Jan 31, 2009

Travel - 48 weeks, 30 must-visits

Sumana Mukherjee

Forty-eight weeks left in the year, and that includes at least three weeks of vacation. Where will you holiday? Exclusive Top 10 extracts from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009 (formerly Lonely Planet Bluelist)—which lists 850 trends, destinations, journeys and experiences—narrow it down for you and tell you why these 30 destinations are must-visits.

• Algeria
Peace. For most Algerians, the simple pleasures the rest of us take for granted…feel like being able to breathe again.
• Bangladesh
A revelation that actually leaves India looking a little worse for wear.
• Canada
Winter or summer, Canada is a land of action, with an insane amount of terrain to play on.
• Georgia
A fascinating culture, a realm where the welcome is spontaneous, where the landscape is breathtaking, and where travel is still a challenge…
• Greenland
Out-of-this-world scenery, iceberg-filled fjords and mesmerising pure light…the experience is worth every penny.
• Kyrgyzstan
The country that your inner nomad has secretly been dreaming about all these years.
• Oman
The difference here is that the words of welcome, the spirit of religious tolerance, the preservation of the past…are the real deal.
• Peru
(Try) falling asleep in a hammock as you float away down the Amazon, waking up just in time to catch (the) dawn over the world’s second-longest river.
• Rwanda
The tough terrain will be nothing more than a distant memory once you find yourself face to face with a 200kg silverback.
• Sierra Leone
We know what you’re thinking. Blood Diamonds. Child soldiers. Summary amputations. But that was then…
• Basque country, France and Spain
It’s a country that’s so complicated its borders are marked on no maps.
• Bay of Fires, Tasmania, Australia
The secret edge of Tasmania, laid out like a pirate’s treasure map.
• The islands of Chiloé, Chile
This misty archipelago with splendid emerald curves is the distilled, 80-proof version of traditional Chile.
• Hawai’i (The Big Island), Hawaii
This oversized, “hang loose, brah” place has all the necessary tropical delights (plus lava-spewing volcanoes!), and it’s less crowded and less expensive.
• Ko Tao, Thailand
…tiny Tao sure knows how to pack it in—there’s something for everyone, and nothing is in moderation.
• Languedoc, France
Spiky interior versus coastal plain; deep chestnut forests against vast rolling vineyards; fisherfolk and shepherds…
• Nam Ha National Protected Area, Laos
Die-hard adventurers can tackle leeches and thigh-destroying slopes on a true jungle trek.
• San Andrés and Providencia, Colombia
Clamber up to the hammock swaying over the sea and soak it all in.
• Svalbard, Norway
“Cold coast” in Norwegian, this is Europe’s most northerly landmass and the planet’s northernmost permanently inhabited spot.
• Yunnan, China
Yunnan is China distilled into one superlative province and offers more variety than any other place in China. Period.

• Antwerp, Belgium
There’s much more to this city than the world’s best variety of beer.
• Beirut, Lebanon
Despite its weakness for all that’s new and swanky, Beirut’s not entirely about the hottest, priciest and glitziest.
• Chicago, USA
If you want your finger on America’s pulse, don’t head to New York or LA. The heart beats in Chicago.
• Glasgow, Scotland
Forget about castles, kilts, bagpipes and tartan—you come to Glasgow for the cocktails, cuisine and designer chic (plus the legendary native wit).
• Lisbon, Portugal
While a lesser girl would have developed bags under her eyes after all this partying, Lisbon has simply become better with age.
• Mexico City, Mexico
Crossing the street in Mexico City plays out like a scene from Death Race 2000. No kidding.
• São Paulo, Brazil
Once typecast as the bad-boy city of crime and pollution, São Paulo has reinvented itself in recent years, emerging as Brazil’s cultural behemoth.
• Shanghai, China
Racy architecture, charming side streets and European verve meet the clamour and energy of the Chinese.
• Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw still has its work cut out to become a world-class capital…but any visitor willing to spend some time here will find its energy and vibe infectious.
• Zürich, Switzerland
This is one city that definitely changes its face after dark. That’s when the pinstripe brigade yields the streets to glam bar-hoppers and clubbers…

Fashion - Playing the field

A velvet jacket with Swarovski detailing, a double-breasted denim jacket, a corduroy mini skirt, a trendy knit tie, a pinstriped shirt, a neon green belt studded with diamantés and pink ballerinas. It’s not just the high street that’s street-smart. You can now hit Adidas, Puma, Reebok, Lacoste and Nike stores for fashion apparel and accessories.
Lacoste has a range of formal shirts and jackets for men and women, besides trousers, jeans and ties. The Nike Sportswear (NSW) range consists of sports-inspired fashion products with prints, embroidery and more than a little bit of bling. Shelves at Puma are lined with sunglasses, belts in neon colours with chunky crystal buckles, gold clutches, comic strip-printed handbags, ballerinas and metallic sneakers. Their sports lifestyle collection is not to be worn on the field, of course.

In fact, the brand’s strategy for the Indian market is to concentrate on sports lifestyle rather than hard-core sporting equipment. “It gives us an edge over other sports brands,” says Rajiv Mehta, managing director, Puma Sports India Pvt. Ltd. Internationally, the brand has tied up with designer Alexander McQueen for a fashion line.
Sportswear has made its way out of the gym bag and into the wardrobe, and there seem to be quite a few takers for the collaboration between fashion and sports. Actor Amrita Arora’s wardrobe is dominated by brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Lululemon Athletica and Juicy Couture. She isn’t a sports enthusiast and these clothes don’t make her look like one either. It’s the “sporty chic” look that she loves. Arora wears workout tops with jeans and heels for outings with friends. “They’re made for workouts, so they hold the body together and give you a good shape,” she says. She loves the sporty, colourful apparel by Lululemon Athletica, a Canadian brand. At filmi events, she’s been seen in Juicy Couture tracksuits, sometimes even pairing black track pants with a shirt and boots. “It’s comfortable and so cool,” she says.
If hip hop stars are the penultimate in cool, then Adidas has got the formula right with its line of apparel and accessories in association with musician Missy Elliot, called “Respect M.E.”. It has Elliot’s trademark style, with rap star bling. The line sells in Adidas Originals stores worldwide and in cities such as New Delhi, Chandigarh and Bangalore. “We launched the Originals lifestyle brand at the Munich Olympics in 1972, inspired by the sports stars of the time. The line caught on so well that shoes and apparel which were seen on the field in the 1970s are now seen in music videos, movies and on celebrities at clubs and rock shows,” says Tushar Goculdas, director, marketing and sales, Adidas India.
Actor Deepika Padukone likes to wear short dresses with metallic sneakers and hoodies with three-fourth trousers, while actor Malaika Arora Khan shares her sister’s love for tracksuits. Model Nina Manuel slips on her black Puma dress with orange and white boots from the Missy Elliot line to party with friends. Or she pairs shorts and stockings with a purple halter top from Puma. “If I’m going to a bar and don’t want to dress formally, these clothes are perfect,” she says.
Fashion labels are getting sportier too. Boss Hugo Boss launched its brand Boss Green in India last year to complement its Boss Black range of formal wear. “It’s a collection for those who do business at the golf course. They wanted a choice of luxury sportswear, which wasn’t available at all,” says Harish Chandra, brand manager, Boss Hugo Boss, India. The look is simple and informal with golf T-shirts, trousers, jerseys, jackets and shoes. “Those who earlier would wear blazers to after-work parties have now switched to golf wear,” he says.
Designer Narendra Kumar’s collections for men have always had a sporty edge but his collection for Spring/Summer 2009 at Lakme Fashion Week in October 2008, took it a step further. The entire line was inspired by sportswear with formal track pants, cropped cabin jackets and denims.
India first saw a fashion-sport tie-up in 2005 when Reebok was given a psychedelic makeover by designer Manish Arora, with shoes in bright colours such as orange, pink, red, blue and silver, topped with Swarovski and sequins and also activewear under the label Fish Fry for Reebok. “The concept of high fashion meeting mainstream everyday clothing is very exciting. My experience has been fantastic and gives me the chance to explore a very different market segment,” he says. According to Arora, this trend is very big in the West and will go the same way in India. “There is a big workout culture developing all over the country and this trend is really thriving on that,” he adds.
Designer Gaurav Gupta suggests wearing Arora’s bright shoes with a short jersey dress or shorts and stockings. Gupta’s latest collection also has sporty undercurrents with jersey drapes, sweatshirts and sequinned hoodies. But he warns that it’s not a look everyone can carry and should definitely not be overdone. His tip: Accessorize sportswear with gold/silver costume jewellery. Opt for metallic and patent leather in sports shoes, but try to avoid those outdated Converse sneakers.
The next time you’re shopping for a night out, you know where to look

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;Does life after death exist?

