Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Book Review : The Scam : From Harshad Mehta To Ketan Parekh



About the Authors:

Debashis Basu is a Chartered Accountant since 1983, and has also worked in Business India, Business World, Financial Express, The Times Of India and Business Today. He is also a member of the Task Force of SEBI on the creation of IndoNext Market Segment

Sucheta Dalal majored in statistics and LLM. She has 22 years of investigative reporting behind her spanning the Harshad Mehta scam, CR Bhansali Scam, Enron, bad loans in banks, corporate investigative reports as well as regulatory lapses. She received the Chameli Devi award for outstanding journalism, and the Femina Woman of Substance award both in 1993. She is a member of the primary market advisory committee of SEBI


THE SCAM is more of an investigative report on the 2 defining stock market scams of recent times - 1991-1992, made famous by Harshad Mehta,, and the Ketan Parekh escapade of 2001. The report - for it is more of a report than a book - is exhaustive in its material, stunning in its scope and breadth and appears complete and irrefutable in its analysis and conclusions. This is not a book for beginners, to be very honest; a basic assumption is there of a working knowledge of stocks, stock markets, money markets and bank operations in addition to finance management basics.

The book covers every aspect of the scam in considerable detail, right from the document trail, to the fraudulent transactions, as well as movement in stock prices, coupon rates and interest rates, market deals, cartels and the interaction of the various players in the scam - the Brokers, Banks, Institutional Investors, Regulators, Politicians, Mutual Fund Houses - which serves to give depth and credibility to the investigation, as it leaves no parameter uncovered and no stone unturned in its attempt at arriving at the hidden truth. In particular, the attention to detail in just about every aspect of the investigation is worth a special mention. The attention given to even the most minute of circumstances, events and allegations throughout the book lends it considerable weight.

Fleshing out the numbers present in the book is a commendable attempt at character profiling of all  the major as well as quite a few of the minor players in the various scam, which elevates the book from a mere number-filled tedious exercise in criminal investigation to the level of an engaging, absorbing if somewhat slow read. By no stretch of imagination is this book a fast read; it requires concentration and a deep level of interest in the topic at hand to finish it. But for those interested in it, this book is a fact-filled, deeply absorbing and educational experience; far more than just a book. 

The mainstay of this investigation is the combination of numbers and strategies that has been used to lucidly put the point across. Stock price movements, coupon rates, transactions, positions have been covered in considerable detail,  leaving almost no doubt in your mind as to what happened. There are examples of specific deals given, with examination of stock prices / coupon rates prior to the deal as well as after the deals, the volume of money involved - combined with,  in some cases an attempt at tracing the money flow as well. This has been combined in an overall strategic analysis {if I can call it that!!!!!} of the strategies of the Banks, Brokers and Institutions involved in the scam - leading to an overall clear picture as to what transpired.

The book is ruthless on the Regulators- specifically our very own RBI, and asks some extremely tough questions from the central bank, including exposing glaring oversights and weaknesses in the operations of the RBI in the period 1986 - 2005, citing examples of internal reports highlighting problems,  as well as ham-handed investigations as well as glaring lethargy and moribund systems. It leads one to wonder if this is still the case? Some passages also lead one to wonder at the chances of a cover-up, and collusion of the various agencies. On the JPC, the brutal stripping is no surprise, since we Indians have come to expect nothing less and nothing more from our politicians. 

The book exposes the CBI in no uncertain terms, as it comes across as inept as well as, shall we say, externally handled - and mercilessly rips into its investigative efforts, taking pains to point out that at the end of it all, most of the perpetrators (almost all, in fact) got clean away. Not only that, the money that was lost remains lost and untraceable, which makes a joke of the entire investigation. The book does not say so, but I feel that if niether the money is recovered, nor the people caught, then the only conclusion is the grand failure of the entire regulatory mechanism as well as the investigative mechanism. 

This book provides the final proof of the need of an independent and decently functioning CBI, which no political party has as yet even spoken of doing, Aam Aadmi Party apart. The book will also provide hints - if you read between the lines - as to why no one wants to bell the cat. It points out how outdated our regulatory and investigative mechanisms are, and the dire need for upgradation. The apparent collusion between various players in the market - with not one single market player being untouched or spared - will make you wonder at the games that were, and for all we know {IMO} are being played. RBI, SEBI, JPC, Mutual Funds, Broking Houses - a dirty picture is painted of how these operated- leading to losses for the taxpayer, and the common man and investor; with the big guys getting clean away. Something we are pretty used to - but dont you think that enough is enough? Read the book the get a feel of how collusion at high levels leads to a national disaster - with irrefutable proof!

