All posts for the month January, 2012

Hugo Dixon & Jeff Glekin: Unravelling India: growth bottlenecks

Published January 31, 2012 by vishalvkale

Hugo Dixon & Jeff Glekin: Unravelling India: growth bottlenecks:

‘via Blog this’

Classic analysis and Development  – 360 degree viewpoint, almost. In summation, the authors are looking at the following points:

  • Corruption
      • High-level corruption
      • Petty corruption
      • Electoral corruption
    • Anti Corruption Movement/s
      • Lokpal / Anna Hazare
      • Media
      • Right to Information and its impact
      • CAG, CJI etc other pro-and re-active offices
      • Stray political responses
    • Corruption Remedies
      • Powerful Independent Lokpal
      • Transparency in Government
      • RTI – 2005 and its impact
      • UID Project and its impact
  • Sustainable Growth
    • Economy
      • Demographic Dividend
      • GDP Per Capita
      • Bottlenecks
        • Private Investment, negative sentiment of the same
        • Politics – Coalition politics and decentralisation
        • Environmental issues and problems
        • Corruption
    • Problems of the day: Decline in investment, fiscal deficit, corruption and environmental roadblocks
The article deserves special mention since it places corruption, negative sentiment and environmental problems at the same level, and examines – or attempts to examine- their impact on growth. 

The Demographic Dividend, first extolled by Nandan Nilekani in his book on India, is worth mentioning: India will have an average age of 34 by 2050, whereas the age of the average Chinese will be 46. This means that both consumption and working-age population will be in abundance in India. But at the same time, our nation will have to struggle to provide land, water and power to satisfy an ever increasing consumption – which is going to be a challenge. And to make sure that we are able to cash in on this dividend, some problems have to be overcome. Interestingly, we dont have any option: unless we overcome these bottlenecks it is our own country and consequently our own population that will have to bear the brunt of our failures. Because we have to produce enough to provide for this burgeoning population!

The proposal of decentralisation is worth examining. Furthermore, the point they have made that given India’s diversity, a plethora of political parties is inevitable seems justified. Decentralisation, or devolution of power to the state would also be in keeping with the spirit of our federal constitution, as well as the panchayati raj bill etc amendments. It is a fact that the well governed states- Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and now Bihar are doing well. 

The 3rd take-away for me from the above is the author’s belief that the anti – corruption movement is here to stay in one form or the other. The increasing levels of awareness and education, media focus have given rise to a broad anti-corruption consensus – which would serve to generate reverse pressure, as also win converts within the system itself – there are many that we can think of today. All in all, a great article that offers a balanced, holistic view and several thought provoking suggestions and observations. For me, these are:
  1. Broad anti-corruption consensus
  2. Coalition politics, its inevitability and decentralisation
  3. Demographic Dividend – pluses and minuses. (We are aware of both sides, but have never linked them together like the 2 sides of the same coin, so to speak)
A must read article, in my opinion