It is now clear that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks were fidayeen or suicide soldiers. They came to Mumbai certain that they would not go back and were happy to give up their lives for their jehadi cause.
What makes a man set out on a suicide mission? In some cases, it is desperation. The kamikaze pilots of World War II flew to their deaths in a last ditch effort to prevent Japan’s humiliating defeat. The Sri Lankan Tamils have often lost everything and see no purpose in continuing to live.
But the jehadi suicide attackers—the ones who attacked the World Trade Center and those who stormed Mumbai—are often men who face no particular deprivation and who do not emerge from desperate circumstances.
They do it for religion. They are told that if they die in the service of Islam, they will go to paradise where they will enjoy the favours of innumerable virgins (one good reason for any woman not to die a virgin, I guess) and other pleasures of the flesh.
The key to their motivation is the belief that what happens in this brief life doesn’t really matter. It is the hereafter that counts. So one’s actions in this life must be geared towards ensuring happiness in the next one.
It sounds odd and bizarre when placed in this context—heaven must be a truly dreadful place if all these suicide bombers land up there for their orgies—but it is a concept that most religions share.
In Christianity, actions in this life decide whether you go to heaven or hell. In Hinduism, the soul survives and is reborn, till it is finally freed of the endless cycle of life and death. Buddhism is also big on reincarnation. And so on.
So, take away the concept of life after death—whether in heaven, hell or another body—and most religions collapse. Because prophets cannot ensure justice in this bitterly unfair world, they promise it in the next.
Except: Is there another world? Is there really life after death? And crucially, is there any such thing as the soul, which exists independently of the body?
These are questions that have bedevilled philosophy, science and theology for centuries. The hard, mechanistic scientific view of existence is that our consciousness is contained in the 1.3kg bag of tissue and water that we call the brain. When the brain dies, so do we. Nothing survives.
If you take this view to its logical conclusion then human beings are no more than machines. Advanced, remarkably sophisticated machines, perhaps. But machines, nevertheless. Every action is the result of how our programming reacts to various inputs. If we are programmed (genetically perhaps) to be emotional then we will cry in a given situation. Others who are programmed to be less emotional will not cry in the same situation.
This is the current scientific consensus and it has huge implications for society. The basis of all morality—and therefore, of law—is that human beings have free will. When confronted with a situation, we can choose how to react. If you do something bad to me, it is within my power to decide whether to assault you/kill you/ shout at you/forget about it/forgive you/etc.
But if my reactions have already been determined by my programming, then I really have no free will at all. I will do whatever I am programmed to do. Of course, the programming is a mixture of genetics and conditioning and experiences so it evolves over time.
But here’s the thing: I have no choice in the matter.
Once you take away my free will, I have no responsibility for my actions. And if that is true, then morality collapses. How can you blame somebody for something he has no control over?
The free will vs determinism debate is nearly as old as moral philosophy itself but it has been sharpened over the last decade by advances in science. Neuroscientists are now convinced that there is no evidence of the mind (a great philosophical construct of the last two centuries) or of any consciousness independent of the brain. When the brain dies, so do we. No soul survives. Nobody gets to deflower virgins in paradise.
Many scientists and doctors are religious people and are unwilling to accept the proposition that there is no soul and therefore no afterlife and probably no God. They fall back on what are known as near-death experiences (NDE).
NDEs began to be talked about after Raymond Moody published his book Life After Life in 1975. Moody reported that people who had been declared clinically dead but then revived and brought back to life all reported the same phenomenon: a feeling of floating in the air, looking down at their bodies and drifting towards a tunnel of light, sometimes with Jesus in attendance.
These days, hospitals revive something like 15% of all cardiac arrest victims who have flatlined so we have many accounts of NDEs. And they are all remarkably similar if you allow for cultural variations: Hindus may see Ram rather than Jesus near the tunnel of light.
If these are accurate, then there is indeed life after death. More crucially, a human being is not just a machine. There is a consciousness—a soul, even—that survives physical death.
Put it another way: The scientific survival of religion and morality may well depend on the validity of NDEs.
The trouble is that all the NDE accounts are anecdotes. And many scientists say the phenomenon is one that occurs naturally when the brain is shutting down—it is all inside the patient’s head, not near a tunnel of light.
According to Brian Appleyard in The Sunday Times (London), a research team is now placing pictures near ceilings at hospitals. If NDE accounts are accurate and souls do float upwards, then those who are revived should be able to recall what was on the pictures.
It doesn’t sound like a perfect study. But it represents one interesting attempt by science to take NDEs seriously.
And to tell us whether suicide bombers are wasting their time

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;Let's celebrate quality

Few terms are as misused—and therefore, as meaningless—as luxury. Ask anybody in the so-called luxury business for a definition of luxury and you will see them grope for answers. Each year, at the Hindustan Times (HT) Luxury Conference, I ask executives of so-called luxury brands what luxury means to them and the answers are so vague and confusing that the term seems nearly devoid of all meaning these days.
And yet, on the other hand, it is not. Everywhere you go, they talk about luxury. And if the term was so meaningless, why do we have so many conferences devoted to it? Why do so many magazines claim to cater to the “luxury” segment? And why, in this century more than any other, is the word used in so many different contexts?
The short answer to all of those questions is that luxury does have a specific meaning. But it is a commercial meaning and one that luxury marketers are reluctant to share with the general public.

In business terms, luxury means “brand value”. Let’s take a specific example. Make two identical handbags at a cost of say, $50 (around Rs2,500) each. Given how retail mark-ups work, you should be able to sell them in the shops at say, $200 each

Now, put a famous designer label on one and leave the other unbranded. The unbranded bag will still find buyers at $200 but the designer bag will fly off the shelves at $600 (most top designer labels have mark-ups that ensure that a bag’s cost is around one-twelfth or one-fifteenth of the selling price).
In the commercial world, that’s called luxury: when you can flog something for a price vastly in excess of its manufacturing cost only because it has been branded.
You could argue that this is a definition of branding, not of luxury, but the truth is that luxury has simply become a matter of branding. At the very first HT Luxury Conference, I chaired a session with the head of one of the world’s leading “luxury” conglomerates. One of his labels had recently lost a charismatic designer, a man whose creative vision had been credited with turning the company around.
I asked the conglomerate boss if he missed that creative fire in the company. Why was it, I asked, that relatively few people had heard of the designer’s successors or had been given a chance to understand their philosophies of design. The executive—who had previously worked in the ice-cream business with great distinction—was clear. It was about the label, not the designer or his or her creative vision. It was the brand that had to ensure the premium. So forget all that stuff about quality, design, passion etc. Modern luxury was about the premium.

This philosophy has emerged out of the global prosperity of the last decade. Suddenly, people had more money than ever before. They wanted to trade up in every area of their lives. Some shifts were easy; if you previously travelled by train, you now flew; if you flew economy, you now flew club; if you had a small flat, you moved to a bigger one; if you lived in Dadar, you moved to Malabar Hill, etc.
But others were more complicated. If you wore glasses, then how were you to trade up? Well, you bought more expensive frames. They might not actually look much better or cost much more to make but if they had a designer label attached to them, then they were premium products (ironically, no designer makes his own spectacle range: they all license their names to industrial conglomerates which turn out glasses by the millions and then slap designer names on them).
Take the most notorious instance of the boom in bogus luxury, the designer handbag. It has now reached a stage where it is almost unthinkable for a middle class (let alone upper middle class) woman in much of the world to carry a bag that does not have a designer label of some sort. At the top end, bags are hideously overpriced (Rs3 lakh or more is not uncommon) but even entry-level bags sell at a huge mark-up.
What is luxurious about these bags? They are made in vast quantities (hundreds of thousands) in factories all over the world. They are easy to buy (unless you are in Tokyo where Louis Vuitton makes hapless customers line up to enter their shops—but then, the Japanese love that!) and sold in hundreds of cities.
Yet, when people talk about the luxury market, bags are always an important component. Estimates of how the luxury business is faring usually make reference to Louis Vuitton. And when we look at the profits of the luxury fashion houses, we find that the largest contributor to the bottom line is the accessory (i.e. handbags) segment.
If the global recession continues—and it’s a terrible thing to say but I think it will—then the mass-market kind of luxury where insecure people are required to pay vast premiums for labels is almost certain to shrink. This is not to say that somebody who carries a Prada bag will suddenly go downmarket, only that somebody who used to buy three new bags a year may now be content with only one in the new circumstances.
Figures suggest that retail sales are down this autumn and most luxury houses are scaling their profit forecasts down. The years of unbridled growth are clearly over.
So, is this the end of the luxury boom? Well, actually no. I think that the downturn offers an opportunity to pause and to reassess our attitudes to luxury. Branded luxury has become a gigantic confidence trick. So it’s time to move away from it and look for genuine luxury.
How you define genuine luxury depends on you. But here’s my definition. Genuine luxury must be about craftsmanship, about quality and about personal choice. Why wear Calvin Klein’s name on your bum when you can go out and find a pair of jeans that really flatters your figure, even if nobody has heard of the manufacturer? Why pay Rs3 lakh for a mass-produced handbag when you can get a traditional craftsman to make you a nice piece of jewellery for less than that? And the jewellery is sustainable luxury. It won’t be overtaken next year by a new trend.

Once you move away from the tyranny of labels, you find that you actually have much more money to spend. Almost everything you buy will cost one-third its designer equivalent. The money you save can now be spent on genuine luxury. I’ve written before about how appalled I am by Indians who buy factory-made men’s shoes for Rs60,000 and more when it is possible to get a traditional cobbler to hand stitch a bespoke pair of shoes for you for Rs4,000.
In my definition of luxury—because personal choice is such an important component—anything that has become the rage or is currently at the height of fashion is automatically excluded. To wear the same clothes as everybody else because you are told they’re fashionable is neither luxury nor a style statement. The only statement it does make is that you have no style of your own.
I always think that genuine luxury hotels are a good example of how luxury works. In the hotel business, the super deluxe hotels—the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Orientals, the Ritz Carltons, etc.—do not necessarily look very different, at least on the outside, from the Hyatts and the Sheratons. But the luxury is reflected in the service, in the sense of being pampered, in the attention to detail, in the planning of the room and in the quality of every single element and ingredient used in the hotel.
Kurt Wachtveitl, the legendary general manager of Bangkok’s Oriental hotel always says that genuine luxury is about dreams and possibilities. When he sells the Oriental, he doesn’t just sell the location or the history. He sells the dream of a place that is so luxurious that all things are possible and nothing is ever considered impossible.
How different is that from the mad rush to buy the latest car or the newest It bag? True luxury must involve people, it must flow from a craftsman’s talents, from an artist’s imagination, from a chef’s passion or from a hotelier’s vision. These days, alas, luxury is about spending large amounts of money to promote industrial products, about hyping the new collections in fashion magazines that survive on advertising and about creating a bogus snob value.
If the recession helps draw that era to a close, I will celebrate by dancing in the streets. Let’s tell the marketers and the conglomerates where to get off. Let’s celebrate quality, instead. Because that’s real luxury. And it is sustainable.

