Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Laissez Faire Capitalism: Political Freedom to Economic Freedom

“In a capitalist society, it costs money to discriminate, and it is very difficult given the impersonal nature of market transactions.”

If there ever was a pithy answer you could give to all those who advocate communism & reservations to counter the apparent discrimination in a free & capitalist economy, Milton Friedman’s above statement would have to be the one!

In the family tree of advocates for a Laissez Faire capitalist economy during the 20th century, Milton Friedman was amongst the most prominent. An heir to the theories of economists like Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises, Professor Freidman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, for his achievement in the field of consumption analysis.

From being an advocate of John Maynard Keynes’ theory of a mixed economy during the WW-II years, Professor Friedman changed his views favoring the free market economy in the post war years.

His book “Capitalism and Freedom” originally published in 1962 is recognized as amongst 50 best books of the 20th Century and has had profound influence on the economic policies of nations around the world.

As early as 1955, Professor Friedman in a memorandum to the Indian government, wrote

“The great untapped resource of technical and scientific knowledge available to India for the taking is the economic equivalent of the untapped continent available to the US 150 years ago”

Professor Milton Friedman passed away on November 16th, 2006.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The advertisement is selling you!

Selling a product, a service, an idea can be rather complicated. One must actually know what is being sold, what its applications are and who would find these products, services, ideas and their applications interesting.

Selling “those who find these applications interesting” to the seller, so that he can sell his products, his services, his ideas, to them can be even more complicated. The latter is what I have been trying to do for the past ten months.

You might by now be wondering what this profession is where I am apparently involved in selling people to another seller. Before you get all confused, angry and repulsed about the profession I am in and decide not to ever read anything written by such a disgusting person, I will tell you what this profession is. Its Advertising!

“Advertising is any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor” – Definitions Committee of the American Marketing Association

Now, here is the question. Through advertising is a person or an entity actually selling products, services & ideas; or are they selling people to these products, services & ideas?

I think it is the latter.

If you are a marketing grad you would surely have had your professors and others tell you that “Advertising is a mass medium tool aimed at disseminating brand information”; or if you are an average Joe with a cable TV connection, you would have probably seen the show ‘Storyboard’ on CNBC-TV18, where guys with French beards, orange streaked hair and ear rings tell you stuff about target audience, product planning, branding, channels of distribution etc in relation to advertising.

At first instance, both the marketing grads and the average Joes amongst you might point out (to me) that, what the definitions committee, your professors and the French beard guys are telling, contradicts the “selling people to the product” idea.

But, voluntarily or involuntarily, what they are actually telling you is that Advertising is more of selling people to a product, service or idea, rather than the other way round!

Am I just stupid to continue asserting this, or is there some slinky, cunning meaning to this?

Well, you guessed right. Logical fallacy or not, consider the following reasoning.

You are a toothpaste company trying to sell your brand, through advertising. Once you have identified that your toothpaste is orange in color, you next go about identifying all those who find this an invigorating color for toothpaste. You then release an advertisement extolling the benefits of orange toothpaste in whitening ones teeth.

This process can also be understood as follows. Finding out the interested audience; application of this audience and the toothpaste’s interest in it, in context to the advertisement, is its purchasing power; and your goal for the advertisement is to “make a sale” of this audience’s purchasing power!

In effect, what actually is getting sold through an advertisement is the interested audience’s purchasing power for the product, service or an idea. Hence, there is a focus on target audience, product planning, branding, channels of distribution etc from the French beard guys and the focus on the masses that are being sold through the medium of advertising in your professors’ definition!

Make sense? Or, do you think I am saying this from an advertisement salesman’s (or more aptly, response executive, as we are known in my organization) perspective? To make your job easier in making sense of this, I will leave you with this further thought to chew upon. If my job it is to sell an advertisement to a toothpaste company wanting to sell their toothpaste, what will I be trying to “make a sale of” through the ad?

The toothpaste, the toothpaste company, the ad itself or ------------------------------------------------ your purchasing power for the toothpaste!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Three Cheers to Angelina!

This post is inspired by the recent CNN exclusive that I saw, titled “Angelina Jolie: On Her Mission and Motherhood”. I am not really a great fan of the charity and philanthropy brigade, who go about claiming to be pseudo saviors of the down-trodden and the backward, but something about the profile of this sultry screen icon as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador seemed genuine. I have previously taken a stance that, charity and philanthropy should be consequence of individual’s judgment and not something as dictated by the society, and this was exactly the impression I got when I saw and heard about Angelina’s mission.

What is it that drives this sinfully beautiful Hollywood celebrity to take such an active interest in the lives of the refugees in Africa or Afghanistan or Cambodia? Surely it cannot be for publicity, she cannot have enough of it as a result of her celebrity life. Is she competing in a beauty pageant where she is being judged on her “Charitable Quotient”? I am confident that all men and most women would not disagree with me when I say that Angelina Jolie, would win any beauty pageant hands down, irrespective of her having a “Charitable Quotient” or not!

Whether it is adopting children who have been orphaned because of AIDS affected parents or supporting the cause of Afghan refugees during the height of post 9/11 Anti-Afghanistan frenzy, Angelina Jolie has stood her ground against the barrage of criticism. Criticism, for the fact that her philanthropy was based not on what society deemed fit, but based on her judgment.

I will conclude this post with a linguistic alliteration. As I saw the television documentary on Angelina, and saw the pictures of her amongst the malnourished and petrified natives of a suffering African nation I could not help but wonder if they thought of her as someone who had descended from the heavens, their own ‘pretty little angel’ which when translated into French would be ‘Angelina Jolie’ !

Read More here at Wikipedia


On a humorous note, to point out the fact that everyone has their own interest when it comes to charity, as I write this post I am also watching an episode of Sienfeld where Jerry is about to be audited by the IRS for claiming illegal tax deductions for contributing for a fraudulent volcano relief fund for Krakatoa. It becomes really hilarious when Jerry claims he did so “thinking only of the brave Krakatoans, who have suffered so much for so long!”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

“We want the industry to do it voluntarily!”

