Thursday, February 26, 2015

Opinion: Greece has lost what Alexander had won

No. I am not talking about the lands won by Alexander the Great. They were soon lost following the death of Macedonian king. History is full of rise and falls. But the fame sticks. That fame is the subject of my blog post.

Alexander, being a ruthless warrior, commanded great respect by instilling fear. But those who were defeated by him and accepted his rule noticed that his soldiers were brave, they had a fighting spirit, and they demonstrated the fruits of team work in the wars. Historians recorded all this in great details so we know Alexander’s soldiers won the known world for their king.

Fast forward to present time, Greek Govt. is not able to repay its debts. But yet, its citizens do not want to let go of the benefits provided by Govt. with the borrowed money. They said no to austerity which reflected in electing a party to power which is against austerity.

Acropolis of Athens
When did those brave soldiers become a burden on their Govt.? I think it is not historical. Joining the European Union was a bad choice for them. It was their mistake (or of anyone) to spend borrowed money which they will not be able to repay in foreseeable future. They walked into the debt trap. ‘Grexit’ seems inevitable and just a matter of time. When Greeks abandon Euro to adopt their own currency, finance costs will go up a lot, inflation will do a great damage to their already suffering economy and their Govt. may have to sell off the lands it owns to repay some of its debt before it is able to borrow again.

People from ancient times created an image for their homeland and it sticks for a long time. For India, it was Buddha and later King Ashoka (the Great) who were a symbol for peace and non-violence. And India is still home to that tradition, look at Dalai Lama or visit Dharamshala for the proof.

But Greece did not become a home to another Alexander or a person of his caliber. And today’s Greece is creating a different image for those who will study history in future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: By the Sabarmati by Esther David

This book is a collection of twenty-short stories. These stories are real short and sad. A few minutes time is what you need to read each one of them but the emotions they invoke are deep. All of the stories are about the women who live around Sabarmati (in Gujarat). And these women live in poverty, and their daily lives revolve around making their ends meet, having food or cloth of their choice is a luxury for them. But they too are humans, failed love or death of near ones makes their lives unbearable along with the disappointments they need to face for being born as poor.

The first story ‘Father’ is about a daughter worrying about his father on the first day of her marriage. ‘Full Moon’ is a story of two friends, one of them getting killed for dowry and the other being haunted by the memory of her. ‘Zhunzhun’ is a lamb adopted by a poor family and the sisters getting drowned in an effort to save the lamb. ‘Tent of Bones’ is a story of a women and an aged bullock waiting for its death at the hands of a butcher. ‘The Charpoy’ is about a man living in the memory of his dead wife. ‘Homecoming’ is a story of a poor mother whose son grows to be a rich man but does not want to live with her mother. ‘Kurma Avatar’ is about the guests making the lives of their hosts a burden by adopting a tortoise as pet. All other stories are also taken from unique life experiences of those living an ordinary life. These are not the stories which are written for entertainment but to show the emotional side of those poor who had no better choices in leading their lives.

After reading this I realized that taking a walk in slums or where the poorer of poor live and getting to kow them better, one can come out with a bunch of stories like this Author had done. While putting them into words, author adds the ironies of life to them. These stories can make the reader sad but also opens them up to wider emotions making them temperamental at the end.

Esther David is a Jewish-Indian author, an artist and a sculptor. She lives in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She has won Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010 for The Book of Rachel.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Opinion: ‘Farm in India’ and smart farmers

‘Make in India’ is aimed at providing employment. But another major problem of India is its food prices which is a major source of inflation too. Before we discuss further let us look at some numbers.

Source: Agricultural Ministry, Govt. of India
India has 2.4% of world’s geographical area but has to feed 17% of world’s population to be self-sufficient. All of that 2.4% land is not arable. India is a mini world. It has deserts and snow-capped lands. Its mountains and valleys do not make farming an easy task. India houses more than 2,000 wild tigers in its protected forests and all of that forest land (~23% of India’s land) would never be available for farming. (So the effective arable land reduces to approx. 60% of the total land available. Data source: World Bank, Link: India’s population (and world’s too) is expanding. They need to be provided with food at affordable prices. When population is rising, farm output has to increase but the land available for it is not infinite. So it pushes up the food prices. 