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;When the movie script rewrote the book

Can anybody explain to me just what the hell is going on with the collected works of Robert Ludlum? You remember Ludlum, of course? He’s the guy who churned out those very thick airport best-sellers in the late 1970s and the 1980s.
The books were notable for their titles: each included a proper noun followed by a simple one. Thus we had The Chancellor Manuscript, The Matarese Circle, The Holcroft Covenant and more including, most famously, The Bourne Identity.
I used to read Ludlum in the 1980s. The books were page-turners. He had a certain flair for describing action. And the novels made long-haul flights more bearable.

But never did I think that Ludlum would be remembered. The basic problem was that all his plots were remarkably similar. It always came down to a shadowy secret group of villains who put our hero (and though the heroes changed with each book, they were all cut from the same cloth) in danger so grave that it took him 500 pages to escape.
And yet, seven years after Ludlum died, the industry lives on. There are faux-Ludlum novels, licensed by his estate, written by such authors as Erik Van Lustbader. There are new editions of the books that Ludlum did actually write himself. Two new movies, one starring Denzel Washington and the other with Leonardo DiCaprio, are under production.
And last month, the Ludlum estate sold the movie rights for the entire catalogue to Universal Pictures for a figure that is officially undisclosed but could work out to hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.
What is going on? How did this master of the chunky airport best-seller turn into such a hot property years after he died?
You probably know the answer.
Jason Bourne.
I remember The Bourne Identity when it first came out. Even Time magazine which, in common with the rest of the media, had been scornful of Ludlum’s output, had to concede that this was a better book than most.
The plot was inventive (by Ludlum standards, at least). A fishing vessel pulls a man out of the water. He is wounded and has lost his memory. All he has is a number tattooed on to his body.

The rest of the novel consisted of the wounded man’s efforts to find out his real identity (hence, the title) and to discover who had shot him. At first, it seems that he is called Jason Bourne. But this turns out to be an alias. He is actually an assassin assigned by the US government to find the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal.
When the book was written, Carlos was still at large, so we knew that Bourne would not kill him in the end. But it was daring for somebody as firmly rooted in conspiracy fantasy as Ludlum to actually include a real-life character in one of his books. Being Ludlum, he turned this into a bit of a conspiracy as well. It is suggested that Carlos lives in Paris under a secret identity and Bourne tries to work out who he really is.
The Bourne Identity sold well and a few years later, Ludlum broke with precedent to use the character in a second novel. When that was also a best-seller, he wrote a third Bourne novel.
Hollywood had never been as keen on Ludlum as it was on say, Frederick Forsythe so The Bourne Identity did not became a movie. Instead, it became a TV mini-series with Richard Chamberlain (a journeyman actor whose finest moment came in the 1960s as Dr Kildare on TV) which met with some success at the time but which is largely forgotten now (I can’t even find it on DVD).
Then, for decades: nothing. Ludlum collaborated on a TV show and wrote a few more books but it was generally agreed that his moment had passed.
In 2000, I read that The Bourne Identity was being made into a movie. I was intrigued. Why would anybody dredge up that old novel? The world had changed immeasurably in the two decades since the book came out. For one, there was no Carlos any longer. A French undercover team had invaded his West Asian hideaway and captured him. He was now lodged in a Paris jail. And no, he had never had a secret identity and lived undercover as Ludlum had posited.
Then, the movie came out (Ludlum died while it was being filmed) and I was startled by how different it was from the book. Only the basic plot outline (the amnesia) remained and there was no mention of Carlos and there were no secret societies. Even Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was nothing like the character Ludlum had described. In effect, they had reinvented the whole franchise while keeping its name.
The Bourne Identity did record business and Damon came on board for two more movies (there were three Ludlum Bourne books) though they switched directors to the edgier and more politically left-wing Paul Greengrass.
The second film (The Bourne Supremacy) had nothing to do with the book at all, and nor did the third (The Bourne Ultimatum). The details of Jason Bourne’s life (his wife, for instance, who appears in the books) were completely altered.
But it worked. It may not have been Ludlum’s Jason Bourne up there on the screen but the movie rewrote the rules for screen action. Even the producers of the James Bond series replaced the suave Pierce Brosnan with the edgier Daniel Craig in an effort to be more Bourne-like. It was not lost on them that the three Bourne films made over a billion dollars—much more than the last three Brosnan-Bond movies.
Which brings us back to the Robert Ludlum revival. Given the size of the deal that the estate has struck with Universal, we are going to be bombarded with Ludlum movies over the next few years.
But here’s my question: Will they really be based on the books? Because if they are, they’ll seem dated and flop. On the other hand, if they are completely rewritten (as the Bourne films were), then why bother to buy the books?
I guess we’ll find out.

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;The elusive clout of media barons

I ran into Rajat Sharma, anchor and effective proprietor of India TV, the other night. Rajat is one of the pioneers of Hindi news journalism but when he started his own channel a few years ago, he found that the going was tough. At one stage, he said, the situation was so desperate that the channel had no money to pay salaries and he and his wife had to dispose of personal assets to pay his staff.

India TV is now doing well—it is currently the No. 1 Hindi news channel in the country—and the profits are rolling in. But Rajat says that he is astonished by the enthusiasm of some new entrants in an industry where it is so difficult to make any money at all—and so easy to go bust.
He says that he keeps running into people who say they want to enter the media or start a TV news channel because they believe it will give them clout and influence. He has told them that it is a hard, largely unprofitable grind and that all talk of media clout is rubbish. He runs a successful channel but he does not believe that his clout has increased because of India TV. Nor does he believe that anybody who owns a TV channel has gained in influence because of the channel.
I thought about what he had said and decided he was probably right. There has never been any shortage of rich people who are dying to enter the media because they believe that ownership of a newspaper or a channel gives them power and influence.

And yet, it is hard to think of anybody who has become powerful on the basis of media ownership. On the other hand, I can think of many rich people who have been burnt by their enthusiasm for the media. In the 1980s, Vijaypat Singhania started The Indian Post, a Bombay newspaper. Not only did it make no difference to the clout of the JK empire, but it actually backfired on Vijaypat. Satish Sharma, who was then a powerful man, blamed him for every negative article that appeared and forced him to sack his editor. Eventually, the newspaper closed down.
In the 1990s, the late L.M. Thapar’s passion for newspapers led him to make vast investments in The Pioneer, which launched a much-feted Delhi edition. Not only did the paper fail to make any money but it did nothing for Thapar’s clout. Eventually, the Thapars sold it to Chandan Mitra who is doing a much better job of running it.
Most celebrated of all is the case of Dhirubhai Ambani who bought the Sunday Observer from Ashwin Shah of Jaico and launched a daily paper called The Business and Political Observer. The Sunday Observer was successful in its Jaico avatar but it never worked as an Ambani operation. The daily paper was an embarrassment and far from adding to Reliance’s clout, it actually became a liability for the Ambanis.
In recent times, the focus has shifted to television. Many industrialists believe that ownership of a TV channel will ensure that ministers and bureaucrats will kowtow to them. In fact, not one businessman has been able to launch a top-class channel no matter how much money has been blown up. In the days when Subroto Roy was flush with funds he imagined that his Sahara TV empire would top the ratings because of the vast amounts he spent on programming. In fact, the channels never did particularly well. And when Sahara’s fortunes changed after the fall of the NDA government, the so-called clout of the TV empire was shown to be illusory as Roy struggled with adversity.
My sense is that ownership of a TV channel can actually be a problem, rather than an advantage. For many years, I was associated with the Star TV network. At the time, Star had a terrific news channel and for part of this period, the No. 1 entertainment channel. But I never had the sense that Star had any clout at all. Every minister and bureaucrat would push Star around. One chief executive was threatened with legal action and possible imprisonment. Licences were routinely denied. Uplinking was always a problem. And the government acted as though Star should be grateful for being allowed to exist at all.
Nothing has changed since those days. At the fringes of the Hindi news market are many small TV channels, some of them backed by medium-sized businessmen in search of influence. My guess is that most of these channels will not survive the current slowdown. But even while they exist, it is hard to see what they have done for the clout of their owners.
You could argue that this is only true of new entrants and that the existing media houses have vast influence. But even this is dubious. Everybody who is anybody in Delhi political circles reads The Indian Express. Nevertheless, the Express’ Delhi offices were sealed by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for reasons that most people regarded as flimsy. The clout of the media made no difference.
Or take an even better example. The most important media house in the country today is Bennett, Coleman and Co., owner of The Times of India, Economic Times etc. But, in the mid to late 1990s, all of The Times of India’s influence could not prevent the needless harassment of Ashok Jain, head of the family that owned Bennett. We know now that at least one of the officials who persecuted Jain was a crook because he was later arrested on corruption charges. But no matter how much the Times protested, Enforcement Directorate officials hounded Jain almost to his death.
If the Times cannot use its own clout to defend its owner, then what sense does it make to talk of the power of media barons?
So why do rich people get attracted to the media? It’s the glamour, I think. It’s the same syndrome that causes businessmen to invest in Bollywood films. They think that some of the glamour will rub off on them. In fact, it is their wealth that rubs off on Bollywood’s glamorous people.
So it is with the media. Believe the hype about power and clout and you will end up poorer and still entirely without influence.

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;In the spy hall of fame, who’s the master mole?

What is the most popular and often-used term in the English language to be invented by a popular novelist? You could go for Big Brother but I’m not sure we would call George Orwell a popular novelist.
My vote would go to “mole”, used not in the sense of “small animal” but as in a spy who buries himself deep within the bowels of a competing intelligence service, often rising to the top, all the while continuing to provide information to his own side.