Book Review: Chanakya’s Chant

Published January 30, 2012 by vishalvkale

Chanakya’s Chant

Author : Ashwin Sanghi
Category: Historical Fiction

It is quite a difficult to tell one story in one book -and carry it off well, maintaining the pace of the story and the interest of the reader. When one comes across a book which does that, it becomes an enjoyable read… most avid readers would agree with me on that score. On occasion, authors’ have used sub-plots within the main story line and carried it off quite well. However, the subplots tend to merge with the main story and are integrally connected with it, and aid the flow of the story – again making it an enjoyable read. But when you come across a book that deals with 2 different stories, unconnected stories running parallel to one another, the first reaction is likely to be of disbelief, or expression of doubt in the quality of the work, or some such reaction. My first reaction was, to be quite honest, along the same lines. I am quite fond of reading history – esp Indian history, and had been exposed to the concept of historical fiction earlier. But even so, I checked out several reviews before taking the plunge.  
That is what this book is about – Chanakya is reborn in India in the 20th century, who takes a poor girl under his wing and ensures that she rises to the post of prime minister of India. Running parallel to this story is the story of how Chanakya makes Chandragupta Maurya the King of Magadha. First off, the concept of 2 different stories piques your interest and serves to draw you to at least consider the book. Next, the base of the book is a blend of historical fiction and political thriller as a category… this further stokes your curiosity, for mixing these 2 unrelated concepts is indeed difficult. Has the author carried it off? This is what my review is about
First, Chanakya. Please remember that this is historical fiction: “Writers of histrorical fiction are not historians and they must depend on others for historical information. The narratives about Chanakya and Chandragupta in Chanakya’s Chant are fictitious although their events and lives depicted may possibly have roots in history or mythology.” – Ashwin Samghi in Acknowledgments and References. I cant put it any better that the authr himself! The story starts with Chanakya as a young boy whose father is beheaded – this leads the hero of our story to swear revenge. He duely reaches Takshila with the help of Katyayan, a minister in the Magadha Cabinet. Once there, his natural intellect ensures that he outstrips others among his peers and pretty soon acquires fame. 
The story mercifully fast-forwards to adulthood, when he returns to Magadha – and promply earns the wrath of the Nanda King, Dhanananda. He is thrown into the dungeons wherefrom he escpapes – again with help, and meets Chandragupta in whom he sees kingly attributes. Accordingly Chandragupta is taken to Takshila for his education. Chandragupta is the son of the senapati of the Magadha Army, who along with Katyayan set about helping Chankya… there is one significant hurdle, though. The Magadha Empire is the most powerful in India – so how does our hero fulfill his terrible vow? The rest of the book showcases the legendary skills of Chanakya as he sets about his task of converting a state-less, army-less young Chandragupta into the most powerful ruler in ancient India. I shant tell more – revealing anything more will be sacrilege, almost! Suffice it to say that everyone from Paurus to Alexander features in the events as the story unfolds! Read the book for more details… sorry!
Pandit Gangasagar Mishra
The modern story starts in UP – Kanpur of all places, and traces the life of the modern Chanakya from the lower – middle class environs of Kanpur to his becoming the most powerful man – the kingmaker – of India. The story parallels that of the ancient Chanakya perfectly, and you can see the similarities between the storylines as the story develops. Mishra quickly earns the trust of, his employer Agrawal (Gangasagar Mishra’s father’s patron) – and from there starts one of the most amazing tales of planning, plotting, calculating and most importantly brilliant execution that propels Gangasagar Mishra and his protégée  Chandini Gupta into the realms of national power. 
As earlier, revealing anything else will wreck the enjoyment of the book, for it is a tremendous achievement for an unconnected individual to to single-handedly enable a poor slum girl into becoming the Prime Minister. Quite a stupendous achievement – and this is one we can appreciate all the more since we are able to relate to the background of the story. In the case of Chanakya, the story is set in a background that we have only heard about, whereas the modern story is set on a stage that we are actually living and experiencing. For example, it is a common opinion that you need contacts, especially in modern politics. Then how has Gangasagar Mishra achieved what he did, seeing as he had no contacts to start with? The forms the core of the book – read it to find more!
The Analysis
The format of the book is the key point – it interleaves one chapter of Chanakya with one of Gangasagar Mishra. This heightens your appreciation of the book as well as the storyline. In fact, this is the core of the book, its USP and its punchline all rolled into one. Because of this style of writing, you can guage the similarities in the strategems of the twin heroes, appreciate their brilliance and spot the linkages / similarity in the sequence of events and tactics employed. The mirror image of the tactics of 2300 years ago can be readily seen in the modern tactics, which makes the book fun – and you end up looking forward to how has the modern Mishra implemented it. The similarities in the 2 lives, the events that occur have been superbly highlighted, and make this book the stuff of legend. 
Hidden in these 2 stories is one awesome realisation – the 2 heroes have never used the power or the wealth that came their way for personal profit. One has to appreciate the way in which both – especially Ganagsagar Mishra – enters the murky world of crime and the shady side of politics, dwells on the border between law and lawnessness, uses the weapons of the system he is fighting against that very system. Neither have they used the power the further the cause of crime, but have rather used the gains therefrom to overturn those very unsavoury people.  
The book is surprisingly racy-paced and well written. As you reach the end of one chapter, you are tempted – sorely tempted – to skip the next chapter of the other era and continue the story in the same era. Credit to the author that has managed to pull the reader into each interleaving. Then, as you see the similarities and the linkages, you forget abut skipping altogether!
In summation, this is a unique book – unlike any other that you will have read. It mixes 2 separate genres – Historical Fiction and Political Thriller – quite successfully, creating a memorable book in the process. It sets a racy pace, has a unique storyline, a unique concept, an engaging style of writing and is a thoroughly enjoyable read! As you set it down after the last page- the story tends to stay with you. What more could you want from a book?  I started with a question – has the author pulled it off? Answer – Yes, he has! 

General Observations on Driving {Non}Sense…

Published January 29, 2012 by vishalvkale

My job carried me on my trusty motorcycle – a Kawasaki Bajaj 4S Champion – to several states and on more highways than I care to count. What started as journeys undertaken with some trepidation soon became a fun activity, laden with many observations, life experiences and learnings that have stayed with me… and shall stay with me all my life. I have tried to encapsulate some observations on driving on roads, digging into what all my collective bosses hope is sincere working hours spent on a bike during the formative years of my career:
Common sense says beware of them. The newspapers say beware of them. The people say beware of them… I say that they are the best drivers on the roads. They come in various styles, shapes and sizes. Here I shall attempt to enumerate the styles:
1) The 40-km-an-hour truck: This guy will stick tape on his accelerator once speed reaches 40. Result? The damned truck will stay at 40 kmph come hell or high weather! Any kind of road, any traffic – he will stay at 40. Wont pass, wont allow you to pass – left or right! DON’T ride behind him for the love of mike, for he will like as not go to ZERO from 40 in the twinkling of an eyelid…
2) The Speed Demon: If a whiff of a gale force wind passes you by, and you can see the vehicle, then you’ve got yourself a speed demon truck. The most dangerous of the lot – beware of him. Let him pass sooner than soon – and for heaven’s sake don’t follow him as he overtakes!
3) The rest of the lot: These comprise the balance 90 – 95% of all trucks, and are generally very stable and good in the driving etiquette they display. Almost never have I noticed a miss from these guys.
Whats to worry, says your common sense, your friends, your newspapers and your spouse. This only goes to indicate that your common sense ought to be locked up somewhere… your common sense, friends, newspapers and spouse are specifically WRONG. These are the real problems- direct or indirect. They generally display a complete lack of driving sense and etiquette, will overtake from right or left, will speed, will NOT show dipper, will not allow you to pass – and if you perchance manage to somehow pass, will turn the highway into a racing track! Their types:
1) The racer: Unseen. Only heard and felt. Heard as a roar, Felt as a whiff of wind that shakes your vehicle from stem to stern. They, along with speed demons above, are the real killers of the road. Unlike a speed demon, if you see a racer coming, park your vehicle by the road side. The speed demon has more sense than this guy!
2) The stable guy: Nice dependable character. Only problem: he numbers around 5% of cars on the highways!
3) The selfish guy: Balance 90%. Charactarised by:
a) I will not show dipper. I will ride on FULL BEAM, saamewaaalaa be damned! {In 10 years, I have yet to meet a SINGLE truck who does not show dipper when I dip my headlights. Fact}
 b) Thou shalt not pass
 c) Thou shalt not blow horn – or else!
 d) I will not signal
e) I have purchased the middle of the road for my good self, it belongs to me, and I shall possess it till I reach my home
What is it with these car-waalaa drivers? In my considerable experience, very few car drivers show the consideration of the dipper on highways. I wonder why? Just compare with the trucks, who always do! I also wonder why the slow truck will drive usually by the road side, while the slow car occupies the middle of the road as a matter of right?
1) The value – lifers: These guys stick like glue to the left of the road, and will not leave come what may!
2) Duniya-hamari-hai: Twist accelerator to speed 90 and keep it there. Overtake wrong side et al – all the ills displayed
3) Miya-Biwis: Dangle all over the road, leading to honks etc etc!
4) The sensible types: Quite a few actually. Ride as per the road!
5) The Cyclists: Are extremely unpredictable!
As for the rest: you will get Bullock carts, cows, buffaloes, dogs, and many other variants, which make the road a panorama of some note!
The point that I want to make, well wonder about, is –
  • Dipper! Why, Oh Why dont more people give dipper? And in cities, why dont people drive on dipper? As I observed earlier, trucks almost always shift to low beam when someone gives them the dipper. Cars never do. Well, almost never. Truck drivers are on the road almost all their lives, and thus realise the importance of the dipper… 
  • When a vehicle approaches on full – beam, it blinds you for a few seconds. Secondly and far more importantly, you dont get any idea what lies behind this full-beam gentlemen. Why should it be so difficult for anyone to understand this simple point? It becomes a task just to navigate your vehicle… 
These are just some random thoughts that passed through my mind today while returning home after dark… a chance encounter with a gentleman / lady (as the case may be) brought my thoughts round to this… 
(This post has been inspired by one of my older posts on my old blog on mouthshut)

