Nov 15, 2008

India - Q&A ISRO Chairman G.Madhavan Nair

Chandra Ranganathan

CHENNAI: ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair got a royal welcome at the Sathyabhama Deemed University, which is hosting an international conference in space technology. Posters dotting the campus bore pictures of a victorious looking Dr Nair with the slogan, "He is a great hero, India and abroad." A sign, perhaps, of how India's lunar mission Chandrayaan has captured the imagination of the youth and upped Isro's brand value. Dr Nair, instead, focuses on the relevance of Isro's future missions, its challenges and the management lessons that India Inc could glean from the state-run space agency. ET caught up with Dr Nair a day before the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) is ejected from the Chandrayaan satellite, following which the Indian flag will crash land on the moon, literally! Excerpts:

Can Chandrayaan be termed a complete success when the MIP lands?

No, it will still amount to 95% success since we have to map the moon’s surface for the next year and a half. Mineral mapping and surface feature mapping will be paramount. We can gauge 100% success only after that. The MIP has been scheduled for Friday evening, but we haven't slotted a time yet.

How are the Chandrayaan-II, solar and Mars missions progressing?

Chandrayaan-II will be launched in 2012. We will have a lander (a space vehicle that is designed to land) on it and will drop a small robot on the moon. The robot will pick up samples and analyse and send the data back. For the solar mission, a satellite called Adithya will study solar emissions and its influence. The design has been completed and the launch will happen within two years. We are also going ahead with the study on the Mars mission.

What’s the need of a Rs 12,000-crore human space flight?

We cannot be lagging behind in our capability to access space. China, the US and Japan are going ahead with huge plans for space exploration. There are some processes involved and we will get the government’s approval consequently. The manned mission is slated for 2015.

So, is this more about national prestige? You've mentioned before that advanced scientific instruments can perform better than humans in space.

We don't want to get into a space war. There are certain functions that only humans can carry out. For example, there will be emissions or radiation, which occur when a new star is being formed or some collection in space takes place. If we wait for this information to be scanned and obtained on the ground and then react, the opportunity will be missed. On the other hand, if a person is sitting behind the instrument, he can capture it and react properly. We are putting many spacecraft, which have a shelf life of five-ten years, into orbit.

These machines will be limited by components like fuel. If we send a person with repairs kits, the life of these satellites can be extended. Also, a man could help in close observation and activation of mechanisms to keep the space free of debris.

When will space research and technology be completely opened up for private players?

We are open to their involvement. It's only for the private sector to wake up and catch up.

There has been a lot of mention about the management lessons that one can glean from the moon mission and Isro.

At Isro, there is no formal hierarchical structure wherein commands are transmitted from top to bottom. One can always think of an ideal solution that will bring perfection but we look for solutions that can be implemented in a timely and cost-effective manner.

When you break an issue into many components and divide responsibility, there is no complex issue that you cannot overcome. We exploit the expertise of every individual, like what Lord Rama did with the squirrel. We try to tap all the bits and pieces and that's how Chandrayaan like missions are accomplished.

Business - India;IT cos finetune HR code

Shelley Singh

NEW DELHI: Here's some good news for techies: despite the global market slump, they are not being handed out pink slips - at least for now, by big
players. However, for experienced professionals, retaining jobs and getting jobs may get tougher.

Call it tweaking the IT HR code, but here are some innovative steps that companies are taking to fight slowdown blues. Employee utilisation rates are up, the number of lateral hires is down, the number of campus hires has slowed down and wage hikes barely match inflation rate. That apart, companies are trying hard to develop a non-linear growth model, which seeks to delink revenue growth from manpower growth.

IT services companies insist that the focus will be on productivity increases and how best they can squeeze out more from their employees. For fresh engineers, this could translate into more time at work than play. And it could be bad news for experienced guys looking to jump jobs, as companies curb lateral intake. Also, freshers who just got campus offers may be asked to wait longer before they can report for either training or work.

"Companies continue to hire, though at slower rates," says Nasscom president Som Mittal. Employee utilisation rates have gone up by 4-5% across the industry while wage hikes were limited to around 8-11%.

The largest IT services company, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), plans to hire 30,000-35,000 this fiscal (out of this it has already hired 18,000), but is expanding the employee base to add more entry level staff rather than hire laterally. This simply means that while there may be some jobs for freshers, the experienced guys will find the going tough.

"Strategically, we are looking to expand the employee pyramid base which implies that at least 60% of our recruitment will constitute entry level (technical campus) hiring, up from 47% last fiscal. Lateral hires will be driven by need for specific technology skills and domain expertise," says TCS vice-president & head of global HR Ajoy Mukerjee.

Ditto for Satyam Computer Services which sees a dip in campus hires from 16,800 last fiscal to around 10,000-12,000 this year while curbing lateral hires. "We are being more conservative on lateral hiring. We will take in lateral hires only for high-value work," says Satyam global head for HR SV Krishnan.

Satyam's employee utilisation rate for offshore work was 80% and onsite 96% for the last quarter. And for TCS, the utilisation rate was 81.1%
(excluding trainees) in Q2 FY09, up from 78.3% in the first quarter of this fiscal. For Infosys Technologies, it remained in the 73-75% band over the past 12 months. HCL Technologies' utilisation went up from 71% last year to 74% this year. For Wipro Technologies, it's close to 80%.

As far as hiring freshers is concerned, most companies maintain that they will stick to the offers already made at campuses. Though the joining dates of new recruits could be deferred depending on the market situation. "We are taking people in small batches and have not deferred as yet. But lateral hires are on the decline, as the focus is on enhancing employee utilisation from the existing bench," says Pratik Kumar, EVP, HR, Wipro.

Another aspect is the focus on a non-linear growth model. "We continue to look at a non-linear growth model with increased focus on enhancing employee productivity and strategic growth initiatives like asset leveraged solutions, platform-based BPO solutions, SMB solutions as well other new initiatives," says Mr Mukerjee of TCS.

Most companies have talked about delinking revenue growth from manpower growth, but are yet to make this shift significantly. For employees, it is tough times ahead, with performance being very closely monitored. For average to low performers, the coming quarters could see retaining jobs becoming tough, particularly if companies see new contracts difficult to come by.

World - Bush grants visa-free travel to citizens of 7 nations

WASHINGTON: US President George Bush has granted visa-free travel to the citizens of seven countries, namely Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, to his country.

The President said that the US enjoyed "good, tight relations and co-operation" with the countries exempted.

"These close friends of America told me that it was unfair their people had to jump through bureaucratic hoops that other allies can walk around," the Daily Times quoted Bush as saying while announcing the decision.

Meanwhile, six European Union nations - Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Romania, and Poland - however, will remain outside the scheme, for the time being, added the paper.

India - PSUs wooing B-School Grads

Dheeraj Tiwari

NEW DELHI: While private sector companies are cutting extra flab to cope with economic slowdown, the government is chalking out an attractive
package for B-school students to join public sector undertakings (PSUs). The department of public enterprises (DPE) will soon unveil an internship scheme to attract talent from BSchools. The exercise is also aimed at familiarising these students with the work culture in the government owned companies.

The DPE will soon invite applications from students in B-schools, post graduate and research students and those pursuing chartered accountancy. The internship period will require the students to work within the different departments of the nodal agency, DPE and various PSUs. Recently, Steel Authority of India (SAIL) had inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with IIM-Ahmedabad to meet its human resource requirements in wake of its modernisation and expansion programme.

“There is a vast talent pool in our top colleges who are reluctant to join PSUs because they feel that PSUs don’t offer competitive pay packages and challenging work atmosphere. The students who will join us for the internship period will have a better knowledge of the working of the government owned companies and thus allay the misconception about them,” said a senior official in the department of public enterprises.

The DPE will be soon contacting the top B-Schools including the IIMs and associations like the Institute of Cost and Work Accountants of India (ICWAI) for sending a list of the students who are interested to work with the nodal agency. The interns will be allocated to the various departments and PSUs as per their preferences. “The interns will be fully involved with the functioning of the public enterprises . They’ll be given exposure in process of public enterprises survey, finalisation of MoU signed between different PSUs and their administrative ministries and other functions of the department,” the official said.

India - No credit cards for staff of airline,finance & realty cos

Niranjan Bharati & Rajat Guha

NEW DELHI: If you run a start-up or work in a finance company or are on the rolls of an airline or small-time realtor and want a new credit card, Bad times
chances are you may not get one. Banks are summarily rejecting credit card applications from people working in these sectors, as the deteriorating financial health of their industries and the economic downturn makes them less creditworthy.

“Several employees of my company, including me, have had credit card applications rejected. Last month, many credit card requests were turned down by different banks,” said an employee with a major New Delhi-based finance company, requesting anonymity.

The Indian arm of HSBC recently tightened its credit approval mechanism for people working for non-bank finance companies (NBFCs) and real estate companies. “HSBC monitors and reviews the policies governing its lending business and the risk factors that relate to its various products as a matter of routine, regularly,” the bank said in an e-mailed response.

The UK-based bank is not alone. Both state-run and private banks are making their credit criteria more stringent, expanding the so-called `negative list’ of applicant profiles who are denied credit. A large Mumbai-based public sector bank has stopped extending credit to small entrepreneurs, while a private bank has an even stricter scrutiny for applications from employees of airlines and call centre firms.

Until recently, the negative list of banks tended to feature reporters, lawyers, chartered accountants and junior level police and armed forces personnel, but that list is now expanding even though the law prohibits banks from denying credit to anybody based on one’s profession. But for a banking sector keen to protect itself from rising bad debts in a slowing economy and increasing job losses, this law may be difficult to follow.

Health - Fat ain't cute

How many times have we seen more-than-chubby-children, pulled their cheeks lovingly, and exclaimed, "How cute!" It's time for a reality check.
Childhood obesity is on a rapid rise in this country, in keeping with an unhealthy global trend: in 2007, an estimated 22 million children under the age of five years were overweight according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and more are expected to join the obese club.

In an alarming report presented this week by the American Heart Association, the thickness of the artery walls of teenagers who are obese were reported to resemble the thickness of an average 45-year-old's artery walls. In other words, evidence was presented that obese children show early warning signs of heart disease. Childhood obesity is also linked to other serious health complications including juvenile diabetes. We can no longer dismiss it as a problem of the West. We might not be grappling with a problem as huge as the US where childhood obesity is considered an epidemic or the UK. But trouble is knocking on our doors, as well as those of other developing countries like China, Brazil and Thailand.