The word is used so often now that we forget that it is of relatively recent vintage. It made its first appearance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a classic Cold War best-seller about treachery and double-dealing at Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), that John le Carré published in the mid-1970s.
Tinker Tailor old the story of a hunt to find a mole within the SIS and was clearly inspired by the turmoil that accompanied the unmasking of Kim Philby as a Russian spy in the 1960s. But such was the appropriateness of the term “mole” that it is now regularly used in a variety of contexts (not all of them spying-related) by people who’ve never heard of Tinker Tailor or even, of John le Carré.
Le Carré is still around over three decades after Tinker Tailor (his new book, A Most Wanted Man, came out last year to rave reviews), while such best-selling contemporaries as Len Deighton have faded. But his real legacy to the world may not lie in his body of fiction but in his appropriation of “mole” from the animal kingdom for its current usage as “deeply-burrowed enemy operative”.
But of course, le Carré deserves to be remembered for more than that. When his first best-seller The Spy Who Came in from the Cold appeared in 1963, its tortured hero Alec Leamas was portrayed in the popular press as a counterpoint to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. While Bond was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, womanizing action hero, Leamas was the cerebral, tortured spy.

In fact, the parallels were bogus. Leamas was not meant to be a hero or a recurring character, unlike Bond. Reviewers missed the real similarities between Fleming and le Carré. Both were upper middle class public school boys who had served in British intelligence and both took to writing as a sideline.
But there, the parallels ended. Fleming had only served with naval intelligence during World War II and Bond was a representation of his own high-living, womanizing fantasies. Le Carré, on the other hand, worked for SIS in the 1950s and early 1960s and was still a serving spy when he began writing thrillers. Consequently, he did not use his real name (David Cornwell) and had to submit manuscripts to SIS for vetting.
Fleming set out to create a franchise and looked for TV and movie deals right from the time that Casino Royale, the first Bond book, was published. Le Carré wrote novels, informed by his own experience (A Murder of Quality, about the death of a schoolboy, emerged from his brief stint as a teacher at Eton), and portrayed the real world as he saw it: dark, depressing and downright cynical. In Fleming’s books, the Brits and the Americans were the good guys and the Russians were the villains. In le Carré’s books, both sides were as cynical and ruthless.
Against the odds though and almost by accident, le Carré did create a franchise. George Smiley, the spymaster with a congenitally unfaithful wife, was the star of A Murder of Quality and made a brief appearance in The Spy Who Came in. In le Carré’s original description, he was a squat, toad-like man who rarely ventured into the action-packed frontline but served as a backroom boy.
Smiley should have remained a minor character but le Carré put him at the centre of Tinker Tailor. When that novel became his biggest best-seller, he brought Smiley back for The Honourable Schoolboy and then, for Smiley’s People. Even as these books began to reach a wider audience, British TV turned Tinker Tailor into a brilliant mini series with Alec Guinness as Smiley.
The series was such a hit and Guinness—who looked little like le Carré’s original unflattering description of Smiley—was so good in the role that George Smiley soon came to be regarded as one of the great creations of spy fiction.
I loved le Carré’s work till about the late 1980s, but then, perhaps because the Cold War was ending, began to lose interest in the books. Le Carré himself took the brave decision to leave Smiley alone (“He belonged to his time and his time is over”) at least partly because he said that each time he tried to visualize his best-known creation, he did not see his Smiley but Alec Guinness (surely the greatest compliment an actor can receive from an author!).
I have not kept up with the recent stuff though it has sold very well and many of the recent books have been turned into big-budget movies. I did feel I was on le Carré’s side though when he got into a public feud with Salman Rushdie, who sneered that le Carré’s books had no right to be regarded as serious fiction, the traditional lament of the celebrated author with poor sales when confronted with the best-selling status of another’s books.
More recently, I’ve admired le Carré for his political stands. He reckoned that America under George W. Bush had lost its way and that its military and intelligence services had run amok. He was not anti-American, he said, just as everybody who opposed the Nazis was not necessarily anti-German.
If you haven’t read le Carré, you should. All popular fiction of the second half of the 20th century—and especially the spy thriller genre—has been heavily influenced by his books and I would argue that his impact vastly exceeds Fleming’s. For American versions, try Charles McCarry or Robert Littell, both of whom inhabit a le Carré-like world in their books.
Start with Tinker Tailor, move on to The Honourable Schoolboy and then read Smiley’s People. That trilogy should be enough to get you hooked. Or if you want the easy way in, watch the DVD of Tinker Tailor.

Business - In Conversation with Marico's Saugata Gupta

Rachana Nakra

Saugata Gupta rushes into the Otters Club lobby looking every bit the man in a hurry. For a moment, I wonder if he has to get back to some urgent work. But, as I find out in the course of our conversation, that’s the way he is.
“I’m very impatient. I don’t like foreplay even in presentations. People make those 45-slide presentations and I’m thinking ‘Bugger come to the point,’” the chief executive officer, consumer products, Marico Ltd, says. So even as we settle down into plastic chairs under an umbrella by the club’s poolside, small talk has been made and the interview is under way

Dressed in a checked, short-sleeved shirt and trousers, Gupta is a small, smiling man. He thinks fast and talks faster, constantly digressing but making interesting points—a journalist’s dream—and helping me fill my notebook with ease. Even the Murgh Kali Mirch comes in his way when he tries to make a point. He impatiently gestures, swallows quickly and then speaks.
Forty-year-old Gupta’s stint at the consumer goods major, where he has household names such as Parachute and Saffola under his watch, began in 2004, when he moved from ICICI Prudential. He was the head of marketing there and remembers it as a great learning experience. “I took time to adjust because it was a start-up. I honed my skills of managing ambiguity, uncertainty, and working in an unstructured environment. First you struggle, and then learn.”
But when Gupta realized his start-up work was done and boredom could follow, he moved to Marico, looking for new challenges. “When I joined Marico, I realized it was a ‘brahmanical’ outfit, and my challenge was to infuse ‘kshatriya’ values without disturbing the fabric of it.”
So, Gupta pulled out his bag of marketing tricks. First, he tried to make oil healthy with Saffola and then, oiling cool with Parachute. The ubiquitous blue bottle of hair oil got a makeover and came with an electric bottle warmer. The brand ambassador was no longer a simple housewife with long, dark hair but a supermodel. Deepika Padukone asked with her dimpled smile, “One hour champi kiya?” (Did you have an hour-long head massage?) Gupta also launched Parachute Advansed Night Repair, Advansed Hot Oil and a new range of hair products for children called Advansed Starz.
As we continue our conversation—with kebabs and Diet Coke on the table, and swimmers splashing by in the pool—Gupta tells me that he is a Bandra resident and a regular at Otters Club on Saturdays. While he takes Sundays off, Saturdays are for both work and family—Gupta holds meetings and conducts appraisals by the poolside while his 10-year-old daughter takes a swim. His wife is a “busy banker” and committing time for their daughter is a top priority for the couple.

Gupta is just back from an extended four-day break, which he spent at home recuperating. “After a year like this, I needed the break,” he says, shaking his head with a sardonic smile. And that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of our conversation: the year gone by, what he learnt, and what he’ll do with those lessons in the near future. He lists them down for me.
First, Gupta says, it taught him the “resilience and tenacity” to handle any kind of stress. Secondly, it showed that “any plan can go wrong” and they always needed to have a Plan B. “Three, this kind of volatility stretches individuals. Now you stress-test all your systems and people. After this turnaround, whatever happens, both individuals and corporates will emerge far healthier,” he says.

His immediate plan, however, is to control the greed to regain margins. “Volumes could be under pressure because this year a lot of our value growth happened because of inflation.” According to Gupta, regaining volume growth is tougher than regaining margin growth: “Margin growth always happens in cost cycles, while volume growth lapses when consumers leave you.”
The catch, according to him, will be to pass on value to the consumer. Otherwise customers will reduce purchases or shift loyalties: “Those who’ll get this right will do well.”
Besides, Gupta is also sure that the consumer goods sector will emerge far stronger as people realize that it has been efficiently managed for a while. “There is pressure to cut flab, but the flab in FMCG is far less. We will continue to spend on innovation and brand building, and the next year will be very good for FMCG companies as far as the bottom line is concerned. We’ll also recover talent that left us in the boom period,” he says hopefully.
Gupta tells me later that he intends to write a book some day, “about corporate life and how to succeed”. The revelation does not surprise me. Our 2-hour conversation, in fact, could make a small, successful book in itself. Gupta’s stories are optimistic and peppered with analogies from daily life—“While jogging on Carter Road, when I see people going ahead of me, I go faster. It’s the same with people you work with. They inspire you to move ahead”; “In a queue you look at people ahead of you and get stressed. So it’s better to look at the queue behind you and feel grateful.”
Gupta also discloses a personal work ethic that sounds perfect for a business tome. He says he makes choices following the “concept of an obituary”: “Live your life the way you would want your obituary written. When someone writes your obituary, they’re not going to write ‘He did the numbers every quarter’ or that ‘He made so much money.’”
My next question is obvious and a little morbid: So what should his obituary say?
Gupta on Gupta: “Wherever he worked, he left a legacy or made a change or created something different. He was able to balance all his roles, as a professional, a husband and a father, and did a fair job of all.”
Curriculum Vitae | Saugata Gupta
Born: 10 August 1968
Education: BTech in chemical engineering, IIT Kharagpur; MBA, IIM Bangalore
Current designation: CEO, consumer products, Marico Ltd

Work profile: He started his career at Cadbury’s in 1991. From his first assignment in the North-East, he moved on to being brand manager and worked on Cadbury’s popular ‘Kuch khaas hai zindagi mein’ campaign. He then worked at ICICI Prudential as the marketing head for four years before moving to Marico in 2004
Stress busters: Relaxing on a beach with a glass of wine and a book, and spending time with his daughter. At work, he destresses by walking in to an empty office in the morning before everyone else comes in
Stay-sane strategy: A personal coach, without vested interests, who helps him resolve dilemmas and plan his career
Retirement plan: Gupta wants to open a spa

World - Why Gandhi still matters

Ramachandra Guha

Since independence and Partition, no event has so divided the Indian people as the demolition of a mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya in December 1992. Hindu radicals claimed that the mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, was built on the ruins of a temple, and that the site itself was the birthplace of god Ram. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, bands of volunteers tried to storm the mosque, in the process provoking a series of bloody riots across northern India

Shortly before the Babri Masjid was destroyed, a group of Gandhians visited Ayodhya. They were led by a woman named Sushila Nayar, an 80-year-old physician who had worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi. A prayer meeting conducted by Nayar ended in the singing of Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, a favourite hymn of the Mahatma. When they came to the line Ishwar Allah Tero Naam (God is named both Ishwar and Allah), the meeting was disrupted by shouts and slogans. A section of the crowd surged towards the stage. Nayar came down to explain to the protesters that the singers had come “on behalf” of Gandhi (“hum Gandhijiki taraf se aye hain”). “Aur hum Godse ki taraf se,” the disruptionists are said to have replied: we have come on behalf of (Gandhi’s assassin) Nathuram Godse, and like him, we think you Gandhians are too soft on the Muslims.