A book called Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. I read it in 2001. There were two kinds of people in the book, the people who were pure evil and those who were unparalleled in their goodness. I thought, when I read it that this was a very unrealistic view of the world. In the book, the evil people scheme unrelentingly with a façade of doing a great help to the society and the good people initially bear these obnoxious atrocities without batting an eyelid. I thought, when I read the book that the ways of the world was not so "black and white", and that there have to be many shades of gray in between.

Over the past five years, one by one these shades of gray have started disappearing. But still, come on! There are still shades of gray, right? I mean that book was too much! Take for instance this court scene in this book. There is this brilliant industrialist who is single handedly capable of keeping the economy afloat and he is being prosecuted for something as stupid as selling his product to another company when there is some government regulation which prohibits this. Here is a small excerpt from this court scene “drama”

… He noted the stillness in the room. By the rules of complicated pretense which all those people played for one another’ benefit, they should have considered his stand as incomprehensible folly; there should have been rustles of astonishment and derision; there were none, they sat still; they understood.

“Do you mean that you are refusing to obey the law?” asked the judge.

“No. I am complying with the law – to the letter. Your law holds that my life, my work and my property may be disposed of without my consent. Very well, you may now dispose of me without my participation in the matter. I will not play the part of defending myself where no defense is possible, and I will not simulate the illusion of dealing with a tribunal of justice.”

“But, Mr. Rearden, the law provides specifically that you are to be given an opportunity to present your side of the case and to defend yourself”

“A prisoner bought to trial can defend himself only if there is an objective principle of justice recognized by his judges, a principle upholding his rights, which they may not violate and which he can invoke. The law, by which you are trying me, holds that there are no principles, that I have no rights and that you may do with me whatever you please. Very well. Do it.”

“Mr. Rearden, the law which you are denouncing is based on the highest principle – the principle of the public good.”

“Who is the public? What does it hold as good? There was a time when men believed that ‘the good’ was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it – well, so does the burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act.”…

{A few paragraphs and dialogues later}

“But we are giving you a chance to defend yourself – and it is you who are rejecting it.”

“I will not help you to pretend that I have a chance. I will not help you preserve an appearance of righteousness where rights are not recognized. I will not help you preserve an appearance of rationality by entering a debate in which a gun is the final argument. I will not help you to pretend that you are administering justice.”

“But the law compels you to volunteer a defense!”

There was laughter at the back of the courtroom.

That is the flaw in your theory, gentlemen.” Said Rearden gravely, “and I will not help you out of it. If you choose to deal with men by means of compulsion, do so. But you will discover that you need the voluntary co-operation of your victims, in many more ways than you can see at present. And your victims should discover that it is their own volition – which you cannot force – that makes you possible. I choose to be consistent and I will obey you in the manner you demand. Whatever you wish me to do; I will do it at the point of the gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there – I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine – I will not volunteer to pay it. If you believe that you have the right to force me – use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.”

Although this may seem out of context when read here, what the excerpt conveys is a logical fallacy. The judges are unable to pretend about the righteousness of their "laws" when the victim refuses to recognize the crime. If the victim refuses to voluntarily accept his “guilt” the tribunal is unable to interpret its own laws. I thought, when I read the book, that this was very unrealistic. I mean, what’s with all the volunteering? Surely, nobody would want another to voluntarily accept a noose around his own neck?

Today I saw an interview of Ms. Meira Kumar, Honorable Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, conducted by Karan Thapar on CNBC TV18 on the topic of Reservations in the private sector. I would like to provide another excerpt, but as I do not have it verbatim, I will try to provide the gist. (*)

The topic revolved around the subject of whether the industry should be forced into accepting the reservations for SC/STs. After many instances of when the honorable minister shouted her way away from answering many of Mr. Thapar’s questions directly, there came her way a question.

Karan Thapar: “Minister, if the captains of industry (whom you have asked to come back with details of how many SCs and STs they have on their rolls) come back and tell you, that they do so in sufficient numbers what would you do then?”

Meira Kumar: “That’s too hypothetical a situation”

Karan Thapar: “But you want to base your decision to impose reservations on hypothetical data, which even your government data shows to be wrong, but here you do not want to answer a hypothetical question.”

Meira Kumar: “No, I will have to apply myself to this”

Karan Thapar: “Would you be verifying their data?”

Meira Kumar: “No, you are making it out that as though I am suspecting the captians of industry. I mean I will have to apply myself to this. I will have to look at what course of action I can take.”

Karan Thapar: “What would be your response to this after you have applied yourself to this. Would you then impose this reservation? What would be the course of action you take?”

Meira Kumar: “I don’t have to disclose every action I intend to take on television. It was I who told them [the industry] to check that they may already have SCs and STs on their rolls. Don’t be averse to having SC/STs on your rolls.”

Karan Thapar: “Yes, and if the industry has sufficient numbers already, then?”

Meira Kumar: “No, I will have to apply myself to this. I cannot say what my course of action would be. We don’t want it to be forced; we want the industry to create reservations in their rolls voluntarily.”

That’s when I realized that one more shade of gray had forever disappeared. This debate was very similar to the prosecution of Mr. Rearden in that book. This was not only about imposing reservations to some backward caste, tribe, class, sect etc in private sector. This was also about wanting the industry to voluntarily do it. Voluntarily hire people based not on the merit of being able to do the job, but being born in a backward segment of society. Voluntarily put a spanner in a running machine and pretend it is in the effort to administer justice. Voluntarily put a noose around one’s own neck and pretend it is the highest principle - the principle for the public good.

I realized that amongst my gray shades of doubt, one hue had become black. It proved the existence of a kind of rot in society which wanted others to volunteer guilt where none existed. It has also made me realize that I must look for those who when faced with such a request would react as Mr. Rearden reacted in the book at the end of that trial, by saying,

“… If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their mood requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!”


(*) Please note that the dialogue posted here between Ms. Meira Kumar and Mr. Karan Thapar is not the exact transcript and has been written in my words, about what I heard transpired in that interview. If anybody can provide me with the actual transcripts I would immediately replace the same here.