A statistical analysis of Indian Cricket since 2008…

Published January 27, 2012 by vishalvkale

Ok, so here we are… nearly 4-0. That makes it 8 in a row… who is to blame? Everyone is baying for the blood of the Indian Quartet of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag. Are they really to blame? I dont think so. OK, so I dont play or follow cricket too much. But my education has trained me in analysis, and statistics dont lie. Statistics are at the core of business, and they dont lie – only their interpretation and their presentation is at fault. We are looking at a short term scenario of 8 losses – that is point 1. Secondly, if we are looking at past performances, then we are presenting only that data for analysis that talks about results. A complete Data Sheet paints a completely different picture:

Count – Winner Result
Venue Drawn Lost Won Total Result
Away 7 13 6 26
Home 8 2 14 24
Total Result 15 15 20 50

  1. India has not toured Australia from April 2008 till date
  2. India has not been to England in the past 4 years!!!! Last England Tour was in 2007.
  3. We have lost 13 and won 6 abroad, counting this test. Remove the past 8 tests, and you still have less than flattering numbers of 5 lost and 6 Won Abroad. 
  4. These 6 away victories are :
    1.  West Indies
    2. 2 Sri Lanka
    3. 1 Australia
    4. 1 New Zealand
    5. 1 South Africa
  5. At Home, 14 wins to 2 losses! 
  6. In 2007, India played  10 tests – 7 away, 3 home. 2 lost, 2 won and 3 drawn abroad. Incidentally, the 2 won includes a win against Bangladesh!!!!

Not World Champion Stuff, I must say… I am beginning to think that our weaknesses lie brutally exposed… as we did not come into contact with England, which was also doing well. After the drubbing against England, the demotivation faced by the team ensured the Australia debacle. We perhaps became number 1 by default, caused by Australia’s debacle, with the others being in no position to stake a claim. Perhaps they were playing away from home!!!!

And the last point is also critical: look at the figures after the coach change, and see the graph – especially away results…

Are the batsmen to blame??????? I dont know, but these figures are certainly queer, and thought provoking – and deny the accusations against our batsmen….