In contemporary India, it is not just the Hindu right that detests Gandhi. So does the Maoist left, which has recently been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “greatest internal security threat” facing the nation. As readers of this newspaper know, the Indian Maoists are known as Naxalites, after a village in north Bengal where their movement began in 1967. Two years after the birth of naxalism, the world celebrated the centenary of Gandhi’s birth. Through that year, 1969, the Naxalites brought down statues of the Mahatma in towns and villages across West Bengal. Occasionally, by way of variation, they entered a government office to vandalize his portrait.
The Maoists were vanquished in the 1970s by a combination of police action and killings by cadres of rival Communist groupings. But they later revived, and are especially powerful now in the states of central and eastern India. Now they have once more made their presence felt in West Bengal. They were blamed, probably accurately, for a recent attempt on the life of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The rise of the Maoists in the 1980s and beyond owes much to the work of a former schoolteacher named Kondapalli Seetaramaiah. He was the head of the Peoples War Group which, especially in Andhra Pradesh, mounted a series of daring attacks on railway stations and police camps. The police finally arrested KS (as he was known); but then he feigned illness and was admitted to hospital, from where he escaped

It took the police two years to recapture Seetaramaiah. A journalist later asked him what he had done when on the run. KS replied that he went from the hospital in Hyderabad to Gandhi’s birthplace in Gujarat, some 900 miles (about 1448km) away. Here the revolutionary got off the train and took a rickshaw to the Mahatma’s parental home, now a museum dedicated to his memory. “I went there and spat on the maggu,” KS told the reporter, maggu being the Telugu word for the painted decorations placed outside most Indian shrines. Thus did this Maoist show his contempt for a man acknowledged to be the Father of the Indian Nation.
Extremists despise Gandhi— what, however, of the vital centre? For much of the time that India has been an independent nation, the government in New Delhi has been run by the Congress party, to which Gandhi himself belonged. On the day of independence, 15 August 1947, the Mahatma was striving for communal peace in Kolkata. When the new ministers of the Bengal government went to seek his blessings, Gandhi told them that they had been tested during the British regime: “But in a way it has been no test at all. But now there will be no end to your being tested. Do not fall a prey to the lure of wealth. May God help you! You are there to serve the villages and the poor.”
To say that Indian politicians have since dishonoured Gandhi’s advice would be a colossal understatement. The first betrayal, perhaps, was the abandonment of the villages and the poor. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, the economic policy of the state focused on the urban-industrial sector. Agriculture and crafts were neglected; so, even more grievously, was primary education.
There still remained something “Gandhian” about the men in power; they were, on the whole, not personally corrupt. However, from the 1970s, politicians began abusing their position to enrich themselves and their families. A global survey carried out by Gallup in 2004 found that the lack of confidence in politicians was highest in India. As many as 91% of those polled felt that their elected representatives were not honest.
What remains of Gandhi and Gandhism in India today? Before answering this question, let me note that like the Buddha, Gandhi was born in the Indian subcontinent but does not belong to this land alone. Just as the Buddha found his most devoted adherents elsewhere, the legacy of Gandhi has been admirably taken over by Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. It is a matter of shame that Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; the shame is also felt by those who decide on the prize in Oslo, who have since made amends by awarding it to the four “Gandhians” mentioned above.

Within India, meanwhile, a Gandhian tradition exists outside politics. There is a vigorous environmental movement, which has campaigned against the excesses of industrial development and worked to promote renewable energy and small-scale irrigation systems. These Greens often begin or end their programmes on 2 October, Gandhi’s birthday. The Gandhian influence is also present in the feminist and human rights movements, where it co-exists with tendencies drawing inspiration from other, more conventionally left-wing political traditions. Doctors and teachers inspired by Gandhi leave their city homes to run clinics and schools in the countryside. And at least a handful of India’s many millionaires are influenced by Gandhi. Where the majority hoard their wealth or spend it on jewellery and foreign holidays, there are some titans who have given away vast amounts of money to promote primary education and transparency in governance.
What should remain of Gandhi and Gandhism in the world today? Sixty-one years after his death, some of his teachings are plainly irrelevant. For example, his ideas on food (his diet consisted chiefly of nuts and fruits and boiled vegetables) and sex (he imposed a strict celibacy on his followers) can hardly find favour with the majority of humans. That said, there are at least four areas in which Gandhi’s ideas remain of interest and importance.
The first is the environment. The economic rise of China and India has brought a long suppressed, and quintessentially Gandhian, question to the fore: How much should a person consume? So long as the West had a monopoly on modern lifestyles, the question simply did not arise. But if most Chinese and most Indians come, like most Americans and most Englishmen, to own and drive a car, this will place unbearable burdens on the earth. Back in 1928, Gandhi had warned about the unsustainability, on the global scale, of Western patterns of production and consumption. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West,” he said. “The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”
The second area is faith. Gandhi was at odds both with secularists who confidently looked forward to God’s funeral, and with monotheists who insisted that theirs was the one and true God. Gandhi believed that no religion had a monopoly on the truth. He argued that one should accept the faith into which one was born (hence his opposition to conversion), but seek always to interpret it in the most broad-minded and non-violent way. And he actively encouraged friendships across religions. His own best friend was a Christian priest, C.F. Andrews. In his ashram he held a daily prayer meeting at which texts from different religions were read or sung. At the time, his position appeared eccentric; in retrospect, it seems to be precocious. In a world driven by religious misunderstanding, it can help cultivate mutual respect and recognition.
The third (and perhaps most obvious) area is non-violent resistance. That social change is both less harmful and more sustainable when achieved by non-violent means is now widely recognized. A study of some 60 transitions to democratic rule since World War II, by the think tank Freedom House, found that “far more often than is generally understood, the change agent is broad-based, non-violent civic resistance—which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience to de-legitimate authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of their armed defenders.” These, of course, were all methods of protest pioneered by Gandhi.

The fourth area is public life. In his Reflections on Gandhi, George Orwell wrote that “regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!” In an age of terror, politicians may not be able to live as open a life as Gandhi. There were no security-men posted outside his ashram; visitors of any creed and nationality would walk in when they chose. Still, the politicians (and activists) of today might at least emulate his lack of dissembling and his utter lack of reliance on “spin”. His campaigns of civil disobedience were always announced in advance. His social experiments were minutely dissected in the pages of his newspapers, the comments of his critics placed alongside his own.
Gandhi was a Hindu; but his Hinduism was altogether less dogmatic than that of the fundamentalists of today. Gandhi fought against injustice; but without recourse to the gun and without demonizing his adversary. That, six decades after his death, the extremists of left and right still need to vilify him is in itself a considerable tribute to the relevance of his thought. So, in a somewhat different way, is the need for mainstream politicians to garland portraits of Gandhi even as their practice is at odds with the man they profess to honour.
Gandhi was a prophet of sorts, but by no means a joyless one. On a visit to London in 1931 he met a British monarch for the first and last time. When he came out of Buckingham Palace after speaking with George VI, a reporter asked whether he had not felt cold in his loin-cloth. Gandhi answered, “The King had enough on for both of us.” Another version has Gandhi saying, “The King wears plus-fours; I wear minus-fours.” In those self-deprecatory jokes lies a good deal of (still enduring) wisdom.
© Ramachandra Guha. A version of this piece first ran in The Guardian.
Ramachandra Guha is the author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt;Why isn't India saying,Jai Ho

I watched Slumdog Millionaire in the comfort of a mall where I spent more on the tickets and the popcorn and Pepsi than what a daily wage labourer makes in a week. With my evening set against the backdrop of glitzy brands and voracious shoppers, I walked into the hall anticipating that I would feel guilt and self-loathing that in turn, would make me lash out at the “exploitative depiction of poverty” in the film.

Having seen the most-talked about film of the year, I can argue that the controversy is just so much humbug. It’s a manufactured debate that reveals a petty, thin-skinned intolerance. And as liberal Indians, we need to ask ourselves what it is about Slumdog Millionaire that has got under our skins. Yes, maybe, had an Indian director made a movie about Bombay’s underbelly, it wouldn’t have got the same kind of global attention. I’m even willing to grant some points to the cynics who argue that the Bombay attacks have made the India story a top-of-the-menu item. And perhaps, the love thing between Jamal and Latika doesn’t capture everyone’s romantic imagination. But none of this explains the self-righteous hand-wringing over how India’s poor are portrayed.

Where were all the carpers when Vikas Swarup first wrote the book that gave birth to the movie? If the objection is to the gaze of the ‘outsider’ isn’t any Indian of a certain socio-economic milieu as much of an outsider? Are you and I, ensconced in the comfort of our urban, middle-class lives, better qualified to capture the essential truth of life in a slum? And are we now going to reduce the art of cinema to eyewitness chronicles?

The irony is that Slumdog Millionaire — more than many films I have seen in recent years — manages to capture poverty in a way that is neither patronising nor simplistic. It entirely escapes the clichés of charity that bleeding-heart politics can sometimes force on a narrative. Yes, it often makes you squirm in your seat. I had to look away when a young boy’s eyes were gouged out with burning oil by a beggars’ mafia. I laughed, but not entirely, when a young Jamal went wading through shit just to be able to get an autograph signed from Amitabh Bachchan. Both these moments were scathing signposts of how much we have come to not notice; of how we hide from the truths of inequities and neglect.

