Tuesday, December 06, 2005

chhota bottle mystery

Can anyone explain why the small bottles of Kingfisher taste better than the big ones? My theory is that it has something to do with a preservative that is legal (or acceptable to the consumer) in India but not in the export market, and Kingfisher has retooled its distribution chain to give India, as well as phoren, access to the chhota bottles without changing the recipe.

After a blind taste test, I'm going to have to declare Kingfisher Pints my new beer of choice. They cost twice as much per volume (Rs. 20 for half as much beer as the Rs. 30, 650 ml bottle) but about the same as brewed-in-India Foster's and Castle, both of which have a strange honey-like flavor I am also convinced is preservative-related. Is this the ubiquitous glycerine that I hear so much about?

Speaking of which, can anyone actually testify that he has performed the underwater-bottle-opening ritual that is reputed to get rid of the glycerine? Several people have described it to me, but all my efforts have resulted in a tub full of beer-flavored water and several half-empty bottles, so that I have begun to suspect that "the method" is nothing more than an urban legend. But whoever heard of an urban legend that encourages you to waste beer?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

raising the bar

An innovative university in India has revolutionized the teaching of law

By Shailaja Neelakantan
Chronicle of Higher Education
Issue cover-dated December 2, 2005


When Mrinal Satish quit his job as a corporate lawyer to teach at his alma mater, the National Law School of India University here in the southern city of Bangalore, his former classmates and colleagues thought he was crazy.

After graduating from India's premier law school, he had been recruited by a top firm and was making an impressive salary. "I did corporate law for a while but realized that I was really interested in teaching — not any kind, but the kind we do here," says Mr. Satish, pointing toward the school's premises.

The campus may not be striking, but what takes place inside the classrooms is. Unlike most Indian universities, where professors often read their lectures from notes and students learn by rote, the National Law School vibrates with energy. In class, one hears students' voices as often as one hears the teachers. Laughter sounds through the halls, and when the bell signals that time is up, students file out with reluctance instead of jubilation.

"Students here are not spoon-fed," says Mr. Satish. "They are encouraged to discover stuff on their own, making the classroom situation more interactive. It is exciting."

In just the 12 years since it graduated its first batch of lawyers, the National Law School has revolutionized the teaching of law in India. Its graduates are some of the most successful lawyers in the country, and it has inspired more than a half-dozen copycat institutions. It has also helped to make law an attractive option in a country where a legal career has not always been a ticket to wealth and prestige.
Until the National Law School came on the scene in 1988, India's law schools often attracted students with little interest in the profession. Some were biding their time while studying for India's civil-service examination, others simply saw law school as a way to extend the perks of college life, such as cheap lodging and the opportunity to participate in campus politics.

"Until NLSIU began, law was not a preferred option; it was actually pretty low on the scale of options," says Probal Bhadhuri, a 1994 graduate of the university and a partner in one of India's top law firms. "So, for example, if anyone didn't get into the administrative services, they would fall back on their law degree."
Sunila Awasthi, a colleague of Mr. Bhadhuri's who attended the University of Delhi's graduate law program, agrees. "In my class of around 60, only 10 to
15 of us were really interested in being lawyers," she says.

The resulting mess — thousands of mediocre lawyers clogging up a legal system already notorious for obstructionism and endless delays — deterred many competent students from entering the profession.

An old joke, true enough to elicit rueful laughter, is that a civil suit in the Indian courts is the closest one can come to experiencing eternity. India's lower courts have a backlog of about 20 million civil and criminal cases. An additional 3.2 million cases are pending before the high courts, while the Supreme Court has about 20,000 old cases on the docket.

In the mid-1970s, concerned about the poor quality of India's law-school graduates and their effect on the legal system, the Bar Council of India, a professional organization that regulates the legal profession and sets standards for legal education, proposed the creation of a university devoted solely to the teaching of law. It took more than a decade of internal wrangling — these were lawyers, after all — before the bar council determined it could actually run a college.

Although its critics point out that most of National Law School's graduates eschew courtroom practice in favor of corporate transactions, others say the university may change the way law is practiced in India.

Stirring Up Debate

The most innovative aspect of the new university was that it enrolled students straight out of high school. Until then, all law schools consisted of a two-year graduate program, resulting in an L.L.B., or bachelor of law.
Five years in length, the new program sought to subsume the entirety of its students' university education.

The man tapped to bring the concept to fruition by the council of jurists was N.R. Madhava Menon, then head of the law department at the University of Delhi. The respected legal educator, who had set up India's first university-sponsored legal-aid program, had clear ideas about how the university should be run.

When Mr. Menon visited the law school at Columbia University, in New York, in the early 1970s, he was struck by the volunteer work that its students were doing for the poorer sections of the city. "My main objective was to provide clinical legal education like I had seen at Columbia," says Mr. Menon, who is now director of the National Judicial Academy, which is responsible for the continuing education of judges. Mr. Menon also felt strongly that the traditional way of teaching law, using lectures and rote learning, was not sufficient. So he introduced the Socratic method.

Mr. Bhaduri, the 1994 graduate, says that made all the difference. "We were told we would be discussing an issue in the next few days, say defamation, so we would go do our own research on it and in class it would be more of a Q and A and much more exciting," he recalls.

Siddharth Aggarwal, a 1998 graduate and a New Delhi-based litigator, says it was not uncommon for three professors to teach one class. "They would stir up a debate just by having different opinions. The school inculcated in us that in law there is no one correct answer. If you can justify your opinion, it is the correct answer," says Mr. Aggarwal.

Training professors was no easy task. "After we selected the faculty, for six months all we did was unlearn the old ways of teaching law," Mr. Menon remembers. "We conducted workshops, had refresher courses, invited faculty from other countries to advise us, and discussed and demonstrated how we should change the ways of teaching." Now all the school's professors are required to teach in this manner, and standards are strictly monitored.
Because Mr. Menon believed that academy-bar-bench cooperation would be key to ensuring high standards, he saw to it that the university's governing body included the chief justice of India, the chairman of the Bar Council of India, and leading lawyers of the Supreme Court and other high courts.

New Approaches

Students also study history, economics, politics, and sociology, says Mr.
Menon, "to give a social context to future lawyers." He notes that more than half of all the people in India are shut out of the legal system because they can't afford lawyers' fees. "We were the first people to seriously do this. A law degree isn't just an appendage to some other degree," says A. Jayagovind, the university's current director.

The range of legal issues students study is broad. Subjects include civil and criminal law, corporate and commercial law, mediation and negotiation, international law, intellectual-property law, medical-negligence law, environmental law, and human-rights law.

The National Law School was also the first to introduce internships that count toward course credits. These begin as early as students' third year so that future lawyers can swiftly apply their classroom knowledge.

"This practical-oriented approach to teaching gives a big edge when we go out into the real world," says Rajshekhar Rao, a 1999 graduate who has already argued cases before the Supreme Court. "It instills the ability to think tangentially and also the desire to make a difference in a variety of fields. An institution that teaches law should not teach just about law." In his brief career, Mr. Rao has been a counsel for the state of Delhi on the case of the 2001 attack on India's Parliament. "I've interacted with lawyers who have studied elsewhere," he says, "and I can see the difference."

The government of Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, provided land, basic infrastructure, and support of $150,000 to the university when it first started. But administrators say it wisely left the running of the institution — both academically and financially — to the Bar Council of India. India's federally subsidized universities, by comparison, are notoriously politicized and corrupt. Administrators and professors are often hired based on their political connections rather than on their academic credentials.

"We could experiment and innovate only because we were autonomous," says Mr. Menon.

National Law School's high academic standards have paid off — literally.
Starting salaries for recent graduates average about $450 a month — more than six times what other law-school graduates make. Today the university's alumni work at the country's top law firms and serve as in-house counsel to companies like General Electric and organizations like the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

The National Law School's success has had a profound impact on legal education throughout India. In 1995 a three-judge committee appointed by India's chief justice to evaluate legal education recommended that every state establish a college on the model of the National Law School. Six states so far have done just that. Like the university, these new institutions offer five-year degrees, use the Socratic teaching method, and stress an interdisciplinary approach.

Improvement All Around

Members of the legal profession hope that spillover effect will change the face of law in the country. "Because these new schools are trying to measure themselves against NLSIU, the quality of education has improved drastically all around," says Udaya Holla, a Bangalore-based lawyer who has appeared before the Supreme Court.

Some say the change is already under way. "The practice of law has already changed, thanks to all these new graduates," says Mr. Aggarwal. " ... When they perform in court you can really tell they know their stuff. This is a sea change from 20 years ago."

One of the few criticisms leveled against the National Law School is that the bulk of its graduates enter the lucrative world of corporate transaction law, rather than litigation, which requires contact with courts and judges.

"There is disillusionment with the legal system and there is a misconception that there is no room for merit in litigation," says Aditya Sondhi, a 1998 graduate who runs a constitutional and corporate litigation practice in Bangalore. "Another deterrent is that it takes much longer to grow financially in litigation, and when colleagues take up such tempting corporate offers, the trend becomes to go for early money."

That is slowly changing. Mr. Satish says that after he quit his corporate job to teach, a couple of his colleagues quit corporate transaction law to start their own litigation practice. He has also noticed that more students seem to be interested in working for nonprofit groups.

Mr. Aggarwal believes that as the number of top-quality lawyers increases, so will their interest in litigation. And "once the quality of the bar changes, the quality of the bench will also change," says Mr. Jayagovind, the National Law School's director.

Mr. Menon, the university's founder, who went on to establish the National University of Juridical Sciences, in Calcutta, one of the dozen institutions inspired by the National Law School, hopes that these new law schools will help spur legal reform and social justice.

"It is a bit disappointing to see so many graduates go into corporate law,"
he says, "but I have seen that at least sensitivity to the poor has been inculcated in these lawyers. A faster, more humane system is evolving."

Permanent email: sn40@columbia.edu
Web site: www.shailaja.net

Sunday, November 27, 2005

three cheers for ndtv

NDTV Profit, of all channels, stepped up to support Indian boxing, airing 5 matches during semi-primetime Sunday evening, televised from Ansal Plaza. Touting the show as a first for India and dubiously enshrining the Delhi mall/plaza as India's Madison Square Garden, NDTV Profit delivered a concept about which rumors had been floating around for awhile (ESPN was supposedly looking to promote a boxing tournament in its search for ratings since losing the bidding war for cricket).

