The (Uncertain) Glory of Amla

October 25, 2009

The Padma Purana contains the following story about the amla fruit:

Once upon a time, a chandala went into the forest for hunting. He hunted many deer and birds. Feeling hungry, he saw an amla tree and climbed up the tree. This way he satiated his hunger by eating sweet amla fruits. Unfortunately while he was climbing down the tree, he fell down and died. When the attendants of Yamaraj arrived to take back his soul, they could not do so even after repeated attempts. The attendants of Yamaraj became very surprised and went to the sages for clarification. The sages revealed to the attendants that they could not go near the chandala’s dead body, because he had eaten amla just before his death.

Such is the glory of amla!

I don’t know if this is a problem in the original text itself, or only in the English translation, but one crucial question remains unanswered – what happened to the dead guy afterwards? As far as I can see, the glory of amla is that it’s a Yamdoot repellent. What did it do for the unfortunate hunter?

Yamraj and his flunkies can’t take away the soul, so now the poor chap is stuck with a dead body and a soul that can’t move on. What happens next? Does he become a ghost that can’t move on? Does he wait for the effect of the amla to wear off so that Yamraj can collect his soul? Is that even possible, given the glory of amla?

Or – and this is the coolest alternative – does his soul re-animate the corpse and does he become a Puranic zombie hungering for braaaaaaiiiiiiins? Like Pride and Prejudice, Adi Shankaracharya’s debates with the members of the other sects would only become more awesome if they were attacked by zombies. (Pssst). (Also, pssst, this one via Kunal),

It is tragic that the Padma Purana (or perhaps its translators) did not inform us more. If dying while eating amla has adverse consequences, we would be able to take the appropriate precautions.

Ekla Cholbe Na

October 25, 2009

Tata Docomo’s advertising tagline is “Why walk alone when we can dance together?”

I think the Tata group is mocking Rabindranath Tagore and Ekla Cholo Re. This is to get back at the Bongs for what they did to Tata Motors at Singur.

What Do They Call This In France?

October 14, 2009

Angus Third Pounder

I mean, what tops Le Royale? Le Imperiale?

Wikipedia to the rescue. The Angus Third Pounder is not sold outside America and Canada (where it is called an Angus Deluxe in Ontario). No clarification, however, on whether this is because the rest of the world has the metric system, and wouldn’t know what the fuck a third pounder is.

What’s With Salman Khurshid?

October 10, 2009

In the past ten days Salman Khurshid has advocated a return to 1980s Comptroller of Capital Issues style pricing, and also done the headline-hogging complaint about Indian CEOs drawing too much pay. The CEO pay issue is truely bizarre and WTF, for a number of reasons, including:

  1. As Deepak Shenoy points out, Khurshid is currently getting free acco in a house that would rent out at 10 lakhs a month if it was on the market.
  2. US CEO compensation is an issue because half of Wall Street has been nationalised and so the government has a right to decide compensation policies. What the hell is the Indian government losing if CEOs are paid too much?
  3. As this Business Standard oped points out (link will decay eventually), it’s not even like Indian CEOs are paid obscene amounts (not only by global standards, but by Khurshid’s own standards). So what is the bogeyman of vulgar salaries that he’s raising? The true scandal occurs in the millions of small companies where the directors or majority partners siphon money out at the expense of minority shareholders and employees, as the Satyam issue showed us.
  4. And culturally, it’s not like Indians resent highly paid CEOs. They want to be highly paid CEOs. The mango man’s reaction to high pay is aspiration, not envy. So what vulgarity?

Forget all that. Even if Indian CEOs were paid obscene salaries, and Indians resented this, and Salman Khurshid wasn’t a sanctimonious arsehole living off the public trough, this is India, where we outperform the rest of the world when it comes to innovation in corruption and fiddling accounts. If there’s a salary cap on CEOs, does he really think companies won’t find a way to get the money to the CEOs off the books anyway? Gah.

Searching for a reason for this utter lunacy, I’ve come up with:

  • Salman Khurshid is a moron. This explanation has the benefit of fitting Hanlon’s Razor.
  • Salman Khurshid wants CEO salary to start getting paid out in black money and lots of manipulation in IPO issuing so that the amount of black money in the economy increases. After all black money is the lifeblood of the Congress party.
  • Salman Khurshid is trying to raise money from Indian businesses ahead of the Haryana and Maharashtra elections. “Nice salary package you have here. Shame if anything happened to it.”
  • The whole thing is not for the benefit of Indian CEOs, or the media, but for Sonia Gandhi, who Salman Khurshid is trying to impress by showing how quick he is to catch up with American trends.

Anything I’ve missed?

(Pssst: Sainath gets into the act too, and manages to not mention Vidarbha or the HDI. There’s hope yet.).

How to Make Trends

October 10, 2009

Last week, the Planetizen news feed on urban planning posted a link to how contrary to predictions, retiring baby boomers were moving not to cities but to the rural countryside in Oregon (Planetizen summary, actual news story).

