady sure is rocking.

HR - Indian salaries likely to increase by 16% in 2009

Salaries in India are expected to increase by 16 per cent in 2009, one of the highest in the Asia-Pacific region driven by strong economic growth and pressure on employers due to soaring inflation, a latest report said.

As per a report by the Hong Kong based compensation firm HR Business Solutions (HRBS) pay increases in the Asia-Pacific region are likely grow even as the economies are expected to be impacted by the global slowdown.
"The forecast pay increase in India averaging 16 per cent is one of the highest among all the countries," the report stated. The HRBS 2009 pay increase forecast is based primarily on four economic factors — GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, manpower demand and past pay increase trends.
Elaborating further it said that the Indian economy is reported to be cooling, but still it is expected to achieve a growth rate of 7-8 per cent in 2008, which is among the strongest in the region after China.
"In addition, it has the fourth highest inflation rate of over 12 per cent in 2008 which increases pay rise pressures on employers. Labour demand is still robust and there is a lack of sufficient supply of the skills-set required by India's rapidly growing services, manufacturing, construction and retail industries to boot," the HRBS report added.
Economic growth rates in Asia are mostly forecast to be moderately lower in 2008 relative to 2007, while inflation rate across the Asia-Pacific region has soared to an all-time high.
"In many of the Asian countries, demand for manpower continues and in some cases, while general unemployment rate remains high, the labour market is extremely tight for qualified employees, for example, India, China and Vietnam," it stated.
Besides, in some developed economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, while the unemployment rate is low, the demand for people has been strong.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is the other country which is forecast to see a higher double-digit rise in salaries of about 17 per cent in 2009. The country's inflation rate of more than 16 per cent is the next highest in Asia after Vietnam and firms in Sri Lanka are hiring and facing challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled human capital.
Most of the neighbouring countries of India - Pakistan, China and Bangladesh are forecast to post around 11 per cent of expected pay increase.
In 2008, the salary increase in India had averaged at 14.9 per cent.
Other Asia-Pacific countries like China, Vietnam and Indonesia are forecast to see a rise of 11 per cent, 12.4 per cent and 12.7 per cent, respectively in 2009.
Earlier, in a separate report on Asian compensations, global HR consultancy Mercer had forecast that India was likely to witness over 14 per cent increase in salaries annually for the next three years as the corporates were facing shortage of talent.
The Mercer report had also stated that India, Vietnam and Indonesia were the only three countries in the Asia-Pacific region which are likely to see a double-digit increase in salaries until 2011

Business - ESPN-Star on a strong wicket in cricket broadcasting business

Leading sports broadcaster ESPN Star Sports, a joint venture between Disney and Rupert Murdoch's Star, has overshadowed its rivals in terms of the number of cricket matches it has grabbed for the next few years.

Estimates and bid amounts available in the public domain show that ESPN Star Sports is now sitting on nearly 1,400 days of international cricket matches over the next ten years for which it has paid nearly Rs 9,380 crore. In other words, the broadcaster will offer viewers roughly 140 days of cricket every year. And it has acquired each match-day at an average cost of Rs 7 crore, which the industry says is cost-effective.

Most of the these rights fall between 2007 and 2018.