I doubt the ratings were great, but the show was as entertaining as one could expect for non-tournament amateur-level boxing. That said, the quality of the performances was rather poor. Vijender Singh displayed solid tactical skills in pointing out an out of shape--and surely ballooned up at least one weight class?--Kim Jung Joo of Korea, who as a former Olympic bronze medalist was billed as the star attraction. Sadly, Singh was the only one of the Indian boxers to throw a single jab, which raised questions about the coaching of the team and advice given in the corners. Because under the current scoring system, punches only score if three of the five judges click a button to tabulate the punch within a second of one another, only the clearest of punches ever count toward victory--and nine times out of ten those are the straight jabs and crosses. While the Indians swung wild hooks--some of which connected and were not scored, some of which didn't connect at all--the fighters from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan showed that they understood the rules by which international amateur boxing is governed and racked up points with the workmanlike one-twos of the Russian school.

The most impressive fighter of the night was world junior champion Rahimov Ilhom of Uzbekistan, who handled Commonwealth games champ Akhil Kumar easily (Akhil threw no jabs at all, and held his hands at belt level even after Ilhom demonstrated he was the faster man). Meanwhile, superheavyweight Jitender Kumar looked fat, slow and clumsy in defeating a fatter, slower, clumsier Yumgoluv Abdel of Turkmenistan. The superheavyweight class is the weakest, and therefore the easiest in which to compete, so Jitender may have made a good manuever in moving up from heavyweight. But he needs to move some of the poundage from his paunch to his extremities from the looks of things. The only other bright spot for India was flyweight Balbir Singh, who lost his composure a bit in swarming Esenov Esenguli of Turkmenistan but threw punches with bad intentions (as Mike Tyson used to say) and scored a picture-perfect knockdown with a strong right hook.

Let's hope that the gig made NDTV a little money, or impressed ESPN enough to spur the rudderless sports channel into action.

kate atkinson

Readers of this blog know that Shailaja and I have become obsessed with crime novels--the reading of which is not so much a pleasure as a compulsion, a bit like eating peanuts and being unable to stop. But, strangely, although I can hardly force myself to slog through literary novels these days--and for many years I scoffed at "commercial" fiction--I find that I am often finding my comforting detective stories somehow wanting.

Witness my reaction to James Lee Burke. Every time I read one of the novels of his Billy Bob Holland (set in Montana) or Dave Robicheaux (set in Louisiana) series, I find myself wondering why he limits himself to the conventions of the detective genre, like a master chef who for some reason only turns his talents to macaroni and cheese. Inevitably, the best part of these novels are the interludes--always written in third-person--that tell an incidental, character-driven/character-shaping story along the lines of a literary novel; meanwhile, the main narrative--always in first-person--is somewhat obvious, pedestrian, and often repetitive of Burke's other books. (I hesitate to calculate exactly how many of the Dave Robicheaux novels pit Dave against a wealthy former lover, usually married to a senator or some such, who has gotten herself mixed up with the "Dixie mafia" i.e. the mob of the South). Why do I keep reading these books? As I said, there's something compulsive about it, like filling up crossword puzzles or playing solitaire--or eating macaroni and cheese.

That brings me to Kate Atkinson, who won the Whitbread Award for her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her most recent book to appear in paperback--Case Histories--is one of those rare crime novels that take the genre up a notch without disposing of the best of its conventions. The NY Times said it fairly aptly, calling the book "part complex family drama, part mystery," with "more depth and vividness than ordinary thrillers and more thrills than ordinary fiction.... A wonderfully tricky book."

This one goes on my best reads of 2005 list, along with Denise Mina's Garnethill trilogy, and a handful of literary novels (like Bel Canto) that delivered the goods.

Friday, November 25, 2005

study shows indians have sex

Yes, it's true. Indians have sex. They're very good at it, apparently. Either that, or they keep trying. Hence the billion people. Why, then, all the fuss? I thought America was the most prudish of nations, but Indians seem to have it even worse. Or at least it seems so, given this whole Khushboo controversy.

Witness this brilliant remark from India's health minister in the Indian Express. ‘‘We have to remember that we are Indians and we have still not reached a point where we are comfortable discussing sex openly. It is not that we Indians don’t have sex. It’s just that we don’t talk about it. Even in America, nobody propagates sex for teenagers.''

Maybe "nobody" is an exaggeration, but I'll give the minister his due. He has a point. The problem is that Khushboo never said sixteen-year-olds should be jumping in the sack (though I think that's marriageable age in some states, and darn late for marriage in some remote areas) only that she doesn't think there's anything wrong with premarital sex.

So what's the big deal about sex before marriage between two consenting adults? For one, it gives women too much power. Yep. That's right. Once a woman has a little experience, she knows what she's missing. (Live in fear, bedroom weaklings). I'm a guy and all, and probably don't really get it, but I thought that the reason there was such a fuss when the pill was invented was that it gave women control over their sex lives, and thus freeing from the compulsion to get married. (Right along with abortion rights).

Do you think anybody would have made a stink if, say, Narain Karthikeyan had come out in support of premarital sex--as he came out in support of Khushboo after the fact? He's Tamil, too, but he's a dude, so it would have been OK, I bet.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

'a great shift'

India has leveraged its engineering and design skills to become a hot spot for auto parts.

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Nov. 28, 2005 issue - With a wandlike wave of his mouse, 27-year-old Saurabh Rawat displays a 3-D model of a new precision gearbox for Porsche's Boxster on his computer screen. Rawat works in the quiet 14th-floor office of Hi-Tech Gears in Gurgaon, Haryana, on the outskirts of New Delhi. On the street below, flashy new Hyun-dais vie for space with battered scooters, overloaded bicycle rickshaws and rawboned cattle. All around them a satellite town mushrooms out of the desert, growing on the strength of the IT-services outsourcing boom.

Rawat—and hundreds of thousands of workers like him—is part of another kind of revolution. Once considered incapable of making quality products and meeting shipment deadlines, India is leveraging its skill in engineering and design to emerge as a hot spot for auto-parts manufacturing. The sector has grown more than 20 percent a year over the past three years, while export growth has topped 40 percent. A host of local entrepreneurs are reaping the benefits. Hi-Tech Gears, for example, has become a global supplier for the German firm Robert Bosch International, while other Indian firms like Bharat Forge—now the second largest forging company in the world—have begun acquiring companies in the United States and Europe.

As some big global players begin to rethink their exposure to China, India is starting to attract some of the foreign investment once directed toward the dragon to the east. A recent study by McKinsey Co. suggests India's auto-components market could grow from roughly $9 billion in sales now to as much as $40 billion by 2015—including $20 billion to $25 billion in exports—as the parts business shifts from the West to low-cost nations like China, India, Thailand and Turkey. Struggling carmakers are under great pressure to chop their production costs, and parts suppliers in these big, developing markets are increasingly reliable.

To reach its goals, India's auto-parts industry will require lots of investment—as much as $20 billion over the next decade—and the capital inflow has already started. Last year, for example, the Bosch Group announced plans to invest about $225 million to build manufacturing capacity in India. Goetze India, in which U.S.-based Federal Mogul holds a 30 percent stake, says it plans $45 million in capital expenditures. And Sona Koyo Steering Systems, a joint venture with Japan's Koyo Seiko Co., has said it will invest about $30 million."There's a great shift underway," says Hi-Tech Gears chairman and managing director Deep Kapuria, a two-term president of the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India.

Kapuria says that some U.S., Japanese and European automakers and their first-tier parts suppliers have admitted to him that they're now overexposed in China. Volkswagen entered China aggressively in 1985, and quickly grabbed 60 percent of the embryonic auto market. But since then, even as China's car sales have exploded, the German automaker's market share has dwindled steadily, reaching just 18 percent in the first half of this year. The falloff prompted the company to announce last month that it will stop investing to expand production capacity in China, and will scale back its 2003- 2006 investment plans in the country by 40 percent. VW and other global car companies have suggested to Kapuria that Indian parts companies would be getting more business.

India's auto market is attractive for two reasons. First, though still only about a third the size of China's, it's growing faster than its eastern neighbor. Car sales in India last year grew by 24 percent, compared with 14 percent in China. Beyond that, unlike China, India has demonstrated its willingness to comply with intellectual-property rules and the global patent regime. That commitment is essential, because it's allowed India to build on its strength in engineering and to achieve a competitive advantage making advanced components such as exhaust manifolds and machined gears.

There are potential potholes for the industry, to be sure. The Chinese have a huge advantage when it comes to making products that depend on economies of scale. And the infrastructure problems and bureaucratic impediments for which India is notorious continue to discourage foreign investors. "India has a three- to five-year window to get its act [together]," says Kapuria. Carmakers are betting that it will.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10114266/site/newsweek/

spend less, get more

One thing India does better than China is high-tech research and development.

By Jason Overdorf and Sudip Mazumdar
Newsweek International

Nov. 28, 2005 issue - The office of Dr. D. Yogeswara Rao, head of business development at India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, doesn't exactly look like a nerve center of cutting-edge research and development. Cluttered with stacks of documents and crammed with the tattered furniture common to New Delhi's government offices, Rao's domain looks like part of the landscape of old India.

But the humble surroundings can be deceptive. Despite a lack of funding and facilities—the government's entire R&D budget is a fraction of the annual research expenditure by a single multi-national company like Pfizer—India's researchers have shown the world they can innovate without breaking the bank. And that's attracting a great deal of interest. "Not a week goes by without some foreign delegation visiting us to discuss research collaborations," Rao says. Over the past six months, Rao's visitors have included representatives of Procter Gamble, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson and Alcoa, to name a few. The reason is simple. "Per dollar, the output of innovations is significant, so overall you may spend less, but you get more," says Rao.

Over the last five years more than 100 companies, including General Motors, Boeing and Mobil, have chosen India as an R&D hub, some of them citing local scientists' facility in English, as well as the country's superior track record in intellectual-property protection, as advantages over China. Prominent among them is General Electric, which has its largest research-and-development center outside the United States in Bangalore, India. Though GE also has an R&D center in China, its state-of-the-art John F. Welch Technology Center in Bangalore employs about 2,300 scientists, researchers and engineers, double the number in Shanghai.

GE's $80 million Bangalore center does groundbreaking work in areas such as aerospace engineering, electronic systems, ceramics, metallurgy, advanced chemistry, chemicals, polymers and new synthetic materials. The center uses the latest technology and e-engineering tools to facilitate real-time global interaction with the company's affiliates, tech centers, customers and suppliers. "I have immense faith in the intellectual capital of India and the amount it can contribute to GE's success," says Scott R. Bayman, president and chief executive officer of GE India. "India is rich with bright, young talent."

