Archives

All posts for the month February, 2017

3G Vs 4G in Maharashtra and MP

Published February 23, 2017 by vishalvkale

TRAI has been publishing results of 4G speeds of various Telecom Service Providers, as reported by various news media {refer Bibliography of the article}; in the most recent update I saw, as well as the one in January, it was noticeable that most providers were providing speeds starting from 5mbps. This is surprising, and does not fully tally with my experience, tabulated in this article for the past 3 months or so. My speed tests have been done on Speedtest.net; I have also downloaded the TRAI App today to crosscheck, and while the results are comparable, there are differences.
 trai main TRAI
4G : The Performance
Before we look at the exact performance as experienced by myself, let us look at some history. The one caveat I place here is that while I have recorded the speeds since Nov-2016, I have not kept a record prior to this. I have used 3G in large parts of Maharashtra where I work, and Indore city my home town. I clearly recall I used to get 3G speeds between 3mbps – 5.5mbps, though the speeds in excess of 4mbps for 3G was only in Mumbai. Let us keep this in the back of our minds as we look at the current performance of 3G and 4G. Reason – read the article from 2014 linked below, wherein I have pasted a test result of 3 year ago, showing a speed of 3.22mbps download. I further recall speeds of 4mbps as well on 3G. 

As can be seen from the chart above, there is a wild variation in speeds; also, please note that I used 3G till 1st January, and switched over to 4G on 2nd January. {Never mind the network brand; let that  be}. The overall 3G speeds I got during this entire period till 1st January was 2.36mbps download and 1.62mbps {all in Maharashtra} upload with a latency of 218.4. {Refer chart below}. After the switch to 4G on my visit to Indore, the experienced speed was 6mbps download and 4.98 mbps upload. In Maharashtra, I got speeds of 4.94mbps and 3.01mbps on average – which was a significant improvement over the 3G speeds I was experiencing.


Legend Explained : 3G —-> 
Total simple average of 3G Speeds
4G —-> Total simple average of 4G speeds Maharshtra + MP; 
4G-M —-> Total simple average of 4G speeds only in Maharashtra

But take a look at Latency : Latency is another element that contributes to network speed. The term latency refers to any of several kinds of delays typically incurred in processing of network data. A so-called low latency network connection is one that experiences small delay times, while a high latency connection suffers from long delays. {From Lifewire}. Latency numbers that we are getting – refer chart above –are upwards of 150 milliseconds on both 3G and 4G networks, as can be seen. The entire data is tabulated in excel for reader reference.

This data was collected over several months, on several networks –  I use two handsets, one a true 4G, one a LTE Band 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20 handset. This was observed on various locations – home, market, office, travel, various cities, and at various times as can be seen from the complete data set enclosed at the end of the article. I used three networks – 3G on two providers, and 4G on two providers; as well as broadband on 1 provider. In toto, I used 4 service providers while collating this data.

The Analysis
There is a significant improvement with the advent of 4G networks in my experience – the numbers are silent proof of that. However, the user experience is what matters; sadly, this cannot be quantified so easily. The actual  user experience, to be completely blunt, is that I could not notice a significant usage improvement in site loading or other internet usage, as compared to 3G. To understand this deeper, we will need to understand my internet usage.

I used the internet for video streaming quite extensively; I used email, games, net surfing various sites like news sites, google searching, recipe and cooking sites, LinkedIn, Blogging sites, telecom sites etc. I also downloaded videos, and my total data usage was in excess of 10-15GB per month in each of the three months. 

I could not notice any clear advantage that I achieved, for the most part. In Video Streaming, I noticed no difference whatosoever, as in other usages, including all. The only advantage I noticed was in Video Downloading, and that too wasn’t blinding fast; there was a difference, an improvement, but it was very small. But it was there.

And therein lies the key; 4G and 3G are products; Companies & an industry depends on them. If the customer isn’t feeling the difference, you have a major potential problem on your hands. As things currently stand, no one in the industry at levels that matters is paying any attention to this. The key lies in the data – high latency speeds, wild variation in actual speed experienced by the customer, and actual speeds around 5-6mbps average – which is only slightly higher than what 3G used to deliver before the advent of 4G networks in India, at least in the bigger cities. 


You sell a product or a service – your core focus should not be the fund flow, regardless of the health of your balance sheet. The corporate world abounds with case studies of companies that succeeded by focussing on the customer experience {I present one such case study next month – Google; stay connected with my blog}. This is what is required – focus not on activations / Churn / recharges, but on specifically the customer experience; given that the delivered result is not upto the mark. In the next article, we shall go deeper into this, examining specific usage examples  and deeper industry issues, identify specific usage patterns and issues at customer level, and chart a way forward. Let this suffice for now. 

