Friday, February 23, 2007

No, the entry of WALMART is not beneficial for India

In fact, it is not good for anyone, anywhere, ever. This has absolutely nothing to do with the protectionist argument. The choice is not between the real WALMART and Indian wanna-be WALMARTs. The opposite of WALMART is a corporation with increased corporate social responsibility; just treatment of workers; commitment to labour rights; ethical corporate behaviour etc. Bringing WALMART (and its likes) will only help set in motion a 'race to the bottom'. The US-based groups like Wake-Up WalMART argue exactly this: A Substantial Number of Wal-Mart Associates earn far below the poverty line; Wal-Mart Associates don't earn enough to support a family; Wal-Mart forces employees to work off-the-clock; Wal-Mart executives did not act on warnings they were violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA; Wal-Mart’s Health Insurance Falls Far Short of Other Large Companies etc.

But let us set aside even these arguments for a moment. Walmart operates on monopolistic principles: it generates profits not through innovation or creativity, but by exploting workers whereever it can, and driving potential competitors out of the market. Is this what India's so-called emergence into a global giant is supposed to be premised on? Whatever happened to dynamism, entrepreneurship, the knowledge economy, etc. etc.
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Why outsourcing should be encouraged

There has been much speculation as to whether outsourcing is the "salvation". Salvation from what?Anyway, human thinking generally acknowledges that there are many paths to salvation. If salvation is social and economic development, then outsourcing is one more vehicle that can take India on that path.

The concern has been expressed that outsourcing of businesses processes to India by foreign organizations distorts the wage structure and takes away qualified personnel from potential domestic employers. Well, India has chosen the path of market economics and employers have to compete in the free market for services with other
employers. The published profit margins of Indian businesses are healthy. There is no reason why they should not be able to attract the employees they need. In employment, as in other business functions, the age of protectionism is under sentence of death.
Its not only in India that outsourcing has its critics. There is a groundswell of opinion in the USA and other Western countries too against the loss of jobs to India. This opposition is misconceived. The critics of outsourcing in the West overlook the fact that their countries do not have the manpower to cater to the growing demand for services. Traditionally, shortage of manpower has been met in the West through immigration. Outsourcing achieves the objective by exporting the jobs rather than importing the bodies, which in turn creates pressure on facilities and generates shrill opposition.

For countries like India, outsourcing helps prevents the migration of educated, qualified youth. The retention of these skills in the country (and the purchasing power which goes with it) is surely a beneficial factor.
The view has been expressed elsewhere in these columns that "... a nation will suffer if its best brains (engineering, scientific,academic, cultural, commercial, entrepreneurial) are not channeled to their natural calling.." Absolutely correct, but the answer surely lies in providing them with greater opportunities to exercise their "natural calling" rather than denying them the present opportunities that provide them with an alternative to choosing between emigration and underpaid employment at home.
If India doesn't mind exporting goods, it is hard to understand the aversion to exporting services to earn foreign exchange. Amidst all the euphoria about India's foreign exchange earnings, it is worth remembering that these are still a fraction of China's and that NRI remittances still account for more foreign exchange than India's entire IT exports.
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Yes, the entry of WAL MART is beneficial to India