GE's Indian researchers have applied for 260 U.S. patents on products such as synthetic materials and ceramics, with 37 approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to the company's spokeswoman in India. Motorola, which employs more than 1,700 Indian engineers and researchers, says Indian programmers develop about 40 percent of the software in its mobile handsets. The Internet browser and multimedia messaging system for the company's 3G and GSM phones were conceived, engineered and delivered by its India operations.

India's software industry was first out of the gate in R&D, and increasingly important tasks were outsourced as India's so-called cybercoolies demonstrated their prowess. But today, a host of industries—including the automotive, chip-design, pharmaceutical and aerospace sectors—are taking advantage of India's giant pool of scientists and engineers, and not only to write program code. According to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, India is rapidly moving up from relatively routine tasks like converting schematics from one computer-aided design system to another, to sophisticated and critical functions like plant engineering and redesigning products for a better cost-performance ratio. Global automakers, in particular, which spend 3 to 5 percent of their annual revenue on R&D activities, are turning increasingly to India, the consultancy says.

The main reason for the shift is manpower—the oft-cited 300,000 engineers and 150,000 computer experts who graduate from India's many universities and technical institutes each year. But that's not where the country has the biggest advantage over China, which produces 400,000 engineers of its own annually. According to Indian business experts, local graduates have greater cultural affinity with Westerners (not to mention English-language skills) than their Chinese counterparts. Like that of the United States, India's growth has been driven by entrepreneurs and market forces rather than the government, so foreign business leaders perceive India managers as more market-savvy.

That affinity has also helped India gain an edge in intellectual-property protection. In a sector like chip de-sign, for instance, large companies will outsource R&D activities only if they believe they can protect the intellectual property they are letting out the door. "The way you grow is by having contracts with bigger companies," says S. R. Dinesh, program manager of Frost & Sullivan's Asia Pacific electronics and semiconductors practice. "Intellectual-property law is a big issue. Even if multinationals outsource [to China], it will be at the lower end of the value chain."

The intellectual-property issue is also crucial to the global pharmaceutical sector, which spends about $40 billion a year on drug development. Drug companies rise and fall on the strength of their patents for new blockbuster medicines. India's move to implement international patent laws earlier this year—despite the pain caused to domestic pharmaceutical giants like Ranbaxy, Cipla and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, which had built their businesses by making generic copies of drugs protected by patents in the West—was roundly criticized by aid agencies worried about providing affordable retrovirals for HIV sufferers in Africa. But the decision sent a message that India was committed to playing by global rules, whatever the political cost.

India already has a well-developed pharmaceutical industry. With turnover of about $7 billion—$2.5 billion from export sales—the Indian pharma sector ranks fourth in the world in terms of sales volume and 13th by value. The Chinese pharmaceutical industry, at $8 billion in 2004 and growing fast, is about the same size. But the new commitment to patent protection may help India beat China in the race up the value-chain ladder in pharmaceutical research, says Vivek Mehra, executive director for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Delhi. Multinationals like AstraZeneca, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Pfizer and Roche set up modest research centers in India in the mid-1990s, and they've since grown substantially.

The fastest-growing pharmaceutical segment in India is so-called contract research, or the outsourcing of research-and-development activities. More than a dozen foreign contract-research companies—including Quintiles, ClinTec and PharmaNet—have set up operations in India, not only because it's inexpensive but also because India offers a large patient pool, trained doctors, good clinical diagnosis and a genetically diverse population for clinical research. Indian pharma giant Biocon, which set up a unit called Clinigene to conduct clinical trials for multinationals in 2000, has seen its contract-research revenue grow 45 percent over the past six months.

In spite of the gains, Chinese firms still apply for more patents annually than Indian firms, and some experts say India is weak in the area of fundamental research. The ties between academia and industry—needed to commercialize breakthroughs—must be strengthened if India is ever going to produce its own version of Silicon Valley. In the meantime, investment continues to roll in, and the demand for top graduates in technical fields is high. "The world has realized that if you don't have an India address [in R&D], you are in trouble," says R. A. Mashelkar, head of the government's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. That's a boast, but one that's hard to argue with.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10114269/site/newsweek/

Friday, November 18, 2005

y: the last man

Readers, get ahold of the comic book series "Y: the last man" by any means necessary. A politically conscious book that begins with a plague (perhaps engineered by humans) that wipes out every mammal with a Y chromosome except a single amateur escape artist and his pet monkey, Y blows away Sin City and the Sandman series in every aspect I can think of. And I really dig Sandman.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

honey, i shrunk the jpeg

Finally, JPEG is doomed, algorithm geeks unite! This is the quantum leap, no compromise technology. Young genius about to rock the DI world.

By Shailaja Neelakantan, September 21, 2005 BUSINESS 2.0

If downloading digital photos stalls your PC, spare a thought for the data networks in hospitals. A midsize hospital typically gets 60 requests every hour for MRIs and echocardiograms. At 10 megabytes apiece, the enormous images can quickly cripple a network.

Enter 25-year-old Arvind Thiagarajan, co-founder of Singapore-based startup MatrixView, who wants to revolutionize digital imaging. The data-compression algorithm he invented shrinks images into a format called a MatrixView Universal, or MVU, which is 15 to 300 percent smaller than a JPEG. But unlike a JPEG, which omits details, an MVU is as precise as the original. "Data loss is unacceptable in medical diagnosis," Thiagarajan says. That's why the startup is focusing on health care first. A well-known hospital in Bangalore is using the technology, and MatrixView plans to ink deals in the coming year with several Fortune 100 health-care companies in the United States. MatrixView is also targeting other subsets of the $9 billion U.S. digital-imaging market. Right now it's negotiating with chipmakers to embed the technology in cameras and fit more files on storage cards. MRIs today, vacation snaps tomorrow.


my last trip to thai wok

Thai Wok remains one of the most stylish spots in the city and still serves the best Thai food in Delhi, as far as I know, but it's over as far as I'm concerned. Why? They've taken Olive's lead in setting their drinks prices. It used to be you could get a large bottle of Kalyani Black Label for Rs. 150 - a bit steep, but bearable - but now they've stricken Kalyani from the menu and only serve small bottles of Kingfisher for Rs. 110. (For non-beer drinkers, that means that two beers cost you Rs. 300 after tax, instead of around Rs. 200.)

If I have to shell out like that, I prefer Olive, where the crowd generally has a bit more style.

vir right?

This Sunday India's best restaurant critic--and one of its best editors--revealed his choices for Delhi's best restaurants. While I'm glad that Vir Sanghvi has resumed writing his restaurant reviews for the Hindustan Times, I have to quibble with a couple of his choices below:

First - Swagath. I know everybody loves this place, but I have never had a good meal there except the dry items that our dear friend Sunila had delivered to a party at our house one night. The gravies are all gloppy and overspiced, and, as in many Indian restaurants, most of the dishes taste suspiciously alike. The atmosphere is also terrible. Like Embassy with pretensions and higher prices. (In general, I have my doubts about Vir's take on South Indian - he doesn't seem to eat any vegetarian food, for one thing).

And - Diva? Diva? Diva? I can't communicate enough disbelief that (1) Vir actually says this place is the best non-five star hotel restaurant and (2) the Italian embassy gets owner/chef Ritu Dalmia to cater its dos. To me, this is another restaurant where I've never ordered right--once I had a beef dish that was composed entirely of gristle, another time a terribly over-salted pesto, and there were several other items I can't remember. I'm willing to accept that sometimes a place will get it wrong, but I've been at least three times with groups of four or so people, and nobody got a decent meal. (The gristle-squirrel patty swimming in salty brown sauce that masqueraded as beef tenderloin was grounds for immediate closure, as far as I'm concerned).

Rick's - Maybe they do make good cocktails, but (as Vir points out) it's uglier than an airport smoking area. Also, the crowd tends to lean toward the worst sort of Delhi elitism.

Vir's column follows below. What say you? Does he get it right?

"This is a subjective and entirely arbitrary listing of the places I enjoy going to. It is not the view of the HT Eating Out Guide -- which, by definition, is far more objective and well-considered -- but consists of personal preferences. And as I am not sponsored by ITC -- unlike the Guide -- I am not excluding the Maurya's restaurants.

Best Indian Restaurant Swagath, Defence Colony Perhaps because it is in my locality, I am always well-disposed towards Swagath and its well-priced South Indian non-vegetarian food. Go for the crab, the bombil and the prawn Koliwada.

Best Non Five Star Restaurant Diva, Greater Kailash An island of excellence in the city. Ritu Dalmia does amazing pasta, risottos and desserts. If you don't believe me, ask the city's Italian community. Ritu -- and not the city's expatriate Italian chefs -- is the one the Italian embassy has chosen to cater its parties and to run the café at its cultural centre.

Best Cocktails Rick's, Taj Mahal Hotel I've never been wild about the sterile hotel bar décor but this is the place that introduced the Mojito, the Cosmopolitan and a whole range of flavoured vodkas to Delhi. The food menu is beginning to look a bit tired but the snacks are consistently good and the service is outstanding.

Best Funky Bar Agni, The Park Hotel Best enjoyed after a couple of drinks or half a bottle of wine from the excellent list. On weekends, this place rocks and Hindi film music has never sounded as terrific as it does on their sound system. You can also order food from Fire, the wonderful Indian restaurant next door.

Best Kebabs Bukhara I've heard the claims for all the other places but nearly three decades after it opened, Bukhara is still the king. You'll find it difficult to eat a bad meal here. I also like the fact that it is a democratic restaurant. There are no great tables and no VIP stands. No matter who comes to eat -- and Tony Blair and Bill Clin ton have both been here over the last few months -- they will get the same amazing kebabs and service on the rest of us.

Most Picturesque Restaurant Olive It swings at night but the best time to go to Olive is for a cool winter lunch when you can soak in the ambience and admire the sheer beauty of the place.

Where To Take the Kids Eatopia, India Habitat Centre Rohit Khattar is a quality-conscious, highly self-critical owner so he's never satisfied with the food quality at this food court. But I like it. And so will your kids.

Best Sunday Brunch West View, the Maurya Bill Marchetti is an Australian who pretends to be an Italian. But he's also one hell of a chef and one of ITC's greatest assets. He has transformed Sundays with his fresh oysters, chorizo and Canadian bacon filled lunches. Plus there are terrific wines -- chosen by Bill -available by the glass. I am also a great fan of the Machan brunch but West View is now a better bet because a) the location and view are amazing and b) the Indian food on the Machan buffet has collapsed since Chef Qureshi flew off to Scotland. Nevertheless, give Machan a shot as well -- the oysters and caviar are astonishingly well-priced and Tapash Bhattacharya is a great manager-chef.

Best Place for a Romantic Dinner San Gimignano, The Imperial I've lost count of the illicit couples -- a minister (in the last government) plus mistress, a movie star plus girlfriend etc. -- I've caught having a romantic dinner here -- especially when they open the terrace in the winter.

Most Interesting Restaurant Owner Nelson Wang, China Garden The last real character among India's restaurateurs, Nelson can be great fun. And if he snaps his fingers at the kitchen, the food can be truly amazing.

Best Special Occasion Restaurant The Orient Express, Taj Palace Hotel. If you have a birthday or an anniversary, this is the place to go. Mohit Malhotra is Delhi's best restaurant manager and chef D N Sharma acquires new skills with each passing year. A class act.

Best Place for a Quiet Lunch Travertino, The Oberoi It is Delhi's most expensive restaurant but maitre d'hotel Salvatore Scarpino's wine-picks and Chef Tomasso Maddalena's food are worth the price. It gets an elegant, quiet crowd at lunch.

Best F&B Professional Thomas Abraham, The Taj Palace It is amazing how Abraham has turned the Palace's restaurants around. The Tea House of the August Moon has never been better, Masala Art is packed and The Orient Express thrives. I never thought anyone could affect such a turnaround so quickly. Best of all, Thomas is a low-key sort of guy who does nothing to promote himself but concentrates on operations. It doesn't give him the profile he deserves, but it works wonders for the hotel.

The Taj Palace is currently on a roll. The team of General Manager Sarabjit Singh and Thomas have really turned the hotel -- traditionally, the biggest under-performer in the Taj Luxury stable -- around so completely that it now outshines its big brother on Man Singh Road. Hotelier of the Year Gautam Anand, ITC He's not General Manager of the Maurya any longer now that he's been promoted to corporate office but Gautam is still Mr Delhi. He works his butt off, is in total control of his operation and has created a highly motivated team of professionals that maintain his high standards.

I should actually also mention Nakul Anand ITC's big boss, because the chain's hotels in other cites (such as Calcutta, Bangalore and Delhi) have been completely transformed since he's taken control of the company and introduced new levels of professionalism. But I think the credit for Delhi should go to Gautam nevertheless because of his obsessive perfectionism and his passion for F&B."

Monday, November 14, 2005

foreign correspondence

I don't think I'll ever figure out what stories to sell and what stories to ignore. Witness last week's article on Nirbhay Singh Gujjar. This character had amused me when I read about his marital exploits a few months back in an excellent piece by the Express's Aman Sharma, who's doing an excellent job reporting for India's best muckrakers from UP. But I never guessed "Mr. Gujjar," as he wound up being called in my piece for the Globe and Mail, was ready for prime time. A 4:30 a.m. email from the paper's foreign editor set me right.

As many readers will know, Gujjar's death was regarded as suspicious by local journalists and others familiar with India's police encounters. As in nearly all such cases, however, those doubts could not be substantiated by witnesses, so the larger story of the failure of India's police to implement the rule of law--instead acting as vigilantes in uniform--remains untold.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

‘lion of the chambal’ does last deadly dance

India’s police traced notorious bandit via cell phone signals, then shot him.

By Jason Overdorf/NEW DELHI

(This article appeared in the Globe and Mail on November 10, 2005).

For 25 years, he terrorized the villagers of central Indian and outsmarted police. In the end, though, notorious bandit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar was brought down by his penchant for publicity, as police were able to use cell phones through which he boasted to reporters to trace him to his forest hideout. They killed him this week in a shootout.

“It was an embarrassment for the police, because he was talking to the media,” said Yashpal Singh, director-general of the police force in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. “So we were under pressure from people who were asking why journalists could locate him and the police could not.”

After determining Mr. Gujjar’s location by tracing the signals from the two phones he used, authorities crawled through thick scrub to creep up on a ravine where the bandit was drinking with half a dozen members of his gang.
Alerted by a sentry, Mr. Gujjar’s band opened fire, but police scattered the gang, trapping the bandit and a lieutenant in a canyon.

When police called for him to surrender, Mr. Gujjar tried to fool them into thinking he had been killed, but opened fire again when officers advanced to investigate, said Deputy Superintendent Rajesh Dwivedi of the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force. In the ensuing shootout, Mr. Gujjar was shot in the head.

“This sends a clear signal that we are going after them,” Mr. Singh said. “It will certainly send a frightening message [to other bandits].”
Mr. Gujjar, whose name means “fearless,” was known as “the last lion of the Chambal,” an unmappable labyrinth of ravines in the border area between the modern states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The area is famous for marauding outlaws, called dacoits, and is portrayed in hundreds of Bollywood films.

Married three times and cuckolded as many times by rival bandits, Mr. Gujjar went berserk when his third wife ran away with a man he had kidnapped as a boy and raised as his foster son. Vowing to track the lovers down and exact his revenge, he announced a hefty reward for information about the couple.

He then told reporters he wanted to lay down his arms. All he asked was that a political party from one of the states he terrorized grant him a role in government as a member of the legislative assembly.

But even though politicians with long charge sheets are common in central India, Mr. Gujjar misread the way the political wind was blowing, according to police.
“He didn’t have any connections,” Supt. Dwivedi said.

Copyright 2005 The Globe and Mail

Saturday, October 29, 2005

us imperialism

Mike Marqusee, the author of several excellent books on topics ranging from Muhammad Ali to the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry to Bob Dylan, has an excellent essay in today's Hindu explaining why American's keep refusing to believe the USA is an imperialist power: they lie to themselves.

alive and kicking

Three large explosions in crowded market areas last night killed more than fifty people, in what was apparently a terrorist attack. So far nobody has claimed responsibility, and there are a host of ethnic, political and religious groups who oppose the state. That said, unless another group comes forward, most people will assume this was the act of one of several militant groups that oppose the peace process underway between New Delhi and Islamabad over the disputed territories of Jammu & Kashmir.

News reports will slowly file in. But from the sounds of the street vendors selling vegetables and buying used bottles and newspapers for recycling, who appeared outside my window as on any ordinary Sunday, it seems Delhi will swiftly return to normal.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

the death of understatement

The Asian Age continues its "expose" on the evils of Google Earth today, with a picture of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that supposedly illustrates "the death of privacy." Somehow, I don't see how these photos--which are very cool, but generally useless--are a threat to my privacy. You can't even see people. I looked for my old apartment in NY and recognized a few taxicabs and a delivery truck or two, but nothing that's going to out anybody, solve a crime or cause a divorce. This reminds me of those irritating placards that tell you not to take pictures of the bridge/harbor/naval destroyers. Has this crack security prevented terrorism so far? Has it protected naval cadets from appearing in compromising photographs?

I say bring on the satellites, and zoom in. Let's put the paparazzi out of business by boring everybody with 24/7 video of everybody else. Live. Voyeurs need never leave home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

comments and spog

Special thanks to jabberwock for informing me that one can avoid spog by enabling "word verification" in the comment settings. (Bloggers take note). Let's see if that does the trick.

On another note, we're considering opening up this space to additional contributors, since we don't seem to have the time and inclination to post regularly. Anyone interested in becoming a member -- all the fun of your own blog without the hassle of posting every day -- comment on this post and include your email address.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scouting for Homegrown Ingenuity

A unique academic network nurtures innovation among India's poor

By Shailaja Neelakantan

Issue cover-dated September 30, 2005

Ahmedabad, India

Mansukhbhai Patel, a hard-working farmer with a 10th-grade education, has revolutionized the cotton industry here in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Had it not been for a chance meeting with a college student, the cotton-stripping machine Mr. Patel invented might never have been a success.

That student put Mr. Patel in touch with Anil Gupta, a management professor at one of the country's elite Indian Institutes of Management and the founder of an unconventional academic project. An evangelical supporter of grassroots innovations, Mr. Gupta is on a mission to ensure that rural inventors like Mr. Patel can commercialize their creations. To make that happen, Mr. Gupta founded the Honey Bee Network, a scouting team of sorts, in which academics, scientists, graduate students, farmers, and artisans seek out and nurture the tinkerers, mechanics, and self-taught scientists in villages and small towns across India.

The network, formed in 1987, has discovered Amrutbhai Agrawat and his tilting bullock-cart, which greatly enhances efficiency in spreading manure on small fields; Mansukhbhai Jagani's modified motorcycle, which has attachments for tilling, weeding, and sowing; Kalpesh Gujjar's small, energy-saving seed-oil extractor with a novel gearbox; and Arvindbhai Patel's water chiller that uses no electricity.

All of those men are rural workers whose original goal was simply to make backbreaking work a little easier.

"Poor people have to be inventive to survive," says Mr. Gupta, "and the elite often fail to recognize that the poor are knowledge-rich, and that is a vital resource for any community and economy." Clad in a knee-length, hand-woven shirt called a kurta, white pajama pants, and sandals, he looks more like a zealous social activist than a professor at a university that turns out future corporate executives.

Readers in the developed world may question why a new cotton-stripping machine is needed when Eli Whitney's cotton gin revolutionized the industry more than 200 years ago. But Mr. Patel faced a problem characteristic of this region.

Farmers here grow a tough variety of cotton, called V-797, that does not need much water and can withstand the harsh, arid climate. While most hybrid varieties produce balls of cotton that can be picked directly from the plant, this indigenous variety produces sturdy pods that do not open easily to let loose the fibers within.

Instead, the pods must be picked off the plant and cracked manually to extract the fibers. This is a tedious and time-consuming task performed by women and children, who often cannot pick all of the cotton before seasonal rains arrive. Traditional handpicking methods also force children to work long hours in the field instead of attending school.

Mr. Patel, a self-taught electrician and mechanic, started work on his cotton-stripping machine in 1991. He made three models before selecting the one that worked best, and he finished the first prototype in 1992. The following year, he sold a number of them to local ginners in his village of Nana Ubhada. But after a couple of months, a wire-mesh plate in each machine broke, and the machines failed. Mr. Patel stunned his customers, and the community, by giving the ginners back their money and continuing to work on his invention. His reputation as a dogged technician and an honest businessman grew.

'The Crazy Ones'

In 1995, Hirendra Rawal, a scout from the Honey Bee Network, was touring Nana Ubhada.

"The student scouts are given a clear mandate," says Mr. Gupta. "Go from village to village and look for the oddballs, the crazy ones, the ones who do something different and don't follow set patterns, the ones with curiosity, who have come up with homegrown solutions for various problems.
And Hirendra kept hearing things about Mansukhbhai Patel, mostly about his honesty and integrity, and also about his failed machine."

Mr. Rawal met Mr. Patel and was intrigued by his machine. He wrote up his notes and showed them to Mr. Gupta.

"At the time a professor from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay was visiting, and I took him along to meet Mansukhbhai, and he said that with some alterations the cotton stripper would work just fine," says Mr.

Unlike many of the self-taught innovators the scouts came across, Mr. Patel was open-minded about getting help.

"Initially, many grassroots innovators don't like to talk about what they do or give away their secrets," says Kamlesh Kumar Tawal, a scout. "It takes a couple of visits to convince them that we are not here to steal their ideas, but we are here to help them take the ideas forward and give them credit for it."

Mr. Patel had no such misgivings. "Taking help is a good thing, and I don't consider it beneath me. I knew things would get better when they came to me," he says about the Honey Bee Network.

Soon after he met Mr. Patel, Mr. Gupta heard from Ahmedabad's elite National Institute of Design that a German exchange student wanted to work on design innovations in a rural area. The student ended up staying with Mr. Patel as they worked together on a new machine. A final model, built in 1999, worked perfectly.

"It was interesting working with a professional but also a bit strange,"
recalls the genial Mr. Patel. "I visualize a model in my head and then I make it. But the professionals sit at their computer or with pencil and paper and draw and redraw things before they actually make something."

Before he started the Honey Bee Network, Mr. Gupta was a consultant for the Bangladesh government and helped farmers there use technology to improve yields and working conditions. He says that job left him dissatisfied. "I wrote all these papers, having used their grassroots knowledge, and I got this ... [very high] salary, but I never gave anything back. I felt quite guilty. Maybe it is the Indian mentality."

So he decided to help rural innovators by securing intellectual property rights for them and publicizing their inventions. He explains how he came up with the name of his network: "I had in mind the metaphor of honeybees that collect nectar from flowers without impoverishing them, and in turn, the bees aid pollination and diversity."

In 1993 the Honey Bee Network was renamed the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions, or Sristi.
Students in the society write case studies of particular inventions and publish them in Honey Bee magazine, which was initially supported by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, but now operates independently and is published in eight languages.

Set for Life

In 1997 Mr. Gupta and his organization helped form the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network, or GIAN.

"We realized that we were cataloging all these innovations and helping the grassroots innovators, but we weren't equipped to take these innovations forward," says Mr. Gupta, who convinced the government of the State of Gujarat, where his institute is located, to contribute $230,000 to what eventually became a business incubator. "Back then we called it a trust, but turns out it was India's first microventure incubation fund," chuckles Mr.
Gupta. "All these concepts became buzzwords much later, but we were thinking about them even before that."

GIAN gave Mr. Patel $5,100 to start commercial production of the cotton stripper, and the first sales were made in 2000. Three years later GIAN helped Mr. Patel obtain a U.S. patent. Last year he won India's National Research Development Corporation technology award for best innovation.

Today this former amateur technician, who was once chided by his wife for his "crazy pursuits," earns nearly $7,000 a year -- a lot of money in India, where the average yearly income is $350. To ensure that sales don't stagnate, he has made energy-saving and capacity-enhancing improvements on his machine twice since 2000.

Ginners now are replacing their old machines, so sales remain steady. Mr.
Patel has moved out of his village house and built a home about 40 miles from Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. His new house has air-conditioning, and he has also bought a car.

"I have a computerlike mind. If I had become an engineer, I would be working with microprocessors today, but I am happy," says Mr. Patel, beaming. "My children are now set for life, and my wife doesn't scold me anymore."

The ginners are equally pleased. "Before we had the machine, we could produce only 20 kilos of cotton in an hour; now we can do 350 kilos in an hour," says Prabhubhai Thakkar, a ginner in a nearby district, who owns six of Mr. Patel's machines. "I used to produce only 400 to 500 bales of cotton, but now I produce 30,000 bales a year."

Mr. Gupta has been productive as well. Five years ago he convinced the Indian government to set up the National Innovations Foundation, with an endowment of $4.6-million. The interest on that money is used to support his network and finance grassroots innovations throughout the country.

"There is a lot of work to be done," says the professor, who, in addition to coordinating these multiple ventures, teaches four courses at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. (Most professors teach only two.) "I need to have more work to do than there is time to do it, " he says with a smile.

He has his wish. The foundation has so far documented 51,000 mechanical, technical, and herbal inventions and practices in more than 300 Indian districts. "Now we have to keep scouting and enabling all these innovators,"
says Mr. Gupta. Mr. Patel and his ilk will no doubt keep him busy.

Section: International
Volume 52, Issue 6, Page A43

no spog

Dunno whether everybody in the blogosphere has been rapping about this already, but I was forced to turn off the comment feature on this space because it was being abused by "spoggers" who were posting advertisements as comments.

Conflicted Commies

The force that could determine India's capitalist future is one of the world's strongest communist parties.

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Oct. 10, 2005 issue - As its name implies, the Communist Party of India-Marxist still employs the dated rhetoric of the left, down to calling its ruling body the Politburo, in old Soviet style. So it came as a surprise this summer when the national leadership endorsed "all the actions" of its maverick chief minister for West Bengal, a state of 100 million people and long a bastion of communist power. That came shortly after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wooed foreign investors in Singapore by saying Indian communists had to "reform or perish," and invited these capitalists to help build new infrastructure in West Bengal. The moment cemented Bhattacharjee's reputation as the Deng Xiaoping of India: a pragmatic communist reformer.

That doesn't mean, however, that India's communists have gone the way of comrades from Russia and China, tilting toward robber-baron capitalism. Just last Thursday the party's traditional allies in India's left-wing trade unions brought the country to a standstill with a daylong national strike that shut down railroads, airports and banks. In New Delhi, where the communists are critical partners in the coalition government, they have diluted free-market reforms and are hotly debating their proper role in a capitalist economy. The outcome of that debate is crucial: it could help determine whether India accelerates to China-style growth rates or stumbles yet again.

The Indian communists have more influence than all but one kindred party in a capitalist democracy, behind President Hugo Chavez's Movement for a Fifth Republic in Venezuela. (Third on the list: Portugal, where communists hold 12 of 230 seats in Parliament.) The CPM and two much smaller communist parties together control 60 of India's 545 parliamentary seats. Since the United Progressive Alliance led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party is 51 seats short of a majority, it depends on communists to stay in power. The CPM has used that clout to block or temper policies from the sale of state-owned companies to the liberalization of labor laws in special economic zones.

In Western Europe, the leading communists for much of the cold-war period were found in Italy, where their focus was internal: their big idea was worker ownership of factories in an otherwise capitalist market. Given the vast expansion in international trade since then, the Indian communists' focus is more global. Indeed, the country's population and growing economy make the party one of the world's most influential opponents of excessive globalization. Experts debate whether India's communists are emulating Chinese reformers or European social democrats. Bhattacharjee says neither: "We are debating among ourselves. What is reform? Reform means what? For whom?" Sitaram Yechury, a member of the CPM Politburo, says the party's overriding ambition is to shift the goal of market reform from promoting corporate profit to people's welfare.

The differences with China are stark. The Indians still cling to socialist ideals like worker protection and land reform, while China's leveling impulses seem to have been spent during the land reforms of the Mao era, when the rural bourgeoisie was all but destroyed. India, meanwhile, never made good on post-independence promises to wipe out a feudal caste system. That said, the Indian communists' ideas about economic sovereignty take a page from China's book, and mirror the Congress Party view of the early 1990s.

The CPM sets three rules for foreign investors: they must increase India's production capacity—build factories, rather than simply buying assets—help upgrade Indian technology, and create jobs. While Congress is now inclined to open doors further, the communists are more wary. Where Congress leaders praise a domestic automaker like Tata for rising to the challenge of foreign competition, the communists decry how Japanese giant Suzuki ultimately gained control of its Indian joint venture, Maruti Udyog. "It would be wrong for anybody to characterize us and say we have been opponents of capital flows into India," says Yechury. "We qualify those flows, rather than opposing them."

On battles over how India should comply with its obligations to the World Trade Organization, the CPM has prevented the government from giving away too much on issues like drug patents, which could have harmed consumers. And in some market reforms, the left has taken the lead. Bhattacharjee's Finance minister in West Bengal spearheaded the introduction of a value-added tax, as a way of eliminating tax evasion and replenishing government coffers, which some experts call the single most important economic advance in India in the last five years. "You can't just paint the left as anti-reform," says Ramesh Venkataraman, a partner with McKinsey & Co. in Mumbai. "The left is selective."

The CPM has been criticized in the Indian media as hypocritical for resisting a Congress plan to increase national limits on foreign investment in the telecommunications sector, while aggressively pursuing foreign investment for West Bengal. Once scorned for its obstructive policies and constant strikes, the state has been attracting investment from companies like IBM and Microsoft since Bhattacharjee took office in 1990, and now draws more investment from Japan than any other Indian state, including Karnataka, home to Bangalore's massive outsourcing industry. But the communists say the devil is in the details: the party opposed Congress's telecom plan because it would have allowed foreigners to provide phone service—making big profits but providing no new technology or manufacturing capacity in return. Yechury says the party has done nothing in West Bengal that it has rejected on the national level.

Still, the party remains conflicted about its most progressive members. When Bhattacharjee recently signed a deal with the Salim Group of Indonesia to build a 2,000-hectare commercial and housing development, party members accused him of favoring a company close to the former Suharto regime, which took power in an anti-communist coup. Soft-spoken and white-haired, he wears the large-framed spectacles typical of Bengali intellectuals, and embraces the word "capitalism" only with protections for workers and the poor. Yet he is pushing labor market reform to attract more outsourcing companies to West Bengal. He says workers must "share a concern" for productivity with management.

The CPM, in fact, reacted quietly to last week's union-led strikes, citing them as a warning to Singh not to push too hard on reform. Tellingly, the strikes hit hardest in West Bengal, where workers took complete control of the capital, Kolkata. They defied measures Bhattacharjee took to allow IT workers to get to work through blockaded streets. Only when Bhattacharjee personally confronted them did they meekly step aside. It remains to be seen whether his detractors in a party that still values its labor roots will ultimately do the same.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9555155/site/newsweek/

Red-Hot Market

Growing wealth at home fuels an Indian art boom.

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Oct. 17, 2005 issue - Looking for a good investment? Try contemporary Indian art. In back-to-back auctions held by Christie's and Sotheby's in New York last month, four different works topped the previous auction-price record of $317,500, set by Tyeb Mehta's "Celebration" in 2002. And, according to experts, that's just the beginning. "Because of the strength of the market and the strength of the Indian economy, we're seeing that many of the paintings exceeded estimates, some tripling or quadrupling our expectations," says Yamini Mehta, who oversees modern and contemporary Indian art at Christie's. At separate auctions at both houses on Sept. 20 and 21, 16 works by contemporary Indian artists sold for more than $200,000 apiece; even more impressive, Christie's brought the hammer down on Mehta's painting "Mahisasura" for a whopping $1.6 million—five times the previous auction record. "It [was] an amazing week," says Robin Dean, director of the Indian and Southeast Asian department at Sotheby's.

Not coincidentally, nearly all the artworks that broke $200,000 were by artists belonging to the Progressive Group. Founded around India's struggle for independence in the late 1940s, the group includes artists like Mehta, Ram Kumar, Maqbool Fida Husain, Syed Haider Raza and Francis Newton Souza, who rejected the colonial British academic style and began the modernist movement in India. "Today we paint with absolute freedom for content and technique," reads the group's 1948 manifesto.

The market for their works took off in 1995, when Sotheby's auctioned off paintings from the extensive private collection of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Charitable Trust. At that time, according to Neville Tuli, who started India's first domestic auction house, Osian's, the entire Indian art market amounted to about $1 million. Today the same market is valued at close to $180 million.

At first the Indian diaspora drove demand, but now growing wealth in India itself is fueling the market. In the mid-1990s, most buyers were scions of India's industrial dynasties, who favored the realistic, conservative artists of the Bengal school. In the late 1990s, nonresident Indians, or NRIs, who preferred the bolder, more colorful and less traditional work of the Progressives, began dominating the market. Today, domestic buyers—buoyed by India's skyrocketing stock and real-estate markets and fast-growing economy—are helping drive prices higher. While an overseas Indian bought Mehta's "Mahisasura," private collectors living in India accounted for four of Christie's biggest sales last month, paying $486,400 for Husain's "Trial," $385,600 and $262,400 for two untitled paintings by Kumar and $284,800 for Souza's "Girl With Hairpin and Girdle." "The biggest change is the increase in activity from India itself," says Dean. And there's more to come: "For every work that sells, there are two or three new very wealthy people that come into the market."

Meanwhile, the big players in India's domestic art market—Osian's, Dinesh Vazirani's Saffronart.com and Geetha Mehra and Pravin Gandhi's Sakshi Art Gallery, among others—are aggressively pushing the field in new directions. Osian's Tuli has published art books, built the world's largest archive of Indian art and developed a historical record of prices. Saffronart.com pioneered online auctions, introducing a new level of transparency to a market long characterized by backroom, cash-only deals that left would-be buyers uncertain of the real market value of the works up for sale.

Now Tuli, Mehra and Gandhi are developing new ventures for the domestic art market: competing art-investment funds. In August, Mehra and Gandhi, backed by Edelweiss Capital, launched the Yatra fund. So far they have raised at least $2.3 million from high-net-worth investors—each of whom committed a minimum of $45,000 for four years—interested in tapping the art market. Osian's has a similar fund slated for launch in November; Tuli—never less than bold—expects to bankroll his fund with $25 million. In this market, he says, raising that amount is "a two-day job." Indeed, he has a good pitch: starting with about $3.5 million in 2000, Osian's is now worth more than 10 times that amount. You just can't beat that kind of a return.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

we just want to be loved

Wake up, India. Time magazine's "Asian Heroes" special is a marketing scheme, not the final arbiter of who's who in Asia. Virtually all India's major media outlets have dutifully reported that Sania Mirza has (gasp!) made the COVER (gasp!) of Time (gasp!). Why are you providing your competitors with free advertising? Are you so desperate for foreigners to acknowledge your greatness? (Aside from Greg Chappell)

News flash:
(1) This is Time Asia, not Time magazine. Its circulation is not several million, but several hundred thousand. American readers, except expatriates, do not see these articles.
(2) The magazine uses different covers for each of its markets when it does one of these specials, so Sania will be on the cover in India and Pakistan and maybe Nepal, but a Chinese star will be on the cover in China, Singapore and Hong Kong, etc.

What that means is that Time is only selling back to India what Indian journalists have sold to Time. (This is the same feature that named a Bihar criminal a hero last go-around--again following the lead of Indian reporters).

Sania has made some great strides in the past year. Celebrate them. But don't rely on the pharangs to tell you whether she's important or a media-manufactured flash in the pan. (We don't know what we're talking about nine times out of ten).

Friday, September 30, 2005

denise mina

Fans of crime fiction--especially Ian Rankin--must heck out Denise Mina. Her Garnethill trilogy is far more convincingly Scottish than any of the Rebus novels, and her understanding of battered women is remarkable. Mina formerly worked at a facility for the mentally ill and has written extensively about the medical treatment of "deviant women," and it's clear from her writing that she knows her stuff.

What's also clear--at least in the Garnethill books--is that she's an extremely empathic writer, capable of creating fully realized characters. Drunken abuse-victim turned detective/vigilante Maureen O'Donnell--of the Garnethill books--is the best case in point. Look for Maureen's fall-down drunk confrontation of a London gangster in Exile. It's a genre book, no doubt, but Mina demonstrates true literary skill in her depiction of Maureen's thougth processes.

not ready for prime time

Last week I was in the studio audience for a program called Facade (I suppose it means something else in Hindi) being launched by Channel 7. I attended as a favor to a friend who is a producer on the show -- I gather that a call went out for Amrikans and other foreigners -- but in the end I decided my ideas weren't ready for prime time. Especially because with my virtually nonexistent Hindi I couldn't be sure what I said wouldn't be the exact same thing that the speaker before me had contributed.

But the show -- on the problems with the Indian courts -- did get me thinking.

Some readers (obsessed fans only) will remember that I wrote a piece for Newsweek about the ongoing efforts to reform the judiciary some months ago, in which I trotted out all the usual suspects. India needs more infrastructure, more judges, alternative dispute resolution, etc. But in a discussion with a couple lawyer friends after the show last week, it hit me that the problem may not be so terribly complex after all.

Here's a couple simple solutions--simple in design, though perhaps difficult to implement.

(1) Raise the standard of proof needed to grant an appeal.

Under the current system, high court judges grant stays on the judgments of their counterparts in the lower courts almost as a matter of course. That means that the party with an interest in maintaining the status quo--say, a tenant occupying a property he does not wish to vacate--has every interest in seeing the case through all the way to the Supreme Court. What should happen is this: When the lower court judge rules to evict the tenant, he should immediately have to vacate the premises and that should be the new status quo while he makes his appeal to the higher court. The same principle could easily be applied in other case areas. Otherwise, what is the point of having lower court judges at all? Once the loser lodges his appeal, the higher court judges need to be more circumspect and dismiss more appeals on lack of grounds, which is surely the case in many matters.

(2) Penalize lawyers / litigants for delaying cases.

If a guy turns up in court and says, Sorry your lordship, my lawyer can't show up today because he has a toothache, today most judges give him some harsh words and set another date for the case--maybe a year or two down the road. The same goes for lawyers who come in with dubious excuses for why they need more time to develop their arguments. Judges must be instructed to be more severe in dealing with this kind of nonsense: All a judge needs to do, and I believe this is the practice in America and elsewhere, is tell the counsel seeking the delay that it will not be granted and if he's not ready that's his own damn fault. As an advocate in the studio audience last week wisely pointed out, the lawyers are already accountable to their clients, who will fire them if they're not competent enough to prepare their cases in time for the court date. Of course there are reasonable grounds for delay, but there is NO REASON why delays have to be granted all the time on the flimsiest of arguments. If the litgant gets screwed because he has hired an incompetent lawyer, that is not the concern of the court. No judge makes that a consideration when he sees in front of him a nationally renowned, high-priced advocate for one side and a bumbling, 100 rupee-a-day guy from outside Patiala House representing the other.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

simbly delicious

OK folks, here's the dope on SIMBLY SOUTH--it's excellent and cheap. Located about 500 meters from the main gate of Deshbandhu College on the main Kalkaji Rd. (H 3B Kalkaji). The menu features veg. and non-veg. items from Kerala, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. So far we've tried various veg. Kerala dishes -- including avial, cabbage thoren, olan etc. -- and they were both authentic and delicious.

Like most Delhi dives, the joint delivers, but despite being called a "hole in the wall" by one of the weeklies, it actually has a nice, clean diner-like interior and is far from a dhaba. Staff is polite and efficient. Southies, of course!

Can't wait to try the chettinad prawns and Kerala-style biryani. Great addition to the CR Park / GK II / Nehru Place environs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ahead of the pack

South Korean firms have invested smartly in India, targeting its middle class and export-platform potential.

By Jason Overdorf and George Wehrfritz
Newsweek International

Sept. 19, 2005 issue - In one whopping megadeal, South Korea has become the largest foreign investor in Asia's second emerging giant, India. On Aug. 31, Korean steelmaker Posco established a local subsidiary in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, paving the way for a controversial mill and mining complex that will cost the world's fifth largest steelmaker $12 billion and employ some 40,000 workers once it's fully operational in 2010. The behemoth dwarfs India's previous foreign-investment centerpiece, a $3 billion power plant launched by Enron in 1993. Yet even before shovels hit soil, Posco's arrival has triggered an outcry among anti-globalization activists and opposition politicians, who see a scheme to snatch, then export, Orissa's vast iron-ore reserves.

Their clamor—and the global buzz over China's emergence as an economic superpower—mask a deeply significant trend in Asian business: Korea Inc.'s rise to prominence on the Indian Subcontinent. By the numbers, Korea now tops the list of countries investing in India since New Delhi launched economic reforms back in 1991—at more than $14 billion. South Korean firms like Hyundai, LG and SK Group have carved out a notable presence in the country—the world's second largest and a potentially huge market for products like refrigerators, washing machines and television sets.

In just a few years, South Korean brand appeal has eclipsed Japanese rivals like Sony and Honda, and even the nation's biggest cricket stars have become known as Team Samsung, thanks to a successful sponsorship campaign. "South Korean firms have become household names in India," says Rakesh Shukla, an economist at the National Council for Applied Economic —Research in New Delhi. "[And] India has become an investment hot spot for the South Korean companies."

Confucian Korea, multiethnic India: it's not, on the surface, a natural match. Why the pairing works is a study in global commerce that offers lessons that non-Korean investors have already begun to heed. Though their strategies differ in nuance, each of Korea's chaebol (conglomerates) follows the same general game plan in India: intensively research the market, hit the ground running and localize, localize, localize. Thus Hyundai developed a new car, the Santro, especially for the Indian market and achieved near-complete localization of its supply chain within its first year of production. They target specific markets, create new (sometimes, state-of-the-art) products to serve them and usually beat their competitors to the store shelves—the exact opposite of the one-size-fits-all strategy still common among other multinationals in India. "We learned to treat Indian consumers with far greater respect than, for instance, a Japanese company was going to do earlier," says B.V.R. Subbu, head of Hyundai's Indian autoworks. " 'Good enough for India' is the kind of approach they have had."

In bilateral terms, Seoul and New Delhi have become key economic partners. Korean ventures have helped to establish India's vast potential as an alternative to China—both as a market and as an export platform for products like cars and white goods. Korean businesses now pursue a two-pronged "China plus one," or "Chindia," strategy as a matter of course, partly to hedge against a currency shock, recession or political unrest in the Middle Kingdom. India is LG Electronics' No. 3 strategic market after the United States and China, for example. "Korean companies rely too much on China. India has a great potential to [help us] reduce that risk," says Park Bun Soon, a strategist at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul. "You can't put all your eggs in one basket."

Arguably, Korea Inc.'s best weapon in the battle for Indian market share could be empathy. Unlike Japanese, British or American rivals, Korea is a newcomer to the club of industrial powers. Just 40 years ago, in fact, it was written off as a "basket case" economy incapable of advancement, a tag sometimes still attached to India. Attuned to their own history, Koreans sensed a latent energy in India others initially missed. So rather than stake out small premium segments by catering to India's tiny elite (as Sony sought to do with its high prices and products designed in Japan), the chaebol set their sights on a vast—yet, by Seoul's standards, still poor—Indian middle class. "Korean companies gauged the potential of the country very differently," says Samsung India's deputy general manager Ravinder Zutshi.

One case study is LG Electronics. Since arriving in India in 1997, it has become the country's leading manufacturer of televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, microwave ovens and air conditioners. Last year LG's India sales hit $1.7 billion; its 2010 target is $10 billion. At its factories in Pune and Noida, all but about 20 of the 2,700 employees are Indians, and the company has introduced many India-specific product designs, including refrigerators with smaller freezers and power sources bolstered to handle voltage spikes. LG's Indian operation chief, Kim Kwang Ro, strives for "complete localization and product differentiation." Adds LG spokesman Park Hyung Il: "India is a country with diverse subcultures. You cannot succeed there without becoming a local company."

A new study by McKinsey Co. forecasts huge rewards for companies that target India's middle-income earners. Published last week, "Winning the Indian Consumer" projects $400 billion in demand by 2010, which would make India the fourth largest consumer-goods market in the world. Most growth, the report argues, will come in a category called "aspiring India," comprising 40 million middle-income households, "a geographically immense market of consumers —who demand high value at low prices." Korea Inc. reached the same conclusion in the late 1990s. The study singles out LG for creating a distribution system that begins with flagship stores in big cities "and encouraged local entrepreneurs to set up stores in smaller towns to serve sizable rural populations."

Even in marketing, localization is Korea Inc.'s recurring theme. All its top brands strive to identify themselves as "Indian-friendly" rather than "foreign and therefore better," as outsiders sometimes do to generate snob appeal in emerging markets. Korean brands want to be seen responding to the needs of Indians with a more humble attitude, so as not to offend national pride. And who would be better sensitized to the issue than flag-waving Koreans?

Hyundai motor india typifies Korea's strategy of conceiving products specifically for the Indian consumer market. Until Hyundai arrived in 1998, foreign automakers were selling recycled models; Toyota, for example, marketed a "new" van in India that had already been discontinued in Indonesia. Hyundai's goal was to challenge Maruti Udyog Ltd., the government of India's joint venture with Japanese rival Suzuki, which had so dominated the market that to many Indians, "Maruti" had become synonymous with "car." Worse, Hyundai's own research indicated that Indian consumers ranked Korea far below Germany, Japan, the United States and even Malaysia for its automaking prowess.

No matter: Hyundai Motor launched a full line of cars, from a small hatchback to a luxury sedan, and the new choices caught on with the public. Some of the models are identical to those sold in Seoul showrooms, but are made in India. Today, less than six years later, Hyundai is India's second largest automaker. In 2004 the company sold roughly 150,000 cars within India—a jump of 40 percent over the previous year. Rivals Ford, General Motors and Honda sold 25,000 to 30,000 cars each. "Both the Japanese and the Americans have taken much longer to understand the real depth of the Indian market and its real size," said Hyundai's Subbu, a career industry executive Hyundai poached from domestic car- and truckmaker Tata Motors to run its Indian subsidiary.

Perhaps more important, Hyundai last year became India's largest auto exporter, selling about 75,000 passenger cars to Europe, Africa, Mexico and other countries. Rivals like Toyota and Honda instead bet on Thailand, which is now recognized as a less promising market, and less promising export platform. The reasons for the latter are complex; among them, Southeast Asia's free-trade zone has been painfully slow to materialize, and the region doesn't have the strong engineering tradition India does. Also, China and India are simply growing faster than Southeast Asia, and rapidly eclipsing it in terms of export competitiveness.

Korean firms have shown that India is extremely competitive in high-end manufacturing. Subbu has said that the quality of workmanship in India is as good or better than in Korea. In China, where most of the auto plants are joint ventures, technology theft is a constant fear. That's not a worry in India, because Hyundai owns the whole show. In contrast to other foreign automakers, Hyundai has localized production aggressively, a major cost-saving strategy. "The Koreans had zero name recognition, so they had no delusions about trying to get premium prices," says Saumitra Chaudhuri, an economic adviser at the credit-ratings agency ICRA Ltd. They realized that "Indian customers are more price-conscious and willing to experiment with newer products if the price is right."

Posco could take Korea Inc.'s success to another level. If India's manufacturing sector meets robust growth forecasts—and the company can sidestep nationalist critics—Posco's Orissa facility will open just in time to meet a surge in demand for steel. Today, India consumes just 30 kilograms of steel per capita each year, a mere eighth of China's annual intake. Its biggest customers are expected to be Korean auto- and white-goods makers in India.

Importantly, Korean companies have helped India gain self-confidence as a manufacturing nation and an exporter with the potential to rival China in certain industrial sectors. That confidence, in turn, puts new pressures on New Delhi to streamline foreign direct investment and open the door for more multinationals. This virtuous cycle has the potential to erode India's reputation for inefficiency, protected markets and red tape.

Though many would deny it, multi-nationals from Japan, Europe and the United States are cribbing from the Korean success story. After failing with the Escort, Ford swiftly developed a car especially for the Indian market, and has begun exporting it to several other countries. Maruti is embracing hipper designs. Sony has slashed its prices to get back in the game against Samsung and LG. Yet for now, at least, Korea Inc. is where it wants to be on the Subcontinent: firmly ahead of the pack.

With B. J. Lee in Seoul and Sumeet Chatterjee in Mumbai
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

what's the address? appendix a

Turns out that with a little digging, I was able to find the telephone number of Simbly South, Kalkaji, from the Gurgaon-based restaurant of the same name. If you're interested in the Onam celebration, call them at 2621-7879 for directions. Also see codey's comment to my previous post for details about eating at Kerala House, which will also have a special Onam meal.

Monday, September 12, 2005

damnit, what's the address?

I am a big admirer of the Indian press. Whatever the cocktail party circuit has to say about the tragic demise of the Times of India--"Oh my god, the Delhi Times is so vacuous, so devoid of journalistic integrity, that I pull it out of the main paper and read it first thing"--India's journos still believe in ferreting out malfeasance, running a good sting, raking a politician over the coals.

But the entertainment coverage could stand a little improvement.

First off, the TV guides. Is there any newspaper that actually lists what all the channels are showing, from say 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.? I'm not asking for 24 hour vigilance. But I would like to know what's out there. We get three papers--full disclosure: sometimes I think we only get them all so we can cross-reference the TV guides and the restaurant reviews--and still there are gaps. The Express will forget to include HBO's evening lineup. The Asian Age (consistently) will misreport what will be shown. The Hindustan Times will decide that certain channels, for undisclosed reasons, are not worth bothering about. Damnit, there isn't that much to do in Delhi--this is a cry for help--let me at least enjoy TV, even if ESPN insists on showing American football at 2:30 a.m. and repeats of India-Bangladesh cricket from the 1970s during waking hours.

Another thing, the event guides. GIVE US THE ADDRESS. OR AT LEAST THE NAME OF THE PLACES YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. In the past week, I've read a piece about the state houses of various Indian states that supposedly offer their traditional cuisine to the public through their canteens, an article about a cool-sounding (and cheap) Korean restaurant and two blurbs about a restaurant in Kalkaji that will have a special thali for Onam. I want to go to all these places, but I can't because NONE of the articles gave the addresses or phone numbers. Worse, neither the Korean restaurant nor several of the statehouse canteens were even named. That means even if I had an improbable and irrational faith in directory assistance--which hangs up on me nine times out of ten and gives me the wrong number the other one time out of ten--I wouldn't even be able to go through the pain and suffering of trying to find the joints through enquiry.

Can anyone explain this shortcoming? Is it simply that nobody cares? Is it a drunken subeditor, saving space by cutting out the name of the restaurant that is being reviewed?

And another thing: Where is the inexpensive, authentic Korean restaurant in Haus Khas that is frequented by the Korean expat community? Where is Simbly South in Kalkaji? Which state houses, besides Andhra Bhavan, open their canteens to the public, and what are their addresses? Where is the Ethiopian restaurant in the neighborhood of Habitat Centre? OK, that was several things.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

the detective novel in the internet age

So far, I have to say that the Internet has not been good for the detective novel. In the good old days, sleuths rarely slouched into libraries, and when they did, their creators never gave us the blow by blow of their research:

Nero Wolf inquired of the librarian where the card catalogue was located and opened the drawer labeled R-S. Leafing through the cards, he found Solomon. The library had 163 books on Solomon the king, but only 154 of them were nonfiction....

Suddenly, though, with the advent of the Internet, every author with a laptop has to send his protagonist to Google, as though she'd been paid a fat commission to tutor the uninitiated in the science of the search string. Leave off, I say, with this tedium. Sure, use the Internet if you want, but dispense with the needless pagination. Just have the Dick go on the Internet and find what he wants in a sentence:

"Nero Wolf looked up Solomon on the Internet and discovered there was a King Solomon book club in the same neighborhood where the victim was murdured." Or whatever.