Team 1 Team 2 Winner Margin Ground Match Date Scorecard
Australia India Australia 122 runs Sydney Jan 2-6, 2008 Test # 1857
Australia India India 72 runs Perth Jan 16-19, 2008 Test # 1862
Australia India drawn
Adelaide Jan 24-28, 2008 Test # 1863
India South Africa drawn
Chennai Mar 26-30, 2008 Test # 1870
India South Africa South Africa inns & 90 runs Ahmedabad Apr 3-5, 2008 Test # 1871
India South Africa India 8 wickets Kanpur Apr 11-13, 2008 Test # 1873
Sri Lanka India Sri Lanka inns & 239 runs Colombo (SSC) Jul 23-26, 2008 Test # 1882
Sri Lanka India India 170 runs Galle Jul 31-Aug 3, 2008 Test # 1884
Sri Lanka India Sri Lanka 8 wickets Colombo (PSS) Aug 8-11, 2008 Test # 1886
India Australia drawn
Bangalore Oct 9-13, 2008 Test # 1887
India Australia India 320 runs Mohali Oct 17-21, 2008 Test # 1889
India Australia drawn
Delhi Oct 29-Nov 2, 2008 Test # 1891
India Australia India 172 runs Nagpur Nov 6-10, 2008 Test # 1892
India England India 6 wickets Chennai Dec 11-15, 2008 Test # 1898
India England drawn
Mohali Dec 19-23, 2008 Test # 1901
New Zealand India India 10 wickets Hamilton Mar 18-21, 2009 Test # 1915
New Zealand India drawn
Napier Mar 26-30, 2009 Test # 1917
New Zealand India drawn
Wellington Apr 3-7, 2009 Test # 1918
India Sri Lanka drawn
Ahmedabad Nov 16-20, 2009 Test # 1933
India Sri Lanka India inns & 144 runs Kanpur Nov 24-27, 2009 Test # 1935
India Sri Lanka India inns & 24 runs Mumbai (BS) Dec 2-6, 2009 Test # 1937
Bangladesh India India 113 runs Chittagong Jan 17-21, 2010 Test # 1949
Bangladesh India India 10 wickets Dhaka Jan 24-27, 2010 Test # 1950
India South Africa South Africa inns & 6 runs Nagpur Feb 6-9, 2010 Test # 1951
India South Africa India inns & 57 runs Kolkata Feb 14-18, 2010 Test # 1952
Sri Lanka India Sri Lanka 10 wickets Galle Jul 18-22, 2010 Test # 1964
Sri Lanka India drawn
Colombo (SSC) Jul 26-30, 2010 Test # 1966
Sri Lanka India India 5 wickets Colombo (PSS) Aug 3-7, 2010 Test # 1968
India Australia India 1 wicket Mohali Oct 1-5, 2010 Test # 1972
India Australia India 7 wickets Bangalore Oct 9-13, 2010 Test # 1973
India New Zealand drawn
Ahmedabad Nov 4-8, 2010 Test # 1974
India New Zealand drawn
Hyderabad (Deccan) Nov 12-16, 2010 Test # 1975
India New Zealand India inns & 198 runs Nagpur Nov 20-23, 2010 Test # 1978
South Africa India South Africa inns & 25 runs Centurion Dec 16-20, 2010 Test # 1985
South Africa India India 87 runs Durban Dec 26-29, 2010 Test # 1987
South Africa India drawn
Cape Town Jan 2-6, 2011 Test # 1988
Coach Change
West Indies India India 63 runs Kingston Jun 20-23, 2011 Test # 1997
West Indies India drawn
Bridgetown Jun 28-Jul 2, 2011 Test # 1998
West Indies India drawn
Roseau Jul 6-10, 2011 Test # 1999
England India England 196 runs Lord’s Jul 21-25, 2011 Test # 2000
England India England 319 runs Nottingham Jul 29-Aug 1, 2011 Test # 2001
England India England inns & 242 runs Birmingham Aug 10-13, 2011 Test # 2003
England India England inns & 8 runs The Oval Aug 18-22, 2011 Test # 2004
India West Indies India 5 wickets Delhi Nov 6-9, 2011 Test # 2015
India West Indies India inns & 15 runs Kolkata Nov 14-17, 2011 Test # 2017
India West Indies drawn
Mumbai Nov 22-26, 2011 Test # 2019
Australia India Australia 122 runs Melbourne Dec 26-29, 2011 Test # 2025
Australia India Australia inns & 68 runs Sydney Jan 3-6, 2012 Test # 2027
Australia India Australia inns & 37 runs Perth Jan 13-15, 2012 Test # 2029
Australia India
Adelaide Jan 24-28, 2012 Test # 2031

Book Review: Tell Me Why Magazine

Published January 25, 2012 by vishalvkale

Tell Me Why is the name of a rare gem of a magazine from the house of Manorama… it is indeed unfortunate that it is not more popular… but more about that later
First, the magazine itself. It is a monthly issue which gives 100+ facts about one single chosen topic every month. Sounds very drab and boring, doesn’t it? It is, in fact, anything but drab. The beauty is in the presentation as well as the content. The presentation is very slick, upmarket, printed on quality paper, the layout very brisk and to the point with full colour features on every single page. That alone makes it sound interesting. If you add to it the content, it becomes a superb magazine. So much so, that while we throw away the other magazines – this is one that is carefully stored away as a future reference material, fun reading and most importantly reading material for our son when he is old enough to understand.
The real beauty is in the content: it is simpe in its wording, the facts mentioned are very interesting and not well known, with attention seeking 3-4 word headings. It is very well supported by full-colour photographs, humour-inducing cartoon / pictorial representations which are usually relevant, that provide an overall fun atmosphere to the magazine. Spread all through the magazine are small sections called “Star Facts” which are set apart from the rest of the content, again in colour. Add to that you have a section called “Amazing” – yes, full colour – that highlights little known facts. And, as the icing on the cake, interesting facts, important or lesser known items are highlighted in a differing colour background. The entire magazine is not presented in the classical column print interface like other magazines, with 2 or 3 equally spaced columns. The presentation is more like a collage, with facts given in stars, overlaid on photographs, in various geometric shapes. Some pages are in 2 column – presentation, with usually one column being in colour. The overall impact is fantastic. This presentation serves a dual purpose: while on the one hand it makes the magazine look interesting, polished and fun; it serves to direct attention to interesting items as well as to highlight important sections on the other.

The sample snapshots I found on various sources on the internet should give you a pretty good idea of the quality of the presentation… A sample of the past few topical editions will give you an idea as to what I am referring to in terms of its interesting content:

1. October 2006 – The Soler System
02. November 2006 – Birds
03. December 2006 – Invention
04. January 2007 – Oceans
05. Fabruary 2007 – Ancient World
06. March 2007 – Cricket and World cup
07. April 2007 – Animals
08. May 2007 – Plants
09. June 2007 – Transportation
10. July 2007 – 100 Great Events
11. August 2007 – The Earth
12. September 2007 – Communication
13. October 2007 – Indian History [ancient days to the arrival of europeans]
14. November 2007 – Festivals
15. December 2007 – Wonders of the World
16. January 2008 – Great Explorers
17. February 2008 – 100 Great Lives
18. March 2008 – Weather
19. April 2008 – International Organisations
20. May 2008 – Deserts
21. June 2008 – Weapons
22. July 2008 – Olympics
23. August 2008 – Computer
24. September 2008 – Egyptian Civilization
25. October 2008 – 100 Great Scientists
26. November 2008 – Continents
27. December 2008 – Revolutions
28. January 2009 – 100 Great Medical Discoveries and Inventions
29. February 2009 – The Moon
30. March 2009 – Great Disasters
31. April 2009 – Insects
32. May 2009 – Metals
33. June 2009 – Money
34. July 2009 – Mythology
35. August 2009 – The Mughals
36. September 2009 – Mountains
37. October 2009 – The Universe
38. November 2009 – Mysteries
39. December 2009 – Sports
40. January 2010 – Diseases
41. February 2010 – Animal Behaviour
42. March 2010 – Water
43. April 2010 – war
44. May 2010 – Prehistoric Creatures
45. June 2010 – World Cup Football
46. July 2010 – Ancient Greece
47 .August 2010 – Story of firsts
48 .September 2010 – Natural Wonders
49. October 2010 – Endangered Animals
50. November 2010 – 100 Great writers
51. December 2010 – Roman Civilization
52. January 2011 – Polar Regions
53. Fabruary 2011 – 100 Great Painters
54. March 2011 – World Wars
55. April 2011 – Mammals
56. May 2011 – Parliaments
57. June 2011 – Reptiles
A sample of the content from some of the latest issues is given below, which will give the reader a much better handle on the content
Countries of the World,  December 2011 “The Kingdom of a million Elephants”, “Why are the Philippines Called by This Name?”,”Holy Surveyors”, “The Land of Ice and Fire”, “The Land of a Thousand Lakes”, “Santa’s Birthplace”, “King Bluetooth”, “The Cradle of Civilization”, “Dusty Continent”, “Suez Canal”, “The Shortest War in History”, “Voodoo”, “Countries Named After People”, “Three Capitals”, Rainbow Nations”, 