There is no easy answer – the service industry isn’t in exactly a great shape. Idea has a debt of 49K Cr, and has an ARPU of Rs. 157; Airtel has a debt of about 97K Crore, with an ARPU around 188, just to name two examples. Jio has already notched up 2,01,000 Cr Debt. Usage isnt taking off; the demograhic & income profile of the nation, demographic distribution are major issues, lower prices in the past 6 months notwithstanding. 


The reasons for this situation are diverse – but these service providers need to understand that unless they improve the service quality to the customers, there is a near-certainty of rising Churn, as customers will try out newer options, and switch providers, much like I did. I ask the same question that I did 3 years ago – where is the market? {Internet and Digital Media – Big Hurdles} Show me the market! 

And if Jio manages to give 10mbps+ speeds  regularly, this could spell big trouble for the incumbents. As we saw in the Jio Business Model Analysis, it doesnt have a choice but to succeed. That is why, at least in the major pockets, the service providers need to look at their core product offering; they cannot afford laxity on this part… Starting day before yesterday! 

References and Bibliography
10)    Bharti Airtel Q3 net dips 54% on Jio woes

Data used for the analysis : 

Advertisements

Will Demand and Credit respond in the next Fiscal?

Published February 21, 2017 by vishalvkale

As per the Macro-Economic Framework Statement, {Budget Documents} : Indications are that global economic growth is gradually picking up. This  augers well for Indian exports which are highly responsive to the dynamics of global economic activity. On the other hand, the increasing global prices of oil and other key commodities may exercise an upward pressure on the value of imports. Domestic demand is expected to get a boost from accommodative monetary policy and the unleashing of domestic trade and consumption as the economy gets remonetised to the required levels.
THE MACRO ECONOMIC SCENARIO
The performance of the industrial sectors based on the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) comprising mining, manufacturing and electricity reveals a modest growth of 0.4 per cent during April-November 2016-17 as compared to 3.8 per cent during the same period of 2015-16. As per the sectoral classification, the production of manufacturing sector declined by 0.3 per cent during April-November 2016-17. The electricity and mining sectors registered growth rates of 5.0 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively during April-November 2016-17. It is noteworthy that the manufacturing sector declined
Inflation does not seem problematic as of now; while the Banking Sector is showing some signs of stress due to rising NPAs; Agricultural Credit seems to be on the target taken; As per the First Advanced Estimates released by the Central Statistics Office, the economy is estimated to grow at 7.1 per cent in 2016-17, as compared to the growth of 7.6 per cent achieved in 2015-16. The growth in agriculture, industry and services is estimated at 4.1 per cent, 5.2 per cent and 8.8 per cent in 2016-17 as opposed to 1.2 per cent, 7.4 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively in 2015-16. Growth rate of industry sector declined in 2016-17 in part due to moderation of growth in manufacturing sector. It is noteworthy  Manufacturing, as seen above, is lackluster.
Finally, our external debt seems reasonably healthy with a predominance of long-term debt; and FER is great at 360 Billion USD, giving over 12 months of Import cover. Exports remain a significant challenge riding on global concerns primarily; From the above points, it can be seen that the major challenge is boosting confidence and investments in manufacturing. The growth in fixed investment at constant prices declined from 3.9 per cent in 2015-16 to (-) 0.2 per cent in 2016-17
DEMAND SCENARIO
The expectations of an improvement in demand and consumption internally is based on a successful remonetisation, and budgetary steps in Agriculture, Transport, Telecom, increased Agricultural Credit as well as a focus on the Poor and the Farmers. Added to this is the budgetary focus on rural housing, which is a known and well-studied demand impetus, as can be seen from Turkey Singapore examples. From this, it is clear that there is a decided positive impetus towards consumption recovery.
However, we need to understand the macro-economic scenario given above for a realistic assessment; the fact is that industrial credit has been relatively flat or has seen slow growth for a few months now. Economic growth is dependent on Credit Offtake, which was initially slow in the runup to demonetization. There were structural issues as well, in that a large percentage of the exposure in PSBs was to large corporates. Now this is clearly both a problem and an opportunity, as the increased focus on SMEs means that the banks have space to increase credit to this sector.
ggggg11
{Source of image : Point 3 in Bibliography
From the above, we can see that there is a positive impetus to growth. The remonetisation has happened as assumed in the Budget; housing, SME and Agriculture take primacy in policy for the current fiscal. The Indian Economy is also largely a SME-Agricutural Economy. But we need to keep in mind the connectivity of SME to corporates {vendors, mfgs, spares etc}, the time lag required for growth to kick in, the fact of the leverage of banks {PSBs} to corporates, {A November Livemint report states the problem arises from slower revenue & higher interest}