And yet, the movie is a masterpiece — because it is able to capture the horror of these moments without being pitiful or guilty. On the contrary, more than the poverty, it is really the energy, entrepreneurship and imagination of the slum kids that is the driving force of the story. To that extent, the primary emotional characteristic of the movie is the ‘jugadu’ spirit that is so typical of India. Jugadu, of course, was originally the word for a marvellous invention — a hybrid automotive that welds the body of a jeep with the engine of a water pump and looks like a tractor. Today it has come to be our shorthand for spunkiness — a, we-will-get-the-job done attitude no matter how bad the odds are. So, if Jamal wants Latika he will play at being a millionaire, though it isn't really the money he is after.

Even the game show operates, in a sense, as a metaphor not just for aspiration but for attainability. It is all about the New India where dreams can come true. We may be incredulous about the coincidence between Jamal’s life experiences and the questions he gets asked on the show (it’s a movie, for God’s sake) but think about it. Is it really so impossible that talent can catapult an ordinary life into extraordinary fame and wealth? You only have to think of Vaishali Bhaisni Made who just walked away with Rs 50 lakh by winning a TV music contest. Vaishali failed thrice at her auditions but just kept at it. Vaishali knows a thing or two about poverty. She grew up as a farmer’s daughter in a small village in Amravati not far from Maharashtra’s suicide country. Now, trophy in hand, she thanks the city of Bombay, for “allowing her to dream.” On his India trip, Danny Boyle, told me this fascinating story about his encounter with a vendor in the slums of Bombay while researching for his film. The man told Boyle irritably that he was sick of camera crews coming in and stereotyping his life as “poor.” He wanted Boyle to know that he worked hard to earn a respectable living and was sick of being labelled.

It is this voice that Boyle is able to cast in his characters — a voice of pride and self-respect — even when pitted against people with muscle and money. Think about how Jamal — accused of cheating his way through the show — gets beaten up at the local police station. He doesn’t bend; he doesn’t succumb — he answers back with the confidence of being on the side of the right. It’s the story of the underdog told without victimhood. We Indians used to love those stories (Think of any Bachchan film from the 1970s). So what’s our problem now? Is it that we think the world is watching? And we only want them to see those swanky malls? So, then why do we want to claim the film as our own, when it sweeps the Oscars and the Globes? If anything, the movie is blatant in its affection for India. We can have different views on whether it deserves all the fuss it’s getting. But, let us not hide from the bare truths of the film, just like we duck the beggars at the street light.

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;Sabre-rattlers,shut up

Let me repeat for the umpteenth time: there must never be another Indo-Pak war. If, god forbid, there is one, there will be no winners. Both India and Pakistan have long-range missiles that can ruin both countries. So let us tell the sabre-rattlers in clear terms, be they Pakistanis or Indians, that war is too serious a matter to be left to soldiers or politicians. Only common men, women and children who will be most affected by its impact have the right to take this decision.

If necessary, make human chains extending from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea, one on the Pakistani side, the other on the Indian. And let the tanks and armoured cars run over the chains before they start firing their guns. There are people of peace and goodwill who will gladly volunteer to stake their lives for their countries.

We have our Kuldip Nayyars and Swami Agniveshs to lead them; they have their Asma Jehangirs, Najam Sethis and Jugnu Mohsins to lead them. This is what Gandhi would have done. This is what Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, would have done. This is what you and I should be doing.

So what are the options when our relations come close to breaking point, as they did after the attack in Mumbai on 26/11?
We proved to the world that the perpetrators were Pakistanis. Since the crime was committed with military precision, we proved to the world that the criminals were trained by professionals on Pakistani soil. Pakistan’s rulers were reluctant to admit that because it would reflect on their inability to control subversive elements. I’m convinced that in their hearts
they know our charges to be true and in due course will concede it.

We have also proved to the world that Pakistan is ruled by important men whose writ does not run beyond a few miles around Islamabad, and that its social norms are dictated by demented mullahs who close down girls schools, force women to wear burqas and impose medieval codes of conduct on the masses. They also preach hatred against Indians. We have to jointly wage a relentless war against them till they are stamped out of existence. If we succeed, we can live in peace as good neighbours.

Sport - Cricket;Australia no longer at par with India, SA in world cricket

Coming hard on Australian cricket team's 1-4 ODI series defeat at the hands of South Africa, the Australian media has said Ricky Ponting's side's aura of invincibility is over and the world champions are no longer among the elite league of the Proteas and Indians.

"Whether South Africa are ready for the No 1 ranking is irrelevant, because Australia is no longer on their level, nor India's. The crown is gone and Australia are languishing behind the other two nations in form and depth," said the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Gone too is the killer instinct and ability to forge back-breaking partnerships when it matters most. Having lost the tri-series to India last season, Australia have been humbled this time around by a youthful and developing South African team," the report added.

The Courier Mail added salt to the wound, saying, "Even the most optimistic now wouldn't expect Australia's ageing, sidelined stars to make a difference."

The 39-run victory in Perth on Friday saw South Africa dethrone Australia from the top of the ICC ODI championship table and the media here was of the view that ageing Ponting's team was no longer a formidable match for developing teams like India, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

"India and the Proteas will fight it out with Australia for the No 1 ranking in coming weeks but where the foreign teams are rising, Australia have clearly fallen."

'Aussies crumble', a report in The Australian read, "South Africa minus Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn were still too good for Australia."

The Daily Telegraph in its report headlined Humbled Aussies lose No 1 rank said the 4-1 series result was ample evidence of changing world order in the game.

"South Africa's fearless rookies have stolen Australia's No 1 one-day ranking, invincible aura and self-belief. There was ample evidence of the changing world order unfolding apart from the statistical fact that South Africa would take the No 1 one-day ranking," the newspaper wrote.

The report also mocked at Australia's loss to a rookie South African side sans heavyweights like Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis.

"Australia was beaten by a side with 836 one-day games experience sidelined in the form of Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis," it said.

"Depressed fans found solace in connecting a beer snake across the length of the John Inverarity Stand. Australia was unconvincing."

The Herald Sun, on the other hand, praised South Africa for outplaying Australia in their backyard in both the Test and ODI series.

Former Australian opener Justin Langer said the loss of the world No 1 mantle "would really hurt skipper Ricky Ponting" while Michael Slater said the loss of the No 1 ranking would be "absolutely crushing".

Entertainment - Jennifer Aniston splits from John Mayer

Marley and Me star Jennifer Aniston has split from rocker boyfriend John Mayer after an on and off relationship that did not even last a year.

The break up was confirmed by People magazine. A close friend of Aniston's told the publication, "They had a great time together but they are just in different places in their lives right now,".

The 39-year-old actress and the 30-year-old-singer have been at the centre of many speculative stories in recent weeks about the state of their relationship. However, a reconciliation might be on the cards as a friend of Mayer's said,"John never ends things with a clean slate. He likes to dwell on these relationships and sort everything out before saying goodbye for good." the magazine reported.

But with reports circulating about Mayer's outing with another blonde circulating on the internet, he might find it hard to convince Aniston to give the relationship another try. Aniston and Mayer parted ways in August last year after months of dating, but rekindled their affair in October, with the actress claiming that they were unable to stay away from each other after the break-up.

Entertainment - SRK & Sallu on TV

The two super Khans of Bollywood are all set to come face to face yet again. As Shah Rukh annouced two new shows on television, Salman has also announced his second innings on TV.

SRK has his hands full with two shows and he will be playing judge on one of his own productions Knights and Angels, which will hunt for cheerleaders to bring up the spirits of his IPL team the Kolkata Knighter Riders. Ghar Ki Baat Hai on the other hand is a traditional sit-com, a story of the everyday lives of the Yagnik family and their neighbours.

On the other side, Salman has annouced the second season of Dus Ka Dum.

Who can forget their last season on television, where they critisesed each others shows and even got into an ugly spat.

God knows what will happen this time.

Sport - Tennis;Yuki clinches boys singles title in Australian Open

Yuki Bhambri created history, becoming only the fourth Indian to win a junior Grand Slam singles title following his emphatic straight-set win over Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas of Germany in the boys final at the Melbourne Park in Melbourne on Saturday.

Top seed Yuki swept aside unseeded Georgousdas 6-3 6-1 in 57 minutes to pocket his first Grand Slam singles title.

The other Indians in the elite list are Ramanathan Krishnan (1954 Juniour Wimbledon champion), his son Ramesh Krishnan (1970 Wimbledon and French Open junior champion) and Leander Paes (1990 Junior Wimbledon and Junior US Open champion).

The Delhi boy, who lost in the semi-finals here last year, was at his dominant best from the start and seemed determined to lift the title this time as he broke his German opponent in the fourth game of the opening set to go up 3-1 and then maintained his composure to seal the first set in 31 minutes.

With his nose ahead with a set lead, Yuki didn't look back and demolished Georgousdas 6-1 in just 26 minutes in the second set to register his first Slam title.

Yuki's dominance in the match was visible from the fact that he hit 29 winners as compared to his opponent's 21. He also converted four out of the seven break points and didn't provide a single window of opportunity to the German to break his serve.

Yuki, partnering Chinese Taipei's Liang-Chi Huang, also made it to the semi-finals of the boys doubles event but were shocked yesterday by Russian-Japanese pair of Mikhal Biryukov and Yasutaka Uchiyama 3-6 1-6.

India - Clear confusion over marriageable age, court to government

New Delhi, Jan 30 (IANS) The government Friday had a tough time clarifying issues related to the definition of 'child' and 'marriageable age' in the Delhi High Court, which pulled it up for not amending old laws.

A full bench comprising of Justices Vikramjit Sen, Sanjiv Khanna and V.K. Shali slammed the central government for the confusion over the issue of marriageable age of girls and boys under various laws.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P.P. Malhotra, who appeared for the government, failed to answer a series of queries raised by the bench about various provisions, which are contradictory to one another.

The court asked Malhotra as to why the government brings in such legislations that contradict the provisions of other laws. It was referring to the provisions of the new law - Prevention of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), which contradicts certain provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA).

