Saturday, December 11, 2010

Un 'Real' Estate

'Green City ... the Gate way to your dream home ' screamed a banner close to my house. It had a nice happy family - a sophisticated looking 'Dad' and 'Mom' with a lovely 'kid' beaming a broad smile. Behind them was the 'Dream home' and lots of greenary ...( I noticed that the Grand pa and Grand ma were missing ....oh yup, we live in nuclear times ! )

Sai Nagar, Sun City, Green City, Green Valley, Mathuram Nagar, Mathuram City , Al Kabeer Township.... the list went on. Some 15-20 km away from Tiruchirapalli there was hardly any agricultural land left.... all of it had been converted into Nagars , Cities , townships and the like , they were all levelled , and plotted ...some even had streets marked out....And interestingly , there were hardly any houses though ! There were some rain fed greenery and an occasional shepard herding a few sheep...

But yes, there were cars on the road, plying 'investors' from and to the city. One enterprising 'Real Estate' agent had organized for trips using 'Tempo Travellers'. He had decked up the place with flags, and tents and .... man, it was interesting to see people look into sheets of papers showing the map of the 'would be township'....

Some distance away there was a 'Sakti Matriculation School '...and the area around it had the boundry stones painted out prominently. Experience tells that the presence of the school would have increased the prices steeply.... Further away was a board '1200 sft for only 65000'. ...'ONLY' ...

A little more travel and I realized this is the kind of real estate development that has happened all around Trichy.... It almost looked like there is so much 'development' that it would require 3 times the population of Trichy to occupy all these plotted area ...When will people come to live in these places ?? When will the the promised development take place ?? When will the dream houses actually come ???

I know people buy these plots - not to live - but to sell it to somebody else with a 'profit' - who will sell it to somebody else and the path goes on and on . People are so busy spectulating on the future productivity of Land - that they dont seem to realize that - the productive resource does not seem to be producing at all !!! ....For, till all the development actually happens and people actually come to live there , whatever little agriculture would have been possible in those areas is also gone. To me it looks insane.

And till sanity finally comes ( it usually does ...) we'll see more of these (un)real estate agents hawk away agricultural land to greedy 'investors' ...who would hope to find somebody else who'll build a dream house on it ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Regulating MFIs

MFIs are back in the news and once again for the wrong reasons - or probably the right ones. I am not talking about the sacking of Suresh Gurumani as SKS's CEO - days after the successful IPO.

The AP CM has again raised issues about the interest rates being charged by MFIs and has sought regulation of MFIs. Reports talk of some MFIs charging effective interest rates as high as 45% and about the farmer suicides ( The average lending rate is around 27-30%). A few years back - roughly 5 years back ( during Dr YSR's time) too, the AP Gov raised this as an issue. If my memory serves me right, I remember Dr Nachiket Mor, who was then heading the agri biz (among other things) at ICICI bank flew down to meet the AP CM to sort out the issues. ICICI bank then had a large exposure to MFIs - mostly in AP . Issues have time and again been raised about the way MFIs do their business ...the only thing that remains to be done is regulation.

Most of the MFIs have ROA well above 2 % (SKS reported 3.07% ROA and Spandana - for instance reported an ROA of around 4.68%) in contrast to the ROA of around 1 to 1.5 of scheduled commercial banks ). There is a resistance among MFIs to bring down the rates. For instance SKS justified the ROA as being 'justified and appropriate' as the business was unsecured. While on the face of it , it appears a correct reasoning, the fact is that - the social / peer security structure that works when lending is done is as effective - if not more than secured lending. Most MFIs report neglible portfolios in stress ( basically overdue portfolio). The on-time repayment rates are upwards of 98% and ultimate repayment is much higher. Infact most MFIs trumpet this achivement of on time repayment when they seek funding assistance from banks , who would naturally be wary of lending money for on-lending small and unsecured amounts. It requires ingenuity to use the same point to argue both ways !

40% interest and 3% ROA are only a shade better than what money lenders make. And that ' shade better' is because these MFIs are sophisticated, organized , - some owned by management grads from premier institutions and have letter pads ....

SKS has the following mission statement
'Our purpose is to eradicate poverty. We do that by providing financial services to the poor and by using our channel to provide goods and services that the poor need'

The only point that I used to keep pondering over was ' whose poverty are these MFI's seeking to eradicate' ?. With the phenomenal success of SKS's IPO, I think I have the answer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting priorities right

UNICEF data shows 48% of India's children under five suffer from malnutrition, that is some 60.8 million children. Both in percentage terms and in absolute terms it compares poorly with neighboring countries like China ( 15%),Bangladesh ( 43%) , Pakistan (42%)and African countries like Nigeria (41%), Tanzania ( 44%) and Congo ( 46%). Only Ethiopia seems to be worse off at 51%. And this when the GDP has more than doubled since 1991. What development are we talking about ?

Lets look at another piece of information. Between 1997 and 2007, the Parliamentary Committee found that 1.83 lakh tonnes of wheat, 6.33 lakh tonnes of rice, 2.20 lakh tonnes of paddy and 111 lakh tonnes of maize rotted due to either lack of storage facilities or poor maintenance of stocks in the existing facilities. And against a buffer norm of 31.9 Million tonnes, FCI was having a stock of 57.8 Million tonnes. With such a poor track record why maintain excess stock ? So the point is not about availability . The point is about willingness to feed people. What kind of Government are we having ??

And the third piece of information is this. An amount of Rs 28054 Crores has been spent to host the Common Wealth Games in Delhi. And we know the quality of the infrastructure created with this money.

The basic question is this : Is this the infrastructure that India needs now ? Cant the tax payers money be better spent in creating adequate storage facilities for grains or in distributing food at affordable price to the needy rather than let it rot...What national pride are we talking of when we have our children suffering for want of proper and adequate food ? When will we get our priorities right ?????

Monday, September 27, 2010

Development - in numbers..

Over the years we have been seeing development quantified in numbers - more specifically in terms of the amount spent. A more interesting way is to talk of allocation - and that is not even spending !!!

So we hear of around Rs 1.34 trillion allocated for education etc ..or we hear it in terms of percentage of GDP spent. The focus is hence on spending and there are saner and some less saner ways of representing it.

The basic premise appears to be simple : If money is spent , then development or a positive change is guaranteed.

The questions are

1. Is the money well spent ?

2. Is there a mechanism to assess the actual development or change that has been created by way of this development ( basically are the assumptions made at the time of approving the spending tested and verified ?) Are there independant ( politically and economically independant) systems to study the impact of the spending ? ( The key point is Independant - if one arm of the government spends and another arm measures impact and both report to one ministry , it is not difficult to understand how the assessment would be ! )

3. Is there any monitoring and accounting mechanism to see the above

In the absence of these ; or in the absence of the information actually made available widely ( actually , this is the only information desired ), talking in terms of expenditure is meaningless.