The very next link on the feed was titled Not So Fast and linked to another story from San Jose which said that seniors were in fact very much moving from suburbs to cities (Planetizen summary, actual news report). What explains these two contradictory trends?

I think the answer lies in the small population (by Indian standards) of America and particularly Oregon. Oregon has slightly under 4 million people. It has as many people as Ahmedabad in an area the size of undivided Uttar Pradesh. With that kind of population density, the number of people who need to do something to make it a trend is very small indeed. (Warning! Reckless Exaggeration ahead!) If three people do something, it seems like a trend. If twenty people do something it begins to look like an independent subculture.

Now, let’s extend already reckless exaggeration even further. Along with the high productivity, resulting leisure time, and huge capital base, maybe the reason the West is ahead in the creation of new subcultures and alternative lifestyles is simply that their population is so small that far fewer people have to be doing the same thing for them to stand out. If twenty people start dressing in black clothes and heavy eyeliner in Austin, Texas (population: less than 700,000) they become a Goth movement, but in New Delhi, India (population: more than 10 million) you would need 20,000 people acting in the same way for a subculture to get attention; let alone traction.

The implications of this are actually very alarming. What if existentialism achieved its name and fame just because Jean-Paul Sartre was good at socialising in cafes and a group of twenty chelas in a city of less than 3 million looked like a major movement. If Skimpy had been grown up in similar circumstances, perhaps philosophy students would today be studying studs-and-fighter-ism.

So basically this is a reason to support Atanu Dey’s plan for 600 new mid-sized designer-cities in India. It will give us cities that strike a happy balance between being urban enough to generate subcultures, and small enough for subcultures to get noticed.

The Commonwealth and Its Games

October 9, 2009

I honestly don’t care about the Commonwealth Games (or any sporting event that doesn’t involve Dwayne Leverock for that matter). But if Commonwealth Games are what it takes to give Delhi better roads, a better airport, and Metro connectivity up to Green Park, I am all for them. I mean, it would be nice if the Kaangressi sarkar built infrastructure for the Delhi-ites who have to use it everyday, but as long as we get to use it eventually it’s okay if they build it for athletes and delegates.

As far as the Commonwealth goes, I wish it would do something more useful than giving Delhi better infrastructure as a second or third order effect. A good place to start would be to make travel between Commonwealth members visa-free. As a citizen of a former British colony, why the hell do I have to pay 10,000 rupees for a British visa?

My Trip in Beer

October 5, 2009

Cobra Beer

In order:

  1. Stella Artois, near the Tower of London. Recommended to me by Nega Maami.
  2. Amstel, at Henry’s Bar in Piccadilly. Also a Nega recommendation. Dry and delicious.
  3. Cobra, along with delicious paalak paneer at a place called… Punjabi Spice? Punjabi Spirit in Hounslow. As strong as Kingfisher, without the unpleasant aftertaste.
  4. Warsteiner, on the Lufthansa flight to New York.
  5. Heartland Brewery Wheat Lager once I got to New York. Not too bad. It was Masabi who suggested meeting at Heartland Brewery, and I have to thank him for it.
  6. Heartland Brewery Pumpkin Ale. Delicious, but an acquired taste. With every sip, I thought to myself – ‘Is this really beer?’
  7. Sam Adams, in the Dulles lounge. If this is the pinnacle of mainstream American beers, I weep for that unhappy nation.
  8. Uerige Alt in Düsseldorf. Even more of an acquired taste than the pumpkin ale, and very difficult to get used to if practically all your beer till date has been lagers.
  9. Franiskaner Weissbier at Frankfurt. This, I think, is the start of a beautiful friendship.

I tried nothing at all in Texas, mostly because I was far too zonked. Corona will have to wait for another time.

Customer Financed Projects

October 3, 2009

In F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, the main characters are an American couple called the Divers who are Page 3 People in the 1920s. They live on a hillside Villa over the French Riviera, where they throw parties for American tourists and expats. Unfortunately up to the 1920s Riviera hotels were open only in the winters and there would be no tourists in the summer. So they convince one particular hotel owner to keep his hotel open in the summer as well, so that the stream of guests for their parties never dries up. Eventually the hotel starts getting so many guests that the owner doesn’t even need the support of the Divers to make the summer season profitable.

When I read this, I was reminded of what the Adanis have done while constructing the Mundra port. The Adani steel plant isn’t viable without the port, so the steel company has become a part investor in the port project and is financing the rail link between the port and the existing Indian Railways network. Once the rail link is completed, Adani steel will benefit of course, but so will everyone else who wants to use the port (and of course so does the port).

Project finance epiphanies aside, Tender is the Night is one of the most disturbing books about adultery and breaking down marriages I’ve ever read. Now if only it wasn’t so indulgent of its main characters.