Trying to limit the prices through subsidies is bad economics. The better way out of this would be is by increasing agricultural productivity. We know our farming skills are not efficient and we wonder when we hear of a single farming family working in hundred acres of agricultural land in Europe or US. Surely our farming needs reforms. We need to make our farmers less immune to swings of monsoon. We need to build more cold storage facilities to avoid wastage of vegetables and corn. We need to encourage farmers to use better farming methods and machinery. We need to encourage exports of farm produce. We need to increase the number of agricultural universities we have. We need to make agriculture an attractive sector for new talent. That will help provide employment for youth and food at affordable prices for India. And also to the world when we produce surplus.

If we can have a ‘Farm in India’ campaign (after 'Make in India' achieves some milestones) that can encourage prospective entrepreneurs to get into Agriculture. Inviting those international farmers and their associations to do contract farming in India can help our farmers to improve their productivity and farming yields. 

Dear beloved Mr. Modi, as you build smart cities, please help our farmers become smarter too. Help them to help India.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: 24 Akbar Road by Rasheed Kidwai

This is more than the biography of a bungalow, which was the center place of activities of Congress party for many decades. It provides biography of all its occupants and of the political party too. It has stood a mute witness to “Rise-Fall-Rise-Fall” of the historical party.

This bungalow situated at 24, Akbar Road of New Delhi, was turned into Party Office in 1978 by Indira Gandhi during her low and tough years after the emergency. The building was in the state of shambles, reflecting the situation of the party too. But the years ahead proved lucky for the building and its occupants.

Then book turns into historic events in making of Indira Gandhi and some details about her father too. When she was expelled from party, she had said “Nobody can throw me out of Congress. It is not a legal question but a question of the very fibre of one’s heart and being.”  That is because her house was not limited to her family but to many of the party workers and freedom fighters. She had witnessed her father and grandfather going to jail several times during British rule. She had confronted British at a tender age objecting their house hold goods being taken away by them as her father had not paid the fines imposed by British court. Though not an adult during freedom struggle of India, her Monkey Party had played the role of passing on critical messages to the freedom fighters. Indira’s role as a Congress party worker was indisputable. She came back to power and the bungalow at 24, Akbar filled with people and became a place where major decisions of the party are taken.

Indira was groomed by none other than her father. He had written lengthy letters to her shaping her personality in his absence as well. But Indira had a mind of her own. Along with wit and courage, she had weaknesses too. Her politically active son Sanjay was getting into many day to day functioning of the Govt. and that of party. Those who did not align with him quickly lost their influence and place. But the accident did not let Sanjay live longer and led to reluctant Rajiv’s arrival into politics. Subsequent killing of Indira and Rajiv too brought many changes into the functioning of party. After three generations of Nehru-Gandhi family holding the top post of Prime Minister, it was the turn of PVN Rao for the high post. In party matters too, Sitaram Kesri rose to chief post. The mismanagement and the mistakes of the party led to its fall and BJP assumed power under leadership of Vajpayee. But the political tide does not let anyone remain in top forever.

Congress was reelected in 2004. But Sonia opted to be a king maker by putting the learned man Dr. Man Mohan Singh on the throne. Activities resumed again at the bungalow of 24, Akbar Road. During this time, the building became tech savvy too, enabling better communication and coordination between party offices all over India. The book ends with an optimistic note on Rahul Gandhi, hoping that the prince will be crowned.

Author Rasheed Kidwai had written this book in a lucid style, keeps the reader engaged in this political thriller. He presents many interesting facts from the history of the party but he got it all wrong with Rahul. 2014 elections proved to be a disaster for Congress and Rahul. (This book was published in 2013). Like in 1978, the party seems to be in shambles again. Recently the ruling Govt. had issued a notice to Congress to vacate 24, Akbar Road. Is this the end of the historical party or a new beginning? At least it seems to be the end of 24, Akbar road in the history of Congress.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Opinion: Russian junk bonds and the weakness in Yuan

All three rating agencies have cut the ratings of Russian bonds to junk status with a negative outlook. A Ruble does not even fetch 2 cents of American currency now. It appears Putin underestimated the impact of economic sanctions. His tankers and missiles were battle ready but his economists failed him. Well, it is not just Russian currency and economy under attack, there are so many who are licking their wounds too including a strong contender to USD, the Euro. With crude oil prices being halved, all oil producing nations will have to re balance their budgets else they run the risk of depleting their reserves. Currencies of emerging countries are struggling to come out of the well they have fallen into, including the Indian Rupee, though the damage is not severe.