1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Signet Books, 1957

Monday, May 29, 2006

Rear Window

Any search on the internet for the best crime/mystery movies will always link somehow to Alfred Hitchcock. And among his many movies two stand out: “Psycho” and “Rear Window.” Both these movies are cult classics mainly because of their superb story telling in archetypal Hitchcock-ian style. After seeing the History Channel’s montage on Hollywood villains, and after being bitten by the bug, I decided to rent a Hitchcock movie, on a recent rainy Sunday afternoon.

Rear Window, based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story was released after Psycho with a punch-line which read “See it! If your nerves can stand it after PSYCHO.” A classic crime noir fiction, Rear Window is a story about how an invalidated shutter bug with a nothing much else to do as his leg is in a cast, sets about trying to solve a neighborhood murder.

What sets it apart from the macabre Psycho is the humorous undercurrent in the entire movie. The lead character, L.B. Jefferies played by James Stewart is uncomfortable about his plight, but is nevertheless indifferent about it. He is going through his six weeks stuck to his wheel chair and his situation is an apt example for the proverb “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. Not only does he spend his time looking through the window and into the lives of his neighbors, he also starts doubting if his fiancée is the right woman for him!

Rear Window is also a romance in its own right. The fiancée played by Grace Kelly is a popular socialite. She, according to James Stewart’s character, who as a news photographer travels to the distant and unknown parts of the world, is too high society for his comfort. Part of the movie is how Grace Kelly’s character proves to him that she is just as adventurous as he is.

Written by Cornell Woolrich, who has been termed as the father of noir fiction, and directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window is a great picture for crime movie buffs.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Market Research and the Media

{Also cross-posted at the Indian Media Bash Blog. Read Here }

Having recently joined the media advertising industry, I now have to deal with an overwhelming amount of data pertaining to various market data. In the print industry certain figures hold a lot of value; they are the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures called the ABCs and the National Readership Survey figures called the NRS-es. These data provide an estimate of the number and habits of people reading newspapers and magazines. This is very relevant for marketing the newspaper or magazine to the advertisers because most decisions about media buying are based on these figures. It helps the advertiser ascertain the kind of readers who will eventually see their advertisements and if it will provide them with expected response.

Targeting the Decision Maker

With the demographics of India showing a considerable skew towards a youthful populace and as youngsters with larger disposable incomes become independent decision makers, more and more advertisers are now very interested in knowing the habits of these decision makers. While the ABCs and the NRS-es give the data about the reach the media instruments have, the DMS or the Decision Makers Survey, now presents a very important value proposition to the advertiser. What this mainly describes is the kind of readership the publication has among decision makers, whether it be in terms of corporate decisions or day to day household purchase decisions. For instance FMCG companies selling a product like Sunflower Oil would rather advertise in a family channel like Star Plus which is watched by a large number of household purchase decision makers, the housewives rather than CNBC which is watched more by business men.

Experiential Media

What is also relevant in the media today is a shift towards more experiential platforms of advertising. Advertisers today are looking at providing the customer with an experience with their brands and not just the product. This is based on the psychographics, or attitudes and behaviors of the consumer. It has been ascertained, for instance that due to the rising attention deficiency syndrome amongst readers of a newspaper the time spent by an average reader with a newspaper is significantly lower than before. What this means is that, the print advertisements although reaching the audience indicated by the readership figures of the NRS-es and ABCs, are not actually providing brand connect. Hence it becomes imperative for the advertiser to look for media which does not only provide an Opportunity to See, but actually an Opportunity to Experience.

So its market research then?

So it is clear that market research and surveys is an integral cog in the wheels of the media decision vehicle. But can all decisions be taken based on these surveys? Although generally when one is presented with such a question, we usually disagree and say that not all marketing decisions can be taken based on market research; there are very few arguments which disapprove of it as a useful tool. But, I was recently introduced to a rather potent argument about how market research is not all powerful as claimed by the statisticians and hardcore data junkies. Consider a scenario where a toothpaste company conducting a market survey about its product, poses various questions to its users about the taste, smell, color, package ergonomics etc. The kind of response which can be expected could be about wanting a higher mint flavor, a fresher smell, a greener color and so on. But what the argument contends is that by conducting such a conventional market survey, what the toothpaste company is getting are only incremental improvement suggestions for their product and not very significant experiential changes. For instance, because of a restrictive question set in the market survey pertaining to the past and current experiences of consumers about the product, the company loses out in tapping aspirations of the consumer for newer experiences like that of a teeth protecting chewing gum.

Capturing Relevant Audiences

This above situation is a very relevant discrepancy in terms of a market research exercise because of its reliance on past and current experiences as the basis on which the future is to be extrapolated. While these suggestions are predominantly incremental improvements in nature, what is more relevant today is capturing the experiential aspirations for the future. Also important is the need to make the advertising reach the relevant audience more than anybody, and with values becoming more and more embedded in experiences than in just the product, market research has to be redefined from being survey figures to being portals to experiential aspirations of relevant audiences.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Well, That Sounds About Right

It was Newton I think who said something about momentum and how things keep gaining it, if there is no friction. I am sure there have been other geniuses who have taken this to an abstract level and equated it to human activities as well; by which I mean to say that, an author can keep on writing, a poet can keep on composing when not impeded by any distractions, so on and so forth. For “Content Driven” bloggers like me, (Someone commented about one of my posts with that adjective!) a little momentum is all we require, but fall flat at the first mention of any friction. On Jan 25th, 2006 came the first mention of friction in my blogging career, a trip to sunny Goa!

Go Goa!

One can make up his mind all he wants about maintaining notes to write a travelogue, but once he hits the sandy beaches in Goa, it just becomes impossible. People don’t necessarily become lazy and start wasting time, but what happens is one experiences a complete disconnection from the world back home. Clocks are tuned to beach time and the mind is also numbed by a sense of casual un-belonging.

There is nothing really to the hype that is Goa. Miles and miles of Blue Ocean, sandy beaches, rocky forts, a city which thrives only on the moolah of the passing traveler and the sale of alcohol. One can never know that tourism is such big business until one sees the entire economy of a city based on it.

Anything and everything is created and designed to attract the eye of the traveler. Bright colors, vibrant designs and fresh aromas confront the traveler at every corner, making it easy for him to loosen his purse.

Falling off the Parachute is also fun!