The present spate of protests against WAL MART's entry into India is totally misconceived. The small family owned retailers that dot the Indian landscape will be greatly reduced in numbers, irrespective of whether WAL MART comes in or not. Consider the statistics
Indian retail industry is projected to grow to $400 billion by 2010 - Source : McKinsey Quarterly, 2005 Special Edition
Currently "organized" retail business comprises only 3% of total retail sector as opposed to over 70 per cent in developed economies, and 20% in China.
"Organized" retail projected to grow at 25-30 per cent per annum in India - Source : McKinsey Quarterly, 2005 Special Edition
This growth in the "organized" sector is not being fueled by foreign retailers, but by home grown organizations. One has just to drive through the growing suburbs to observe the growth of 100% Indian owned "organized" retail, i.e., large establishments.
Within the last decade or so, starting from scratch, Indian organizations have invested massively in the fast growing retail sector, some examples of their growth to date being
SHOPPERS STOP - 20 stores, Revenues US $ 150 million
TRENT (TATA) - 22 stores, Revenues US$ 90 million
PANTALOON Group - 140 stores, Revenues US$ 450 million
Every major business group (Reliance, Birla etc.) is taking to the retail path.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Indian-owned retail chains are sweeping out into the 35 Indian cities with populations over 1 million, with ambitious plans for mall development, food, hospitality and amusement parks to complement their retail offerings.
The smaller retailers are doomed, one way or another, and is that such a bad thing ? The children of their owners will finally be freed from the generational compulsion to provide cheap labor to their parents' otherwise unviable ventures. They will be free to take advantage of the educational and career opportunities that are opening up in the wake of growing economic demand.
So where does WAL MART fit into this ? Well, WAL MART brings a new dimension to Indian retail by providing the supply chain logistics and IT systems that will bring modern goods and services to the aspiring classes living outside of the major urban cent res. Plus the skilled employment that these systems will require. The spread of WAL MART stores will improve the infrastructure of the exurban areas. And as for the bogey of WAL MART causing unemployment, it should be borne in mind that WAL MART internationally is the largest corporate employer in the world.
The method by which WAL MART has finally been allowed entry, under India's arcane laws restricting foreign FDI in retail, also merits comment. Under the agreed terms, the Bharti organization will set up, own and operate the stores themselves. WAL MART will have 100% ownership of the supply chain, will sell all the merchandise to the Bharti-owned stores and collect a royalty too on the retail sales. So the foreign entity makes its profits up front and off the top, while the Indian partner bears the capital investment burden and the business risk. Go figure that one out, my protectionist brothers and sisters !
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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Has the younger generation in India achieved too much too fast?

A reader from Toronto,Canada sent me this question. He had left India at the age of three and has not visited India since 1987. Everything he sees on the news, in video and on the internet suggest that India is completely different from what he remembers. He has sent me many interesting questions of which this the one I wanted to chew on first. I can think of several possible answers:

No, its achievements have not even begun to match its potential

No, the majority of Indian youth is struggling

Yes, but its all well-deserved

Yes, the younger generation has indeed achieved too much too fast and it is creating problems

What do you think?Ananya Read more!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Indian realities and travel: "A spiritual plane"

I did this article after a trip to one of India's most popular spiritual destinations. In view of the recurring Indo-Pak Peace theme it is relevant, and a certain nostalgia compelled me to revisit the article.

A spiritual plane
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2002 02:47:56 AM] The serenity of the Jammu Valley and its natural beauty captivated Ishani Duttagupta . The mind played games in trying to make the crossover between pragmatism and faith as the early morning mists cleared over the spread-eagled Jammu Valley. The dramatic Tawi gorge had fallen away and the road to Katra wound up towards the tri-peaked Trikuta hills, the legendary abode of goddess Vaishno Devi. For first-time visitors, the Valley, with promises of distant snowy mountains, can be overwhelming. It’s rugged, rocky and extreme country, without the lushness of the eastern Himalayas. I missed the Rhododendron blooms. But in early March, the pines are green with soft and sweet smelling cones. Along the 13 km trek, on a tryst with the goddess, we were often frisked by young Kashmiri police women, many of them strikingly beautiful. They are probably hardened by circumstances, but the poignancy of young women standing guard over the mother goddess' route does not fail to strike a chord. The route to the cave shrine is paved with tranquility despite the heavy security blanket. The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board provides top class facilities along the way. This is among the best maintained pilgrim routes in the country with 50 lakh people visiting annually. Visitors of all caste, creed, religion and race are welcome. Lilting strains of bhajans help assuage the fatigue of the journey. Music, soft drink and beverage companies are very visible along the way. Private players are required to lease out space from the trust which runs its own establishments as well. But the hint of terror lurks in the background and on our return we read about the shooting down of Lashkar militants in the hills behind the shrine and retaliatory bomb blasts enroute. There is only a trickle of pilgrims despite sparkling blue skies, warm days and pleasant evenings. There was the dark shadow of disturbances in Gujarat and Ayodhya, the general manager of Carlson's Country Inns and Suites told us. A majority of his guests are Gujrati business people, and occupancy is unusually low for the season.
Read the full article at,prtpage-1.cms
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Rough Travel in India during the sixties : Kaisar Ahmad