Ambhibians, October 2011 “Ancient Frogs”,”Why Are Amphibians Colourful”, “Hot and Cold”, “Wonder Skin”, “Toads and Frogs”, “Why are Poison Dart Frogs Important”, “Poison Glands”, “Dont Touch”, “Delicate Fingers”, “Rain Forest Discoveries”, “What are Froglets”, “Why Do We Say That Frogs Adapt Themselves To Their Habitat”,  “Frogs in Space”, “Breathing Underwater”, “What Are Efts”, “Worm, Snake Or Amphibian”

The content is interesting, and can be for both children – especially adolescent children, who are old enough to understand the above – as well as for adults since a good many facts are not known to even adults! The great pity about this classic magazine is that it is not available everywhere. With the proper level of support, targeted promotions, and emphasis on distribution the sales response is bound to be encouraging for a magazine that has both quality content as well as quality and slick presentation. The lack of availability can be a bit frustrating at times…
In fact, that is the only negative aspect that I can think of regarding this magazine!

If the price of the above package is Rs. 20/- – could you ask for more? I cant! A superb magazine well worth several times its price!

Book Review: Empire of the Moghul – Raiders From The North

Published January 24, 2012 by vishalvkale

About the Author

Alex Rutherford is the pen name of Diana and Michael Preston

About the Series
This is the first book in a five-part series of Historical Fiction novels based on the Mughal Empire – how it was established under Babur, moving on to the tribulations of Humayun in the second book followed by the golden era of Akbar in the third. The fourth and fifth books deal with Jehangir and Shahjahan respectively
The Concept of the Historical Fiction Novel
This series has been categorized as a historical fiction novel, which means basically that it is based on historical fact, is generally true to events, especially the major events; includes all principal characters and stays true to established history. The historical basis is on documented Autobiographies of Mughal Emporers, third party accounts of visting Europeans as well as other established historical documents. The fiction part comes in 2 forms – firstly, some characters have been added to add substance and flow to the story and secondly, to set up the back ground. The attempt is look at history as it happens from the point of view of the Mughals, and paint a picture that helps us understand them and actually picturise them in our mind. The books clearly spell out what has been fictionalised in the appendix, which is a great plus
Raiders From The North
 This book is about Babur’s life – starting from his father’s demise in the early 1500’s when he was in his early teens. It examines the phase of the boy who turns into a ruler overnight, aged only 13. The book examines his mindset, his thoughts and his reactions at each stage in his life- his successes and failures, his toughness and his internal doubts at each phase. This actually serves to take you into the mind of the man Babur. Obviously some of it is fiction, but the base is taken from Baburnama in which Babur faithfully recorded his day-to-day life. It details the life of Babur in good times and bad, his struggle and his incessant efforts at success. That makes this book a must read – if for nothing then just to learn how a man can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds if only he doesn’t give up
The other bonus is it details the politics and the life of those days – the feudal set-up, the driving factors behind a stable empire, the dependency of the Emperor on his chieftains, the general society of the mid east and the mongols. It is like a window into the tumultuous past, as it creates a vivid moving picture of the society and helps you connect with the story. This treatment actually makes the story more vivid, lifelike and engrossing, making it an enthralling read. For example, just after Babur’s father dies, the description of just how a child becomes the ruler with the support of some loyals is described in detail. In a particular scene, the young child is shown beheading a traitor – the impact of this action on the rest of the people is shown through young Babur’s words – “I am the descendent of Timur – and the rightful heir to the throne of Farghana. Is there anyone who doubts this?”  The context of the society of those days – admirably described in the book – enables you to understand that had this boy behaved in any other fashion – he would probably have been deprived of his throne, or worse, dead… and that is what takes you into the story as you begin to relate to the prevalent society, norms, people and customs. It helps you understand that in those days, relaxing was not an option for a king – for relaxing too much could lead to death for him as well as for his family!
The book begins with Timur  – who had his kingdom Samarkand in Modern Uzbekistan. Babur, largely due to his upbringing and his father’s influence, is passionate about recreating the days of Timur in whose time the Mongols were supreme. The family of Timur is still dreaming of the old days while trying to come to terms with the reality that they are now only one among several major and minor kingdoms in central and eastern asia. The once-great family of Timur is now ridden with in-fighting with the old empire having broken up. It is thus only natural that the descendants of Timur would want to recreate that ambition, one which has obviously grown stronger with the passage of time. It is this over-reaching passion which drives to Capture Samarkand twice – he succeeds only to lose it each time. However, the dream, the obsessive passion of wanting to emulate, and be a worthy successor to Timur is the guiding light of Babur Mirza throughout his entire life – which takes him to his struggles for Samarkand, loss of both Samarkand and Ferghana – taking him to Kabul where he rules for 10-plus years. It is while at Kabul where he learns of the glory of India first-hand – when he remembers that Timur had looted India. This re-stokes his ambitions and his passions – in his opinion he is the rightful heir to India as Timur had overcome everyone in his time.
The military strategems used in those days are well covered, which is a decided plus. This is based on fact, since the authors’ have done considerable research on the topic. The vivid picture of battles will bring a lump to your throat, a wonder at the bravery of those warriors, an appreciation of strategies used and the scale of the human tragedy that follows. Our history lessons only tell us that Babur won at Panipat.. this book will tell you how he won at Panipat and against Rana Sanga etc, how he lost – who did what in the battles, the sending of commands to various sectors of the battlefield, the response to enemies breaking through etc. the protection around Kings – be it Babur or Humayun; Rana Sanga or Ibrahim Lodhi; how armies in those days were formed – or put together, to put it more accurately.
All in all, it is a great book which stays true to facts, takes you practically into those days and holds your hand as the story unfolds and leads you through Ferghana, onto Samarkand – then Kabul and finally Hindustan. The characters added – I wont reveal which – read the book to find out – only help to fill out missing details, like who must have supported Babur at age 13? How must his mother found out about the traitors’ plans; the characters invented help in the telling of the story, the building of the central character and aid in the overall flow of the story… a superbly enthralling story! Dont Miss It!

