How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Name:
Location: India

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Rapidfire

The end-term exams began today, and barring one holiday in between, I have 7 exams in 4 days. In a way, of course, it will be good to get it over with quickly, but in terms of preparation, it's a race against time. Yet again, the exam has gotten off to a false start for me, in terms of the Commercial Bank Mgmt. paper today, in which 15 marks (out of 60) is my Value at Risk :), and 20 or more is the potential Extreme Loss. Frankly, I was not happy with some of the questions asked, a common feeling today for many. I had simply not prepared for something I thought was not supposed to be asked in an exam. The next two days have four exams in store. Let's hope I recover like England did in the current Ashes series.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Ashes are smoking

England have just stuttered to a vital and famous victory and have gone 2-1 up in the Ashes. The match could have been wrapped up so much more easily by the English, but they managed to make the Aussie fight seem more valiant than it was. Warne continues to mesmerise the English batsmen. In fact, if you remove England and South Africa, I think Warne has only slightly more than half of his 600-odd wickets left. He owes a lot of his greatness to the ineptitude of batsmen from these two sides. Besides the Warne factor, England also seem to be finding it difficult to digest the fact that they are dominating Australia. That is why finishing games has been so difficult for them in this series. Now of course, I just hope they keep their nerve enough to at least draw the last Test (preferably winning it, of course) and wrest the Ashes from the Aussies, who have kept it far too long.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Janmashtami

There was a Janmashtami pooja in the mess today, followed by the singing of bhajan-s and devotional songs by a bhajan-mandli called for the purpose. I must say they were not exactly music to the ears, not least because the volume was kept so high. Normally, hearing country and folk singers is a new and refreshing experience, because of the raw emotion that is incorporated in their voice. But this mandli was, what is best called, karkash. It also did not help that today was an inexplicably hot day. I have been sweating at every step. Eating dinner in a hot mess with loud noise in the background was not a great experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Big Crunch

I don't know if every term here starts in a Big Bang, but it surely ends in a Big Crunch :). The crunch time is here again, with one week to go for the end-term exams. In the next few days, I have the following things on my agenda: two project submissions, two term-paper submissions, one assignment, one book review, one subject viva. And I definitely don't have the greatest workload - many others have yet more things to submit. Preparation for exams and readings for the remaining classes should be counted over and above all this. In such times, the half-hour spent cycling on most days is a great freshener. After another spell of rain in the last week, the weather in the evening is, in textbook-ish language, salubrious. The colours in the sky at twilight are delightful to see, although the thicker clouds do play spoilsport.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Tele-talk

We had a wonderful opportunity to listen to Mr. Pradip Baijal, Chairman, TRAI, today. He was here to judge a paper presentation contest and then delivered a keynote address. One can't have more firsthand insights about the Indian telecom sector than from him. He has been in one of the hottest seats in India for some time now, and is handling it with aplomb.

The hour-long talk was insightful, wide-ranging, humorous, and full of anecdotes. The presentation had nothing but charts and tables, and yet each number had a story behind it. Beginning with an expression of personal regret that he could not introduce power reforms when he was in the power ministry, Mr. Baijal emphasised that in a 'network industry' (power, telecom), it was extremely essential to have an independent regulator - one who does not 'cosy up to' any operator. The introduction of private competition had energised even the public sector behemoth BSNL and this was shown using comparative statistics of the telecom industry from 1948-98 and '98 onwards. Some of the important events in the history of Indian telecom were narrated in an anecdotal way - the setting up of TRAI, the initial disputes between operators, Reliance's 'breaching of the spirit of the (then existing) license', decisions on interconnect charges and calculation of termination charges (good decisions, he said, happened by accident in the government), Reliance's 501 Monsoon Hungama ('Mr. Mukesh Ambani lost Rs. 1500-1600 crores in that hungama, and the Indian newspapers viewed even this marketing debacle as a scandal' :) ), issues with the TDSAT, etc.