A special section is kept for Foreign Banks, who tom-tom their internal systems and superiority in operational systems and procedures. They,  alongwith SBI and other Indian Banks, to be fair, have ripped apart in no uncertain terms. Deals and trades were regularly done without the underlying securities being received, Instruments issued without cover of any underlying security, unsecured loans passed without due diligence, excessive exposure to select brokers, unreconciled books, investments in speculative stocks, all in all you are left wondering at the internal systems, which were supposed to be robust. An uncomfortable thought, or rather news, comes to mind, wherein even in the 2007 Subprime scam, most of the big guys got away, and oversight and falsehoods were exposed. There is even a question or hint or suggestion of the possibility of money being diverted for terrorist activities - a thought which cannot be dismissed so lightly. 

This is a book  that is a must read for all corporate professionals and Business Management/Law/CA/Commerce Students, from whichever stream; this is an education on how short-termism and the chase for profits has the possibility to subvert all checks and balances, pull wool over the eyes of stakeholders and regulators - causing immense damage to the nation and the society. This is a story of how  a few crooked people at the top can cause damage to the names of some of the most august organisations in the world, and is a clarion call for introspection, and internal changes in systems and procedures {if these have not been already undertaken - which does not seem evident to me}. This is a book of how the big guy destroys the lives of the middle and junior level executives {whose careers have been tragically destroyed and who are still fighting to clear their names}. This is a tragic story of the triumph of evil and greed over the forces of the market and the law - in some ways, a deeply moving motion picture of the successive failure of the legal process, checks and balances and of the ultimate victory of crime...

Does crime pay? it seems so, looking at the current reality in India. And if this is the reality, high time we made changes to ensure that in future, some reviewer or commentor can write... Crime does not pay. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Illness, Money and Treatment

It was a Tuesday afternoon; I had been at home for the past 2 days as was feeling under the weather with a mild fever, and a total lack of appetite. At around 2 pm - 3 pm, I got hit by severe chills and a sudden escalation of temperature to the high 104s. My doctor had already ordered a precautionary blood test, results awaited. But I couldnt even wait that long, and collapsed on the way to the Doctor's clinic. The results: Recurrent Typhoid. I was admitted, to the nearest hospital for in-patient treatment - an experience that opened my eyes, and exposed me to both the good and the bad side of Corporate Medicine

I had luckily kept a few thousand in my home for once(I stay alone), which was critical. One day's total medication alone turned out a princely sum of 2077/- only. This was to me, a first time in-patient, a jaw-dropping number. But at the same time, it was a very very disturbing number: this was for Recurrent Typhoid, which though admittedly severe and dangerous, is certainly not one of the most dangerous diseases around. Furthermore, I was fortunate enough to have a Job, Friends, Family for support. What about those who dont have these benefits? 

It gets worse; much worse. My total expenses on Medications alone for 5 days as an in-patient and 3 days for treatment at home was well in excess of 10,000 bucks. 10,000 large numbers there. I traced a sample drug - Piperacillin and Tazobactam 4.5G, which I am still taking thrice in an IV injectible. This costs 200 for the drug alone for the Brand I purchased; IV and administration costs separate. The Multinational variant for this drug costs more than 2.5 times that. Work it out  for yourself - at three doses a day, the full course sets you back by a cool 5000 Grand more than the Generic

Now just pause a minute and think : how many people in India can afford a line of treatment that costs 2000 Rupees a day in drug costs alone - not counting Doctor Fees, Nursing and RMO Charges and other expenses like bed charges? How many people can afford to shell out the extra 5000  on one Drug alone? I am a person employed in Corporate India; I understand the need for protection of investments made, and the importance both to the corporate as well as to the economy - as profits generated impact both positively, as also the employees engaged in these companies. I also appreciate the need to protect the hard work of some researchers, and the need to ensure monetary reward to these workers, so that their ilk continue to be motivated in the search for life saving solutions

