Steak Satellite

Steak Satellite

Originally uploaded by aadishtk.

I’ve started photography. Emphasis on started. I’ve got a long way to go before I get good at it.

From what I’ve taken so far, I like this snap the best. The others are all greatly asymmetrical or have distractions like quarter plates or middle fingers in the background. This one is only a little assymetrical, and the half-hidden bottle of steak sauce goes with it, really. Apart from that, I love the way the steam rises off the sizzler and the detail on the baby corn.

For Love or Money II

Just to clarify, the previous post was not about me. For me, having any sort of romantic entanglement, even one my parents didn’t approve of, would be a step up. This was about entirely hypothetical situations about hypothetical people with Day Zero placements (wink, wink).

Okay, enough with the allusions. I’d mentioned that I was surprised more people weren’t estranged from their families. Yes, you’d need a fifteen-lakh-a-year consultant job if you were giving up a reasonably large family business, but if the opportunity cost was only family savings, or a small shop, then a software or BPO job would surely give you enough money to compensate. So why don’t we see more estranged families?

In the style of the inimitable Tyler Cowen, I’m going to list possible reasons. As always, you get to tell me which ones are likely, which ones are unlikely, and what I’ve missed in the comments.

  1. There are very few estrangements because there is very little cause for estrangement. By and large, people will only marry somebody their parents do approve of. This could be because they never get the opportunity to meet someone ‘unsuitable’, or because of cultural indoctrination against rocking the boat.
  2. People don’t think too far ahead when considering the consequences of their decisions. Although in the long term, the eloping kid has the upper hand as parents will depend on him or her for financial support, people will be concerned more with the immediate consequences.
  3. Alternately, people might think that far ahead, but the upper hand might not be so important, especially if the eloping kid has brothers or sisters who can take up that role.
  4. The probability that marrying someone unsuitable will lead to estrangement is greatly exaggerated by popular culture. In reality, parents will probably accept the marriage grudgingly. This could be because:
    1. In the most mercenary case, the parents look far ahead, and see that estrangement could lead to their not having anybody to rely on in their old age- and if the kid is a partner at an i-bank or a consultancy by then, that could be a strong missed opportunity.
    2. Alternately, if the parents have a family business, then chucking out the heir might mean that they’d have to turn to someone less trusted to run it. What’s an unsuitable daughter-in-law compared to watching your family business going down the tubes?
    3. Even if there are no financial considerations, and all the parents are worried about is what people will think, it doesn’t make a difference. If people look down at you because your kid’s married someone from another caste or religion (or whatever), then they’ll look down at you whether you’ve chucked the kid out or not. Societal oppobrium might be worse if you throw the kid out- you’ll always be known as the estranged family, while there’s always a chance that the kid-in-law might charm everyone and sweep them off their feet.

I think Reason 1 describes most ‘suitable’ marriages, while Reason 4 will account for most ‘unsuitable’ ones. What are your comments?

Chapter Two

I just returned from Ranga Shankara, where I saw Evam, the theatre group from Chennai, performing Chapter Two by Neil Simon. At the end of the performance, they asked us to spread the word if we liked the performance. I did like the performance, so here I am spreading the word.

The play is very good, and in my admittedly very amateur opinion, so was the acting. Especially the performance of the female lead, Andrea Jeremiah. It’ll run at Ranga Shankara until Sunday, so if you’re in Bangalore and free between seven and half past ten, do watch it. Tickets are available at Landmark and Ranga Shankara.

For Love or Money

Which is better: joining a management consultancy, being paid 14 lakh rupees a year, and working 16/6; or being the heir to a small family business where your dad and some professional managers do all the work, you can take it easy, and all your needs are met (though you don’t actually own anything: you only stand to inherit)? The (expected) wealth you will earn as a consultant and the (expected) wealth you will inherit when your father tells jai are equal (in present value terms), so from a purely monetary point of view, both options are the same.

If you don’t enjoy the work for itself than you would probably prefer the second option. The money is the same, but you get to take it easy. All your time is leisure time, and you can spend it doing what you like- adventure sports, perhaps, or wildlife photography. If you were the sedentary sort, you could spend all your time blogging.

But what happens if you fall in love and your parents disapprove? In fact, what happens when they disapprove so much that they throw you out of the house and cut you out of the inheritance if you continue to put blade?

In that case, you would definitely prefer the first option. Your employer might make you work hundred hour weeks, but at least you won’t be fired for your choice of significant other.

This is actually one of the overlooked but vitally important advantages of getting into an IIM and cracking a Slot Zero placement: it neutralises the financial risk of pissing off your parents and being estranged from your family. You will still have to face the emotional trauma of not being able to speak to your family, but at least you won’t have to pull a Salman Khan and spend your life breaking rocks in a mine wearing nothing but a vest. (Given the eating and exercise habits of most IIM grads, this is a good thing from an aesthetic point of view as well.)

