Friday, July 04, 2014

Life’s lessons from people around us……



 

On a day when Indira Nooyi, head of Pepsi, was in the news with her frank comments on women and career (though it's not the first time she said this), I was thinking of many unsung heroes that we see every day. We not only ignore them but also miss out on opportunities to learn from them. Couple of incidents come to my memory. A friend was admitted in a state-run hospital recently, and the patient next to him was a frail looking mother of four children. She has been in hospital for more than three months. She was so weak that someone has to help her to do the basic stuff. My friend was saying the couple from Bihar were probably from a very poor background, "The way the husband took care of his wife was amazing. He fed her with great patience, and took care of her needs. Probably my mom would have taken care of me like that."
Pretty much sure the family would have slipped back into poverty with this illness though the treatment in a state-run hospital is almost free with negligible fees (Rs 375 (around $ 7) for 10 days. It's also a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country, where a poor has to travel 1,000 kilometers to get treated in a better hospital.
The second example is of my friend who take care of his terminally ill dad. My friend had few other siblings and was clearly under-achiever in terms of job or money earned. But of all the siblings, my friend shifted his job from a metro to a small city with a lower pay, and made every effort to get his dad treated even when doctors said there is no hope. At home, he would do everything for his dad, who was not able to move.
We glorify and applaud whatever the successful say, and there is nothing wrong in that. However, there are vital life lessons that one can learn from the least successful amongst us who sacrifice immensely to shower their love to people around them.
In my book, the poor husband from Bihar and my friend who took care of his terminally ill dad occupy a pride of place. I am sure, in fact more than 100% confident, that when my friend's dad passed away he would have been a happy man to see one of his siblings reciprocating his unconditional love even though he couldn't talk or express otherwise.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With no choice and voice….



 

Last Sunday I took a friend of mine to the emergency gynecology ward in one of Delhi's private mission hospitals. It was a lean day with not much of activity and I was chatting with my friend's husband, it was then I noticed a pregnant women walking in along with two of her relations. They have been referred to this hospital by the nearby government hospital as the private hospital would take better care of her. The reason: the estimated weight of the baby she was carrying was grossly under-weight, measuring only 1.2 kgs even after nine months of pregnancy. She was in great discomfort as her membrane broke, and sat next to me in a wooden bench.
In the meantime, I saw a lady doctor talking angrily out of frustration with relations of this pregnant lady, including her husband. With little knowledge of Hindi, I couldn't follow the conversation. Another friend had come by this time, and also a senior doctor was summoned by the lady doctor who first talked to pregnant lady's relations. The doctor was saying they have to do C-section, and they have to keep the baby in the ventilator post-operation because of complications they have detected.
The relations, who to me seem like a middle-class family, just refused to accept this. They didn't want to sign the admission form and was arguing with doctors not to keep the baby in the ventilator. From the time the pregnant lady arrived, this went for more than half-an-hour. The lady in pain was not even asked or consulted, and was looking at her husband and two relations helplessly. And suddenly they all decided not to admit her and took the pregnant lady away. The doctors were taken aback but not surprised like I was, probably they see such cases more.
Then on Sunday night as my friend was admitted in hospital, a lady got admitted well past 10 PM. This lady just delivered a baby three weeks back via C-section, and the stiches gave up and it has become a wound. According to this lady, as narrated to my friend, her in-laws refused to take her to the hospital and didn't allow her to make phone calls to her parents. But somehow she made the call and her parents brought her to the hospital. Apparently her parents have to plead with her in laws for doing this.
If this is happening in an urban centre like Delhi, one can imagine the plight of the women in rural areas. The common theme in these two incidents: the women in question are not consulted and they remained a spectator. I only pray that the pregnant lady delivered safely and her baby is looked after well. I was wondering had these been financially independent, would they have been subjected to such treatment. Probably yes, and knowing the way our society works for many of these women, it still may not be enough.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Be a democrat in US, but root for BJP in India



 