As per the World Health Organisation, the Pharmaceutical Industry is worth US$300 Billion, with some firms enjoying profit margins of upto 30% : WHO Page. Pause here and think for a minute : on one side of the world, you have humongous profits on the back of drug sales, and on the other side of the world you have a situation where people cannot even afford the basic price of a Dispirin Tablet! As per the Huffington Post, the Big guns of Pharma made a combined profit of 711 Billion US$! Not only that, research also lays bare the R&D claim - with 50% of new drugs coming from universities and biotech firms. The icing on the cake, the article also claims that these firms spend more 19 times more on Marketing than R&D  : Big Pharma

Now do some basic number calculation. India's per capita income in monthly terms is Rs. 5729 - or Rs, 28000 approx per family of 5. Now add onto this the income distribution chart to arrive at a truly scary figure in terms of life in India. How many people in India - let alone people, how many families in India earn 5729 per month? The bottom 40% have a share of less than 30% of income - and even that is a stretch! It is a known fact that millions of Indians have to struggle just to make ends meet; just to have 2 square meals. One on side, you have Billions of Dollars of profits from Drug Sales, and on another - you have this:

I was on saline, and my attending Doctor was monitoring. We got into a conversation, which veered around to costs of Medicine. He shared a heart-rending case with me. A patient - a poor labourer - was diagnosed with Dengue Fever, and was in a severe condition. This doctor told the entire family the expenses involved; and what best he could do : waive off his fees, and at best get a discount from the Pharmaceutical store. The family went away without treatment. Days later, after consulting several doctors, they approached him again. I was speechless, and thanked God, my Company and my Family for their support. But who, apart from God, was with that patient of Dengue Fever? He could not afford the cost of the treatment!

This is an extreme case. Lets look at another, this time hypothetical case. My total bills for this disease is likely to go upto 25000/- all told. For nearly the bottom 70% of India's population, this is either one, or several months - or even an annual salary. I took a private room; subtract that - and you are still staring at 18000/- on drugs and related expenses. Again, several months to several years income. Billions of profit on side - and this on another. How many would have afforded this treatment we Middle Class Indians take for granted?

More to the point, in the entire brouhaha over IPRs, not one single Western Source, Medicines Sans Frontieres aside, has even looked at this side of the picture, a picture that is repeated across of a minimum of 105 of the nations of the Earth - perhaps nearer 150 nations, covering a humanity in excess of several Billion! By disallowing Generics, and granting long exclusive licences, you are not only stifling innovation (by ensuring superior, more cost-effective methods are not found), you are creating guaranteed gargantuan profits, you are creating a monopoly (where is the risk, pray tell? Research Risk? The profit numbers fully and finally debunk that, as do the sources of new drugs) and to top it all, you are denying cheap affordable medicines to the needy not only in your own country, but fighting to ensure the same in each and every country in the world. 

I wish some of these hotshot MNC people would look into the tear-filled eye of the child who holds out a 100-Rs note to the pharmacist, and asks "how many will come in this?". The Pharmacist replies, son you need more money for the full course. The son replies - give me what you will in this money. This is also a real story, played in front of my eyes. I wish these MNC guys are made to meet the people whose relatives died because the drugs were too expensive. But they wont; they will be too busy in their meetings. I feel double sad because I too, am  a corporate guy - maybe at a lower level - but still a corporate guy...

Somewhere, somehow, someone will have to take the Pharmaceutical Trade into a phase of deep introspection... what I have seen these past 10 days has truly shaken me to the core of my being...

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Trade War Beckons...?

Thereby have been 2 interesting developments from The USA - one expected, one rather unexpected.



This takes the cake : "“In many areas, however, IPR protection and enforcement challenges are growing, and there are serious questions regarding the future condition of the innovation climate in India across multiple sectors and disciplines.”" From article one. It seems to be a harbinger of things to come - with wide ranging sanctions against India on a series of sectors, with a single minded view to benefiting the USA only. This is despite India's latest IPR regime being a significant improvement over the past - although poorer people do stand to be hit even there - as well as a timed framework being in place. A clear case is being made out for India being rogue state, and apparently, only India is being singled out - and only USA is complaining. Food for thought, methinks.

The second article {the one on solar panels} is a real beauty, and I quote : "These unfair requirements are against the WTO rules, and we are standing up today for the rights of American workers and businesses,” said US trade representative Mike Froman. Under the “domestic content requirement” rule, India expects foreign suppliers to use specified locally sourced components such as cells and thin-films used in solar panels." Wow, a superpower, and one of the richest nations on the Earth is bullying a weaker country to further its own business interests, so that it can become richer, its people can have more business - and the Indian Sector gets pushed under by imports, Instead of partnering India in its own development, it is pushing India even further into dependency!