Organised Retail: A Reality Check

Published January 18, 2012 by vishalvkale

I have penned some 3 posts on Retail so far, and forwarded the following assumptions:
  • Organised Retail will not kill the Kirana Format
  • The two can co-exist
I had occasion to visit the market today to stock up on provisions, and I decided to cross-check my personal hypothesis by talking to a Reliance Fresh Outlet and a couple of my regular Kirana Stores. These are almost next door to me, and more importantly, are less than 100 yards from an EasyDay Superstore
The Kirana Owner was pretty candid in his analysis. He said “Dhanda kam hone kaa to sawaal hi paida nahi hota sir. Peheli baat to har cheez ke daam badh rahein hain, doosri baat hum graahak ke baju mein hi baithhe hain. Pichhle teen saal mein humaaraa dhandaa to badhaa hi hai, ghataa nahi. Itnaa zaroor hai ki kisi din 5000 ka maal biktaa hai to kisi din 3000 kaa.
Translation: Business has gone up in the past 3 years. I asked him about the past 3 years simply because it has been around 3-5 years since the modern format stores- the big chains extended their presence in Indore. I live in one of the biggest but oldest suburds in Indore City with several major colonies. There are 2 major LFR outlets within 1.5 Km of each other servicing a major residential region of the city, and these retailers were in the immediate vicinity of the superstore. A perfect example of co-existence
At Reliance Fresh, I talked to the billing counter clerk. His feedback was there were around 300 – 500 walk-ins  per day with an average billing of around 100000 – 150000 per day. The purchasing habits of customers were heavy purchases in the first week of the month followed by sporadic purchases spread through the rest of the month. I was frankly surprised at the low average billing and queried him on it. His response was a big learning for me: “Sir, It is not like that. Yes, average billing in the rest of the month is low for normal days – but on scheme days the offtake is greater. Retailers – nearby retailers – tend to stock up on various commodities (especially oils) and products in bulk whenever we launch a good scheme. The walk-in I told you about are purely retail customers“. This tends to confirm my observations on my various visits to superstores when I have observed bulk purchases happening. It was nice to have confirmation of my observations.
We can safely make further assumptions from this, especially since I have observed this happening in other stores as well. 
  • Firstly, this is in keeping with the normal practice of the FMCG trade. To understand this, one needs to understand the structure of the FMCG retail market in India. It is not necessary that the small retailers purchase from the company reseller (distributor), you have a number of intermediaries in operation like wholesalers etc. What we are seeing is the development of a trade structure in the retail space in the role of a quasi-wholesaler. Since a supermart can negotiate better rates with companies, they have to do a quid-pro-quo and lift large quantities. These savings are then passed on to customers in the form of discounts. Frequently, to liquidate stocks or to generate sales discounts are passed on – and the small retailers take advantage of this.  
  • The other assumption is that the entry of Bharti Walmart in the wholesale market will cause increase of competition in this arena – and this is going to impact the traditional wholesale market as well as superstores. In fact, they are going to have a negative impact on superstores only for the 2 reasons below:
    • First, they will have the potential to take away whatever little business that is coming their way from small retailers (whether they will do so or not is another question)
    •  They will make cheap rates available to small retailers, since you require a copy of municipal shop licence to make purchases
    • A good many customers of the superstores will also be lost, since some normal customers are also availing of this facility at the wholesale format store of Walmart by making entry cards on friends business licences and since each card holder is allowed one guest. 
In simple terms, the competitive scenario for each component of the chain – LFR, Wholesaler, Retailer is fraught with challenges. This is a competitive market we are talking about – and each player is faced with his own set of challenges
  1. The Small Retailer is having to cope with rising prices of products, changes in demand with wet grocery becoming more important, small pack sizes, shifts in consumer offtake, and competition from the LFRs which, though muted, is present all the same
  2. The LFR is facing challenges from the existing local large kirana stores like Prem and Gokul mentioned earlier; shift in customers to Walmart; Increasing competition from other LFRs that are increasing their footprint; Internal stress caused by heavy overheads and expenses leading to high target requirements for survival; Increase in the cost of land and lease rentals
This is why you can spot an interesting paradox in Organised Retail in India: While Food and Grocery items contributes 11% of the revenues of the industry – this forms only 1% share of the total category revenues including Organised and Unorganised Formats. By comparison, Clothes and fashion is at 23%, Footwear 48%, Durables 12%, Books 13%. Organised Retail seems to be facing major hurdles in this category because of fragmented and localised nature of demand and a host of local tastes and brands to contend with, A massive unorganised and well-serviced retail network, Intra – category competition and the wide spread of the Indian Market. 
I can only say that this is a most interesting marketing effort to watch… 

