Wednesday, 31 December 2014

THANKS, MSD... YOU WERE A GREAT CAPTAIN!




I didnt say this for Sachin, nor for Rahul... great though they were, and far better cricketers... 

But for you, MSD, A short post. A vote of thanks from my side for leading our India through thick and thin...

You, Sir, Captained Our India, and that to me personally is the most important. You were the leader! The man who represented us all in cricket, the king.. for several years... 

You were there to take the brickbats when we lost. You were there to share the spoils with the team when we won. You took the failures on the chin, and yet shepherded Team India in Cricket for several years... through the highs and the lows... through victory and defeat... in the manner of a king, a true leader... you took us to Number 1; and when the fall came... you were there equally unperturbed... in the true manner of a king! One of the finest Captains India has had! 

And that is why you deserve this... 

Thank you from a fellow Indian... 

Thanks a lot, Mr. Mahendra Singh Dhoni... Ex-Captain Of India!  

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

NaMo, The International Prime Minister

Our Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has seen a remarkable rise in his overall popularity and perception as a leader on the international stage. This has been done by partly some aggressive and bold diplomacy, firm positions and tough negotiations at various stages and with various players on the international stage. This has been further supported by his extensive touring abroad, so much so that I recently read one article asking when is NaMo in India, or words to that effect. 

Let us not forget a simple reality : we are a developing country with limited financial resources of our own. The fulfilment of the need can be either internal through home grown capital or external through FDI-FII etc.  And that is where the positive international perception of our leader is so vital. However, international perception of a leader, and of a nation is not entirely based on diplomacy; rather, in some ways, achievements in diplomacy are in reality based on a few internal factors.


International Perception is driven primarily by : 

1) Returns to be had from investments into that nation, 

2) The safety of those investments, 

3) The strategic utility of relations with that nation, 

4) The depth & breadth of the financial markets and currency markets, 

5) Internal legal setup, 

6) Conformance of laws with international standards, 

7) Ease of enforcement of laws and contracts and 

8) Stable political atmosphere. 

Note that Democracy is not a pre-requisite; equitable income distribution is also not a factor.Strong diplomacy is also not mandatory. In many ways, these two are intertwined - the internal strength of a leader gives potency to the diplomatic moves; the successes in diplomacy tend to strengthen the leader domestically. But the base of the leader is his or her own bastion, the mother country. 

It is inarguable that Narendra Modi's international reputation is very favourable at this point in time; further, this favourable impression has actually improved India's standing and image as well, as also his reputation of being a strong, tough, aggressive and pro-business leader.  A strong leader gives a hope, a direction and a clear vision - and, as of now, Mr Narendra Modi has brought all three to the table on the international relations arena, which bodes well for India especially since that vision is largely in line with the interests of international money. 

Analysing the points above, we can easily see that 1) - 8) all points are hugely in Narendra Modi's favour. Hence, the perception of India is bound to rise in the global race. Add to the above one additional point : the ability of the nation to propound, present and enforce its views and interests in international negotiations. As we have seen in Trade, Climate and Indo-US talks, India is in no mood to compromise on anything, period.  Our successes in that sphere have been driven primarily by the points enumerated above; thus supporting the hypothesis that our international standing has improved; while simultaneously further buttressing the standing of NaMo!

On a global scale, it is all all about trade and money, pure and simple. The modern world is a connected world, and money drives the world. Further, we are an investment starved nation, and need investors - who will need a return on investment. From a trade perspective, money put into India will get superior returns to the tune of several percentage points over and above investments in the developed world, given the interest rate differential. That is the single most vital factor driving investments into India - be it NRIs, PIOs or FIIs or MNC Firms FDI Investments. 

In a finite world, it is primarily a question of attracting surplus funds in the global economy. Few people do it for patriotic reasons, or developmental reasons, or for strategic relations. Money drives money. Even our own NRIs and PIOs {exceptions only prove the rule} invest in India only and only due to better returns, driven by more attractive special packages for them, and the better returns from the economy; not patriotism. 