Statistics they say, conceals more than it reveals. And spending is not equal to developing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A 120 Schemes

...that is the approximate number of schemes that a DDA ( Deputy Director of Agriculture) is supposed to manage. The Agricultural Department in the State is in a state of mess. Recruitment into this Department stopped long time back - as a part of the austerity drive to control Government spending ( I keep wondering if what the Agri department does is spending or investing .... but na, it has steadily moved to spending these days)...and the officers are busy today putting up vegetable arches and fruit arches when a minister visits or setting up exhibition stalls on the roads to please some visitor...

There is a scheme for everything ... for instance there is a scheme under the national horticultural mission , where if one were to submit (a copy of) the title deeds, the saplings of one's choice, the agricultural inputs - the bio fertilizer required, oil cake ..everything is given free. Such a wonderful scheme ....- except that one can never be sure if the sapling given is of the variety one actually asks , or if what has been given will ever grow , or if there is any nutrient at all in the fertilizer supplied or if what is supplied as oil cake is oil cake or soil. No wonder there are hardly any serious takers for this scheme. Similarly there are schemes for rearing cattle , growing earthworms etc etc ...all adding up to several crores of rupees. It is no rocket science to know what happens with all this money....and who actually gains.

And if there are 120 schemes to manage, one wonders if the scheme is actually managed or the vouchers and auditors are managed.

There is no vision for the Department. Or probably there is one - of how the create fancy and free schemes running to several crores to benefit select individuals. What else can one say of a scheme to increase pulse production - where the concerned official is simply given an amount to be spent in any way suitable to increase pulse production and he/she just conducts awareness programs ? or of the revised nutrient based subsidy scheme which no one seems to fully understand - except that now every fertilizer manufacture prices his product differently...

There seems to be no serious application of mind on actual agriculture development - on augmenting irrigation capabilities ,on rainwater harvesting , on water conservation, on extending responsible post harvest technologies , on creating good storage and market infrastructure , on supply of quality seeds, focused nutrient management etc. And we are happily turning prime agricultural land into SEZs and residential apartments and what not. No 'educated ' individual wants to take up agriculture as a career - oh forget the educated mass - even the not so educated mass benefiting from the 100 day employment scheme does not want to look at agriculture. Labor is probably the biggest problem that a farmer faces today - that is if the rains don't fail him. And we still keep talking of India living in villages and of more than 60 % of the population depending on agriculture for livelihood. That number surely should go down by over 20%. ...

I keep wondering how long we can pull along this way...

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Math Lecturer ...

Haircuts are typically weekend morning ( the earlier the better) chores. Yesterday was an exception though.In an unusual, impulsive act, I decided to go for a haircut at around 8.00 PM.

The hair dresser was new to the place and the owner called him close and instructed .

"Sir is working in the University ...give him a nice stylish haircut" .

I realized it would be a futile exercise trying to explain that the institute I work is legally not a part of the University and so I shifted my thought to something more productive .... the haircut per se . By any definition , mine is certainly not a stylish hair syle. I hence closed my eyesa and started to mentally picture different stylish hairstyles on my head.

The interesting thought process was interrupted by some discussions on differential calculus !!... I almost jumped from the seat preparing to run away. (I have always had this healthy allergy for Math in general and calculus in particular)..

But was'nt I in a saloon ?? ....I opened my eyes and was reassured to find myself still in the saloon ... I saw a pair of hands silently 'cutting away and styling' my hair. Before I could close my eyes again to resume my thoughts on hair styles, I heard the word 'calculus' yet again and was stunned to realize that it was my hair dresser who was uttering it . I had not looked at his face properly till then ...I glared into the mirror and saw a fine face. Politely I asked him what he has studied ...and he said he had a M.Sc in Mathematics and an M.Phil at EVR College (The college was named after the great rationalist leader Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, who had bought that piece of land and donated it to the Government to start the College. My Father had served as Librarian in this college for a large part of his career)....

What the hell was happening to the education system ....

I looked at him ....and he said he was working as a Lecturer in Mathematics in an Engineering college ...softly adding that they were not paying him too well.....

I did not know how to react ... The hair styling was over. The Math Lecturer had done a decent job...I paid and left ...wondering not just if I would take a comb and a pair of scissors to style somebody's hair, but of Periyar and the current day Education Industry, of dignity of labor , of the purpose of education etc etc...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Caste Census

The GOM is debating on the issue of Caste census.

The strongest argument for caste census is that it will help in targeting development at specific social groups. This argument appears flawed as social classes no longer seem to be caste based. The so called BCs / OBCs / MBCs are equally if not more powerful - politically , economically and socially - as the groups that earlier prided themselves as forward castes. Differences that persist still , can get eliminated in time with education , development and increased awareness and the existing affirmative action structures are , to my mind adequate for this purpose.

The only significant difference that exists today is between the Dalits and the Non Dalits - and this marked difference certainly needs to be worked on. It is highly disconcerting that the so called backward classes have successfully and diligently learned the art of discrimination from the (erstwhile ?) forward castes - and Dalits these days are victimized largely by the so called backward castes.

The Dalits who have for ages been victims of untouchability and physical separation certainly need enhanced affirmative action - but that should not be extended to the other castes. It is indeed a sad state today that groups vie with each other to be classified as backward to move forward.

A caste based census for enumerating the so called backward classes - particularly on the basis of declaration will serve only one class - that of the ruling political class, which will be able to take on focused activities to develop specific caste based vote banks !

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bank regulation

Bloomberg reports that the rules for tighter capital requirements and liquidity requirements by banks could get delayed. They are to be discussed by the G 20 in November and implemented from 2012 on. But as Mario Draghi the Governor of Bank of Italy and the Chairman of the Financial Stability Board - a global coordination body, which works closely with Basle Committee put it - it is better to delay the standards put in rather than weaken them. My only concern is that as public memory is short, time might prove a weakening factor in itself. So the fond hope is that delay is not too long.

The norms - detailed by a consultative paper released by BIS in 2009 December - apart from other areas - are on two major fronts
a) Capital - particularly, what can constitute Tier 1 capital and if there can be a minimum floor level of Tier 1 that can be stipulated.

b) Liquidity - reserves which are liquid and can handle short and medium term volatility.

The powerful banker's lobby ( The Institute of International Finance ) and other bodies had predictably painted a bleak picture for the economies if the Basle proposals are implemented - and have also indicated that the recovery would get jeopardized if they are put in place now. The lobby in the US has succeeded in diluting some of the recommendations in the reform package - largely on the liquidity front and in part on the capital front - that will be soon cleared by the Obama administration.