Category Analysis of Organised Retail in India

Published January 17, 2012 by vishalvkale

We can glean a few pertinent observations from the categorywise break-up of the current status of Organised Retail. I have surmised in my earlier blog post that the Kirana Stores threat does not exist. The key drivers of business in the Organised Retail sector can be said to be:

  • Clothing
  • Footwear
  • Consumer Durables Home Appliances and Equiments
  • Furnishings, Utensils, Furniture
  • Watches
  • Jewellery – new Entrant
A simple observation of the shops on offer in various malls, organised retail chains will throw up the above categories that are present as major drivers. We can list a number of competitors in Clothing, or Footwear. A simple observation of our – and our family and neighbours’ purchasing habits will prove my point. In Clothing, we have Fashion Bazaar, Westside, Peter England, Vishal MegaMart, Koutons, ITC, Benetton, Raymond to name but a few.  In other Categories, you have Vijay Sales, Welspun, FabIndia, Lotus, Next, DigiWorld etc etc. The point is the current volume of business from these categories, as also the retail (unorganised) competition. For ex, A durables brand can have between 350 – 1000 stores in a state like Chhatisgarh; For Food and Grocery, the number of retailers goes up to 1000 from a single town! Nestle had 533 outlets in Satna (a 3-lac population town) alone -contrast it with the durables market, where a good brand can have 500 outlets in a state the size of Chhattisgarh! We are talking about a vast difference in scale here, and that is what makes a critical difference.
A further point is that all these categories are high-involvement purchases, and have customers are far more likely to shop around. That means, new stores / formats are easily discovered; the larger stores would obviously have better ranges, more modern products. The importance of Ambience also comes in, since it is easier to evaluate clothing in a relaxed atmosphere; greater space, more amenities actually adds a definable value to the customer since it enables him/her to judge colours for clothes / Proper Fitment  for clothes and shoes / TV performance / Hi-Fi Sound etc. In these categories, there is a distinct value addition to the customer. To Summarise,
  • Restricted Market in terms of retail spread
  • Value Addition – tangible value addition for the customer
  • Customer propensity to think and evaluate a lot more in these caegories
The above 3 factors lead to greater foot-falls; and it is here that the larger pocket-size of the retailer comes into play by stocking up on all the latest models / varieties etc. This is what translated into faster growth and acceptance of these categories in the Organised Space
India has 14 shops per 1000 people – 1.5 Crore retail outlets, and it would be being optimistic in the extreme to expect a handful of Organised Retailers to kill of the unorganised sector. Yes, the Organised Retail Sector is Growing rapidly – the figures are 36% y-o-y, but the main drivers of business as on date are different. In the Food and Grocery segment, the three identified differentiators are conspicuous by their absence.
  • First, this space has a widesrpead, well penetrated market, with each locality and each house being properly serviced
  • There is limited scope for value addition – tangible value addition- in this category for the consumer.
  • These are low-involvement purchases and customers do not think and evaluate purchases too much – they are habit-formation categories – and habits are the hardest to break
  • Proper servicing of this unorganised sector by the companies. One has to understand that for the FMCG category companies, this market is the bulk volume generator. Further, since logistical challenges are limited due to small SKU sizes and low absolute prices per SKU, each store is properly stocked with even the latest products. The critical point here is that the advantage of new products / full ranges is not present for the Food and Grocery Sector. Organised Retail is competing not just with the small retailer  but also the industry norm of weekly servicing of each outlet in the entire nation
  • The fundamental drivers of business in this category are thus different – quite different. So are the ground realities. This category is one of the most streamlined and organised categories, as also the most competitive among all the products categories. Easy logistics, Low SKU Price in absolute terms (how much does even a premium biscuit cost – 50 rs? Contrast it to one shoe- 750/-), established systems and habituated customers create an entirely different paradigm of business
That is not to say the Food and grocery as a category will not grow in Organised Retail – it will. It is one of the top 7 categories. However, the fact remains that today, in the Food and Grocery segment, the share of Organised Retail is only 1% as opposed to more than 10% for other categories