Family vacations in the '60s had to be constructed from a menu of choices and trade-offs. We had the rich historical and scenic tapestry of India around us and there were friends and relatives dotted all over the country who could be counted upon for hospitality. But in a country of India's size travel costs were a constraint. Air travel was expensive, particularly relative to the take home pays of those days. Car travel was one option that allowed, say, a group of friends in two cars to travel with children. Although the road system did not include modern highways, traffic was light away from the major urban centers. In the early '60s the countryside had not yet fallen prey to the lawlessness of later years. Within a four hundred mile radius of Calcutta there were a number of destinations offering attractions that included forest sanctuaries, seaside locations, the spectacular Sunderbans Delta region and lonely dams nestled in basins of picturesque hills. For accommodation, there were networks of bungalows belonging to various Government departments and it was not difficult to locate one within easy reach of these attractions. The Public Works Department, the Forestry Services, The State Electricity Boards, the Fisheries Department and other Government agencies maintained these Bungalows in remote areas for visiting officers on their rounds of routine inspection or project management. They spanned a wide variety of architectural styles. Some had large rooms, spacious grounds and were hard to reach. Others were spare, utilitarian and near or on the main roads. Some were decrepit and might have been built for an earlier generation of British Government officials doing their rounds on horseback while others (like those of the Electricty Boards) were of a more recent vintage.

The bungalows were available to the general public at inexpensive rates when not being used by the officials concerned. They were staffed with cooks and servants skilled at turning out meals at short notice. Recently I came across a nostalgia cook book published by the Taj Group of hotels which includes a section on bungalow cooking. It mentions the readiness of the cooks to respond rapidly as soon as they saw visitors approaching in the evening. A chicken would be gathered up from the many scurrying around in the compound and a delicious curry would be available as soon as the guests asked for it. In the book the recipe for taking a chicken from coop to table in a hurry is appropriately titled "Sudden Death". So although the food was basic, prepared as it was with the freshest of country ingredients and shared under starlight in the company of friends, the simple fare was an unparalleled treat after a long day's drive.

There was always the possibility, however, of an unannounced visit by Government officials which meant that we would have to hurriedly vacate - those were the rules. It was part of the game plan to carry some basic rations in the car, particularly for the children, in case we had to suddenly pack up and drive off in search of another resting place, leaving behind the aroma of dinner still being cooked. With no cell phones or other easy communications available, detailed Ordnance Survey maps were essential to guide us to the next available lodging, and days of research and contingency planning took place before each trip.

Then there was the possibility of flat tyres or more serious car trouble. If the trip was to some particularly remote location, it was advisable to travel in a minimum of two cars and carry some basic spare parts such as fan belts, spark plugs and radiator hoses. Those excursions provided a sense of adventure and was an invaluable way for us and our children to retain a sense of connection between the urban commercialised world that was our daily life and the rural expanse that even today represents the essential India.

For travel over longer distances, the Indian Railways offered another exotic option. One of the largest and busiest railway systems in the world, the Railways made it possible to reach the remotest corners of India by train, and quite inexpensively, unless one insisted on airconditioned private compartments.

To take full advantage of the scope of the railways though, required planning as careful as the car trips to remote areas. Although by the '60s all of India's railways had been united under the management of one Government Ministry, this was not always so and at the time of Independence there were forty-two different railway systems in the country. Most were run by private companies, others were operated by the many independent kingdoms ruled by Maharajahs. There were separate railways built to connect coal mines and iron ore sites to the industrial centres, others to facilitate military transport, some just for the hilly tea growing regions. Over a century or more, a system of different junctions and hubs were created to connect these diverse networks. With the exception of trunk routes between the four major cities of India, travel across the country often required frequent changes between various types of trains on rail tracks of different gauges or widths.