Thankfully in India RBI has had a significant amount of forethought - and the IBA - dominated by PSBs is not also unreasonably strong. I am not surprised to see several positions made by BIS - including counter cyclic capital stipulations - have already been implemented in India. The norms for classifying instruments is relatively tighter in India and we do have a floor at 6 %. There is no concept of Tier 3 in India. The SLR and CRR requirements have also helped maintain the required amount of liquidity comfort in the banking system. No wonder we have a resilient banking system !

Super Fund and Disaster Liablity

The compensation 'settled' with Union Carbide ( a 50.9% subsidiary of Union Carbide - with the remaining portion coming from some Indian investors including Mr Keshub Mahindra) for the Bhopal tragedy was USD million - abysmally low for the amount of damage that the company has done. What is ridiculous is this. After the disaster , UCC offered USD 350 Million - the insurance amount. Indian Government claimed USD 3.3 Billion and settled for USD 470 Million !!!!! ( which was the insurance amount with interest). Wonder in whose Interest the Government was working for ! The site still has hazardous wastes and UCC's new owner Dow is refusing to clean it up.

Following the uproar after the recent pathetic judgment , the GoM has rushed with a INR 1500 Crore compensation - which is a really thoughtful gesture - particularly considering that it is funded by tax payers money !

And now what is more ridiculous is - the Government is pushing a civil nuclear liability bill capping the liability at USD 100 Million (which even the paragon of free economy - 'The Economist' says is low by international standards. And it does'nt require one to be a nuclear scientist to know the potential damage of a nuclear disaster.

The US corporate sector has an unrivaled record of polluting - NY Times says there are over 1200 sites waiting to be cleaned up and of this half are what are called orphan sites - where ownership and responsibility is difficult to establish.

The basic principle in handling disasters should be that the polluter should pay ( not the tax payer). One significant and relevant development in this is that the US Environment Protection Agency has asked the Congress to reinstate Superfund taxes. This was first introduced by the Carter Administration in 1980 and abandoned by the Republicans (naturally !). This fund was essentially built over time by excise and taxes on oil, chemical and certain other industries and was used to clean up contaminated ( and abandoned ) sites. In some cases, however, it was hard to pinpoint responsibility because sites had changed hands over the years or the owners had gone bankrupt. So Congress created an “orphan fund” financed by corporate excise taxes to clean sites where the polluter could not be clearly identified.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, has introduced a bill that would raise about $19 billion over 10 years by imposing excise taxes on oil producers, refineries, chemical manufacturers and a few other industries. It remains to be seen if the Industry lobby will let is pass.

This is one lesson we urgently need to learn - if we want US companies or probably after British Petroleum's contribution to pollution - every company that wants to do business in India - in addition to fixing a liability amount on every company, we will need to have a Super fund - which will be generated from taxes on certain industries - like oil, chemicals and of course nuclear power - to handle damages to men and worksites they could possibly pollute , plus also contribute to clean up the mess and redress damages that their counterparts cause(d).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why borrow from the World Bank ?

Bloomberg quoting World Bank's country director Roberto Zagha reports that the Bank's lending to India will increase to USD 9.3 billion this year (to be disbursed over a period of time), as the Government has sought financial help to support the country's planned development investments - recapitalizing public sector banks, cleaning the Ganges , build roads and rehabilitate villages affected by floods.

I find this borrowing business rather strange.

We have been talking of cleaning the Ganges for ages now - and to my mind what holds up the effort is lack of will and willingness - not the lack of funds. There are several ways to fund road projects - which in any case is now mostly on BOOT basis ...and I am not sure if we are anticipating floods - or are we planning to rehabilitate people who were affected by last year's floods. I don't really see why we need to borrow from the Washington based lender to recapitalize our banks.(That component is just USD 1 Billion ).

While India's external debt is position is not alarming and there is nothing wrong in borrowing to invest per se - the quantum, stated purpose and timing - all appear perplexing, particularly after the Government raked in over Rs 1 lakh crores from 3G and broad band auctions and the additional money it can and will rake in with its planned 'increase in public shareholding' in PSUs.

On the Base Rate

There is a lot of hype and noise about banks being advised to switch from the BPLR system to the base rate system. After the PLR system, the benchmark rate system and the benchmark PLR system which failed to bring in the 'much needed transparency' in pricing of loans, this is RBI's latest well meaning attempt. The key points of this move and its likely impact are

1. RBI has given banks the freedom to determine the base rate. It just wants it to be consistent and available for supervisory review.

The likely impact : I share the expectation of most analysts that the Base rate of PSBs and most large Pvt sector banks will hover around the rates that SBI sets - which many expect to be around 8%. Foreign banks may keep it lower. I dont rule out the possiblity of cartelization .
Now this BR will be the floor. What is likely to happen - which is in any case welcome - is that this will be market determined and banks will need to work backwards and tweek their cost structures. For the borrower though - particularly the SME, Retail customers - I am not sure if there will be any effective positive impact as banks are free to load fee structures over and above the base rates and there is no cap on the mark up over the Base rate.

2. All loan prices will need to be linked to this base rate ( with some exceptions).

The likely impact: The practice of quoting on treasury advised rates for short term buckets - say 30 days , 90 days, 180 days etc will be affected. Essentially well rated corporates will find this market closed - and they would move to the commercial paper market ( in which banks will again be their largest source of funds). That's a nice way to invigorate the short term corporate debt market !!!

3. External benchmarks are allowed , provided they are equal to or above Base rate at the time of sanction or renewal.

The likely impact : The MIBOR linked short term facility market for large corporates will vanish. However, banks and corporates may circumvent and innovate in the CP market

4. Current cap of BPLR as lending rate for loans upto Rs 2 lakhs is withdrawn

The likely impact : I ( hope to )see banks getting very active in the Micro Finance segment. I have been skeptical of the way MFIs do purely commercial business (more recently rather ruthlessly) in the guise of social inclusion and women empowerment. The major reason why banks - which are surely several shades better in their commercial activities - was this cap on lending rates. The operating costs in this space are rather high and now with this cap gone, if banks get their act right, the largest beneficiaries will be the small SHGs and entrepreuners.

5. The interest rate on rupee export credit has been deregulated

The likely impact : Increased transparency . Nothing more. Banks were anyway charging customers over and above the caps by way of charges under various names.

Net net ...

This move may bring in additional transparency - if the guidelines are followed in letter and spirit ( though it is common knowledge that it is followed in letter only). My guesstimate on the impact on the bank's profitability - NIL

Monday, June 21, 2010

Deregulation of interest rates on SB account

Those who clamour for deregulation of interest rates on savings accounts found a new supporter in the Deputy Governor of RBI , who said that RBI was keen on deregulating all rates - including SB rates. ( The Business Line , without naming him reports that he was vehemently against deregulating SB rates, when he was CMD of a bank which had a large SB base !!! ..well they say the only thing that is constant is change !!)