His emphasis was also on emerging opportunities and changing realities in the telecom sector. So far, on any year-to-year basis after introduction of mobile telephony, India had done better than China in terms of growth in subscriber numbers. But to sustain this growth, it is essential to tap rural India, where the absolute number of middle-income people equalled that in urban India. Thus, the O in USO did not stand for Obligation but for Opportunity. New technologies are rendering old obsolete. Most of BSNL's 6,70,000km fibre-optic network is dark, but BSNL is not willing to share the network with other operators for a fee, because it considers it a goldmine. Mr. Baijal said that with the arrival of wireless broadband technologies, this 'goldmine' may soon become trash. So also with the TV industry. In India, cable TV connections exceed fixed line phones. Again, broadcasters might want to consider sharing the infrastructure for penetration of telecom, since it was technologically feasible. The mobile phone might become the most attractive medium for advertisements if TV lost its sheen with the introduction of technologies like IPTV. 'Next generation networks' might become reality (see this interesting study paper), as the dividing line between mobile and fixed becomes blurred. Finally, even though all this convergence is technologically feasible, it will be extremely difficult to formulate a 'unified service license' covering fixed & mobile telecom, cable TV, ISPs, etc. because of the entrenched interest of each industry which will feel threatened and shortchanged. All the data Mr. Baijal used is available here.

Mr. Baijal seemed to be impressed with the presentations made by the students, and praised them profusely. However, as his talk went on, it became clear that at least some part of that praise was meant in a sarcastic way, because the ideas suggested were actually debunked by him. All in all, a great experience.

Mr. Saleem Haq, Head of the Prepaid Division, Reliance Infocomm, also delivered a short presentation showcasing Reliance's offerings and their foray into rural markets.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The business of entertainment

This was the theme of the industry interaction session held today. The speakers were: Mr. Tarun Tripathi (an IIML alumnus of the 2002 batch, now Marketing Head of Yashraj Films), Ms. Avisha Goswami (Marketing Head of Fame Adlabs) and Mr. Tushar (from Mindshare Entertainment). The aim was to familiarise people here with the dynamics of the entertainment industry in general and cinema in particular. The value chain of the industry was sought to be explored.

I could not stay for Mr. Tushar's talk in the end, but enjoyed those of the other two. The common theme running through the presentations of both the film production & distribution house (Yashraj) and the exhibition house (Shringar) was that of diversification in the sales mix. A film is the basic product both of them get a bulk of their revenues from. But, like in Hollywood, ticket sales & box office collections no longer constitute the only revenue stream. The film is ridden on with various marketing alliances, advertising, merchandise sales, food & beverages and a whole lot more. On the whole, a field full of possibilities, an exciting field to work in. There were many other interesting tidbits, as can be expected from this industry.

I believe a major source of this diversified revenue mix strategy is the corporatisation and professionalism being infused in the industry. We are still very far from a scenario where enough data about consumer preferences on film subjects, directors, stars, etc. exists, and films are made according to the viewer's tastes. So, individual creativity and inspiration (of all kinds :) ) basically drives the films that are made. All marketing is after the fact - selling a movie already made or being made. This is why nobody is able to reliably predict which film will be a hit at the box office. Now, once you are listed on the stock market, the share price is a disciplining factor, and you cannot rely on the fickle tastes of the public as the sole revenue stream. Hence, this strategy. Of course, a major factor contributing to the success of this strategy is the wealth that urban and semi-urban India is witnessing, and the high disposable incomes of people. In fact, the way every industry talks about grabbing the individual's 'share of wallet', every product/service might just become a substitute for every other product/service not far in the future. As a preparation for such a future, C. K. Prahalad's exhortation of identifying the 'fortune at the bottom of the pyramid' might be good to follow.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Good days, bad days

Everyone has their good days and bad days, but considering that much of this goodness/badness may be one's own creation, without enough self-regulation, life would become a series of one-day cricket matches. What you achieve at the end of the day would depend on how well you played on that day, and history would not matter too much. (Of course, the more adventurous would actively seek such a life, but very high volatility is not for me).