It thus becomes a question of creating a conducive internal atmosphere for investments and economic growth. Given that atmosphere, even sworn enemies will trade, like India - China - Pakistan. And when we the matter view from that perspective, this government has taken steps, or offered promise/s like : 

1) Giving a chance of a stable future, given its majority in Parliament 

2) Taken steps perceived as pro-business, like easing of Land Acquisition Laws, GST, roll back of Taxation problems, negotiation on peripheral matters 

3) Taken steps to simplify trade, with steps like  the promise of the GST and action starting on the same

4) Shown firm intent, as demonstrated by the Ordinance on the Land Bill recently

5) Taken steps to improve governance w.r.t. to the matters above

This is not to state that there aren't real and present worries regarding any number of issues related to the Economy, Social matters, Politics and other issues in India. I myself am on record raising a few of these in no uncertain terms. But credit where credit is due; let us understand and appreciate the good that is happening while pointing out the negatives, in the highest traditions of our democracy. 

I respectfully submit that the points raised by the critics are thus not relevant to the international public at large, and Governments in particular. Particularly since their time-frame in the short to mid-term. And the true impact positive or negative of the points raised by others will show up in the long term, unless something is done now. And between then and now, a lot can happen, there are other internal social and economic parameters to be considered that are not relevant to this discussion. These parameters may curdle it, or may solve the issue; but that is another story...

All {or at least some of the points} are {or may be} accurate; granted. But I was talking from the external POV, or, in other words, how much will Rs 10 fetch if an international investor invests in India, in what level of security of the capital investment, under what economic / demographic conditions vis-a-vis investment in other nations for the same parameters. That is what will drive investment in India, which will benefit us as a nation given our finite resources

It is a question of attracting excess liquidity in the Global Economy, and offering a better return on investment vis-a-vis other comparable nations, nations with a higher chance to reach middle-income levels. And on that, with our professional legal, financial and currency setup, with the current status of the economy combined with the demographic factors - is where we are scoring under the current political dispensation, with their aggressive approach on the international front, building relations while providing, or trying to provide a conducive atmosphere at home for the business community. 

It is too early to take any call on these matters yet; this Government is only 7 months old. While on some other matters 7 months is more than enough time to gauge direction and intent; on these matters, it will take a little time to see and gauge the results, and see whether the signed agreements and promises convert into tangible gains for us as a nation. Our Prime Minister has made an excellent start by getting these in place through his extensive touring and outreach to other nations, now the task for us as a nation is the conversion of these promises into results and tangible benefits for all of us...



Note & Disclaimer : These points are my own analysis; having said that, my views are formed on the basis of my study of the following reference material :


1) Breakout Nations - Ruchir Sharma {Book Review Here}


2) Pax Indica - Shashi Tharoor {Book Review Here}


3) Fault Lines - Dr Raghuram G Rajan {Book Review Here}


4) Assorted business newspapers and diplomatic and political analyses in various news media both in print and on the digital medium

Monday, 29 December 2014

Book Review : Scent Of A Game



Scent Of A Game
By Raghav Chandra



The Author can be found on Raghav Chandra : His Website Biography : http://raghavchandra.org/Biography.aspx. He is an IAS Officer, and the pertinent aspect of his career is summarised below. 



He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1982 and was posted as Assistant Collector in Satna and Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Ashoknagar near the Shivpuri National Park, and Sihora midway between Kanha and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves. Later he was Additional Collector at Korba near the Achanakmar Sanctuary where he was exposed to the conflict and interface between the development needs of the tribal communities on the one hand and the aspirations of the burgeoning mining/public sector/industrial sectors. 





Why You Should Read This Review :

The internet is a fantastic tool : one google search can reveal a lot; and that one internet search has led me to reviews by wildlife websites, as well as others more specialised into these matters. My take on this will therefore be from a more consumerist point of view; giving reasons to read, the weaknesses and the strengths of the novel, and its most scary aspect. 