A recent `Indian Pediatrics' report makes this point. Unlike in much of the West, where childhood obesity is more prevalent among low-income groups, in India it is a malaise that afflicts the better off. The prevalence of obesity is higher in the upper socio-economic class (4.8 per cent) as compared to the lower socio-economic class (1 per cent). In urban Delhi, about 37 per cent of children are either overweight or obese. Medical experts attribute the weighty troubles of developing countries to changed dietary habits read an overdose of fast and processed foods and a steep drop in levels of physical activity.

An unhealthy diet is partly a function of the greater access and choice that the expanding middle class has. And partly because of the compulsions of modern urban life, where both parents often work and prefer quick and easy processed food options rather than cooking every meal from scratch. City children today are also more inclined to spend leisure as couch or mouse potatoes, which does not help in the battle against the bulge. Concerted efforts involving schools, families and government to tackle juvenile obesity are in order. For a start, policymakers must invest in educating parents, especially mothers, about the perils of childhood obesity. And it would be of immense help if we, as a society, got over our peculiar proclivity to associate overweight especially when it concerns children with 'well-fed' and 'healthy'.

Tech - Sony Xperia X1: A review

What kind of smart phone can Rs 44,500 buy? The luxe Xperia X1 from Sony Ericsson. At this price, it probably appeals only to recession-resistant gadget lovers, but it says something about what some gadget makers think the rest of us would want if money were no object.

Here's reviewing the new iPhone rival on the block.

Straight Specs

Out of the box, the device is pure eye candy, with a black or silver metal-and-plastic body, crisp 3-inch touch screen and slightly curved QWERTY keyboard that slides out smoothly with a satisfying click. The X1 has minimal included memory, so you'll need a sizable microSD card if you want to access lots of songs, videos and photos on it; I used a 4 gigabyte card during my testing, which was enough for plenty of content.

But even before I turned it on, I started to get nervous about the whopping number of choices I'd have to make. I felt more confused about the phone's operations than excited about the freedom to use it as I pleased.

11 buttons & a joystick

There is assortment of 11 buttons on the X1's face, including a center button that can select items or work as an optical joystick, which scrolls with a finger swipe. I often used the buttons for starting and ending phone calls, but tended to forget about the rest of the controls, including the joystick.

Beyond the button bounty, you can navigate the X1 by tapping its screen with your finger or with a stylus. The stylus was often the best way to go, as the device's many options are often presented in small text that is difficult to accurately jab at with an index finger.

Customised Apps

The X1 uses Windows Mobile 6.1 as its operating system, but Sony Ericsson developed a variety of customised enhancements that run on top of it. Most notable is the stylish panel interface, which consists of up to nine small rectangles you can customise and use to view different applications or media on the device in different ways.

The panel idea is cool, and it's a nice way to differentiate the X1 from the slew of touchscreen phones that have been released this year, since each rectangle leads to a variety of options, instead of just a single application. I used panels for conducting Google searches, listening to the built-in FM radio and checking out the songs and videos I stored on the X1.

However, the panel interface still sits atop Windows Mobile, which offers its own methods for listening to tunes or watching videos. I couldn't understand why anyone would want so many options.

Business Mail

That said, the inclusion of Windows Mobile does mean that if you're familiar with it you won't have much trouble navigating the X1 once you find and click the "Start" tab in the upper right corner of one of the panels.

Business users can synchronise the phone with their PCs and get e-mail from their Microsoft Outlook account pushed straight to the phone -- something that can make it difficult to switch to a more consumer-friendly phone like the iPhone or the G1, which uses Google Inc's Android operating system.

Better resolution than iPhone

And there are several cool features on the X1. Though the iPhone has a larger screen, the X1's touch screen sports a sharper resolution. As such, videos look quite good. You can also stream some content from the Internet, such as videos from YouTube, and adjust video sizes to make lesser-quality clips look more palatable.

The X1 also has a standard headphone jack, which is becoming increasingly common on smart phones and makes a big difference to music fans like myself.

Surfing the Web is easy on the X1, and, as with videos, online content looks very good on the screen. The phone includes the Internet Explorer Mobile and Opera Mobile browsers, and I did appreciate having more than one option here.

The built-in 3.2 megapixel camera takes good photos and can also be used for videos. The phone also has a video calling option.

Applications Slow

Mail to friend
Still, my issues with the X1 often overshadowed the fun. Many times it seemed fairly slow to open applications or complete actions, displaying the multicolored Windows processing icon while I waited.

Even without slowdown, it usually took me several steps to complete a simple action. When I wanted to change the panels on the device, I had to click a little tools icon, click the panel I wanted to change, click it again to confirm I really did want to alter it, choose a new panel, and click again to select it. After all this clicking, I could barely remember what I was trying to do in the first place.

The X1 is a gorgeous device. But even if you can afford it, dealing with its overabundance of choices would, in the words of Dewey Finn from "School of Rock," test your head and your mind and your brain, too.

-- AP

Science - Ancestors had babies with big heads

WASHINGTON: The fossil of a wide-hipped Homo erectus found in Ethiopia suggests females of the pre-human species swayed their hips as they walked Wide at the Waist: The fossil of a wide-hipped Homo erectus female, in Ethiopia.
and gave birth to relatively developed babies with big heads, researchers said.

The finding transforms thinking about some early human ancestors and evolution and suggests that helpless babies came along relatively late in the human lineage.

“We could look at this pelvis and then, using a series of measurements, we can calculate ... how big the baby’s head could be at birth,” said Scott Simpson, a paleontologist at Case Western Reserve University who worked on the study.

Writing in Science, Simpson and colleagues said the size and shape of the 1.2 million-year-old pelvis indicates that Homo erectus females had hips wider than those of modern human females and their infants were born with heads about 30% larger than previously calculated. “What this means is the offspring were not as helpless as a modern human,” he said.

“It is not coming out walking and talking. But it was probably capable of more advanced behaviour at a younger age like grasping, like sitting up ... than we would see in a modern human.”

An extended childhood is a particularly human characteristic. Helpless babies require intensive care, not from the mothers but from an extended group, which may have spurred the development of human society and culture. Homo erectus, Latin for “upright man”, arose in Africa 1.8 to 2 million years ago, migrating to Asia and Europe before becoming extinct about half a million years ago.

Tech - Mind reading software ?

LONDON: In a landmark research, scientists in Netherlands have developed a mind-reading state-of-the-art software, which can decipher the sounds
being spoken to a person from scans of the listener’s brain.

The researchers led by Elia Formisano of Maastricht University, found that each speaker and each sound created a distinctive “neural fingerprint” in a listener’s auditory cortex, the brain region that deals with hearing. “This is the first study in which we can really distinguish two human voices, or two specific sounds,” Formisano said.

Neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track the brain activity of 7 people while they listened to three different speakers saying simple vowel sounds. This fingerprint was used to create rules that could decode future activity and determine both who is being listened to, and what they are saying, the New Scientist reported.

The researchers hope to match recent advances in using fMRI to identify what a person is looking at from their brain activity. Until now, the best mind-reading feats extended only to differentiating between different categories of sounds, such as human voices versus animal cries.

India - Offers dip at IIM A summers

Kumar Manish & Vasundhara Vyas Mehta

AHMEDABAD: Day Zero of summer placement at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) reflected the morose mood of the world market as the
number of recruiters and offers to students of 2008-2010 batch dipped by at least 50%.

The absence of excitement was palpable on the campus, although the hottest selling offers continued to be from I-banks and consultants, minus the top recruiter Lehman Brothers. Against 36 companies which showed up on Day Zero last year, this year there were less than 20 and against 120 offers made last year, this year only 50 came.

Among the recruiters on campus were a mix of investment banks and consultancy firms. These included Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, McKinsey and Co, The Boston Consulting Group, Deutsche Bank and Bain and Co. Most of the consultancies offered domestic placements but I-banks offered placements abroad, said one of the students. The placements abroad included projects in US, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and other locations in Asia.

The other stark feature was that companies did not divulge stipends. Usually, stipends to be paid were disclosed when the offers are made. The buzz is that the lull in the market was showing in the placements. The senior batch is hoping that things will get better by the time of final placements.

World - Srilanka seizes Tiger stronghold

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's military said on Saturday that it had seized the entire western coast of the Indian Ocean island, capturing the strategic
Pooneryn area where Tamil Tiger rebels' artillery had kept soldiers at bay. ( Watch )

With the military controlling Pooneryn, a strategic spit of land that runs parallel to the neck of the northern Jaffna Peninsula across a narrow lagoon, it will soon be in a position to strike the rebel capital of Kilinochchi from three sides.

"We have completely taken over Pooneryn. We have gone up to the town, and control the roads from Pooneryn to Paranthan," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. This now means that, for the first time since 1993, the government controls a land route all the way to a ferry that can easily bring supplies to Jaffna.

That should significantly cut the high cost of living for residents who, until now, got essential supplies by sea or air.

The defence ministry said on its website troops had encountered stiff resistance as they fought through marshlands south of Pooneryn and across the Paranthan junction overnight.

Previously, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had used heavy artillery to prevent two army divisions garrisoned on Jaffna from moving south toward Kilinochchi.

"We didn't find any artillery, because they must have taken those pieces away or hidden them," Nanayakkara said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government threw out an ill-observed 2002 ceasefire in January. It accused the LTTE of using that truce to re-arm, and pledged to wipe out the rebels.

The LTTE, on US, EU and Indian terrorism lists, says it is fighting to create a separate homeland for minority Sri Lankan Tamils.

Many Tamils complain of marginalisation by governments led by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.

HR - Networking Tactics

Joann Lublin

Fans of Bruce Mount sang his praises to BzzAgent before he applied to become vice-president of engineering of the Boston word-of-mouth marketer. In late June, the software-development manager asked nearly two dozen present and past colleagues to tout his abilities. “Even one sentence will help!” he assured them. Their testimonials ranged from a brief haiku to a multipage missive dubbing him “a freakin’ gold mine of knowledge, ingenuity and kindness”.