Ruble vs. USD Source:
We know all currency valuations are relative and fluctuations are against another currency. For every loser, there has to be a winner in a zero-sum game. And there is only one gainer, USD. Was this bound to happen, or was it a conspiracy or a mystery? It cannot be mystery for sure as it cannot be explained. If it was bound to happen, how long this will continue and who will be the next victim? That is a better question to ask. It seems Chinese currency is the one next in line of fire.

Why China? It is Crimea and Oil which did the damage to Russia. But China did not attack any of its neighbors (though it has desires) and it is not an oil exporter. Right, but we need to approach it differently. When dollar was strengthening, China had to earn additional dollars to keep up its currency with it but China’s trade figures with US does not show any change. So gains in dollar would not spillover to Yuan. Unlike in yesteryear's, China cannot print its currency to buy those dollars as it would cause inflation in a low growth year. For this reason, Yuan which was pegged to dollar could not maintain its exchange rate with dollar and it lost some of its value in the last two months. You may observe the losses are not significant. But the crack can propagate for multiple reasons. Dollar is set become even stronger when Fed raises interest rates in US. That will weaken Yuan in the same proportion. When yields on US treasuries rise (probably by end of this year), it may trigger outflow of capital from China which can do serious damage to its currency. As domestic growth is slowing down in China, new investments do not come in like before. And on those trillions dollar worth US treasuries China is holding, it will suffer capital loss as bond prices will drop when yields rise. It will be like an interest free loan from China to US. China may start liquidating those treasury bills to prevent any serious damage to its currency. But it has to do it slowly in order to prevent inflation. The damage to its currency may not be severe as Ruble. But any damage is still damage. Economic theory suggests there are no long term benefits in engineering exchange rates.

Chinese Yuan vs USD Source:
As long as US maintain its trade figures with China, there are no serious threats to valuation of Yuan despite any set-backs. But US is building its factories too and filling them with robots to achieve cost benefits, so the trade figures may not remain the same. Until there is one currency for the whole world or equality in GDP among many countries, big brother will continue to rule and enjoy at someone’s expense.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Opinion: One business is getting back to profits and another waiting for next victim

Two businesses are in news. They have gone through the up-down cycles. They attracted investor interest in the beginning but turned out to be nightmares. They almost went out of business but there is revived interest in them. One is moving back towards profits after several years of losses (Suzlon) and another (Spice Jet) is waiting for its next victim.

Suzlon wind turbine maker had left a deep scar in many retail investors. Its debut and the run after IPO in the initial years made it an index stock but an acquisition mistake proved too expensive for it. Its stock performance made investors lose most of their capital, do not mention the gains. But it is getting back to business of making profits and turning out to be an investment grade stock again after a gap of many years for the following reasons.

  • It could not hold to its acquisition of Germany's REpower (later renamed Senvion). When things looked bright for Suzlon, it had ambitions to become a top global player and REpower was expected to add to its prowess with its offshore wind turbines business expanding the portfolio of Suzlon. But the aftermath of global financial crisis in 2008, Suzlon could not arrange long term finance at lower costs, and the interest costs were more than operational profits Suzlon was making, so it could not service its debt and had to default on FCCB’s and to refinance with most banks losing its credibility as a profitable business. Last month, it exited from REpower in a distress sale. Along with it, the debt load on Suzlon too had come down. Had this decision been made a few years ago, it would have prevented its promoter Tulsi Tanti from the embarrassment of pledging all his holdings.
  • Dilip Shanghvi, a prudent business man (who runs Sun Pharma) taking a stake in Suzlon and infusing much needed capital into the business is a big boost to Suzlon. It always had a good top-line but the borrowings made the business suffer. This money coming from a drug-maker as equity will free Suzlon from the fever it had suffered for long time.
  • Improving business environment: With the new Govt. set to boost spending in renewable energy, Suzlon’ revenue is set go higher. And the recent move from RBI in reducing the policy interest rate has indicated that interest rates are set to come down from here. With its revenue going up and finance cost coming down, Suzlon seems all set to show profits in next financial year.