There was a publication called the Railway Bradshaw which was a vast encyclopaedia of schedules, stations and their various catering and accommodation facilities. After long planning exercises which sometimes took as long as the trips themselves, we would use the trains as portable hotels. A typical overnight journey would terminate at stations chosen in advance for their amenities and accesibility to tourist sites. Luggage and families would be unloaded and we would take advantage of the Retiring Rooms which provided bathroom and storage facilities. A rest and change would be followed by renting a car and driver for a tour of a temple complex or some other attraction which had brought us there. We would return to the station and depending upon our next train could either eat at the station or, if the train had a dining car, wait till we boarded. Travelling with small children of course meant carrying some basic sustenance for them - cookies, powdered milk, baby food. The larger train stations provided overnight accommodation in their retiring rooms, and sometimes we would take advantage of them if the site required more than one day's stay.

Some of those train journeys would span a day or more. Our fellow passengers in the crowded cheaper compartments would be diverse, and curious about us. Long conversations and exchanges of family lore would take place with farmers and traders. It was of no use trying to protect our privacy - the Indian travelling companion can be very persistent. Besides, it was easier to share with these strangers the circumstances in our life which we would keep bottled up in conversations with our fellow members in the private clubs of Calcutta. As the day wore on and conversation waned, we would just look out of the windows and see the panorama of the country's life pass by. Expanses of flooded paddy fields with the green shoots poking their heads above water, forests and mountains, deserts and crowds, dusty villages and ancient ruins, ugly new industrial townships - it seemed there was not enough film in the world to capture it all. It was a wise man who said that journeys are more interesting than arrivals.

If the train did not have a dining car, the Indian Railway system provided for food orders to be telegraphed ahead to another station which had catering facilities. These meals were adventures in themselves, because one never knew what regional version of a requested dish we would be faced with.

Going to the internet to compare my memories of the Indian Railways with current facts, I found a site that actualy lists railway stations and against each station name specifies a regional specialty food item available there.

For example, at Guntakal station the list invites us to try "Mango Jelly". Mysore justly lays claim to "Dosa" and Hyderabad is coupled with its nationally famous "Chicken Biryani". Perhaps less invitingly, Surendranagar apparently takes pride in serving "Tea made with Camel's milk".

There are stations mentioned on that list that I have never visited and dishes that I have never eaten. The list represents a whole magical itinerary of discovery, a gastronomic adventure that I must surely try and experience before my digestive processes are disabled by age.
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There's a big great world out there

Had a lovely encounter with some beautiful young people today. Was invited for a graduation ceremony of one of the biggest IT training companies in India. Met a bunch of young students (mostly government officials) from countries as diverse as Peru, Mongolia, Antigua, Palestine, Chile, Iran and Afghanistan. They have been in Delhi for an IT course for a few weeks and are now ready to go back to their various countries. What was really great was the way they had integrated as a group and with the Indian experience. Believe me, English language skills didn't matter - and was a disadvantage almost. And even more interesting was the fact that none of them spoke about the IT training part of their stay. For some it was a life changing experience and for others a spiritual journey. One group sang a lively song while another rendered a sad ode to freedom. The girls from Latin America did a lively dance. Struck me how we're traditionally joined from the hips with the western world and seem to forget so many other cultures which are responsive and sensitive towards ours.There was a Tibetan mother and son who live in Mongolia - the lady is a Hindi teacher while her son is a young student. For the two of them India with its Buddhist tradition was also a spiritual journey. Even from a crass commercial point of view, there are diverse markets for India's IT skills. The young trainer - a 22 year old Keralite boy - was mentor, singer and IT expert rolled in one for the multicultural group. Moreover, he seemed to be taking it all in his stride. Read more!