The Plot

The plot, shorn of all its embellishments, is straightforward and simple. The scary part lies elsewhere. This is about Tigers, or more generally about wildlife conservation in India, the illegal trade linked around the conservation, the various nexus that operate around it. There is absolutely nothing else to it, period. Please note my use of words. 


The embellishments are an excellent attempt at creating an engaging fiction novel out of this concept which is boring in the extreme to anyone not from this field, or not interested in it, or not having an education in Biology. The story is told mainly through the trials and struggles for survival of two individuals who get caught in an ugly nexus partly by chance, partly by design.

One is an NRI, who gets caught in the quagmire of poaching due to no fault of his. The other is a journalist, who is on the trail of a story on Tiger Poaching. The entire story revolves around a famous Tigress Badi Maadaa, who has disappeared, despite being radio-tagged. The experiences of these two as they trail, or are entangled in this affair, and how they get out of it form the bulk of the book. 

In short, there are, in effect, two parallel but entangled tales here; one is of the missing Tigress and/or Conservation of Wildlife, and the other about these 2 central characters and their struggle to survive, as one is framed, and the other targeted for Termination of the permanent kind. This is the essence of the entire plot.


The Analysis

The book is slow and tedious, make no mistake about that. It is painstakingly slow in places - not boring, but slow. This is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a painstakingly, lovingly put-together tale, with incredible attention to detail and plot. The plot, though unbelievably simple at one level, is exceedingly complicated at another level, as we shall see in the remaining analysis. 

The key question is, for a lay reader, has the author managed to keep the interest alive? Yes, he has - through an engaging use of the related and intertwined plotlines, with both plots moving forward alternatively; a few pages on the frame-up, or personal lives, or the journalist's experiences; then interleaving it with the details of the wildlife conservation efforts of the Tiger Park, or moving the poaching and international smuggling plot forward

The punch of the book is the real and main story, shorn of the embellishments : the tiger poaching ring, the movement of smuggled skins and other items, and the nitty gritty of the entire modus operandi, told in detail. The book is a fascinating repository of information of National Parks like Pench, Kanha, of wildlife conservation and of the working of the forest departments, as well as the forest ecosystem including tribals. Importantly, here you get the corrupt officials, the incompetents and the high-and-mighty who are involved in the entire matter.

This is something you can find in other novels as well, with a difference : in this novel, the author has exposed the interplay of incompetence and low-level corruption and its interaction with high-level corruption and serious crime, carried out in an atmosphere of bureaucracy and political control. This is where the author is in unique territory; read the book solely for this, if for nothing else. 

And that is the scary part; the Author, as I pointed out, an IAS Officer with practical experience in this precise geographical tract, spanning these Tiger Parks. The shocking callousness and incompetence, the vicious nexus that operate in this fiction novel, when seen in the backdrop of the Author's background, paint a terrifying possibility, and underline the need for positive change in India, and the need for supporting the good officers from the IAS Services, as has been shown in the book as well!

This is a must read for all... dont miss this one... 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Music : A Question Of, And A Case For, Marathi Music

Music : A Case For Spreading Marathi Music


I am not a music expert, or practitioner; far from it. I am a regular, casual fan of Music; this post is not a post of an analysis of the two languages' musical traditions. Furthermore, as a confirmed former member of the Macaulay's Children Family, I am a fairly new convert to Marathi Music. But basis what I have seen, and heard {!}, I am stunned, and more than a little sorry that I ignored my mother tongue for so very long. 

It is perhaps because of my newness that I have noted the things I have; principally, the total lack of exposure to Marathi Music in the mainstream Social Media, as also Marathi Films. There is an abundance of exposure to the latest as well as the oldies in Hindi Music and Cinema, while the vernacular rarely gets exposure, at least insofaras Marathi is concerned. 


People can and do share Hindi music, articles and updates related to Hindi Music and Cinema, performers, artists and stars; this same is muted in the case of the Vernacular. At least, I havent seen many posts. The sad part of it is, the vernacular music section is truly filled with wonders, and we run the risk of it getting subsumed; there are two ways to solve this : write an article analysing this behaviour, hoping to change people {unlikely; forlorn hope}, or...