Well not literally off the parachute, but an unplanned dive into the water when the boat pulling your parasail makes a sudden stop in the open sea, thanks to the anchor rope of a rogue boat, is definitely a lot of fun. Especially when the money paid for the “adventure sport” is refunded fully, thanks to this rather unfortunate [?] incident!

Incoherent and unable to write to a coherent post

Well, as is evident from the rambling above in this post, the long break from blogging has taken a toll on my ability to write anything coherently. A lot else too has happened in this period of my absence from the blogosphere, which have evidently doomed my comeback, diary entry like post. For lack of any other title and footnote, well that sounds just about right! [Barely!]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Say, are you game for some Satire?

{Also cross-posted at the Indian Media Bash Blog. Read Here }

For MAD magazine fanatics like me, everything in those pieces of satire is like pure gold! But believe me, the humor of MAD does not appeal to everyone. From “Alfred E. Neuman’s” various avatars to the “Letters and Tomatoes Department” and from the “The MAD Movie Satires” to the unforgettable “Spy Vs Spy” bloodbaths, all of them are unbelievably cruel. Cruel in the sense that, they go all out to make the life of those being parodied, unbearably funny. The caricatures of celebrities are not only realistic, but the situations they seem to be portrayed in, are very relevant to their “personalities”. Ya, I mean I know most of you are thinking that that is what they are supposed to be doing, but somehow I feel that after RK Laxman’s cartoons, no other cartoons seem to be able to convey the humor with a punch like those found in MAD.

The Gods of Movie Satire and everything else!

The features where they have cartoon parodies of the latest, famous movies, TV serials, and political events are just hilarious. Some of my favorites are from the Kicking the Hobbit Department: “Bored of the Rings” and from the Serge in General Department: “MAD look at Jackass”. One of the most memorable recent issues of MAD I read was the “The Official Unofficial History of MAD” [Thanks to a friend whose copy I borrowed and have still not returned!]. It carried the chronological history of how MAD developed and in a sort of “Forrest Gump-ish” way connected the important happenings of the 20th century with the issues of MAD. The bit about how Bill Gaines, the editor of MAD in 1987 skipped lunch for a week and by doing so saved Ghana from a famine has me in splits ever since!

Cine Blitz has Gone MAD?

Now back in India and to some interesting notes about our desi magazines, I found that Cine Blitz, the film magazine from the Mallyas [I did not know this, but the credits say that Mr. Vijay Mallya is the chairman] has a section on movie satire which is a ditto copy of the MAD version. I generally don’t page through Cine Blitz or Star Dust or any other movie magazines when I am in our club library, because most of the people there give me a nasty look, thinking that I am wasting my time ogling the glossy pictures of filmy babes, apart from all that’s on TV anyway. But today, seeing that Time magazine was already in the hands of someone else, I decided to page through a couple of these magazines. I pity the people who spend time writing articles in these magazines, I doubt if anyone reads them anyway. [Note to editors, magazine owners and others: This previous comment does not in anyway indicate my disinclination towards writing such articles if they are offered to me.] Everybody is so busy paging through the glossy airbrushed pictures of film stars and models that I doubt if anyone reads beyond the first two lines of the write-ups. Anyway, coming back to what I was saying before, Cine Blitz it seems now carries a movie satire piece with cartoons.

I found that I actually was reading October, 2005’s edition of Cine Blitz and it carried a parody about Aamir Khan’s movie Mangal Pandey- The Rising. It had caricatures of Aamir Khan, Amisha Patel, Rani Mukherjee and other cast members of the movie in goofy Mangal Pandey situations. I found that it also carried a joke similar to what I had conjured up in this post, about how unemployed dancing girls will find jobs in movie item numbers.

Satire in Indian Media

Well, this piece in Cine Blitz was nowhere as good as what is found on MAD, simply because it was not wicked enough! But satire and parodies in our Media is rather sparse according to me. Yes we have Shekar Suman with his Vajpayee imitations, NDTV’s puppet show, Double Take and a few others, but most satires are not of any mentionable quality. We are not such a satirical people as the Americans are [which is good] and many have complained to me that they don’t want to feel guilty by reading trash like MAD, but some laughing at ourselves will do us no harm. As I write this piece, the Apsara Award show is being aired on TV and I find that the event organizers too have come up with an attempt at satire. I must say, Ganesh Hegde and Diya Mirza’s parody about the hit movie songs of 2004-2005 looks like a good attempt. The comedians of the Great Indian Laughter Challenge also do a great job. And if the popularity of that show is any indication, it would be that we can afford to laugh a little more at MAD like satires and not feel guilty about it!

Friday, January 20, 2006


[Updated: Read the updates to this post below]

{Also cross-posted at the Indian Media Bash Blog. Read Here}

There is lots of news going on about news media in India. A whole bunch of new channels have sprouted in a very short period of time, and the journalistic world is all upbeat about the variety and richness in content that is expected by this increase in the number of channels. Many blogs have also commented on this topic, like here and here. I remember vaguely when Star News started in the mid-90s with Prannoy Roy’s NDTV providing the content. This started the change in the way people got news, very different from the way DD news used to handle it. The content was more opinionated and the journalists were also more “involved”. From the famous “News-Readers” of the DD era like Minu Singh and Usha Albuquerque we grew up to “News-Presenters” like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt.

News with Views

Talk shows and debates also got introduced into the news channels. Shows like “The Big Fight” and “We the People” hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt respectively very not only a must see on Saturdays and Sundays, but both of them attained cult status with the our generation. Compared to the days of dull news reporting of DD, this was a paradigm change and people’s voices were heard. They asked tougher questions than those before them, but many felt a bias of a socialist nature in the views expressed by them. This also started the interesting trend of news channels making an “Impact” on the people’s lives. From taking the case of finding homes for abandoned babies to generating aid for a blind girl to go to school, news channels connected with the audience in a way, so as to involve them in social stigmas.

Channel Mela

The completion of Star news’ contract with NDTV saw the launch of new channels like 24X7 and India by NDTV. While these channels maintained the same look, feel and content like their earlier persona as Star News, Star TV itself took the tabloid way out. At the same time, the India Today group which had been running the highly successful Aaj Tak, Hindi news channels launched Headlines Today in English. Although Headlines Today is similar (Very generalized word) in its feel with NDTV, the competition has never been fierce. Unfortunately for HT, their tag line of “Sharp news for sharp people” has not caught on, and the only news presenter most people can associate with HT is Jujhar Singh and not for his news reading skills but for his funny accent!