There will be some attempts to link this with the DK episdoe - but that does not hold water, for any number of well-documented reasons. The USA has been against Indian Development for quite some time now. Note the following developments over the past decade, which tell their own story, a story of naked greed, open ambition, and unhidden desire for the Indian Market, with no empathy for manifest Indian needs and genuine wants. This does not sound like trade between partners - let alone strategic partners:


  1. Nuclear Tests - Sanctions, followed by a hasty volte-face years later as the potential of the market was realised
  2. Refusal to handover Cryogenic Technology, while evincing interest in India's Nuclear Market!
  3. Attempt to Blockade India's Agricultural Subsidies as China might gain, unmindful of the brutal and deleterious impact on Indian Farm Output and Employment, given that 80% of farmers are dependent on Subsidies to make it even out. Without that, all of these would be making a loss from their farms - and this has nothing to do with how effective out subsidy in reaching the farmers. Fact of the matter is that due to USA, our farmers would (might?) have died, If this sounds fanciful, look up farmer suicides in India
  4. Attempt to blockade India Retail FDI : with objections to the 30% sourcing clause from domestic industry
  5. The poor reputation of the USA as a defence supplier, with a penchant to withdraw or withhold critical parts and supplies in order to push forward their own agenda

There will be other examples; but these should suffice. And all these 7 points are raising the same question - is the great friend of ours, so chased by some sections of our society and polity, a true partner, whether in trade or in a strategic relationship? Are these actions in sync with a friendly country, that wants to talk to us? That wants to further our growth and development? What are we gaining, or what do we stand to gain and what do we stand to lose? Is it worth the effort? Far more, can such an undependable and fickle country which shifts tracks every 4 years be really dependable, as opposed to say, Russia or Israel. who have stuck with us despite internal political compulsions?

You might state the USA has an entirely different set of political realities - both internal as well as external, which is why you cannot have the same yardstick for both cases. But think a moment - those differences in realities are the precise reasons that any hope of an India-USA bhai-bhai situation is pointless! Given its internal multiple power centres - much like Pakistan - it simply cannot be trusted. It will be forced to continue to pressurise India firstly because it knows no other ways of doing business, and secondly because its vested interests internally as well as internationally will not allow it to. 

This is building up suspiciously like one other previous partnership of ours - recall the euphoria over India-China Bhai-Bhai, when all indications to the contrary we ignored, and we headed full-tilt into disaster. I admit the coparison is far-fetched; but it cannot be shaken off. Admittedly, there are differences - the China case was driven by the Government, this is being driven both by the Government as well as by a section of the people, who see benefit in joining sides with the USA. These benefits are undeniable there -but they come at a cost, which few seem to have factored into their calculations, driven by a PIO-NRI lobby group growing in power in the states, and our own external realities, surrounded as we are by enemies. Perhaps we see no options but to do we have to - but all of us would do well to remember the cost associated with it, as also the cost paid by other friends of the USA. 

Let us keep one thing in mind : despite its admittedly shining rise in the USA in both business as well as political prowess, and their inarguable support to India and its cause, the entire NRI-PIO lobby has had precious little impact on the USA's policies in any sphere of the relationship, at least not a definable long-term impact and change. That exposes the power of the NRI-PIO group; maybe it is too early to tell. But can we Indians afford the time it will take for USA to realise? I dont think so. The clock is ticking... 

When you are up against a strategy that is wholly amoral any which way you look at it, one which is preferring gains to businesses of a super-rich nations over benefits to a poor nation struggling to generate jobs, it becomes something other than trade or business. Are we on the anvil of our First Out-and-Out Trade War? The current set of developments seems to indicate that. Not only a trade war - but confirmation that the USA does not have our interests at heart. Any nation refusing to develop our strengths, and having an income several time ours, by a factor of 15-20, cannot be anything but amoral. It would have been understandable if both nations were at similar levels - but this is highway robbery by an arrogant superpower...