Monday, February 19, 2007

A memory of Calcutta: Kaisar Ahmad

The Britain I left behind in 1961 after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant had a decidedly young feel to it, full of energy and life. Renewal and restoration starting from the '50s had transformed London from the damage suffered in the War. The newly built Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon were fueling a vibrant theater and music scene, with the opportunity to see performances led by von Karajan or Laurence Olivier. Class distinctions were being rapidly eroded as a new generation graduated with State scholarships from previously socially restrictive Universities. The Beatles had just started working their magic in the pubs of Liverpool. Similar trends across the Atlantic were interacting with these developments - rock & roll music swept Europe, Jack Kerouac published "On the Road" in 1957. On the other side of the Channel, steps towards the unification of Europe had begun to weld Italy and Germany to their former enemies of France and Benelux. Even Britain, the proud island fortress of history, had started negotiating entry into an expanded European club. The traditional xenophobia was withering away. The Angry Young Men of English literature were deriding the hypocrisy of outdated English social institutions and hammering home the message that whatever the uncertainties of the future, it just had to be better than the past.

The Volkswagen Beetle and the Mini had created a revolution by bringing car ownership within reach of young people and families that had never owned one.

The Prime Minister of the time, Mr. Harold MacMillan, won the 1959 election with the slogan " You've never had it so good".

By contrast, returning to India was entering a time warp. The buildings I had left behind in 1953 - most of which were pre-war anyway - were badly maintained, crumbling but still in use. Practically no new construction had taken place in Calcutta, and what little had been built was cheap, utilitarian and tawdry. The cars on the road were either old models kept alive from the '50s and earlier or the Indian version of the Morris Oxford, which had been discontinued in Britain in 1956 and was now being manufactured under license - the same model year after year, creating a dreary uniformity in the traffic. The population of the country had grown to 500 million from 350 million in 1947. Millions were migrating to the cities from the land that could no longer support them, in search of work that was not always there. They lived on the streets or swelled the shanty towns and formed an aggrieved underclass that occasionally boiled over into violent strikes and riots.

Business conditions were difficult. Suspicion of the Western Powers had severely inhibited foreign investment. Imports were permitted only for the most essential commodities, and consumer products were kept out of the

country by prohibitive tariffs. Industry was outdated and uncompetitive, kept alive through protectionist policies. Business was administered by a dwindling number of British expatriates in their last years before retirement and an emerging Indian executive class, educated like me on traditional colonial lines and now learning to adapt to their own country.

Imbued as I then was with the irreverent attitudes of Young Britain, it was difficult for me to take the Calcutta commercial world and its stratified attitudes seriously, as I started my career as a Chartered Accountant with Lovelock & Lewes - L&L to its friends - with the grand title of Senior Qualified Assistant or SQA. The three senior British partners were still popularly referred to in the firm by their World War II identities - The Desert Rat (for North African service), the Goat Gunner (Mountain Artillery) and the Chindit (for Commando operations in Burma)

Our office, and many of the old banks and merchant houses , were clustered within easy reach in the half square mile that constituted the old Dalhousie Square commercial area of Calcutta. However, SQA's were not expected to walk to our clients. L&L owned two horse-drawn carriages (or ghora gharries in the vernacular) that took us around Dalhousie Square and dropped us off. At lunchtime they would collect us and bring us back to the office dining room, where we were waited upon and served a three course meal. Presumably the horses also got their daily nosebag during the hour it took us to finish "tiffin", before we clip-clopped back to our clients'. These were the last two horse-drawn carriages in use by a commercial establishment in Calcutta and as such the L&L ghora gharries were regarded as quite an institution.

Initially I felt a little foolish as we rattled around Dalhousie Square in these Victorian contraptions, but soon learned to be grateful during the nine consecutive months that constituted hot dusty summers, torrential monsoons and the Turkish Bath atmosphere that followed the rains. In addition of course the horses were cleaner as far as the atmosphere was concerned, although not always so, regretfully, for the road surface over which they trotted. In a year or two this tradition was discontinued as the two horses passed their usable ages. One day they were there, then they were gone, hopefully to a humane end. The last of their breed, they should have been ridden into a Technicolor sunset by some Indian John Wayne or Alan Ladd.