NDTV 24X7 is still my most preferred news channel. Apart from Prannoy Roy, the dependable and seasoned presenter/head honcho of NDTV, five presenters stood out, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt each with their trademark shows and Vikram Chandra, Arnab Goswami and Sonia Verma with the daily news. Around an year ago, Rajedeep Sardesai went missing from the screens of NDTV and from the show the Big Fight and finally about a six months ago I read in the print media that he was now editor in chief of “IBN- India Broadcast News”, and with a tie up with CNN was soon to launch a channel of his own. To be very frank, I did not notice the exit of Arnab Goswami from NDTV, until I saw him as a presenter in the promotional features of a yet to be launched new channel “Times Now” from the Times of India Group. Barkha Dutt & Vikram Chandra are still active on NDTV, but Sonia Verma is a rarity these days, although I doubt if she is involved with another channel.

Bite from the NDTV apple.

Now that CNN-IBN is out and a couple of months old, the similarities with NDTV are not easily hidden. It is not very surprising since many from the NDTV staff have been poached by Rajdeep for his channel. Anubha Bhosle, Suhasini Haider, Priyanjana Dutta are just some of them who have made the switch from NDTV to CNN-IBN. Even Headlines Today has lost a few like HR Venkatesh to CNN-IBN. If NDTV started the sensationalization of news to some extent and Headlines Today was one step ahead, I think CNN-IBN is taking it to the next level. But I think the team there deserves some latitude from the viewers in this regard, as they are a young channel and still finding their footing in the market.

But a few things do look and feel a little funny with CNN-IBN. I found it very amusing to note that CNN-IBN gives fancy names like “Chief Cricket Correspondent” and “Chief International Affairs Correspondent” to their journalists similar to the fancy names for their shows like LOC- The Love of Cricket! But, Sonali Chander of NDTV with her flirtatious attitude towards Navjot Sidhu does a much better job of covering cricket, than Nishant Arora of CNN-IBN. Another thing new which I observed with Rajdeep’s channel was the CNN-like feel to hosting news shows. The anchor in the studio is not the overall compeer, but field reporters also link to other field reporters while developing a story. This kind of tagged-presenting is very common with CNN’s anchor driven shows like Anderson Cooper 360, or News Night with Aaron Brown.

It is taking Whatever!

There is a deluge of media portals that have opened up recently. General news channels like NDTV and Zee News have also sprouted business channels like NDTV profit and Zee Business to compete in the business news space with CNBC-TV18. With all this activity in the TV space, radio and print are not far behind. With the recent legislation of allowing more private FM players into the market, maybe we will soon have a city based radio news channel as well. The print media has seen brand new papers like Mumbai Mirror and DNA in Mumbai and the entry of Hindustan Times into the Mumbai market. With the economy of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad also booming, it won’t be long before many news papers start making a foray into these markets as well. Finally, the greatest revolution in news media is going to be in the internet space with the Blogosphere gaining popularity as in your face kind of journalism. The plethora of ideas and vastness of the coverage that the Blogosphere is made up of cannot be ignored. With the world moving towards a pod-casting, RSS- Really Simple Syndication and Push Button Publishing kind of a market, the content is not only going to get diverse, but also very customer specific.

Update 1:
I think, CNN-IBN's "Whatever it takes" tag-line is going a bit too far. Today another "CNN-IBN IMPACT" feature was aired. Titled "The King is Dying" it was about the dwindling population of Lions in the Gir Forest in Gujrat. The creepy part was that it was hosted by a person called "Bahar Dutt", sporting a bob-cut look, with gestures and reporting style very similar to NDTV's Barkha Dutt! Come on Rajdeep! You can do better! [Unfortunately, the poor corrspondent is not to be blamed for having a similar name and look, but I smell a rat somewhere!]-21/1/2006

Update 2:
As indicated by an anonymous commentator and later google verified by me it is confirmed that Bahar Dutt is actually Barkha's sister. So no blame can be passed to her about the similarity of gestures with her sis!

Venice in Yelahanka!?!

Incongruity What, Where?

Venice is apparently the most enchanting place on earth, and it is being recreated in good old suburb of Bangalore called Yelahanka. Inspired by the magical landscape of Venice, the new luxury apartment complex in Yelahanka will be equipped with not just sparkling waterways and lush gardens it will also have a vast piazza and even a magnificent Bell Tower! So a public square or market place will be in the midst of high rise apartment blocks. Well maybe it will be a place where all the street hawkers who carry vegetable baskets on their heads will assemble everyday, or the place where scores of men who exchange old clothes for utensils will make a raucous, calling out to the many matrons of the flats. But a bell tower in an apartment complex? I wonder what this will be used for. Since Bangalore [or is it Bengalooru] is a city of the future, maybe the bell will be used for reminding the inhabitants of the apartments the intervals of time, with a loud gong every hour and twelve gongs at noon. Also, every aspect of this high end home will be very thoughtfully designed. It will have all the amenities required for the people inside the large compound of Venicelahanka. From vitrified floors to ornate lobbies leading to water purifying plants, the place will be packed with look-alike artifacts from Venetian palaces and buildings. With swimming pools, health spas, Jacuzzis, tennis courts and gyms, the inhabitants will not have to step out of the compound for days on end, excepting of course to buy Mortein mosquito mats, for the swarms which will make the waterways their homes. Or maybe, people in Venicelahanka will board their Gondola and take their gently rocking boats to the Piazza to buy mosquito coils every time the gong from the bell tower sounds!

Originality When, How?

Who wants originality when one can experience “the spirit of Venice” in Bangalore’s homes. Who is bothered about the function of architecture when form can fake the luxury of having cobbled streets and Grecian relief in ones backyard? Incongruity be dammed if the nouveau rich can have the feeling of floating in a narrow gondola through the waterways of Venice to get to their neighbor’s apartment. This kind of a faking of reality is cancerous according to me. This is not only creativity at its gaudiest but also a relinquishing of one’s cultural integrity. The problem is not that people crave for a luxurious lifestyle but a need to ape the west in such irrelevant pretences.