Source of Graph – created by self from Data; as per this, India is the 2nd lowest in a list of 18 emerging market countries mentioned in the IMF report. Key countries reproduced above.
Furthermore, you have to add to this the reality of GST kicking in from Mid-Q2 or Q3 17-28. What the impact of GST will be is currently open to conjecture in my opinion; we can only wait. From the above pluses and minuses, I can reach a conclusion that while there is stimulus to growth & the conditions are right, demand side improvement may take a little time to come about. Slower Credit, Debt issues, IIP and Manufacturing all indicate a revenue-side challenge. While the steps taken are certain to bring about an improvement, will this come about in Q1-Q2 17-18, or is delayed remains to be seen. Let us all be positive; we also now have excellent liquidity and  lower cost of funds  due to Demonetisation. If credit growth responds, then we might just see a stunning turnaround…
References and Bibliography :

The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta and Leadership – 1

Published February 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is a realisation that came to me hard when I was doing my habitual morning reading of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta; my thoughts on my learnings of two verses are tabulated below. 

BE PRACTICAL, MY FRIEND – DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Don’t try to change the world… Change Yourself…
The headline of this article says it all; this is the most common rejoinder people get when they try to set an example, with one single refrain – aap duniya nahi badal sakte; be practical, this is the way it is, and many other variations along this theme. Hidden in this lovely gem of a statement, this remarkably ignorant statement is a litany of problems, all of which hover around one single tragic theme in our society today. Some critics of this habit call it apathy, some selfishness, some a lack of confidence while some others blame it on the prevalent atmosphere. 
CHANGE AGENTS
There are two aspects or parameters to this, in my humble view; the first is ideological, and thoroughly idealistic in both its intent and its wording. Simply put – if everyone thinks along these lines, then, ladies and gentlemen, the simple reality is that nothing will ever change in any aspect of human endeavour, be it society or be it science. Change is a constant, and it is the change agents who bring about that change. By discouraging the change agents, you can only delay the change, with all its attendant effects good as well as bad– not cancel the change
In any field of human endeavour, it has been the change agents who have brought about defining change, despite the fact that they were all, without exception, ridiculed and even called fools, to put it bluntly.  There is no change agent I am aware of who did not have to struggle to get the change in place. Even top scientists & famous leaders had to struggle, read their biographies. The choice is between selfish faceless mediocrity, and selfless service! And it is also a fact that only a small number of people from these change agents actually succeed – but isn’t the norm in any field, where success percentage is actually always a small fraction?
But the fact is that, as any biography will readily confirm, the successful change agents build on a series of previous change efforts put in my innumerable nameless and faceless people. That is why it is absolutely essential to continue to swim against the tide in a defined moral and/or scientific direction – you may not succeed, but you and countless others might {will?) become the cause of someone who does manage to succeed. This is true for any field of activity – Science, Trade, Society – any human activity. It takes uncommon courage to go against the tide – and my advise to those who do so is that you are special, a person of raw courage and guts. Never ever give up!
LEADERS
The others aspect is the one of leadership. Now we define leaders as business leaders, political leaders  etc – I am not referring to these. I am referring to any leader, which  includes the above and many more – society leaders, opinion leaders, role-models, teachers, etc. Anyone who leads or influences even one person is a leader. It is a known philosophical as well as scientifically established reality that people try to follow and emulate those whom they see as leaders. I refer you to this verse from our Holy Book, The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Chapter 3 Verses 20 & 21 :
कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 20||
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 21||
By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues. Leaders of society thus have a moral responsibility to set lofty examples for inspiring the rest of the population by their words, deeds, and character. When noble leaders are in the forefront, the rest of society naturally gets uplifted in morality, selflessness, and spiritual strength.
I have given in the links below 4-6 commentaries; please go through them. They all talk of the same interpretation, and the role of leaders in forming societal values and norms. And this what the holiest of our Sanaatan Dharmi books tell us, written thousands of years ago. My personal definition of the word leader in the societal context is thought leaders, intellectuals, journalists, writers, filmmakers and actors, political leaders, social leaders etc.
Do we demand these qualities of our leaders – any leader? Do we judge them on such or similar parameters – or do we judge them by their status in terms of power, achievements and wealth? Arent we, as a society, placing a premium on the means of achievement attainment rather than the methods and values? What message are we sending society, what role models are creating? In the modern world, we set store by money earned, goods acquired, power attained – not on the values portrayed…
The least we can do is stop ridiculing the tough hard fighters who are trying to bring about change for the good; no one is asking or forcing you to emulate them. Change, true lasting change, cannot be enforced; it has to be embibed. It is a chain, wherein you add people one-by-one; it is inherently slow in the initial phases until it acquires critical mass.
Even our Scriptures, as also science, says the same; leaders have to show an uncommonly high standard of moral behaviour in any and all aspects. The least we can and should do is not discourage people who have the strength of character to be upright in these trying times. And the most we can do – choose leaders basis moral values, which,  as things stand today, is frankly a tough call…  
Agreed with the world – be practical, my friend. Dont change the world, but then, no one is trying to change the world. But you can and should set a moral behavioural example for the world. Now that is doable, isnt it? 