I had a really bad day yesterday. Thursday and Friday are the most gruelling days of the week in terms of class schedule (5.5 hours each day with uneven breaks in between). But yesterday, there were two quizzes as well. In the pre-announced quiz in CBM, it turned out that I was ill-prepared, while in the surprise CorVal quiz, I was inexplicably hasty and unthoughtful. We also received the Strategic Mgmt. mid-term papers, and I found that I had done worse than I had expected. After dinner, I could not concentrate and wasted a lot of time.

By total contrast, today has been a wonderful day. Attention levels in class were excellent, and I gained a lot from them. I am also feeling energetic and upbeat about the rest of the day (there are about 5 hours before I retire to bed).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

'The Warren Buffett Way'

I took a long, long time in reading up this book on the 'investment strategies of the world's greatest investor', written by Robert G. Hagstrom, Jr. (John Wiley & Sons, 1995). Written in very simple language, it details the simple and logical, but unconventional, tenets of Warren Buffett in choosing his investments. The timing in reading this book was good, because a background of Valuation helped in easily understanding the basics.

Warren Buffett is a 'value investor' - a person who closely examines a business for its fundamental value before investing in it. He received most of his principles in investing from two great financial minds - Benjamin Graham and Philip Fisher. Buffett's great skill lies in operationalising this set of principles successfully for decades.

Easily the most important lesson for all investors - whether institutional or individual - from Buffett's approach is that 'diversification is necessary only for those who do not know each of their investments enough'. If a close study of each business is made before investing in it, you can get extraordinary gains from only a few investments. Diversification across businesses and industries is not required. So, the investor should look at each of his investments like a business, not merely as a stock price.

A lot of detail is given on most of the major investments that Buffett has made over the years, mostly in common stock (equity), but sometimes in fixed-income instruments as well. His acumen, not only as an investor, but as a businessman & a manager is evident from reading these. The 'Warren Buffett Way' is condensed into four simple, but difficult to employ, steps by the author:
1. Turn off the stock market
2. Don't worry about the economy
3. Buy a business, not a stock
4. Manage a portfolio of businesses

As one can see, these steps are difficult because they are so unconventional. When evaluating a business, Buffett's principles are crystallized into the following tenets by the author:
a. Business tenets:
- Simplicity and understandability of the business
- Consistent operating history
- Favourable long-term prospects
b. Management tenets:
- Rationality of management in allocation of earnings
- Candour of management in sharing firm-related news with shareholders
- Resisting the 'institutional imperative', i.e. blind imitation of other firms
c. Financial tenets:
- Focus on return on equity, not on earnings per share
- Focus on 'owner earnings' (net income + depreciation - capital expenditures)
- High profit margins
- At least one dollar of market value created from every dollar reinvested
d. Market tenets:
- Finding the value of the business
- Buying a business only if it is available at a significant discount to its intrinsic value (the stock market helps here)

While the reading of the book was highly educational, it raised a question: if, like Buffett, everyone wants to buy 'simple and understandable' businesses, and not invest in sectors like, say technology (Buffett has never invested in a tech stock), then where will these firms with evolving business models get their funding from? Perhaps the private equity firms which are mushrooming today are doing this job more and more today. It would be interesting to compare their investment strategy with that of Buffett. And, I think, we do need a new Buffett who understands the new dynamics of business today, who can bring sanity to markets.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A great game of cricket

I watched one of the best Test matches in a long, long time - the third Ashes Test. What a series this has been! England are finally behaving like equals and Australia are finding themselves in desperate situations and having to dig deep into their reserves just to survive. I like the situation :). This series has been good for Test matches in general. The matches have been far more engrossing than those stupid one-dayers on dead pitches in dull Sri Lanka.