Jaago, Sonewaalon! 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Internet and Digital Media- 2: Big Hurdles

This is the second part of the article Online And Digital Media

Part of the credit for this article goes to Team Blogadda, who had a superb programme on Social Media, including sessions with industry experts like Anagh Desai and Lakshmipathy Bhat. The interaction during the entire event of Blogadda Awards {WIN14}, especially with the mentioned experts, enabled me to connect the dots in my mind, and cement my ideas into a firm shape. A part of the credit also has to go to Mr Vivek Sapru, my Senior during my tenure at Amity University as a visiting faculty, my discussions with whom also helped me see some direction

As I noted in the conclusion  of my previous article, this medium has the potential to reach into the gut of existing business models, and rip them apart from within. The other alternative is that this medium has the potential to cause a steady with definite change in existing business models, and change the face of business as we know it today. However - and this is a significant however - there still exist major hurdles in the path, which is rocky and stony beyond the ordinary, a reflection of a reality that is not often quoted in any business analysis I have read till date. To place things in some perspective, and to avoid unfounded exuberance (thereby lending a sense of reality to the analysis), I have taken up the biggest hurdles first, taking up the potential later on in the series

BIG HURDLES
The first and immediate hurdle is, quite simply, data costs. Any product, any service, any Brand on the net has to be accessed - and that can only be through a Data Connection. And any system is only as good as its slowest / weakest component. Surfing the internet and downloading data costs money - and as current things stand, a massive amount of money. It costs anywhere between 175 - 250 Rs per GB on most Service Providers. I myself have a 4GB connection that sets me back by 750 plus taxes - by no means a small amount. Two critical questions arise from this reality - first, what is the size of the Addressable Market Segment; and what is the kind of volume of data consumed by the most demanding application - say, Videos. This second leads to another question - is the current level of 3G / 3.5G coverage sufficient to support this? Furthermore, what are the actual realised speeds generated during surfing? 

Let us take the second question first. One of the major identified segments is Video Downloads of all types. Even here, the things are murky - video downloads are in the top-3 only on desktops; mobiles account for emails, social media and communication. This is further confirmed by the low data ARPUs. Let us take a look at the numbers - which just dont add up, any which way you look at it. A 22-28 minute HD video is about 275 - 375 MB of data; a full feature length video of 2 hours plus equals around 2GB - 3GB of data. I have downloaded Sarabhai vs Sarabhai episodes, Tu Tu Main Main, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Satyamev Jayate, Political Interviews as well as several films on my connection - Don-2, Samay, Aan, and LOC Kargil among others - like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far etc. 

Even if you look at streaming data, the picture is no better. I am operating a 12GB data limit connection; the most I was able to get out of it is around an hour  {or a little more} of video streaming on average per day on youtube {Not HQ}, NDTV watch and similar sites. The cost was a humongous 1599 plus taxes per month for data alone. Now this data consumption is massive, given that I only have a  few GB space to operate in - meaning, files of 2GB are out of the question - which is why I still have to download Lagaan, which is 2848MB in size, and Dec 16, which is also around 2800MB in size. I can theoretically download only a few episodes of a length of say, 25 minutes per month. That is frankly, peanuts - and by no stretch of imagination can be extrapolated into an addressable market segment. For it to be a viable market segment, it would have to have volume and mass. Does it? This is a question that can only be answered by looking at some hard data, which is the subject of the next article, so please bear with me. Moving onto other market segments also gets us nowhere as of now, for the issues listed below, as well as usage and penetration realities. 

There are other critical operations issues at hand - which I shall, for the moment, ignore - given that this is a nascent industry. For example, the difficult interface you have to negotiate in finding the exact right video, especially on a handset : I have tried this on Lumia 720 as well as Karbon A9, finally going back to my trusty laptop due to coverage issues - to be taken up later; as also the issue of mobile battery life when using a 3G connection. Then there is the entire question of paid revenues, which is a topic unto itself; namely, how do you monetise and build a paid model of data consumption as a Brand, given the online Credit Card and Debit Card usage is in a distinct minority of the 1.27 Billion Population.