LINKS:
The Eternal Duties of a Human Beings – Geeta 3/21
Geeta as it is 3-21  
Holy Bhagvad Geeta 3-20/21 

Its Valentines Day Again!

Published February 13, 2017 by vishalvkale


The Big Day is here again, at least if we are to believe some segments of our population. This day is one shining example of Marketing & of Western Culture and its pull in our society. There are some who may hold that this Big Day is only a marketing tool; then there are those who may hold that this is the perfect example of the pull of the West… maybe, just maybe, both sides are right! What is this Big Day I am talking, or rather, to read the minds of those who avidly follow it – as they will say to this post of mine, jabbering about?  Well, it so happens that I am Jabbering On About VALENTINE’S DAY

THE HISTORY
Just what is this day? What does it signify? And on earth do I have to set aside this day as an expression of love? What makes it so special? Let us look at it, and try and understand. As per website History.com, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day in the 5th Century!  To quote infoplease website, The holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day. And wiki states : It originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus. In fact, the entire wiki article is a series of events associated with Christianity

When did this become as big as it has in India? I certainly don’t remember it being as big an affair in my school days in the 80s! Wiki helps here : Following the economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, a new middle class emerged who could afford access to foreign TV channels and card shops. Valentine’s Day became popular among this middle class, but not much in the lower economics classes. So, I did a little bit more searching in my hunt for an answer, and found these two rather hard-hitting articles

Lately all of us must have come across those pop-up windows on our screens with roses and hearts drawn all over and a message informing about various ways – deals, to be precise— to express your love on Valentine’s Day. Was the scenario same 10 years back? No it wasn’t. At that time, only teenagers would secretly greet their beloved with a rose, probably stolen from the neighbours’ garden. – . Advertising Age, Feb 12th, 2016. This article details a lot more, but that is not our current concern; either is the size of the market, which, by an article I spotted on retail.franchiseindia.com, is around 22,000 Cr by some estimates – Article dated Feb 12th 2015.

CULTURE
A couple of questions here : Why are we celebrating this at all? I am fine  with setting days for events – if a day can help and be an aid to expressing love, I certainly don’t see it as an issue. But where is the relevance to Indian Culture here? This is far too clearly a purely imported concept, even without the religious background stated above. And if we do want to have a marketing gimmick-based celebration of love, where is the need to go for imported examples? Cant we find real Indian examples of love from our ancient past, and from any number of religions based here?

Why this surprising chase of a western concept with zero relevance to our culture? This has zero basis in fact, or seasons, or our culture, or even our modern history {let alone pre-modern or medieval or ancient history, I am talking of just 15-20 years here!}; this has zero connect with anything, except The West, and Marketing – pure and simple. I stated above I am not against marketing; but why do we Indians need to chase alien culture, when our own culture is full of days and dates that can be excellent substitutes for a celebration of love? Why are we chasing a chimera?

I see everyone and his uncle celebrating an essentially alien festival, alien to our culture at least; wishing etc – now why on earth do you need a day that commemorates something with zero Indian relevance is beyond me! What is sadder still is the fact that some people would not recognize our festivals if they jumped up in front of them, yet go ape over this Valentine’s day! You want to show your love on a day that has no religious connect? Then be informed that Valentine’s day is a Christian Festival. You want to show your love on a day, and you require a day for that – may I suggest your anniversary? Your love’s Birthday? Or any number of other occasions? Why go ape over this non-event?

MARKETING
To marketers, my hearty congratulations on building a completely useless day into something substantial in India; this should be a real live case study in all Management Schools in India. Well done, well done indeed! Now my question to you, all of you : explain to me, a corporate guy like you, why this same cant have been done as successfully for an Indian themed day? We have innumerable days for your choice, religious as well as otherwise! And yet, you forget all of that and chase after a Western day? Is that the best you can do? I have seen your quality in this case study, as well as other awesome case studies that are models of marketing; you have the skills; how about using those skills to good effect and create hype around an Indian Day?