Culture? Naw, we want tradition baby!

Culture is always mistaken with tradition. In the name of copying the western culture, we Indians end up copying their architecture and dress codes and not their values. We want the cobbled streets of Geneva in our cities but not the Swiss sense of quality. We want the fountains of Berlin in our parks but not the punctuality of the Germans. We want Italian automobiles on our roads but don’t have the basic decency to wait for the traffic signal to turn green before proceeding. Culture police will lament about how globalization and free markets have eroded Indian culture by allowing such incongruity to set in, but will not question the lack of self integrity when it comes to choosing the right things. Then people will indulge in wasteful activities like re-christening of cities to have a sense of belonging with one’s culture and tradition. Unfortunately, it is only the tradition of the west that we seem to ape and not their value systems. Concepts like free trade, punctuality, quality and common road sense seem lost to us, but a gargoyle shaped fountain is what we aspire for in our luxury homes!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Coconut Picker

The view from the window of my bedroom in our second floor apartment is that of crisscrossing bristles of the green leaves of a coconut tree. Trying to thwart the habit of an afternoon siesta, which is unbecoming of a twenty three year old like me, I lay on my bed beside the window this past Sunday afternoon enjoying the view of squirrels scurrying among the yellow green coconuts which looked ripe enough to be picked very soon. It had rained the previous night and the green leaves looked bright and a couple of the dried brown ones hugging the trunk of the tree also glistened in the afternoon sun. Just as I was wondering about the need to pick the ripe coconuts and pull down the dried leaves lest they should come crashing down in the next rain, I saw a pair of thin, sun burnt brown arms of an old man who picked the coconuts, climbing the gray trunk of the tree.

I sat up, amazed at this coincidence and observed as the old man climbed up to within reach of the coconuts with the ease and confidence of a skilled person. His legs were wrapped around the trunk of the tree, a small piece of jute rope looped across his ankles and one of his hands holding a small curved machete. He was a lean man in his late fifties but his arms and legs did not show signs of age. He wore a turban over his squat face and the white bristles of his unshaven beard were in contrast with the brown of his wrinkled skin. The skin over his gaunt face was pulled taut with concentration as he clung on to the tree at the precarious height with just his legs and used both his arms to cut the dead leaves of the tree.

He was one of the regulars who plied the street selling tender coconut and had been for many years now, the person who picked the coconuts when they were ripe. Nobody had to inform him when to come and just as the thought of trimming the trees popped up in the minds of the housewives and grandmothers of the houses on the street, he would be there the next day offering to do the job. He was a quite man, someone who probably knew when the coconut trees on this street were ready to be pruned and turned up without fail at the right time. It was probably the recognition of his skill that there was a tacit understanding between him and the matrons of the houses and there was never any haggling between them unlike the few other younger men who turned up at infrequent intervals and demanded exorbitant charges.

I sat watching him using his machete to cut the coconuts off the tree and seeing them fall down some thirty feet with a thud and rolling off to all corners of the garden below. There was a simple beauty in the way he executed this, holding the coconut he was cutting in his left hand and using the machete in his right hand to dislodge it from the tree with just one slash. He then let it go from the height where it always landed on the mud below before it bounced off with tremendous force towards the pots, but never managed to break them. This reminded me of a fable which my mother had told me about a traveler who rested below a large banyan tree on his road and wondered why God had blessed such a vast tree with tiny cheery sized fruit and a small shrub with a big fruit like a pumpkin. The beauty of nature dawns on him when he is awoken by the small fruit popping over his head and realizes that he is lucky that it was not a large pumpkin that fell on his head instead.

I had always wondered whether the coconut tree had been an anomaly to this wonderful order in nature and why such a hard shelled fruit hung so high above our heads. But as I saw this skilled man at the top of the tree ripping the coconuts from the tree with a calm casual brilliance, I realized that there was a superior order of nature - the competence of man’s mind which has the cognizance to discern good from bad and in the process of ensuring its welfare also finds the nectar hidden in the giddy heights it has scaled. After all, isn’t it this ability to appreciate good things that inspired a Kannada poet to ask his fellow men

… Thindidiya khobri bella?”

(Have you had the pleasure of eating the mixture of coconut and jaggery?)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The WTO - World Trade Organizations

“Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value” was the cogent argument presented by Ayn Rand when asked to define money and trade. The concept of trade is the root of civilization, the very essence of a society which is based on a system where progress is achieved by exchanging value. Initially men formed small communities based on common trading practices; their small society developed based on the various different values, which each of them brought to the market for exchange with another’s value offering. As these values were exchanged, it brought along with it progress, and with progress a requirement for more variety in the needs. As trade flourished, so did the economy and consequently the growth facilitated establishment of trade with other similar communities. Geographical obstructions crumbled away as new and unique commodities and services were included for trade. As these concepts spread around the world systems, rules and regulations were formed by trading communities to ensure that there was a value for the transaction. As more and more communities came into the trading market, the perception of “value” was found to be just as varied. This necessitated the setting up of a coherent system of “value” judgment and hence the establishments of the organizations like the WTO to achieve these goals. In today’s world where inevitably there are trade links between every corner of the globe to the other, a common platform for deciding on perceptions of value is required and to discuss the efforts made by the WTO to address these issues, Dr. Abdul Qader Shaikh, a renowned economist with the United States Chamber of Commerce, delivered a seminar at the J.R.D. Tata auditorium on 10th January, 2006.

The WTO is the successor to the GATT or General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, which was established in 1948 to quell the post war economic depression. It was initially established to develop guidelines for the commodity based trade which existed around the world. The economists from the member countries which were part of the GATT met at regular intervals and negotiated over the various trade issues prevalent in the day. But with the emergence of the computer and software business and the ascendance of the free market economy around the world, where the focus shifted towards trade in services, there was a need to include this also into the negotiations and discussions. Hence in the rounds of meetings in Uruguay during 1986-1994, the charter for including the value perceptions of services trade was drawn up and thus the WTO was established.