Spice Jet too went through a rough period and many were guessing it will go out of business like Kingfisher Airlines but it is finding new investors. Unlike Suzlon, there are no hopes of it getting back to profits because the structure of the business. It was not financing that is the issue here. Though there are exceptions, very few airline businesses generate profits. Competition is intense and margins are thin.  More the sops they offer to customers, higher are the losses. More flights they
operate, quicker is the cash burn rate. If you had bought those discount tickets and flew with Spice Jet, you too had helped Spice Jet in burning their money.

Income statement of Spice Jet. Source:

Take a look at their income statement and their operational profit; it appears they do not make money no matter what. So the Marans had it enough, and got out of this expensive fancy business. But there are new suitors to give it a fresh lease of life. Will they be able to change the structure of the business? Competition will not let it do. And if they operate in the same fashion, fresh capital won’t last long. What will happen then? Another new investor may walk-in. If not, Spice Jet will have to learnt to live within its means and not worry about its market share. If it does not, it has to follow the ‘king of good times’ for whom good times seem to be over.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Opinion: Apple-onomics

Source: Apple company site
Last quarter (Q1’2015) results for Apple broke records. A profit of $18B made it Apple’s most profitable ever quarter and also the biggest quarter of any public company in history.

Source: Wikipedia

If we extrapolate quarterly revenue of $74,500 M into one full year and consider Apple as a country and compare it with GDP of countries, Apple would displace Singapore and take 37th place in the list. Phew!!!

Source: Data from Apple company site
If you take a look at geographic distribution of its revenue, 59% ($44 B) of it comes from outside of US. All of that are exports for US. Apple's products were approx. 13% of all of US’s exports for that quarter. Since most of the manufacturing for Apple happens outside US, we can exclude direct material and labor costs from that $44 B, it would still amount to $17 B of net contributions to trade. And considering domestic impact, it adds $30 B of economic value to US economy for that quarter.

So it might be clear now. Apple is not just making money for its shareholders but boosting the economics its parent country too.

If Apple was an Indian company, India would be a trade surplus country (India's trade deficit is less than Apple's exports) with a strong current account. And Rupee would have been a currency to seek after!

You will say stop dreaming and I would agree. But those who are making noise with ‘Make in India’ need to take a look at what Apple is doing for US despite the absence of manufacturing facilities for it in US as it sources most of components from Taiwan and South Korea and gets the assembly & testing done in China. Apple has proved it. It is not manufacturing what matters. What makes a difference is innovation, IP rights, marketing and delighting the consumer.

Are we thinking about it? Do we need Foxconn or Apple in India?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Opinion: Ambani and Adani will run India (and make most of India’s fortune)

Two articles in today’s newspapers made me think two business houses (or rather families) will be the biggest beneficiaries of the upcoming policies and Govt. spending.

Ambani’s always meant business – the senior Ambani built the empire from oil to textiles, and his sons took it further getting into Telecom, Retail, Energy, Infra, and you name it. They always knew next big what and made sure they are there. But see that they are quick to cut loss and exit when their new businesses do not make money (like Reliance Timeout). Now Anil is keen to enter into defense manufacturing. Do they have experience in that – you may ask but it does not matter is what you will realize quickly. The biggest challenge in India is to work with Govt. and its bureaucracy, they can beat competition there and the lack of experience is made up by hiring the experienced from industry. Anil hired a former managing director from Lockheed Martin to lead this business. You can see he will make this happen.

And another news item is, Adani’s plan to get into Airport sector via Ahmedabad -

Gutam Adani already runs Infrastructure business. His company operates ports in Gujarat – so why not operate Airport too? Again the success here depends on ability to work with Govt., and securing long term finance at low costs as rest of the project related skills including technology can be hired or bought and some of the works can be outsourced through contract works. It is how he transformed his small scale businessman into billions worth enterprise.