You create a {shudder!} 22,000 Crore market around a totally alien concept; I am pretty sure you can do the same for others as well. Other examples abound : Friendship Day, remember? Unlike other critics, I don’t blame marketers – you cannot create a need, a want; you can only identify and tap into latent demand. If marketers could create demand, well, I need not say anymore than that! Life would be different to all of us.

BUT, and this is a BIG but, if you can identify and tap latent demand for something so alien, so frivolous as this, I am pretty sure you can do the same for other events as well. It is just a question of finding the right trends, and building on them. How about doing something Indian for a change – like the excellent one around Akshay Tritiya? Unless you {we?} as a profession regard Valentine’s Day as Indian, which is frankly a ridiculous idea, given I have no recollection of celebrations on this scale in my childhood – despite this being a Christian Festival, and I being educated in a CONVENT! QED…

References : 

ze: 21.3333px; text-align: justify;”>This is a realisation that came to me hard when I was doing my habitual morning reading of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta; my thoughts on my learnings of two verses are tabulated below. 


BE PRACTICAL, MY FRIEND – DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Don’t try to change the world… Change Yourself…
The headline of this article says it all; this is the most common rejoinder people get when they try to set an example, with one single refrain – aap duniya nahi badal sakte; be practical, this is the way it is, and many other variations along this theme. Hidden in this lovely gem of a statement, this remarkably ignorant statement is a litany of problems, all of which hover around one single tragic theme in our society today. Some critics of this habit call it apathy, some selfishness, some a lack of confidence while some others blame it on the prevalent atmosphere. 
CHANGE AGENTS
There are two aspects or parameters to this, in my humble view; the first is ideological, and thoroughly idealistic in both its intent and its wording. Simply put – if everyone thinks along these lines, then, ladies and gentlemen, the simple reality is that nothing will ever change in any aspect of human endeavour, be it society or be it science. Change is a constant, and it is the change agents who bring about that change. By discouraging the change agents, you can only delay the change, with all its attendant effects good as well as bad– not cancel the change
In any field of human endeavour, it has been the change agents who have brought about defining change, despite the fact that they were all, without exception, ridiculed and even called fools, to put it bluntly.  There is no change agent I am aware of who did not have to struggle to get the change in place. Even top scientists & famous leaders had to struggle, read their biographies. The choice is between selfish faceless mediocrity, and selfless service! And it is also a fact that only a small number of people from these change agents actually succeed – but isn’t the norm in any field, where success percentage is actually always a small fraction?
But the fact is that, as any biography will readily confirm, the successful change agents build on a series of previous change efforts put in my innumerable nameless and faceless people. That is why it is absolutely essential to continue to swim against the tide in a defined moral and/or scientific direction – you may not succeed, but you and countless others might {will?) become the cause of someone who does manage to succeed. This is true for any field of activity – Science, Trade, Society – any human activity. It takes uncommon courage to go against the tide – and my advise to those who do so is that you are special, a person of raw courage and guts. Never ever give up!
LEADERS
The others aspect is the one of leadership. Now we define leaders as business leaders, political leaders  etc – I am not referring to these. I am referring to any leader, which  includes the above and many more – society leaders, opinion leaders, role-models, teachers, etc. Anyone who leads or influences even one person is a leader. It is a known philosophical as well as scientifically established reality that people try to follow and emulate those whom they see as leaders. I refer you to this verse from our Holy Book, The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Chapter 3 Verses 20 & 21 :
कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 20||
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 21||
By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues. Leaders of society thus have a moral responsibility to set lofty examples for inspiring the rest of the population by their words, deeds, and character. When noble leaders are in the forefront, the rest of society naturally gets uplifted in morality, selflessness, and spiritual strength.
I have given in the links below 4-6 commentaries; please go through them. They all talk of the same interpretation, and the role of leaders in forming societal values and norms. And this what the holiest of our Sanaatan Dharmi books tell us, written thousands of years ago. My personal definition of the word leader in the societal context is thought leaders, intellectuals, journalists, writers, filmmakers and actors, political leaders, social leaders etc.
Do we demand these qualities of our leaders – any leader? Do we judge them on such or similar parameters – or do we judge them by their status in terms of power, achievements and wealth? Arent we, as a society, placing a premium on the means of achievement attainment rather than the methods and values? What message are we sending society, what role models are creating? In the modern world, we set store by money earned, goods acquired, power attained – not on the values portrayed…
The least we can do is stop ridiculing the tough hard fighters who are trying to bring about change for the good; no one is asking or forcing you to emulate them. Change, true lasting change, cannot be enforced; it has to be embibed. It is a chain, wherein you add people one-by-one; it is inherently slow in the initial phases until it acquires critical mass.
Even our Scriptures, as also science, says the same; leaders have to show an uncommonly high standard of moral behaviour in any and all aspects. The least we can and should do is not discourage people who have the strength of character to be upright in these trying times. And the most we can do – choose leaders basis moral values, which,  as things stand today, is frankly a tough call…  
Agreed with the world – be practical, my friend. Dont change the world, but then, no one is trying to change the world. But you can and should set a moral behavioural example for the world. Now that is doable, isnt it? 