SportsBroadcaster Rights Year of rights Amount Paid (In Rs crore) No. of Days

ESPN ICC 2007-15 4700 700
ESPN Champions League 2008-18 4387 250
ESPN England 2007-12 300 200-plus
ESPN Australia 2007-12 450 200-plus
Sony IPL/NZ 2008-18 4314 750
Nimbus BCCI + Non-ICC 2006-10 2191 171
Ten Sports* West Indies 2008-13 300-400 225
Source: Industry Estimates,*Ten Sports held rights for Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, both of which have to be rexviewed.According to industry estimates, the per-match cost for Nimbus works out to Rs 12.8 crore (2006-2010) since it paid the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Rs 2,191 crore for rights to all the international matches to be held in India from 2006 to 2010. Nimbus is offering about 37 days of cricket every year. The broadcaster has also lined up the tours of England and Australia to India.
Sony, which bought the rights for the Indian Premier League's Twenty-20 League for Rs 4,104 crore, is paying Rs 7.4 crore for 10-year rights for IPL matches (2008-2018). It also paid around Rs 200 crore for international matches in New Zealand for 2007 to 2011.
However, the channel will offer about 75 days of cricket annually for its viewers and the average cost per match for Sony is much lower than ESPN at around Rs 5.6 crore. But all the big matches and tournaments have been cornered by ESPN.
The telecast rights held by Ten Sports and Zee Sports for countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others are up for renewal now. However, Ten Sports has the five-year telecast rights for all international cricket played in the West Indies, and sources said its per-match cost works out to less than Rs 2 crore.
A senior media planner handling large auto and banking clients said ESPN will be able to more than recover its acquisition cost if viewers can be attracted to watch cricket consistently over the next three years and these matches deliver ratings of 3-5 per cent.
"If the 10-second spot rates for IPL are any indication of things to come, then sports broadcasters will just need to sell their spots at Rs 3-4 lakh in addition to roping in five or six fixed sponsors," said a senior executive of a Gurgaon-based media buying agency.
"The per-match cost of some of these sports broadcasters is in the region of Rs 8-9 crore, 13-15 per cent higher than ESPN's per-match cost. It will be interesting to see where the advertisers now put their money," an analyst of a leading sports marketing firm said.
Commenting on the cost-benefit analysis of having paid $975 million for Champions League telecast rights for 10 years, RC Venkateish, managing director, ESPN Software India Ltd, said ESPN-Star expected to break even from the first year. “We expect to be able to price our advertising at a 25-30 per cent premium over what advertisers paid for the IPL because the international format will be more popular,” he said.
Venkateish added that since the broadcasting rights are global, the combine expects to generate 50-60 per cent of its advertising revenues from India and the rest from other participating countries.

Lifestyle - New website, a key to teen jargon

A British charity has launched a website on ‘teenglish’ to make parents understand the jargon their children use in normal conversations.The jargon-buster website,, contains almost a hundred definitions for words commonly used by teenagers but until now incomprehensible to their parents.It is one way to make way for better communication between parents and their teenage children, according to British charity Parentline Plus.They spent months talking to parents and teenagers about the latest slang before compiling the online dictionary of 96 words from bare meaning many to wagwaan or what’s going on?Other words include phat (cool), tight (close), bluds (friends), bait (obvious), butters (ugly), buff (attractive) and rents (parents). There are also translations of on their jays (on their own), flossing (showing off) and hench (to be strong). Chirps, or to chat up; dry, or boring; nang, which translates as brilliant; and off the hook, a phrase to describe something as excellent.Feds refers to the police, ends means neighbourhood, a player is a love cheat, butters is ugly, murk is to kill, gaged is robbed and jook is to stab or steal. Nikola Mann, who helped create the site, told the Daily Mail: “It makes you realise how out of touch you can get when you read some of the words teenagers are using now”.She said the website grew out of conversations “we were having with parents on our free 24-hour helpline who were struggling to understand their children and they wanted to know what words used by their teenagers actually meant”.The website also includes a host of features from e-learning modules, boundaries, health, school and self-confidence to an online comic book with storylines and scenarios familiar to many teens.