With the ‘Make in India’ initiative, both Govt. spending and private investment are expected to go up significantly in the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. And you know who is set to ride that wave. They already made news today and you will see their fortunes rise too in the coming years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Shattered Dreams - Ramayana-The Game of Life by Shubha Vilas

Most of us would have heard the story of Ramayana early in our lives from our grandmothers (even before we learn to read or went to school). Thanks to Ramanand Sagar, his TV serial filled the gaps in those homes where grandmas were absent. At schools, it was teachers who retold it. At dramas, our elders enacted the scenes from it. After one learns to read, it opens up the bigger world as there are numerous books on Ramayana written over many centuries. Each author had put forward his or her views though the central plot and the subject matter remained the same, it was the style and the focus on certain characters made them unique. So it became an epic as it had the strength to survive many generations and remain relevant.

I too had read many versions of it with different perspectives and kept wondering each time about the capability of the story to be retold but still holding readers interest. And I had my set of questions too. If the purpose of Rama’s birth was to kill Ravana and if it was all destiny, why Sita was made the ignorant victim as Rama would have found any other reason to kill Ravana? I always found Rama too ideal for a human being (is that the reason they term him God?) and wondered how such a person who did not lose his tranquil in many odd circumstances but lost his serene when one of his countrymen accused his wife. It was strange for me to see Lakshmana losing importance in the story after the war gets over and wondered why nobody thought of his wife. As a fellow human being, Lakshmana’s wife would also have craved for her husband’s love but she gets little attention than she had deserved and so on.

When I had received the book “Shattered Dreams - Ramayana-The Game of Life” from BlogAdda, I begin with an impression that I am reading another version of the great mythology but soon I realized that the footnotes are making it more than a novel like read. For fictional/novel readers, footnotes are a distraction as they break the flow and continuity. But in non-fiction books, they are a must to provide references and other notes from the author. This book is full of footnotes almost in every page which are sharp and full of wisdom which gave me a feeling of reading a case study and the take away from case study captured in the form of foot notes. As you read a page from the book, the footnotes below it offer an explanation and reasoning why the characters behaved that way. That helps us understand the characters in depth and dissect the situation.

If one reads this book like a novel, I suppose the objective of the author will not be met. It is the synthesis of Ramayana and how we can improve our lives reading it is the significance of this book. So this book appeals to me more of a personality development/leadership guide book, and a good one at it as it has the backing of the great epic. The story of it everyone knows but what we can learn from each character and the situation from Ramayana, this book shows it. So it cannot be read in one go but need to be used like a study guide and I feel it is worth the time invested. It helps to clarify one’s understanding of life, transform himself and elevate to next level of understanding and produce a tolerant leader out of the reader. It helps the readers understand the importance of character and integrity. 

I am sure to come back to this book again in time.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Book Review: Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

Henry Pulling is a retired banker. He is unmarried and content spending time growing flowers at his home garden. At his mother’s funeral, he meets up with Aunt Augusta, a younger sister of his mother who was not in touch for decades. Aunt Augusta too is unmarried and they take a walk together after the funeral and decide to meet up frequently. And his Aunt reveals a secret to Henry that he is his father’s son but the mother who was dead was a step mother and he was born to someone else as a result of wandering of Henry’s father. Henry surprised with this revelation, wants to know more as no one else knows about this as his father is long dead and his mother (or step mother) is too dead now. He visits her aunt’s house and as he gets to know her more, he is drawn into a world of adventure, romance, and he travels to the places he had not seen in his conventional, predictable life as a banker.

When his aunt asks him to accompany for a travel, Henry joins her but he is not aware that they are going far away from London where they lived. Henry had not traveled out of his home country till then. And he did not have a slightest suspicion that his aunt is taking out gold (smuggling!) with her to pay for the foreign exchange they need. When he finds that and asks if she is aware that it is illegal, she smiles back and tells she has not read the law so she does not know what is legal or not and it does not matter for her. Travel takes them to Paris, and then to Istanbul. Over a series of conversations Henry learns about the past of his aunt and her lovers. Though she was not married, she had moved from one lover to another during her prime of life. And this travel was to meet the people from past life again. Henry gets to meet those people from his aunt’s past and that this travel had many purposes to serve for his Aunt.