LINKS:
The Eternal Duties of a Human Beings – Geeta 3/21
Geeta as it is 3-21  
Holy Bhagvad Geeta 3-20/21 

Book Review – Ashok : The Lion of Maurya

Published February 12, 2017 by vishalvkale

ASHOK – THE LION OF MAURYA
by Ashok K Banker

Only a select few persona from history have as wide and as huge an impact on Modern India, and Indians in general, than Devanampiya Piyadassi, from the Maurya dynasty. This is one name that actually does reverberate across the length and breadth of the land; this name invites immediate recognition, and sense of pride, a sense of awe, and a sense of deep respect. He does this by the virtue of his deeds which encompass the achievements of a fearsome warrior king, a development focused good monarch, and a deeply spiritual peace-loving ruler of the land.
People may not know his by his full name, but will immediately recognize his better known name : Ashok! Not much is known about the real Ashok; that said, there are extensive surviving literary records, most of them in the manuscripts Ashokaavadaan, Mahaavamsa and Paalivamsa, which as per my readings {Given here – Book Review: Ashok The Great} , are the principal literary sources of his life. {There are others, like the Divyavadan for example} I make this point to underscore that there are massive gaps in the life of Ashok; there are many small contradictions, & a lack of continuity. And the creation a fiction book series based on the life of Devanampiya Piyadassi Ashok  is a laudable effort.
THE BOOK
The current book, the first in the series, is titled Ashok – The Lion of Maurya {For the life of me I cannot fathom why Indians insist on the trailing “A” when penning proper names in English! To be precise, the actual book is Ashoka – The Lion of Maurya; the trailing A is fine in Maurya due to the following vowel sound!}. Lets be crystal clear here : this is a work of fiction. It comes under historical fiction, and cannot be treated as anything else, as I point out in detail in the review section. This book is based on the early years of his life as a young prince, and traces the internal challenges he faced when young.
THE REVIEW
First, history. Now it is thought that Ashok, in some manuscripts from ancient India, was known as ChandAshok {cruel Ashok} in his early days, before rising to what he became eventually. This is however debated by some historians. Second, his Biological Mother Dharma {Shubhadraangi} has also been debated, though is generally accepted as his mother. Third, his accession to the throne is under discussion, as the accepted version of fratricide and killing may not be right. That discussion is beyond the scope of this review; please read the compilation in the link in the second para above.
Not much is known of his early phase. The sources are the Ashokaavadaan which is a 2nd Century text; the other two are Buddhist texts. There is a clear contradiction in many points – Kaling War, The Coronation etc where the numerous historical, literary and archeological records do not suffice. While his greatness is not in question – the contents of all the sources put together pretty much put that beyond reasonable doubt; the fact remains that there isn’t enough detail present to put together a life story. When reading this series, it is my opinion that readers should keep this uppermost in their minds. We are reading a fictional telling of the story of Ashok the Great.
Thus, I will make no attempt to compare history with this book; there is much we need to learn. The book itself – it is an excellent one, well written, with a very fast pace, action oriented. It tells the story of a prince, who loves his family, and is a devoted and loyal prince to the Emperor {this much seems true as per my readings}, as well as a brother with deep caring for his elder brother Sushim; which is borne out by the inscriptions on the edicts.
It is the story of royal intrigue, internal politics, murder and plotting; this part has been very skillfully put together in a flawless narrative that makes for absorbing reading. It tells the story of a family fighting internal squabbles, as well as external enemies; you get entrapped into the story, the pages pull you in as the plot twists and turns every few pages with a rapidity that is awesome. The story has been crafted really well, and the whole package works quite well. It gives the reader an enthralling fascinating read!
I have placed emphasis on the history and its  gaps  for a reason – we are talking of a legend, one of the finest Indians from Ancient India, a leader & a king whose symbols are the chosen symbols of the Modern Indian State. Given that background, it needs to be stated that the historical record has some gaps,  which the author himself underscores; as also the fact that this is historical fiction. The book is true to the major aspects of history; that is true. Especially, the bonding between the Sushim and Ashok as well as the pressures have been developed really well, which is appreciable.
The series should be interesting to see how this particular and vital relationship is developed, and which road the story now takes from hereon; I am waiting eagerly to see the author’s interpretation. But the start is very promising; Ashok comes across as the one I have read about – not the one in the legends; as does Sushim. You can already see snippets of the more famous Ashok begin to shine through. This  is an approach that is logical, consistent with one side of the argument as I have read it; my references are in the linked Book Review of the book Ashok The Great, which is a compilation of a couple of dozen books by historians on the famous King Ashok the Great. All in all, an excellent effort which has a very promising start to it. Worth a read, definitely so. 