Mount’s creative approach “made him stand out”, recalls Rossana Y. de la Cruz, BzzAgent’s director of recruiting. He was the front-runner among 166 prospects. And though the firm ultimately promoted an insider, de la Cruz vows to consider him again for a relevant vacancy.
Unusual times demand unusual networking tactics. Most candidates find work through networking, surveys show. But in today’s dismal job market, many feel frustrated with standard strategies such as tapping friends for referrals.
Clients of Laurence J. Stybel, a Boston outplacement counsellor, fret that acquaintances ignore their aid requests because the contacts fear they may lose their jobs. Anxious about unemployment, people hoard knowledge about openings for themselves and closest friends. Networking “is perceived to be a zero-sum game”, the president of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire says.
“The bar has been raised on what it takes to make networking work,” concurs Scott Allen, a consultant about online networking. “Virtual interaction allows us to create the illusion of networking by making electronic links with people” but online ties are “just a starting point”. “You still need some kind of relationship,” he says.
For job hunters who use networking websites such as, Allen favours a more sophisticated approach. When you invite someone to join you on LinkedIn, he proposes including a personalized offer of help, such as an introduction to a customer or a useful link.
In the real world, you can improve your networking by finding out whether key executives of potential employers will attend a trade group meeting and then scheduling encounters during the event, recommends Brandon Gutman, vice-president of business development at Battalia Winston International, a New York search firm. “Don’t expect to just show up and bump into these people,” he cautions.
Robb Leland wanted to move into mobile marketing, which involves targeting promotions at mobile devices. He identified three concerns that were listed on an industry association’s site as being registered for the group’s March conference. He then contacted officials at the companies, including Shira Simmonds, president and co-founder of Ping Media.
Seated beside each other at a seminar, they found common ground. “That’s why I’m here today,” says Leland, who joined Ping Media as senior business- development manager in September.
There are additional ways to network more effectively at events. “Be the only person like yourself in the room,” Stybel advises. For instance, he encourages human resource managers to attend local meetings of Financial Executives International and share their expertise. Because many HR executives report to chief financial officers, those who belong to that professional organization probably hear about promising HR positions.
An offbeat but memorable “elevator pitch” will also make you stand out in a crowd, says Lorraine Howell, a public-speaking trainer in Seattle.
Several years ago, Howell coached Wimsey Cherrington, a Seattle massage therapist who unearths hidden causes of chronic pain. The therapist was having trouble describing her speciality during gatherings of a women business owners’ group. “Networking wasn’t working at all,” Cherrington remembers. Things changed after she began calling herself “a body detective”. The catchy description “at least doubled my practice”, Cherrington says.
Still frustrated? Your network may know why. Ask friends, relatives and associates to anonymously assess your strengths and weaknesses through, an online polling tool, suggests Diane Darling, a Boston networking specialist. The gambit worked for her. Based on her SurveyMonkey feedback, she realized her artsy-looking purple suits hindered her career because she didn’t look “corporate”. The contacts “would have never told me this in person”, Darling says. She fixed her image by buying costly, classic business suits.

Books - Review;Between the Assassinations;Aravind Adiga

Chandrahas Choudhury

This year’s Booker Prize winner takes us once again into a savage and cruel India.
In one of the stories of Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations, a book that follows his Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger but was apparently written before it, we see a quack sexologist, Ratnakara Shetty, on his way to the dargah to sell his goods. As he approaches the site he comes across the familiar Indian melee of pathetic supplicants—beggars, lepers, the handicapped, including one especially grotesque specimen with a stump of a leg and “little brown stubs like a seal’s flippers” for arms. Ratnakara Shetty leaves behind this “sorrowful parade of humanity” and walks on. Soon he is surrounded by yet another group that throbs with pain and despair: those afflicted by venereal disease.

Ratnakara Shetty’s story appears late enough in Adiga’s book for us to realize that Shetty himself is part of a “sorrowful parade of humanity” of protagonists, all of whom are denizens of Kittur, a fictional south Indian town. The two assassinations of the (striking and attractive) title are those of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv in 1991, and the book is an intense examination—indeed an interrogation—of a small Indian town of the 1980s: its languages, its mores, its diversity of caste, class and religion, and the many hierarchies within and between them, its white and black economies, the way its geography reveals its history, and the human encounters and non-encounters that determine the texture of its everyday life.
On a map of India Kittur would only be a finger-joint away from R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi, but the savagery of Adiga’s material and his slashing style make for an atmosphere worlds away from the older writer’s gentler ironies and greater tolerance for life’s injustices. Adiga’s great theme is power relations—between rich and poor, master and servant, high caste and low caste, majority and minority—and, as a consequence of these relations, moral perversion and subaltern rage.
All but a couple of the stories in his book are mounted on this kind of tableau of social and economic injustice, and draw their energy from its tensions. A recurring gesture in them is one person bowing before another with folded hands, feeding the power and arrogance of another with servility so as to stay afloat. Adiga’s protagonists differ from each other on the scale of their reactions to a callous and perverted system. The stories dramatize a range of responses from resigned acceptance to, even complicity with, the established order, to seething impotence and maddening rage.
Some of the stories, particularly those in the first half of the book, work very well because of the depth of Adiga’s characterization of both person and place (and Kittur is the real protagonist of his work). Adiga’s grasp of the contours of the world he is mapping seems much surer here than in The White Tiger, which posited a facile binary vision of “the Light” and “the Darkness” in 21st century India. An attractive feature of his work is the verbal tics he gives to his characters, as if to suggest that where human relations are out of joint, language too must always keep fumbling for meaning.
Ziauddin, the small, dark, chubby tea shop boy of the opening story, is always declaring his virtue and protesting his innocence in an adult world that both bullies him and laughs at him. At the bottom of Kittur’s social scale, he keeps having to insist that Muslims “don’t do hanky-panky”, and whenever someone misbehaves with him he uses exactly the same words to rebuke them. Mr Lasrado, an ineffectual teacher in a boy’s school, cannot pronounce “f”, and keeps addressing the other Jesuits as “Pather”. When the boys engineer a small explosion in his class, Lasrado’s rage has its sting drawn out by his cry of “You Puckers! Puckers!”

As is evident from these examples, Adiga’s style unites anger with incapacity, with grotesquerie. On several occasions, his characters are compared to animals, from the prisoner who leads his captors by the handcuffs, “like a fellow taking two monkeys on a walk”, to a prospective groom who is so deferential he seems “more the family’s domestic pet than the scion”. The story about Ratnakara Shetty burns with images of male genitals blackened, withered, gnawed away by disease. All these seem physical symbols of a universe in which so much is wrong, and yet the view from the top is that nothing is.
The cogency of Adiga’s anger is only weakened, even cheapened, by repetition. As his book proceeds, and we repeatedly encounter the moral crudeness of the rich and powerful (“In this life, a man is always a servant of his servants”) and the bitterness of the poor and marginalized, the contingency and the tension of conflicts between characters hardens into a position and a politics that seem the work of the narrator; a chisel swells into a cudgel.
Even so, Between the Assassinations has a genuinely distinctive world view and many exciting passages. In a way, the best sections of this book, with their wealth of anthropological detail and careful peeling back of the lives of characters, might also be held up as the most lucid criticism of Adiga’s own book The White Tiger, with its hollow protagonist, shoddily constructed plot, and banal commentary. Indeed, Between The Assassinations might be read as an indictment not only of the distorted nature of Indian reality but also of contemporary publishing, which jumped so eagerly at Adiga’s other book but allowed this much worthier sibling to languish for so long.
In Six Words: More deserving than Adiga’s Booker clincher

Personality - Subhash Ghai

Sanjukta Sharma

Whistling Woods International, sprawled over about 10 acres of undulating land on the periphery of Film City, is Mumbai’s only film school. Started by director Subhash Ghai in 2006, it has just produced its first batch of students— a motley group of would-be actors, directors, and as Ghai later tells me, “very few writers”. The new batch is yet to enrol.
Star power: Ghai says Yuvvraaj will appeal to NRIs as well as small-town India. Abhijit Bhatlekar / MintIt’s the day after Ghai is through with his finishing touches to Yuvvraaj, his new film. In the foyer of the dome-like structure, some second-year students operate a film camera perched on an artificial track. Some mill around the green campus, smoking and talking. I catch snatches of their conversations while waiting for Ghai to come out of a long meeting—the topics range from intricacies of the Ariflex camera to Salman Khan to Barack Obama.
This place should be a wellspring of talent, a launch pad for new faces. After all, the man at the helm, labelled Bollywood’s “showman” decades ago, has a seasoned eye—he catapulted Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala, Mahima Chowdhury and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to superstardom, a fact he still carefully reiterates.
On the top-most floor of Whistling Woods, Ghai has an office and a lounge with an attached room for his personal use. The door simply says “SG”. And he is surrounded by young men and women, his assistants and students, purposefully going about their business with “SG”.
The pre-release euphoria around Yuvvraaj is not palpable among his retinue of young office assistants. The director himself, who turned 69 in October, qualifies the film in carefully chosen words. It might well be a part of his publicity strategy this time around, since Ghai’s last successful film was Taal (1999). “I am a man in need of a hit,” he says. “I’ve kept my earlier mistakes in mind and have unlearnt certain things. This is a film that should appeal to the young and old, NRIs and small-town India.” He adds at the end of a long introduction to Yuvvraaj—where he also says, “Look for the presentation rather than the story, as you should in most of my films”—that this Salman Khan-starrer may not become a big hit, but it will be a “big film”.
An assessment of Ghai’s work, spanning 38 years and 17 films, 13 of which have been box office hits, can’t ignore his obsession with “big”. A lover of outdoor locales, grand shots and big stars, Ghai has never shied away from exploring the thrilling scale and sweep of a 35mm camera.