After they return, Henry wants to know how his father had died and where he was buried. Who else can take Henry to his father’s grave? So Aunt Augusta joins him and they find another mourner there at his father’s grave, who was a lover of Henry’s father and was present when Henry’s father breathed his last breath. Henry is curious to know more details about his father from her but he is surprised to see how irritated his Aunt Augusta is with this new woman in his father’s life.

Aunt Augusta leaves for another travel leaving Henry behind. After several months, he is asked to join her and that journey takes him to Argentina and Paraguay. That is where his aunt has found an ex-lover of her and plans to get married with him and settle. And Henry learns that his aunt is his real mother and her elder sister had marred his father to cover up the mistake. And that Aunt Augusta along with her marriage plans, has a found a match for Henry too there.

This plot involving two elderly people (Henry in the mid 50’s and Aunt Augusta in the 70’s) and their journeys into their past is a fascinating story. I read this book during my commute hours between office and home (which is 2 hours a day one-way!) and I was transported into a fictional world created by the author and was so involved with this novel that I wondered how quickly two hours passed. It took me five sittings to completely read this novel. I was impressed by this author but felt somehow the end of this novel doe not go with the flow of it. Aunt Augusta after her marriage allows killing of her another lover Wordsworth but that does not seem to fit her character in this novel and Henry agreeing to marry a teenage girl too. And both of these central characters deciding to marry at an old age is strange since they remain unmarried for most of their life and did not not have inclination towards marriage till then.

This book was first published in 1969. Author Graham Greene has more than 25 novels to his credit and is one of the most widely read British novelists of the 20th century.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Review: A Writer’s people by V S Naipaul

This is a writer’s journal. And naturally for a writer, the closest subject to his/her heart is other writers, from all generations and not just fellow writers.

In the first essay ‘The worm in the bud’, author during his upbringing and formative years in Trinidad, narrates the authors who fascinated him, how poetry did not interest him in the beginning but made sense as he found the poems which brought out their meaning in simple but enchanting way.

The second essay’ An English way of looking’ is a critic of various British authors who put emphasis on English ways of living in their books. He dislikes many of the authors as he fails to understand their point of view in their works, but likes a few, Tony Powell among them.

In the third essay ‘Looking and not seeing: the Indian way’ author after exploring few Indian authors comes to the subject of making of MK Gandhi. He points out that the culture shock Gandhi had to face in South Africa led to a revolt in a shy, introvert lawyer. Had Gandhi was well read and was aware of the culture before he arrived in South Africa, he would have become just another migrant from India. Similarly he observes that Nehru, only after participating in peasant movement learnt how the poor lived in India and the blind faith those poor kept in Nehru made his will stronger and made him a socialist later.

In the fourth chapter ‘Disparate ways’ author revisits some of the literary works, classics, history of Rome and Greece.

In the last chapter ‘India Again: the Mahatma and the after’, author puts out his opinions on Vinobha Bhave and Nirad Chaudhuri and his work ‘The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’.

V S Naipaul is a unique author and deeply opinionated on many subjects. His observations are stunning and contrast at the same time. It appears he has more hatred (and less pride) in his Indian origins, so some of his opinions might leave distaste in Indian reader. But for those readers who are tolerant, he shows how to read in between lines and how to dissect a literary masterpiece.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: The End of India by Khushwant Singh

This was written by Khushwant Singh to express his anger on the backdrop of riots in Gujarat during 2002 and landslide victory of Narendra Modi in Gujarat state elections. Now that Modi rules whole of India, Khushwant Singh, if alive, would have written a sequel to this book with more vigor.

This book has four chapters apart from Introduction. The first chapter ‘The case of Gujarat’ looks into the details and mindsets of common people and the role of Govt. in managing it. Second chapter ‘The Sangh and Its Demons’ looks deep into Hindu organizations such as RSS, VHP, Bhajarang Dal and Shiv Sena and the roles they play. In the third chapter ‘Communalism – An Old Problem’, he goes back to the birth of Communism and how it got changed with the changing times and scenarios. In the last chapter ‘Is there a solution?’ he thinks the solution lies in promoting India as a socialist country and adopting work ethic as new religion of India.

While the author vents out his anger in a rational tone, one can agree with him that India belongs to and is made by people of all religions who have found a home in India. At the same time the solutions he gives are Utopian and it takes many generations to put the religions to the backdrop.