Before I say anything I would like to disclose my knowledge of political affairs in India. I had lot of assumptions and predictions for this just concluded elections, and none of them came true. So I am not going to talk politics and waste time. But this election season reminded me of a funny incident when I was a student in Arizona State University (ASU) in 2004.
As a thumb rule, I discuss politics only with close friends. So my flat mates in Phoenix had no idea about my political likes and dislikes. So on the day when BJP lost the elections, one of my flat mates – who used to hate George Bush and an active supporter of Democrats – saw me in that morning, and said, "What John, people have done this" in a disappointed tone.
He saw no contradiction whatsoever in supporting democrats in US and at the same time supporting BJP in India. It was after that I started noticing Indian students in US, and people who got their jobs in US recently, most of them exhibited this kind of duality.
Later, I was discussing this with a sociologist professor (who teaches in a US university), he told me these students over time when they acquire wealth, they might shift their allegiance to Republicans. I have no data to prove my assertion of duality of newly arrived Indians in US or what my sociologist friend was saying.
Probably ideology doesn't matter, support any party which is favourable to them.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

See oneself in some other’s shoes


Seven or eight years back, while waiting for a pointless editorial meeting to begin, a colleague of mine narrated a horror story of how his family had to literally run away in a single day from their ancestral property in Kashmir. Even now, they haven't returned and their house is occupied by people whom were not given permission and they don't pay any rent. Until then, this event in Kashmir was a fact that resided in my mind, but when I heard it from my former colleague, I put myself in his shoes and truly felt the anguish his family would have felt.
In the last three or four months, I have taken the opportunity of reading and watching stuff related to 1984 anti-Sikh riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Reading many of the first person accounts made me shudder that the slaughter happened at the very city where I am living right now (1984 riots). Friends and neighbors turned into butchers, and strangers protected families. In both these riots- based on eyewitness accounts as narrated in books/ newspaper reports/ police reports- there are a lot of commonality. First, it was certainly not a spontaneous response. For example, in Delhi when Sikh houses were being burnt, survivors narrate how fuel was arranged systematically. Imagine if anyone decides to burn 10 houses, it's not an easy task to find enough fuel. Second, police turned a blind eye- refusing to take action. There was a delay in recording statements, and in many cases, cases were not recorded. Third, the victims' families have never got the sense of justice to what they gone through. 442 convictions in 1984 riots where nearly 8,000 Sikhs were killed. No top level leaders who were seen as main organisers of the riots are convicted.
This general election has brought out so much hatred. Comments that are clearly divisive, often by Indians living abroad who among them many claim to care more about India than people living in India, and are often laced with half-truths. Such abusive behaviour, I feel, is laying the foundation for future riots. I wish these people take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of people who are affected by violence, and see the vanity of what they are talking.
Amartya Sen in his book "Identity and violence", says the problem is because people identify others with just one identity. In most cases, it is religion. To them, all Muslims are like that or all South Indians behave like that. As a civilization, we need to embrace the varied identities one have (for example, I am an Indian, also a Tamilian, Christian by birth and faith, former Journalist, economist by training, badminton player, father of a 20-month son, data lover, news junkie, likes rock music, and many more). In my life, I find I have more common things with people who love data/ journalists than people from my church. I wish people may see the wonderful diversity we have in a country like India.
And more importantly, I hope people would learn from past violence that have taken away so many lives due to riots, and embrace diversity!

Monday, October 28, 2013

SUBURBS AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

 
Had a chance to visit three cities in Texas in eight days, so my observations in all probability be superficial but nevertheless it's useful to highlight some of the things I observed. 

Design of cities - in all the three cities - Austin, Houston and Dallas - the broad design of city is a concentrated downtown where all official and commercial establishment are located and residential places are spread out miles apart. The suburbs are connected via wide road networks that transport people mainly via car, usually just one occupant. Austin is trying to develop residential accommodation in downtown though. This is accompanied by near complete lack of public transport. 

For example I was staying at my friend's place in a Houston suburb, and I had to travel 5.9 miles to catch the only available bus from that place to downtown. Though people talked about traffic jam but I generally found that travel time is less than a minute a mile. My friend in Dallas picked me from Dallas downtown to his house in 35 minutes and the distance travelled was 29 miles if I am not wrong. 

In contrast it takes not less than 45 minutes to travel 24 kilometers from my flat in Delhi to Gurgaon. Often it takes more than an hour. A huge productivity loss. Imagine developing an efficient public transport system (end-to-end) so that people could travel a kilometer in less than a minute. I could save at least 60 minutes if i am commuting from Delhi and Gurgaon on a daily basis. And if million trips are made in the National capital region (NCR) then it's half million hours of time saved each day or increase in productivity. This would result in higher output, and more importantly make transport more accessible to all people. 