Do something about it, be the change you want to see in others, by starting to share Marathi Music and Cinema updates alongwith my other FB updates and Blogs. This is what I have started doing, so that I can repay the favour to the unnamed person who exposed me to the wonder that is Marathi Music and Cinema, and made me a convert. This is an article that highlights some of my favourite new Marathi singers and Musicians - not through their biodata and life-stories, but through their prominent songs... some you have heard of in Hindi music, while some may be new to the readers...





Vaishali Mhade, Bela Shende, Swapnil Bandodkar, Vaishali Samant, Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Kirti Killedar, Suresh Wadkar, Sonu Nigam... and Nilesh Mohrir, Ajay Atul & Avinash-Vishwajeet among others {Music Directors}


This song stands as among my top favourite, sung by Vaishali Mhade who is in singers, ahead of even Bela Shende in my favourites, who features later... Vaishali has an unforgettable voice, with such haunting melodies as this one : Dhuke Daatle Megh Zaraashe...


Or this rendition of Soor Anandaghan with Suresh Wadkar :



There were others I could not find, like Mounaat Bolte Raat... 




Moving on, listen to this beautiful number Paavsaa Re Paavsaa from the talented Kirti Killedar, featuring music by Nilesh Mohrir {featured in the previous post as well in Devaa Tujhyaa Gaabhaaryaalaa Umbaraach Naahi}... 



I have already given one of her top duets - Sar Sukhaachi Shraavani Ke Naachraa Valiv Haa - in one of my previous posts; let us look at a couple more from the talented Bela Shende, with Swapnil Bandodkar; Music by Avinash Vishwajeet : Aikaavi Vaatate



The next song in my list is the soft, soothing morning number Padat Aakashi Sonsade : Kedar Bhagwat/ Hariharan / Shankar Mahadevan; listen and enjoy this absolute stunner bejewelled with equally fabulous lyrics : 


Sonu Nigam, a known name... well, prepare to be suprised by this lovely lilting tune sung by him : Hirvaa Nisarg



A superb love song sung Swapnil Bandodkar and Music by Kedar Bhagwat, Parat Tulaa Paahataa Parat Tulaa Sparshtaa


Kedar Bhagwat features yet again in this post, along with Hariharan in the touching sensitive love song Shwaas Mee Aakaash Tu Re Bhaas Mee Swaprakaash Tu Re

 

The last 2 in this list of 10 contains two songs diamterically opposite to each other, one a complete classical song, the other a fully commercial song... first, listen to the fantastic Jeev Bhulalaa from the house of Ajay Atul, sung by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Goshal



Let us close this list of 10 with 2 renditions of an old classic song - Kathhin Kathhin Kathhin Kiti Purush Hrudaya Baai; one by the inimitable Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle



And then listen to this rendition of this same old number  by Rashmi Moghe... to get a fuller idea of the contemporary scene in Marathi Music, which is cutting across all genres... 




Literature and Arts / Music are what keep a language alive; we are already in a society where we get little chance to read Marathi {or our respective Mother Tongues}; not only that, we - at least Urban people like me - are not too good at reading Marathi. We just arent used to it. Thus, the only way to continue our heritage is through arts and music... 

For residents in Maharashtra, this is not that much of an issue; but for the rest of us, the exposure was hitherto limited. This is now changing rapidly with the inroads made by Technology, as I noted in my previous post on this issue. And, to be honest, for some reason, I find Marathi Music and even films {the topic of one of my future posts} more attractive, diverse and fun... could be because it is my Mother Tongue, and I am new to its Arts. Be that as it may, I am enjoying and revelling in this new hobby...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Book Review : The Mouse Charmers



The Mouse Charmers : Digital Pioneers of India  
by Anuradha Goyal



Anuradha Goyal has a Master's Degree in Computer Applications with practical work experience in the IT industry for several years; she has subsequently moved on; She has co-authored the India Innovates series published by CII, and was a Jury Member for the Economic Times Power Of Ideas Contest 2010. Her papers on Business Innovation have appeared in various journals and forums



The digital industry is a nascent industry, with a long way to go, as I have myself noted in my previous articles; the road is long, and we are at the very beginning. We have no idea what works, and what doesnt; essentially we are learning as we go along, making processes, dreaming ideas, charting strategies, monitoring tactical execution as we go along. There are no defined roadmaps, and no study material in an organised format; there are no case studies and previous experiences to go by. We ourselves are the case studies of the future...