When we talk of Mobile Data, the first question that should be - but isnt - asked is, what is the kind of data coverage and actual delivered speeds that are prevalent? The answer to this is a very disturbing one - very disturbing indeed. Even in a city like Mumbai, I have experienced serious issues in coverage from not one, but 4 operators. What do you think it must be like in the other cities? The data connection @ 3.5G frequently falters even when the mobile is kept at a stationary location - to say nothing of coverage while on the move. The experience is somewhat along similar lines even in the other cities that I have had occasion to visit. Coming to speeds, I am yet to get the maximum advertised speed on the internet. Right now, speedtest tells me I am getting 3.22 mbps download speed and 1.20 upload speed; and this is among the fastest speeds I have experienced. The actual speeds range from 1.20 mbps and go upto 5.8 mbps, depending upon the Service Provider. Yet again, when you put the two (coverage and speed together) the numbers just dont add up - as movies take upwards of an hour, at times several hours to download - while serials and short videos take 30 minutes upto  an hour or more to download.  You cant keep stationary for that long during an average day... which means download at night - further limiting the market. Not only that, coverage also tends to falter... and with 2G, sites either wont load, or take one hell of a long time. 

...


The next question that should be asked is, just what is the penetration of 3G handsets in the market - not smartphones. Smartphones are frankly irrelevant to the data consumption market; the real question is, and will remain - what is the penetration of 3G handsets in India? And, from this sub-group, how many can afford a premium data plan - which is the only plan that can offer video downloads and high data consumption. There are around 143 Million users of internet on handsets - both GPRS and 3G, as well as Desktop and Laptop combined. 

That is the universe as on date - a figure on which we currently have zero demographic or income data. 23.8 Million users access the internet on their mobile as on date. As can be seen, yet again - the data does not add up. At a growth rate of 30% - we still have only 62 Million consumers of mobile data in 5 years - and this is GPRS and 3G combined, mind you. It will take a scorching growth rate of 60% five years in a row to reach a decent figure of 155 Million Users! The current growth rate, as per some expectations, is between 30-40%. Further, India, as a total added 40,000 Broadband users in May 2013. How many months will it take to add up to a significant number that can support the plethora of players in the market? Yet again, the numbers dont add up! 

Now assume that all these are 3G handsets. To try and balance (since 3G handsets penetration is likely to be 20-30% at the maximum level), let us assume a monthly billing of 200 Rupees. That gives a market size of 1254 Crores in 5 years time at a growth rate of 30%, and 1828 Crores at a growth rate of 40%. To put things in perspective, it has taken an expense of 67000 Crores into this market, and an expected growth rate of 30-40%. To make matters even more interesting, the data ARPU in June 2013 was 56 Rs. To round off, the total ARPU of Delhi circle was 182.33 on an average; and Mumbai was 192.82 on an average in Q3 2013, the latest period for which the numbers are available. The numbers just dont add up; not enough to justify the immediate euphoria. 

Are we then to assume that these are insurmountable hurdles? That this is just a bubble? How many Indians can actually afford a 500 - 1000 expense on data alone? How many Indians actually realise the value of a data connection? If they did, why is churn such a big issue in telecom? Why are people frequently switching providers, and even disconnecting them? Do you actually get seamless conectivity  on 3G? Does your battery play out the day? Why is wired Broadband slowing in terms of sales, in a market where supposedly there is loads of current opportunity? Where is the market? Who comprises the market? Where will the monetisation come from - any industry dependent only on advertising revenues cannot be sustainable; there has to be monetisation. 

But then how do you explain the scorching growth rate experienced in the market? How do you explain the applications that are being developed, and are increasingly in vogue? How do you explain the undeniable truth that internet and cloud based applications are adding value in countless homes and businesses across the length and breadth of India? How do you explain the pressure of the internet that is being experienced in markets as diverse as Consumer Durables to Handsets to Books? What about the various e-commerce sites, services and brands, some of whom might also be making money? Questions, too many questions... and too few answers. 

References : 

COAI Website

Monday, 3 February 2014

Reality Series - 2 : Indian Culture - and The Indian Nation

This is the second article in the reality series. The other article can be found at : /india-time-to-face-reality-1

Wikipedia describes Indian Culture as "The culture of India refers to the way of life of the people of India. India's languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food, and customs differ from place to place within the country. The Indian culture, often labelled as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old" - /Culture_of_India

Most of us Indians take justifiable pride in the above, for what wikipedia has stated is either the simple truth, as as close to the truth as it is possible to be. Any general discussion on what defines India, or India's strengths, unfailingly veers around to the above within the first few sentences. This is ingrained into us from the very beginning of our lives, and the bombardment of the above upon our senses continues all through life - so much so, that this almost becomes a defining aspect of  Indianness, and of the Indian way...