The most cited reason for Australia's bad performances on this England tour has been that this is an ageing team. But the team did not age suddenly, and most of the players are still able to give superb performances. In my opinion, the biggest contributory factor to the Aussie debacle so far is arrogance and complacency. No one typifies this attitude more than Matthew Hayden. In this respect, I have liked England's attitude when dominating. They have been sporting right
through, something the Aussies simply seem unable to be. Steve Waugh seemed to me to be a stabilizing influence on the team, having seen bad days in his career. And thus, England might be doing a service to Australia if they bring them down to earth. An Australian team with more grounded beliefs about their relative abilities will be more dangerous, whether ageing or not.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I-Day programme

I am just back from the Independence Day flag-hoisting ceremony. It rained yesterday night, and the morning is also overcast. Though the threat of rain was there, the ceremony went off smoothly. After the usual formalities and the unfurling of the flag, the institute music group 3.4 sang a few patriotic songs, and this genre being dominated in Hindi films by Rafi, 2 out of 4 songs were Rafi songs. 'jahaan daal daal par sone kii...' came first, and although it was sung well, it lacked the punch of the original. Similar was the case with 'kar chale ham fidaa...', which sounded more like Sonu Nigam than Rafi. A male version of 'ai mere vatan ke logon' was performed, and it was done quite superbly. Finally, 'har karam apanaa karenge...' from 'Karma' was performed.

'Yugaant' - II

The next essay is on Draupadi. Here, a comparison between Sita and Draupadi, both daughters of the earth as such, is made. But unlike Sita, Draupadi is shown to be a 'true daughter of the earth', in that she had very earthly emotions of pride, hatred, revenge, etc. Astonishingly, the author says that when Duhshasan was committing great indignity to her in the Kaurav court, she wasn't actually praying for help from Krushna. Instead, she was vociferously debating a legal point with the Kaurav elders on whether Yudhishthir could indeed stake her, once he had himself become a slave. She was quite jealous of the Pandavs' other wives, particularly Subhadra, Arjun's wife. Ultimately, when the Pandavs leave for the Himalayas, she is the one to fall first because, as Yudhishthir said, out of her five husbands, she really loved Arjun the most. In her dying moments, Draupadi is shown to realise that it was Bhim who really loved her the most.

The next essay is on the Pandavs' great palace called Mayasabha, built in Indraprasth. The story of how this palace came to be built is narrated. The Khandav forest was burnt to the ground by Arjun and Krushna, and so ruthlessly that they allowed but a handful of animals and humans to come out alive. An asur called Maya, in gratitude for sparing him, built them the palace out of multi-coloured ceramic tiles (when most of the Aryan housing used to be made of wood). In real terms, the author says, this is meant to show how the Aryans actually acquired land for cultivation. They razed the forests around the vast areas on the banks of the Ganga to the ground, leaving the great Gangetic plain that we see today.

Drona and Ashwatthama form the subject for the next essay. Drona, originally a poor brahman, is shown to take revenge on Drupad, his 'batchmate' :), by having the Pandavs attack him and annexing half his kingdom. In the Mahabharat times, unlike the later empire-building era, Kshatriyas kings could defeat other kings, but only receive a tribute from them, not annex their kingdom. Drona, a brahman, did not need to follow this tradition. Although neutral during the formative years of the Kauravs and the Pandavs, during the war, he suddenly turned fiercely against the Pandavs and during the three days he was general, killed large parts of the Pandav army. His son, Ashwatthama, was even less of a brahman than his father. He was sly and cunning, learning the use of special weapons from his father, unknown to Arjun. He had no qualms in killing Draupadi's sons and brother at night, but showed great cowardice in running away from a dying Duryodhan as the Pandavs approached. Here is one character in the Mahabharat who really had nothing much to redeem himself with.

Karna is widely perceived to be perhaps the most tragic character of the Mahabharat. But he displayed numerous failings in his life. His obsession with the injustice done to him at birth made him so headstrong that Bhishma did not classify him as a mahaarathii at the time of the war. He was also not as great a warrior as he is made out to be, as he was also routed by Arjun in Bruhanallaa's guise. He was also defeated totally and escaped when the Gandharvas once attacked the Kauravs' hunting party and took Duryodhan prisoner. His personal obsession and jealousy towards Arjun sometimes took precedence over his famed friendship with Duryodhan. This is shown in the fact that he promised Kunti that he would try to kill no other Pandav but Arjun, when in fact such a promise was not at all necessary. Again, at the moment of his death, he needlessly tried to extricate his chariot from the mud instead of taking a reserve chariot. Thus, Karna's tragedy was more self-wrought than inflicted by others.

The essay on Krushna is absolutely fascinating. The author says that, the Bhagavat being composed later than the Mahabharat, godhood was actually given to Krushna in the latter. In the Mahabharat, Krushna never appears as an incarnation of God, but a very astute man with great political acumen. His friendship with Arjun is dwelt on, as are his politically significant moves in killing Jarasandh, keeping brother Balram from actively siding with the Kauravs, handing his Narayani army to Duryodhan while himself siding with the Pandavs in the war, etc. He is shown to have had a personal ambition of being called a Vasudev. In those times, only one person in an era came to be called Vasudev, the greatest of men. Ram was one in his time; Krushna wanted to be one, and he achieved his ambition. After his death, godhood was given to him by the tribe of Abhirs, who captured Dwarka after the destruction of the Yadavs. Being cowherds themselves, the Abhirs made Krushna a cowherd and made all those stories about the gopii-s and the butter-stealing.

The last chapter is an excellent summary of the theme of the book. The end of the Mahabharat is shown to be the end of a yug, an era in the modern sense. The next few centuries were times of changing social climate in India, as Brahmans first gained ascendancy, then were subdued by the advent of Buddhism. The empire-building era started. The Mahabharat, a concise and matter-of-fact epic about the true nature of human beings, was modified to make additions to make characters more heroic or villainous than they were. Hero worship began, which continues to this day. The author gives the example of two versions of the story of Harishchandra to show this process of change. Other practices, like the eating of beef and the drinking of wine, came to be looked down upon and eventually banned. Interestingly, horse-riding was actually learnt by the Indians in this later era, while in the Mahabharat times, the most highly regarded skill was to drive a chariot.

Such nuggets are but small pieces of the puzzle that the author puts together to give us a new, radical, matter-of-fact view of ancient Indian society.

'Yugaant' - I

I am grateful to the friend who lent me this wonderful book, written by Dr. Irawati Karve (Disha Books, 1991), first published in 1969 in Marathi. Interestingly, to cater to her Western students, the author, instead of translating the Marathi original, actually rewrote most of it.

The book is a collection of essays on various characters and events of the Mahabharat. These essays present a humanistic interpretation of the Mahabharat, based on scholarly research on the epic. Thus, as far as possible, the effort is to explain the behaviour of the characters in the socio-economic setting of the day, shorn of all divine interference. They also assume that the Mahabharat is a description of some real events and a real war that occurred around 1000 BC. I must say that it is one of the most personally valuable books I have read. So I will dwell upon it in some length.

The Introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book in terms of writing style, giving a brief look into the history of the Mahabharat. This reveals some facts which are little-known in the popular sense: the Mahabharat was originally called 'Jay' (triumph); it might not really have been composed by Vyas, but merely put together from the words of bards belonging to the suut caste who used to sing out the story for centuries after the events happened; many of the events described in the epic, and which have a place in the popular imagination, are actually established to be 'later interpolations', as the epic fell into the hands of Bhrugu brahman-s. Hence, the author bases her essays on a critical edition of the Mahabharat published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune.

The first essay is on Bhishma. She presents a new perspective on Bhishma - of a cursed Vasu who got further and further entangled in the affairs of his extended family. He is shown to have a misplaced sense of duty, overdoing things & taking terrible vows; but at the same time, having a desire to wield authority, ruling Hastinapur for four decades, till Dhrutarashtra's sons grew up. In the fight between the Pandavs and the Kauravs, he remained neutral throughout. But as Kaurav general in the main war, he effectively stalled proceedings and fought an inconclusive battle for ten days before he fell. The author also says that there is no substantial evidence to show that Bhishma was a very great warrior, and he was one of those routed totally by Arjun (in the guise of Bruhanallaa) in the Viraat cattle-herding episode. Even the blessing of deciding when he would receive death turned out to be a curse for him, as he lived for six months after the war and the destruction.