Karz (1980), Hero (1983), Ram Lakhan (1989), Saudagar (1991), Khalnayak (1993), Pardes (1997) and Taal (1999)—all these films bear the unmistakable Subhash Ghai stamp. Stylistic eloquence over strong storylines and tight scripts—a norm that most Hindi commercial films pretty much followed during the 1980s upto the early 2000s. In that sense, Ghai is one of the biggest catalysts of the way “Bollywood” is perceived by the world. The director considers that a compliment. “I am from a generation of film-makers that made films for posterity, to shape film ethos and sensibility. I just can’t relate to the makers of, say, Welcome or Singh is Kinng, where the goal is to make as much money as possible in two weeks. Tell me, who is going to remember Singh is Kinng 10 years from now?” Going by another logic, who, indeed, will remember Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadri in Hero, prancing around hilly shrubs, singing “Ding dong, Oh baby sing a song”? Absurd setting, incredulous situation, even today’s film-lovers would say. But Ghai does manage to convince me that Hero is indeed a “big” film. “That’s why you remember the song,” he says.
Yuvvraaj, made with a budget of more than Rs30 crore, is set in Prague and Vienna. It is the story of a musician in a symphony orchestra, in love with a cello player (Katrina Kaif). He has to marry her in 40 days, and he has to become a millionaire before that. His brothers refuse to help him. The film rides on the protagonists’s struggles, which he overcomes to marry his lover and live happily ever after. This could be any Bollywood staple, except that here, A.R. Rahman collaborates with Gulzar for its music, recorded live with orchestra musicians. “Look what Subhash Ghai did with Taal. It is one of my favourite albums. I was very happy to write for a Ghai film,” Gulzar says.
A man somewhat at odds with the turn of the tide in Indian cinema in the last 10 years, Ghai says he has explored his strengths in Yuvvraaj and yet not lost sight of the zeitgeist. “When I first came in the early 1970s, I had to match the standards of senior film-makers. Now, I have to match that of the young sensibility. That’s where I went wrong with Kisna (2005). I told the story of a young man of the 1920s and expected his predicament to be understood by today’s generation.” In Black and White (2008), Ghai’s last film, set in old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, he took up the story of a fidayeen terrorist. The film is a comment on the nature of modern day terrorism. A flop at the box office, the best part of this small-budget film is the way Ghai captures Chandni Chowk—the multitude of people, colour and history, shot in many hues and breathtaking top-angle shots. Expect a similar cinematic flourish in Yuvvraaj.
The film’s promotions began airing on TV earlier this month and picked up momentum in the last two weeks, as with most films today. But Ghai says that modern-day promotional aggression is a part of showbiz that he is not yet comfortable with. “We are in the game, so we have to be aggressive,” says Ghai, “but Mukta Arts is run on a safe business model. We don’t take risks or pay inflated fees to stars. I will never bend over to market dynamics to promote a film.” In 2000, Mukta Arts became the first Indian film production company to go public. One more reason Ghai is desperate for Yuvvraaj to work—“You know what it’s like to be a public listed company these days.”
Meanwhile, he has hired 14 graduates from Whistling Woods’ first batch, and waits for a talent pool to emerge out of Mukta Arts. Last year, Ghai announced that he is ready to pay Rs1 crore to anyone who comes to him with a good script. That perfect story is yet to come his way.
Yuvvraaj releases in theatres on 21 November
Karz (1980) Echoing Bimal Roy’s ‘Madhumati’ (1958), adapted in 2007 as ‘Om Shanti Om’ and remade in 2008 as ‘Karzzz’ , this was Subhash Ghai’s first big hit. Who can forget that electronic- disco hit ‘Om Shanti Om’, performed on a stage resembling a giant gramaphone record?

Hero (1983) This love story was Jackie Shroff’s launch film. The violent climax, hummable and very successful music made it a box office success. Ghai also promoted Shroff’s launch through teaser ads on TV, unheard of then.
Saudagar (1991) Ghai’s first and only successful saga film starred legend Dilip Kumar and spanned three generations. The painfully long film was a kitschy brew of friendship, revenge, love, murder and scandal.
Khalnayak (1993) Ghai’s only controversial film. First, he portrayed a gangster and political criminal as “today’s youth”. Lead actor Sanjay Dutt’s real life became its epilogue when he was arrested for involvement in the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993. Second, an obscenity case was filed against the song, ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’ , which BBC called the song that “had all of India hot under the collar”.
Taal (1999) Ghai’s last hit was a love triangle with Aishwarya Rai. It had over-the-top costumes, stylized choreography, arresting music and beautiful locales. Rai’s career began rolling after this film.

Art - A.R.Rehman's Dream - KM Music Conservatory (V.G.Read)

Samanth Subramanian

The heart of the KM Music Conservatory in Chennai is a large, quite bare room on its first floor. There’s a couch lurking by one wall, and a smattering of chairs, but the room’s focus is a piano floating off-centre. On or near this piano, the Conservatory’s students rehearse through the day, the music flowing up and into the building’s arteries—its air-conditioning ducts—like warm, life-giving blood.
Sitting in a little office off that central room, Joshua Pollock hears the music and smiles. “It’s like that almost all day,” he says. “I’ll walk by at 9pm and I’ll see people playing, or helping each other out. I’ve never seen anything like it in the West.”
Pollock is the Conservatory’s violin instructor, one of the six startlingly young, freshly graduated teachers who have been recruited from music schools overseas to fulfil a long-harboured yen of A. R. Rahman. “To start a conservatory like this has been his dream for close to 10 years now,” says V. Selvakumar, managing director of the KM Music Conservatory (what the initials “KM” stand for is Rahman’s own secret. “He won’t even tell me!” Selvakumar says).
The Conservatory aims to offer (for the first time in India, its brochure claims) training courses of collegiate intensity in not only Western classical music but also in music technology and audio engineering—which is where Selvakumar comes in.

For five years, Selvakumar has owned and operated Audio Media Education, India’s first Apple-authorized training centre for digital music production. When I first meet him, he has just finished teaching a 2-hour class in an impressively equipped studio. Just outside the classroom, in a non-air-conditioned lobby, he proceeds to light and rapidly smoke four cigarettes in a row.
“People today still think that it’s risky to be a professional musician, so there’s very little advanced training available at a wide level,” Selvakumar says. “The Trinity College courses are there, but only up to a level that students in the West attain even while they’re in school.”
As a result of that, and also because of the increasingly electronic nature of most compositions, Rahman sensed a decline in the quality of live music. “Every good violinist around today, for example, is from his dad’s generation,” Selvakumar says.
“The culture of the classical orchestra has declined in India. Maybe Zubin Mehta could have revived it, but he has orchestras abroad,” Rahman says. “People have started thinking that the synthesizer can take over for the orchestra. But that’s just not true.”
It seems like an odd observation from Rahman, the man who pushed Indian film music into the electronic age, and who once said that the electronic synthesizer was his favourite instrument. His scores are characteristically as layered as bebinca, with a dozen different sounds baked seamlessly together in the oven of technology.

Indeed, Rahman’s own global fame rests very much on his capacity to create music that merges Indian and international influences without compromising on quality—fusion that sounds organic and natural, rather than contrived and slapdash. And that ability, Selvakumar says, comes from Rahman’s strong classical foundation, the sort of foundation that many musicians lack today and that Rahman wants to provide at the Conservatory.
Jyoti Nair Belliappa, the Conservatory’s administrative officer, reads an even longer-term goal into the establishment. “His main desire is to create a full-fledged symphony orchestra here in Chennai, with his own musicians,” she says. “So, for instance, we’re encouraging students to take up the violin, because you’ll need at least 24 violinists for that kind of orchestra.”
The lack of an Indian symphony orchestra has hit Rahman every time he has needed to travel abroad, to London or Prague, to record a film score. “Even Iraq has an orchestra!” he exclaims. “I’d always think: ‘Why can’t this happen in India?’ But being an introverted composer, I thought I should just do my job and somebody else would start one.”
Nobody did, of course. “I kept hearing rumours—that a corporate house was starting an orchestra, that kind of thing,” Rahman says. “Then, when nothing happened, I decided to give it a go myself.” By his estimate, KM Music should be able to produce the core of a full-fledged orchestra in three years.
Considering what a longstanding dream it was, the Conservatory seems to have gotten off the ground solely in a monumental spurt of adrenalin. In the first few days of 2008, Rahman and Selvakumar began seriously discussing the idea of this institution. “Everybody said we’d need at least two years of planning,” Selvakumar says. “But if Rahman wants something, he wants it now.”
Barely a couple of days later, on 6 January—Rahman’s birthday—a press release was drawn up. Seven months later, the first batch of students—48 full-time, 50 part-time—began their foundation year, which can be followed by a three-year bachelor’s degree. Every one of them was auditioned; one girl even sang over the phone. “There had to be a challenge, after all,” Selvakumar says, grinning. But certain challenges become easier if you are A. R. Rahman. Temporarily, the Conservatory lives today on various floors of two buildings owned by Rahman, a couple of streets away from his studio complex in Kodambakkam. The bigger of the buildings, renovated just a month-and-a-half ago, has a large classroom on each of the three levels, with little hutch-like practice rooms scrunched off to one side.
All investment in the KM Music Conservatory—equipment, hiring, the upcoming development of a larger, permanent campus—is Rahman’s as well. Rahman himself will not teach much; rather, he will hover over the institution as its benign founder-principal. “He comes around now and then,” says Shasta Ellenbogen, a faculty member. “He was at the Faculty House the other day, to watch television with us. He’s almost absurdly normal for somebody who’s so famous.”

Every member of the faculty joined the Conservatory, Selvakumar says, solely because of Rahman’s reputation and influence. But that isn’t entirely apparent at first. Perhaps because of the breathless clip at which the Conservatory was conceptualized and set up, the faculty consists largely of graduating students from other music schools, running a narrow gamut of ages from 20 to 27, all looking for interesting opportunities.
“If I hadn’t come here, I’d probably have been holding down some sort of boring job, like being a receptionist at a dentist’s office, and doing auditions on the side,” says Kavitha Baliga, who graduated with an MA in vocal performance only a few months ago from the Boston Conservatory. “This is a dream for someone coming out of college, to teach immediately like this.”
But Michael Lindsey, the 22-year-old, ear-ringed drum instructor at the Conservatory, points out that being a fresh graduate doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of teaching experience. Even when he was working towards a BA in musical performance at DePaul University in Chicago, Lindsey taught private students on the side. “I’ve taught, in one form or another, for six years now, and that’s true of a lot of others here.”
Rahman has a more irreverent way of saying the same thing. “These guys have been learning music since they were nine or 10 years old, or even before that,” he says. Then, with a grin, “Really, they’re as good as the oldies.”
Maybe it’s just as well, though, that the focus of the first year’s curriculum revolves so much around a basic concept: the Western notation. “I learnt to read notation before I learnt to read words,” Baliga says. “I can’t imagine being at this age and learning it from scratch. It’s very difficult.”
But it has to be done. Ellenbogen, the 20-year-old viola instructor, observes that Indian classical music emphasizes the aural over all else. “The kids here, they’re all great at memorizing a piece, or picking it out by ear, so they don’t see the need to read,” she says. “It’s like they have to learn this new language by immersion.”
The teachers are all on 10-month contracts, and most plan on staying for two years, but Pollock sees KM Music’s dream as an evolving organism. “To fulfil the goals of this school, it’ll take a generation or two,” he says. “But I’m so interested in seeing how Western classical music will take root in this environment. It won’t survive unless people make it their own in some way. I want to see how that will happen.”