Citing provisions of the PCMA while dealing with a petition of an eight-month pregnant teenager's father, the bench asked the government counsel what should the court do in such situations. The girl's father alleged that his daughter was kidnapped by a boy who was allegedly below the marriageable age of 21 and sought the marriage to be declared null and void.

The court granted further time to the government and fixed Feb 6 as the next date of hearing in the case.

Science - Men's romantic intentions much easier to read than women's

Washington, Jan 30 (ANI): When it comes to the romantic field, women's 'playful' signals can actually be misleading, warns a new study.

The research found that men and women were equally good at gauging men's interest - and equally bad at judging women's interest.

The Indiana University study, which involved speed dating, expected ladies to have a leg up in judging romantic interest, because theoretically they have more to lose from a bad relationship, but no such edge was found.

"The hardest-to-read women were being misperceived at a much higher rate than the hardest-to-read men. Those women were being flirtatious, but it turned out they weren't interested at all," said lead author Skyler Place, a doctoral student in IU's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences working with cognitive science Professor Peter Todd.

"Nobody could really read what these deceptive females were doing, including other women," the researcher revealed.

The study has been published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The research focused on the ability of observers to judge romantic interest between others because this ability has evolutionary benefits when it comes to finding a mate. Decisions that other people around us make, said Place, can influence or inform our own choices.

"So, if you walk into a room and there's 20 people you've never met before, being able to know which individuals might be available and which are clearly smitten by others can make you more efficient in finding your own romantic interest to pursue," he said.

To reach the conclusion, 28 women and 26 men of college age watched video clips of couples interacting on speed dates. Each participant observed 24 videos, all with different men and women, and after each rated whether the man seemed interested in the woman and the woman in the man.

The speed dating sessions were all conducted in Germany while the observer ratings were all made by students in Indiana. Despite the language difference, observers were still able to judge men's romantic interest accurately using body language, tone of voice, eye contact, how often each dater spoke and other non-verbal cues.

"How people talk might convey more than what they say," Place said.

Observers did not have to see much of this non-verbal behavior. They were just as good at predicting the speed-dating couple's interest if they saw only 10 seconds of the date as they were if they saw 30 seconds.

The researchers say this showed that observers, even with limited information, could make quick, accurate inferences using "thin slices" of behavior.

There was, however, great variability in how well observers could predict the interest of any particular speed-dater, ranging from 90 percent accuracy down to 10 percent. In five of the videos, 80 percent of the observers thought the women shown were interested when in fact they were not - they were acting friendly even though they had no interest in the men. (ANI)

World - U.S. will not renew Blackwater contract in Iraq

The U.S. State Department has told Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm whose guards are accused of killing Iraqi civilians while protecting U.S. diplomats, that it will not renew its contract in Iraq.

The move was not a surprise following Iraq's decision to deny a license to Blackwater, which drew intense criticism after its guards opened fire in Baghdad traffic in 2007, killing at least 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty in U.S. court to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter over that incident, while five others are awaiting trial next year on manslaughter and other charges. The firm denies wrongdoing.

"The department notified Blackwater in writing on Jan. 29 that we do not plan to renew the company's existing contract for protective security details in Iraq," said State Department spokesman Richard Aker.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell was unable to confirm the State Department decision. "We understand that the State Department is exploring its options, and we are awaiting direction from our customer," she said.

It is unclear when the U.S. decision will take effect. A U.S. official who spoke on condition that he not be named said the U.S. and Iraqi governments were discussing a transition period during which Blackwater's work in Iraq will phase out.

The official said Blackwater will continue to work for the U.S. government elsewhere in the world.

Blackwater employs hundreds of heavily armed guards with a fleet of armored vehicles and helicopters to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq under a State Department contract. It boasts that no American has been killed while under its protection.

The presence of security contractors, often as heavily armed as the military itself, has been a signature feature of the war in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 ordered by then President George W. Bush, a Republican.

Before taking office as president on Jan. 20, Democrat Barack Obama said he wanted U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of starting his term. Obama has advocated sending more American troops to Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces are fighting a resurgent Taliban.

The U.S. occupation authorities had granted contractors immunity from Iraqi law, an edict that remained in place until the beginning of this year.

Blackwater was a target of Iraqi anger even before the 2007 shooting because of its size, high profile and aggressive posture on the streets.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki branded the 2007 shooting incident a "massacre" and complained when the State Department subsequently renewed Blackwater's contract.

Business - Tata Motors slips to loss; no date for Nano launch

Tata Motors Ltd, India's top truck and bus maker which last year bought the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, posted an unexpected loss in the December quarter but said on Friday the worst appeared to have passed.

The company had no definite timetable for the launch of the Nano, slated to be the world's cheapest car at around 100,000 rupees ($2,000), which had been expected in the current quarter after being delayed from last year.

Sales fell 32 percent from a year earlier in the company's fiscal third quarter. Tata Motors said auto demand in India had severely contracted as a result of financial market turmoil and weakening growth.

"I do believe we had the worst in the December quarter, and don't expect to see anything like that. We are on a positive trend, and on the ascendancy curve," managing director Ravi Kant told reporters.

Kant said he could not give a timeframe for the launch of the Nano, which debuted at the Delhi auto show in Jan 2008.

A launch had been scheduled for last year, but Tata Motors had to relocate its factory from West Bengal to Gujarat due to protests by farmers against the acquisition of their land.

It would take at least a year to rollout Nanos from the new plant because of the time involved in shifting the equipment from its original site to the new site.

"Its going to take time, it's a fairly complex project," Kant said.

Last year, Tata said it would make a small number of Nanos at its existing factories, and had planned to launch the car in the March quarter.

"We are looking at interim measures to produce the Nano in small numbers in one of the two (car) plants," Kant said, but said there was no date set for the launch.

Chief financial officer C. Ramakrishnan said the company was in discussions with banks to refinance $2 billion of bridge loans, having already paid back $1 billion.

The loans, used to fund the $2.3 billion acquisition last year of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co, need to be repaid by June.


Tata Motors, which controls about 60 percent of the world's fifth-biggest truck and bus market and is also India's No.3 car maker, posted a loss of 2.63 billion rupees ($54 million) the December quarter, which included a foreign exchange loss of 2.27 billion, from a 4.99 billion profit a year earlier.

Net sales dropped to 47.59 billion rupees from 72.52 billion.

A Reuters poll had estimated net profit of 761.6 million rupees on sales of 51.2 billion rupees.

Tata Motors had shut some plants temporarily in the December quarter to prevent a build-up of stocks. Its Indian vehicle sales fell to 98,760 units from 144,608 a year earlier.

Sales at Jaguar Land Rover fell to 49,000 in the quarter from 76,000 year ago.

Tata said it had stepped up cost cutting, and Ramakrishnan said the company was looking for savings of 10 billion rupees over three years.

Kant said jobs were being cut both in India and at Jaguar Land Rover given falling demand. Earlier this month, Jaguar Land Rover said it was cutting 450 jobs.

Second-ranked Indian truck maker Ashok Leyland posted an 84 percent drop in quarterly profit, while leading car maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd's profit more than halved as demand weakened sharply in Asia's third-largest economy.

Ahead of the results, shares in Tata Motors, worth nearly $1.2 billion, closed down 0.6 percent at 149.65 rupees in a Mumbai market that rose 2 percent.

The stock lost 54 percent in October-December, while the benchmark index shed about a quarter.

Sport - Cricket;S Africa topples Australia to become new No. 1 side

Perth, Jan 30 (PTI) Australia were today dethroned as the number one team in one-dayers by South Africa who demolished the hosts by 39 runs in the fifth and final match to clinch the ODI series with an emphatic 4-1 margin. The ODI series triumph follows South Africa's 2-1 win in the Test series and though Australia remain the number one team in the longer version of the game, the Proteas return home with the new-found tag of being the top team in one dayers.

India remained the third-placed ODI team with 120 points while South Africans have five points more. Australia also have 125 points but were pushed to the number two slot as they were found fractionally behind the Proteas when decimal points were calculated.

Australia needed 289 runs for a win to remain the number one side but 249 was all they managed before folding in 49 overs with Michael Hussey (78) and Brad Haddin (63) making futile efforts with the bat. Earlier, Hashim Amla (97) and AB de Villiers (60) steadied South Africa with a 118-run stand and then JP Duminy (60 not out off 42 balls) provided the late burst as South Africa posted 288 for six wickets.

Australia faltered early in the chase and could not really recover from the early setbacks. The hosts needed a strong start from Shaun Marsh (5) and David Warner (22) but debutant South African Lonwabo Tsotsobe rocked the Australian boat with early double strikes and Ricky Ponting's men could never really recover from that

Business - US;Sparks fly over 'Buy American' provision in US stimulus plan

Washington, Jan 30 (IANS) A 'Buy American' provision in President Barack Obama's $819 billion stimulus plan that bans the purchase of foreign construction materials for public works projects has set off a heated debate about its efficacy.

The contentious provision in the bill as passed by the US House of Representatives Wednesday would, with some notable exceptions, ensure that only US-produced iron and steel be used for construction.

It expands on a 76-year-old federal law. The Senate, which is likely to take up stimulus next week, would go even further, effectively requiring that any products and equipment be American-made.

'The Buy American provision will help stimulate our own economy,' Democrat Byron Dorgan, who wrote the provision, told CNNMoney. 'When taxpayer dollars are used, we should urge that money to support the things be produced here at home.'

Critics argue the proposal appears to fly in the face of a G-20 agreement reached in November, when world leaders decided not to raise new trade barriers in 2009.

Many economists also argue that a Buy American provision could actually backfire, slowing economic growth instead of helping expand the American job market.

'It's not a good time to initiate protectionist measures in any shape or form,' Kurt Karl, head of economic research at Swiss Re was cited as saying.

'It hurts growth, because if you force one side to go with domestic production only, then that precludes them from getting less expensive materials from overseas.'