India Since January 2008

Published January 15, 2012 by vishalvkale

This current train of thought has been triggered by India’s seventh straight overseas loss – personally I am prepared for 8-0, and expecting 16-0 abroad – but it did bring my mind around to the terrible run India is having as a nation. For the past 2 years, we have been buffeted like never before! On a lighter note, one has to wonder how much longer is this pluperfect run of bad luck going to continue. (Lets hope the use of the the past-perfect grammer as in “pluperfect” can turn things around…)
Wondering what the hell I am talking about? Well, just go through the bullet points below! I hope this train of thoughts has just been triggered by India’s cricket loss, and is a figment of my imagination, a hallucination if you will, brought about by a bout of depression! 
  1. It all started in 2008, with the stock market crash
  2. Cash for votes scam
  3. Satyam
  4. November 2008 – Mumbai. Need I say more on this? 
  5. Satyam continued in 2009
  6. Mining scam
  7. 2G Scam
  8. Adarsh Housing Society
  9. Commonwealth Games Scam
  10. Radia Tapes
  11. Lavasa
  12. IPL Scandal
  13. Black Money humdrum
  14. ISRO Spectrum Allocation
  15. Interest rates start rising
  16. Food inflation as well as general inflation on the rise
  17. Economic Indicators start falling
  18. Stock Markets range bound between 17000 – 18000 levels
  19. Stock Market Correction to 15000 – 16000 levels
  20. Telecom and Insurance Sector in deep waters
  21. Government and Parliament under extreme pressure due to team IAC
  22. Interest rates on the rise
  23. India’s loss to England 4-0
  24. Government and Parliament continues under pressure due to Lokpal 
  25. Interest rates continue to rise
  26. India’s Loss to Australia3-0 (maybe 4-0?)
  27. Indian Shooters fail to qualify for the Olympics
Makes for pretty damning reading in a standalone mode doesn’t it? Especially when put together like this. It seems as though nothings going our way if we dont mention the positives… let me try a shot at the pluses
  1. Indian Economy escapes 2008 recession
  2. Indian Hockey Team wins Asian championship
  3. Moon probe
  4. India wins world 20-20 cup (ok, ok that was in 2007 – but it was September. Lets give the benefit of the doubt to the positive side, what say?)
  5. India wins one day international world cup
  6. Indian democracy demonstrates its vitality by the public participation in India Against Corruption
  7. Nuclear Deal
  8. Inflationary pressures show first signs on diminishing
  9. First list of black money hoarders abroad comes to light
  10. Central Bank gives signs of relaxing regime of interest rates
  11. Tata Nano
Not too bad, if I must say so myself! However, a couple of thought provoking points:
  • India has never had such a terrible bad run of cricket
  • I recall the past 15 years at least – and I do not recall any 2 years when so much has happened. A look of the list of scams will prove my point- a sudden increase in news bullets since 2008
Now I only hope that it was only ill-luck that was running us down, that every fundamental is in place, that everything except our luck is right, that once the stars turn for the better everything will be right again…
Hey, I can hope, cant I?
But wait… maybe everything is just perfect. If this bad run – scams, losses etc- had not occurred, perhaps IAC would not have happened, the Indian Citizen would not have become proactive. BCCI would not have come under scrutiny, the fundamental flaws and slow pace of reforms would not have been exposed…tough questions would not be asked, tough decisions- long pending decisions – would not have been taken, black money not exposed as in the first list that was exposed and so on and so forth
It is all in the viewpoint… may be all is indeed well
As Rancho would say,
Aal eeej wail…..

Book Review: Amar Chitra Katha

Published January 14, 2012 by vishalvkale

A chance telephone conversation with a friend of my childhood days reminded me of this timeless classic I had forgotten about… Amar Chitra Katha, the comic collection that was my passion during my childhood days. Those days I would consider trips to the railway station to be a joy- not because we were going on a journey, or I was getting an outing – but because I would get to purchase a couple of titles of Amar Chitra Katha comics. If my Dad was in an expansive mood, I might even get to treat myself to more than 2! It was always an occasion for me – I would get to read something on a priority, I would get to be the first to touch and open it! My brother would have to wait for his turn…

The comic book series is unique since it carries tales of Indian Culture, History, Fables, Religion, Humour, Biographies and Heritage, sporting titles like the ones below:

In retrospect, I now realise that I learnt a lot from the Amar Chitra Katha Comic Series. I learnt about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Akbar, Birbal, Prithviraj Chauhan, Hakka and Bakka, Subhash Chandra Bose, Karna, Vikramaditya, Panchatantra, Banda Bahadur, Ranjit Singh, Ananda Math, Krishna and Rukmini, Ancestors of Rama, The Gita, Vivekanand, Shahjahan, Krishnadev Raya, Amar Singh Rathore, Hari Singh Nalwa etc first from the epic comic series. I am listing merely the topics that I recall reading. The complete list can be found at
It really is a wonderful, fun way to keep our children updated about our country. It is a gift, a comic from their point of view, something that they can read at will without parents screaming at them. And I dont see any issue with my kid reading something like the Amar Chitra Katha. It  imparts some knowledge to them, imbibes some values, some learning in a fun way. In later years, it will become a cherished memory for them… a very good value proposition, if you will. 
It is a great pity that more book stores do not stock these comics. I am pretty sure that if prominently displayed, the retail off-take of these comics will be there. Secondly, they are not too heavy on the pocket – Rs. 30 for a single unit., Rs. 75 for 3 in 1 or thereabouts. In my childhood it was unimaginable that a book store does not have stock of an Amar Chitra Katha Comic. They were omnipresent – I know since whenever we visited a book store I would always spot and purchase a comic. For very Phantom and Mandrake that we purchased, there were several ACK’s! But in a modern bookstore, comics are a rarity. Even the modern comics like archies are a thing of the past, it seems. You have to hunt for them. Further, I have not noted people asking for comics to gift their children either. It is always a toy, or a visit to a movie or a pizza parlour. Video Games have usurped the position enjoyed by comics… which is a great pity. Even Phantom and Mandrake were an escape into a fantasy world, and were a treat.  The world – children and parents alike – seemed to have moved on. Why blame anyone else? I too have gifted everything to kids even in birthdays- but never a comic. But I feel that our children are missing something. And with regards to Amar Chitra Katha, they have an added value addition faeture attached to them as well. Perhaps the advent of television and the attendant exposure to stories in the form of cartoons have taken the place of the educational comics… 

This epic comic series was the brain child of Mr Anant Pai.who started them in an attempt to teach Indian children about their cultural heritage. Mr Anant, popularly known an Uncle Pai, was an Chemical Technologist from what is now UDCT, and a dual degree holder from the University of Bombay. He was shocked that Indian students could answer questions on Greek and Roman mythology, but were ignorant of their own history, mythology and folklore. It so happened that a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan in February 1967, in which participants could easily answer questions pertaining to Greek mythology, but were unable to reply to the question “In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother? It was this instance that triggered a chain of events that lead to the Amar Chitra Katha Series. It is still one of the largest selling comic book series in India,with 90 million copies being sold in 20 languages.  
It is heartening to note that Amar Chitra Katha has noted the change in times and has modernized its formats, ( and has evolved over time. It is now available as a digital media  for solutions ranging from Online Access to Mobile Phones. 
However, I will still miss the old format – the paperback comic. Not that they aren’t avalable – they are, in some stores, and in abundance. So, in between the digital formats, hidden somewhere between my sons’ Pogo Time and and related surfings, I shall strive to ensure that a copy of Amar Chitra Katha Comic lands in his hands…