Banks have always competed for current accounts which are non interest bearing and savings accounts which are low interest( 3.5% pa) bearing - as these are the cheapest source of funds for banks. Some nationalized banks because of their large presence and some private sector banks , because of their deliberate strategy have a larger share of these accounts than others. The have nots - if I can call them thus, had to compete with the haves on all parameters - except interest rates. With this ( likely ) move, they would also be able to compete on interest rates.

Most banks already segment their customers based on the balances they maintain in their savings account. In my view, the higher end segments might get another 50 to 100 bps more for their account balances. The lower end segments may lose out - that is if one considers 3.5% interest rate to be a number of any value - particularly considering the current inflation rates !. I also expect banks to step up charges for deposit related services and penal charges for non maintenance of stipulated balances. At the end of the day, I dont see the net adverse impact on the bank's financials to be more than say 25 bps.

The usefulness of this move in asset liability management is, in my view, stretching things a bit too long. Currently 10 % of the SB balances are considered volatile and withdraw-able and are bucketed in the 'next day', 2-7 days and 8 to 14 day bucket. The rest of it is bucketed as core deposits in the long term bucket. I dont see how a 50 to 100 bps change will impact this bucketing significantly.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making banks manageable

The Future of Banking Commission report co-authored by Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat Politician in the UK and currently its Business Secretary in the UK , has placed a set of 39 recommendations to the Government . One thing that caught my eye was that fact that it has endorsed the idea that large banks may have to be broken up.

Following the crisis, several economists have suggested that banks should not be allowed to become too big to fail - requiring compulsory bail out with tax payers money , in case of failure caused by reckless business decisions. I for one agree with this view for two reasons

a. I believe that notwithstanding the best in class systems and processes put in place, it is humanly impossible to manage beyond a particular size.

b. I don't think tax payers need to bail out shareholders. That is not logical.

However, this is one suggestion that has been conveniently ignored.

Now, the same thing coming from somebody , who is now high in the Government and that too from UK makes it interesting. Knowing the power of the finance lobby though I know it is going to be a very difficult task - and banks have experts in circumventing rules - so I wont be surprised if they find a way around this one too - should it become a rule. I wish Vince Cable the best of convincing ability !!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On equality

In one of my early blogs I pointed out a verse from Vivekachoodamani of the Ekanmavadha philosopher - Adisankara. . You may say 'Halt ! Everybody knows that Adisankara as the proponent of Advaidhic philosophy or the Vedanta philosophy 'what is this Ekanmavadha....Hmmm....let me explain

a. Vedanta i.e., Veda + anta - literally means the end portion of the Vedas and hence Upanishads.
b. Advaita i.e A + dvaita - literally means - Not two or non dual. Sankara interpreted this as one. There are different interpretations. We will come to this point later. For the moment we will stay with Adisankara's.

Vedanta philosophy is hence the philosophy of the Upanishads . Adisankara's is one of the many interpretations of this philosophy - not the only one and not necessarily the correct one too ! There are other philosophers who raise lot of questions on Sankara's interpretation.

Advaita has also been interpreted differently by different philosophers. And here too Sankara's is not necessarily the only one and not necessarily the correct one.

To call it properly, Sankara's philosophy is the philosophy of monism or Ekaanmavadha - or the agrument of one soul. It is that there is only one thing material - i.e., brahmam or the supreme one. The world and individual souls are merely transient and illusory. The soul , according to his philosophy , is identical with the infinite reality of the universe the brahmam.

It is not my intentition to question the interpretation of Adisankara here. I would however like to examine if he has been consistent in his interpretation and followed what he preached. In his Vivekachoodamani, verse 2, Sankara says

''For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is a male body; rarer than that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment to the path of Vedic religion; higher than this is erudition in the scriptures; discrimination between the Self and not-Self, Realisation, and continuing in a state of identity with Brahman – these come next in order. (This kind of) Mukti (Liberation) is not to be attained except through the well-earned merits of a hundred crore of births.''

The inconsistencies glare: While on one side everything is supposed to be one 'Sarvam Brahma mayam '
a. Why is the human being considered superior to other living things ?
b. Why is the male considered superior to the female ?
c. Why is a brahmin considered superior to others ?
And assuming for the sake of an argument that brahminhood is superior - what was the necessity to preclude the so called Shudras from vedic practice and attain brahminhood ( Please read Sankara's interpretation of the Brahmasutras ).Can this classification of varnas be based on birth ? How is this classification sensible ? if on birth - on the birth of what ? - the soul is supposed to be eternal and hence it cannot be born. Then birth should be of the body . But body is transient and illusory - a product of Maya. On what basis is this classification done - and how just is this ? Where goes Sankara's wonderful monistic philosophy ?

How elite and magnimous can a person be who does not agreed to the equality of man and man and man and other living beings. What a hypocracy ? Or is this conspiracy ?.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Men for sale !!

A friend of mine told me yesterday that his 'Goal' in life was to make money. I asked him what he proposed to do with the money - for money is ultimately a tool. There is no fun (to be more precise, there is no meaning ) in being a tool gatherer all of one's life. It has to be put to use. Money is like a hammer - nobody in his right mind keeps on collecting hammers. And what does one do with a hammer , when instead of a nail, one has a screw on hand ? Because one had not taken an effort to see what one needs and - in this case, to get a screw driver, what one does, is what most carpenters in India do. Use the hammer and hammer in the screw !! .

Coming back to the point, after giving me an unconvincing story (he was not convinced !) of how he wants to earn money to plan for his 'comfortable life' , for a proper ' retirement' and on more prodding from me for 'educating kids who cannot afford education' etc, he told me that he needs to build a corpus to pay as dowry in case he has a girl child !. Wow !

25 years from now - a few generations away, somebody plans to give dowry. I wonder if there are still people of my gender, who have inspite of being vertebrates (having spines) biologically, act as invertebrates - and allow themselves to be sold. I am equally shocked that women (or their parents) look at buying men as husbands for their men. I dont see the point in parents willing to marry off their girls to men who cannot even take care of themselves and their girls.

Wonder when men will stop walking around with a 'For sale' board dangling in their necks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some amazing books ....

Over the last couple of months, I have had the fortune of reading some brilliant books. This is probably one of the two major perquisites of my current job - the other being an opportunity to share my thoughts with a brilliant , young and energetic set of people.

The first of the books in this genre was The Road less traveled - by Scott Peck. This is a part of a trilogy - the other two being Further along the road less traveled and Beyond the road less traveled. As in most cases , the first book had most of all that the author had to say. This was a book given as a recommended reading during my days in my B School - but I guess, I appreciated it better now.

