Voting for WTFness

April 30, 2009

Although India’s mainstream political parties are WTF enough – banning computerisation, resisting improved diplomatic relations with the US, asking if loyalty to the Gandhi family counts for nothing, and thinking that a Ram temple is India’s greatest preoccupation come to mind – for true, diamond-hard, industrial strength WTF-ness you have to look at the fringe parties and candidates.

Starting with the Pyramid Party of India.

The name itself is weird enough and brings to mind Amway distributors or Ponzi schemes. But their Wikipedia entry (which seems to be self-written) helpfully informs us that their political agenda surpasses all expectations raised by the name:

The “ Pyramid Party of India ” is formed to transform all the People of India into meditators, enlightened persons, vegetarians and peace loving people during our current life-time itself through the methodology of the Electoral Process !

The Pyramid Party of India, formed in the year 1999, participated in the General Elections for the first time in the State of Andhra Pradesh in more than 50 constituencies and polled several hundreds of votes per constituency. Again, in the year 2004 it was General Elections time and again it was time to participate in the elections and to spread the twin concepts of vegetarianism and meditation. This time it was nearly a hundred constituencies ! And, thousands of votes were polled for the Pyramid Party per constituency !

The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, firmly believed that the best form of government was one ruled by an individual possessing the greatest ability, knowledge, and virtue. And, the highest knowledge is possessed by that individual who truly knows himself. This knowledge constitutes ultimate wisdom. It enables man to act in a virtuous manner at all times, because he knows what will bring him true happiness. And the highest good for any human being is happiness.

This essential Socratic Teaching is the Founding Theme for the “Pyramid Party of India” conceptualized for the first time in the year 1998 by Brahmarshi Patriji and actualized in the year 1999 by the PSSM.

Wow. But let’s not forget about the Humanist Party of India. They plan to put the mass media at the service of the cultural debate, ban authoritarianism, compulsion and separation of sexes, leave the discriminatory WTO, nationalise foreign banking and commerce, and eliminate hospital fees. On the other hand, they also plan to give land and agricultural rights to tribals and farmers, which is a start.

My favourite, though, is the independent candidate from South Delhi BP Pandey. According to the short Hindustan Times writeup on Mr Pandey (can’t find it online anywhere), he believes that all that is wrong with India today is happening because the gods have abandoned it. Therefore, if elected he will win back the favour of the gods and free Indian from demonic influence by building 108 temples.

This is magnificent. I wonder if BP Pandey is a relative of Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey. I appeal to Mayank Austen Soofi to provide a great service to humanity and interview BP Pandey as soon as possible. Inquiring minds want to know more about this great man.

Vot a Big… Castle!

April 30, 2009

This Dealbreaker story is awesome. Citi has very few profitable divisions right now, and the people who run them are demanding massive bonuses to stay on and ensure that they stay profitable. But after all the outrage over the AIG bonuses, Vikram Pandit is pre-emptively going to Obama to ask for permission.

The political palatability of giving out the bonuses is, alas, very low because one of the people doing the demanding owns a castle. Seriously. An actual 1000 year old castle outside Hanover.

You might be asking yourself what an investment banker does with a castle. In these times it’s excellent risk management. After all battlements are more reliable than presidents when a mob shows up with pitchforks.

How Familiarity Bred Contempt

April 27, 2009

In 1949, Aziz Kashmiri wrote:

आज कल की नारीयां
आज कल की नारीयां
है मुफ़्त की बीमारीयां, बीमारीयां
रात दिन मर्दों से लडने की करे तैयारीयां, तैयारीयां
काम कुछ करती नहीं, और बांधती है सारीयां


In those simpler bygone times, people used to complain that women would tie saris and not work. It shows how far we have come that now people as diverse as Sri Ram Sene members and Shashi Tharoor make the opposite complaint.

IPL Nomenclature

April 27, 2009

Gideon Haigh has a rant on Cricinfo about Citi Moments of Success and DLF Maximums. (via Udups on Twitter).

Rather than just complain I think we as viewers should empower ourselves by giving our own names to boundaries. I propose the following names for fours and sixes for each of the teams:

  • A four hit by the Daredevils will be called a Rashtrapati Bhavan and a six will be called Chandni Chowk
  • For the Mumbai Indians, Girgaon and Malabar Hill
  • Royal Challengers: Basavangudi and JC Nagar
  • Super Kings: Luz Church Road and Cathedral
  • Chargers: Khairatabad and Karuwansahu
  • Knight Riders: Shyambazar and Beadon Street
  • Royals: Arjunlal Sethi Nagar and Bani Park
  • Tragically, the Kings XI do not have any special names under this nomenclature system

Admittedly, “What a magnificent Luz Church Road by Hayden” is a bit of a mouthful, and Chandni Chowk can be confused with chauka, but I think this is a small price to pay for sticking it to Lalit Modi (who incidentally has started reminding me of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler).