The economy is already reeling, and will soon enter the 15th month of a recession. A major drop in trade could cause a one percent drop in gross domestic product, according to Karl.

'We believe it invites reciprocal restrictions on US exports,' Peter O'Toole, a spokesman for General Electric, which gets half its of revenue from abroad was cited as saying.

'When you take competition out, it drives prices up. We're in a globalized world - we can't turn back the clock.'

But a host of politicians believe the Buy American provisions have appropriate safeguards to ensure stimulus spending is not wasted on expensive materials and the US economy does not suffer long-term consequences.

Dorgan for one said his support for the bill comes down to fulfilling President Obama's promise of creating up to 4 million American jobs.

Business - Toyota bullish on India despite global mess

Even as it has frozen expansion plans everywhere else due to the global recession, automobile giant Toyota is getting aggressive in India. Though the company expects flat sales in 2009, it continues to remain bullish on the overall economy and has kept its small car plans unchanged.

"It was said that we are aggressive elsewhere but slow in India but that is history. Now we are over aggressive here while treading with caution in other countries," said Vikram Kirloskar, Vice Chairman, Toyota Kirloskar Motor India (TKM).

The company will launch its small car by the end of next year from its under construction second plant near Bengaluru. It is also studying the possibility of launching another SUV Fortuner later this year.

"We are studying the segment and though there is no concrete decision yet, we want to be there and have the product with us," said Sandeep Singh, deputy Managing Director, TKM..

Business - Subhiksha on virtual collapse, needs Rs 300 cr

Stating that its operations are "near standstill", retail chain Subhiksha Trading Services on Friday said it needs liquidity injection of up to Rs 300 crore to get the company back on track as it had run out of cash in October last year.

"(The company is at) a stage where operations are at near standstill. We are working with the financial stakeholders - lenders and investors - to inject liquidity and get company back on track," a company spokesperson said.

"We need a liquidity injection of up to Rs 300 crore, while we argue on whether it is debt or equity that really does not matter, the business can get back to near peak levels once this cash is available," he added.

The company's lenders, while supportive, were also unable to extend further lines unless the equity was raised. Net net it became a chicken and egg story with the company running out of cash by October, he said.

"We never took serious credit from suppliers, most purchases were on limited or nil credit. When we could not pay for fresh buying, the trade cycle collapsed in October and that is what brought us to a standstill," the spokesperson added.

He, however, insisted that the company was not closing shop. "No, we are in pain but we are not shutting down." Despite the issues of large employment at risk and a sound business model it is taking time to get the pieces closed as all stakeholders have to come to agreement and it is stressed time for many of them as well, he said.

The company is now engaging in getting the restart plan approved by the financial stakeholders and then get the liquidity so that it can continue from where it left, he said.

Business - Honda profit dips 90 pct, first time in 3 yrs

Hit by sliding automobile sales, Japanese auto giant Honda Motor on Friday, for the first time in three years, reported a 90 per cent decline in profits for the December quarter.

For the financial year ending March 31, 2009, the auto maker now expects to post a decline in net sales and other operating revenues for the first time in nine years.

Honda has recorded a profit of 20.2 billion yen for the third quarter ended December last year, plunging 90 per cent as compared to the same period a year ago.

In a statement, the firm said the third quarter profit has declined for the first time in three years. Honda's bottomline stood at 200 billion yen in the year-ago period.

During the same period, net sales and other revenues tumbled nearly 17 per cent to 2,533.2 billion yen.

"Consolidated net sales and other operating revenue for the fiscal third quarter ended December 31, 2008 amounted to 2,533.2 billion yen, a decrease of 16.8 per cent compared to the same period a year ago, due to factors including the negative impact of currency translation and declined sales of automobile business," the statement said.

Further, the entity's operating income plunged 63 per cent to 102.4 billion yen mainly due to negative impact of currency effects and increased raw material costs.

On the other hand, Honda anticipates to post net sales and other operating revenue to the tune of 10,100 billion yen fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 and said it would be a "decrease for the first time in nine years".

The car maker's net sales and other operating revenue stood at 12,002.8 billion yen in the year-ago period.

For financial year 2009, the company has projected the profit to plummet about 87 per cent to 80 billion yen. It had a profit of 600 billion yen in the same period a year ago.

Business - Spice ready to put Rs 20 bn for 51% Satyam stake

Spice Group is ready to invest about 20 billion rupees ($408 million) in Satyam Computer Services and wants to buy a 51 per cent stake in the fraud-scarred outsourcer, Spice Chairman B.K. Modi said.

"That is our desire," Modi said on Friday. "We want the money to go inside the company. For that they will have to make a preferential issue. If I buy shares from the market, the money will not go into the company."

Modi said the group had submitted on Thursday its proposal to the government-appointed new board of Satyam.

"We have also talked to two, three board members informally."

Spice Group has diversified operations including mobile handset manufacturing, mobile software development, back-office operations, entertainment and retail.

Last year, it sold its mobile telecoms services business to Idea Cellular for 21.76 billion rupees.

"That is one of the sources (for funding). But we have other channels," Modi said, adding that the group was capable to fund a possible deal internally

Sport - Football;FIFA could reject joint World Cup bids - Blatter

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said that single bids are likely to get preference over joint ones when the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups are decided.

Speaking in Spanish at a meeting of the South American Football Confederation (CSF), Blatter said that if three or four suitable single bids were put forward, the joint ones would be rejected.

"In FIFA, there are decisions which have been taken by the executive committee in view of the organisation of the World Cup," he said.

"These decisions are the following: as soon as there is a candidacy or three or four relevant candidacies that only one country can organise it, we are directly going to reject the double candidacies.

"We have done this at the moment of the decision taken in May 2004 for the 2010 Cup at the moment that Tunisia and Libya put forward a double candidacy."

Spain and Portugal have formally put forward a joint bid to host one of the two tournaments and the Dutch and Belgian football associations, who co-hosted the 2000 European championship, have also submitted a joint bid.

England, Japan, Qatar, Russia and Indonesia have formally declared their interest and the U.S. has said it will also join the race.

The 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa and the 2014 tournament will take place in Brazil.

Japan and South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup

Sport - Football;Hamburg sink Bayern to top Bundesliga

Hamburg SV beat champions Bayern Munich 1-0 in the first game after the six-week winter break to go top of the Bundesliga on Friday.

Hosts Hamburg grabbed the winner a minute before halftime when Mladen Petric headed the ball over keeper Michael Rensing.

Hamburg have 36 points and Bayern are third on 35.

Second-placed Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin, in fourth, play on Saturday against relegation-threatened Energie Cottbus and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.

Hamburg coach Martin Jol used speedy midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa and a well organised defence to stifle playmaker Franck Ribery's creativity in the first half.

The hosts nearly scored after six minutes when Piotr Trochowski's fierce low drive rattled the post after Rensing stretched to get his fingers to the ball.

Hamburg were lucky, however, to have a Luca Toni goal disallowed for a foul by the Italian striker on defender Bastian Reinhardt.

Petric netted the winner in the 44th minute, heading Rensing's poor clearance of David Jarolim's shot over the keeper.

"We had a very compact team tonight," Petric told reporters. "We dominated the first half and were under greater pressure in the second but we held on. This win is a great boost for us but there are tough matches ahead."

A minute into the second half Petric could have added a second but his shot hit the post before Paolo Guererro fired over the crossbar.

Bayern went on the offensive and came close in the 48th when Miroslav Klose heading a Ribery cross towards the goal and keeper Frank Rost saved on the line.

Klose and Toni missed opportunities to equalise before Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann threw on a third striker, Landon Donovan, on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy, to pile on the pressure.

Despite several more chances they failed to get the equaliser.

"It was a tough match," Jol said. "We had a bit of luck in the second half but overall, 1-0, I think is in order."

Fun -Lewis Hamilton 'upstaged' by girlfriend's billionaire admirer

London, January 30 (ANI): Lewis Hamilton was reportedly left red-faced after being upstaged in front of his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger by a Saudi Arabian royal.

The British F1 racing driver had apparently arrived at London's O2 to see his singer-love perform with her Pussycat Doll band - and unexpectedly received a big smacker for 50 red roses and a diamond necklace worth 100,000 pounds.

But it was a Sheikh who had sent the gifts to the lead singer of the American girl band.

"It was all a bit awkward for Lewis. He showed up and got an almighty embrace from Nicole to thank him for his gift," the Sun quoted a source as saying.

"He had got her a pressie but it was something pretty simple and he seemed a bit baffled by her overreaction.

"It soon became clear she thought the diamonds and the roses were from him, especially when she opened the card.

"They both saw the funny side - but Lewis will be upping his efforts next time," the source added. (ANI)

Sport - Cricket;Few Pak players still keen to play in IPL

Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who did not feature in the inaugural Indian Premier League, has fetched the highest base price among his compatriots for the IPL second edition players' auction to be held on February 6.

Kaneria has been given a base price of USD 100,000 in the players auction, the highest among the five Pakistani players who will feature in the auction in which 111 players from all over the world will be up for sale for the eight franchises that play in the IPL.

The leg spinner was not recommended by the Pakistan Cricket Board last year for the IPL auction. "I am happy to be on the auction list because I am hungry for success in one-day and Twenty20 formats," Kaneria said. He said he wants to prove that he could be as much a success in Twenty20 cricket as he was in Test matches.

"There can't be a bigger platform then the IPL to prove oneself against the best players in the world. Let us see what happens but right now at least I have been recommended by the IPL," he said.

Pakistan's other players in the IPL auction include batsmen Yasir Hameed and Asim Kamal and allrounders Yasir Arafat and Mohammad Hafeez.

Yasir has fetched a base price of USD 75,000 but the rest have been given a comparatively low base price not more then USD 30,000 for one year.

But with relations between Pakistan and India not very warm in the wake of last year's Mumbai terror strikes doubts remain whether any franchise would bid for Pakistan players.

Already, some of the Pakistani players signed up with the IPL, who were put up in the transfer window didn't invite new bids including fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar.