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Ironic indeed! The media picked up the most inconsequential aspects of THiNK2012

I was struck, the umpteeenth time, by how narrow minded the media is. They didn’t really think at the Thinkfest. They just picked controversial lines and twisted them into captions and entire stories, devoid of sense and context.

Easily one of the most impactful speakers and perhaps the most evolved was Irish rockstar and political activist Bob Geldof. He is best known for his charity supergroup Band Aid that has worked to eradicate poverty in Africa. Band Aid’s Do they know it’s Christmas was inspiration for We are the World,  the 1985 hit song writeen by Michael Kackson and Lionel Richie that brought the best in rock and pop together under the banner USA for Africa.

Bob was very very rock-star like with a very British sort of wry humor and his interview was a powerhouse of ideas that could impact the most cynical individuals. He spoke so eloquently about the power of charity, about the right of a father to bring up his children, about deprivation and hard work, of family values and what entails a home. The press only picked his showman’s statement about Goa being the place where he got his drugs from. “My best drugs came from Goa” says Geldof screams The Times of India’s local edition in font size XXXXXL. Goa gave me my best drugs: Bob Geldof, are the headlines of the local paper, the Herald. Of course, Bob was unapologetic about what he said. He is a rockstar and he said these words before he started his rock and roll concert in complete jest, which was smashing for its quality of music as well as his superior showmanship! He also said crazy stuff like, “It feels like I’m playing at a wedding” when the audience pattered put pilot applause instead of hooting and screaming for more! In the end, he rocked the floor!

Typically, of three days and scores of speakers atThink2012, only the Bollywood types and the politicians were covered extensively by the media. They, both these categories of people, had nothing original to say whatsoever. And no one was surprised by that! So little do we expect from them. Reema Kagti was the only from from Bollywood with spark and Praful Patel astonished me (in not a very good way) with his honesty about how iffy politician’s ethics are, but save for these two blips on the radar, the celebs failed to impress. The real stars, the scientists, the social innovators, the out-of-the-box thinkers got sparing column space. Who cares of Steven Cowley is inventing a power source that will take the world out of the absolute misery of fighting for sources of energy? Who cares if one man, David Christian, has the pedagogic recipe called Big History to imbue future generatins with tolerance and inclusive thinking? And who cares if Ian Lipkin might have research that can stop diseases from spreading?

Clearly, these are puny issues. In comparison, SRK’s loneliness and Rishi Kapoor’s barely-there relationship with his father might truly impact the way we navigate our lives!

Maniacal media mongering is hurting India’s story more than falling output or policy deadlock- June 15, 2012

‘Is India’s Growth Story Over?’, says a Time headline. Other lesser publications have gone to town talking about the possibility of Indian being the first ‘fallen angel’ among the BRIC countries. Fallen angel? Seriously?

The panic mongers may have the last laugh (though I sincerely hope not!), but I find it really hard to palate this hyperbole. I find it laughable that an agency like Standard & Poor, which should aim for increased credibility, would resort to using flowery language like ‘fallen angel’! And just for that, I tend to believe they are also playing to the gallery in something that seems to have become a media and public relations game rather than a real assessment to inform investors.

Yes, certainly, India is facing a political deadlock and a sluggishness that is unfortunate. However, compared to the global climate, we are still a growing economy with plenty of potential. Unfortunately, for us Indians, our tendency is to not learn from downturns and shock. Rather, when India managed to brave a worldwide recession, instead of looking long and hard at where we could bolster ourselves for the future as global economies kept sliding, we spent a lot of time patting our own backs and ridiculing the West for not having sufficient safeguards in place.

Well, what we are facing now is the fallout of that sort of complacence. We also excel at riding high and long on small wins. Public perception in India of India can change from day to day, and I mainly refer to that when I say ‘we’ (I genuinely believe policymakers and entities like the RBI are quite level headed in their decisions). Foreign investors on the other hand, have had issues with India for a very long time. The policy issues, corruption and red tape have long inhibited investors and will continue to do so, irrespective of ratings.

Interestingly, stats show that absolute  investment was highest in 2008-09 (at US$ 41,874 million) and dips by about 10-13% in the following two years. This year, from April 2011 to Jan 2012, US$ 38,346 million have come in as FDI as per provisional estimates by the DIPP.

I am genuinely concerned about S&P’s statements because they seem very alarmist. I am more concerned about Indian media houses presenting the S&P point of view as larger than life and giving relatively less space to the defence by the government, which is also very balanced in its own right. In this respect, I found the following but from the Time article very reassuring. From my limited (very) perspective, I tend to agree.

According to Rajesh Chakrabarti, assistant professor of finance at the Indian School of Business, the possibility of a downgrade by S&P is not surprising, since the India brand has been taking a hit on many fronts for the past several months. However, he is not convinced by the reasoning offered by the agency. “While there is indeed a slowdown on policy initiatives and growth has slowed down, the fact that a country [could lose] its rating because some of the anticipated things did not happen is a rather strange argument. Normally, a downgrade would happen because of adverse events rather than non-happening of positive events.” He adds that growth slowing down per se is not a risk factor. “While [slower growth] may reduce the prospects of future gains, it does not make the country more risky.”

I am deeply disturbed by media that thrives on creating panic. Do they not understand that the domino effect of panic and dejection alone can cost our economy billions? We can still look at a realistic growth estimate of 6% this financial year, far better than EU’s 2011 growth rate of 1.6% and United States 1.5% and even South Africa’s 3.4% (they were recently added to to the BRICS). If anything, educated, middle class Indians should push for better governance at local level and campaign relentlessly for reforms. Occupy movements should be about think

Even so, if S&P’s maniacal statements push reforms through, I’ll take back my whining!

Kahaani laaparwaahi ki: A delightful visual tryst with Kolkata and it’s filthy end! March 11, 2012

As I watched the superbly skilled Vidya Balan in ‘Kahaani’ tonight (film highly recommended), I could not stop admiring the way Sujoy Ghosh has romanced Kolkata in the film. Portrayed in a suitably old world tint, every frame captured the worst of Kolkata and converted it into an endearing visual. Poverty, entangled wires, hand riksha pullers, the jerky motion of the tram, the roadside tea stalls, the winding alleys, the decaying buildings, the traffic and ceaseless mass of humanity. Faces creased with worry, faces that smiled, faces that wore indescribably expressions. I wanted to go there immediately and lose myself in this great city, all by myself, with a sketchpad and camera. Kolkata has been hitting me for the past few months through books, articles and visits by friends and family; it’s beckoning for sure!

Mind still filled with images of lovely Kolkata, what a shock it was for us to step out of the exit into a stairwell that had a ceiling not even 6 feet high! As we walked down the exit stairs, we were met with the most extraordinary amount of filth and litter. One landing had rotting vegetables, presumably supplies that the banquet hall on that floor hadn’t consumed for the wedding dinner they were hosting. Another landing had piles of rubbish. Another had spit stains, yet another had used, discarded plates with wasted food spilling out, another had mattresses piled in it! The stairway was barely lit (anyone could have slipped and fallen), the exits back into the mall were locked, so no one could leave the smelly stairwell even if they wanted to.

Nearing the end of this horrendous journey, I started to take pictures; believe me, these tell only a small bit of the tale (i was unable to go against the flow of traffic to capture the real gems!). Perhaps the romantic street scenes of Kolkata, when met in the flesh, may not seem so beautiful, I realized, as I filled with rage at the irresponsibility of SRS Cinema and Omaxe (this was in the Omaxe Celebration Mall on Sohna Road, Gurgaon). How could they let an entire movie hall full of audiences, who paid hard earned money for tickets to be subjected to such a humiliating experience. The least I could do was document this and here are the pictures to tell the story.






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