The task of matching clients to new SQA's was a delicate operation. Indian regulatory and reporting practices were deviating significantly from the previous British legislation and it had to be ensured that someone just returned from England had mastered these complications before being entrusted to corporate audits. Personalities (mine and the clients) also had to be taken into account as much of Calcutta commerce ran on the basis of shared backgrounds and other social links.

The Desert Rat, the Goat Gunner and the Chindit met to decide on the portfolio of clients that were to be assigned to me and my new team.

In their wisdom they decided that along with a number of commercial establishments my client roster would include some of the exclusive social and sporting clubs of Calcutta. These clubs owned valuable buildings, extensive land assets such as Golf Courses and race tracks, and their financial affairs needed delicate handling. The Committees which ran them included many captains of industry and other prominent social figures, accustomed to deference and with strong opinions (often different from each other) .

It was made clear to me that diplomacy and a certain degree of savoir faire would be as important as professional skills - perhaps more so - on these Club assignments.

This was particularly emphasized when I had to conduct my first half-yearly inventory of assets of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, established in 1829 as the first Golf Club in the world outside of Great Britain and granted its Royal Charter and title by King George V on his visit to India in 1911. There were some unique delicacies involved in what should have been a simple physical count. Among the Club's assets were hundreds of bottles of foreign wines and spirits, imports of which into India were now severely restricted. These were rapidly increasing in value as their quantities diminished, steadily vanishing down the throats of the convivial members of the Club. I was made aware that these stocks had not only to be counted and valued but "verified". This involved taking the occasional sip from an open bottle, to ensure that some club employee had not substituted colored water for the Green Chartreuse, for example. This verification could obviously only be entrusted to the SQA in charge of the inventory operation.

I learned that my predecessor at the last inventory had unfortunately tarnished the professional image of L&L. His zealous attempts at verification had required him to be gently helped away before the end of the working day. The Committee of the Club had been particularly incensed when informed that the last remnants of a rare old Madeira, which was being carefully preserved for a special Committee session, had been verified out of existence.

I would like to think I was thorough but judicious in my professional conduct that day, taking care to line my stomach adequately with a good lunch - provided by the Club - before commencing the afternoon's verification exercises. I had to perform this arduous function twice a year during the three years I was with L&L, without the partners ever feeling the need to replace me in the assignment.
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Outsourcing: The Salvation?

Whenever I have voiced my skepticism about outsourcing and its long-term sustainability as a driver of economic growth, I have met with attacks, (especially from those whose knowledge of India begins and ends with "The World is Flat"). Back in 2004, a report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted, to realise the potential for linkages and spillovers and to promote economic growth, including at the regional level, a stronger domestic market-orientation was necessary; simialrly, the boom in software and IT-enabled services may lead potentially to adverse effects on other parts of the economy that compete for skilled manpower. Today blog GigaOm reports that three leading Indian newspapers including The Hindustan Times and the Times of India talking about the problems of becoming the backoffice of the world.The real issue is not only that nature of the outsourced work is unable to provide its employees with job satisfaction over the longer term. But more importantly, what kind of a "knowledge economy" does it really create? Read more!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The composite ABCD

The acronym for American Born Confused Desi was an inspired coinage on the part of Indian Americans.Per Wikipedia ".....ABCD is a term that refers to people of Desi origin (of South Asian descent), living in the United States. "Confused" refers to their confusion regarding their identity, having been born in America or lived there since childhood and been closer to American culture than their native culture...."

However, there is much in the behaviour pattern of the South Asians of America which can cause confusion not only to themselves, but in others too as they search for a composite image for this increasingly visible group.

A magazine published from New Jersey describes itself as the "largest circulated Indian publication in the USA". It should be safe to assume that scanning the pages of this publication would assist in building a composite image that would be true to the reality, and provide glimpses of the standards and aspirations of South Asians in the country. Certainly, leafing through a recent issue, the articles did reinforce many of the positive stereotypes which spring to mind when thinking of South Asians in America. I recall a security guard at a New York club who addressed me as "Doc". Clearly he assumed that an Indian crossing those portals had to be a Doctor of some sort.