(In case you didn’t get it – pssst.)

Urban Decay Photography

April 22, 2009

A year or two ago, this photo-essay on abandoned school buildings in Detroit was quite popular on the internet. It’s very scary and depressing, while simultaneously being very cool.

Then in September or October last year I came across this forum post about half-constructed buildings in Bangkok that were never completed because the East Asian Crisis left the builders bankrupt. Again, many awesome photos of crumbling buildings and fixtures.

Today I discovered (via the LJ Steampunk Community) that photographing urban blight is pretty widespread – and there’s an LJ Community dedicated to it. This post on an abandoned Zil factory in Moscow is really cool.

A quick search revealed two Flickr groups devoted to urban blight as well – Abandoned Urban Decay and Some Urban Decay. This promises to be good stuff for whenever I have some free time for passive reading or photoviewing.

Now S Gurumurthy Channels Jagadguru

April 22, 2009

The ever-insightful S Gurumurthy writes about black money in the New Indian Express:

That is, in just five years, Indian wealth amounting to Rs 6.88 lakh crore has been smuggled out of India. This gives a clue as to how much Indian money would have slipped out of India in the last 62 years, particularly during the Nehruvian socialist regime when the income tax (97.5 per cent) and wealth tax (almost equal to the income earned on investments) together constituted double the income earned.

It is undisputed that the Nehruvian socialist model forced huge sums out of India. So the amount of Indian black wealth secreted away in the last 60 years — estimated at from $500 billion (Rs 25 lakh crore) to $1400 billion (Rs 70 lakh crore) — does not seem to be wide off the mark. Economists call it flight of capital. This is the people’s money stolen from them.

Mr. Gurumurthy goes on to suggest that the solution to the problem created by Nehruvian socialism is outright communism, and siezing said black money deposits for the use of the government:

See the consequence even if part of it is brought back. A portion of it would make India free from all external debts which is now over $220 billion; India will transform into an economic superpower; some 10 or 15 Indian rupees could buy a US dollar which today 50 Indian rupees cannot; a litre of petrol on our roadside would cost Rs 15 or even less, against today’s 50 plus; the cost of imports in rupee terms would be down to a third or half; India’s entire infrastructure needs can be funded; India will become so energy efficient and costcompetitive that exporters may need no sops at all; India will lend to — not, as it does now, borrow from — the world; Indian housing can be funded at affordable cost; rural poverty can be wiped out… The list is endless.

If only earlier governments had siezed the black money directly before it even left the country, we would not be facing this problem today. Thatz why we need strong regulations.

Chhatisgarh, Not Vidarbha

April 22, 2009

Girish Shahane has a post up about how the Huffington Post is panicking over a mass suicide of 1500 farmers in Chhatisgarh:

So, the Belfast Telegraph, which presumably has no correspondents in India, picks up a news item from who knows where, and tacks on a misleading headline. The phrase ‘mass suicide’ gives the impression of a co-ordinated, cult-like act. Strangely, London’s Independent, which does have reporters based in this country, picks up the Belfast Telegraph piece. Then, Huffington Post links on its home page to the Independent’s coverage, and carries a blog post by Mallika Chopra, wellness-guru Deepak Chopra’s daughter, based on the unverified story.

(Shoot First, Mumble Later)

I think the figure of more than 1500 suicides comes from this India Together report, or the original statistics it refers:

“The figure is not only for this year, but Chhatisgarh has remained at the top of the list every year since its inception. 1593 farmers committed suicide in the state last year, according to the data provided by state police to the National Crime Records Bureau,” I said. It means 4 farmers die every day by committing suicide. Moreover, Durg is just behind Raipur, which tops the list amongst the districts of Chhatisgarh in this infamous list. Last year alone, 206 farmers committed suicide in Durg. 

(India Together)

So the over-1500 figure was the total number of suicides in a year. The sub-editor who wrote the headline at the Belfast Telegraph made it sound like a mass suicide, and the impression then spread over the internet. It’s his or her fault.

This is not the first time the Irish have made a mess of things. Last year, despite express instructions to deliver a bouquet of flowers on the 8th of October, they did so on the 6th of October.

Anyhow, returning to the point at hand – farmers dying in Chhatisgarh – the India Together report contains this depressing bit:

Santosh, sitting next to him, said “There is a case pending on my land so I can’t get a loan from the bank. I have taken a loan of Rs.13,000 from the moneylender. Lakhnu also borrowed from the moneylender because the land is still in his father Beturam’s name.So the bank did not give any loan to him this time”.