And this is precisely what Anuradha has done in what I can only refer to as a landmark in this industry; a first book of what can be called case studies of digital entrepreneurs of India. That there will be others, is beyond question. But this work will be the one that was the first, the one that was to set the ball rolling... and full marks to the author for this!



The focus of the book is to lay before the readers a set of Indian Entrepreneurs who made brands out of their ideas, and became successful in converting an idea into a successful business venture. Given the nascent nature of this industry, the author has further decided not to go too technical on us - whether in terms of technology, or in terms of business jargon and strategies, and has opted to keep it simple. 



The net result of this approach is that the reader gets 12 superb analytical case studies, with a relatively short, precise but very meaningful historical prĂ©cis of what went wrong, what worked, and how the business got to the current status. In addition to this, you get a basic of the technological platform used, as also the difficulties faced and challenges overcome on a strategic front. In addition to these 12, you have a mention of other businesses that didn't make it to the 12, but are good enough to have done so. 


The choice of the 12 cases is the hallmark of the book, as they set to define the digital space into 3 clear logical segments : ECommerce, Content Platforms and Connectors. In simple terms, sites that provide trading facilities, content generation platforms that provide reviews, or other digital content; and thirdly connectors - sites that bring users together in the B2B, B2C or C2C space. This approach serves to clearly define the digital space in our minds, and gives a clear view to the reader as well as gives a defined form with clearly demarcated broad market segments to the nascent space in the digital marketplace. 

The book is divided into 3 segments accordingly : ECommerce, Content and Connectors. And, the best part is that there is a concise description of each segment in which the scope and breadth of the segment as well as its emergence and future possibilities find an adequate mention. Again, this serves to clearly define each segment of the market, and gives us a firm and clear idea of the digital marketplace. This is the most important take-away from this book : it will give a firm shape to what was once a shapeless concept, helping to channelise your thoughts and ideas. 

The 12 cases are a wide variety, a kaleidoscope, almost - of India; they are so diverse, that they typify our India! Here you will find the story of names you know very well : Flipkart, Shaadi.com, MakeMyTrip, Zomato, Indiblogger. But you will also be surprised to learn of the success of niche sites, or different sites like  BigBasket, Caratlane, Games2Win, ImagesBazaar, Chai With Lakshmi, Rang De and Commonfloor, in areas that you would not have thought that the digital marketplace can make inroads... like the unique case of a C2C Microfinance firm on a digital platform! This is a book that will set you thinking of the enormous potential of this new medium will double force, which is the second takeaway from the book.

The way the different cases monetised their offerings, making a financial success of things as diverse as selling online to making money from reviews of restaurants is a real tribute, and a study in ideation, logical application of mind, perseverance and sheer chutzpah. This gives the reader a basic insight into what are the requirements for a person who wants to get into this industry. 


But the most important takeaway from the book is the marriage of the online with the offline; the old with the new; and the brick and mortar with the click. In each and every case, the way the offline gels in with and strengthens the online is the most vital learning. Be it the stunning efforts of Team Zomato who collected those hundreds of menus initially, or be it the dedication of Team ImagesBazaar who personally compiled the photographs to start off, every case has an offline presence in terms of hard work, and dedication, or in terms of creating and further leveraging a strategic advantage, like logistics. 

You get to appreciate and understand the stunning level of effort required to create a running business; you get to understand how they went about building it up brick by brick; looking at the strategy, the technology, the market, the customers, the monetisation, the failures, the marketing of the products - be it advertisement or be it the core product, This is a book that covers most aspects of business, creating a complete picture and business case in front of the reader. All in all, rated 5 stars!