The only thing worse than Internet searches in books is Internet searches--or worse, hacking--in movies. Could ANYONE sit through Hugh Jackman trying to hack into government computers in Swordfish? I thought this would have lost its appeal way back in the 1980s, when Wargames was the first movie to fail to dramatize a hack by pretending it was like an arcade game.

News flash: Watching someone play an arcade game is not even an iota more interesting than watching him trying to hack the Pentagon.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

hello? espn? meet amir khan

I don't know why nobody shows boxing matches in India--especially since ESPN apparently spends half its time whining that it lost the rights to Indian cricket and the other half trying to figure out something that will get better rating than so-called professional wrestling--but here's an introduction to a guy who could pump up those viewer numbers, for a few years, anyway, while he's being groomed for a title shot. ESPN, meet Amir Khan. I know, I know, the promoters actually want MONEY to show boxing overseas. Tell 'em that it's a choice of some money--admittedly, not too much--or no money. Nobody else is going to give them a dime to broadcast their fight in India, so why the hell not? And since the match will take place in the middle of the night, India time, what will you be putting it up against but repeats of England-Bangladesh cricket matches of the 1980s? (Which brings me to another bone of contention, you bastards: Why do you put the Live logo on everything? Do you mean the players are still Alive? Do you mean the guys who turned on the tape in the studio are Live? And why, oh why, do you opt to play tapes when there are actually real Live sports going on simultaneously to which you own the rights?)

Interview: Amir Khan

Donald McRae
Monday August 29, 2005
The Guardian

A year ago today, on the last day of the Olympic Games in Athens, a sweet-faced 17-year-old boy from Bolton stepped into the ring to face a hardened 33-year-old Cuban fighter hailed as the world's greatest amateur boxer for more than a decade. Amir Khan had arrived in Greece two weeks earlier as a virtual unknown - a shy student from Bolton Community College who liked go-karting and playing football. He lived at home, still accepted a soft cuff round the head from his mum for not tidying his room and made it up to her by smiling like Bambi whenever he offered to walk down to the local shops to buy a pint of milk.

Mario Kindelan, meanwhile, came to Athens as the reigning world and two-time Olympic lightweight champion, his formidable amateur record after 340 fights burnished by the fact that many of his previously outclassed victims, like Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto, had gone on to become celebrated professionals. His victory over Khan in a third successful Olympic final was meant to be a brutal formality.

Khan, instead, pushed Kindelan close, stalking the Cuban with fluid intent. He then accepted his 30-22 defeat with a grace and dignity which seemed all the more striking at the end of a week in which another British teenage prodigy, Wayne Rooney, had been smeared all over the tabloids after visiting a brothel in Liverpool. Most of the eight million British television viewers who watched Khan receive his silver medal that afternoon were captivated.

"It happened so quick and it's gone totally mad since then," Khan says now, shaking his head at the thought that, after the recent attacks on London, normally sober writers have described him as "a standard-bearer among the Muslim community in combating terrorism" and "the single most important role model for a multinational British society". Khan laughs softly as, in a small office above a mini-cab firm in downtown Bolton, he tries to explain how much his life has changed in a year.

While he is reassuringly blasé when revealing that he has met the "down-to-earth" Queen three times and a "fairly normal" Tony Blair twice, Khan is more touching in describing the personal way in which fame has changed his life. "I keep telling myself that I'm still only 18 - even if most of the time I tend to act like I'm 25 or someone old like that. I haven't been able to go down to the shops for my mum for a long time. I tried it after Athens and people went mad. At first they would say 'you look just like Amir Khan' and I'd say 'you're the second person to tell me that today'. But then I started getting mobbed and it would take a couple of hours to get to and from the shops.

"But I'll tell you the weirdest thing. I keep getting everything for free. I'd rather be normal and pay my own way. If I go out for a meal with a few friends it can get embarrassing. When it's time for the bill the owner will come over and say it's on the house. I try to get them to take my money but it's their way of showing respect or admiration. I understand but I'm telling you it's not as good as it sounds.

"A lot of things have changed around me and that's why it can be quite hard. It makes me feel I've lost a lot of my youth. I came back from the Olympic Games and straightaway I'm this role model. So that means I can't mess around with my mates like I used to because, if I do, people are going to use it to knock me down. It used to piss me off but now I'm used to it."

His professional debut last month - a first-round demolition of a journeyman called David Bailey - was dominated by the decision to play Land of Hope and Glory during Khan's walk to the ring and his subsequent raising of a union flag in which the word "London" had been stitched in black. For an 18-year-old weighed down by his new social significance it seemed an unnecessary burden - and led to accusations that Khan might have been pressured into making a portentous statement.

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Khan insists that "it was down to me. Like everyone I was upset about the London bombings . . . but, you know, I'm only 18 and I don't really want to be a spokesman for anyone. It might sound selfish but I'm learning now to say no to people. I have to put myself first and think of the boxing rather than the rest of it."

His eyes widen and glitter as he remembers the 109-second fight more vividly than the surrounding political metaphors. "I was excited and nervous but as soon as the bell rang it went quiet in my head. It was just me and him. I knew it was going to be easy as soon as I saw him charging at me. That made me totally relaxed and he just fell on to my shots. I blew him away."

A far more telling measure of Khan's undoubted potential had emerged in his previous bout in May, his last as an amateur, when he gained imperious revenge over Kindelan. In dominating the Cuban, who claimed to be determined to win the final fight of his majestic career, Khan proved that his exceptional talent is allied to a steely nerve and sharp intelligence.

"In Athens I faced so many completely different boxers that I couldn't get my head focused on Kindelan and his style until just before the final. But this time it was just like a professional fight. I studied Kindelan so closely that by the time we got into the ring I reckon I knew before him what he was going to do next. And then I'd hit him - bam! Bam-bam!"

He leans across the small table separating us and gently hammers his fist against the wooden surface. "I was actually surprised by how easy it was and that gave me a lot of confidence because Kindelan is a lot better than most pros. After the fight I spent some time with him in Cuba and that was special. I met the other Cuban legends like [Teofilo] Stevenson and [Felix] Savon, and they told me how much it hurt Kindelan to lose his last fight. But he was so respectful to me that I was inspired by him and the whole Cuban boxing history."

Khan's unbridled passion for the ring is more intriguing than liberal attempts to sanctify him in modern Britain. It also helps explain why such a charming and engaging 18-year-old is able to bring such dark spite to his work between the ropes.

"You need that kind of pleasure as a fighter. You have to like what you actually do in the ring. That's why in the pro game I look up to the Mexicans. Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales are the guys I want to base myself on. They fight with their whole heart and with such work-rate. They just don't stop punching. I want to be like that - never boring."

When asked to pick his favourite between two fighters who have shared three thrilling but excruciating battles - with two wins for Barrera, "The Baby-Faced Assassin", shading the lone victory of Morales or "El Terrible", as the hollow-eyed super-featherweight from Tijuana tags himself - Khan leans forward. His voice sounds husky. "Morales is my guy. I've always loved him as a fighter. I hope to meet him one day - just to shake his hand."

It is, crucially, not lost on Khan that Naseem Hamed was finally ruined by Barrera - even if his demise had begun years earlier. "It's definitely a lesson for me. Naseem was my hero for a long time and at his peak he was brilliant. If he had fought Barrera four years before I think Naseem would have beaten him. But the money got to him, and the hype, and I think he stopped putting the work in. The Mexicans are different; they never stop working."

Khan remembers how, in the early hours of a Sunday morning in April 2001, "at my mate's house in Bolton we sat up all night waiting for Naseem to fight Barrera. I felt I should support Naz but he had no chance against Barrera that night. Barrera left Naseem hurt and confused. It explained again why the Mexican way - fighting hard, staying hungry - is such a big thing."

Like Hamed, Khan imagines becoming a "legend" and retiring undefeated from boxing at the age of 25. He is too young to accept, when it is pointed out to him, that every fighter professes the same noble aim but that none, beyond Rocky Marciano, has managed to walk away unblemished. The ring is too dangerously addictive. Yet as long as Khan remains in thrall to Morales and Barrera, rather than the bloated shell of Hamed, he could forge a remarkable career.

He may eventually shatter prejudice or even spread more unity in a splintered society but for now it seems enough that Khan lights up when talking about Bolton Wanderers or Freddie Flintoff. He and Flintoff often train alongside each other in the same Salford gym: "Freddie's real strong and I reckon he'd have made some boxer. But I'm happy he chose cricket because I can't get enough of the Ashes. I've been racing home after training every day to see us against the Aussies. It's been brilliant."

Flintoff has been invited to be Khan's special guest a week on Saturday when the young lightweight fights on a Joe Calzaghe undercard in Cardiff. In the midst of the deciding Test at The Oval Flintoff will presumably be able to watch another fast win for his Lancashire ally only on ITV - as Khan should easily dismantle the 34-year-old Baz Carey from Coventry.

Far greater tests await Khan, if not Flintoff, and it as almost as significant as his Mexican fervour that he has picked out his own future rival. "I always said as an amateur that I'd want to one day fight and beat Kindelan because he was the best out there. Same thing in the pros. I look out there and I see that Floyd Mayweather stands head and shoulders above everyone else. He's another fighter I would like to base myself on because he's got incredible fast hands and feet. He's flashy but, man, is he good."

The idea of Khan one day fighting Mayweather - a vicious and brash unbeaten 28-year-old American light-welterweight who calls himself "Pretty Boy" - may be a Hamed-like invitation to hubris. Yet, staring across the table at a young fighter flaming with wild hope and grand dreams of his own, I hear myself asking Khan how long he realistically believes he needs before he might be ready to face a consummate boxer like Mayweather.

The reply is fast and certain. "Three and a half years . . ."

I raise a brow at the speed and seeming exactitude of his ambition. "Well, maybe four years," Khan finally says, with a grin. "As long as I don't allow myself to get distracted I think that's possible. If I keep focused like Morales or Barrera then I can do it. Why not?"

In the meantime Khan will continue living at home with his parents, two sisters and young brother Haroon - a 14-year-old bantamweight. "Haroon is already a Four Nation and British champion and he thinks he's going to be better than me. We spar a lot and sometimes, even though he weighs only 6½ stone, he can hurt me. I give him one back then - just to let him know who's boss."

The older brother smiles knowingly, sounding suitably mature, just as he does when recognising his own youthfulness in his very next breath.

"Y'know, I don't want to move out of home for a few more years. I don't want to be opening envelopes, reading bills, posting cheques. That's too much pressure for an 18-year-old. I've got enough on my plate at the moment. All that other boring stuff will come soon enough. Until then I just want to chill out - and fight."