We pompous and heartless libertarians often talk about the right to property, how allowing farmers to sell their land will allow them to get credit, and why it is more important to create industrial employment than to force farmers to remain stuck in agriculture forever. And we have wishful dreams about how if only we could spread libertarian ideas among the people in power and reinstate the right to property things would be better.

Unfortunately, the bit I quoted just now shows that a policy change won’t be enough. Even if the right to property returned, and farmers could sell their land or mortgage it, you’d need a long hard grind of clearing land disputes, rationalising land registration, and making the rural economy independent enough of both agriculture and real estate development that land ownership doesn’t remain as high-stakes as it is. All these are happening, but none of them are happening as fast as is ideal. Whenever there is change, it’s either done on a large but uneffective scale by the government, or on an effective but tiny scale by some madly committed social entrepreneurs.

And then there was this:

He was worried about the loan of Rs.15,000 he had taken from the moneylender. There is an interest of Rs.5 per month on every Rs.100 and he was worried how he would repay it.

The interest rate of 5% a month sounds usurious and provides ammunition to anybody who wants to demonise moneylenders, but let’s look at this in perspective. Indian moneylenders in the Philippines charge 20% a week, and their customers aren’t driven to destitution. In Mexico, Compartamos customers pay an effective interest rate of 100% annually, and the customers are still pouring in and repaying. It’s about interest coverage and gearing, not about how low or high the interest is – look at the subprime borrowers who were defaulting on interest rates of 7 or 8% per annum.

The massive interest rates which the 5-6 Philippines moneylenders or Compartamos charge presumably don’t pinch that much because their customers are mostly urban, and their incomes can’t swing that much. And there’s always the ability to switch to some other sort of casual labour. But in Chhatisgarh, not so much. Not much industry, not much retail trade. 

On that note, I wonder if the lack of opportunities is due to the Naxal tactic of driving out all the “oppressor” employers. The hotspots for suicides – Vidarbha, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhatisgarh are also the ones with a Naxal problem.

So what we have is not just the single sorrow of dying farmers. It’s a tragedy of three wasted opportunities:

  1. The opportunity to enforce law and order and stop the Naxals from running amok
  2. The opportunity to reinstate the right to property, and back it up with a project to clear titles and free land sales and leasing
  3. The opportunity to create a rural financial system that worked

The UPA spent the last five years not giving a shit about any of these, and going by their manifestos and speeches, the NDA doesn’t give a shit either. As Abhishek Bachchan would say, इसे कहते हैं डिमोक्रेसी.

What an idea, sirji.

The Yuppies Return

April 21, 2009

I am in grave danger of becoming as obsessed about my hippie-yuppie-lala theory as much as Skimpy is about his studs-and-fighters theory. But there’s now a new Madhavan/ Vidya Balan Airtel ad, and considering the original set of ads was one of the original inspirations for the theory, I can’t resist. Especially considering the new ad unleashes yuppieness far more than the original set did. It’s not on YouTube yet, but the Airtel website has a low-res flash version – click the My Airtel My Offer link. I’m thrilled about this – there had been no yuppie ads by Airtel for almost a year – only ones featuring Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan as themselves, therefore hippies.

In addition to all the yuppieness that was there earlier – the contemporary furniture and the clean haircuts – Vidya Balan is reading a pink newspaper (I can’t make out if it’s the Economic Times or Business Standard), and talking about slowdowns and cutbacks. As we know, hippies inhabit a non-cash economy and lalas inhabit a black-money economy, so slowdowns and cutbacks hardly register.

The new ad also raises a question – if yuppies are back on advertising, does it indicate that the recession is drawing to a close?

Devangshu Datta of Business Standard has a theory that RK Laxman notices the state of the stock market only when valuations are so unrealistic that the market can’t get any higher or lower. So whenever there’s a Common Man cartoon that has a punchline about the stock market, it means that it’s hit a peak or a valley and has to change direction – that’s when you buy or sell. Leading on from this, I naturally want to know if a similar pattern exists with advertising. Do ads that mention a recession get aired only when the recession is about to change course? Are they as exact as the Common Man, or do they lead or lag the actual turning point by some amount of time? Or is it just completely random? I appeal to the current batch of MBA students to run the regression analysis as a term paper.

Dilli-6 and Hippie Saturation

April 19, 2009

Remember my post from last year about how there are no yuppies shown in Indian television or blockbuster movies? Any character you come across in them is either a member of a lala business family or does something quirky/ outlandish – hippie, in other words – like being a cartoonist or a supermodel or a musician. But people who work the nine-to-five – or actually, in the Indian pre-recession context, ten-to-eight –  shift usually get no love, except in low-budget low-viewership multiplex movies. There are no IT engineers. There are no bankers. There aren’t even accountants.