One can read this book to get different perspectives about India. But need not agree with the author that communists are always a threat to integrity of India. I personally believe India cannot end. It has stood the test of the time for thousands of years. History has shown that when a religion or a society is suppressed for long time, it pops out with full energy when its time comes. India is a democracy. In democracy everyone gets a chance, but one at a time. Probably this is the time for Hindus, and they have a found a leader in Modi. What is wrong if Sanskrit, Vedas or Upanishads see some revival?

But the likes of Khushwant Singh bring a balance to the society. They prevent (or try to prevent) any part of the society becoming extremists by warning about the dangers such a change can bring.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Opinion: Will it be 1 USD = 1 Euro soon?

All stocks, commodities and currencies or anything traded for that matter see fluctuations. But when a trend persists, it is clear that there is some fundamental change going on. So with the Euro currency. It was above 1.5 against USD during the 2008 financial crisis, and it seemed to be a stronger currency. But Europe too was drawn into crisis, thanks to PIIGS. Now US seem to be pulling out itself out of economic mess but European central bank announced a QE signaling its troubles are not over.


Why and When?

One would argue that it is the case of a stronger Dollar than a weaker Euro, and that argument is true to some extent. Dollar index has become stronger and would become even stronger when Fed begins raising the rates during later part of this year. At the same time, ECB announced bond buying program to pump more Euros into the banking system expanding its balance sheet. These two factors will drive down Euro further to peg one Euro to one USD by the end of the year.

Who will benefit and who will lose?

A weaker currency makes exports competitive, so the net exporting country, Germany, is set to gain. But at the cost of other partners of European Union as they do not have the same competitive advantage that Germany has. Their imports will become expensive. But the fresh and cheap Euros hitting the market buys the troubled countries time to turn around. As Germany is the biggest lender to its neighbors, they would show patience and a weaker currency boosts their domestic economy too.

If the situation continues this way for some more time, Germany or Germans will end up owning significant assets all over the European Union countries before Europe recovers and begins it economic growth again. 

If ECB’s program does not produce expected results, and if Greece, Spain opt to have their own currencies, Euro would become much weaker against USD. Though it is less probabilistic now as ECB’s aim is to avoid that situation, in case if it comes to that, Gold will be the ultimate gainer as currencies do not remain successful in preserving the value.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: Nammamma Andre Nangishta (Short Essays collection in Kannada) by Vasudhendra

This is a collection of twelve life stories; half of them are experiences of author in association with his mother, so the anthology takes the name ‘I like my mother’. They all exhibit ground to earth lifestyle of the author, his innocent upbringing and less materialistic but more humanistic approach towards life. Few essays are descriptive incidents and other follow the author from his childhood to adulthood. Two of them made me re-read as I enjoyed them most and I would like to expand on here.

Stainless Steel Utensils: Author’s mother had a strange fascination towards stainless steel utensils which were a symbol of prestige in homes few decades ago. After her marriage, she finds that there are no steel utensils in her husband’s house. Though it depresses her, she takes oath to fill the house with what she adores. And the opportunity comes soon. When she gets pregnant, her husband asks what her desire is, that is when the first stainless steel plate finds way into the house. When her son (author of this book) grows up and begins his earning in Madras, he takes her into a multi-storied shop selling stainless steel utensils, she becomes speechless with wonder seeing all that is on display. Her son comforts her putting hand around her shoulders and all those shining utensils reflect their joy. But this strong fascination of her does not get carried to her children. The author retains few utensils in memory of his mother and the touch of them brings him the memory and the feeling of motherly touch.

Annavru visiting my town: People of Karnataka identify Rajkumar, veteran actor of Kannada film industry as ‘Annavru’ (elder brother). When this popular movie star visits the small town of the author, all the population of the town waits in front of the house where the actor was taking rest. All of them wanted to see the actor whom they had seen only on movie screen before. Rajkumar comes out along with little his son, waves hands at all of those who had gathered there and disappears back into home. Author’s mother puts her young son on her shoulders so that he can take a look at the actor though she fails to see the actor herself. While returning home, mother and son visit Lord Hanuman temple, sit down in the temple as mother exchanges casuals with temple priest. That is when the priest requests author’s mother to sing devotional songs. When she begins singing, closing her eyes with involvement, two cars arrive at the temple silently. And the actor Rajkumar walks into the temple to offer his prayer. When author’s mother stops singing in wonder, he gestures her not to stop singing. After Pooja gets over, before leaving the temple, the actor checks with author (who was young then) what he is studying and advises him to do well. After this memorable experience, the same night author checks with her mother if she will perform the act of warding off the evil’s eye. She firmly rejects it claiming the actor is a good person so only good thing can happen to her son.