Many of the ads in the magazine - real estate brokerages, technical services, investment houses, home decor - clearly speak to a target audience which was clearly affluent, upwardly mobile and sophisticated.

And then suddenly there was an ad across two full pages, placed by a "World Famous Peer Sahib" based in England offering spiritual remedies for issues such as "husband and wife domestic problems", "marriage of your own choice", " affected by any kind of evil spirits or black magic".

There were other ads from psychics, one from a lady who "...mends marriages, Stops enemies, solves business, financial and family problems" and another describing herself as "Spiritual Doctor" modestly claims that she "...Performs miracles ; restores love, happiness and success.."
Another website offering services to "...prevent & destroy black magic, evil powers and jadoo.." includes the catchy slogan "....Doing business with God".

Interestingly, all of the ads mention "immigration problems" among their catalogue of ills for which they profess to have solutions.

The Peer Sahib from England confidently proclaims in his ad that "..100% guarantee in less than one week your every wish will come true" . I presume that under the Truth in Advertising laws, this claim is capable of strict verification.

What place do these services have in the make-up of the composite Indian image in North America ? Where do they fit in amongst the lawyers, IT gurus, astronauts, research fellows, management consultants and finance professionals that make up the popular image ?
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Salvaging Singur, Slowly but surely"

"At the heart of the happenings in Singur, which has come to be the symbol of a countrywide passionate debate on land acquisition for industry, are three questions. Who are the people being dislocated by it? Who among the locals are opposed to the project? And who are in its favour?" This is piece by Arindam Sengupta, published in The Economic Times To take the last question first, three categories of people readily agreed to give their land for the project. One, the absentee landlords, who owned land in Singur but lived in cities like Kolkata; two, the share-croppers (bargadars) whose names are registered in government records; and three, cultivators who stood to lose only a part of their land." Read it here> Read more!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

UK's policy against age-based discrimination
Check out UK's policy against age-based discrimination Read more!

The New Untouchables!

If being single, female and living in Delhi was not bad enough - it's now also about not being young. What with all the hype and hoopla around India and its population getting younger by the nano second - 30 + is now old and over 40, positively over the top. Beyond that you're the official old fogeys. Unfortunately, this young addiction seems to be catching up with HR policies at workplaces and on the social scene as well. Give me the age-ing western countries which have some sensitivity towards its senior citizens - any time. Read more!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Indian pros becoming hot favourite for Europeans

The highly skilled migrant programme in UK may have run into rough weather. But skilled Indian professionals are finding an alternative in continental Europe. The non-English speaking countries of Europe such as Germany, the Netherlands and France are increasingly wooing Indians into their workforce. Read more!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

If we have more billionaries now, poverty will end by 2040

This is the argument the Indian Finance Minister seemed to making when he was interviewed by the BBC. Apparently only 25 percent of Indians live under $1 a day (about 250 million people). They will all come out of poverty via "trickle down" and of course, the call centers, the magical salvation for us all!

Actually the BBC interview was quite wrong in trying to connect Tata Steel's take over of Corus directly to India's poverty. This is one of the simplicities I so abhor..Tata is simply playing the game according to the current rules and doing well at it. The Finance Minister's job is to assess, and if necessary, alter the rules of the game so that it promotes public interest, and at the very least, to minimize possible conflicts between public and private interests. The least the BBC could do - rather than telling the world how deeply they care about India's poor rather than Ratan Tata's economic prowess, was to ask the FM about taxation. How was he planning to tax the newly created wealth? Does not require great progressive vision, does it? For the longest time, Indian governments have figured out excellent ways to deduct tax-at-source, mostly for middle-class Indians. But agrarian incomes, professions, and businesses remain disproportionately undertaxed vis-a-vis the working middle class.

Another simple question: is he doing anything to protect real wages from falling? The National Sample Surveys raise some important concerns in this regard. Stay tuned
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