Ideally, over a period of time, this feeling of pride, and identification with the "Indian Way" should give rise to a feeling of security in ourselves, in our national ethos and in our culture. This should be further buttressed with connected events that carry our culture across the world, giving us a force multiplier - much as western culture acts as a force multiplier for them. And this is precisely what can be seen to be happening. For us, such events are our PIO and NRI diaspora, in combination with our movie industry - both of whom are contributing to making The Indian Way begin to resonate across the world. Already, most nations and peoples identify India for its diversity - which is a success for us in putting our USP across. 

And yet, somehow, for some reason(s), the feeling of security in ourselves seems to be eluding us; we still seem anxious for recognition, rather than be confident in ourselves, and in the continuity of our culture and of our unique way of life. It is high time we Indians faced this reality, this feeling of insecurity, and of a need of constant reassurance in our way of life. The litmus test of this insecurity is in the Media reports of PIOs who succeed in other nations, in the news reports and the ardent following of developments in the Hindu diaspora worldwide, in our constant emphasis on our USP, in the reportage of an interest in Indian cultural events in the West, in our repeated reassurances... 

Do Media houses in the West report it one their front or first few pages if a Westerner makes it big in India, or if a western cultural show happens? They dont - and part of the reason is because they are secure in their culture, and confident of the projection their culture makes on other people. Earlier, there may have been a case of focus of and desire for such events, happenings and reportage of Indians making it big, and of cultural events abroad. But that was another time, with different realities. 

That was a time of nation building, the primary requirement being the building of a strong political union from a cultural union. That was a time for building an image of India in both the Indian People as well as in the world at large. That was a time for bonding the people into one after a highly divisive partition. That was a time when a newly freed people were looking for reasons to feel secure in both their political as well as cultural identity after centuries of subjugation. Today, in the here and now, we are at an inflection point - wherein, in order that we tap into the successes we have achieved in our efforts at nation building, we need to confront our insecurities, and become bolder and more confident in our approach. We also need to keep in mind that insecurities carried too long can turn toxic... 

Today, the realities have changed - and changed enough for us to stop, look inwards, and move on from the point where we are now. The PIO and NRI community is now known for its skills, intelligence, hard working abilities and approach. They are known as significant value additions to society. Today, our movies are just beginning to expand into a global footprint, carrying our culture, our way of life across the world. This is going hand-in-hand with our slow but steady emergence in the sphere of Trade and Economics. Today, our achievements in various fields of technology are beginning to impart a small but clearly discernible halo of achievement, of an identity around our Nation. High time we recognised these signs, and moved on from our cultural predilection.

It is high time we stopped focussing on the Indian Culture, stopped mentioning it as a USP - the world already knows it as our USP, identifies us with it, and is beginning to respect us for it. There is no longer any need for any of us to feel great if an Indian Movie clicks abroad, if an Indian makes it big abroad, if an Indian Cultural event happens abroad, In my opinion, critical mass has been achieved; we should start taking these increasingly for granted- and instead, as a people, begin to put far more focus on The Indian Nation, rather than on the Indian Way. The Indian Way has got us together in a political union, and is now a clearly discernible backbone of India.

Let us all now get together to concentrate on and market India as The Modern Nation, and not as India the Ancient Land, or The Land Of Unity In Diversity - and build a modern India that is free from its many weaknesses - which are also plenty in number. That will go a long way in removing the somewhat cliched image of India in some areas of the world. There is no need to over-emphasize on what is now known as a universal truth; time to shift the focus internally as well as externally to other areas, and carry a message from us that we are Modern India, an India that is capable of meeting the rest of the World on its own terms, confident in its abilities, and fully aware of its shortcomings. 

And most of all, time for all of us Indians to stop thinking of how we are perceived in this world. As I argue above, the perception of us as a people has already been cast in stone through the efforts of the past few decades. Time for us to stop eulogising sporadic unconnected happenings in this world - even if they are by people who were once Indian Citizens. That time, space and energy can be better used in other, more productive activities. Why should it be headline news, for example, if an American Indian does something big in USA or the UK - even if it has no discernible effect or impact, whether direct or indirect, on India? If it does not benefit or impact us majorly, it should not be news at all! Why the inexplicable fascination with such happenings, as a Temple in a far off nation, or a promotion 10000 kilometers away of a person who has no connection of any sort with India, apart from his lineage, a person who has never even visited India? 