World - Tu-160 as a means of persuasion

The landing of Tu-160 heavy bombers at the Libertador airfield in Venezuela is the latest step in the new Cold War.
This is a clear show of force. The United States, which is deploying its own security system in Eastern Europe, should think about the risk posed by its potential enemy’s combat aircraft appearing in its own backyard. Moreover, Russian warships will soon be plying Venezuelan waters. The two countries are planning to hold joint naval military exercises.
These games started in the 19th century when global confrontation was unfolding between the Russian and British empires. Both sides used ships to fly their flags in key regions. This is how they signalled each other their readiness and ability to defend their interests.
The appearance of Russian bombers in the Caribbean can be interpreted in various ways. Geopolitically, this step is designed to remind Washington of the need to listen to what other countries have to say. After all, if the United States is deploying more and more military sites near the Russian borders, it would be strange not to expect an adequate response from Moscow. The landing of Tu-160 bombers capable of carrying considerable nuclear ordnance shows that such a response is possible.
Militarily, the landing of the Russian bombers is nothing extraordinary, but the possibility of their regular appearance in the region should compel the United States to think about its vulnerability.
Historically, the main U.S. air and missile defence forces face the North Pole, as the main directions of potential nuclear strikes pass over the Arctic Ocean. As a result, the southern direction is much less protected, and the emergence of a potential threat from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico will come as a very unpleasant surprise, considering that the Pentagon’s budget is already overstretched.
The United States should understand that its attempts to isolate Russia through expanding NATO and deploying missile defence elements will lead nowhere. Moscow will find an adequate military response as well as the countries ready to help it overcome the NATO barrier, which is not insurmountable even now. Eventually, this understanding should prompt the United States to work for compromise. However, the messianic mentality of many American politicians, including presidential nominee John McCain, may prevent Washington from reaching compromise.
They are absolutely convinced that they are right, and do not care for the other side’s position. This attitude can only aggravate any conflict. If Mr. McCain wins the presidential elections, he is not likely to unleash a third world war, but the conflict between Russia and the United States may well backslide into the direct military confrontation of the 1960s-1980s, aggravated by the global economic crisis.
At the same time, Russia cannot accept a situation where European security architecture is being built without it, and mostly against it. Moreover, the designs for it are being made by a country that is not even part of Europe.
National security interests require that Russia’s opinion should be considered. The United States will either recognise Russia’s right to vote on European security, or will have to face totally new methods of persuasion. At one time, to have U.S. missiles removed from Turkey, the Soviet Union did not stop at unleashing the Cuban missile crisis. Soviet missiles were soon withdrawn, but the goal was achieved. Having realised the extent of threat, the United States removed its missiles from the Soviet borders.
It is very uncomfortable to live in a world where superpowers use thermonuclear arguments to persuade each other of the need to think about collective security. Hopefully, the landing of Tu-160 bombers and the appearance of warships will be enough to make the United States think about the potential risks. — RIA Novosti

India - Hunt for Indian Mujahideen's 'al-Arbi' (G.Read)