The next essay, on Gandhari, disputes the popular view of the queen as a sacrificing wife who tied up her eyes for life on knowing about her husband being blind. Actually, what is more likely is that Gandhari nursed a lifelong grudge against Bhishma and others who arranged her match with Dhrutarashtra for having been kept in the dark about her husband's blindness. The author imagines a conversation between the old couple when they stayed in the Himalayas after the war was over. Here, Dhrutarashtra finally tells her that she had really paid back all the wrong done to her, and finally, the couple stand up and embrace death by being consumed in a forest fire.

The essay on Kunti depicts her as a strong-willed Kshatriya woman who managed to protect, advise and admonish her sons through life. She had been wronged by her father who gave her away to the childless Kuntibhoj, who in turn made her serve the sage Durvasa. Now, according to the practice of the day, in this service to a sage, the daughter might even bear a child to him as well. Indeed, the author surmises that if we discount the blessing she supposedly received from Durvasa about bearing children of Gods, it is very probable that she actually bore a son by Durvasa - making Karna Durvasa's son! She had warts as well: she was envious of the more beautiful Madri and allowed the latter to be burnt as sati on Pandu's funeral pyre; she had done incalculable wrong to Karna, and then later went to beg him to join the Pandavs in the war for selfish reasons. But at the same time, she treated Nakul and Sahadev as her own sons; made the strong decision to make Draupadi the wife of all five Pandavs; admonished Yudhishthir to right the wrong done to them, even if by force.

The next essay, on Vidur, drops another bombshell. Based on the existing social practices of the day, it shows that Kunti might really have borne a son by Pandu's half-brother Vidur, making Yudhishthir Vidur's son! This is sought to be substantiated by the parallels in the life and nature of Vidur and Yudhishthir, both being incarnations of Yam or Dharma, and Vidur having been totally partial towards the Pandavs throughout. Vidur's life is shown to be one of not having received the kingship that he best deserved among the three half-brothers, being the most physically and mentally sound. But he played a most dutiful role in supporting Dhrutarashtra through life and meeting death only some time before the latter.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

'Mangal Pandey: The Rising'

I watched this much-awaited movie with the gang in a stall seat (with paan stains on the back of the seat in front of me), at Novelty theatre in Aliganj. We had been forewarned that the film fell below the high expectations of people. And we found that this was quite true.

What can be the motive(s) of a director in choosing a historical topic for a film? There can be many: the dramatic: catching the pulse of a people in the midst of great upheaval or portraying the hopes and struggles of a nation, etc.; the narrative: telling an interesting historical episode in an engrossing way; the glorifying: making heroes and heroines out of historical figures; the allegorical and/or didactic: hoping to convey morals and lessons from history; the revealing: busting popular myths and setting the record straight.

This motive is very important because it drives important decisions, perhaps the most important of which is: whether and how to fill in the gaps that we find in existing historical records. And it is here that this film stumbles. The motive, as professed by Ketan Mehta and by Aamir Khan, is both to glorify Mangal Pandey as the first martyr in India's quest for independence, and to convey the message that it is just not right for an economically and militarily more powerful nation to subjugate a weaker one. Mangal Pandey's history is not exactly well documented, and the gaps are filled in a typically 'mainstream' Hindi film manner.

According to what I read recently, it is rather doubtful how important a status Mangal Pandey's action enjoyed among the revolutionaries of 1857. In all probability, he might be an accidental hero, a person with greatness thrust upon him. Here he is shown to have a conscious and well-developed political ideology (democracy) and a conception of India as a nation. He is shown to have been forced by circumstances (the leakage of the revolutionary plan and subsequent expediting of the Queen's Regiment from Rangoon to Barrackpore) to take the kind of action that he did. I thought this was absolutely vital information, and if this is the true course of events, it is really curious how our school history textbooks painted Mangal Pandey's action as totally rash and one having adverse effect on the revolutionary plans of Nanasaheb-Tope-Laxmibai. I really don't know which one is true.

It is a well-known fact that Pandey was hanged secretly a few days before his scheduled hanging by the British. But a public hanging is shown here, with Pandey bellowing 'hallaa bol' as his final words. This seems designed more to inspire jingoism than anything else.