We have now reached a level of development, of exposure to the world, of an image in the world where such proclivities become quaint habits at best, and can even be regarded as signs of a culture, of a people in constant need of attention, and of assurance. These are signs of insecurity - and a feeling of insecurity, in cultural and religious matters, is no laughing matter, and is not to be taken lightly. And, as all of my readers will agree, no one is more qualified that us to comment on such feelings of insecurity and its harmful impact. Time to face the reality - and move on from our insecurities!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Book Review : Red Jihad


Red Jihad - Author Sami Ahmed Khan

This book is yet another from the up-and-coming brigade of Indian Fiction writers, and is unique in its treatment. It is a refreshing change from the standard terror attack plot from Western authors that we are now beginning to get used to, which is a welcome development. That alone makes it worth a read; and if you add the other two factors - a total absence of vulgarity, and  an interesting plot - and you have yourself a good eminently readable book. It is not best in class - far from it; but it is a good book nonetheless.

THE CHARACTERS
Biplob Roy - The Prime Minister;; takes time - but takes over...
General Malhotra - Quick Reactions. Quicker Apologies
Basheer - Whose man is he anyway - ISI, or Terrorist? The Jihadi...
Agyaat - Just that. Agyaat - Unknown, yet known. The Red guy...
Lt General Asif Chowdhury - Misguided Patriot for the Pakistanis
Shahid Abbasi - Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Roomie of Biplob Roy...

THE PLOT
The plot is intriguing and absolutely unique in all the books I have read. I can only say that I am thankful that this is just a book! The story plays out in the future - 2014 - and is based on a joining of the Jihadi and the Maoist forces in India - a nightmare concept in itself. The target is, as usual India - in a roundabout way, involving launching an conventional Indian Missile on Pakistan from an Indian Missile Base, with an objective to stoke war in the 2 nations, and the release of pressure on Jihadis in Pakistan and Maoists in India. The basic premise, though objectionable in some way, is sound material for a thriller. The attack happens, and Pakistan, of course, responds. In the meantime, differences crop up between the Indian Prime Minister and The Chief Of Staff over how to deal with the attack on the missile base, leading to military rule in India. What happens next? How does the war go? Does India return to democratic rule, and if so, how? Read the book to find out

THE ANALYSIS
I found the characterisation to be slightly inconsistent with the roles the characters were being portrayed in, to be very honest. That formed the first significant gap in the book, in my opinion. A Chief Of Army Staff would not be on-again and off-again, and would be in control of himself - with General Malhotra is most decidedly not. The entire military take-over does not gel, and comes across as distinctly fictional and out-of-place. Not only that, it is inconceivable the an Army Chief would make so many errors of judgement (in the initial phase), and the Prime Minister doesnt in a security and defence situation. It should have been the other way around - with the Prime Minister advocating caution, and the Army Chied being all for securing the base at the fastest possible moment. An Army Chief, of all people, would be best aware of the dangers of leaving a missile base in enemy hands for any length of time! 

What was worse for me is that both the Army Chief and The Prime Minister have been shown losing control, which again does not fit in with the overall characterisation. Not only that, the stiunning reversal in the latter half of the book is also not in keeping with the first half, which confused the character plot to a great degree. It is almost as if we are seeing a different character altogether. 

The other thing that did not click for me was the process of the military takeover, and the ease with which it was accomplished without anyone asking any questions. Again, this does not gel with the scenario. Furthermore, it was totally unnecessary in the plot; the book could have been written without it. It was a needless transgression, and further, not in keeping with what we know of the Indian Army, as well as the Indian Defence setup, which makes a takeover virtually impossible. I cannot understand why this was included in the book! It has no place in it whatsoever. 

These 2 points apart, the book is a superb one. It is a fast paced adrenalin pumping read, totally devoid of vulgarity. with simple flowing language that is easy to comprehend. The war coverage is tremendous, and the war has been brought forward in both the strategic and tactical aspects with relative ease, which makes this part the saving grace of the book. The gripping narrative in this part goes a long way in helping you forget the gaffes in the first part of the book. The other saving grace is the overall concept - a coming together of the Jihadis and the Maoists, and the successful attempt to bring the 2 nations to war, with active collusion from Pakistani State and Non-State Actors. Read the book for these 2 points alone - you wont regret it! I rate it 2 stars out of 5 in the first half, and 4 stars out of 5 in the second half...