Back then, while I observed the phenomenon, I didn’t bother to explain it. Earlier this year, I saw Dilli-6 and to my great delight, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and team have come up with an explanation1. It was actually referenced by Baradwaj Rangan with some irritation when he reviewed the movie:

When Bittu remarks that she wants to become Indian Idol because that’s the only out for an “ordinary middle-class ladki” like her to make the transition from a nobody to a somebody, the line grates – a sweetly personal dream is inflated into a thudding aspirational reality for a certain segment of society.

I didn’t find it that ham-handed. In fact I’m overjoyed that Bittu is used as an example of why the aspirational stuff shown in movies is stuff like being a singer or supermodel rather than having a comfortable corporate existence (which going by the mad rush for engineering college admissions, seems to be the actual norm in India).

The thing about a hippie career track is that it’s mostly all-or-nothing. There’s only room for about a dozen or so superstars in every hippie field, while the rest become obscure strugglers. You can make it to the Indian cricket team and ride endorsements to your old age, or get stuck in low-paying Ranji cricket or ICL. If you’re a Bollywood superstar, you will have a bungalow in Bandra. If you’re a minor actor you have a shared 1 BHK in Lokhandwala. If you’re a struggler, you live in a chawl in Dadar. The rewards fall off drastically compared to the yuppie world where even if you’re not a hugely successful yuppie, you just end up putting a smaller apartment or one which is a further commute away.

But if you’re aspiring to be a successful yuppie is that to get there you have to take a bunch of small steps. First you pass out of school with reasonably good marks. Then you do reasonably well in college. Then you get a reasonably well paying job, and keep changing jobs until finally you have credit card, car, and contemporary kitchen.  The beauty of the yuppie career track is that by and large you can’t ever get thrown out of the game. If you don’t do all that well in school, you go to a shitty college but you can still work like bonkers and get a decent job, though it becomes harder. But you still have to complete the sequence of moves one way or the other.

So the insight that comes from Dilli-6 is that the hippie career track becomes the default aspirational choice for lala kids when their parents block any of the small steps on the yuppie track – whether it’s a Bachelors, further education, or work. If the yuppie path is being completely blocked off, you might as well take the massive risks of the hippie path – and so you’ll dream of becoming an Indian Idol or a fashion designer.

The whole thing reminds me of Chapter 3 of Freakonomics, about how drug dealers live with their mothers. Drug dealing is also a hippie profession where most of the people lower down the chain get no money out of it, are at high risk of being shot or arrested, and have to live with their mothers. The people right at the top of the gang live opulent lifestyles. But if you’re mired in American inner-city poverty, you’re probably not getting any other job, so you take up the horrific lifestyle of a low-level dealer in the hope that someday you might strike the jackpot at the top of the gang.

1: It isn’t necessarily a correct explanation. But at least someone in mainstream Bollywood is finally addressing the issue. Hopefully more people will follow with other explanations.

Our Very Own Friedman

April 19, 2009

It is fascinating to read Seriously Sandeep these days. Sandeep’s use – or rather abuse – of metaphors is fast approaching Thomas Friedman levels.

Like this:

You need to really think from another bodily orifice to impute symmetry between the two.

Another bodily orifice? Which bodily orifice do people usually think with? Is this morbid obsession with orifices due to the influence of Es Y’golonac?

And then there’s this:

The news fresh from the oven is how the mass of concocted turd that Teesta Setalvad threw against Modi came back and landed on her own face after seven years.

WTF? Seriously, WTF? How do you concoct a turd? Does it involve carefully monitoring how many beans and pulses you eat? And even if you did concoct a turd, who in their right minds would preserve a turd for seven years?

Let’s not forget the man’s Pioneer op-ed:

The frenzied shindigs surrounding the battle fortifications bring both amusement and concern at the eve of every election especially after the demise of single-party dominance in Indian politics.

I can imagine a situation where you have shindigs inside battle fortifications, when the fortified army has enough resources to last out a siege and decides to party. But if you’re talking about the stuff surrounding fortifications, it’s usually siege weapons and infantry companies. Rarely shindigs. And forget the shindig. What the hell does that sentence mean? How do you parse it? I fed it to the Stanford Parser (thanks, Arnab!) and it took almost 1.75 seconds to come up with this. It still doesn’t make sense. This, by the way, is the man who wrote:

It also, further, suffers from the same potomania that characterizes Marxist writings: a glaring paucity of clear thought and a tendency to use a thousand words instead of one.

What can explain this outpouring of mixed metaphors? My theory is that at any given point of time, there must be one ranting desi blog that is obsessed with shit. Last year, it was Jagadguru and poopi. And now it is Sandeep with his turds. When He stopped blogging in January, it was not to abandon us. Rather, He has returned as Seriously Sandeep. Blessed is the Jagadguru!