The performances from Aamir Khan and Toby Stephens (who plays Captain William Gordon, a Britisher sympathetic to the Indian interest) are very good. Aamir Khan does come up with an intense performance and creates the fearless and true hero image that was sought to be conveyed. Toby Stephens' effort in learning Hindi must be appreciated, and this is a memorable effort. The courtroom scene at the trial of Pandey is very well done by him. The ladies, Rani Mukherjee and Amisha Patel, have a token presence for a few scenes each. So all hype about their roles is to be neglected entirely.

The biggest howlers committed by the director are in the songs department. One very badly timed song (the Holi song), one unconvincing mujaraa, even an item number. A. R. Rahman's effort also does not seem particularly inspired, producing insipid tunes, particularly for the mujaraa, which has seen some of the best tunes in Hindi cinema. Instead of using traditional UP Hori folk tunes for the Holi song, he uses a garba-like beat, a surprisingly elementary mistake. Only the title chant of 'Mangala, Mangala' carries some spirit and is picturised well, with singers mounted on an elephant.

The redeeming features of the film are the performances by the two main characters; the obviously sincere effort that has gone behind the making of the film; the sets; some good cinematography in showing the landscape on the banks of the Ganga, the advancing Rangoon regiment, etc.; the revelation of British corruption and opium trade carried on by the East India Company; the sheer cruelty and injustice of the British, etc. All in all, a film with its share of big flaws, but worth a viewing nevertheless, for it is like balm in these times of absolutely stupid films like 'Maine pyaar kyon kiyaa?'

Sunday, August 07, 2005

'Paheli'

I stole time over the last two days to watch this latest directorial venture of Amol Palekar. Produced by Shah Rukh Khan's production house Red Chillies, this is an unusual film because it is based on a Rajasthani novel written by Rajasthani literary great Vijaydan Detha, and is a supernatural love story.

The story goes like this: Kishenlal (SRK) is the son of a wealthy Marwadi merchant (Anupam Kher). He marries Lachchhi (Rani Mukherji), and while the marriage party is heading back home, they stop for a rest. Here a ghost residing in the area sees Lachchhi and falls in love with her. Kishenlal is business-minded, like his father, and he leaves Lachchhi to go to Jamnagar for 5 years the very morning after they reach their village of Navalgarh. To the grieving Lachchhi, the ghost provides succour, which takes the bodily form of Kishen. The ghost tells Lachchhi about his real self, but doesn't tell anyone else, minting money (effortlessly :) ) to keep his father pleased. Love develops between Lachchhi and the ghost. After about three years (during which the real Kishen has had an anxious time thinking about why his family has not contacted him), things come to a head when he suddenly returns on hearing that his wife was going to have a child. The two SRKs meet and the village panchayat, unable to identify the real Kishen, are provided help by an unlikely person in the form of a shepherd (Amitabh in a guest appearance). Eventually, the real Kishen does get identified and the ghost is trapped in a leather water-pouch, but the ghost takes his place inside Kishen's body, to the great joy of Lachchhi.

The wealthy Marwadi merchant family is shown quite well, and to some humorous effect as well. Attention has been paid to the dialogues (which are in Rajasthani, but I'm not sure how perfectly) . The dialogues are delivered by everyone surprisingly well. As for the performances, after a long time I've watched an SRK movie without getting irritated by his antics. Although he looks a bit out of place in the setting with short silk choyni-s and fluorescent dhoti-s, his effort seems to be sincere. He delivers the dialogues well, although his facial expressions leave something to be desired. Rani Mukherji, too, doesn't fit naturally into the setting, but she makes up somewhat by her acting (nothing very great, but good enough). Juhi Chawla as Rani's jethani doesn't have a big role but she looks the part (and she looks very sweet through the movie too :) ). As for Palekar's direction, I think he should have dwelt more on the main theme of Lachchhi's desire for love and the 'culture clash' :) between her and her husband. His use of puppets revives the memory of old films like 'Kathputli' and 'Chori Chori' ('jahaan main jaati huun vahiin chale aate ho'). M. M. Kreem's music is good. There seemed to be only one folk-like number though, and the rest of the tunes could have belonged in any other film. Overall, a watchable film, although not Palekar's best (by far). Interestingly, I read that Mani Kaul made a film called 'Duvidha' in the '70s based on the same novel. Wonder if that's available anywhere...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Rule of three

There are several 'rules of three' in various different fields, ranging from witchcraft to business strategy (propounded by the late Sumantra Ghoshal). I have a personal 'rule of three', much more mundane than the celebrated ones, but still pretty fundamental.