Less than forty eight hours before over thirty bombs tore Ahmedabad apart in July, Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi caught an overnight train to Mumbai — and disappeared.
Police forces across India, backed by the Intelligence Bureau, have made the hunt for the short, thin built man who the Ahmedabad bombers knew by the code-name ‘Kasim’, their top priority.
Based on the interrogation of Shahbaz Husain, a Lucknow businessman alleged to have led the cell responsible for a string of urban bombings carried out by a Students Islamic Movement of India front organisation calling itself the Indian Mujahideen, investigators are now certain that Qureshi trained the bomb-makers who fabricated the bombs used in the terror offensive.
Qureshi, police believe, was also the “al-Arbi” who signed e-mail manifestos issued by the Indian Mujahideen after each bombing — a finding supported by forensic detectives, who have determined that the rounded-‘A’ which “al-Arabi” used to sign the documents matches the rendering of the same character in his personal correspondence.Against the grain
The story of SIMI’s top bomb-maker sits ill with the narrative often used to explain why Islamist terrorism has grown in India.
Qureshi studied at a secular school, not a seminary. He, unlike many inner-city Muslims, enjoyed access to both education and economic opportunity. Most important, Qureshi’s political radicalisation seems not to have been connected to the win poles that marked the growth the jihad in India, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat.
Like many first-generation working-class migrants to Mumbai, Qureshi’s parents—who hailed from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh—took education seriously.
Qureshi graduated from the Antonio DeSouza High School, a church-run institution which caters to children from all major religious communities in 1988, securing a more-than-reasonable secondary school certificate average of 76.6 per cent. Interestingly, Qureshi’s parents offered all their children access to educational opportunity — not just, as is common among religious conservatives, the boys. Qureshi’s sisters, Asma and Safia, have Masters of Arts degrees; none of his three brothers, who also well-educated, appear to have been drawn to SIMI or other Islamist groups.
In the autumn of 1992 — months before Mumbai was hit by a murderous Shiv Sena-led communal pogrom which followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid — Qureshi began studies at the Bharatiya Vidyapeeth in Navi Mumbai. Neither the communal pogrom, nor the serial bombings which followed them, appear to have directly touched Qureshi’s life. In 1995, he obtained a diploma in industrial electronics, and landed a part-time job at String Computers in Mazgaon. Later, in 1996, he went on to earn a specialised software maintenance qualification from the CMS Institute in Marol.
Armed with these qualifications, Qureshi had little difficulty finding work. He joined Radical Solutions, an independent computer firm operating out of the upmarket Fort area in south Mumbai in November, 1996, on a starting salary of Rs. 2,450 per month. By the accounts of his co-workers, Qureshi was an exceptional worker — an assessment that is borne out by his resume. Just three years into his professional life, Qureshi succeeded in quadrupling his pay. He handled several major independent projects, including an intranet implementation for Bharat Petro-Chemicals carried out by Wipro in 1999, and then landed a job with computer major Datamatics.
But then, Qureshi suddenly decided to leave in his job. In his March 26, 2001, letter, he offered the firm only “I wish to inform you,” the letter read, “that I have decided to devote one complete year to pursue religious and spiritual matters.”
Qureshi’s friends and family claim to have no knowledge of what led him to make the decision. His family claims not to have met since SIMI was proscribed later that year. This seems improbable: Qureshi’s youngest child, with his wife Aafia, is, after all, just two and a half years old.A career in terror
Mumbai police investigators have begun to reconstruct Qureshi’s career in terror. No one is certain just how he was recruited, but by 1998, Qureshi appears to have been a committed SIMI activist. He was charged, that year, with defacing public property, by pasting SIMI posters. Later, he went on to edit one of SIMI’s house-magazines, Islamic Voice, from New Delhi.
Police sources told The Hindu that Qureshi participated in the October, 1999, SIMI conference in October, 1999. Sheikh Yasin, the head of the Palestinian Hamas and the Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islamic chief Qazi Husain Ahmad, were among those who delivered speeches, through telephone links. Seven-year-old Gulrez Siddiqui was reported to have been trotted out in front of the estimated 20,000-strong crowd to read out this couplet: “Islam ka ghazi, butshikan, Mera sher, Osama bin Laden” (Warrior for Islam, destroyer of idols / My lion, Osama bin Laden)”.
SIMI’s growing links with the global jihadist movement became increasingly clear in the months and years that followed. In January, 2000, for example, police in West Bengal arrested Chinese national Abdul Rahman just after he crossed the Bahirhat border with Bangaldesh. Investigators learned that Rahman, who had escaped from a prison in China’s Xinjiang region where he had been serving time for the murder of a police officer, had been brought to India to train Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives. His handlers Aziz-ul-Haq and Nazrul Islam were both SIMI members. Later, in May, 2001, eight SIMI members involved in an abortive plot to bomb the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s headquarters in Nagpur were found to have trained with the Hizb ul-Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir.
By the time of SIMI’s 1999 Aurangabad convention, which Qureshi is believed to have helped organise, many of the speeches delivered by delegates were frankly inflammatory. “Islam is our nation, not India,” thundered Mohammad Amir Shakeel Ahmad, one of over a dozen SIMI-linked Lashkar operatives arrested in 2005 for smuggling in military-grade explosives and assault rifles for a planned series of attacks in Gujarat. Among those listening to the speech was Mohammad Azam Ghauri, one of the co-founders of the Lashkar’s India operations. Ghauri, some SIMI members present in Aurangabad say, was offered SIMI’s leadership, but refused.
Qureshi was, investigators say, one of the principal organisers of SIMI’s last public conference in 2001. SIMI leaders told the estimated 25,000 followers who attended the conference that the time had come for Indian Muslims to launch an armed jihad which would have the establishment of a caliphate at its final aim.
In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in September, 2001, SIMI activists organised demonstrations attacking the United States of America for being an “enemy of Islam.” SIMI literature hailed Osama as a “true mujahid [Islamic warrior]” and celebrated the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban. Muslims were exhorted to “trample the infidels.”
Finding Qureshi — as well as figures like Qayamuddin Kapadia, the missing Vadodara based computer-graphics artist who police believe led the SIMI cell which targeted Surat — could prove key to preventing the next big terror bombings. But the threat will not end with his arrest. Investigations of other SIMI-linked terror cells have thrown up evidence which suggests Qureshi trained several hundred recent recruits to the Islamist group’s terror cells, at camps held across India from 2007 onwards.
India, it seems probable, will be compelled to live with this threat for many years to come.

Sport - BCCI to get 50% of Champions T20 League TV Rights Deal

MELBOURNE: It is windfall for the three founding members of Champions Twenty20 League after inking massive $ 975 million television rights deal with ESPN STAR but the Indian Cricket Board will be the biggest beneficiary with 50 per cent of the amount going to its coffers. According to media reports here, the three founding member boards -- BCCI, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa -- will share the 10-year deal amount with India getting half of it and CA and CSA pocketing 25 per cent each. "Cricket Australia will earn about 25 per cent of the figure, as will Cricket South Africa, while the game's major power-broker -- the Board of Control for Cricket in India -- takes the remaining half," a report in 'Sydney Morning Herald' said. The Champions Twenty20 League deal is the second biggest rights agreement this year after the $ 1 billion deal for 10 years for the outstandingly successful Indian Premier League. But the eight-day global Twenty20 league, which will be held from December 3 to 10, will become the highest value cricket tournament on a per game basis ever scheduled.

Eight teams, winners and runners-up of domestic Twenty20 competitions in India, Australia and South Africa, plus winners of 2008 Twenty20 championships from Pakistan and England have been invited to compete in the inaugural edition. Next year, 12 teams will compete and the tournament will extend to 16 days. Teams will vie for $ 6 million in prize money, with half awarded to the winner and a minimum $ 250,000 to each participant. India is expected to stage this year's tournament while venues in the United Arab Emirates are vying for hosting rights for next year and beyond.

India - Cashing in on floods;Bihar

Bihar needs to get back on track. Even though vast farmlands still lie under the swirling waters of Kosi, there's still hope.
Scientists say the solution must come from these fields. “Those affected are mostly farmers and the solution, too, must come from agricultural sciences,” said MS Swaminathan, one of India's best-known agricultural scientists and a Rajya Sabha member.
According to Swaminathan, Bihar now needs to change its short-term farm strategy and switch to short-haul cash crops that do rather well after floods. The idea is to grow crops that mature quickly — in about two months — and have a good market.
But such quick-fix solutions need adequate soil testing to determine areas that have benefited from silt deposits, Swaminathan said. Finance minister P. Chidambaram had, in the last budget, set aside an exclusive fund for mobile soil-testing vans. “This can come in handy now,” Swaminathan added.
Agronomists say high-value cash crops like sweet potatoes, mustard, oilseeds, drumsticks, mushroom and vegetables could solve the displaced farmers' problems for now.
“We are preparing to send our recommendations to the Bihar government in a day or two,” said Baldeo Singh, a scientist from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
The Bihar government has asked the Union agriculture ministry to send experts in 15 days from now.
Bihar's additional commissioner for disaster management, Pratyaya Amrit, however, said a few flood-hit districts may become accessible after October 15, but the water may not fully dry up till February next year.
Bihar has another problem: its landless labourers. With crops ruined and fields submerged, it will be difficult for millions to get work.

Columnists - Sitaram Yechury

In what must be considered as the world’s most ambitious and expensive experiment, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the underground CERN facility near Geneva fired its first protons into a 27-mile-long tunnel. The LHC is designed to fire sub-atomic particles in opposite directions to collide at a speed of 99.9 per cent of the speed of light. It is hoped that this would recreate the circumstances close to the Big Bang that created the universe in the first place. This, in turn, should help us to understand many things that remain unknown. “We think we understand the universe, but we only understand 4 per cent of everything,” said James Watson Cronin, the 1980 Nobel Laureate for Physics. It is this 96 per cent of matter, pervasive but unidentified, that holds the universe together and accelerates its expansion.
Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, who hails the LHC as the greatest experiment in human history, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in a way that allows us to exist. Will the LHC take humanity forward in comprehending that special combination that creates creatures like us who seek answers to how and why they evolve and exist?
The popular science writer, Paul Davies, asks: “Are the seemingly endless varieties of natural forms and structures which appear as the universe unfolds, simply the accidental products of random forces? Or are they somehow the inevitable outcome of the creative activity of nature? Is there a ‘cosmic blueprint’?”
Such deep questions of existence have been the battleground for philosophy and theology down the ages. Every scientific advance has been interpreted accordingly in this battle. Popular novelist Dan Brown, in Angels and Demons, drawing on the earlier achievement of CERN in producing anti-matter, suggests a convergence of science with the Biblical theory of creation fascinatingly captured by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Anti-matter is a very powerful source that releases energy with 100 per cent efficiency as compared to 1.5 per cent in nuclear fission. Yet, it is highly unstable, igniting when it comes in contact with matter. Did God create life through matter and anti-matter collision? If so, was God necessary?
Scientists today believe that soon after one ten millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, gravity emerged. In a ridiculously small interval of time, electro-magnetism and nuclear forces emerged, accompanied by an army of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons and much else. From virtual nothingness the infinitely large cosmos emerged that continues to expand.
Will the LHC throw new light on understanding these phenomena? We now know that the essence of all substances — living and non-living — and their attributes are determined by the atoms of which they are made and how these atoms are linked together. Science now tells us that these atoms were all synthesised from pristine hydrogen by processes deep inside stars that died before our solar system came into being. As Martin Rees says, “We are literally the ashes of ancient stars — the ‘nuclear waste’ from the fuel that made them shine.”
Newton’s discovery of gravity showed that the same forces acted on the stars as they act on our bodies. This led to the control of the trajectory of spacecraft and satellites. Faraday’s discovery of electric and magnetic forces led to electricity generation and radio waves. The discovery of the anatomy of the atom and its electrons led to nuclear energy, laser technology etc. However, as Rees says, we have very little knowledge of the force that actually holds the nuclei of atoms together, the force without which there would be no carbon, no oxygen and, hence, no life. Will the LHC throw some light on what this force may be?
Sub-atomic particles may have emerged from the Big Bang. But then, how did they acquire any mass? This is the elusive Higgs boson through which the sub-atomic particles pass through, acquiring mass and, thus, constituting the matter that makes up the universe. Stephen Hawking calls this ‘the God particle’. Will the LHC find this?
Such are the questions that a global team of physicists are hoping to provide answers to. What happened in astronomy with the Hubble telescope and in biology with the human genome project, is now happening in physics with the LHC. Whatever be the levels of excitement, it would be naïve to expect immediate results as it will take well over a year for the collider to reach the expected speeds and energy emissions to replicate, on a minuscule scale, the conditions of the Big Bang.
It is, indeed, gratifying that over a hundred Indian scientists are involved in the LHC project. India gifted a bronze statue of the Nataraja to celebrate India’s connection with CERN. The plaque on the statue quotes Fritjof Capra of The Tao of Physics fame: “... for modern physicists Shiva’s dance is a dance of sub-atomic matter”. Another symbolism of significance should not be missed. Shiva, in the tandav trance, is always shown in the Nataraja as encircled. Is this the dialectical unity between the zero and infinity — unity of the opposites?
This quest to understand the universe and, therefore, ourselves, must proceed on the basis of a rational scientific temper. This man-nature dialectic must unfold by, say, restoring to Einstein his awe of creation — to create one unit of matter, energy equivalent to the square of the speed of light is required (m=E/c2), rather than emphasise on destruction, where tremendous amounts of energy are released with the destruction of matter (E=mc2).
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP)