Friday, January 18, 2008

India's big woman investor? Or just big hype!

If there's anything that's bigger in India than the cricket Twenty-Twenty win or SRK starrer Chak De! it's probably the Reliance Power initial public offering that closes today. As I write this, the issue is around 50 times oversubscribed and the feeling that one gets is that riding the sensex boom every single Indian has become a savvy investor on the stockmarket. However, this belief for me now seems to be a hype, after the harassment that my mother suffered in trying to apply for a very few shares in this GREAT Reliance IPO. She's a retired school teacher who lives alone in Kolkata - the first hassle for her was trying to open a demat account. Apparently the Reliance IPO has caused a huge demand for opening the demat accounts and banks are working overtime to meet the rush.
In my mother's case, an agent from a prominent private bank who she had contacted came to her home and made her fill up the requisite form. Only when my mom went to the stockbroker's office to submit the application for the issue, she discovered he had opened a savings bank account for her and given her its number! Needless to say that she had no need for a svaings account.
Meanwhile, it was too late to apply for the IPO of the decade - no guarantee that she would have been allotted any shares even if her application went through. Further, mom who could have become a first time investor on the stockmarket failed to get the services of any stockbroker at her home. Surely, such services are available for people who are 65 and above. Well as far as India's great stockmarket boom is concerned - I think it's only for the net savvy, young people who open a demat account and start trading online. As for senior citizens, even if they are well educated and not computer illiterate, they remain at the mercy of idiots and unscrupulous agents. My mother has reiterated her faith in small postal savings - she walks down to the post office every month and chats up other retirees who are waiting in the queue. Even if the wait is long, no one's taking her for a ride after all.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Here to Eternity

Here's an article that I wrote in The Economic Times on Sunday

In a fitting tribute to Hillary, Sherpas are praying for his reincarnation. Along with Norgay, he will probably live on forever to inspire the spirit of adventure

THE SUMMER of 1987. For me, it was the most extreme training that I have ever taken in my life, at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. Looking back there are intense images of trekking up to Tiger Hill with a fully loaded rucksack - starting at midnight and getting there in time for the sunrise, only to be greeted by a thick blanket of clouds and a drizzle. And there were the PT sessions even before the crack of dawn and the jog down to the Mall from Jawahar Parbat where HMI is perched. A week on, we trekked up through lush green valleys and rhododendron forests to the glacier - Rathong - surrounded by 6500 m + peaks of Frey’s, Kabru Dome, Sinolchu and many others. High altitude acclimatisation, training on snow and ice, trekking with snowboots and crampons and above all coping with the subzero temperatures - those were a couple of weeks that I will never forget.

It was also just an year after the legendary Tenzing Norgay had passed away - but his inspiration and spirit lived on at HMI. Norgay was the first director of field training when HMI was set up in 1954 and had been associated with the institute all his life. Many of our trainers were sherpas who knew him very well and had been mentored by him. So when we climbed down to the institute after training sessions, past Norgay’s home in the late afternoons - many of us trainees stopped for a while and looked up at the prayer flags fluttering in the lawns with awe and respect. It was just an year since he had passed away and almost everyone remembered him and spoke about his achievements. We were told how every year he graced the graduation ceremony as chief guest - and our graduation from HMI was a very low key affair as a mark of respect for the man who had conquered the world’s tallest peak with Edmund Hillary in 1953. So when I read that the Sherpas in Nepal and Darjeeling had prayed for the reincarnation of Hillary, who died on Thursday at 88, it seemed to me a very fitting tribute.
Sir Hillary - after all - was not just a skilled mountaineer who pushed the envelop of physical and mental endurance to climb Mt Everest. He has climbed ten more tough peaks in the Himalayas between 1956 and 1965. He has also gone to the South Pole with a Trans-Antarctic Expedition and led a jetboat expedition - Ocean to Sky - from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source. In 1985, he accompanied Neil Armstrong in a small twin-engined ski plane over the Arctic Ocean and landed at the North Pole. It was not just his intense spirit of adventure - the New Zealander has left his footprint in Nepal through his philanthropic activities. He founded the Himalayan trust through which schools and hospitals have been built in remote villages in the mountains.
Mt Everest to most skilled mountaineers today is not really the most difficult climb and the alpine style expedition in 1953 - through the South Col - was not the toughest route either. However, there’s no way that anyone can play down the sheer achievement of the two men who were the first ever to set foot on the summit of Everest at 8848 metres. They had forged a route through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. The last bit of that historic expedition was the ascent of a 40-feet sheer rock face which Hillary found a way up through a crack in the face, between the rock wall and ice. This has since been called the “Hillary Step”. Obviously their pioneering spirit will live on and continue to inspire mountaineers and sportspeople down the ages. As it did their sons, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who are both well-known mountaineers and together climbed Everest in 2003 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first conquest by their fathers.
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