Then I picked up Man's search for meaning - by Viktor Frankl , a psychologist and psychiatrist. This is a small, but very well written book. VF was in concentration camp for around 3 years, and says even in the most adverse and trying situation, man can find a meaning in life.

Then came the Undiscovered Self, by Carl Jung. Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and a highly influential thinker. This is a short but awesome (and a bit heavy) work - where he addresses the difficult and uneasy relationship between the individual and the society , raising concerns of the dehumanizing effects of the society and the need to know and nurture the self.

I then picked The Art of Loving , by Erich Fromm , a German psychologist and psychoanalyst and philosopher. The Art of Loving is his most popular book . Again a short work in size, this is a brilliantly written book - written in lucid language and in my view is a must read for anybody to have a clear idea of loving. Another of his major work is ' Escape from freedom',which is said to have laid the foundation of political psychology.

The Economics of Innocent fraud is a terrific work by John Galbraith - an economist. Written 2 years before his death, this is too good a work to miss in life. In my view, it is an good antidote to current economic thinking !

I wonder - why these books are not that 'Popular' in this part of the world .....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Woe Men !

The trigger for this blog, coming at a time when there is all round celebration for passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Upper house of the Parliament, is a mail that my friend Prasanna sent - on what I consider is a very pertinent issue – of sensitizing on Issues faced by Men. He rightly pointed that today gender issues – mean women issues, child abuse means abuse of the girl child.

Media , researchers, and society at large ,while rightly championing the cause of women have by and large turned a blind eye to the issues faced by men. The view that men are the preceptors of (physical and /or mental violence) and that women are the victims is so strongly ingrained in the minds that we simply refuse to acknowledge a possible different reality.

Prasanna’s mail quoted a National Crime Records Bureau data. I ran through the data ( for 2008 – which is the latest) and found some disconcerting facts. In that year, in every 9.44 minutes , one married man committed a suicide (and in every 17.77 minutes a woman committed suicide). 70.56 % of the suicides were by people between 15-44 years of age. The data for this group ( between 15 and 44) indicates the following

• 61.1 % of the people who killed themselves were men
• 3.37% of the deaths were dowry disputes (of which 98 % were women)
• 24.2% of the deaths were due to what has been labeled as ‘Family problems’ – of which 58.8% were men.
• 4.9 % of the deaths were due to economic problems ( labeled as ‘bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status’, ‘professional or career problems’ and ‘unemployment’). Of this, (predictably) 88.99% were men.
• 31.1% have been classified as either ‘cause not known’ or ‘other causes’.

Hence, of the cases, where the cause is known and classified , ‘family problems’ is the largest cause and it looks like more men found it difficult to handle ‘family problems’ than women. (Not surprising ??) ... I wonder what these family problems are ! Suicide is an extreme step …and so wonder how many the silently suffering ones are !

Woe men !!!

A little more ‘googling’ lead me to some interesting sites –, etc , which had lot of information on what is called ‘the draconian’ Sec 498 A of IPC . Passed by Indian Parliament in 1983, Indian Penal Code 498A, is a criminal law (not a civil law) which is defined as follows,

“Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is Cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bail able.
Explanation: For the purposes of this section, "cruelty" means
(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand

A study by the Centre for Social Research ( with support from IFES and USAID ) in 2005 said, that

‘6.5 percent of the total cases studied through victims' interviews were found false at the level of investigation. Many of the accused, police, judges and lawyers, categorically said that 'educated and independent minded women' misuse the section.

Unfortunately , there is no clear data available on the proportion of false dowry / harassment cases filed against men under Sec 498 A of IPC.

That this section is grossly misused has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court (A division bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and H.K. Sema on July 21,2005) indicating that these acts are misused to settle scores and warned that misuse of dowry laws could unleash a ‘new legal terrorism’ and advised plugging the loop holes in the law . The Delhi High Court has also raised concerns over an increase in frivolous dowry complaints.

And yet nothing has been done…

Woe Woe Men !!

Friday, February 12, 2010

On the Varna System : Part IV

On the Manu Smriti

According to the Puranas, there are 14 Manus for each Kalpa , each making rules for a particular manvantra. In the current Sveta Varaha Kalpa the 14 Manus are Svayambu Manu, Svarocisa Manu, Uttama Manu, Tamasa Manu, Raivata Manu, Caksusa Manu, Vaivasvata Manu ( during this period), Savarni Manu, Daksha Savarni Manu, Brahma Savarni Manu, Dharma Savarni Manu, Rudra Savarni Manu, Deva Savarni Manu and Indra Savarni Manu. So my first impression is that because there are so many Manus – each giving laws – law is supposed to change /evolve with times and hence is not necessarily constant.

Not withstanding comments from scholars that the currently available work of Manu is filled with interpolations and hence certainly is not a reliable text, I have picked up a few verses that to my mind are relevant for the discussion on the Varna system.

Manusmriti 10-65 goes thus 'a Brahmin becomes a Shudra or vice versa on the basis of one’s merits , actions and abilities'. There are several verses which talk of a Brahmin becoming a Sudhra upon neglecting of his duties ( 2-37, 40, 103, 168; 4-245) and of Sudhra becoming a Brahmin (9-335) – which is as under

'A Sudra who is) pure, the servant of his betters, gentle in his speech, and free from pride, and always seeks a refuge with Brahmanas, attains a higher caste'

According to Manu a person who gets initiated into education for acquiring awareness of higher reality ( Brahmam) are the Dvijas ( twice born). Those who are only naturally born are called the Ekjatis.

(He who has not been initiated) should not pronounce any vedic text excepting ( those that are required for) the performance of funeral rites, since he is on a level with a Sudhra before his birth from the Veda ( 2.172).

A Brahmana who always connects himself with the most excellent (ones), and shuns all inferior ones,(himself) becomes most distinguished; by an opposite conduct he becomes a Sudra ( 4.245)

The concept of Upanayana (initiation) and becoming a Dvija seems to be later 'invention'. As detailed in my earlier, blog, Upanayana does not appear to be an essential requirement for learning Vedas or following Vedic rituals. However, texts that appeared subsequently have made it a mandatory requirement. Insistence on this requirement effectively led to discrimination of people - as the initiator could decide whom to initiate !. Flow of knowledge was hence controlled , channelized to specific individuals and Vedas were made exclusive. Knowledge of it became a source of power.

Manusmriti, atleast the version that exists today is certainly not egalitarian and prescribes differing standards of justice for different classes of people and certainly is pale and insignificant in ideals compared to the classical work Tirukural. Scholars of various hue now either rationalize the current version by forced interpretations or justify it on temporal basis. Others view several verses as interpolations by later authors. Of the 2685 verse available in the current work , only 1214 are considered authentic. There are inherent contradictions and motivated views in 1471 verses. This view is not entirely improbable. It is surprising that a work with over 50% verses suspected of being interpolations is still considered a great work.

But before we dismiss Manusmriti's current version, I will quote three verses which interested me - 10.82, 10.83 and 10.84.

10.83. But a Brahmana, or a Kshatriya, living by a Vaisya’s mode of subsistence, shall carefully avoid (the pursuit of) agriculture, (which causes) injury to many beings and depends on others

10.84. (Some) declare that agriculture is something excellent, (but) that means of subsistence is blamed by the virtuous; (for) the wooden (implement) with iron point injuries the earth and (the beings) living in the earth

Now compare this with verse 10.82

10.82. If it be asked, ’How shall it be, if he cannot maintain himself by either (of these occupations?’ the answer is), he may adopt a Vaisya’s mode of life, employing himself in agriculture and rearing cattle

There are two inferences
a) 10.82 is the original verse and 10.83 and 10.84 are interpolations
b) Agriculture is the occupation of Vaishyas – not Sudhras as we commonly believe. So the clear inference is until the time of Manu agriculture was considered a vocation of the Vaishyas and it was only later that it came to be considered as the vocation of the Sudhras. So by that logic, the dominant agricultural community - the vellalas ( of diffent hues) are Vaishyas and are hence eligible for both Upananaya and for learning Vedas

Assuming that 10.83 and 10.84 are indeed original , we will compare it with the verses in the Tirukural , which hails farming :

'Who plough and eat do really live - The rest , as followers, just serve and eat' 104-3

'Roam where you will , the world must go behind the plough; Farming , through toilsome, is man's supreme employ' 104.1

Obviously, there is a great difference in the thought processes between Manu (or some of the authors who interpolated into his work !)and Saint Tiruvalluvar. I will leave it to the reader to draw his interpretations and on what he thinks is a real work of virtue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On the Varna System - Part III

Is it important that somebody has to be dvija to learn Vedas ? Are the Sudras prevented from learning Vedas?

Unlike the current versions of the Manusmriti - there is no differentiation in the Vedas of a Sudhra as regards initiation into learning Vedas or performing sacrifices. It appears that the Upananaya was either available for all four classes (including the Sudhras) or that it was not mandatory for reading the scriptures and performing sacrifices.

The Yajurveda ( 26.2) clearly gives rights to a Sudra to perform Yajna and for reading scriptures and shastras. The portion of the hymn means

‘ I have give the benevolent vedic sermon for all human beings – Brahmans, Kshatriyas ( rajhan), Vaishyas and Sudhras, women ,domestic help and other lowly people’.

Rigveda, in its hymn 10-53-4 reads 'panchajanaha - i.e., five classes of people who are entitled to peform yajna should carry out the agnihotra'

The five classes,i.e., the Panchajanaha are clarified by the Niruktha (3-8),as the people of the four varnas and the fifth are the nishadas - the panchamas.

It is quite possible that several more verses could have been purged by people interested in retaining learning within themselves.

Can somebody change his varna ?

There have been several examples of change in Varnas - clearly implying that it is not associated with birth. Let us look at examples - not from the Tamil texts , but from the Vedas, the Ithihasas and the Puranas itself.

Kavash Ailush , son of a slave woman and Vatsa, a son of a sudhra woman are Rig veda Rishis.

Vishwamitra , a descendant of King Kusha and born of Kshatriya parents and himself a king later went on to become a Brahmarishi and authored the Gayatri Mantra. Incidentally, Kaushika was one of the names of Viswamitra. Descendants of Kausika belong to the Kaushika Gotra. Of the 96 clans of Marathas , 11 belong to Kausika Gotra – including that of Sivaji ! – hence the Gotra has Kshatriya descendants. It is common knowledge that Kausika Gotra is also common among Brahmins .

Satyakam Jabal whose parentage was not clear, became a Brahmavadi Rishi (an exponent of highest reality)

• Matanga muni was born of a barber and a brahmin woman who was intoxicated –and was hence a Chandala

Rishi Valmiki was of a lowly birth and was originally a professional highway robber.

Rishi Vyasa was of a lowly birth ( was born to Rishi Parashara and fisherwoman Matchagathi who later became Satyavathi - who later married King Santanu ). Vyasya is known to have compiled and collated the 4 Vedas and is hence called Veda Vyasa . Veda Vyasa, also called Badarayana , wrote the Brahmasutras - one of the three primal works of vedic philosophy ( the three are called the Prasathanathriyam). This work has been commented by Acharya Neelakanda, Acharya Sankara , Acharya Ramanuja etc - who have used this to establish their philosophies. ( Some authors however opine that Veda Vyasa is different from Vyasa who wrote the Mahabharata)

• Slave woman’s son Vidhur became a prime minister for Raja Drithirastra

Sri Ram – a son of a kshatriya and Sri Krishna, son of a yadava king came to be treated as Gods – and venerated even by Brahmins.

• Ram’s ancestor Raghu ( hence Ram was called Raghukula thilala) had a son Pravridha who owing to his misdemeanor became an outcast and a demon.

• Pulastya Rishi’s descendant Ravana came to be treated as a demon ( Pulastya is one of the Sapta Rishis).

• Several of Rishi Vishwamitra’s sons came to be considered Sudhras,

Trishanku – once a king came to be considered a Chandala.

• Rishi Kashyapa – a Brahmin and one of the Sapta Rishis ( the son of Rishi Marichi – one of the mansa putra’s of Brahma) married Daksha Prajapati’s daughter Aditi and from whom descended the Aditya dynasty or the Surya Vamsha – which then became the Ikshavaku dynasty ( named after his great grandson) and later Raghu Dynasty or the Raghuvamsha denoted earlier ( All these being Kshatriyas)

• Rishi Kashyapa’s son from Diti ( also Daksha Prajatpathi’s daughter ) was Hiranyakasibhu ( a demon)

More notes follow....

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thoughts on the Tamil problem

The King has won his seat again and his erstwhile General is on the run. The TNA would have preferred the ex General. I dont know why.

God does not give us the benefit of knowing the consequences of 'non-choices' - basically the course of event that would have followed if we had chosen an alternate we had not chosen. We can speculate - but that is just that. So we dont know what the General could have done. We have seen too many politicians to believe in promises.

In India, the Hawkish NSA, MKN has been replaced by Mr Menon. We will need to see how this will translate into policy actions. India has a huge strategic stake in the Island. Time will tell how the Indians act.

Whom should the Tamils look to ?

Relying on the Sinhalese Government or the Indian Government or the International community is putting the locus of control outside the Tamil hands. I still believe that the Tamils will need to do their part correctly.

Is an Independent State a solution ?

Any solution should not be too costly for its people. And Independent state will be costly solution. There are two ways for a separate territory to be carved out.

a) The State which has it cedes it.

This is not a likely solution. Nations are comfortable annexing territory - not ceding it. I am not aware of any instance in the recent past where it has happened peacefully. Plus, that is a difficult solution for any Government to sell to its 'majority' people.

b) The State is forced to cede it. This can happen if

i) The community fights and gets its region separate

I have not been convinced by the idea of fighting a State by military might in the current era. Let me elaborate this point.In a State, where a community - or race - or group in question is in minority in terms of numbers and is ruled by a Government of the majority community or race or group - fighting it for social, economic and political space militarily is a difficulty.It almost always does not succeed and is in general, bloody, painful and long. The State is all powerful. It can oppress, suppress and repress and still get away with it. A few heads may roll down the line and after significant damage is done, but as a State, it can get away with it. A State can pledge its territory , buy ammunition and fight a war against its people. Strange - but true. Look around the world and see what is happening. The fact is - the State can. So this does not appear to be great option.

ii) The international community - steps in , overwhelms the State , carves out a territory for the minority and gives it to it

Now, why will the international community step in. Certainly such a move will not come without economic costs - strings which may not necessarily be cheap. And even in this case, the State has an upper hand. It can go about promising / pledging market access / policy comforts, strategic interests easier than a region seeking independence. For example, it is easier for the Sinhalese government to 'buy' international support than for the Tamils - because the Government has more to offer - has it on its hands - than the Tamils. And the State can also counter one attempt at external interference with a support from another. This is what has happened. When the Tamils were drumming support from the EU , US - the Srilankan President met with Chinese premier. So this also does not appear to be great option.

So what could be a solution ?

In my view, atleast initially an even socio economic and political space on par with the majority sinhalese community is what is needed. Autonomy may be an ideal solution , but that might take time. The Tamils have shed too much of blood and tears. But, fighting physically for freedom is a passe. The game has changed.

Across the world, it is not the majority that rules. The community or group that is most powerful is the smarter ( and wealthier) minority.They may not be apparent - but look closely - they are there. And they generally wield it well.

In my view economy is a great tool - probably the most effective tool available currently. The Tamil population is a minority in the Srilankan State, but a large number - particularly in the diaspora have established themselves economically . If the Tamils need their rightful rights , they need to deploy this economic might well. And that need not be by confrontation. It can be done by working with the Srilankan Government and by making the Srilankan Government work for the Tamils. I dont see why this cant be done in the Tear drop island. In the process, the Tamil diaspora should enmesh significant Indian and international economic interests in the Island. That will ensure that the international community will not do just lip service in future.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On the Varna system :Part II

What do Varna and Jati mean ?

The determining factors in the Varna system are merits, vocation and capabilities. It is important to understand that the Varna system and the Jati system are contradictory propositions. Varna is based on vocation ( or occupation and merit), while Jati is based on birth. These words are not synonyms and if they are used interchangeably as is most often done, the interpretation is completely wrong.

To clearly understand this, it is important that we go to the etymology of the words (i.e the root for these words). The word Varna in sanskrit is etymologically derived from roots that mean vocation which is chosen. Acharya Yaska clarifies this in his Niruktha ( 2-14) as Varna is something to do with choice/ the selection (and in this context – one’s occupation). There are some authors who view that Varna has something to do with color and opine that the varna system is based on the color of the skin, with the 'higher' Aryan classes being fair skinned and the 'lower' Dravidian classes being dark skinned. This view is not necessarily correct - from the point of view of the context in which it is used. Infact later texts consider the dark skinned 'dasyus' as not a part of the Varnas at all. They were considered outside the Varna system. That brings us to another question - was the varna system only for the Aryans and not for the Dravidians ? This is a question which has been considered at length by eminent scholars like Maraimalai Adigal and can be discussed later. For the moment, we will assume that Vedas are for all humanity and go forward understanding the import of the hymns.

Jati is something to do with birth. It is used as a synonym for Janma (or birth) as is used in contexts in the Niruktha ( 1-201) to mean 'blind and deaf by birth, and in ( 4-148),to mean - remembers his previous birth, and as 'Dwijathi' ( twice born – once at birth and once on initiation of study), and Ekajathi (once born – not initiated for study). As long as the system was based on merit and vocation it was called Varna vyavastha and when it became based on birth – it was called Jati Vyavastha.

Does the word jati appear in the Veda or any early Scriptures or text ?

No. It is interesting to note that Manu in his Manusmriti has not mentioned any Jati or (gotra) subcaste. He has mentioned only the four varnas. A much respected law giver missing to mention it clearly indicates the absence of this ( i.e the Jati Vyavasta) in his time.

More on what Manu has to say follows...

On the Varna system - Part I

The Varna - asrama system and its current avatar - the Jati are probably the most (conveniently) misinterpreted and misunderstood beliefs affecting the Indian socio religious system.

The varna system that has been propounded is based on an individual’s profession, his merits and capabilities and it has its basis in the Vedic system.

The system finds mention in the three Vedas ( Rig Veda , Purusha Sukta 10.90.11-13, - which repeats in Yajurveda 31.10-11 and Atharva veda 19.6.506) .

What does the Purusha Sukta say ?

There are several versions of the Purusha Sukta. As per one version the sukta has 16 verses. As per another version there are 24 verses (the first 18 referred as Poorva narayana and the latter called the uttara narayana). This is the only hymn in the Rig Veda praising Purusha. Some authors hence are of the view that the entire Purusha sukta might itself be an interpolation in the Rig veda. Even considering the 24 verses, there is no mention of the words Vishnu or Narayana and it is surprising that this is considered a sukta praising Vishnu !

In the other Vedas too the numbering of these verses is different and depends on the version( which itself indicates that there is either a possibility of original material getting lost or addition of new material). (The Hymn is elaborated in Bhagavatha purana and Mahabharata )

Given the archaic nature of the old vedic language, it is very difficult to understand and properly interpret the real meaning of these verses. The translation given below is broadly based on the interpretation of two commentators – Bhatta Bhaskara and Sayana ( a commentator who lived in circa 1300 AD in the Vijayanagara kingdom and wrote along with his brother Madhava)

Following are some of the relevant verses that affect the topic under discussion.

Verse Twelve
yatpurusham vyadadhuhu
kadhita vyakalpayan
mukham kimasya kau bahu
kaavuru padavuchayate

(Now some questions are raised by the sages:) When the gods decided to (mentally) sacrifice the Viratpurusha (and produce further creation), in how many ways did they do it? What became of his face or mouth? What became of his two arms? What became of His two thighs? What were (the products of) the two feet called?