Of course, everything is not always as simple as this. Your inheritance could be much more, or much less. You could be very blase, or very worried about the prospect of never speaking to your family again. The point is that you have an income source that is not going to exercise veto power on who you marry.

I’ll close here, but this has actually made me wonder why more families aren’t estranged. That would be worth a post by itself.

The Religion of Poverty, Spelled Out


For six months or more, you keep a leash on your writing. You write for the most part about telecom, with diversions into other infrastructure sectors. You keep it factual and devoid of metaphors (though you indulge yourself with a PJ every so often). And what happens? The minute you decide to spice things up a little with some dramatic flourishes, you get accused of condescendation1.

Oh well. I suppose it was my fault for not being as explicit as I could have been. So let’s dive into the clarification.

Starting out, I am not accusing anybody who finds the ad objectionable of being leftist, or a fool. In fact, there are two aspects to this. First, I am only talking about the three people who have linked the ads, not everyone who dislikes them. Second, I am not calling them leftists, or fools. Nor am I saying that they are opposed to liberalisation. What I am saying that they exhibit the same behaviour that religious people do.

Now, let’s talk about why I’m saying that.

There is an undercurrent in all of the posts that I linked to that it is wrong to use the images of the poor. It exploits them, commodifies them even.


That it’s ok to use poverty in a patronising fashion, like a commodity, make a joke about it.

Nancy Gandhi:

Millions of men and women in this country — who are NOT thieves — spend their whole lives doing backbreaking, soul-killing work, and remain pretty much in a cashless world — while we lucky few can buy things with plastic cards. Let’s make jokes about their misery on top of it.

My first question: so?

We commodify other people and make jokes about them all the time. The Coke ads have been stereotyping a bunch of ethnic communities for two years now. The new Airtel hoarding for their One rupee plan shows a Sardar and a Bharatnatyam dancer. Isn’t that commodification, when you pick people only for the fact that they live far apart and help you point out that distance has died?

So, MumbaiGirl, what is so special about the poor that you want to make an exception for them? This is the veneration I’m talking about. It’s the same sort of veneration that makes Hindu NRIs claim that you can’t put Ganesh on a thong, or Muslims infuriated when someone publishes cartoons of Mohammed. Or Parsis when Oliver Stone uses a Zoroastrian symbol in Alexander. Or Christians when The Last Temptation of Christ is made. Yes, not all these cases lead to rioting or burning embassies, but the underlying argument is the same: that only some people have the right to decide what is a tasteful and correct use of a particular symbol.

And now my second question, which should hopefully explain the later commandments.

Who is more patronising: the copyrighters of the ads, or the people who take offense on behalf of the poor? The ones who make fun of people, or the ones who think that people cannot judge for themselves whether to be offended or not, and need somebody to spring to their defence? By what authority do they assume the right to take offense on behalf of someone who may not even have seen the ad? Are the poor their property that they must worry about their welfare?

This is the other way in which these posts have resembled religion. They assume the right to take offense on behalf of someone or something, no matter whether that someone or something is alive to care, or dead, or a symbol, or non-existent, or supremely indifferent. Just like the outrage felt by ‘Hindu pride’ when MF Hussain draws Saraswati. It is perhaps worse, because these posts reduce the poor to symbols, instead of people.

1Condescendation is a physical process unique to Infamous Cartel Members. It’s what happens when you’re so cool that the waves of your condescenscion solidify around you in a frosty condensate.

The Ten Commandments of Poverty

Demonstrating compassion for the poor used to be an industry. Lately, it’s become a religion, as demonstrated by this post, this one, and this one.

Like every other religion, this one too has its commandments. Here they are:

  1. The Poor are Holy, and must be venerated for their poverty.
  2. Poverty is mysterious, and cannot be understood by the privileged- they are Infidels.
  3. But even among the privileged, there are The Compassionate- Anointed Ones who can understand the mysterious ways of poverty.
  4. The Anointed Ones must educate the Infidels, and show them the error and folly of their ways.
  5. The Anointed Ones may use images of the poor to demonstrate their compassion. To use images of the poor for any other reason is a sin.
  6. To subject poverty, the Holiest of Holies to rigorous analysis, using evidence or logic is a sin. Infidels will use these, but they are traps of the devil. Faith in the Anointed Ones is enough.
  7. The Infidels will worry more about their own life than about the Other Life and their relationship with the Holy Poor. The Anointed Ones must save them. The Other Life is far more important.
  8. The Anointed Ones must always speak only of the core truths of the Holy Scripture that they have written. Responding to the queries of the Infidels cheapens Holy Poverty.
  9. The Holy Scripture is eternal and unchanging, and need not ever be changed to reflect new knowledge. Only the knowledge possessed by the Anointed Ones matters.
  10. The Anointed Ones are always superior, because they are Anointed.