The WTO charter not only had frameworks for dealing with the issues of a service economy, but also had new concepts like Intellectual Property Rights which have become cornerstones of a free market economy. TRIPS or Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is an integral part of the WTO charter which deals with rights given to people over the creations of their minds. With a lot of financial services and the exchange of money and currency also gaining popularity in the economy, the WTO has recognized this and has developed frameworks for dealing with these issues under the TRIMS or Trade Related Investment Measures.

The representatives of the WTO member countries meet at regular intervals and discuss and negotiate on the various tariffs and duties which are currently present restricting trade between various economies. These tariffs which exist as a result of differing value perceptions result in the price of the commodity or service being costly and hence not beneficial to the consumer. The WTO makes efforts to curb practices of predatory pricing and excessive tariffs imposed by economies so that the products remain competitive. By curbing monopolistic trends developed due to unfair duty regimes, the WTO is required to provide the consumer not only the financial benefits but also benefits in terms of choice and quality. With the global trade values exceeding the rates of GDP growth, the importance of free and fair trade is highlighted by the WTO.

But, there are many issues which in the method and policies of the WTO which make it very unpopular in the developing environments. Some of the policies in the WTO, where the economically strong nations with their inherent financial strength seem to dominate the negotiations have not been readily accepted by the developing and least developed countries. One of the allegations which have been made against the WTO is the claim that it dictates the trade policy on its member states and advocates free trade at any cost. For example, some developing countries have alleged that rules like enforcing the cutting down of subsidies in agriculture exports where the major economy of the country is agriculture leads to unfair disadvantages to those countries, and the conferences have been witness to many heated arguments on these issues.

Going by the policy of the WTO of not wanting to engage in a zero-sum game, where one party rules the roost while the other suffers at the winning party’s behest, these and many other allegations were addressed during the rounds of talks held in Doha, Qatar during 2001. Although the Doha round and the subsequent rounds of meetings in Cancun, Mexico did not lead to concrete measure being taken on many of these issues due to differences in opinions, the Doha Development Agenda was finalized and the was discussed during the meet at Hong Kong in mid December of 2005. Some of the issues which were negotiated and resolved during the Hong Kong rounds were the issue regarding cotton subsidies for countries where the main product of export is cotton. The developed countries decided to phase out the cotton subsidies which their exporters enjoy by end of 2006, so that the products of countries like Burkina Faso and Benin to be more competitive in the market. Other issues dealt in the round were the decision to phase out agricultural subsidies which are biased against some countries by the year 2013.

The dominance of US, the European Union and Japan in the WTO is one of the main concerns for the other members. The improvement of market access to non agricultural products into these economies is one of the demands of the other countries and negotiations are yet to take a positive turn in this issue. Many developing economies in the world perceive the WTO as a threat, but there have been many positives also. The WTO agreements have helped countries like South Africa which are faced with the AIDS pandemic to gain access to generic versions of patented drugs, which otherwise may have been extremely costly to import. Despite the rosy picture painted by the US and few other dominant members, the WTO still faces stiff opposition from many other nations which are not fully open to a free market economy. The WTO may not be without imperfections and the imbalance may need to be addressed, but it is necessary for those countries which benefit most from its decisions to accept that money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by unforced judgment of the traders involved; also imperative is for those who do not benefit to understand that wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think and the WTO may be a very able forum to provide such a fair framework.

How Authentic is History?

Imagine this situation. It is the year 2206, exactly a couple of hundred years from now. A student of History in a virtual classroom in Bangalore [or Bengaluru], with a holographic projection goggles worn over his eyes, is listening to a lecture of his Harvard professor addressing him. As the professor speaks, his voice is automatically presented as sub titles and the presentation he is making is also visible on the left corner of the view. Suppose the professor is dealing with a topic called “India in the late 20th and early 21st centuries” and is discussing how art forms of this era portrayed the way people lived, their lifestyles and interactions with society. And suppose he is also discussing the way people of that era recorded their data and lives on circular metallic disks called CDs and DVDs, and although these methods of data presentation presupposed certain other reading devices called computers, they did ensure that these were available easily for the public. Our student in Bangalore now sees a lot of red squares flashing on the right side of his view, he selects one of the red tabs by calling out a small code and soon the view of his professor is now shared by another student from Lithuania who is eagerly asking the question that whether the people constantly recorded the events of their lives or was it only for select situations. A small message instructs our Bangalore student that he can choose if he wants to hear the answer the professor gives the Lithuanian student or continue with the lecture. Our student also intrigued by the question selects to listen to the answer which the professor gives, where he learns the professor’s opinion that, going by the sheer amount of data stored on these circular devices and the fact that many are yet to be deciphered, it may seem that people actually captured their day to day lives on these devices!

Soon the lecture takes a more interesting turn. The professor activates a full view projection and starts playing a “record” of the day to day life in 20th century India. He instructs the students to observe the unique lifestyles that are apparent in that era. Soon the students from around the world hooked onto the virtual classroom are seeing a man in cooling glasses and a rough mustache, wearing a shirt with collars turned up, walking in the centre of the screen. The swaggering man suddenly throws a cigarette in the air, and using a pistol lights the cigarette, which lands right into his mouth. The students are now watching with rapt attention and shocked when all of a sudden a bunch of similar looking men pop out of the background bushes and break into a rhythmic dance and song sequence! The song continues, but soon a lady and a bunch of ladies who look like her, pop out of the background as well. The professor interjects to inform the students that they can watch the entire archive of this and similar footage at a particular link and dictates an assignment for the students to research “The instances of pistol use to light cigarettes in 20th century India” and then declares the forum open for questions. The right side of our student’s view is now flashing with little red cubicles indicating that other students have questions. Soon the professor calms his students down by saying that the presentation was an entertainment sequence from the late 20th century in India. But the students are still perplexed, and the professor tries to explain that based on a comparative study of similar “entertainment sequences” from around the world at that time, it can be concluded that this kind of song and dance sequences was unique only to Indian culture at that time. He goes on to declare that research has shown that due to the sociological framework of the multi-ethnic, multi lingual and multi religious culture of India in that era, there must have been a strong urge for people to break into such song and dance sequence during the middle of the day, to relieve stress, to establish social contacts with the members of the opposite sex, to express anguish at failing and the joy of succeeding. The professor further assigns the students tasks to present theories as to the chronological developments of such phenomena. With this our student in Bangalore, with a sense of fascination at his ancestors, logs off from the history lesson, determined to understand the uniqueness of the philosophy behind such behavior by his predecessors!

