Wednesday, May 7, 2008

165 licenses

The Four Seasons launches in Mumbai.

This bit is stunning --

Bureaucracy and a shortage of skilled workers make building hotels difficult - the opening of the Four Seasons was delayed by at least two years. The hotel needed 165 government permits - including a special licence for the vegetable weighing scale in the kitchen and one for each of the bathroom scales put in guest rooms. In the end, the hotel cost $100m (euro 64.5m, pound 51m), or about $500,000 per room, and prices - which start at $500 per night rising to more than $1,000 - reflect that.

The Indian government, wow!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The servile staff of India's first family

I was over at the Bachchan blog, and this bit caught my eye --

Sharad Kumar from Scotland insists on reading a motive behind the invite list to the Abhi-Ash wedding. I find it below my dignity to give explanations to a matter that in my reckoning, is firmly embedded in the private domain. But let me tell you this. Every member of my entire staff with their families, people who have worked and remained with us for over 30 years, drivers, cleaners, kitchen staff, peons, minders, office bearers, security, helpers - formed the major portion of my list. They came as my guests. Not to work that day or help. They were my invited guests. My family, Jaya, Abhishek, Shweta, my grand children and I all sat with them and looked after them, served them food with our own hands and nothing in the world could have given us more pleasure than doing that. For me they were my most important guests. I did not need anyone else, for they were people who tirelessly have worked day in out with us. Lived through our pain and glory, through success and failure, through sadness and joy and never ever changed. They remained devoted and servile and committed and constant. Their allegiance and sincerity never in doubt.

On my 26 years on this planet, I have not often been at a loss for words, but with this, I truly am. He writes some excellent stuff, but he values the fact that his support staff was 'servile' and showed 'allegiance' ?

The most likely explanation to me is that this is some idiot ghostwriter's wrong interpretation (given the volume and length of each post, it is quite likely that BigB is just dictating,and some one else scribbling).

However, if this is the man himself at work, it beggars belief.

Cross posted on Smoke Signals.

Sweet November for the Dems(or not?)

The race for the Democratic nomination is getting interesting, as is the subsequent drama for the White House, post the Pennsylvania primary on April 22nd.

Both parties are trying to spin it positively, with Hillary proclaiming it as a sign that the big states, and the 'core Democrats', sway to her beat, while BHO is tom tomming the close margin as a sign that he made inroads into her groups.

Meanwhile, McCain and FOX news are probably quietly chuckling to themselves.

Mathematically, it seems that Hillary is pretty far behind now, and unless some major shake up happens at the super delegates convention. To me, the more interesting question seems to center around the question raised (although for obvious reasons) by the Clinton campaign: with all the momentum and goodwill, why cant BHO close the deal? Despite outspending Hillary by a large margin in PA, he still couldnt come up trumps? Has the pastor controversy and the elitism charge really hit him with the 'working class whites' and older folks?

I dont think so.

Its not being widely reported, at least on MSNBC and CNN (with latter having been dubbed the Clinton News Network in the late 90's), but the PA Democratic primary was one in which independents were not allowed to vote. And therein lies the rub: as BHO relies heavily on the independents and first timers to win.

Since Indiana and NC allow independents, BHO, in all probability should be able to close the deal out by the NC primary.

What does this mean for the White House race though? If BHO is the nominee (and Clinton not the Veep -- which is a possibility though), will his campaign exclusively rely on these independents to pull him through? This would be fraught with risk, as there is a chance that Democrat core, having supported Hillary faithfully, stay at home or turn out for McCain ( this is very unlikely though)

The bigger fear is that these first time voters might not turn out to be resilient as BHO would hope. The GOP machinery hasnt gotten to him as yet, but when they can, they can make an issue out of anything. The Dems would know, as with Al Gore and the Internet/ Gore Vidal issue, or with Kerry and the Swift Boat story. BHO has proven to be able at deflecting attacks on him (and he can always play the victim card better than most), but its a huge risk. A couple of weeks of sustained finger pointing is all it could take to shake up his voter base.

Which is why the Hillary - BHO combination seems so appealing. On one hand you get the frontrunner, the people's choice as the presidential nominee, the 'symbol of hope for the future and change'. You also get a seasoned campaigner, who can fight the GOP at their game, and guarantee the Democratic core.

Which is why the recent somewhat concilatory statements between the two camps, and the non-personal attacks (although the folks in the campaigns keep sniping) are interesting. Big pressure from the Gang of 4 (the Democratic Party leaders - Dean, Pelosi, Gore and Edwards), perhaps?

