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.