Because They Never Had Banks?

I’ve been mugging, scouring Wikipedia for decent fundaes, and reading Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, and I’ve been coming up with some interesting connections.

The Baroque Cycle is about a lot of things- it’s a quizzers delight that way- but one of the important subplots is about how modern banking developed- starting with moneylending, discounting bills of receipts, and taking gold deposits, and evolving on from there. This took place in the late seventeenth century: the 1660s onwards- in fact, just before the English middle class began to grow.

Can we say that the English middle class was helped by the presence of banks? To an extent, of course. It wouldn’t have been the only contributing factor, but banks would have helped to move capital from landowners to merchants. This would lead to the rise of the East India Company, but it also helped power to shift from landed nobles to urban ‘gentlemen’ and merchants. The Guild of Grocers, one of the most powerful political bodies in London at this time, was not composed of small-time fruit-and-vegetable sellers, but of merchant princes who imported and exported in bulk- hence the name: they bought and sold in gross.

This shift in economic power also led to a shift in political power. The new merchants and colonialists were represented in Parliament by the Whigs, who were of course keen to cater to their constituency- and grow it. The middle class bloomed. The Whigs put limits on the power of the king, and encouraged the growth of financial markets and banks- which further helped commerce and the middle class to grow. About a hundred and fifty years later, their brand of liberalism would see its greatest success with the abolishing of slavery throughout the British Empire.

What about the Muslim world?

Banks run into a problem here. The Koran does not just prohibit usury, as the Bible does, but it prohibits all financial transactions involving interest. The first bank in the Ottoman Empire was not started until 1856, and then it was established as an English concern. Even now, there is widespread opposition in Arabian countries to traditional interest-based banking, which has led to the evolution of Islamic Banking.

Did the lack of (and opposition to) banking and financial services retard the growth of a middle class in Arab countries? Probably. Has this historical absence of a middle class contributed to democracy being so weak in Arab countries today? Very likely. Is it the only reason? Of course not, but is it a major reason? That’s a question which deserves more research.

And if it is, then Islamic banking, complicated though its contracts may be, might just help an Arab middle class to develop. Which is good for them, and good for everyone else too.

By the way, you may find these links useful or interesting:

The 1688-1750 Financial Revolution.
The Chronology of Money.

Spice Telecom on the Right Track

Spice, the also-ran cellular operator in Karnataka has been trying to rebrand itself over the past few months. It doesn’t have the muscle or subscriber base of an Airtel or a Hutch, so it’s been fighting where it can: innovation in VAS.

I’m not sure how much of a market some of their stuff would have- things like keeping your organiser on a server and accessing it by SMS: the sort of people who would need a calendar regularly could probably afford a PDA anyway. Then, stuff like video ringtones is nothing really differentiated.

When I was out shopping yesterday, though, I noticed something much more interesting: the ‘2gether’ plans. (Links: 99 rupee postpaid, 250 rupee prepaid)

This is a regular potspaid plan. You get to call one other number at discounted rates, which is nothing new. What is new is that they throw in a little bit extra: the two numbers are next to each other. Spice is pitching this as a plan for young couples. The advertising is all big red hearts and cupids.

Again, this might not actually work. I don’t know how many young couples in Bangalore, leave alone the rest of Karnataka would actually want to advertise their relationship status. When Samanth calls up his mother to tell her that his number has changed, so that he can now be one number before Shilpa, sparks will fly.

Leaving that aside, Spice is still on the right track, even if this particular plan might not work. Selling connections to all the people who call each other together is a much better idea than selling to individual customers, who might use it only to receive incoming calls from landlines for all you know. This way, you’re definitely getting most of the call volume for yourself.

In fact, I’m shocked that Airtel or Reliance haven’t come up with something like this for families. Both have their own number series (99 for Airtel and 93 for Reliance) so it’s not like they have a constraint on available adjacent numbers. American cellphone operators have been doing this for years now, and in fact go a little bit extra by putting all the numbers together on one single bill. It’s not as if they have to come up with a completely new model, they just have to imitate whatever Verizon and AT&T are doing. And Airtel is usually quick to pick up whatever works overseas: they saw the Easy Charge system in the Philippines and installed it in India practically overnight.

Hmm. So maybe they’re already doing it. I think the next six months might just see one of the big three private players aggressively marketing adjacent numbers and a unified bill for families. Let’s see.