Michael Lindsey
‘I’d applied anyway for grant money to study at the University of Madras. But then this came along’
A lot of people think that percussion consists of just banging on drums,” Michael Lindsey says. But there are subtleties, and Lindsey is teaching them at KM Music to students of both the Western drum kit as well as Indian percussion instruments such as the tabla and the mridangam.
Lindsey came to Chennai first in December 2006, when he was 20, to study the tabla and Carnatic music. At the time, he was halfway through his undergraduate degree in music performance at De Paul University in the US. “When I was wrapping up my degree, I’d applied anyway for grant money to study at the University of Madras,” he says. “But then this came along.”

Lindsey got in touch with Rahman through a friend’s friend in the beginning of May, and they proceeded to email each other back and forth for three months before Lindsey was told that he had the job.
One of the youngest teachers at the Conservatory, Lindsey is a lanky young man with a full head of curly hair and multiple earrings. He sees himself staying in India for “probably two years or so. Then I’ll head back to the US for my master’s degree”.
At KM Music, Lindsey has five students, three of whom have played the mridangam before. “But none of them have the classic drumming technique, so I’ve had to teach that first,” he says. “They can play along fine with Carnatic music, so it’s just a matter of transferring that skill to Western notation.”

Joshua Pollock
‘When I mentioned I was coming here, there was like a snowball effect’
I n London earlier this year, Joshua Pollock stepped out of the Underground and found that his cellphone had registered a missed call. “I called back, and it turned out to be A. R. Rahman,” Pollock says. “He was calling to ask if I’d come over to his house to talk about my teaching position.”
Pollock is 29, and for the last three years he has been “agonizing” about how he could build a life in India. “I visited here in 2005, and I loved it so much that for the first time I was insecure about what I wanted and how I could get it,” he says. When he found a press release online, announcing the launch of KM Music, he sent in his CV and recordings. And then he sat back and waited for Rahman to call.
Originally from Maine, US, Pollock completed a double master’s in music and musical performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. “When I mentioned I was coming here, there was like a snowball effect,” he says. “More people applied, and another person actually signed on. People can often be afraid of exploring new frontiers, but when somebody else is doing it, that makes it easier.”
Pollock is a performer at heart, which may make his move to India—with its still-nascent circuit for Western classical performances—a little difficult to understand. “But you know, ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to teach the violin and perform,” he says. “Where I did that wasn’t so important.”

Alison Maggart
‘In 17 years, I’ve never gone this long without playing...’
In their move to India, the other teachers at KM Music had it easy—either they brought their instruments with them, or they picked up new ones in Chennai. But that isn’t quite as straightforward when your instrument is a whacking great harp.
Ten days after arriving in Chennai, Alison Maggart’s hands were positively itching. “In 17 years, I’d never gone this long without playing, and it proved really hard,” she says. A harp was ordered from a company in the US, and until it got there, Maggart had to sit on her hands. “I borrowed a Celtic harp, a small one, from somebody here, but it just wasn’t the same

Maggart, 22, graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, where she studied for a liberal arts degree with a specialization in music. “The syllabus included some classes in film studies, so I had heard of A. R. Rahman, and heard some of his film scores,” she says.
When Maggart applied for a music fellowship after college, one of her interviewers, Cleveland Johnson of De Paul University, suggested that she might want to apply to the KM Music Conservatory as well. The application took a while. “My family’s really conservative, so I needed all the details lined up perfectly, like where I’d stay and so on,” she says.
Teaching the harp is only a part of Maggart’s profile. She also assists Rahman in his studio, and she is pitching to take a class on the history of listening as well. “Students here are very often not used to the sound of Western classical music,” she says. “I’d want them to learn why a particular piece of music is good, and frame that discussion in a cultural context. I think that’s a very important part of the overall process.”

Robert Koolstra
‘It was exactly what we wanted’
W hen he was a boy and just beginning to learn the organ, Robert Koolstra’s teacher set down a difficult score one day and challenged him to play it. “It took me two weeks,” he remembers. “But I did it, and the challenge made it interesting for me. It motivated me to learn.”
Koolstra, 29, is now translating that approach into his own teaching at the KM Music Conservatory, where he heads the western classical music department and gives piano, harpsichord and composition lessons. “When we began teaching notation here, we realized that it’s hard to find a book that makes notation interesting for adults,” Koolstra says. “So because we had to make it fun, we graduated from the basic text to a much more difficult book. The students got a kick out of being challenged that way.”
Koolstra, originally from the Netherlands, came to KM Music from London’s Guildhall School, where he majored in harpsichord performance at the postgraduate level. His classmate—and now his colleague—Joshua Pollock had pointed out an emerging conservatory in India, and Koolstra was hooked right away.
Keeping his performance skills alive, Koolstra often flies to Europe to give concerts, fitting in his recitals between lessons at KM Music. It is important, he says, for students to have teachers who perform, and can bequeath that particular wisdom to their wards as well.
“You know, Joshua and I had spoken so often about how we wanted to be part of a new school, where we’d have some say about what to teach and how to teach it,” Koolstra says. “We’d even talked about founding our own school some day, so when we heard about this, it was exactly what we wanted.”

Shasta Ellenbogen
‘Western classical music has become one giant cliché in the West’
It wasn’t so much that India drew Shasta Ellenbogen as that Europe drove her away. After two years at the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music and a third at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ellenbogen began to find Europe, in a word, boring
“It all began to feel like variations on the same theme,” she says, the musical allegory quite unintentional. Then, more emphatically: “In Europe or the US, I would have been one among a mess of viola players. Then it gets to be about whose bum you kissed. I’m not one to play at that game. Western classical music has become one giant cliché in the West.”
Resemblances to a world-weary veteran notwithstanding, Ellenbogen is only 20. At KM Music, she is part of a team that teaches music theory, and she has two viola students taking individual lessons from her. “The viola isn’t very popular in India as yet, but that’s part of what KM Music is trying to do, to change the infrastructure and the way people learn.”
Her biggest teaching challenge thus far, she says, has been to get her students to think “in a Western sort of way”. “I just had a long talk with them yesterday, to explain how music was a discipline, just like being a doctor or a lawyer,” Ellenbogen says. “They have to think of it in a more analytical, bap-bap-bap sort of way” and here she forcefully karate-chops the side of one hand on her other palm three times, for effect.
But isn’t music just as much of a discipline in India as it is in the West? “I don’t think it is as regimented,” Ellenbogen says. “That’s not in their mentality. It’s still a little too airy-fairy for me.”

Kavita Baliga
‘I’d done a concert with the guitarist Prasanna...and later I found out he’d submitted my name for a faculty position’
Some of the teachers at KM Music went through many months of applications and correspondence before they landed their positions. Kavita Baliga did it in 10 days.
“At some point, I’d done a concert with the guitarist Prasanna, which was so much fun, and later I found out he’d submitted my name to K. Selvakumar for a faculty position,” she says. “It happened so fast that, within a week-and-a-half, I was here.”
Baliga, at the time, was a newly-minted graduate of the Boston Conservatory, where she got her MA in vocal performance. Being the only imported teacher of Indian origin, Baliga admits that the Rahman name was a big draw. “I grew up listening to him,” she says. “His music was always such a big part of the Indian community in the US.”
Only when she arrived at KM Music did she realize the scale of the task. “Some of the students hadn’t heard any sort of Western classical music at all before, and many of them found it difficult to depart from the Indian techniques they’d learnt.” Baliga then plunged into an intensive four-day-per-week schedule, teaching big classes but also conducting the choir and giving one-on-one voice lessons.
Baliga revels in the freedom she’s been given to frame her own syllabus. “I thought I’d start, in the first year, with some early Baroque English music before moving on to Italian or French, because it’s easier to start with a language you already know,” she says. “Right now, though, it’s still basic exercises and notation and approaches to practice. They need to learn that first.”

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;The left hasn't got it right

They had to wait two decades but the good ladies and gentlemen of the Left are finally guffawing with delight. At the end of the 1980s, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union seemed ready to break up, most of us looked at the collapse of communism with bemusement.

Was this really the end? Had the great edifice on which the principal conflicts of the post-war world been constructed really been demolished overnight? Certainly, it seemed that way. In country after country, communist parties were thrust aside as the people eagerly grasped consumerism instead.
Even those countries that still claimed to be communist—China, for example—embraced the market with a determined enthusiasm. Socialist parties across Europe quickly changed course to follow more pro-market policies—the rise of New Labour in Britain in the 1990s was just one example of this trend.
As communism fell into disrepute, the Left licked its wounds. It could hardly hold up poor bankrupt Cuba or mad old North Korea as examples of the people’s paradises that Karl Marx had desired. So, young people who would once have been drawn to the Left now flocked to other anti-establishment causes, with the environment being the most popular.
Until now, that is.
As global capitalism faces its deepest crisis for nearly a full century, the Left is smiling again. Some old communists are even going so far as to suggest that the slide of many Western economies into recession is on par with the late-1980s collapse of communism. Our system may have failed, they are saying. But then, so has yours.

Others, especially those in India, argue that the Left has saved us from the worst excesses of the market. Had it not been for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, it is being said, Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram would have allowed foreign banks to buy up to 76% of our banks. And then, as the foreign banks failed, ours would have followed suit.
I have been told: “All of you in the media cursed us when we opposed the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for globalization, but actually we saved India.” In fact, the communists add, the only reason we have not been sucked into a global depression is because the CPM protected the Indian economy from foreigners.
The Left in India is more vocal than elsewhere but the same sort of idea crops up all over the world. Take the US presidential election. John McCain’s popularity bounced up after the Republican convention and he was actually a few points ahead of Barack Obama. Then, the economic meltdown occurred and America turned Left. Anybody who was associated with the free market policies that had led to the current mess suddenly lost credibility and McCain’s popularity duly dipped, setting the stage for Obama’s victory.
In England, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was regarded as a goner till the economic crisis hit. Then, the soaring popularity of David Cameron and his Conservative Party plateaued and Brits began to wonder whether it made sense to support the party of the free market when it was the free market that caused this crash. As a consequence, Brown’s ratings have gone up again.
So, what does all this mean?
Is it the case that we are rediscovering virtues in the leftist ideologies we once discarded? Is capitalism in some kind of terminal decline? Will we now be suspicious of any political party that advocates free enterprise?
My guess is that the Left is celebrating prematurely. In all that I have heard people say over the last month or so, I have not detected the slightest trace of any nostalgia for state ownership, a planned economy or any of the other policies associated with Marxism. As badly off as we are, nobody thinks we would be better off under communism.
In India, the CPM is taking too much credit. Manmohan Singh has spent his life as a civil servant in regulation-minded administrations. He has seen the Indian economy from both sides, as the government’s chief economist in the licence-quota-permit raj era and as the finance minister who introduced the reforms. The measures he had suggested were never as dramatic as the Left makes out and even if they had been implemented, India would have been in no serious danger today.
But it is foolish to deny that even if we have no nostalgia for socialism, people all over the world are more suspicious of the market today than at any time in the last three decades.
However, this is not because they have given up on capitalism and want communism. Rather, it is because they have come to question two claims advanced for the free market. One: Were international markets ever really as free as marketers made out? All too often—and especially these days—it seems as though they were fixed to benefit the rich, the influential, the people with insider knowledge and those with contacts at the expense of the poor, the un-connected and those on the outside.
And two: What constitutes a fair market anyway? We were told that companies were within their rights to sack employees in the interests of their shareholders because this is how capitalism works. But now, when shareholders face a loss of value—as in the case of the Wall Street banks—they quickly go running to the government asking for a bailout. Why is it okay for employees to be victims of market economics but not okay for shareholders to see the value of their assets destroyed by market economics?
To use an Indian example, both Kingfisher and Jet initially argued that market economics allowed them to sack employees when profits were down. But when they went to the government asking for a rescue package, they were faced with the obvious question: Why should the government keep your airlines alive if you think it’s okay to terminate the jobs of thousands of ordinary people? Why should the market work against the employees but cease to apply to airline bosses? Those who live by the sword…
So pay no attention to the gloats of the Left; their laughter is hollow. But be sure of this: The old free market model is dead. And we need to construct a new one.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt;No place to hide (G.Read)

They say that some things are too strange to be anything else but real. So we can all debate whether it is life that is imitating art or the other way around, but the elaborate and intricate set of revelations that trail every terror attack in India leave one breathless.

This time, we are being told, that a woman ascetic on a motorcycle collaborated with a serving Army officer and possibly a mahant from Jammu, to set off retributive bombs in Maharashtra. Not just that; the police now say they may have had a role to play in the bombs that went off on the Samjhauta Express and killed 66 Indians and Pakistanis on the Lahore-bound train. In 2007, when the peace train was attacked, security analysts had blamed terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. These new allegations, if proven, will not just be embarrassing diplomatically (can’t you just see the headlines across the border?); they will challenge our very sense of self as a nation.

But will we ever really get to know the truth? Or will this investigation also get entrapped in a maze of incomprehensible detail and then inevitably fade from public focus? Will competitive politics yet again obscure the facts and leave us only with contradictory rhetoric? If the Jamia Nagar encounter — that apparently killed the men responsible for all the serial blasts last year — was devoured by the politics of denial within the UPA, the Malegaon whodunit has sections of the NDA apoplectic. And isn’t it serendipitous how the protests in either case tie in perfectly with the vote banks our politicians imagine are being targeted? So, depending on your point of view, or rather, your brand of politics, questioning the police in one case is a travesty and in the other, entirely legitimate. The rest of us — cynical and bewildered — no longer know what to believe or question. In our understanding of India, everything is just as likely true as it is false.

Perhaps, even more disturbing, than the new and easy religious tagging of terror, is the implication of a soldier in the case. We can believe that the military is capable of excesses, even brutality and violations, especially while serving in conflict zones. But never before has there even been a hint of shadow on its innate secularism. The word itself — secularism — may have become disputed, politicised, ambiguous and impossible to define. But in its most common sense and simple application, the fauj is secular. It’s the reason why when communal clashes go out of control, India often turns to the army to restore sanity. The charges against Lt. Colonel Purohit go against the very grain of what the army stands for. So, if the army believes he is innocent, it should be aggressive and unabashed in his defence. And if it believe the allegations are true, it should swiftly make an example of him. In this case, it’s tough to understand the Army’s reticence and its unwillingness go beyond public assurances of cooperating with the investigations, while privately seething. If the army has a point of view, it needs to express it without fear or favour. Because, the scary suggestion that the lines between nationalism and terrorism may have blurred, even in a single, isolated incident, is enough reason for a pluralist country to worry about itself.

In fact, I don’t want to sound like a dreary doomsday type, but these are really depressing times. Terrorism tails us like a shadow and whether you label it ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’, the truth is that either way the enemy now lies within. Our most cosmopolitan city is diminishing in both spirit and spunk and is suddenly debating whether it has room for ‘outsiders.’ We can get all worked up over a racist slur about Sikhs made by a BBC radio host in Britain. But at least Sam Mason was sacked for suggesting that a turbaned taxi driver would frighten her daughter. That’s more action than we have managed to take against Raj Thackeray who has led the violent hate campaign against north Indian migrant workers. It would have been much simpler if one were able to dismiss his party as the loony fringe. But you can’t do that anymore because the sad truth is that whether it’s the Congress, the Shiv Sena or the NCP, there isn’t a politician in Maharashtra who has a fundamentally different position on the ‘Marathi first’ motto. The old political distinctions between centrist and right-wing have come to mean less and less.

Our Christian minorities have been under attack and foreign Heads of State get to question us about them. But our government can’t take a clear position on groups like the Bajrang Dal that openly perpetuate violence, because that would first require it to take a clear position on fundamentalist outfits like Students Islamic Movement of India. And that it can’t or won’t do because of the arithmetic of political survival. Naxal violence is now an everyday fact that unfolds far away from a disinterested media. If that weren’t enough, our MPs in Tamil Nadu are openly championing the cause of the LTTE, which assassinated the leader of the party they are now in alliance with. And finally, you can’t hide any of this behind the great growth story anymore. The global recession has hit where it hurts and the great economic boom can no longer disguise or soothe our other wounds.

It’s fashionable to say that India’s evolving democracy has emerged out of its chaos and thrives on it as well. Maybe so, but the fissures pulling at our faultlines these days go well beyond benign confusion. Perhaps like the Sensex, this is a cycle in which the good times will return. But for now, there is a simmering anger just beneath the surface that could crack us open. If we don’t watch it, India could implode.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;Good things to the Raj times

When I submitted a collection of articles written by English men and women, compiled by me over 30 years ago to Penguin-Viking under the title Sahibs who Loved India, I hoped it would make the top of non-fiction best-sellers list. It did not. Besides Lord Meghnad Desai’s favourable notice in Outlook, it only got a few patronising paragraphs in other journals. Lord Desai is a Britisher and a friend. I expected him to be kind to me. I was disappointed as I felt strongly that our historians had painted a negative picture of British Raj without giving it credit for its positive contribution to the making of India. They have a lot to say about the rapacity of men like Clive & Warren Hastings, about the diabolical massacre of innocents at Jallianwala Bagh, their racist arrogance, ‘Whites only Clubs’ and keeping their distance from Indians and the nasty things they had to say about everything Indian. However, there was the other side of the coin. Let me draw your attention to some of its salient features.

The British Raj made us conscious of being Indian. We were Punjabis, Awadhis, Biharis, Bengalis, Oriyas Andhras, Tamils, Malayalis, Maharashtrians, Rajputs — also Hindu, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. We remained all these but also became Indians. All of us had one passport — Indian.

The British built us telegraph, connected our cities by roads, railways, laid networks of canals, dams to produce hydro-electricity. They started the process of industrialisation. They also introduced democratic institutions like municipalities, states and Central legislatures. During the British rule, there was more respect for the law. There were fewer riots, bandhs, and gheraos; blocking roads and rail traffic, burning buses and trains. Smashing of cars etc. was little heard of. There was less corruption. Rarely did English officers indulge in bribery. Now it is rare to find an honest, civil servant who can’t be bribed. Ask any Indian of my generation and he will confirm that life and property were safer in British times than in India today.

Comparison with Princely States is pertinent. Most ruling princes lived in huge palaces, had fleets of Rolls Royces, amassed jewellery, maintained harems of wives and concubines, squandered public money lavishly. Not even the Viceroys of India lived in the styles of our maharajas and nawabs.

Many Englishmen supported India’s freedom movement. The founder of Indian National Congress was an Englishman, A.O.Hume; Mahatma Gandhi’s closest disciple was an English woman, Mira Ben. Amongst his closest associates were Reverend C.F. Andrews and Polak. Two Englishmen were involved in the Meerut Conspiracy case to put an end to the Raj. There were dozens of other English journalists, civil servants, Boxwallahs who lent active support to our freedom movement. The British did not divide us to rule, as is often alleged by nationalist historians. Maulana Mohammed Ali was right in holding ‘We divide and they rule.” The British did not break up India when they left, they did their best to keep it together. It was our leaders who split it as they failed to get on with each other. The British left the country with good graces. They did not have to be pushed out as other European colonists like the French, Dutch & Portuguese. That is why many Indians have nostalgic memories of the Raj.

And finally, lots of English people went out of their way to befriend Indians. I was lucky in knowing quite a few and felt I should do my bit in knowing quite a few of them and my bit in setting the record right. I am an unashamed Anglo-phile.

Food - Honey Facts

Jigna Padhiar

Honey, that magic, translucent potion, is now available in different flavours. The one that’s gaining popularity is the unifloral variety— nectar gathered by bees from a single kind of flower.

Some of the other flavoured kinds available are:

Jambhul: thick consistency, dark amber, slightly bitter, strong flavour, this one is the best antibacterial honey among the unifloral variety.

Karvi (Carvia / Collosa): one of the most expensive in the market, this one is purplish because it is made from Karvi flowers. It’s one of the most sought after, because the Karvi flowers bloom once in eight years. This one cures stomach ailments.

Leechi: a light coloured, creamy honey with a distinctive leechi flavour, this one is produced in Muzzafurpur’s Terrai lands.

Mahua and Palash: dark amber, this one comes from central India. Strong and sweet with an earthy flavour, it has subtle floral hints and is often used in Darjeeling iced tea.

Cashew: smooth, pungent, mildly intoxicating, it’s produced in cashew farms along the Arabian ocean coastline.

Golden Arita: valued for its medicinal properties, it is made from Arita flowers which grow in the forests of south India. It is a golden liquid with a pleasant aroma and a rose after taste.

Other flavours that could be the next attractions include ajwain, jamun, apple blossom, neem, coconut, sunflower, coffee, cotton, cardamom, kher, karanji, walnut and saffron.

Khadi Gram Udyog is a must-visit for flavoured honey. Vijaya Pastala set up Under the Mango Tree in Colaba last December. It sells organic products including unifloral honey.

Pastala says, “Most people do not differentiate between different kinds of honey because they are not aware that honey is available in different flavours.”

Pastala says that honey can be made from any seasonal flower. The new flavours she has introduced this season are sesame, mustard and bajra.

India - Maya's moving in to Kashmir

Peerzada Ashiq

As the journalists sought the views of Dalit families in the tiny village market, one boy rushed back into the row of homes, and emerged holding the hand of another.

"He is a Massi," Abu, 10, said of his 11-year-old friend Aji as they stood before a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wall graffiti in Painthal village near Katra. He was referring to Masha, a lower caste in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a state where separatism and regional issues run deep, there is a new kid on the block in the upcoming elections in the state: caste politics. The assertion of caste identities is percolating down to many villages and Mayawati's BSP has added a new dimension to the elections.

Posters and wall writing by the BSP dot the mountain roads across the region here, even in remote areas. Inviting people to join it and vote for it, the party has painted even roadside rocks next to milestones on the dusty road stretch from Udhampur to Doda.

"The other parties have failed to eradicate poverty and unemployment in the state. It is because of this that the youth switched from the ballot to bullets," said Bhagwan Singh Chauhan, the state coordinator for BSP.

"We will raise the basic issues – bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads, water) – and, of
course, caste is a factor -- we shall be raising the issues of the downtrodden," Chauhan said. Mayawati held a huge public rally in Jammu last November.

For the first time, the BSP is contesting from all the 87 seats in the state in the upcoming elections, even in the Buddhist-dominated Ladakh. The party has handpicked candidates across castes and religions. Though the party contested from 33 seats the last time, it failed to win any.

Dalits have hubs across the Jammu province. There are four major sects of Dalits here -- Ram Dassi, Meg, Doom and Masha. Of them, Ram Dassis, who have joined Radha Swami sect, are economically better-off.

"They prospered because Ram Dassis gave up flesh and wine and focused on education," said Painthal resident S D Nirmohi, 72, a retired professor and author of several books on Jammu society. "They are doctors, engineers and senior administrative officers."

The BSP is drawing support in Painthal among upper caste people as well.

"She (Mayawati) is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and intends to rule the country," said shopkeeper Sunny Khajuria who has Mayawati's posters with local leaders on his shop façade. He is quick to add: "She doesn't have a huge vote base here."

Unlike Dalits living in other parts of the country, the community has not faced widespread discrimination in the Jammu province. Upper caste boys play with lower caste counterparts in Painthal on the same ground, study in the same school and share food.

"There is nothing like that. God is equal to all," said Jai Kishan, a Brahmin priest from a local temple.

"Mayawati treated everybody equally and taught us to treat all equally," said Kishan, sitting at a shop owned by a Dalit. "She taught us to treat Dalits as brothers."

Entertainment Columnist -Vir Sanghvi reviews Quantum of Solace

I have a confession to make. Though nearly everybody else in the world thought that Casino Royale was the greatest James Bond movie of all time, I thought it was massively over-rated. Nor did I buy the line that the series had gone back to the spirit of the Ian Fleming books or that Daniel Craig’s Bond was a throwback to the glory days of Sean Connery.

And one more thing: though many Bond fans have hated the new movie, Quantum of Solace and it has received mixed reviews, I loved it.

It’s a far, far better picture than Casino Royale.

Okay, now let’s go over all the above, step by step, shall we?

First, why didn’t I think Casino Royale was so hot?

Well, because judged purely as a film, it was too long, over-bloated and did not really hold together at all. Its various bits seemed a little like different episodes of a TV show (or a whole bunch of TV shows, actually) rather than a coherent movie.

Second, why did everybody else love it so much?

Well, largely because the James Bond series is caught in a mysterious phantom zone where it has to keep crossing the lines of time. There are people who like the sex and snobbery. They love it when Bond beds a woman and purr with delight when he orders caviar (both of which he did in a totally gratuitous scene in Casino Royale). There are others who like the idea of a dinner-jacketed Bond at the card table — remember, in the Roger Moore days, the classic photo had Bond with bow-tie and gun — and sure enough, Casino Royale had loads of all that.

But these traditional Bond movie elements seem a little incomplete in an era where James Bond seems like the grandad of two new JBs — Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer. The success of the Bourne movies has blasted the Bond franchise out of the box office listings and the producers clearly felt the need to appeal to a new audience that liked stripped-down spy movies with laconic heroes. And 24, in which Jack Bauer is the accident-prone hero, had shown them that even on TV, lots of gratuitous violence, murder and torture are what really works.

So Casino Royale was really The Bond Identity or The Bond Ultimatum. It took the character and some of the things he carried with him (the sex, the high-living, the suits etc.) and placed them in a fast-action, jump-cut kind of Jason Bourne world.

That’s why it had so many different elements and that’s why it never really held together.

But it did please everyone: fans of Bond and fans of Bourne included.

Third, why didn’t I think that Casino Royale either captured the spirit of the Sean Connery movies or the Bond of the Fleming books?

Well, because people who spout all this nonsense have a) forgotten (or never seen) the Connery movies and b) never bothered to read the Fleming books (fair enough: they have not aged well).

It is now part of mythology that all the elements we laugh at in the Bond series were added when Roger Moore took over the role. This is nonsense. All of them were in the Connery movies.

The single best Bond movie Connery ever made, From Russia With Love, was full of gadgets — a whole briefcase worth of them. The tradition of the Mao-suited villain with a massive lair is pure Connery-Bond, right from the first movie, Dr No, to Ken Adam’s influential set for the climax of You Only Live Twice. The nonsense about fine wine is Connery-Bond too — at the end of Diamonds Are Forever, he unmasks an assassin when the hit-man fails to realise that Mouton Rothschild is a claret.

The only real difference between Connery’s Bond and the ones that followed (Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan etc.) was that Connery seemed capable of cruelty and real violence (not the pretend variety). In that sense, yes, Daniel Craig is in the Connery mould. But that’s about it.

As for all this crap about how Fleming would have hated Roger Moore and had wanted a tough guy to play Bond, the truth is that Moore was a candidate for the role before Connery was selected — and this had Fleming’s approval. Fleming was horrified by the choice of Connery and his own candidates for the role were people like Cary Grant, Richard Burton and David Niven — hardly tough guys or action men.

And finally, why do I like Quantum of Solace?

Well, mainly because it holds together. It is a (largely) coherent movie that shows us a single Bond, not a character who is composite of Bond through the ages.

There’s hardly any sex (one needless scene), no snobbery, no vodka-martinis shaken not stirred (he has his cocktail with gin), no gadgets (no instant revival-from-death kit in his car), very little high living, no caricature villain who bleeds from his eyes and no big climax.

It does have a Bourne-like editing style so the action can be a little jarring if not downright confusing and the screenwriters have taken on board Bourne director Paul Greengrass’s prejudices so the CIA is on the side of the bad guys in Quantum of Solace. But these obvious borrowings do not detract from the movie’s appeal. And the nods to previous Bond movies (the desert walk from The Spy Who Loved Me and the Shirley Eaton-style death scene that references Goldfinger, for instance) are subtly done.

It’s a dark, largely sensible movie and it even passes the one test that no Bond film has for twenty years: if the character was called Joe Smith and had none of the Bond trademarks, would you still be interested in the movie?

I reckon you would. And you should.