One thing is for certain, I wouldnt want to trade places with any of the folks of the Gang of 4 right now!

Cross posted on Smoke Signals.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Superstition or fear of the unknown?

I hop by India Uncut regularly, and enjoyed reading this, and also this piece by Mrinal Pande, which the entry links to.

I am not so sure if the analysis is correct though. Much calumny has been heaped upon the Bachchans, and the Big B in particular, for forcing their beautiful and talented daughter-in-law to be to go through meaningless rituals.

Just recently,I read parts of Harivanshrai Bachchan's autobiography - In the Afternoon of Time (Big B's father). Two things stand out in my memory. One is when Bachchan writes of how he was ostracized by his community (for a variety of reasons), and that is why, when he began writing, he dropped his official last name of Shrivastav and took the pen name 'Bachchan'. He writes of how his wish going forward was that each member of his family would look to create his own identity and not hark back to the past lineage.

In the chapter devoted to his son's superstardom, he writes of the harrowing time after Amitabh suffered a near fatal accident in 1982, and how amazed he was by the depth of belief of some of his fans in superstitious cures.

It suffices to say that the Bachchans come across as a fairly rational, progressive family during the book. And yet, 25 years later, we have his son indulging in the most irrational and superstitious of beliefs.

Begs the question, why?

For some reason, my mind went back to a book called Business Maharajah's, by Gita Piramal. In her profile of Aditya Birla, the reclusive billionaire is reputed to have said " Successful people find it easier to believe in God".

For someone like BigB, whose life has seen immense ups and downs, including a close shave with death, has life changed him over the years? Has he come to believe that there is a greater power which determines his destiny at various points, and allows that belief to be shamelessly exploited?

I cant help but feel that the basic driver behind people indulging in superstitious beliefs is just that: pure fear, a fear of the unknown. My take is, dont blame them, blame those who use this fear for their benefit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cricket musings

Looking at the current World Cup, and looking at the semis, one thing struck me: out of the four semi finalists, three of them - Aus, SL and SA were in a pretty bad way around mid-late 2005.

Aus had just come off losing the Ashes, and it hurt them pretty bad. SL had gotten a major hammering in ODI's and tests from India around end-2005. SA were definitely on an upward incline, but not doing extremely well.

The fourth semi finalist - New Zealand has pretty much been consistent in 2005, but had endured a 'relatively' bad 2004.

It wouldnt take a major leap of faith to assume that these teams had to reassess and recalibrate their strategies and planning around those times. And it is no surprise that these teams that have done the best in this tournament.

Makes me wonder: given how intense international cricket has become, with the volume of games and the fitness levels required, is a 2 year period pretty much all a team has before it needs to periodically reassess itself completely?

Validation blues

An interesting point of view by Amit Varma on India Uncut.

Its almost a national phenomenon, to seek validation from outside. I dont know about it just being the West though. It seems to me that Indians love to get validation from anywhere and everywhere. It makes us needlessly sensitive to criticism as well.

Many possible reasons exist for this, although I seriously doubt a legacy of colonialism is one of them. It could stem from this: most of us perhaps live out frameworks and paradigms that have been defined by others, especially the middle class ? Or is it a legacy of caste and culture, which basically means that the definitions for everything are in the hands of someone or something else?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Guru left me with mixed feelings. I went in with low expectations, since Mani Ratnam's previous efforts in Hindi had been patchy at best.
Firstly, it is clearly based on Dhirubhai Ambani's life. The parallels are numerous - right from the main protagonist working in Turkey (Dhirubhai worked in Aden), to his run ins with old money (his spat with Nusli Wadia), being mentored by a newspaper baron and the subsequent fallout (Ramnath Goenka), the paralytic stroke (Dhirubhai had one in 1986 or around that time), to of course the similarities in the business - polyester and chemicals. And not to forget, the huge shareholder meetings, which was a first in India at the time.
The movie brings out brilliantly the atmosphere that prevailed in India during the license raj, how difficult it was for an entrepreneur to succeed- yet Mani Ratnam falls prey to the disease that afflicts Bombay filmmakers - which is the need to create a 'hero'. Not even Dhirubhai Ambani's biggest admirers would have accused him of being morally clean or upright ( 20 years on, people like Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji have significantly cleaner reputations) - but Gurubhai Desai at the end of the movie is painted like some crusading messiah, trying to lift everyone out of poverty against the rich elite holding them back.
And in doing so, a lot of things get messed up. Everything is either good or bad - black or white, which is just plain strange. Ramnath Goenka and Dhirubhai fought all because Ramnath chose to support Nusli Wadia and spurned Dhirubhai