It is that I am able to break up most of my likes and dislikes into three broad, distinct classes by the degree to which I like each entity in an area. For example, in music, the classes are: 'songs & music which I would like to hear any time and any number of times at once', 'music which I would like to hear once in a while and enjoy, but not very often', and 'music which I would prefer not to listen to at all'. Similar classes exist for food, books & reading, games & sports, etc. I have found that it also applies to people that I come into contact with: some I would always like to be with; some I would like to meet once in a while, but not too often; and some I would prefer never to meet at all. Again, as I said, this seems pretty ordinary and obvious, but somehow I feel there might be something fundamental here.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Wounded warriors

This is what one of our professors in the third term called the students who hobbled into class, freshly injured after an intra-institute sports tournament. The sports injury rate here is exceptionally high. The football ground sees a lot of serious injuries, including fractures and ligament tears. The just-concluded basketball tournament - a part of the inter-hostel Sikandar trophy tournaments - saw at least half a dozen serious injuries, the most serious one being that of an ankle fracture and a ligament tear in the arm. I don't know what the reasons are for such a high injury rate: perhaps it's the amateurishness and lack of practice, as many players are not regulars; perhaps it's because they play really rough. But in a busy place like this, an injury can be too dear.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mental cleansing

The mark of good reading is that it should cleanse your mind, make it clean and clear, just like a good bath cleanses the body. I felt so cleansed after reading the latest issue of The Economist in a between-classes break yesterday. This may seem like an exaggeration, but the sheer variety and clarity of the articles was great. I read views on the new India-US friendship, Pakistan's madrassa-s, the yuan revaluation, Alan Greenspan's views on the US economy (in which he said that although the US housing market was overheated, it could not be called a 'bubble', maybe only 'froth'), research on 'agent metaphors' (i.e. animate description of inanimate things, in the context of the stock market), reviews of two books on the great physicist Robert Oppenheimer (this busted a few personal impressions of the man), an obituary of ex-British PM Sir Edward Heath, and the business sense of the Colombian pop star Shakira. Eight articles on vastly different topics in the space of two hours...

Monday, August 01, 2005

An operations problem

Daily life for me here is becoming a live operations management problem, the key resource in scarcity being: time. Here's how:

I consider myself (as most human beings) akin to a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) machine, which is capable of doing multiple tasks (mostly one at a time, though). This is done simply by retooling myself with new jigs and fixtures appropriate for different tasks, and effecting this changeover quickly. The key raw material to be processed is information, which is to be converted into a form as close to knowledge as possible, and to be consumed immediately. One of the problems is undercapacity. The workload on this machine is overwhelming its limited capabilities, and operating for two shifts daily does not seem to be enough. Operating a third shift is impossible. This is the only station in the processing system, and it is the bottleneck.

A part of the demand is being generated by the same physical entity (my mind), which is demanding not only more quantity, but also more variety in the kind of knowledge it wants. This is resulting in large inventories - both raw materials (unread newspapers, magazines, and a book I borrowed today) and work-in-process (two books I am reading currently). Another part of the demand is being generated by the academic workload. This demand is of a more regular nature, with brief spurts near the exams and submissions :). Each day, both regular and irregular demands have to be met, and regular demand gets a priority over the other one. Production scheduling is done daily. I have adopted a mixed-model sequencing approach (like the Toyota Production System :) ), in which very small lots of a variety of products are introduced into the processing system one after the other.

But this daily firefighting approach is not optimal. A lot of stockouts are happening because of inability to meet the demand. And still, the inventories remain large. Of course, adding to the complication is the fact that the mobile plant in which this machine is housed (my body), has to be transported daily to various places for specific demands (attending classes, going for a walk, going to the mess four times a day :) ). If not meeting certain demand is not very desirable, where lies the solution?