Books - Nandan Nilekani's Imagining India to debut on 24th November

Rajeshwari Sharma

New Delhi: Nandan Nilekani, normally unflappable, lost his cool when he was asked in an interview why he was becoming an author. What do you have left to prove? Are you playing at being an author?
“What do you mean?” Nilekani, co-founder and co-chairman of software maker Infosys Technologies Ltd, had retorted in the interview he gave for a profile published in the 2 August edition of Lounge. “I have worked hard on this. Every single idea in that book is mine. I am going out on a limb here; opening myself up to criticism; people I don’t know can take potshots at me.”
Nilekani’s much anticipated book, Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, will be launched on 24 November in New Delhi, and in his hometown Bangalore three days later, followed by other Indian cities, including Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. The book will also be released in the US and elsewhere in 2009.
Imagining India will also mark the India debut of Penguin Books Ltd’s non-fiction imprint Allen Lane, named after the publisher’s founder. The list of authors published under the label include economists Amartya Sen, Thomas Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz; journalist Malcolm Gladwell, American film-maker Michael Moore and biologist Richard Dawkins.
“It’s a definitive book on India,” says Penguin Books’ India managing editor Udayan Mitra on Nilekani’s debut offering. “It’s the kind of book that has an international appeal. Nilekani has been in the forefront of IT revolution in India and is one of the most recognized faces globally”.
Imagining India is divided into four parts: The first dwells on topics, including globalization, India’s demographic advantage, the changing role of the entrepreneur and technology. The second is about the infrastructural challenges and the third looks at issues such as conflicting political ideologies, labour reform and higher education. The last section deals with democracy and technology, health, pensions and entitlements, the environment and energy.
The first 150-200 pages chart Indian history from the Indus Valley Civilization to British colonial rule to the present day.
“There is a slew of books on India’s future that make Indians feel good; they inculcate an air of self-congratulation,” said historian-author Ramachandra Guha, a longtime friend of Nilekani, who was one of the first to see a draft of the book. “Nandan’s book makes you think and introspect about India’s future.”
“It is a very well-written, carefully argued book,” Guha added. “He has accurately identified the problems and faultlines, and suggested solutions. Of course, anyone reading it won’t agree with it 100%, but will (nevertheless) be stimulated, provoked and informed.”
Guha said he himself doesn’t share Nilekani’s optimism because “by temperament, I am more sceptical” as historians usually tend to be.
Penguin is betting big on Imagining India. Though the publisher isn’t disclosing the precise number of copies it is printing, the book will have the biggest print run this year for a book by the publisher, says Mitra. The last biggest print for Penguin this year has been 25,000 copies, but Mitra declined to name the book.
In the next nine months, the Allen Lane imprint’s line-up in India will include former presidents A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and K.R. Narayanan, Infosys co-founder and chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy and author-activist Arundhati Roy.
Other non-fiction imprints available in India include Little, Brown and Co. and Weidenfeld and Nicolson from Hachette, Knopf from Random House and Fourth Estate from HarperCollins Publishers.
“Imprint strategy is a recent thing in India and it’s to be seen how many imprints can be spun out successfully here,” says Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette India, part of Paris-based publishing group Hachette Livre SA.
Imprints help publishers focus on a “particular genre and certain kinds of books”, says Yogesh Sharma, general manager for sales and operations at HarperCollins Publishers India Ltd. “But at the end of the day, it is the author which really matters”, Sharma says, adding: “Readers really do not care who publishes (pulp fiction author) Sidney Sheldon.”
Penguin plans to put a major effort into promoting Imagining India over the next several months, including a six-city tour by Nilekani, tie-ups with mobile service providers and a website ( to engage readers in a discussion on India. It also plans a separate marketing strategy for academic institutions and says it is in talks with a coffee chain for specifically reaching out to young people.

Entertainment - India;Star & Jupiter form JV to tap South Indian market

New Delhi: News Corp’s Star India Pvt. Ltd and Bangalore-based entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrasekhar have teamed up in southern India’s media and entertainment market.
Star India said on Friday it had formed a joint venture (JV) with Chandrasekhar’s media and entertainment company, Jupiter Entertainment Ventures Pvt. Ltd.
Growth plans: Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Jupiter Entertainment is looking at buying an English news channel and a regional newspaper. While Star will hold a majority stake in the venture, named Star Jupiter Entertainment Television Ltd (Star Jupiter), the venture will also pick up a majority stake in Chandrasekhar’s Asianet Communications Ltd (ACL).
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
ACL runs general entertainment channels in Kannada (Suvarna), Telugu (Sitara) and Malayalam (Asianet, Asianet Plus). Chandrasekhar will continue to run his news ventures, which include news channels in Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil, under Jupiter Entertainment. Indian laws do not allow foreign entities to hold more than 26% stake in news and current affairs ventures. Hence, the news venture has been retained under Jupiter Entertainment, fully owned by Chandrasekhar.
A Jupiter executive said the company was also looking at acquiring a national English news channel and a regional newspaper. “We are in talks with some existing national news channels and aim to acquire a leading running channel soon,” claimed K. Sanjay Prabhu of Jupiter Ventures.
For Star, the deal replaces its partnership with content producer Balaji Telefilms Ltd, under which the duo had announced the launch of several regional channels primarily focusing on the south India market. Star’s existing channel in Tamil Nadu, called Vijay TV, will now be part of the new JV.
“South India represents the next big growth story for Indian television. With this strategic partnership, we should be able to capture this growth opportunity,” said Uday Shankar, chief executive officer, Star India, in a statement.
News Corp. also owns ‘The Wall Street Journal’, which has an exclusive content partnership in India with Mint.

World - Frictions on joint recovery plan

Vaiju Naravane

The European Union’s position on the Washington financial summit differs from that adopted by emerging economies and Washington under George Bush.

On November 7, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at an informal European summit specifically called to prepare for the G-2O meeting that the European Union “should adopt a common position” on reforming the world’s financial system. Brave words. For even as Europe tried hard to work out a joint proposal to take to Washington this week-end, fresh frictions emerged between the two giants of the Euro zone – France and Germany, on whether a joint Eu ropean recovery plan is desirable, feasible or possible.

European solidarity also appeared brittle over exactly how far European nations should and could go to coordinate their efforts to reverse the current situation; and this with the backdrop of Germany, Europe’s powerhouse, officially slipping into recession. For the moment at least, European solidarity and commitment to unity appears to be paper thin.

Ever since the crisis broke this summer, Mr. Sarkozy has been striding up and down the world stage at his hyper-active best, calling meeting after meeting to meet the worst financial and economic challenge the world has faced since 1929. It was at his insistence that President Bush agreed to hold this week-end’s G-20 meeting. In scores of inflamed speeches, Mr. Sarkozy has spoken of a “great opportunity” to abandon the “hateful practices” of the past. “We cannot continue along the same lines because the same problems will trigger the same disasters … we must reform capitalism so that the most efficient system ever created doesn’t destroy its own foundations,” he said recently.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, President Sarkozy who holds the organisation’s rotating six-month presidency, has led calls for a broad overhaul of global finance, prescribing a stiff dose of tougher regulation to fix the system’s ills. European leaders would like to see the International Monetary Fund turned into the lead agency for spotting emerging financial problems, and taking action to stop them spreading.

They also want big emerging economies such as China and Saudi Arabia brought into the system and encouraged to spend their vast cash reserves to help alleviate the crisis. Europe’s leaders want to see more regulation of the financial services industry. No sector is to be left unregulated or without supervision and that includes offshore financial havens. Another key objective is a code of conduct to control pay and bonuses in the financial sector. Governments want to shift reward away from short-term fast profit operations, towards long-term, real value creation

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said EU leaders had reached a ‘pretty detailed common position’ which they will be taking to Washington.

However, several countries in Europe expressed their displeasure at what they see as a hijacking of the situation by the EU’s big three, Britain, France and Germany. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Stockholm for one had “a number of objections” to a series of proposals France is touting as Europe’s contribution to the Washington summit, arguing in particular that “there is too much regulation.”

“It is very easy to be in such a rush to show leadership that one forgets to correctly and thoroughly analyse” the situation, Reinfeldt said. “These are very complex questions regarding how to globally work with different kinds of regulation.”

Eager for the Washington summit to be more than just a talking shop, the EU’s French presidency also wants it to be followed up with concrete proposals in the ensuing 100 days.

France and Italy are, generally speaking, far more positively inclined toward state intervention in the economy than England or even Germany. Thus, while some EU states may see the financial crisis as an occasion for governments to rein in unbridled market capitalism, others are more likely to view it as a problem to be overcome while preserving the basics of the current system.

In addition to the differing positions adopted by individual states, societies themselves, whether in Britain, the Netherlands, France, Spain Germany or Italy are sharply divided on the best course of action to follow. Left wing economists like Frenchman Alain Fitoussi feel that the response to the financial crisis should go far beyond emergency cash infusions. “There are opportunities for the left to iron out some of the social differences that plague our societies, to put it on a more egalitarian footing. This moment should be seized to change that.”

His words find echo in controversial Swiss polemicist Jean Zeigler who has sharply criticised the West with “playing with the lives” of the very poor in the developing world while enriching themselves.

But others see this as a power grabbing move by governments in the market place where they should not be present at all. “Some governments are actually quite keen to exploit the precedent that has been set to re-establish a more … interventionist industrial or economic policy,” Simon Tilford, chief economist at the London-based think tank, Centre for European Reform, said in an interview.

The Europeans’ gung-ho attitude contrasts sharply with that of Washington and the cautious, wait-and-see approach adopted by emerging nations. Many observers feel the summit will achieve little or nothing and end up being yet another talk shop essentially because President Bush has been reluctant to examine any new reform proposals and because President-elect Barak Obama has chosen not to attend.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said no concrete solutions or decisions should be expected from the summit. The goal was “to start identifying ... the underlying causes of the financial crisis,” she said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto minimised the odds that G-20 leaders could agree, for instance, on new regulations on complex securities, such as the mortgage-backed instruments that have unhinged global credit markets. Instead, the leaders are expected to name working groups that, over the coming months, are to make recommendations on overhauling various areas of the financial system.

“It’s inconceivable that leaders...could sit down and deal with those in a weekend summit,” Mr. Fratto said. “What they can do, which is really important, is set the principles that will guide those discussions that we want to speed up.” Mr. Fratto said it will take time to develop solutions. “The last thing you want are rash decisions that lead to unintended consequences that the world isn’t prepared for,” he said.

China and the oil-rich OPEC states have reacted cautiously to European calls that their foreign exchange reserves be used to bolster the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) core financial structure. However, no EU leader has suggested power sharing reforms to go with such largesse and this has several emerging economies bristling. The IMF chief is and will continue to be European and the World Bank chief will be an American unless emerging economies can successfully bargain for change with a weakened West.

The big emerging countries that have become the main pillars of world economic growth will certainly seek to push their way into positions of power at the rich nations’ club. Brazil, Russia, India and China — the so-called BRIC countries — are determined to have their new heavyweight status recognised by the Group of Seven advanced countries, and win a say in directing the planet’s economic affairs.

The demand by the BRICs was partially conceded by the main industrialised countries at a preparatory G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in Sao Paulo last week. The group agreed that the IMF and other institutions formed from the 1944 Bretton Woods accord “must be comprehensively reformed so that they can more adequately reflect changing economic weights in the world economy.” The U.S. representative at that meeting, David McCormick, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, said Washington has long backed giving emerging countries more say in the IMF and the World Bank.

The summit, he said, “will be an opportunity for a very focused discussion among the world leaders on the global financial market crisis, and it will lay the groundwork toward making important regulatory changes.” But so far no concrete moves for change have been made or even envisaged by the West.