Verse Thirteen
brahmanosya mukhamasit
bahu rajanyah kritaha
uru tadasya yadvaishyaha
padhyagam shudro ajayata

From His face (or the mouth) came the brahmanas. From His two arms came the rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two thighs came the vaishyas. From His two feet came the shudras.

Verse Fourteen
chandrama manaso jataha
chakshoh suryo ajayata
mukhad indrash chagnishcha
pranadvayur ajayata

From His mind was born the moon. From His two eyes was born the sun. From His mouth were born Indra and Agni. From His breath was born the air.

Verse Fifteen
nabhya asidanta riksham
shirshno dyauh samavartata
padhyam bhumirdishash shrotrat
tatha lokagamm akalpayan

From (His) navel was produced the antariksha (the space between the earth and the heavens). Dyuloka (or heaven) came into existence from His head. The bhumi (the earth) evolved out of His feet, and deek (or spacial directions) from His ears. Similarly (the demigods) produced the worlds (too).

More on the Purusha Sukta:

Nowhere in this sukta is a discrimination made between the four varnas. Further is clearly says that all the varnas came from a single cosmic being ( and as a natural corollary equal). If it were to be interpreted that the just because a varna came from higher position in the body – namely the face it becomes superior to the feet , how does one discriminate what came from the eyes and from the mind ? A subsequent verse also says that Bhumi evolved from his (Purusha’s) feet. Are we then to conclude that as the Sudras came from the feet and the Bhumi also came from the feet, all inhabitants on the bhumi are shudras ?

In fact it could properly be interpreted that no one class is superior to another and every class is needed for every other class’s survival. The entire hymn can probably be considered to signify the unifying presence of the Paramapurushan or can probably be considered to reiterate the fact that He is the primordial cause for all things to be there. It hence needs to be clearly interpreted for its philosophical meaning than for a biological one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Did the killers survive ?

On the 30th of December 2009, the Economist carried an article on the displaced Tamils in Srilanka titled ' Eking a living from handouts'. It talks about how the displaced Tamils in Vavuniya sell their rations - donated by the EU and UN - to make a living. What an injustice ? Is this the way a Government treats its citizens ?

Forget them being in a neighbouring country , forget them being Tamils , forget them being human beings - is this the way to treat fellow living creatures ?

And between the former King and his former General, now the country's citizens will need to elect a new 'King'. The Tamil vote matters for both ... The Tamil diaspora wants the Tamils to abstain, the TNA favours the former General ....

The sacrificial lamb brought for the festival
ate up the green leaf brought for the decorations
Not knowing a thing about the kill,
it wants only to fill its belly:
born that day, to die that day.

But tell me:
did the killers survive,
O lord of the meeting rivers?
- Basavanna

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Management Education

A recent discussion in the Wharton School of Business, on the financial crisis threw up some very interesting points. Two of these have a great bearing on Management Education.

a) That we seem to be fixated with free markets . Until it fails, we are content believing that markets control businesses better than the Government does. And it is probably important to revisit this. Regulation is one area that management schools focus little on. Probably it is time that we give it the coverage it deserves.

b) that it is increasingly clear that market models that we use do not accurately represent the actions of Individuals. In our need to simplify what is essentially complex and in our need to structure thought processes and have predictable results, we build models that work within very small limits. A lot of current thinking seems to be on understanding human psychology. Hope - Greed and Fear are probably the most important reasons for this crisis and all other crises. Human behavioral traits - greed, envy, herding, fear, loss aversion, fairness etc must be moved from the shadows of electives, final weeks of courses and final minutes of classes to the forefront of managerial education and research.

Living , thriving and leading with Uncertainty are probably the most important things that we need managers to have.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I just read that some (in)human beings had attacked a set of 'Dalits' near Madurai as one of the boys had touched the parasol ( Kudai) of a Diety. Among the injured was a pregnant women who has now been hospitalized. The people who attacked consider themselves 'Caste Hindus'.

You may ask - why did this Dalit boy go and touch the parasol ?
I wonder if there is a high caste God and a Dalit God... but , in this case atleast , he did not go after the parasol. He was asked to hold it. What had happened is that one of the persons who was carrying the parasol had to tie his Dothi and had passed on the parasol to a boy standing nearby till he got ready to handle it and that boy happened to be a Dalit.

What kind of living creatures are we ? What superiority can we attribute to ourselves when we dont behave like human beings ? Who ever gave the authority that only some persons can even touch the parasol ?
And in yet another instance , I read that Dalits are not being employed for labour, because they entered a temple. In what inhuman civilization do we live ? Cant we be more magnanimous ? When ants, spiders, elephants , piglets, fishes , cranes - all these creatures can worship the Lord and attain salvation - why not these human beings ? What right do we have to stop them ? Who are we ? In what way are we superior to them ?

Let us get to the basic question : Does birth in a particular caste alone entail one for worship and salvation ?

This whole thing of attributing superiority to birth is a fabrication of Sankara' . In his Vivekachoodamani , second song , he states

'' For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is a male body; rarer than
that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment to the path of Vedic religion; higher
than this is erudition in the scriptures; discrimination between the Self and not-Self,
Realisation, and continuing in a state of identity with Brahman – these come next in
order. Mukthi (Liberation) is not to be attained except through the well earned
merits of a hundred crore of births''

Sankara' did not have the benefit of knowing about or reading The Thiruvilaiyaadalpuranam or the Thiruthondarpuraman which speak volumes of the Grace of the Lord - whose criteria for salvation is certainly not birth -not the body- nor the gender - nor the caste.

And we seem to have been so strongly influenced by his very very very flawed thinking. In the first place, I am surprised that he has managed to get away with this , when this single song itself contradicts his ekanmavada theory ( more on that later)....

In any case, I dont see a reason why we stoop to such low and inhuman levels and attribute superiority and inferiority to birth.

As a poet said ...inside my bones , my marrow stirred.


Not long back we had this fine art ...called conversation. Many a time long , insightful and very very enriching. Long enough for thoughts to flow freely ...without too much of prior preparation. ( a good friend of mine - now with the Administrative services would remove all watches and push into the cupboard when we talked .... we did not want time to intervene )...

And it was not that we were not busy those days. It is just that we found time for people - time to think aloud, share and grow.

It is communication these days - not conversations. We are content assimilating information from inanimate sources and processing it and save ourselves the trouble of thinking. We are content with messaging and save ourselves the trouble of pondering over how it is taken and responded to.

Communication devices seem to determine what and how much we communicate - or shall I say message ? And if folks are in front of the TV, the only time they can spare to communicate not converse is when there is a commercial break ( wonder if the marketing guys ever understand this - but that is besides the point ) ....and cant help feeling that we seem to value phone calls and short messages more than physical presence.

Wonder if we are losing this fine art of conversation.