Back in the present, does this small anecdote from a probable future seem far fetched and unbelievable? Is it illogical to think that the future this close [200 years] will have such a distorted view about the past? We don’t break into song and dance sequences in the middle of our day, why it is in our movies is still a mystery to me. I have always argued with my friends that unlike our history [before the computer age], we will be leaving behind a very comprehensive, less destructible account of ourselves than what our ancestors with paper, papyrus and stone have left us. But off late I am having second thoughts about this enormous data we are leaving behind, if it will be easily understandable in the future? With the wheels of change setting such a blistering pace recently and in the future, will this account of us be intelligible to the denizens of the future? This thought leads me to one more speculation; is what we consider as history, authentic, or is it an “entertainment sequence” of the past which we are interpreting as history?

I read in an article that history as we know it is based on someone’s account of what he or she saw and experienced during any particular span of time. So is it correct to assume that what we read, see or decipher as the evidence of the past is essentially someone’s interpretation? This assumption may not be entirely true, since what we base as historical fact is not based on a single persons account but on accounts of many people which have common threads in them. But still there will be a gap which cannot be bridged; for instance by correlating accounts of many people we may be able to ascertain that certain events occurred at a certain period of time. But based on these assumptions, can we make conclusions about the behavior of the people involved in the event? The example of the future sequence seems a little far fetched; it would be difficult to come to inappropriate conclusions, since such assumptions would be considerably reduced in the presence of an enormous collection of stark visual data. But again as the example tries to highlight, even this visual data taken out of context can be taken to mean very different things. Now when one compares a visual documentary to one that was written on papyrus or carved on stone, the amount of imagination on the part of the reader in case of the latter is more than evident. The architectural reliefs on temples, churches and palaces have long been taken as relevant evidence to the society of the place they are situated in, but can they not be only the “director’s” opinion about the actual situation. With the amount of pull the saints, popes and kings exerted on the artisans and builders of the day, can these be accepted as valid historical evidence?

The more I see of the current trend in movies and soap operas, I wonder that if these were seen in the future as to indicate the status of society today, I begin to come to the conclusion that, in the future there will be a very inappropriate estimation of our times. It might be an entertainment sequence today, but what if they are viewed as depictions of authentic reality in the future? Maybe just as some of us believe that in ancient India people cavorted around in their birthday suits, based on the reliefs on the temples in Kahjuraho, people in the future may believe that we Indian’s broke out into song and dance in our day to day lives based on our movies!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Labor Laws In India

Having a keen interest in the fields of management, economy and trade, I have a habit of reading articles, journals and write-ups which deal with this subject. With the fast pace of change in management practices around the world it is very interesting to read how new ideas and practices came into effect and how they have been evolving. I have with me a collection of articles, case studies and journals about management, economy and related topics from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s which were collected by my uncle. This archive has clippings on various topics ranging from new practices in quality management, inventory scheduling, manufacturing practices and so on, many of which practices were in their initial stages of evolution at the time. What makes interesting reading are old newspaper articles which highlight the state of industry during the pre-globalization ages.

One such Economic Times article dated July 19, 1986 deals with the prevalent labor laws of the day and is titled “Victimization of the Employer”. The authors of the article have shown by citing examples of various legal cases pertaining to strives between managements and trade unions of various companies, how the labor laws are actually biased against the employer. Among the many examples cited one particularly caught my attention. This deals with the contentious issue of closing down an industry by an industrialist under economic compulsions. The right to carry on a business includes a right to stop it or close it, extols the article and points out that under the relevant labor laws even this fundamental right of an employer is punishable under the penal code.

One of the examples provided by the authors highlighting the bias against the employer, is when in 1984, an employee suspended by Delton Cable-India for misconduct and use of inappropriate language is re-instated by the order of the Supreme Court of India. The authors have a valid point that such cases of judicial ambivalence and other similar cases have not only seriously undermined the relevance of industrial discipline but are a clear case of victimization of the employer. With the advent of globalization in the 90’s and the rules and regulations under treaties like GATT and WTO, the labor laws have become stricter and the bias against the employer has reduced. As the country tries to attract more foreign investment, it is imperative that the inherent bias against the employer which thrived under a license raj reduces.

The recent lockout declared by the management of the Toyota Kirloskar plant in Bangalore is in response to a strike by the workers union demanding the re-instatement of three employees, who had been suspended by the company on grounds of misconduct. There has not been a major lockout in Karnataka for a long time and a tough stand has been taken by the company against the striking union members. But with the involvement of a multinational like Toyota and the global investor eyesight being focused on any such incidents, there is a lot of introspection in the government about the antiquated labor laws which have aided this situation to develop. Another related issue where the government is stuck in an embarrassing situation is with regard to the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited. Here the judiciary and the Government of Karnataka are at loggerheads over the closure of the company. The Supreme Court had ordered the termination of operations at KIOCL because of concerns to the environment from January 2006. But the Government faced with the large displacement of labor and internal political pressures has been lobbying with the central government to reverse this ruling. The issues surrounding this case are not limited to this and it may not be fair to outright dismiss the case against the Supreme Court ruling, but the lethargy of the Government in handling the situation in collusion of the antiquated labor laws have made case spiral into an ugly situation.

Although there has been a great improvement in the economic and industrial sector in the country, the industrial disputes and disagreements are still suffering under the archaic legal framework of The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. It is high time for serious reforms and amendments to the labor laws and handling of industrial disputes. The authors of the 1986 article published prior to the ascendance of the free market economy, put the finger on the pulse of the issue when they stated that the plight of the employer has been overlooked in the over enthusiastic rendering of social justice and that considering the employer as an antisocial element, would be a serious injustice against the very capital which the labor is employed for.


  1. “Victimization of the Employer” by Shanti Mal Jain & D.C. Jain, The Economic Times, July 19th, 1986

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