Movie Review – Fugay

Published February 10, 2017 by vishalvkale

Not many movies make it to my blog; which is themed around India as a whole – from Indian Books to Culture to History to Economics & Trade. Thus, I perforce limit myself to only the movies which impress me the most; and in this, Fugay score big time! In 10 years of writing, and 5 of blogging, I have reviewed only around 10 movies, maybe 12 – and Fugay is one of them. This movie is, in my opinion – one of the best I have ever watched in its genre; I can think of only two other movies that are either better, or comparable : Golmal, and Angur. Period.
Image result for fugay movie

THE PLOT
The movie is a mix of a comedy and a horror movie : 99% comedy, 1% horror. The source of the horror is that the plot can actually happen in real life; no jokes. At any rate, something quite similar. Do photographs appear in newspapers? Yes, they do – am aware of two instances in family & friends. {None were embarrassing, thank God!} Do things get blown out of proportion, do people overreact in marriages? Of course they do! Are you kidding me? Do embarrassing snaps get circulated? You don’t really want an answer to that in the modern multimedia age, do you? And so on and so forth. If you stretch it just a little bit, it is entirely plausible that the mix-up in the movie can happen! 😀
This is a story of two nutcases – I mean that – two people who are bonkers, dedicated bonkers. Close friends for two decades plus; the proverbial Chuddi Baddis. One decides to get married, and to a rather, shall we say, possessive lady {understatement of the century}. To cut a short story  shorter, the two pals decide to  go to Goa  for a bachelor party. One problem. Just one tiny teensy weensy problem, known across the planet by the term “fiance”. These nutcases don’t tell the only person who should have known the whole story – the fiance. And boss, trust me, you don’t pull such stunts if you are sane.
The lady takes it upon herself {of course, what else? Kamaal karte ho yaar!} to check for herself. And the proof that the man – any man, you n me included – is fundamentally a lunatic – the lady has been told the location, and not the whole story! {This – not to tell half- or quarter- or 1/8ths or 1/16thss of the truth to your wife –  is a lesson you learn after marriage, so madness excusable!!!!!} And so, she walks in to meet the apple of her eye, the love of her life, in, shall we say, less that ideal circumstances. Nopes – no lady involved, and no guy either. Just a genuine misunderstanding! It takes the much chastened pals the rest of the movie to untangle it all!
THE REVIEW
If you want to laugh for 2 hours and 5 minutes without a break, watch this movie. And yes, attend to any and all calls of nature before you walk in to the theatre; people are going to be far too busy laughing their heads off to fill you in; and you might just miss some class puns and jokes! In all my life, I have never seen a movie –not after Golmal and Angur – which had me laughing throughout, and not one minute involving any slapstick comedy, hamming, overacting, cheap and vulgar jokes etc. Just genuine situational stuff, superbly woven together. That is why this gets 5 stars out of 5; good, clean, decent, genuine comedy! 
Which brings me to the script – the script is nice, taut and fast moving. So far as I could tell, there wasn’t a minute wasted. No meandering, dithereing, no side-tracks, nothing. Just a tight fastpaced script that gallops along at a lovely steady pace, keeping you enthralled. The entire team has stuck to ; one theme, and one theme alone. The comic scenes are created using the situation, and one of the prevalent socio-cultural themes intertwined together, which create a genuine laughter riot. You will also note that I make no comparison with any Hindi Movie {I wont even mention the name}; there is zero commonality. This story is completely different and unique!
The performances are all round excellent; my initial thought was how will the script manage the two – Subodh and Swapnil, balance them in screen time, performances, roles etc. Kudos –this has been superbly managed; and both have, true to their style, skills and reputation, pulled off unforgettable performances. Prarthana impresses again, in a relatively small but vital role. Without her role, Aditya would have married Jaai within the first 25 minutes of the script and no movie would have been scripted!  Special mention for a heart-stealing performance by the thespian Mohan Joshi!
The best part is the music – not too much, only two or three songs, and both very, very hummable with lovely tunes and lyrics both. My favourite is Kaahi Kale Tula Kaahi Kale Malaa, a nice and soft number. The absence of needless songs makes this script even more taut, keeps the narrative nice, fast and taut; and the puns flowing, keeping you in splits. If you recall, this is exactly what both Golmal and Angur did. Now you can add one more to this august list : Fugay, easily one of the best movies I have watched! 
In conclusion, I must add a word for the Marathi genre; it is now far ahead of Hindi in terms of freshness, lack of vulgarity, newness of scripts, lovely soft music, and great finished products! To me, Swapnil, Subodh, Prarthana, Sai, Jitendra, Upendra, Mohan, Mahesh M, Ankush, Mukta are far bigger pulls now than the Hindi stars; the credit for that must go to everyone in the Marathi Cinema Trade – Keep it up, people!