Only by making investments in developing infrastructure that will increase productivity of people, a long lasting impact on growth of the economy can be achieved. Of course, the best option is to have houses right next to commercial establishment. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

News in numbers - August 6

7,000
Forward Markets Commission (FMC), India's commodities regulator, asked the National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) to settle first the dues of 7,000 small investors who have outstanding of less than Rs 10 lakh each. NSEL was engulfed in a payment crisis last week as government asked the exchange not to offer forward contracts for which it did not have permission. This article raises important questions: the settlement guarantee fund (SGF) shrunk from Rs 839 crore on last Friday to Rs 60 crore on Monday. NSEL showed margin money from brokers as SGF, when it should be "should be carved out of brokers' initial deposit, profit, fines and initial capital." Another key question is whether there is enough underlying commodities to meet Rs 5,500 crore outstanding payment. 

51 months
Incoming work for India's services sector, which account for more than half of India's GDP, contracted for the first time in 51 months even as the overall Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI)- which measures services sector output- fell below 50 in July this year. A measure below means contraction. Despite this, managers have expressed optimism for growth prospects over the next 12 months

8 daysToyota has decided to stop production for eight days in a month since last quarter to match its output with slowing sales. The company joins a long list of other manufacturers who too are facing low demand as customers are postponing purchase because of high finance cost or are preferring to buy few new models launched this year. As compared to capacity of 310,000 units, Toyota sold 190,000 units in April- March 2013 and this financial year's sales will be even lower than this. 

Rs 50 per kilo
A kilo of onion is now retailing at Rs 50 per kilogram in Delhi, just few months before state elections. Many reasons are being cited: higher exports to Pakistan, heavy rains in neighbouring states destroying the crop, and farmers taking up other crops this year. Fresh stocks are expected to arrive later this month and it might help bring down the prices. High onion prices is cited as one of the reasons why BJP lost the Delhi elections in 1998, since then the Congress party has won successive elections. 

275,000
That's the number of people who avail free medicines and basic diagnostics provided by the Rajasthan Medical Services Corporation (RMSC) each day. The implementation of this scheme has helped Rajasthan reduce poverty level by 10 percentage points between 2009-10 and 2011-12. 2.1 million people used to be pushed into poverty each year because of higher medical cost before this scheme was announced. 


Saturday, August 03, 2013

News in numbers - August 2

Rs5,500 crore
That's the amount of outstanding contracts which are not fulfilled in the National Spot Exchange (NSEL)- which suspended trading in many commodity contracts disapproved by the government. The payment crisis brought back memories of similar event at Calcutta Stock Exchange in 2001. The core of the problem is that a spot exchange was not supposed to sell forward contracts, but NSEL was selling 21-day contracts, which were not approved by the government. The fear now is there are no underlying commodities to support the forward contracts. The shares of Financial Technologies Ltd and MCX Ltd- the two promoter group entities- fell more than 20% on Friday. On Thursday, the shares of FTIL fell by 64%. 

Rs72,000 croreCentral government along with four northern states (Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh) have formed a National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) which will built 381 kilometer long high-speed transport corridor that will connect three satellite towns- Alwar, Merrut and Panipat- with Delhi at an estimated cost of Rs 72,000 crore. The four states and centre have agreed to finish the project in five years time once the land is acquired. 

15 million homes
A survey has estimated demand of 15 million homes at a price range of Rs 4 lakh to Rs 10 lakh for people earning Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 per month. This works to Rs 9 lakh crore opportunity for real estate developers and Rs 7 lakh crore worth of business for home finance firms. 

1
Indian government has made only one removal request with Twitter in the six months ended June 2013. Twitter received a total of 60 requests, with Russia leading the race with 17 requests. India also requested less than 10 user information requests in the first half out of 1,157 request from all over the world. 

Rs 4That's the price at which M & B Switchgears Ltd is selling solar power per unit to bulk customers directly, breaking the conventional wisdom that solar power is costly than power sourced from thermal or gas powered power plants. At this rate, it is 20% cheaper that what the local power utility charges customers. A tax provision of accelerated depreciation benefit is making investment of Rs 7.5 crore per MW attractive for entrepreneurs.