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


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


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.,17863,1106847,00.html

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