Book Review – Tanzeem by Mukul Deva

Published February 9, 2017 by vishalvkale

The one I missed… this is a book I read more than a couple of years ago, and forgot to review it then. As luck would have it, I dug deep into my pitaaraa two days ago, and thought of re-reading this one to check up on how exactly Iqbal ended up. The immediate stimulus was a twitter conversation with the Author himself. And so it was that I found that this excellent book was spared my attention in the list of books reviewed, which is a real pity; I would rate this as being among the Author’s very best. If any of you haven’t already read it – do so; you will not regret it.
THE PLOT
Image result for tanzeem mukul devaThis is the 4th book of the Lashkar series; and this one is all about Iqbal from start to finish. A shattered Iqbal comes out of Blowback with hatred and revenge the only two alternating emotions in his heart; a heart burning with one desire, and one desire alone. And a mind filled with alternating thoughts of Tanaz, and the man / men who were ultimately responsible for her condition… the combination of the mind and the heart propels Iqbal towards his goal, his purpose, and gives him resolve. And his resolve, his goal? The destruction of the entire people behind the most sordid Saga of his life.
Alongside this overpowering emotional state, is the realization that his personal enemies are also his national enemies; the patriot in him does not lose sight of this reality. He is keenly aware that something big is being planned by the Pakistanis and the terror machine; only this time – he wants to go after them alone. The current book is that story – the story of his infiltration into the vicious terror machine. The entire book is built around this one theme…
THE REVIEW
As is usual for a Mukul Deva book, this is, once again, a hurtling, breakneck speed and incredibly fast-paced story, written in his signature style. And, again as usual, this story is also completely unique in every respect; different from Lashkar, or Salim Must Die, or even Blowback in this very series itself; to say nothing of the other fiction titles of this author. And as a tribute to his skills, let me add that despite this complete difference in the books of the series, the books represent and make one complete fully connected story; the story of Iqbal. For that is what the Lashkar series is all about – the story of one man, one incredible man – Iqbal.
There are two or three things that need to be highlighted in this story. The first aspect is the shocking attention to the scenes of brutality,  including torture – the attention to detail as well as the way they are woven into the story so as to make them not just integral to the story, but also central to carrying the story forward. The second aspect is the graphic descriptions and narrative style that is used to  both capture your attention and build up speed and tension. The beauty is that the story doesn’t lose out on the pace due to the graphic details included.
The third, and as per me, the most critical aspect of this book is the history lesson that it tried to create for the reader. The entire 44 page section dealing with the Ameer’s flashback tells a history lesson that achieves two objectives : firstly, it creates a complete character sketch in the readers’ minds of the principle antagonist,  taking you deep into his psyche and behaviour. Secondly, It uses contemporary history which is certain to capture the attention of the target audience, which is largely Indian; and gives what I regard as a history lesson {almost – let us not lose sight that this is a work of fiction. That said, I took the trouble of cross-checking some 6-8 facts in this section – turned out completely accurate in every respect} in the background to the Af-Pak regions’ headlong rush into disaster.
It also makes for a slightly emotional read for us Indians, as this “aid” to Pakistan was diverted towards fighting India. You could feel a tinge of stunned shock at the clear US stupidity of acceding to Zia’s demand for what tantamounted to unrestrained control of the aid package. Anyone with even a small tiny iota of intelligence should have known that this would be diverted to fighting India! But let us move on… I hope now at least the great USA realizes is folly, its stupid and naïve support of Pakistan through – aah –  aid! This does not make for an easy read for a Western reader; the USA has been, quite literally, taken apart for its role in Af-Pak, as has Russia and its role. This is not a novel that projects either in a positive light; by and large. Even in the climax, it forcefully underscores the USA’s shortcomings, as it is the Indian forces who are in complete control of the operation.
To summarise, this book once again rates an easy 5 stars out of 5. And, as you turn the last page, you realize with more than a tinge of regret that this is the last time you are reading of Iqbal, and of Force 22. I still believe there is a scope of a couple more based on Iqbal; and I am certain that the author can build a new series around Force 22, making them a series as avidly followed as Lashkar was, and the current Ravinder Singh Gill series is. There is tremendous potential for these two story ideas; I hope Mr Deva is reading these words…