Though I liked the above two life stories most, other essays too are enjoyable reads. An essay titled ‘Guest and the monkey’ summarizes a funny experience of the author that makes the reader laugh out aloud. Priced at Rs. 60, this book is a steal. This book has won award from Karnataka Shaitya Academy as well. For all Kannada book readers, this book is enjoyable experience as it makes you both inward and lighter. For those considering to gift books, this is a perfect match as it comes in pocket size and easy to send it across.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Opinion: Luxury housing boom in Bangalore: Who are the takers?

Today’s Times of India reported a surge in demand for luxury housing in Bangalore. (Link: The report quotes that ‘Homes starting from above Rs 5 crore is where the luxury market actually begins’. And there are 6000 units being built in 2014 alone. Phew, is Bangalore becoming another London or Hong Kong? Data says not yet and there is time for it. Why go out of India, Bangalore’s property market is lot smaller than that of Delhi and Mumbai both in pricing and number of units being sold. But the demand surge and the unusual growth rate it is witnessing can put Bangalore on par with global markets pretty quickly, for many reasons.

Housing and real estate in general are a broader representation of the underlying economy. Like good stocks command higher P/E multiple than broader stock market, towns with higher growth potential may command premium over others. If Bangalore’s luxury housing market is gaining traction, one needs to see who is driving it and how long that would go on.

As Bangalore became IT capital of India, having an office in Bangalore became a must for many global enterprises, either to do their core activities or to outsource their back office work. It attracted many entrepreneurs even from non IT sectors like GE, GM and Toyota to name a few. As the operations of these global enterprises grew, the number of high profile jobs too grew in Bangalore. Probably Bangalore has highest number of expats in India now. Many NRI too made a comeback to their home country and made Bangalore their home.

In the fresh wave of entrepreneurship with businesses going online and internet applications replacing the desktop based applications, Bangalore is emerging out as one of the start-up capitals of the world. It is doing what California does for US, putting product developers, marketers and businessmen together in the same geographic location creating an ecosystem suitable to create next generation businesses. So we see Amazon’s Jeff Bezos directly landing in Bangalore and not begin India’s journey from Delhi.

It is the migrants from outside India are a major source of demand for luxury housing in India, they form first tier of buyers for these houses which costs few to many crores of Rupees. Significant skilled and management resources are migrating from other parts of India to Bangalore to meet the demands of growing global business footprint. They form the second layer of demand. Competing with them are those residing in Bangalore and breaking into higher levels of income. They ensure base demand for luxury housing does not shrink but expand.

 If India is set to grow economically, Bangalore might grow at a higher pace than it. So will be the housing market and luxury housing at the top of it. Don’t blame Bangalore is becoming prosperity island, migrants being the new owners of the town. That is how the economy works. The winner takes it all.

Book Review: Yaana (A Kannada novel) by S L Bhyrappa

This is the story of space travelers. Two astronauts carefully chosen for the mission of exploring space are expected to produce their offspring in spaceship who would continue the mission which runs for decades. The children of those two astronauts, one male and another female are supposed to produce their next generation. When they are set to marry, they raise the question - how can siblings get married? They put forward this question to their parents and history unravels through the notes documented by their parents. Their find out that their parents are not married, were brought together only for this mission. They also learn that their parents are not biological parents but surrogate parents as the kids they raised were born out of embryo created from sperm and egg donors. That solves the dilemma ensuring space mission is unaffected.

Though this novel has scientific background, it is the psychological exploration of characters which takes the center stage (as always). This novel is another feather in Bhyrappa’s cap who has explored people from all walks of life, musicians, politicians, mythological characters and this time the space travelers. A must read for fans of Bhyrappa and this novel is brief (210 pages long), makes it a quick read and transports the readers to an experience beyond the Earth.